Freie Stadt Danzig 1920 - 1939 06 May 2016
The history of the city of Gdansk is a rich and sometimes complicated one. Described by Napoleon as ‘the key to everything’ when he marched eastward in the early 19th century, the city has moved backwards and forwards between Polish and German/Prussian control over the centuries. Twice in its history the city has found itself functioning as an independent City State, first in the period 1807-1814 under the auspices of Napoleon and secondly in the inter-war years. This second period highlighted the city’s unique and independent population, a bit German, a bit Polish, a bit Kashubian, but first and foremost Danzigers. It also became the focal point for disagreements which resulted in the much wider conflict that became WWII. What exactly was Freie Stadt Danzig, how did it come about and what remains of it today?
HistoryIn 1918 Poland had existed in memory only for over a century (123 years to be exact) since the Third Partition of 1795 imposed by her powerful neighbours saw Poland’s territories carved up between Prussian, Habsburg and Russian empires. Gdansk/Danzig found herself in the Prussian partition, then briefly functioning as a Free City and then becoming part of the German Empire. The end of WWI brought with it a house-of-cards collapse in the occupiers, and a new independent Polish republic was established on the back of this redress of power. Gdansk/Danzig became a huge sticking point at the Versailles negotiations with both Germany and Poland arguing strongly that the city with its port ought to be put under their control. With agreement impossible, Germany in no position to rebuild the devastated local economy because of the paralysing effect of the war reparations and the League of Nations both wary the city contained a large German speaking population and fearful the Poles might go ‘Red’ like the Russians, a hashed together compromise saw the city instead designated as a Free City State.It was placed under the Protectorate of the League of Nations who appointed a High Commissioner to oversee its running. Thus on January 10th, 1920, Freie Stadt Danzig (Free City of Danzig or Wolne Miasto Gdańsk in Polish) came into being.