1870-1919 1939-1946

Free City of Danzig, 1920-1939

Since 1871, Danzig had belonged to Germany. The city, with a predominantly German-speaking population and a hinterland which was inhabited by a partially Kashubian, partially Polish and to a smaller extent German-speaking population, had benefitted from the economic upturn of the later 19th and early 20th century, had grown in size and economic importance.
During these decades, the hinterland aforementioned, although mostly non-German in character (West Prussia, Posen) had also formed part of Germany. During World War I, the reestablishment of a Polish state was discussed; President Wilson included the demand for such an independent Polish state in his 14 POINTS.
The areas which were of unquestionably Polish character were located inland, on the banks of the Vistula and Warthe Rivers. The city of Danzig controlled the mouth of the Vistula, the main economic artery of the future Polish state. As the establishment of an independent Polish state could only occur in conflict with German interests, German control over Danzig would probably result in great difficulties for the young Polish state. This problem was seen even before the new Polish state was created, and the demand for Polish access to the (Baltic) sea included in President Wilson's 14 points.
At the Versailles Conference, Germany had to accept the cession of most of the provinces of Posen and West Prussia to Poland; Danzig was declared a FREE CITY (formally declared on January 10th 1920) under the protection of the LEAGUE OF NATIONS, which was represented in Danzig by a commissioner. As through much of its history, Danzig was a political unit of its own, distinct of and separated from its hinterland; the city had an overwhelming German-speaking population; many Danzigers resented the free city status and were German patriots. Economically, good relations with Poland, seemingly imposed on the city, could only be beneficial to both Poland and Danzig, while the policy of economic confrontation imposed by post-war Germany on Poland, if applied by Danzig, could only prove disastrous.

On January 1st 1919 the Deutscher Volksrat (German People's Council) was established; on March 23rd, 70,000 Danzigers protested the Treaty of Versailles provision concerning the cession of an access to the Baltic (Danzig) to Poland. On April 25th, news arrived in Danzig that the Allies, on a suggestion by David Lloyd George, had decided to grant Danzig the status of a free city under the League of Nations. On June 29th 1919, Danzig formally was separated from Germany; the Free City created Jan. 10th 1920. On June 14th, the constitutional assembly was convened, on August 13th the constitution accepted. On Nov. 9th Danzig and Poland signed the Treaty of Paris; the Free City was formally proclaimed Nov. 15th, the Deutscher Volkstag (German People's Assembly, Danzig diet) constituted Dec. 6th 1920.
The Warsaw Agreement of Oct. 24th 1921 regulated Poland's rights in Danzig. On April 1st 1922, Danzig and Poland entered into a customs union. On April 29th 1923, Poland began with the construction of the port of Gdynia, on Polish territory, just west of Danzig, which was connected with the Vistula basin by railway; Gdynia's raison d'etre thus was to circumvent Danzig. It only partially fulfilled that function. On Danzig territory, the Polish state was represented by the POLISH POST OFFICE, and by a Polish garrison on the WESTERPLATTE. The city enjoyed political autonomy in domestic affairs, and after a period of transition, acquired a number of attributes of statehood, such as her own currency, the GULDEN, her own banknotes and postage stamps.
In the early 1920es, Danzig, as Poland and Germany, went through a period of hyperinflation, which was ended with the currency reform, the introduction of the Gulden (exchange rate 25 Gulden = 1 Pound Sterling).
On August 8th 1923, 1 kg of bread cost 40,000 Mk, 1 l milk 28,000 Mk, 1 pound of butter 300,000 Mk paper.
On August 13th 1923, q kg bread cost 150,000 Mk, 1 l milk 42,000 Mk, i pound of butter 480,000 Mk.
On Sept. 7th 1923, 1 pound of potatoes cost 100,000 Mk., i pound of meat 2,700,000 Mk.
According to the census taken 1934 August 31st, Danzig had 383,955 inhabitants, 96 % Germans, 3 % Poles, Kashubians; 60 % Lutherans, 35 % Catholics. A Catholic diocesis of Danzig was established Dec. 30th 1925. On June 1st 1926, Danzig Radio Station began broadcasting.

