Centuries-Old German anti-Polish Racism and Its Revanchist Implications
Here is my review of this new book, appearing at Amazon. Although not written for this purpose, the book highlights the continuing danger of German revanchism and other potential German designs against Poland, as embodied by the European Union.
Review of Germany’s Wild East: Constructing Poland as Colonial Space, by Kristin Kopp. 2012. University of Michigan Press.
Centuries of German Racist and Imperialist Thought Against Poles
The informed reader may be struck at just how unoriginal were the thoughts, against Poles and Poland, of Hitler and the other Nazis. They went back centuries.
In the wake of the Partitions of Poland, some Germans (mainly from southwestern Germany, probably animated by anti-Prussian rather than pro-Polish sentiment) temporarily saw it for what it was—the Polish nation destroyed by an act of Prussian aggression. (p. 16). Other Germans sought to justify the Partitions by delegitimizing Poles and Poland. The Poles were undeserving of a nation-state not so much because they were backward, but primarily because they never develop anything, and they “lack organizational and self-government skills.” (e. g, pp. 14-15). The durable specter of POLNISCHE WIRTSCHAFT was invoked.
Polish achievement meant nothing because whatever Poles had was entirely the work of the Germans. Moreover, without constant German presence, Poles would soon degenerate back into chaos and barbarism. Finally, the relative advancement of the Poles compared with the Herrero of southwest Africa, and the Indians of the Americas, owed solely to diffusion–the fact that the Poles were geographically much closer to German influence, and because they had been subject to the benefits of this German influence for a much longer period of time. (p. 13).
A digression: The informed reader realizes that this delegitimization of Poland occurred in many other contexts. [Before WWII, some Germans at least used the term “Poland” as a geographical reference. Under the Nazi occupation, Poland was delegitimized even as a name. The German conquerors referred to the relevant territories as WARTHELAND and the GENERAL GOVERNMENT]. During and after the Partitions, many western thinkers also delegitimized Poles as essentially incompetent, and therefore undeserving of their own nation-state—for which reason the erasure of Poland was of no moral or political significance. Likewise, after the resurrection of the Polish state (1918), she was delegitimized anew–as a “seasonal state”, “essentially unjust to her minorities”, “unable to govern herself”, and an “illegitimate child of Versailles”. Similar thinking made it easier for the British and French to renege on their treaty obligations to Poland in 1939, and later for Churchill and Roosevelt to betray their faithful-ally Poland, at Teheran and Yalta, as a nuisance in western-Soviet relations. Similar delegitimization of Poland, in subsequent years, made it easier to continue to rationalize the betrayal, and to justify her extended unwanted subjugation in the Soviet bloc. More recently, the “Poland is nothing by herself” thinking was switched to the “inevitable necessity” of her membership in the European Union. Nowadays, the delegitimization of Poland occurs primarily in the context of Holocaust-related thinking and politics. Poland is not a nation with her own national goals and her own victim-hood under the Nazis. Instead, she is essentially a land of spectators to and perpetrators of the Jewish catastrophe (along with faceless, de-Germanized Nazis), and “a vast graveyard of Jews.”
Back to the review: It was not only Germany’s detractors portraying Germans as barbarous conquerors. Kopp cites the work of the German medieval historian Karl Hampe and his 1921 book, DER ZUG NACH DEM OSTEN (THE DRIVE TO THE EAST). (pp. 26-28). It confirms the Germans’ brutal conquest of Slavs in the past, subjugation of the Wends, etc. Hampe also confirms the fact that the Germans exterminated a large part of the original Prussian peoples. (p. 27).
When it came to post-Partition German rule over Poland, Pan-German chauvinism (my term) took two forms. (p. 63). Some Germans (the assimilationists) saw the Poles as inferior owing to circumstances that could or would be overcome with time. Others (the exclusionists) took a frankly racist approach in seeing Poles as innately and immutably inferior to Germans, something later echoed by the eventual Fuhrer in MEIN KAMPF. The pre-Nazi (and of course Nazi) exclusionists sought the eventual expulsion of the Poles (p. 63).
The author describes how the Poles organized themselves, and thwarted Bismarck’s KULTURKAMPF (p. 6). So much for the myth that Poles lack organizational skills!
The Polish Corridor has often been misrepresented as an artificial solution to the problem of newly-recreated Poland’s lack of access to the sea, and arguably an injustice imposed on Germany owing to the separation of East Prussia from the rest of Germany. Actually, as shown by German maps themselves well before WWI, most of the eventual territory of the Polish Corridor had an ethnic Polish majority. (See the maps between pp. 131-132, especially Plate 4). Kopp uses these maps to show how German cartographers accentuated the German presence and minimized the Polish one.
Around the time of the resurrection of Poland (1918), Germans sought to rationalize their continuing “right” to Polish territories. Failing a purely ethnographic set of claims, they enlisted Kashubs and Jews as Germans. (p. 137). They also went further—invoking VOLKSBODEN, which is the fact that the territories contain Germans and, furthermore, that many non-Germans bear a pronounced German imprint. (p. 145, 150). They also promoted KULTURBODEN—the premise that the territories are essentially German and rightfully part of Germany because, irrespective of local ethnic majorities, their culture and civilizational infrastructure had been built by Germans. (pp. 141-on).
Kopp realizes the continuation of German colonial/racist thinking against Poles in their occupation policies during WWII. For instance, GENERALPLAN OST called for the eventual replacement of all Poles (except slave laborers) with ethnic Germans, and the Poles exterminated or resettled in Siberia. (pp. 206-207).
KULTURBODEN is not solely of historical interest. Kopp (pp. 209-210) discusses the trend, in recent years, of German thinking steered in the direction of Germans as victims of WWII (e. g, Erika Steinbach). Even if not framed in terms of revanchist goals, this thinking extends to resurrecting the thought of formerly German territories, now long part of Poland, as still “essentially German” in some way.