German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact
The German–Polish Non-Aggression Pact was an international treaty
A treaty is an express agreement under international law entered into by actors in international law, namely sovereign states and international organizations. A treaty may also be known as an agreement, protocol, covenant, convention or exchange of letters, among other terms...
between Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...
and the Second Polish Republic
Second Polish Republic
The Second Polish Republic, Second Commonwealth of Poland or interwar Poland refers to Poland between the two world wars; a period in Polish history in which Poland was restored as an independent state. Officially known as the Republic of Poland or the Commonwealth of Poland , the Polish state was...
signed on January 26, 1934. In it, both countries pledged to resolve their problems through bilateral negotiations and to forgo armed conflict for a period of ten years. It effectively normalized relations between Poland and Germany, which were previously strained by border disputes arising from the territorial settlement in the Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of...
. As a consequence of the treaty, Germany effectively recognized Poland's borders and moved to end an economically damaging customs war
A Customs war, also known as a toll war or tariff war, is a type of economical conflict between two or more states. In order to pressure one of the states, the other raises taxes or tariffs for some of the products of that state...
which existed between the two countries during the previous decade.
One of the most widely remarked-on of Józef Piłsudski's foreign-policy moves was his rumored proposal to France to declare war on Germany after Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...
had come to power in January 1933. Some historians write that Piłsudski may have sounded out France regarding the possibility of joint military action against Germany, which had been openly rearming in violation of the Versailles Treaty. France's refusal might have been one of the reasons Poland signed the German–Polish Non-Aggression Pact in January 1934. However, the argument that the German-Polish non-aggression pact had been forced on Piłsudski by French refusal to wage a "preventive war
A preventive war or preventative war is a war initiated to prevent another party from attacking, when an attack by that party is not imminent or known to be planned. Preventive war aims to forestall a shift in the balance of power by strategically attacking before the balance of power has a chance...
" has been disputed by historians who point out that there is no evidence in either the French or Polish diplomatic archives that such a proposal was ever advanced. They state that when in late October 1933 rumors of a Polish "preventive-war" proposal were reported in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...
, their source was the Polish Embassy, which had informed French reporters that Poland had proposed a "preventive war" to France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...
; but by this time Poland and Germany were already secretly negotiating their non-aggression pact. It has been argued that Piłsudski had had the Polish Embassy start rumors about a "preventive war" as a way of pressuring the Germans, who were demanding that Poland abrogate its 1921 Franco-Polish alliance. In the event, the Polish-German non-aggression pact specifically excluded that alliance.
It has been said that Piłsudski's reason for seeking a non-aggression pact with Germany was his concern over France's Maginot Line
The Maginot Line , named after the French Minister of War André Maginot, was a line of concrete fortifications, tank obstacles, artillery casemates, machine gun posts, and other defences, which France constructed along its borders with Germany and Italy, in light of its experience in World War I,...
. Until 1929, French plans in the event of war with Germany had called for a French offensive into the North German plain in conjunction with offensives from Poland and Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...
. The building of the Maginot Line, begun in 1929, indicated that henceforth, in the event of war with Germany, the French Army would maintain a strictly defensive stance, and that France’s eastern allies were going to be on their own. (If this is true, then Piłsudski had successfully predicted the future: that is exactly what happened in 1939 with the Phony War
The Phoney War was a phase early in World War II – in the months following Britain and France's declaration of war on Germany in September 1939 and preceding the Battle of France in May 1940 – that was marked by a lack of major military operations by the Western Allies against the German Reich...
.) Thus, from Piłsudski's viewpoint, in light of France's military plans, a non-aggression pact with Germany was the best choice for Poland.
Józef Piłsudski used Adolf Hitler's rise to power and international isolation of Germany's new regime as an opportunity to reduce the risk that Poland would become the first victim of German aggression or of a Great Power
A great power is a nation or state that has the ability to exert its influence on a global scale. Great powers characteristically possess military and economic strength and diplomatic and cultural influence which may cause small powers to consider the opinions of great powers before taking actions...
deal (especially the Four Power Pact). Germany's new rulers seemed to depart from the traditionally Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...
n anti-Polish orientation. Piłsudski regarded the new chancellor as less dangerous than his immediate predecessors, going back to Gustav Stresemann
was a German politician and statesman who served as Chancellor and Foreign Minister during the Weimar Republic. He was co-laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926.Stresemann's politics defy easy categorization...
