Harry Alverson Franck.

Vagabonding through changing Germany online

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such an eventuality. Word swept like prairie fire through
the city. French and Italian prisoners of war sprang to
such arms as they could lay hands on and added their
assistance. The soldiers of the garrison, being chiefly
Poles or of Polish sympathies, walked out almost in a body
and joined the revolt. It raged for twenty-four hours.
In the words of the sergeant-major already introduced:
"It was a busy day from four in the morning until the fol-
lowing dawn. At least sixty ribs were broken — mostly
German ones." There have been bloodier revolutions,



however, for the number killed is set at ten. The Polish
leaders were soon masters of the situation. In three days
they had established order. Their search for arms was
thorough and included Polish as well as German houses.
The government they had already established in secret soon
tautened the reins that had been struck from the hands of
the Germans, and by New Year's Day Poznan had already
settled down to peace and to a contentment it had not
known in more than a century.

As far, at least, as outward appearances go, there was
nothing particularly oppressive about the new rule. Civil-
ians were not permitted on the streets after midnight, but
those with any legitimate excuse for night-hawking were
granted special passes. The Poles showed a tendency to
meet half-way their next-door neighbor and late oppressor.
With the exception of a few ''Polen-fresser,'' German resi-
dents were not driven out, as in Metz and Strassburg.
Boche merchants continued to do business at the old stand.
Newspapers published in Germany were refused admittance,
but that was a fair retaliation for similar action by the new
authorities of the late Empire. Even the detested statues
were not overthrown until March, when the Germans de-
clined to give the Poles port facilities at Danzig. The lan-
guage of the schools, as well as of government offices, was
changed to Polish; but as soon as Berlin consented to a
reciprocal arrangement, German was restored to the cur-
riculum, though it was taught only a few hours a week, as a
foreign tongue. In short, the conditions of Bromberg had
been nicely reversed in Poznan. It must, to be sure, have
been rather a tough life for the town braggart who had
always espoused the German cause; but there was appar-
ently nothing to be feared by those who know how to hold
their tongues and confine their attention to their own
affairs — and the German is a past-master at lying low when
it is to his interest to do so. His native tongue was almost



never heard on the streets, such arrogance as existed was
confined now to the Poles, and the just-let-us-alone-and-
we'U-be-good role had been assumed by the Teutons.

There were suggestions, however, that the Poles were
not yet adepts at governing, nor likely soon to establish a
modem Utopia. Already they had succeeded in encumber-
ing themselves with fully as much red-tape as the French.
A musician as national leader and rallying-point seemed
to be in keeping with the Polish temperament. There was a
lack of practical directness in their methods, a tendency
toward the erratic, at the expense of orderly progress.
One of their foremost business men turned high official,
to whom I applied for a signature and the imprint of a
government stamp, received me with a protest that he was
"too busy to breathe" — and spent two hours reciting
Polish poetry to me and demonstrating how he had succeeded
in photographing every secret document that had reached
Posen during the war without being once suspected by the
Germans. "I am not experienced in this business of
government," he apologized, v/hen I succeeded at last in
taking my leave, "but I am ready to sacrifice myself and
all I have to the new Poland."

The statement rang true in his case, but there were others
whose repetition of it would have raised grave suspicions
that they were putting the cart before the horse. The
rush for government jobs under the new regime had in it
something of the attitude of the faithful henchmen toward
the periodical return to power of their beloved Tammany.
There were tender reminiscences of the A. E. F. in the
flocks of incompetent pretty girls who encumbered govern-
ment offices, dipping their charming noses into everything
except that which concerned them, as there was in the
tendency on the part of both sexes to consider government
transportation synonymous with opportunity for "joy-
riding." It will be strange if the Polish servant-girls and


cheese! who said GERMAN POLAND WAS HUNGRY?



factory hands who come to us in the future bring with them
the accept-any thing spirit of the past, at least after the period
of orientation to their new environment is over. They are
*'feeHng their oats" at home now and will be apt to set
their worth and their rights to full equality correspondingly

