Paris Peace Conf. 180.03401/59


Notes of a Meeting Held at President Wilson’s House in the Place des Etats-Unis, Paris, on Wednesday, June 11, 1919, at 5 p.m.

  • Present
    • United States of America
      • President Wilson.
    • British Empire
      • The Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George, M. P.
    • France
      • M. Clemenceau.
    • Italy
      • M. Orlando.
Sir Maurice Hankey, K. C. B. } Secretaries.
Count Aldrovandi.
Prof. P. J. Mantoux.—Interpreter.

1. M. Jules Cambon and the following members of the Sub-Committee appointed to consider the Eastern Frontiers of Germany were introduced, namely:— 1. Eastern Frontiers of Germany: Report of the Committee

  • General Le Rond.
  • Dr. Lord.
  • Mr. Headlam-Morley.
  • Marquis della Torretta.

President Wilson asked General Le Bond to state points on which the Committee were agreed and disagreed.

General Le Rond said that four points had been referred to the Commission by the Council of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers:—

A question of territorial re-adjustment.
A question of a Plebiscite in Upper Silesia.
An economic question relating to coal.
A financial question.

Agreement had been reached in regard to Questions 3 and 4 very rapidly.

M. Clemenceau asked what the decision was about coal.

General Le Rond said that it had been agreed that German1 citizens should be able to purchase coal at the same price and under the same conditions as the Poles did. At first some members of the Commission had thought that provisions were necessary to prevent the Germans [Page 312] from bringing artificially and temporarily the prices for coal too high, in order to destroy the Polish industries of Upper Silesia. The coal experts, however, had said that this did not seem justified and that even if it were there was no good way of preventing the rise in prices, either during the first years or during the later years. Hence, the Commission had abandoned the idea. They had laid down that this provision should remain in force for a period of 15 years, because of the connection between the coal trade of Upper Silesia and that of the Saar. At the end of 15 years there might be a change as regards the Saar and this would cause a repercussion throughout the whole coal market, and for this reason it was considered desirable to have the same period for both. This was the advice of their experts.

Mr. Lloyd George said he quite agreed.

General Le Rond then turned to the question of the plebiscite, which had been dealt with by the Commission under a mandate from the Council which had been fully confirmed by President Wilson a day or two before. The commission had prepared two schemes, one for a long period and one for a short period plebiscite. The subject had been much discussed from the point of view first of equity and secondly of practical considerations. As regards the point of equity, the whole Commission were agreed that, at the present time, the Poles in Upper Silesia were not a free people. For six centuries they had been dominated by land-owners. This could be inferred both from a study of German statistics and from a book by the German Dr. Partsch. The largest part of Upper Silesia was the property of only 30 or 40 land-owners. The conditions were quite feudal and these land-owners were much more powerful than the feudal lords of the 13th or 14th century. They possessed not only the ground itself but the property below the ground also, as well as the industries of the district. They were far wealthier than the feudal lords of olden time. Consequently, they had vast power over their peoples. The peasants were under great pressure from the landowners, whose employees and agents were in a position to know all their actions. They were not free to form an opinion of their own. In the cities, these great magnates were the employers in addition to the land-owners. The German clergy also had great influence over the Polish people. In recent years, this pressure had become greater through the influence of the Prince Bishop of Breslau. Hence, they were not a free people and a certain period must elapse before a plebiscite was taken. This accounted for the difference which had arisen between the short and the long period. Since the Armistice, the Germans had done their best to prepare matters so that the Poles should not become free. They had imposed martial law and the Polish press had been suppressed, in order to [Page 313] prevent them from organising. Military or semi-military bodies had been formed of Germans who were not only resident in the country but also brought in from outside. Hence, the people at present were quite incapable of expressing a free opinion. The Germans had also spread the report that, if the country became Polish, the plants and the mines would be destroyed and the money in the savings banks would be lost. All this had been done in order to intimidate the people, who were mostly workers. These were questions of fact which, he thought, were generally agreed by the Commission.

