Monday, January 25, 2016

ADSS 1.158 Cortesi to Maglione: Poland prepares for war

ADSS 1.158 Filippo Cortesti, Poland, to Luigi Maglione, Sec State

Reference: Report number 271 (AES 5952/39)

Location and date: Warsaw, 30.08.1939

Summary statement: Poland prepares for war; messages from the Pope, FDR and King Leopold III of Belgium, have been well received.  Gov’t denies all accusations of mistreatment of German minority.  Military occupation of Slovakia further diminishes hopes for peace.

Language: Italian


While statesmen, politicians and diplomats try to reach a peaceful solution or a delay by compromise of the conflict which threatens to transform itself into a terrifying war, living in an alternating state of hope and disillusion, the mobilisation of the army is being speeded up, while shelters and first-aid points are being prepared as protection against air raids and gas attacked.

The capital, however, has not lost its normal appearance; citizens are calm, disciplined and co-operate in these preparations; everything is quiet and the silence is only broken by the cheering at the passing of soldiers.  The sight of the young soldiers marching towards their assigned destinations with determined yet carefree countenance is extremely impressive. Looking at these happy youths marching towards their hazardous trials one feels and acute sense of sadness only slightly alleviated by the thought that all, or almost all, are fortified by the holy sacraments received before departure and that religious assistance is well organised, as I am assured by the Chaplain General. (1)

It is easy to understand that the nation, which until yesterday was only devoted to the peaceful task of the national recovery, is aware that she is going to fight for her independence, which she acquired only twenty years ago by shedding so much blood.  But the common wish and aspiration is for peace, invoked, as desired by the Holy Father, with humility, with constant prayers by all the Christian believers who fill up the churches, gather themselves near the confessionals, and crowd around the altar.  The message of the King of the Belgians, the appear of the President of the United States, the reply of President Moscicki to Mr Roosevelt, and above all, the fatherly and admirable message of His Holiness, have been therefore received with feelings of relief and gratitude.


The conflict, at least in its present stage, ins principally about the condition of the German minorities in Poland, who are described by the Press, the official propaganda and the declarations of the German rulers as being subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment.

The Polish Government absolutely denies that such harsh conditions exist as are being so persistently alleged and denounces the plan to “transform the problem of the German minorities in Poland from a simple cultural one into a territorial problem”.  The daily Press has taken up the defence; but lately the Government itself has felt the need to highlight officially this serious question by means of speeches from top officials being broadcast in various languages and in particular by means of the statement of the Foreign Minister and of the information which I attach to the present document. (Appendix I) (2)

The Polish defence does not restrict itself to rejecting the accusations as untrue, but after describing the conditions of the Germans scattered in small colonies in Poland, enjoying all the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and buy the country’s laws, compares it with the condition in which the Poles in Germany live, who form a compact population which is more numerous and with a longer claim to be indigenous.


I must add that the diplomatic circles outside the conflict and therefore impartial, are of the opinion that the accusations put forward by the German Government are false, and are probably based on reports and information of ill-intentioned people; nobody believes that this Government, which has done everything to avoid giving pretexts to the adversary, and has suffered many violations of its rights in Danzig and of Polish territory from armed bands, always limiting its actions to repelling aggression without undertaking reprisals, in in fact the instigator of inhuman oppression. (3)

This question, continually aired with incredible passion, has contributed and continues to contribute to the stirring-up of the masses and the creation of an atmosphere of hatred and desire for war.  This is the reason why so many efforts are being made to induce both parties to reach an understanding on this important subject.  Poland, as is well know, declared herself ready to follow up an initiative in this direction put forward to both Governments.  The diplomatic representatives think that it is possible to suggest as practical means: exchange of population and an enquiry on the alleged hardships to be entrusted to a neutral State; I cannot say, however, on what the possibility of using such means is based.


While closing these brief notes, I hear that Slovakia has been occupied militarily, which action has been announced as a “German-Slovak security arrangement against the risk of attack by Poland” and the Slovak people are invited to consider the Germans as friends and to collaborate with them against the common enemy. (4)

This Government has immediately sent a strong protest about the occupation of Slovakia, declaring it “an outrage against Poland’s interests that could have serious consequences”.

Thus, while all anxiously follow the development of the negotiations between London and Berlin and watch the moderating influence which it is reported the Head of the Italian Government is exerting in favour of peace, a new blow is struck at these efforts, and one is induced to place all hopes only in the hands of God and of His Vicar on Earth, who repeats to mankind with superhuman tenacity the eternal words of justice and peace.

(1) Jozef Gawlina (1892-1964), Polish bishop for the Military 1933-47.
(2) Cortesi added an observation by the Polish Telegraphic Agency (PAT) which had put out an official bulletin.  This declaration made an issue of the German Press campaign about alleged brutalities being committed in Poland against the German minority. As long as this campaign had been limited to the Press, said the bulletin, the Polish Government had confined itself to mere denials.  But now senior people in the Reich were repeating accusations.  “In view of this fact the Polish Government has been constrained to make a solemn protest”.  In citing new examples of news reports of German deaths in various Polish villages, the note commented that “the foregoing reports must be branded as pure invention.  None of the facts given is true.”  As well as this note the Nuncio sent the “Polish Press and Diplomatic Bulleting for Information and Press News” for 29-30.08.1939.
(3) Nonetheless, the British Government believed the Polish Government had to do more to be absolutely transparent in order to void the German propaganda. See Lord Halifax’s telegram to Kennard in Warsaw advising the Polish government to issue clear instructions to all military and civil authorities restrain from any actions that could escalate tensions, including “stop inflammatory radio propaganda”. DBFP, Series 3, Volume 7, n532, pp 405-06.  Polish Foreign Minister, Jozef Beck, assured the British that Poland had no intention of provoking Germany. Ibid, n 544, pp414-15.

(4) On 31.08.1939 Slovakia demanded Poland cede Javorina district that had been given to Poland after the 1938 Munich Agreement.  Slovak troops occupied the region on 01.09.1939.  At the same time the British Ambassador to Germany informed Lord Halifax of Germany’s battle plans for the invasion of Poland. DBFP, Series 3, Volume 7, n546, pp 415-17.  The Ambassador would not have known that Hitler had given the final order confirming the invasion of Poland for Friday, 01.09.1939.

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