The Poles, evidently, are not by nature a frolicsome
people, but they seemed to have thrown away the "lid"
in Poznan and given free play to all the joy within them.
Pianos were more in evidence than they had been during
all the twenty months I had spent in war-torn Europe.
Children appeared to have taken on a new gaiety. Night
life was almost Parisian, except in the more reprehensible
features of the "City of Light." It may have been due
only to a temporary difference of mood in the two races,
but Polish Poznan struck me as a far more livable place
than German Berlin. Evidently the people of the prov-
inces were not letting this new attractiveness of the restored
city escape them; the newspapers bristled with offers of
reward for any one giving information of apartments or
houses for rent. Underneath their merriness, however,
the religious current of the race still ran strong and swift.
The churches discharged multitudes daily at the end of
morning mass; no male, be he coachman, policeman,
soldier, or newsboy, ever passed the crucifix at the end of
the principal bridge without reverently raising his hat.
There are Protestant Poles, but they apparently do not live
in Poznan. Now and again, too, there were episodes
quite the opposite of gay to give the city pause in the midst
of its revelry — the drunken sots in uniform, for instance,
who canvassed the shops demanding alms and prophesying
the firing-squad for those who declined to contribute.
Were they not perhaps the outposts of Bolshevism? But
all this was immersed in the general gaiety, tinged with a
mild Orientalism that showed itself not only in the architect-
16 227


ure, but in such leisurely customs as closing shops and offices
from one to three, in defiance of nearly a century and a half
of the sterner German influence.

It is quite possible that the increased liveliness of the
Poznanians was as much due to the fact that they had
plenty to eat as to their release from Teutonic bondage.
The two things had come together. Being perhaps the
richest agricultural district of the late Empire, the province
of Posen was quick to recover its alimentary footing, once
its frontiers had been closed against the all-devouring
German. With the exception of potatoes, of which the
supply was well in excess of local needs, the exportation of
foodstuffs toward the hungry West had absolutely ceased.
The result was more than noticeable in Poznan; it was
conspicuous, all but overpowering, particularly to those
arriving from famished Germany. Street after street was
lined with a constant tantalization to the new-comer from
the West, arousing his resentment at the appetite that was
so easily satisfied after its constant vociferations in days gone
by — and still to come. Butcher shops displayed an abun-
dance of everything from frankfurters to sides of beef.
Cheese, butter, eggs by the bushel, candy, sugar, sweet-
meats were heaped high behind glass fronts that would
have been slight protection for them in Berlin. In what
were now known as ^'restauracya" one might order a break-
fast of eggs, bacon, milk, butter, and all the other things
the mere mention of which would have turned a German
Wirt livid with rage, without so much as exciting a ripple
on the waiter's brow. At the rathskeller of Poznan's
artistic old city hall a "steak and everything," such a steak
as not even a war-profiteer could command anywhere in
Germany, cost a mere seven marks, including the inevitable
mug of beer and the "lo per cent, for service" that was
exacted here also by the Kellners' union. With the low
rate of exchange — for Poznan was still using German



money — the price was considerably less than it would have
been in New York at the same date. Far from being short
of fats, the Poles were overgenerous with their grease and
gravies. Bacon could be had in any quantity at six marks
a pound; eggs at thirty pfennigs each. Bread, brown but
excellent, was unlimited. Food- tickets, unknown in hotels
and restaurants, were theoretically required for a few of the
principal articles in the shops, but there was little difficulty
in purchasing without them, at least with the payment of a
slight "premium." On market-days the immense square
allotted to them was densely crowded from corner to comer
by curiously garbed female hawkers and coimtrymen offering
every conceivable product of their farms and gardens.
Poznan still consumed a few things that do not appear on
the American bill of fare, such as doves, gull eggs, and
various species of weeds and grasses; but the fact remains
that the well-to-do could get anything their appetites
craved, and the poor were immensely better off than in any
city of Germany. There was only one shortage that irked
the popular soul. Expression of it rang incessantly in my
ears — "Please tell America to send us tobacco!" The
queues before tobacconists' shops were as long and as per-
sistent as in Germany. Ragged men of the street eagerly
parted with a precious fifty-pfennig "shin-plaster" for a
miserable "cigarette" filled for only half its length with an
unsuccessful imitation of tobacco. The principal cafe,
having husbanded its supply of the genuine article, placed
a thousand of them on sale each evening at eight, "as a
special favor to our clients." By that hour entrance was
quite impossible, and though only two were allowed each
purchaser, there was nothing but the empty box left five
minutes later.

