Page 1

Autumn Book Number

Third Quarter 1994 Number 84

FINEST HOUR

Journal vtf TlTeMiiTe

UK •Canada


Churchill and Eastern Europe Part 2: Poland and Germany The Balancing Act BY STANLEY E. SMITH

jL Hied negotiations over the composition of the / ^ P o l i s h government were accompanied throughJL A. out the war by negotiations over the postwar borders of Poland. The shock of the German invasion of Russia in 1941 did not deter Stalin from wanting ultimately to reclaim the land he had acquired under the notorious Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939.95 This territory included not only a sizable chunk of Poland, but later also a "frontier security" area encompassing Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland's Karelian isthmus, the Romanian province of Bessarabia, and Bukovina.96 The wishes of the Soviet government regarding Poland's frontiers were specific and definite as early as Eden's visit to Moscow in December 1941, and they changed little throughout the war. Stalin wanted Poland's eastern border to be based on a delineation known as the Gurzon Line, which ran near the border occupied by the Red Army in 1940. Stalin said he considered this frontier to be "ethnologically correct."97 The western border was to expand westward at Germany's expense as far as the Oder River. The Moscow discussions of 1941 left the frontier question open. When Molotov visited London in May 1942, he offered to sign a treaty with the Polish government-in-exile in London on the basis of the Curzon Line or the 1941 border prior to the German attack on Russia. In exchange, Britain was to abandon the London Poles. Eden said this was impossible.98 The Curzon Line quickly became the center of attention in the debate over Poland's eastern frontier. Its origin dated to 1919, when it was recommended by the Supreme Council of the Allied Powers as the eastern frontier of Poland. On 12 July 1920, Lord Gurzon, then British Foreign Secretary, had sent an official note to the Soviet government proposing that the frontier line run along Grodno, Jalovka, Nemirov, Brest-Litovsk, Dorohusk, Ustiling, east of Grobeshov, Krilov, and then west of Rava-Ruska east of Przemysl to the Carpathians.99 The Soviets had spurned it but were soon forced by the Poles to accept a more eastward line. At the Teheran conference in December 1943, Stalin prohibited Poland from keeping any territory in the Ukraine or in White Russia.100 He also asked that 42 / FINEST HOUR 84

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THE FRONTIERS OF CENTRAL EUROPE

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Russia be ceded the cities of Lvov and Konigsberg and the northern part of East Prussia.101 The following month, Churchill appeared to concede Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to Stalin, noting in a memo to Eden that Stalin's claim to them "in no way exceeds the former Tsarist boundaries."102 (See also "Churchill and the Baltic," Finest Hour #53-54.) The expectations of the London Polish governmentin-exile about the postwar eastern frontier of Poland were very different from those of Stalin. Before 1939, the eastern frontier of Poland had been defined by the Riga Treaty of 1921, concluded when Polish forces had repulsed a Russian attack and stood very well militarily. The Riga Treaty frontier therefore lay considerably eastward of the Curzon Line. In the rapprochment between Russia and the London Poles following the German invasion of Russia, General Sikorski, then Polish Prime Minister, offered to sign an agreement on the basis of a restored Riga Treaty frontier. The Soviet


Government refused, and in the agreement that was signed at the end of July 1941, the frontier question was left open."13 As late as the time of the Teheran conference, Mikolajczyk was telling Eden that the Polish people expected to emerge from the war with their eastern provinces intact.104 In a meeting with Eden in March 1943, Soviet Ambassador Ivan Maisky argued that the Soviet-Polish border should be the Gurzon Line with minor adjustments."15 On 10 January 1944, the Soviet government publicly proclaimed the Gurzon Line as its border with Poland.1"' On February 4th, Stalin complained to Churchill that the Polish leaders had not yet publicly abandoned the Riga Treaty frontier in favor of the Curzon Line.107 By the Moscow conference of October, 1944, the London Poles were willing to accept the Gurzon Line as "a line of demarcation between Russia and Poland," but the Soviet government insisted on regarding the line as "a basis of frontier." Neither side would budge. By this time, Stalin was doing business with the Lublin Poles and had no interest in accommodating their London counterparts.108 Despite these continued difficulties between Stalin and the exiled Polish leaders, discussions of the eastern frontier of Poland among the three major Allies went fairly smoothly. As early as March 1943, Roosevelt expressed to Eden his opinion that, if granted concessions in the west, Poland would gain by accepting the Gurzon Line, and would in any case have to abide by the eventual decision of the Big Three."109

