Among the political problems that came before the Peace Conference, the problem of the reconstruction of Poland was one of the first to be taken up and one of the last to be finished. […] It was also one of the gravest and thorniest questions with which the Conference had to deal. It was difficult because the eastern frontiers of Poland could not be settled without reference to the Russian Soviet Government […] and because the western frontiers of Poland could not be fixed without taking a good deal of territory from Germany […] It may as well be remarked at once that no other part of the territorial arrangements made at Versailles has caused so much anger in Germany as the Polish settlement, and scarcely any other part has been more frequently denounced by the critics of the peace treaties outside Germany.
In the case of Poland, as of most other territorial problems, the Peace Conference proceeded from the principle that in the Europe of today the frontiers that are most likely to prove just, satisfactory, and durable are those that conform to ethnographic divisions […]
The Polish commission made something of a record at least for industry. It sat from February to December; at some periods it met nearly every day in the week and sometimes twice a day […].
The first and most important Polish question to be taken up was that of the boundary on the side of Germany. […] The ethnographic map of these regions has become a very intricate mosaic. The two peoples are everywhere intermingled; there are many islands of German predominance surrounded by seas of Slavs; and to draw a frontier that would separate the two peoples in clean-cut fashion without leaving a large residue of the one nation in the territories of the other is a thing that simply cannot be done. Another kind of difficulty arose from the nature of the statistics with which one had to work. The only available statistics as to the numbers and distribution of the two peoples in these territories were those issued by the Prussian government; and it has been repeatedly demonstrated by the most careful and painstaking investigations that these statistics are often tendentious and “doctored up,” and in some cases absolutely false and misleading. […]
The commission on Polish affairs submitted its first report to the Supreme Council about the end of March. This report recommended that the larger part of Posen and of Upper Silesia should be transferred to Poland, while leaving to Germany the western, predominantly German-speaking districts of both territories. […] It was true that the proposed arrangement would have the grave disadvantage of separating East Prussia from the rest of Germany. But it was a case of choosing between two evils. Either East Prussia would have to communicate with Germany by land across Polish territory (there would always be easy communication by sea) or else Poland’s communications with the sea would have to be across German territory.
Finally, it remained to deal with that southern zone of East Prussia which is generally called the District of Allenstein […]
The set of proposals just outlined was agreed upon by the experts of all the Powers represented in the commission after very long discussions and a good deal of give-and-take on all sides. […] It soon became evident, however, that Mr. Lloyd George was dissatisfied; he held that with the frontiers proposed the number of Germans to be incorporated in Poland was dangerously large, and ought, if ever possible, to be reduced. […] The upshot was an entirely new plan, which was intended to insure Poland’s economic interests in the port of Danzig and at the same time to avoid the inconvenience of annexing that German-speaking city to Poland. According to this plan, Danzig and the small adjacent district were to form a free city under the protection of the League of Nations. […]
With these modifications the proposals submitted by the commission on Polish affairs were incorporated in the terms of peace […]. As is well known, the Germans returned a reply of vehement protest, objecting particularly to the cessions demanded in favor of Poland and especially to the threatened loss of Upper Silesia. This led to something of a crisis in Paris. […]
Among the concessions to the Germans that were then decided upon, the most important, perhaps, related to Upper Silesia. It had originally been resolved to demand most of that territory for Poland, because of the large Polish-speaking majority (65 per cent for the whole area, and in not a few districts 80 or even 90 per cent); and also because the Silesian Poles seemed to have given sufficient proof of their Polish sentiments and their desire for union with the mother country. But it was not to be denied that the loss of Upper Silesia would mean a very severe blow to Germany. For this territory was one of the chief mining centres and one of the most highly industrialized regions of the former German Empire. […]
Hence the decision that in Upper Silesia, too, there should be a plebiscite, and that in case the vote fell out in favor of Poland, Germany should enjoy a treaty-right to a certain amount of Silesian coal. […]
The results may be summarized by saying that Germany has been forced to cede to Poland about 16,750 square miles of territory and about 2,900,000 people […]. Among the ceded populations there are, according to the last German census, about 1,800,000 Poles and about 1,000,000 Germans, i. e., a ratio of nine to five. Plebiscites have already taken place in the Allenstein and Marienwerder districts. In both cases the results were overwhelmingly in favor of Germany, as was, indeed, to be expected […].
In Upper Silesia the plebiscite is to be held within the next few months. Its outcome must be awaited with some trepidation, for plebiscites have the drawback of raising national animosities to fever pitch; there have already been two bloody outbreaks in Upper Silesia, and both the contending peoples are desperately anxious not to lose what is undoubtedly the richest territorial prize that remains to be awarded. Finally, it may be remarked that the treaty between Poland and Danzig, which has been drawn up by the Council of Ambassadors at Paris. […] Poles in Danzig are frequently mobbed; in the face of the crisis threatening her very existence last summer Poland found her one port virtually closed to her through the animosity of the Danzigers […]. The Peace Conference made no definitive arrangements about Austrian and Russian Poland.