In the Nov. 16th 1930 elections to the Danzig Diet, the NSDAP increased her seats from 1 to 12 (18.3 % of the votes; second strongest party after the SPF with 19 seats, out of 70). On June 23rd 1931, the Volkstag passes the Empowerment Act (Ermächtigungsgesetz), because of the desolate financial situation. In the same year the Polish press discusses the option of a Polish occupation of Danzig; the Polish government issues demands against Danzig administration (Polish veto on Danzig decisions, ban on military organizations, indigenate in Danzig). On July 14th 1931 Danzig banks closed down; on August 1st state officials were paid only half their salary; on August 6th the cash flow resumed, state officials were paid the second half of their salary Aig. 10th. September 31st, the Danzig currency went off the gold standard.
On Jan. 31st, 40,726 Danzigers were out of a job. The May 1933 elections returned the NSDAP as the strongest party in the Volkstag. In February 1934 a Jewish school was established; Poland declared a boycott against Danzig. In August 1934 Poland and Danzig signed an economic agreement and the boycott was lifted. On August 17th 1934 the emigration of the Danzig Jews began. That year, the NS administration banned most newspapers; the association of employers was dissolved; capital flight set in.

On April 1st 1935, the Polish-language newspaper Gazeta Gdanska was banned; April 7th elections to the Volkstag returned NSDAP 44 seats, SPD 12 seats, Zentrum 3 seats, Communists, Poles 2 seats each. On May 2nd the Danzig currency was devaluated. On August 1st, Senate President Greiser declared economic state of emergency.
On July 24th 1937, the first tv program was broadcast in Danzig. On October 21st 1937, the Zentrum Party was the last democratic party to be dissolved. In 1937-1938, about half of the Jewish community (which used to number 10,448) emigrated. On 1938 Nov. 21, Danzig introduced the Nuremberg Race Laws.
Literature Nobel Prize laureate GÜNTER GRASS, who grew up in this athmosphere, describes it in his DANZIG TRILOGY. Another author describing Danzig in the late 1930es is CARL JACOB BURCKHARDT ("Meine Danziger Mission"), last League of Nations commissioner.
In summer 1939, Hitler demanded Poland to grant the so-called KORRIDOR (a road connecting the isolated German province of East Prussia with the remainder of Germany, to be placed under German sovereignty); Poland rejected. On August 23rd, Danzig Gauleiter Albert Forster staged a coup d'etat (the day of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Agression Pact).
On September 1st 1939, a German battleship, the Schleswig-Holstein, on visit in Danzig, opened fire on the Westerplatte (held by a Polish garrison), thus opening WW II; the same day, Danzig was formally annexed by Germany.

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Biography of Carl Jacob Burckhardt, from DHM, in German; from Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz, in German
DOCUMENTS Flag 1920-1939, from FOTW; Coat of Arms, from International Civic Heraldry
World Statesmen : Danzig, by Ben Cahoon
Urban Historical Population Statistics of Poland, from Population Statistics at Univ. Utrecht; scroll down for Gdansk; has data since 1750
Danzig Banknotes, from Ron Wise's World Paper Money
Rate Danzig Stamps, from Sandafayre Stamp Gallery; Stamps of Danzig, from Stamps Catalogue 1840-1920 by Evert Klaseboer; Danzig and Port Gdansk Stamps, from Stamps of Poland
License Plates : Free City of Danzig, from License Plates of the World
Exchange of Notes between the Governments of Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, and the Polish Government, regarding the Application to the Free City of Danzig of the Convention relating to the Tonnage Measurement of Merchant Ships of 16 April 1934, (London, 26 June 1936), from Australian Treaty Series
The Danzig Question, Part I : The Militarization of the City, Part II : German Agitation Continued, Part III : The Polish Resistance and the German Press Campaign (August 1-19) from World War II Resources
Nazi Propaganda Postcard : Danzig ist Deutsch (Danzig is German), from German Propaganda Archive
Verfassung der Freien Stadt Danzig 1922, from Verfassungen.de, in German
REFERENCE Erich Keyser, Danzigs Geschichte, (Danzig 1928) Reprint Hamburg : Danziger Verlagsgesellschaft Paul Rosenberg, undated (History of Danzig), 300 pp.
Hans Georg Siegler, Danzig - Chronik eines Jahrtausends (Danzig - Chronicle of a Millennium; a timeline), Düsseldorf : Droste 1990, in German
Article : Danzig, in : Statesman's Yearbook 1924 pp.788-790, 1925 pp.799-801, 1926 pp.775-777, 1928 pp.786-789, 1929 pp.778-781, 1932 pp.786-789, 1937 pp.825-828 [G]
Article : Danzig, in : Americana Annual 1927 pp.245-246, 1928 p.220, 1930 p.240, 1931 p.248-249, 1932 pp.210-211, 1933 pp.224-225, 1934 pp.187-188, 1935 p.203, 1936 pp.203-204, 1937 pp.191-192 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on August 9th 2002, last revised on August 24th 2007

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