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Germany's Anti-Polish Ideas in WWII Dated Back to 18th Century

September 01, 2008

The idea for Germany's September 1, 1939 invasion of Poland may have originated nearly 200 years earlier, according to Iwo Cyprian Pogonowski, an authority on Polish history and culture and advisor to the Holocaust Documentation Committee of the Polish American Congress. Prof. Pogonowski is the author of several books and atlases on Poland.

In the second half of the 19th century, Otto von Bismarck, Germany’s “Iron Chancellor,” began advancing the concept of exterminating the Poles. Adolf Hitler made Bismarck’s concept a reality after Poland turned down his offer to join Germany and Japan in an attack on the Soviet Union.
Pogonowski gave the following chronology of this historical development:
When the Germans, and especially the Prussians, say that Hitler spoke straight out of their hearts (“Der Fuerer hat von unseren herzen geschprochen”) one should inquire what was in the hearts of the Prussian population of Berlin when they listened to an Austrian born demagogue who took great pride in his “musicality,” a term he used to describe his ability to feel what the crowd wanted to hear.
Hitler, as an Austrian and admirer of the Polish victory over Lenin’s Bolshevik invasion of 1920, actually wanted an alliance with Poland and Japan in his obsession to attack the Soviet Union.
However, the Berliners apparently radicalized Hitler’s attitude towards the Poles, especially when Poles refused to join his anti-Soviet alliance and did not yield to his demands to give up Gdańsk and other territories of the Prussian partition of Poland of a century earlier. In order to understand what Hitler found in the hearts of Berliners, let us look back into the history of the Kingdom of Prussia and the ideology of its leadership.
In the second half of the 19th century, Bismarck revived memories of the German genocide of the Balto-Slavic Prussians in the 13th century.  As early as 1856, Prussian Chancellor Otto Bismarck (1815 – 1898), Berlin’s ambassador to the all-German Parliament in Frankfurt, wrote that the Polish minority must be exterminated.
Bismarck’s anti-Catholic and anti-Polish policies were the basis for his “Kultur Kampf” program. Such ideas were a prelude to the genocides and mass murders of the 20th century – the century in which more people were killed than ever before.
Chancellor Bismarck repeatedly likened the Poles to wolves which should be “shot to death whenever possible.” In 1861 he declared, “Hit the Poles till they despair of their very lives… if we are to survive, our only course is to exterminate them.” (Werner Richter, ‘Bismark’ New York: Putnam Press, 1964, page 101).
Generally, Bismarck’s extremist attitude towards the Poles remains unknown in America. Thus, on March 5, 1990, during progress towards the unification of Germany, a headline of U.S. News & World report stated: “Finishing what Bismarck began.”  It must have been written without the knowledge of Bismarck’s pronouncements such as those quoted above.
Prussian hatred of everything Polish is well documented ever since the Hohenzollerns, the ancestors of German emperors, starting in 1525 and for more than a century, had to pay tribute to the king of Poland and then started paying tribute to the king of Sweden. The Kingdom of  Prussia was created in 1701 with its capitol in Berlin.
This move shaped the cradle of  modern German militarism. The name “Prussia” symbolized the continuity of German militaristic tradition.  It recalled the 13th century conquest and genocide of the Balto-Slavic Prussians by the armed monks of the Teutonic Order. However, the Kingdom of Prussia faced destruction during the Seven Years War.
Berlin was occupied and burned by the Russian army in 1760. Russia decided to destroy the new Kingdom of Prussia in order to prevent it from acquiring the means to unify the 350 independent German principalities into a united Germany with its new capitol in Berlin. In exchange for Prussia and Silesia, Poland was to give Podolia to Russia. However, Polish citizens living in Podolia refused to agree to become subjects of the tsar.
Poland’s refusal saved the Kingdom of Prussia from destruction and permitted the Hohenzollerns of Berlin to return to their schemes for partitioning Poland after a new and weak-minded Tsar Peter III (1728-1762) became very accommodating to Prussia. The situation remained favorable to Berlin after Peter III was assassinated with the connivance of his German wife, Catherine II (1729-1796), who usurped the Russian throne by a coup d’etat on July 9, 1762.
Berlin was then able to provoke a series of Polish-Russian wars.  Each war gave Berlin a chance to rob Polish land by annexation. Cultural and economic oppression by Prussia of the annexed Polish lands followed until the times of Bismarck who formed his plans for exterminating the Poles.  Berliners had a strong anti-Polish tradition which helped inspire Hitler’s genocidal crimes against the citizens of Poland.

On April 24, 1939, when Hitler terminated his non-aggression pact with Poland, he was furious that Poland rejected his offer of friendship and alliance.
Hitler made such an offer for the first time as early as August 5, 1935 when he declared that good Polish-German relations were of primary importance to him. He wanted a military alliance with Poland and Japan against the Soviet Union to which he had no land access.  Poland's territory constituted a physical barrier between Germany and the Soviets.
Apparently Hitler's “best case scenario” was to attack the Soviets with some 600 divisions: 220 German, 200 Japanese, 100 Polish and 80 of other nations, without having to fight on the western front. He hoped to mobilize in Poland some 10% of the population, or over three and half million men.
When Poland refused, Hitler put in practice Bismarck's plans and committed mass murder in Poland.
Frank Milewski
718-263-2700, Ext. 105