Thursday, April 23, 2009

Peace.... Isn't It Wonderful!: Violent Europe, Spring 1919

Let me just list a few events outside Paris in these busy peacemaking days.

March 3—Freikorps units continue their pacification of "leftists" and resume "force and awe"-type tactics in Berlin. Twenty-four "radicals" are killed in Berlin in early March with more to come.

In Latvia, other "volunteer" fighters under German General von der Goltz began an advance on Riga, which had been captured by Bolsheviks.

March 4—In Siberia, Admiral Kolchak's White army begins an offensive against the Reds on a 700-mile front.

March 10—Bitter fighting between White forces (Cossacks in this instance) and Bolshevik Red Army forces on the Dnieper.

March 17—Red forces in Archangel fought Germans, French (!), and British (!) in heaving fighting near Bolshe Ozerki. The offensive of von der Goltz's mostly Latvian and German volunteer forces retake Milau from the Bolsheviks on March 18, finding massacred hostages in the citadel of the town.

March 19—The Supreme War Council in Paris orders a stop to fighting and massacres between Poles and Ruthenians along the Poland/Ukraine border.

March 21—Count Karolyi's government in Hungary falls, its place taken by a Communist/Socialist government which includes Bela Kun as foreign minister. A Hungarian Soviet is declared shortly thereafter, and Hungary declares war on Czechoslovakia (!), with Hungarian "Reds" invading Slovakia in early April.

March 23—Mussolini founds the Fascist movement in Milan, amid street fighting and strikes in Italy.

March 24—100,000 miners Britain strike against new rationing and other grievances.

March 25—Beginning of the end of the "Hunger Blockade" against Germany as the first "food ship" docks at Hamburg to begin offloading 400,000 tons of food.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Word On Upper Silesia

I  want to say something now about German perceptions of what was going on in Paris, especially in connection with the coal-producing territory of Upper Silesia.  Remember that no Germans were allowed visas to be in any part of France during the conference, except at the few occasions when the German delegation was invited to come.  At the same time, the Germans were not just sitting on their hands.  Indeed, they were having extensive discussions about what to say to the Allies once they got a chance to talk. 

If the Germans were not allowed to go to France, by the way, at least France could come to Germany.  Considerable German territories were occupied immediately after the war by American, French, and British troops.  But even so, contact in the sense of high diplomacy was extremely limited.   So much of the German discussion was based on guesswork.
But they could easily guess that the Allies were interested in the coal-rich eastern region of Upper Silesia.  This borderland was peopled about equally by ethnic Germans and ethnic Poles.  Yet the value of the coal for the newly set-up state of Poland (darling of the Allies—especially of Wilson) was self-evident. 

There was much talk on parts of the political spectrum of the Allies "spiriting away Upper Silesia from us" to give to Poland, as one leftist politician put it at a political gathering in the early stages of the November Revolution (1918).  Some even suggested that the Allies would hold a border referendum, a plebiscite, in Upper Silesia and other ethnically mixed border regions, and since all Germans "knew" that everyone on the border would vote German, they hoped merely to have Allied troops present to prevent "Polish skullduggery." 

On December 27,  1918, however, the eastern German city and province of Posen (just to the north of Silesia) experienced an uprising that would alter conditions substantially.  German Posen became Polish Poznań.  An uprising in several local places ended in an influx of paramilitary forces from the newly revived Polish state.  Indeed, as the local Polish soldiery and those who had come to their aid made their way into the region, they set up an organization called the  "Central Organization for Cleansing Poznań (city) of Jews and Germans" (Centralna Organizacja dla Oczyszczenia Poznania od Żydów i Niemców). This was one of the earliest known uses of the term "cleansing" in the context of unwanted ethnic groups.

And indeed, the first postwar migrations of any sort in the German-Polish border region resulted from the Poznań uprising of December 1918, supported by the new government of Poland, which led to an exodus of Germans and Jews. The "Posen Pattern"—meaning a violent overthrow of the local authorities sanctioned by the victorious Allies—echoes through much of the German official record about the border in after the war.

Still, German statesman swayed between optimism and pessimism.  Many agreed with General von Seeckt that holding onto the eastern territories would be "child's play."  On the other hand, many Berlin planners continued to wonder how to interpret the strange information they were receiving second-hand from Paris.  As for the borderlanders in Upper Silesia, a startling development occurred:  local people from both the Polish-speaking population and from among the Germans banded together to form the League of Upper Silesians, under the slogan "Upper Silesia to the Upper Silesians!"  These people were hoping for a neutral, independent state, a kind of Luxembourg of the east. One thing that very sizeable group proved was that many of the "Polish" inhabitants of Upper Silesia did not really want to opt for what must have seemed the shaky new Polish state. 

Actually, I will deal with this period of time later in a more general context of the autonomist crisis, since autonomist movements emerged in many regions of the Germany during 1919 and later. 

But the point here is that while the Upper Silesians were attempting to control their future, the Allies were making other plans.  In April, ninety years ago, the Allies began working out the details for border plebiscites to be held in several different German regions. 

This is a story we have to keep tabs on, and indeed a very important one. 

Sunday, April 5, 2009

"No Further Along Than Almost a Month Ago"

Colonel House looked over his previous diary entries on April 2, 1919, perusing them for preparation to be sealed and put in a safe deposit box.  He thought that this piece of his diary of events at Paris would make him seem a "false prophet":  "At the beginning of this last reading, I predicted an earlhy peace, even thought we might be ready as early as March 20 to ask the Germans to Versailles.  It is now April 2 and we are no further along than we were the day this prediction was made, almost a month ago...."

Much had occurred in Paris and everywhere else.  Just to run down a few major events, the Russian Civil War (which had begun in earnest a year before) was intensifying, both in terms of internal opposition to the Bolsheviks and in terms of international assistance to the "White" forces; fighting was taking place in many of the new republics emerging from the western lands of the Russian empire; the revived state of Poland either encouraged or ordered a series of pogroms (attacks against Jews)  beginning in December 1919 in Poznan and other cities and ending with large-scale beatings, murders, and other depredations and killing hundreds of Jews in February, March, and April (see the Morgethau Mission Report);  in March 1919, Bela Kun took control of a socialist/communist government in Hungary, confiscated all property throughout the country; the new German republic fought hard to maintain control, fending off both rightwing and leftwing violence, while the parliamentarians in the city of Weimar created a constitution; the balance of sentiment among American political elites was turning against many of Wilson's plans for the Peace; the Allies at Paris began a very difficult discussion of how to secure France from another attack by Germany in the future; Allied policies in the defeated Ottoman Empire made it possible for the Greeks to prepare an all-out assault on Turkey during April 1919, and they would attack in early May.

As one of Charles Dickens's great characters exclaimed:  "It's all a muddle!"  Things certainly were a muddle ninety years ago.  Still, it is hard to imagine that Colonel House ever thought that a complete overhaul of the modern world could be accomplished in two months.  Perhaps he had not counted on such a many-sided conversation in Paris

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Design of a Violent Century by Hunt Tooley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.