Unselfishness is not one of mankind's chief virtues, partic-
ularly in that chaos of conflicting interests known to the
world as central Europe. In view of all they had won in



so short a time, and amid the German shrieks of protest,
it was disconcerting to find that the Poles were far from
satisfied with what had been granted them by the Peace
Conference. From high government officials to the man in
the street they deluged me with their complaints, often
naively implying that I had personally had some hand in
framing the terms of the proposed treaty, or at least the
power to have them altered before it was too late. They
were dissatisfied with the western frontier that had been
set for them, especially in West Prussia; they were particu-
larly disgruntled because they had not been given Danzig
outright. A nation of thirty million people should have a
harbor of its own. Danzig was essentially Polish in its
sympathies, in spite of the deliberate Germanization that
had been practised upon it. Strangely enough they accused
America of having blocked their aspirations in that particu-
lar. They blamed Wilson personally for having shut them
out of Danzig, as well as for the annoying delay in drawing
up the treaty. The Germans had "got at him" through
the Jews. The latter had far too much power in the Amer-
ican government, as well as in American finances. The
impression was wide-spread in Poznan that Mrs. Wilson is
Jewish. The Germans and the Jews had always stuck
together. Poland had always been far too lenient with the
Jews. She had let them in too easily; had granted them
citizenship too readily. As they spoke either Yiddish,
an offshoot of German, or Russian, they had always lined
up with the enemies of Poland. Half the German spies,
every one of the Russian spies with whom Polish territory
had been flooded during the war, had been Jews. The Poles
in America had gathered money for the alleviation of suf-
fering in their home-land, and had given it to Jews, Ger-
mans, and Poles, irrespective of race. The Jews in America
had collected similar funds and had expended them only
among the Jews, From whatever point of view one ap-



proached him, the resident of Poznan had nothing good to
say of the Chosen People.

The story of Posen's existence under German rule, now
happily ended, was largely a repetition of what had already
been told me in Bromberg. In some ways this region had
been even more harshly treated, if my informants were
trustworthy. Polish skilled workmen "clear down to
button-makers" had been driven out of the province.
Great numbers had been more or less forcibly compelled
to migrate into Germany. There were at least four hundred
thousand Poles in the mines and factories of Westphalia.
Saxony was half Polish; the district between Hamburg
and Bremen was almost entirely Slavish in population.
The Ansiedler — the German settlers whom the government
had brought to Posen — had acquired all the best land.
On the other hand, German Catholics were not allowed to
establish themselves in the province of Posen, lest they
join their coreligionists against the Protestant oppressors.
Perhaps the thing that rankled most was the banishment
of the Polish language from the schools. One could scarcely
speak it with one's children at home, for fear of their using
it before the teacher. Many of the youngsters had never
more than half learned it. In twenty years more no one
would have dared speak Polish in public. Men had b6en
given three, and even four, months in prison for privately
teaching their children Polish history. The schools were
hopelessly Prussianized; the GeiTnan teachers received a
special premium of one thousand marks or more a year
over the regular salaries. All railway jobs went to Germans,
except those of section men at two marks a day. There
had been Polish newspapers and theaters, but they had
never been allowed any freedom of thought or action.

