Danzig: A Nazi Puppet State Becomes Part of the Greater German Reich

RAUMBILDESQUE WARNING: This post contains stereographic images from Carl Röhrig Verlag’s “Danzig”, which are similar in tone and content to those produced by Raumbild-Verlag Otto Schönstein. If you are offended or disturbed by imagery containing Nazi symbols, leaders, salutes, or the like, please click away. In no way do I personally, nor this blog as a forum, support Nazism, and any comments which appear to do so will be removed and their posters blocked.

Today marks the 80th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland – and hence, of the Second World War. In order to further explore this topic, I’m making dual posts with 80 images from the occupation – this one, which focuses on the official annexation of the Free City of Danzig, and another on the invasion of Poland in general. Danzig is an interesting case. While not a part of Poland per se, it had a binding customs agreement with the nation. This was part of the Treaty of Versailles which officially ended the Great War. But Danzig was Germanic by nature – with a population that was over 98% German. By the time of its annexation, it was effectively a Nazi puppet state.

A Brief History of Danzig / Gdańsk to 1939

Early years

Since the Middle Ages, Danzig (Gdańsk in Polish) has been a crucial shipbuilding city and seaport for the region. Extant since at least the 10th century, Danzig was an important stop on the trade routes of Europe during that period. On the border between Pomeralia and Germany, the city changed hands a number of times. And eventually, in 1440, Danzig became part of the Kingdom of Poland. It was prosperous, but Poland was falling into a decline, and Danzig fell into Russian hands. It was then given to the Prussian empire, briefly became a free city for the first time during the Napoleonic Wars, and once again was annexed by Prussia. Danzig remained part of Prussia until the Great War.

The Free City of Danzig

The Treaty of Versailles – which ended the Great War for Germany – created the Free City of Danzig, as well as the Polish Corridor. This was done in order to give the newly-created Second Republic of Poland access to the sea. The Polish Corridor was, of course, part of its namesake nation. Danzig, however, was to be autonomous but for permanent trade considerations with Poland. This did not sit well with Danzig residents – mostly ethnically German. Danzig and the Polish Corridor cut Germany off from East Prussia, and most Danzigers supported annexation to Germany. But the Treaty forbade this, and Poland was staunchly opposed.

The “Free City” as a Nazi puppet state

With Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933 came a huge wave of support for the Nazi party in Danzig. By 1936, a majority of the City Senate were members of the Nazi party. But pro-Nazi sentiment had existed for years beforehand; Jewish Danzigers began to flee the city in droves, and their open persecution by residents – including the municipal police – was at first tolerated, and then encouraged. In point of fact, the police force was so trenchantly loyal to the Third Reich that they remained after formal annexation in October 1939.

In 1935, the Free City of Danzig elected Arthur Greiser to the position of Senate president. A member of the NSDAP since 1929, Greiser used his position to effectively take control of the entire city. While Albert Forster – another Nazi, and mayor of Danzig – was putatively in control, Greiser reported directly to his friend Rudolf Hess. The two worked together to present the facade that the Nazis were not running the city – to little effect. They were both a part of the transitional government during the annexation following the invasion. And they were both hanged for their crimes against the Polish following the Second World War.

In the days after Kristallnacht in 1938, Danzig experienced a similar wave of overt antisemitism. While most of the city’s Jewry had already left, the formal organizations of Judaism urged those who remained to vacate; most did. One 1% of Danzig’s Jewish population was still in the city when the Panzers rolled in to claim it.

The Nazi Occupation of Their Own Puppet State

A cause for war

Nazi Germany was effectively looking for a fight when Poland refused to even consider allowing Danzig to secede. While the Third Reich had a grudging respect for France and Britain, who beat them in the Great War, they viewed Poles as “little better than the Jew”, according to Greiser, who was the Reich’s mediator with Poland. Obviously, things were not going to go well here.