JL he Polish frontier was discussed by the Big Three at the Teheran conference. Stalin defended the 1939 (Molotov-Ribbentrop) frontier as being "ethnologically the right one." Churchill proposed that Poland's frontiers be based on the Gurzon Line and the Oder (including East Prussia and Oppeln), but that the actual tracing of the frontier line be done only following a careful study of the population questions involved. Stalin's attempt to treat the 1939 border and the Curzon Line as the same did not succeed. Maps were produced, and the discussion centered for a time on whether Lvov lay to the east or to the west of the Gurzon Line. Stalin said he would gladly give up his claim to any district with a Polish population.110 Agreement was soon reached. Churchill said he was "not prepared to make a great squawk about Lvov." Stalin replied that, with Lvov and Konigsberg left in Soviet hands, he was prepared to accept Churchill's formula.111 Much more labored were the discussions between Churchill and Eden on the one side and the London Poles on the other following the Teheran conference. Acting initially through Eden because of a serious illness, Churchill took a very hard line in urging the Poles to accept the Teheran formulation, at least in principle.

Noting that the Teheran agreement left the Poles with "a magnificent piece of country," Churchill warned that if the Poles cast the agreement aside, "I do not see how His Majesty's Government can press for anything more for them..."112 The initial hostility of the London Poles to any reduction of their eastern provinces angered Churchill, who felt that he had done all that could be done for them under the circumstances. In a 7 January 1944 telegram to Eden, Churchill said he was contemplating telling the world that Britain had never undertaken to defend Poland's pre-1939 borders. He noted that Russia had a right to the "inexpungeable security" of her western frontiers, and that Poland now owed its life to the Russian armies. Churchill threatened to withdraw help and recognition from the London Poles, scoffed at the idea that Britain would consider going to war against Russia over Poland's eastern frontier, and concluded pointedly that "[n]ations who are found incapable of defending their country must accept a reasonable measure of guidance from those who have rescued them and who offer them the prospect of a sure freedom and independence.""3 Time and circumstances would not bear out his optimism. On January 20th, Churchill met in London with Mikolajczyk, Tadeusz Romer (Polish Foreign Minister), and Edward Raczynski (Polish Ambassador in London) to discuss the frontier agreement. According to an aide, the Prime Minister "gave it to them hot and strong.""4 He said the Curzon Line was the best Poland could hope to obtain, and that valuable German land would be awarded to Poland in return for the eastern lands (including extensive marshland) that would go to Russia. In return for the agreement of the London Poles, Churchill said he would stoutly defend their legitimacy against Russia. When Mikolajczyk replied that he could not survive politically if he ceded any eastern lands, let alone Vilna (now Vilnius, Lithuania) and Lvov, Churchill urged him and his colleagues to make a settlement quickly. On January 28th he told Stalin that he had advised the London Poles to accept the Curzon Line, and warned Stalin against setting up a rival Polish government. As Martin Gilbert points out, Churchill had thus acted against the deepest wishes both of the London Poles and of Stalin, and had begun a long and ultimately futile effort to reconcile these wishes.115 More Anglo-Polish talks were held, but they were marked by acrimony and little progress. At a February 6th meeting at Chequers, Mikolajczyk reported that the Polish underground adhered firmly to the eastern frontier established by the Riga Treaty. Churchill, in reply, again defended the Gurzon Line and pointed out that "...the people of Poland have been unable to maintain their independence throughout the centuries, and even during their short period of freedom, had not had a record of which they could be proud. Now they had a fine opportunity if they were prepared to take it."116 FINEST HOUR 84 / 43


A,Lt a February 16th meeting at Downing Street,

Churchill told the Poles that "his heart bled for them, but the brutal facts could not be overlooked. He could no more stop the Russian advance than stop the tide coming in. It was no use saying something which would only make the Russians more angry and drive them to...a puppet government in Warsaw."" 7 On 20 February 1944, the Polish government relented to the extant of accepting the text of a note in which Churchill told Stalin that the Poles were ready to renounce the Riga Treaty frontier line, and that he had told them of the likely loss of Vilnius, Konigsberg, and Lvov.118 Churchill followed up his message by announcing his support of the Curzon Line as a "reasonable and just" border in the House of Commons on 22 February."9 In his reply, Stalin sneered off the Polish concessions.120 The eastern frontier of Poland was further discussed at the (Anglo-Soviet) Moscow conference of October, 1944. Churchill pressed Mikolajczyk to accept the Curzon Line as a de facto arrangement.121 On October 13th, Mikolajczyk met with Stalin, who asked that the London Poles publicly accept the Curzon Line, Mikolajczyk was unable to agree to this. Later he offered to agree to the Curzon Line if Stalin would give up his claim to Lvov, but Stalin held fast.122 Mikolajczyk returned to London and, being unable to persuade his colleagues to accept the Curzon Line, resigned in November from the government-in-exile.123 This virtually ended the influence of the London Poles on the frontier question. At the Yalta conference in February 1945, relatively quick agreement was reached on the eastern frontier of Poland. In pressing the acceptance of the Curzon Line, Stalin argued that he could hardly claim less for the Soviet Union than Curzon and Clemenceau had offered after World War I.124 He also argued that the Soviet-Polish border was a matter of vital security to Russia.125 Roosevelt noted that Polish-American opinion was ready to accept the Curzon Line, but he urged Stalin to cede Lvov and possibly some oil fields in compensation for the annexation of Konigsberg. As Stalin was not especially sensitive to the feelings of Polish-Americans, this suggestion went nowhere.'26 Churchill was of course quite willing to accept the Curzon Line as the frontier, though he too encouraged Stalin to make the "magnanimous" gesture of ceding Lvov. To him the frontier question was secondary to the question of the Polish government.127 The Yalta Declaration stated that "the eastern frontier of Poland should follow the Curzon Line with digressions from it in some regions of five to eight kilometers in favor of Poland."128 Lvov and Konigsberg went to Russia; East Prussia south and west of Konigsberg went to Poland.129 44/FINEST HOUR 84

The Big Three agreed early in the war that Poland should be compensated for the loss of its eastern provinces by territory in eastern Germany. Just how far to expand Poland's western border was, however, a matter of considerable dispute. At the Teheran conference (1943), the "line of the Oder" was proposed by Churchill as the western frontier of Poland. The Oder River ran south from the Baltic Sea less than a hundred miles east of Berlin. Between Berlin and Dresden, the Oder divided into the Western Neisse, which continued to run south, and the Oder itself, which continued in a southeastern direction. Further south, the Oder was joined by the Eastern Neisse, which ran to the southwest. The distinction between the Western and the Eastern Neisse became very important in the ensuing controversy. At the Yalta conference, Stalin proposed that the Oder and Western Neisse Rivers be designated the western border of Poland.130 Roosevelt objected to this. He was willing to extend Poland's territory as far as the Oder in the northwest, but saw "little justification" in expending Poland to the Western Neisse in the southwest. Churchill agreed with him.131 Though all agreed that Poland should be compensated by German land in the West, the Western allies preferred that the frontier follow the Oder and the Eastern Neisse.132 The British position on this question was consistent with the discussions between the British leaders and Mikolajczyk the previous autumn. At that time the British had been willing to agree to a frontier up to the Oder in order to strengthen the position of the London Poles, but, according to Eden, "there had never been any question of our agreeing to the Western Neisse."'33 Churchill at Yalta argued that Poland should not be awarded more land in the West than the Poles could readily assimilate. "It would be a pity," he said, "to stuff the Polish goose so full of German food that it gets indigestion."134 His principal objection to expanding the western frontier as far as Stalin proposed was that it would require moving six million Germans. Stalin disputed that figure, and contended that most Germans had already fled west of the Western Neisse. Churchill said that the British War Cabinet would not agree to the Western Neisse, and suggested that the question be referred to the new Polish government and deferred to the peace conference.135 Stalin agreed to defer the question to the peace conference. The Yalta Declaration stated that Poland should in principle receive compensatory territory to the north and west, that the new provisional government in Poland should be consulted, and that the delineation of Poland's western border should await the peace conference. So the matter rested, at least on paper.136

I,Ln reality, the war and its consequences crashed on.

By the time of the next Big Three conference, held in Potsdam in July 1945, Roosevelt had died, Germany had


surrendered, and Soviet forces had occupied all the land east of the Western Neisse and turned it over to the puppet Polish government to administer. This effectively settled the question of Poland's western frontier. At the Potsdam conference, Stalin again formally proposed that the Oder and the Western Neisse be recognized as the western border of Poland. President Truman protested the de facto creation of a Polish zone in a part of what had been eastern Germany without prior Allied agreement. Stalin replied that the Germans had fled the area, and that he couldn't stop the Poles from filling the administrative vacuum. Churchill restated his objections to a Western Neisse frontier: the territorial compensation was disproportionate, the food and fuel were needed in other parts of Germany, millions of Germans would have to be moved. The disputes over the German population in the territory and over the meaning of the "line of the Oder" phrase used at Teheran continued.137 Churchill was forced from power in the General Election held during the Potsdam conference, and so could not see the conference through to its conclusion. In his memoirs, he stated that he had planned to confront Stalin at the end of the conference with the "unfinished business" of Poland, including the question of the western frontier. Rather than agree to the Western Neisse border, he wrote, he would have made a public break with Stalin.138 This intention was penned with the benefit of hindsight, but no doubt with sincerity. Whether under different circumstances Churchill would indeed have seen fit to break with one of his principal allies over the disposition of a relatively minor stretch of territory is perhaps less than certain. Even less certain is the prospect that Stalin might have yielded part of his newly won empire in Eastern Europe when confronted by a rupture with Britain. Truman had already made what Churchill called the "fateful decision" to withdraw the Western Allied forces into the agreed-upon zones of occupation, so Churchill's real bargaining power was slight. Stalin held the winning cards. Clement Attlee replaced Churchill at the Potsdam conference. On August 2nd, he, Truman, and Stalin agreed to regard the line of the Oder and Western Neisse as Poland's de facto western border. On 16 August 1945, the Soviet and Polish governments signed a treaty recognizing the Curzon Line, with minor adjustments, as the eastern border of Poland. Poland's western frontier remained officially unresolved until June 1991, when a newly reunited Germany signed a treaty with Poland recognizing the OderWestern Neisse line.

Churchill and the Fate of Germany The Allies began serious discussions about the management of postwar Germany shortly after the war took

a permanent turn in their favor in early 1943. That summer, a British Cabinet committee chaired by Attlee recommended that Germany be occupied in three zones of roughly equal size. Britain would occupy the northwest, the United States the southwest and south, and Russia the east. Berlin would be jointly occupied.139 The question of occupied Germany was discussed at the Teheran conference in 1943, but no final decision was reached.140 At Quebec in September 1944, Churchill and Roosevelt agreed to the British proposal, with additional harbor arrangements for the United States. In September and November, representatives of the Big Three allies on the European Advisory Commission signed agreements along those lines.141 The ultimate disposition of the occupation zones was still not settled. At their meeting in Moscow in October 1944, Stalin and Churchill discussed the possibilities of putting the Ruhr and Saar regions under international control and of forming a separate state in the Rhineland.142 Though secondary to the Polish question, the question of the occupation zones was discussed at the Yalta conference. Churchill there proposed to allot an occupation zone to France. Stalin treated the idea skeptically, but Roosevelt assured Churchill privately that he was prepared to give France a section of the American zone. Near the end of the conference, the Big Three agreed to give France a seat on the German Control Commission.143 By the time of the Yalta conference, General Eisenhower had been urging Roosevelt for two years not to set up zones of occupation in Germany. He even sent his chief of staff, General Bedell Smith, to Yalta to see Roosevelt and repeat the advice, particularly on the grounds that the Western Allied forces now appeared likely to penetrate further into Germany than earlier estimates had predicted. F D R nonetheless stood by the zones idea.144 The agreed-upon zones came under further pressure as the armies of the Western Allies advanced through Germany in the spring of 1945. Churchill urged Eisenhower to push his forces as far eastward as possible, but the general, for what seemed to him to be sound military reasons, instead diverted some of his forces southward to the Leipzig-Dresden area.145 He also stopped short of taking Prague.146 Though the western armies did not take Berlin, they did advance over one hundred miles into what had been designated the Soviet occupation zone in Germany. As noted earlier, Churchill saw this advance as an important bargaining chip with Russia. He therefore argued that the western armies should not withdraw into their occupation zones until agreements were reached with Russia about Poland and other important political issues. As he noted to General Ismay nearly a month before the German surrender, "we consider the matter is above the sphere of purely military decision by a commander in the field."147 Churchill expressed his misgivings more fully in a FINEST HOUR 84 / 45


