This book explores the tumultuous period following the First World War, where Poland, caught between the competing ambitions of Germany and the Soviet Union, navigates political upheaval, territorial disputes, and the emerging threat of Hitler.
Following the end of the First World War, the newly reformed state of Poland was wedged uncomfortably between the two dominant nations of Germany and the Soviet Union. With their diametrically opposed political philosophies, both of Poland’s neighbors plotted continuously to reclaim its lands that had up until recently been part of the once great but now defunct German and Russian empires. In order to protect itself, Poland was obliged to plot and negotiate with both of its neighbors to try and prevent them from realizing their ambitions to eviscerate the country.
The United States had been instrumental in the creation of the Polish state after the First World War, Wilson in particular stoking the Poles’ growing powerful nationalistic fervor. As Norman Ridley reveals, this was the beginning of a turbulent period for Poland. There was, for example, the dramatic and improbable ‘Miracle on the Vistula’ when Polish forces defeated the communist Red Army in 1920 – and in so doing halted the spread of communism across eastern Europe. As well as bitter ethnic battles between Germany and Poland for the political control of Upper Silesia, there were also the burning ambitions of Weimar Germany, and later Nazi Germany, to reclaim lands stripped from them and incorporated into the new state of Poland at Versailles.
Despite America’s initial support after the war, the US thereafter showed little interest in Poland’s predicament. While France was a traditional friend to the Polish peoples, and a significant supplier of military aid, its political influence over eastern European affairs weakened as its own political institutions fell prey to extremes of both left and right and its immediate post-war dominance waned. Britain was interested only in commerce and that made Germany and Russia significantly more important as trading partners than the predominantly agricultural and technically backward state of Poland.
Despite the dominance of right-wing politics in Poland, the emergence of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany did little to bring the countries together. This even drove them further apart as the Führer ramped up his rhetorical assault on the perceived injustices of Versailles, which were soon to translate into territorial expansion over Austria and Czechoslovakia. Poland was to be the next in line.
Britain and France belatedly roused themselves to challenge the threat posed by Hitler and the Nazis. After the capitulation of the Anschluss and the humiliation of Munich, London and Paris found themselves in the disagreeable position of seeing no option but to throw their whole weight behind the integrity of the Polish state if they were ever going to make any sort of stand against Nazi aggression.
Norman Ridley is an Open University Honours graduate and a writer on inter-war intelligence. He lives in the Channel Islands.
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