In order to free these people, the Powers would have to take the necessary steps to make the plebiscite a fair one. The difficulty was to say whether the period should be short or long. The majority of the Commission had favoured a long period, considering this necessary to change a system in this region. The majority of the Commission had thought that the period should be from 1½ to 2 years. After discussion, however, it had been agreed to limit the period to from 1 to 2 years and this was the recommendation of the majority. They thought it was not possible to specify now whether 15 months or more should be allowed to elapse, and left this question for decision by the Great Powers or the League of Nations.

Mr. Lloyd George said that it was unnecessary for General Le Rond to refer [to] this, and, although he was in general sympathy with Mr. Headlam-Morley, he did not mean to press for the shorter period.

General Le Rond said that two delegates on the commission had remarked that five out of the eight electoral districts concerned had been represented in the Reichstag by members of the National Polish Party, and that, in consequence, a sort of a plebiscite had already taken place.

M. Clemenceau asked if the elections had been held on the question of the independence of Poland.

General Le Rond said that neither in 1907 nor in 1912 could it have been said that within a few years this would have been a practical question.

Mr. Lloyd George said that, in fact, the election had not been held on the question of separation.

General Le Rond agreed and said that the question could not have been put.

President Wilson asked if the National Polish Party was Polish by sympathy.

General Le Rond said that it was, but Dr. Lord could give a better account of it than he. Up to now, he had only spoken of the arguments for the longer period of plebiscite, and he thought it would be fairer if a member of the Minority spoke for the shorter period.

[Page 314]

Mr. Lloyd George suggested that, in order to shorten the discussion, this should not be done, since he did not intend to press the short period.

Referring to the articles relative to the carrying out of the plebiscite in Upper Silesia, General Le Rond said that, for wherever the term “the Principal Allied and Associated Powers” had been used, should be substituted “the Principal Allied and Associated Powers or the Council of the League of Nations.”

President Wilson asked Dr. Lord to tell the Council something about the National Polish Party.

Dr. Lord said that for twenty years or so there had been in Poland the Socialist and non-Socialist Parties, which were both nationalist in character. They had quite consciously worked for Polish unity, though they had not realised before the war that it was likely to become a practical question so soon. Nevertheless, they had devoted themselves to this cause.

Mr. Lloyd George compared it to the Nationalist Party in Ireland or Wales. Until the Sinn Feiners had come on the scene, separation had never been claimed for Ireland, and his impression was that it had never been claimed for Upper Silesia.

Dr. Lord said that, besides the two parties he had mentioned, there were, of course, a mass of people who had never put forward any claims.

Mr. Lloyd George suggested that separation from the German Empire had never formed part of the programme of either party. At any rate, they had never put forward the separation of Upper Silesia as part of their programme.

General Le Rond said that, since the end of the war, there had been a strong national movement for union with Poland, and there had even been some military organisation.

Mr. Lloyd George said he had no doubt that such a movement would have sprung up since the end of the war.

Dr. Lord, in reply to President Wilson, said that both the political parties to which he had referred were affiliated to corresponding Polish parties across the frontier and part of the programme of these Polish parties had been a Polish state. If this was true of the Socialists, it was even more true of the non-Socialists. Of course, they could not hold a meeting and advocate on the platform the separation of Poland from Germany when they were under German rule and under the eyes of the police. But both parties were connected with the parties in Poland which advocated a free Poland.

Mr. Lloyd George compared the position to that of the Irish Party in the United States of America, which was affiliated to the Irish Party in Ireland but did not ask for independence from the United [Page 315] States of America. The British Empire was well accustomed to such movements.

Mr. Lloyd George complimented General Le Rond on the clearness with which he had expressed the views of the Committee.

(The experts then withdrew, and the Council adjourned to President Wilson’s library, where the discussion is recorded as a separate meeting.)

  1. From this point through to the end of this paragraph the text is that of a slightly revised version issued on June 13, 1919.