May 4th note to Eden. He said the withdrawal of the western armies would mean the "sweeping forward" of the Soviet armies some 120 miles on a 300-400-mile front, which "would be one of the most melancholy [events] in history." In a foreshadow of his 1946 "Iron Curtain" (or "Sinews of Peace") speech, he noted that the territory under Soviet control would include "the Baltic provinces, all of Germany to the occupation line, all Czechoslovakia, a large part of Austria, the whole of Yugoslavia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria [and] all the great capitals of Middle Europe, including Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia..."14* On May 6th, he advised Truman to "hold firmly to the existing position obtained or being obtained by our armies..."149 On June 4th, he told Truman that "I view with profound misgivings the retreat of the American Army to our line of occupation in the central sector, thus bringing Soviet power into the heart of Western Europe and the descent of an iron curtain between us and everything to the eastward. I hoped that this retreat, if it has to be made, would be accompanied by the settlement of many great things which would be the true

foundation of world peace."15" On June 12th Truman rejected Churchill's plea to postpone the withdrawal.151 Though generous to Truman in his memoirs, Churchill forever afterwards regretted this decision. In conversation years later with his assistant, John Colville, Churchill accused the United States of giving away "vast tracts of Europe" to please Russia. He said that if he had been less occupied with the British General Election, and if Roosevelt had been alive and well, matters might have worked out better.152 Keeping the western armies on the territory they occupied at the end of the war would not have changed the situation entirely, and Churchill probably realized this. The notion that Stalin might have relaxed his iron grip on Poland in order to advance further westward beyond Poland hardly seems plausible. Nonetheless, it was the only realistic military leverage the West had against Russia, and the rejection of what could reasonably have been regarded as an obsolete occupation plan would at least have preserved in freedom the not inconsiderable territory that was ceded by the western withdrawal. $

FOOTNOTES 125. Stettinius, pp. 154-6. 95. Colville in Commentary, p. 44. 126. Ibid., p. 41; WSC, Triumph and Tragedy, p. 367. 96. Ibid. 127. Ibid., pp. 367-9; Stettinius, pp. 152-3. 97. Winston S. Churchill, Closing the Ring (Boston: 128. Ibid, pp. 335-8. Houghton Mifflin, 1951), pp. 394-7; Gilbert, p. 589. 129. Churehill, Triumph and Tragedy, pp. 661-4. 98. Eden, pp. 335, 338, 342, 370, 380-1. 130. Ibid., pp. 373, 369-71; Stettinius, pp. 181-2. 99. Stalin, p. 391, n. 57; Gilbert, p. 589. 131. Ibid., pp. 209-10; Churchill, Triumph and 100. Gilbert, p. 589. Tragedy, pp. 376-9. 101. Eden, p. 496. 132. Ibid., pp. 647-8. 102. Gilbert, p. 652 133. Eden, p. 597. 103. Eden, pp. 314-16. 134. Stettinius, p. 184. 104. Colville in Commentary, p. 44. 135. Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, p. 374; Stet105. Eden, pp. 429-30. tinius, pp. 184-6: Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, pp. 106. Gilbert, p. 642. 385-6; Stettinius, p. 123. 107. Stalin, p. 196. 136. Stettinius, pp. 301, 335-8. 108. Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, p. 237. 137. Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, pp. 647-8, 654109. Eden, p. 432. 7, 659-60. 110. Churchill, Closing the Ring, pp. 394-7; Gilbert, 138. Ibid., pp. 672-4. pp. 589-93; Stalin correspondence. 139. Ibid., pp. 507-510. 111. Gilbert, p. 590; Churchill, Closing the Ring, pp. 140. Ibid., p. 351. 394-7; Stalin correspondence; Gilbert, p. 593. 141. Ibid., pp. 507-10; Stettinius, p. 37. 112. Gilbert, p. 615. 142. Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, pp. 240-1. 113. Ibid., pp. 641-2, 648. 143. Bishop, p. 323; Stettinius, p. 262. 114. Ibid., pp. 657-60. 144. Bishop, p. 323. 115. Ibid., pp. 657-60, 665. 145. Stettinius, p. 299; Dwight D. Eisenhower, Cru116. Ibid., pp. 672-5; Colville, Fringes of Power, p. 471. sade in Europe (Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1948), pp. 396, 117. Gilbert, pp. 681-4. 400, 402; Colville in Commentary, p. 46. 118. Stalin, pp. 201-4; Gilbert, pp. 686-88. 146. Ibid.; Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, pp. 506-7. 119. Gilbert, p. 691. 147. Ibid., p. 513. 120. Stalin, p. 207. 148. Ibid., pp. 502-3. 121. Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, p. 235. 149. Ibid., p. 501. 122. Eden, p. 563. 150. Ibid., p. 603. 123. Ibid., pp. 574-6. 151. Ibid., pp. 604-5. 124. Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, pp. 369-71; 152. Colville, Fringes of Power, p. 658. Stettinius, pp. 154-6. 46 / FINEST HOUR 84

Finest Hour 84  

Article from FH84 on Churchill and Eastern Europe

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