With the death of Marshal Pilsudski, creator and organizer of Poland, thirty-two million people, held together by the force of his personality and the forcefulness of his methods, are looking wonderingly into the future.
Fearfully they ask themselves whether it shall be an alliance with Germany or an alliance with France, or whether there will perhaps be no future at allâ€”whether Poland, so long wiped off the map of Europe, will endure as an independent (hardly a free) people.
Years ago when the patriot Kosciusko fell on the battlefield he knew his country would not outlive him, since it was his personality alone that held it together. “It is the end of Poland,” he cried.
The fate of Poland today, the Daily Express writes, has once more been so bound up with the life of a single manâ€”and that man Pilsudskiâ€”that thousands of people are asking again, “Is it the end of Poland?”
FOUGHT TO WIN FREEDOM
From 1794 to 1918 Poland as a country had ceased to exist, and all through the war Poles were fighting against each other in rival armies.
They only consented to fight, it is true, so that the side which should give Poland her freedom might triumph.
Unfortunately there was considerable doubt which side that was. One school of thought said that Poland, before her partition, had maintained a traditional alliance with France, so all Poles must fight for the Allies. Others, including Pilsudski, argued that since the partition of Poland the only country to encourage Polish aspirations for the future and preserve Polish traditions of the past had been Austria, so it was the duty of every Pole to fight for the Central Powers.
Pilsudski himself commanded a Polish legion in the Austrian army. There was another Polish legion in the French army. That conflict is typical of the Polish people, who all through their history have fought and slain each other to settle where Poland’s true interests lay, until there was, in fact, no Poland left.
DON’T KNOW HOW TO USE IT
Two things about the Polish people have been remarkable all through their history; a burning passion for freedom and a complete inability to use it when it was theirs.
Up till the end of the eighteenth century, when their country was divided into three unequal shares by Prussia, Russia and Austria, they had a free Constitution, the most astonishing that ever existed. Every Polish noble sat in a national assembly which elected the king. Every member of that assembly had the right to make its proceedings void by shouting the words “I forbid” (Niepozwolam).
Meanwhile Poland herself was always distracted with civil war, save during those intervals when she was united by a strong ruler.
She had several. Her hero kings are still proudly pointed out where they lie buried in the ancient sandstone cathedral of Cracow, her historic capital, perhaps the most romantic and colorful of all Europe’s cities.
GERMAN GROWTH ALARMS
Today the growth of German power is alarming the Poles, who fear for their strip of seacoast, sandwiched between two tracts of German territory, and recall the insults and the brutalities inflicted by them on their German minority when in 1918 they had the chanceâ€”so readily takenâ€”to avenge the insults they had suffered under 150 years of Prussian rule.
So some of them hanker after a French alliance again. But France is now in league with Russia, and a Pole hates the Russians more than ever he hated the Germans.
Of all Poland’s masters the Russians were worst, as the Austrian were surely best. Tales of mass execution and massacre, of Cossacks and transportation to Siberia, are told to every Polish child in its nursery. Now that Russia is Communist instead of Czarist that hate is ten times fiercer. For Russia is Red, atheist and materialist. The Poles are Conservative, Catholic and profoundly mystical.
Of 32,000,000 people living in Poland only 22,000,000 are Poles. Five million are of Russian stock, 3,000,000 are Jews, 1,000,000 are Germans, the rest are made up of fragments of pretty nearly every race in Central Europe.
Against all these factors of disintegration Poland cannot oppose that great stabilizing influence that has saved so many peoplesâ€”a solid middle class.
There is practically no native middle class in Poland. There never was.
There are nobles and there are peasants, and both of them look down contemptuously on commerce as an occupation fit only for Jews or Germans, who in fact do most of the commerce in the country.
Proud, generous and brave, incompetent, lazy and cruel, swift to decide and slow to agree, the Polish people are looking for a leader.