By 1919, the parades were now drawing to a close. In Paris, life was now slowly returning back to normal. The Entente had emerged victorious from four years of what had been the costliest war mankind had ever seen until then and the time had come to discuss the peace terms with the defeated and the recently emerged -from the ashes of the old Empires of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia- states and reshape Europe. The leaders of the Entente, Lloyd George, Prime Minister of the British Empire, Georges Clemenceau, the Prime Minister of France and Woodrow Wilson, President of the USA, accompanied by various councilors, advisors and diplomats had gathered in Paris to participate in what would become known as ‘the Paris Conference'.
The Conference had to take care of several important matters, such as the reparations of Germany, the territorial gains of the winners and the redraw of the borders in Central Europe and the Balkans, where the fall of the old Empires of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia had left a big vacuum waiting to be filled. One of the main issues was the future of Poland. The state of Poland had been partitioned between Prussia, Austria and Russia and ceased to exist in 1795. After a brief period of independence during the Napoleonic period, the status quo returned. During World War I, the Poles were caught in the middle, serving in the armies of Germany, Austria and Russia. Now, the fall of the great Empires had given hope to the Poles.
Józef Piłsudski, a Pole patriot had waited for such an opportunity to push his agenda, regarding the independence of Poland. In 1914 Piłsudski pledged his allegiance with Austria and formed a personal Polish legion that grew larger as the war progressed. With his units, he ceased power in Warsaw, in 1918. The Poles were delighted but nothing, not even the survival of their state was guaranteed yet. Józef Piłsudski would have to face enemies in all of Poland's borders. The Bolsheviks were growing stronger and would push sooner or later against the West, the Czechs and the Ukrainians had proclaimed their independence and of course, there was Germany.
The stance of the Entente towards Poland was another issue. Would Poland be recognized and if yes, what areas would it encompass? Would it include areas where the Poles made up the majority of the population or did Poland need to be as large as possible in order to provide a bulwark against Bolshevism? The first question was answered positively by American President Wilson. His agenda regarding the future of Europe after the end of hostilities, synopsized in his fourteen points called for an independent Polish state which would include all the areas where Polish majorities lived, as well as ‘access to the sea’.
The second question, regarding the borders of the new state would be a matter of endless debate in the Paris Conference the following months. The Polish claims were far-stretched. The Polish representative, Dmowski when called by the leaders of the Entente to explain the situation in Poland argued that most of East Germany, Galicia and Lithuania should be given to Poland. Pilsudski, proclaimed Prime Minister and chief in command of the Polish Army had already begun sending units to the claimed areas. Numerous clashes took place between the Polish army and the Czechs and the Germans.
The Entente created the Commission for Polish Affairs which was to draw the borders of the Polish state. That was no easy job. Centuries of population movements and invasions had led to a spread of the Polish population. In the East, the Polish populations were centered on mainly Vilna in the North and Lvov in the South. The Middle was inhabited by Ukrainians and Byelorussians and the Poles were certainly a minority.
In the West, there was no much difference. A Polish majority lay along the Vistula, but East Prussia and especially the coast was largely German. This raised an issue on the Polish Corridor which would lead to the Baltic Sea. If Poland was to get both banks of the Vistula as well as the obvious choice for a port, Danzig, hundreds of thousands of Germans would remain under Polish control. Additionally, a large ethnically Polish but Protestant population (the majority of the Poles were normally Catholic) lived in the province of Allenstein, in Eastern Prussia but it was unknown where its loyalty lied.
The Commission produced its first report regarding the German-Polish border. The Polish Corridor would include Posen, which was largely Polish, and a large area along the banks of Vistula, leaving two million Germans under Polish control. East Prussia with the port of Koenigsberg would remain under German control and only in Allenstein, a referendum would be held. When it was, in 1920, 363,000 voted for Germany and only 8,000 for Poland.
Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World - Margaret Macmillan
The Lands of Partitioned Poland - Piotr Wandycz