"The troublawith the German, or at least the Prussian,"
one new official put in, "is that it is his nature to get things
by force. He was born that way. Why, the Prussians



stole even their name; it was originally Barrusen, as the
little corner of Russia was called where the robbers first
banded together. They marauded their way westward
and southward, treading first little people and then little
nations under their iron heels. The very word the German
uses for "get" or "obtain" tells his history. It is kriegen,
to win by war — krieg. You seldom hear him use the
gentler bekommen. Everything he possesses he has gekriegt.
Then he is such a hypocrite! In 191 6, when we Poles first
began to suffer seriously from hunger, some German officers
came with baskets of fruit and sandwiches, gathered a
group of Polish urchins, filled their hands with the food,
and had themselves photographed with them, to show the
world how generous and kind-hearted they were. But
they did not tell the world that the moment the photographs
had been taken the food was snatched away from the
hungry children again, some of the officers boxing their
ears, and sent back to the German barracks. How do you
think the Poles who have been crippled for life fighting
for the 'Fatherland' feel as they hobble about our streets?
What would you say to serving five years in the German
army only to be interned as a dangerous enemy alien at the
end of it, as is the case with thousands of our sons who were^
notJ able to get across the frontier in time? No, the Ger-
mans in Poznan are not oppressed as our people were under
their rule. We are altogether too soft-hearted with them."

The German residents themselves, as was to be expected,
took a different view of the situation. When the Polish
authorities had decorated my passport with permission to
return to Berlin, I took no chances of being held up by the
cantankerous dyspeptic at Kreuz and applied for a new
vise by the German Volksrat of Posen. It occupied a
modest little dwelling-house on the wide, curving avenue
no longer recognizable under its former title of "Kaiser

Wilhelm Ring." Barely had I established my identity



when the gloomy Germans took me to their bosom. Had
I been fully informed of their side of the situation? Would
I not do them the kindness to return at eleven, when they
would see to it that men of high standing were there to
give me the real facts of the case? My impressions of Posen
would be wholly false if I left it after having consorted
only with Poles.

As a matter of fact I had already "consorted" with no
small number of German residents, chiefly of the small-
merchant class. Those I had found somewhat mixed in
their minds. A few still prophesied a "peasants' war"
in the territory allotted to Poland; a number of them
shivered with apprehension of a "general Bolshevist up-
rising." But fully as many pooh-poohed both those cheer-
ful bogies. One thing only was certain — that without
exception they were doing business as usual and would
continue to do so as long as the Poles permitted it. The
feeling for the "Fatherland" did not seem strong enough
among the overwhelming majority of them to stand the
strain of personal sacrifice.

When I returned at eleven the Volksrat had been con-
voked in unofficial special session. A half-dozen of the men
who had formerly held high places in the Municipal Council
rose ostentatiously to their feet as I was ushered into the
chief sanctum, and did not sit down again until I had been
comfortably seated. The chief spokesman had long been
something corresponding to chairman of the Board of
Aldermen. His close-cropped head glistened in the sun-
shine that entered through the window at his elbow, and
his little ferret-like eyes alternately sought to bore their
way into my mental processes and to light up with a win-
some naivete which he did not really possess. Most of
the words I set down here are his, though some of them
were now and then thrown in by his subservient but approv-
ing companions.



"With us Germans," he began, "it has become a case of
* Vogel friss oder starb ' — eat crow or die. We are forced,
for the time at least, to accept what the Poles see fit to
allow us. The German residents of Posen are not exactly
oppressed, but our lives are hemmed in by a thousand petty
annoyances, some of them highly discouraging. Take,
for instance, this matter of the street names. Granted that
the Poles had the right to put them up in their own language.
It was certainly a sign of fanaticism to tear down the Ger-
man names. More than a fourth of the residents of Posen
cannot read the new street placards. There is not a Polish
map of the city in existence. When the province of Posen
came back to us the Polish street names were allowed to
remain until 1879 — for more than a hundred years. It
is a sign of childishness, of retarded mentality, to daub
with red paint all the German signs they cannot remove!
It isn't much more than that to have forbidden the use
of our tongue in governmental affairs. We Germans used
both languages officially clear up to 1876. We even had
the old Prussian laws translated into Polish. It is only
during the last ten years that nothing but German was
permitted in the public schools; and there have always
been plenty of Polish private schools. I am still technically
a member of the Municipal Council, but I cannot understand
a word of the proceedings, because they are in Polish.
Our lawyers cannot practise unless they use that language,
although the judges, who pretend not to know German,
speak it as readily as you or I. Yet these same lawyers
cannot get back into Germany. At least give us time to
learn Polish before abolishing German! Many a man bom
here cannot speak it. There are German children of eighteen
or twenty, who have never been outside the province, who
are now learning Polish — that is, to write and speak it