, and saw the Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....
as the greater threat, to the point where he opposed French and Czechoslovak efforts to include the Soviet Union in a common front against Nazi Germany.
In the text of the treaty the Poles insisted on stating that it did not nullify any previous international agreements, in particular the crucial alliance between Poland and France
Franco-Polish Military Alliance
The Franco-Polish alliance was the military alliance between Poland and France that was active between 1921 and 1940.-Background:Already during the France-Habsburg rivalry that started in the 16th century, France had tried to find allies to the east of Austria, namely hoping to ally with Poland...
. Nevertheless, by easing Poland's disputes with Germany bilaterally, the treaty did weaken France's diplomatic position versus Germany.
To allay any fears that the warming of relations between Poland and its western neighbor were anything but peaceful, on May 5, 1934 Poland renewed the Polish-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, first signed on July 25, 1932.
As a consequence of the treaty, Poland was able to maintain friendly relations with Germany for the next five years, while maintaining good relations with France and Great Britain, though it may have also led to foreign policy inattentiveness regarding the activities of the crumbling League of Nations
League of Nations
The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first permanent international organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace...
and disinterest in the collective security schemes proposed by French in the early 1930s.
The 1934 Polish-German non-aggression pact, soon followed by a trade agreement with Germany, is said to have granted Germany a settled eastern border and allowed Hitler time for rearmament; five years later, he went on to successfully invade Poland. Piłsudski, while distrusting German intentions on the whole, perceived Hitler's origins as an Austrian rather than a Prussian as a mitigating factor, and stated that he would like to see him in power as long as possible.
The pact has been seen as an instance of political weakness brought on by Piłsudski's illness, and likened to the interwar lack of leadership displayed by Neville Chamberlain
Arthur Neville Chamberlain FRS was a British Conservative politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from May 1937 to May 1940. Chamberlain is best known for his appeasement foreign policy, and in particular for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938, conceding the...
and Paul von Hindenburg
Paul von Hindenburg
Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg , known universally as Paul von Hindenburg was a Prussian-German field marshal, statesman, and politician, and served as the second President of Germany from 1925 to 1934....
German policy changed drastically in late 1938, after the annexation of Sudetenland
Sudetenland is the German name used in English in the first half of the 20th century for the northern, southwest and western regions of Czechoslovakia inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans, specifically the border areas of Bohemia, Moravia, and those parts of Silesia being within Czechoslovakia.The...
sealed the fate of Czechoslovakia and Poland became Hitler's next target. In October 1938 the Nazi foreign minister Joachim Ribbentrop presented Poland with the proposition of renewing the nonaggression treaty in exchange for allowing the Free City of Danzig
Free City of Danzig
The Free City of Danzig was a semi-autonomous city-state that existed between 1920 and 1939, consisting of the Baltic Sea port of Danzig and surrounding areas....
(Gdańsk) to be annexed by Germany and for permitting the building of an extraterritorial motorway and railway between East Prussia and Germany proper through the Polish Corridor
The Polish Corridor , also known as Danzig Corridor, Corridor to the Sea or Gdańsk Corridor, was a territory located in the region of Pomerelia , which provided the Second Republic of Poland with access to the Baltic Sea, thus dividing the bulk of Germany from the province of East...
. Poland refused to accept these demands. As a consequence, the non-aggression pact was unilaterally abrogated by Adolf Hitler on April 28, 1939, during an address before the Reichstag
Reichstag (Weimar Republic)
The Reichstag was the parliament of Weimar Republic .German constitution commentators consider only the Reichstag and now the Bundestag the German parliament. Another organ deals with legislation too: in 1867-1918 the Bundesrat, in 1919–1933 the Reichsrat and from 1949 on the Bundesrat...
, as Germany renewed its territorial claims in Poland. After another few months of rising tension, Germany invaded Poland
Invasion of Poland (1939)
The Invasion of Poland, also known as the September Campaign or 1939 Defensive War in Poland and the Poland Campaign in Germany, was an invasion of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent that marked the start of World War II in Europe...
on September 1, 1939, initiating World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...