Wednesday, July 8, 2015

ADSS 1.70 Orsenigo to Maglione: German-Polish tensions

ADSS 1.70 Cesare Orsenigo, Germany, to Luigi Maglione, Sec State.

Reference: Report number 48 (27/810) (AES 4189/39)

Location and date: Berlin, 23.06.1939

Summary statement: Incidents between Germany and Poland call attention to the latent danger of a conflict.  Some place their hope in the moderating influence of the HS.  Some trouble over use of Polish or German in the liturgy by minority groups.

Language: Italian


I hasten to bring to your Eminence’s attention the following events:

Great impression has been created in these diplomatic circles by the news, recently secretly learned, regarding the existing tension between Polish and German populations.  The news leaked out that in a Polish town, Thorn (1) some fanatic and degenerate people have assaulted and castrated three Germans.  The news came to the knowledge of the German Press Agency (Deutsches Nachricktenbüro – DNB) who collected it and issued a press release.  I enclose a copy of it.

According to the opinion of the diplomats such a publication would have been sufficient to start a popular upheaval of such magnitude as to lead to a war.  Fortunately, at the last moment, the Führer, having heard of it, forbade its publication.  A feeling of fear, however, has remained in everybody’s mind as the episode has shown how fragile is the prudence, both of the German and the Polish populations, regarding matters which could start a war. (2)

To this we must add the speech made by Minister Goebbels last Sunday in Danzig and made more dangerous by other more menacing phrases, as for example “within three months Danzig will belong to Germany”, said during an interview with Foreign newspaper men, although he requested that it should not be published. (3)

Some diplomats, even amongst neutrals and Germany’s friends, find again new hope of preventing war in some tentative effort of the Holy See: even the Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, Baron von Weizsäcker, on Tuesday, talking to me, mentioned very respectfully the moderating influence that the Catholic Church could exert on the Polish population.

News arrived here of increasing hostility by both sides against religious services in the language of the minority population.  In German Silesia the numerous Polish people who live there rarely have religious services in their own language as previous was the custom.  At the same time in Katowice, Archbishop [sic] Adamski, has been compelled, in order to preserve dignity and decorum in the churches, to forbid the service in two parishes in the town, which were regularly celebrated in German. (4)

(1) There is no way of verifying this story.  Given that German propaganda indulged in lurid cases of Polish atrocities against ethnic Germans, it is highly likely the story is fictional.  The only verified account of so-called Polish “atrocities” against Germans was in the opening week of the war, 03-04.09.1939,in Bromberg where German soldier and some civilians, possibly saboteurs, fired upon retreating Polish soldiers which lead to a fight where between 40-50 Poles and 100-130 Germans were killed.  Savage reprisals followed. German propaganda inflated the number of dead and used the incident as “proof” of Polish savagery.
(2) Compare the letter of 28.06.1939 of Nevile Henderson (1882-1942) UK Ambassador in Berlin 1937-39: “Unwelcome though I feel that my warnings are, in London, about Polish provocations, I cannot help it, for it is my duty to repeat to you that they constitute a serious danger.” (DBFP, Series 3, Volume 6, n161, p184.

(3) Henderson had expressed his surprise to the Secretary of State that Goebbels could speak as he liked about foreign policy. Ibid.
(4) Stanislaw Adamski (1875-1967), Bishop of Katowice 1930-67.

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