' ' Oh yes, to be sure, we can most of us get permission in



three or four weeks to leave the province, but only by
abandoning most of our possessions and taking an oath
never to return. No wonder so many Germans become
Poles overnight. You can hardly expect otherwise, when
they have lived here all their lives and have all their prop-
erty and friends and interests here. No, military service
is not required of Germans, even if they were bom here;
but many of our youths have voluntarily become Polish
soldiers, for the same reason that their parents have sud-
denly turned Poles. Naturally, there is fighting along the
boimdary of the province. The Poles want to fight, so
they can have an excuse to keep their men under arms,
and what can Germany do but protect herself? Poland is
planning to become an aggressive, militaristic nation, as
was falsely charged against the Fatherland by her enemies.

"The complaints of the Poles at our rule were ridiculous.
We paid German teachers a premium because they had
harder work in teaching German to Polish children and in
seeing that they did not speak the language that was un-
wisely used at home. Railroad jobs, except common labor,
were given to Germans because they were more efficient
and trustworthy. Besides, does not Germany own the
railroads? They complain that the best land was taken by
German settlers; but the Poles were only too glad to sell
to our Ansiedler — at high prices. Now they are attacking
us with a fanaticism of the Middle Ages. Eighteen hundred
German teachers, men who have been educating the Poles
for twenty or twenty-five years, have suddenly been dis-
charged and ordered to vacate government property within
four weeks — yet they are not allowed to go back to Germany.
The Pole is still part barbarian; he is more heartless than
his cousin the Russian.

"Seventy per cent, of the taxes in the province of Posen
are paid by Germans. Yet no German who was not bom
here can vote, though Poles who were not can. I know a



village where there are seventy Germans and five Poles —
and the five Poles run things to suit themselves. Hus-
bands, wives, and sons often have different rights of suffrage.
The family of Baron X has lived here for a hundred and
fifty years. The baron himself happens to have been bom
in Berlin, because his mother went there to see a doctor.
So he cannot vote, though his Polish coachman, who has
not been here ten years, has all the rights of citizenship.
The result is that government affairs are getting into a
hopeless muddle. An ignorant fellow by the name of
Korfanti — a Polish 'German-eater' — has now the chief
voice in the Municipal Council. The Poles boycott German
merchants. They deluge the city with placards and appeals
not to buy of Germans. For a long time they refused to
trade even a miserable little Polish theater for our splendid
big Stadttheater. When the director of that finally got
permission to take over the wholly inadequate little play-
house for next season he had to advertise in order to find
out how many Germans intend to stay in Posen — as you
have seen in our German paper. What can the Poles do
with our magnificent Stadttheater? They have no classics
to give in it, nor people of sufficient culture to make up an
audience. We are still allowed to give German opera,
because they know they cannot run that themselves, and
a few of the more educated Poles like it. But our splendid
spoken classics seem to be doomed.

"Then there is their ridiculous hatred of the Jews. The
race may have its faults, but the five or six thousand Jews
of Posen province play a most important business and
financial role. They have always understood the advan-
tages of German Kultur far better than the Poles. There is
a Jewish Volksrat here that tries to keep independent of
both the other elements of the population; but the great
majority of the Jews stand with the Germans. They have

Online LibraryHarry Alverson FranckVagabonding through changing Germany → online text (page 19 of 29)