Borderland Nationalism, Westward Migration, and Anti-Polish Aggression: The Case of the Grenzmark Posen-Westpreussen, 1919-1939

Article excerpt

After Germany's military defeat in World War I, and with its acceptance of provisions stipulated by the Versailles Treaty in June 1919, major territorial changes took effect in the German eastern provinces. Almost all of the Posen province, a portion of Silesia, and large areas of West Prussia were lost by Germany and integrated into the newly established Polish state. The "corridor" of Polish territory now lay between the Free City of Danzig (to be administered by the League of Nations) and the parts of Pomerania which remained German. Although not on as grand a scale, the situation after 1918 was in quite a few ways comparable to that incurred twenty-seven years later in 1945. In the area remaining within the Reich, German politicians, business people, as well as local inhabitants, were forced to confront the sudden loss of territory, economic facilities, agricultural resources, and political control. Beyond the newly drawn eastern borders, German citizens were either driven out of what was now Polish territory, or they suddenly found themselves living as an isolated and not very well respected or protected minority under foreign political control.(1)

Because of the loss of much of what had previously been known as West Prussia and Posen, an independent new German province was established in 1992 which stretched out along the eastern-most border of the Weimar Republic and became known as the Grenzmark Posen-Westpreussen. The Polish historian Jan Wasicki has shown how the Grenzmark was founded and named purposefully as "to keep green the memory of the territories detached by the provisions of the Versailles Treaty." The formerly German areas of Posen and West Prussia would thus live on in name as well as in the collective consciousness of the German people.(2) In 1936, the German historian Erich Murawski went even further, stating that the creation of the Grenzmark emphasized the artificiality and temporariness of the borders imposed by the Versailles Treaty. The Grenzmark was here seen as a territory which would help the Germans gather strength before they returned to their rightful place as rulers over West Prussia and Posen.(3)

The new province, a true borderland phenomenon, was very slim and elongated, and rather small in territory and population. It only consisted of nine regional administrative counties (Kreise), situated in a thin strip along the new German-Polish border, and its capital was a town of 40,000 inhabitants named Schneidemuhl. A thorough portrayal of area and population of the territory is available in statistical reference works,(4) as well as more recently in two major histories of public administration.(5) These show that the new region had, in 1925, a population of 332,485 persons (by 1933 the figure had risen slightly to 337,600), an area of 7,715 square kilometers, and a population density of 43.8 persons per square kilometer. The nine individual counties (Kreise) were Schlochau, Flatow, Deutsch Krone, Netzekreis, Schwerin, Meseritz, Bomst, Fraustadt, and the city of Schneidemuhl itself. They stretched for several hundred kilometers along the newly created international border.

Since it was composed in such an artificial way, one of the most obvious features of the Grenzmark province was its heterogeneity. This holds true for the historical roots, the national and linguistic affiliation of the population, as well as for economic development in the nine individual districts.(6) Created out of bits and pieces left over when intact territories were forcibly divided by the Versailles Treaty, the Grenzmark may thus be seen as a region consisting of administrative areas possessing not many historical links and common characteristics. In fact, the artificiality of this newly joined administrative region was the main reason, in its few years of existence, for German fears of chronic instability. On the other hand, it is perhaps astounding that the region remained as stable as it did. …