German Minister of Foreign Affairs Joachim von Ribbentrop openly demanded Danzig’s inclusion in the Reich in late 1938. He was immediately rebuffed by the Poles, who regarded their stewardship of the city as a point of national pride. Neville Chamberlain, soft-stepping like always, threatened to ally with Poland in the event of a war – to a point. That point specifically excluded territories outside of the Polish border. Danzig was outside the Polish border. By speaking so explicitly, Chamberlain bolstered Hitler’s obsession with the reclamation of Danzig.

Fresh off of a “glorious victory” in the annexation of the Sudatenland, Hitler was sure that Danzig would join the Reich by the end of 1939. And he went to great effort to make sure that other nations would not stand in his way. But these efforts were largely unconvincing; France agreed to defend Poland if war came. But then a seemingly unlikely ally with eyes to Eastern Poland showed up.

The Danzig Crisis and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

While Hitler’s personal obsession with the annexation of Danzig continued, forces were at work within the Free City to help things go his way. Greiser was whipping up support for an outright defection, and since the Jewish segment had abandoned the city, was now targeting his goon squads upon ethnic Poles. Within Danzig, Poles had little recourse from either their own government (who wanted them gone) or from the Polish government (who couldn’t legally intervene). As a result, they were marginalized.

Meanwhile, representatives at least one place removed from the respective German and Soviet leaders were meeting in secret. Both countries were uneasy with each other, and both had eyes on Poland – though neither wanted to be seen overtly as the aggressors. Eventually, on 23 August 1939, the two nations signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. On the surface, it was a simple nonaggression treaty. But there were several secret provisions in the respective leaders’ versions. These provisions set out the partitioning of Poland just in case the countries ever, say… felt like invading.

The German invasion of Poland

Less than two weeks after signing the pact – and exactly 80 years ago today – Germany invaded Poland. The majority of the invasion is covered in the companion blog post to this one. But Danzig was barely defended – with the exception of the Westerplatte Peninsula, the military and coastal stronghold of the city. It took a mere seven days for the Polish army to retreat – and the Free City was free no more. For a little under a month, the military handled administration in Danzig. And then, Hitler got what he wanted. Germany seamlessly annexed Danzig and the Polish Corridor, placing them under the control of Greiser and Forster. Loyalty paid off for these men, until they met the hangman’s noose in Warsaw.

“Danzig”, from Carl Röhrig Verlag

Albert Forster wanted Raumbild-Verlag Otto Schönstein to do a 3D series specifically on “liberated” Danzig. However, the publisher was far too busy with other projects, and Heinrich Hoffman declined. Therefore, Forster contracted with a Munich publisher to put out “Danzig – Werden und Behauptung einer deutschen Stadt“, colloquially known in the stereography community as “Danzig”. The title roughly translates to “Danzig – The Will and Assertion of a German City”.

The anonymous photographer who created these 3D images was no Heinrich Hoffmann. But neither is this exactly analogous to the work Hoffman was currently doing, in capturing the Wehrmacht. The images in this book are, of course, extremely nationalistic. But they seem motivated by pride in Danzig’s new status as the center of a new German province. The focus is on the city itself. They’re Nazi propaganda to be sure – but more of the sort found in “Vienna – Pearl of the Reich” or “Prague – The City of a Hundred Towers” than by Hoffman’s latest offering, “The Soldiers of the Führer in the Field Volume 1: The Campaign in Poland“.

Technically speaking, they’re not very good. They’re tiny, for one – smaller even than VistaScreen cards. The photography is uneven, and some of the cards barely demonstrate 3D aspects – being shot of subjects too far away. You’ll notice that Bild nr. 19 is blurry. This is an amateurish effort to be sure, but just as sure, it’s a fascinating historical document.

The stereoviews

I’d like to pause here to thank my German-born Canadian friend Karin Nelson for translating these for me; the archaic German font was inscrutable to me. Karin runs a video blog where she reviews things, like unexpected impulse-buy groceries. Check out her stuff! And when you’re finished with these, please make sure you head on over to the companion post. It adds 50 more views of the German invasion of Poland to these views specifically of Danzig – for a total of 80 views for 80 years.


2 Replies to “Danzig: A Nazi Puppet State Becomes Part of the Greater German Reich”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: