AN ADDRESS BY HONOURABLE EDWARD WERNER
The President, John C. M. MacBeth, Esq., B.A., K.C.
Thursday, April 2, 1943
MR. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: Gentlemen of The Empire Club: On January 22nd, 1942, we had the honour of entertaining Mr. Victor Podoski, Consul General of Poland. His subject was expressed in two words: "Towards Victory". Today we have the honour of entertaining the Honourable Edward Werner, former ViceMinister of Finance in Poland, and his subject, oddly enough, is expressed in two words: "Towards Unity" You will note the coincidence that both of these two-word subjects contain the word "Towards", an indication of hope, an indication of faith in the future.
Dr. Werner was born in Warsaw in 1878, passed the examinations of the Lyceum in Poland and of the Academy of Commerce in Vienna, and studied Economics in London and Berlin.
He has had a very colourful career. As an economist, he was judge of the Court of Commerce, Instructor of Public Servants, and Lecturer in Taxation and Finance. As a businessman, he has engaged in trade in grain and fertilizers. As an industrialists, his interests were in the manufacture of tobacco and the production of sugar. As a politician, he was a Councilman of Warsaw and Vice-Minister of Finance of his country. As a Churchman, he has followed the tradition of his Lutheran ancestors and is a very active layman, his particular interest expressing itself in his ardent support of the Y.M.C.A. As a humanitarian, his sympathies were shown, when, in Word War I, he set up a private hospital for the wounded under the auspices of the Polish Red Cross and superintended the work in the hospital. Dr. Werner witnessed the bombardment of Warsaw by the Germans and did not leave the country until after the Russian invasion and the Polish Government had gone into exile.
Before calling upon Dr. Werner to address us, I ask you to rise and drink with me a Toast to Poland.
Gentlemen: The Honourable Edward Werner, who will speak to us on the subject "Towards Unity". (Applause.)
DR. WERNER: Mr. President, Gentlemen: You have done me a great honour by asking me to speak at your Club. I imagine that my presence here denotes your appreciation of the spirit of the plain man of Poland who under the most adverse circumstances remains true to the watchwords inscribed on Polish banners: "God, Honour, My Country". I ascribe that gracious invitation to your wish to honour in this way those indomitable airmen, countrymen of mine, who in the hour of peril belonged "to the few to whom so much was owed by so many". I think of the battle of Great Britain in 1940.
After the invasion of France the Polish pilots joined the ranks of the glorious R.A.F., in the ranks of which they continue to fight. The pilots passed through a course of training in unfamilial planes in England, and went up in the air in August and September, and battled the German armadas over London. The squadron named Koseusko by the Poles and named No. 303 by the R.A.F., proved to be the second best squadron in Great Britain. The large number of German planes downed by the Poles in that epic fight was quite out of proportion to their numbers. During their training on British airfields the following saying became Popular: "Do watch closely the quantity of gasoline in the tanks of planes in which Poles are training; otherwise they will cross the channel in order to enjoy target practice over Germany." May I uphold my statement on the Polish Fliers by quoting the British Vice Air Marshal Cunningham while speaking to war correspondents on the Libya Front? He said, "Polish pilots have only two speeds: top speed and full speed. They are wonderful. Their sole interest in life is to kill Germans. I have asked for three Poles for every squadron."
I started by mentioning the spirit of the plain man of Poland. I hope to have your permission to develop my argument on that subject. Distances have shrunk. The world has telescoped and what happens at a distance of 3,000 miles may prove a grave concern to the happiness and security of a Canadian citizen. A more intimate knowledge of conditions prevailing in foreign countries permits either to shield against coming dangers or to build enduring ties of friendship which transcend conventional barriers established by habit and difference of language and creed. For instance, the deported Poles in Russia have discovered a link of sympathy with a people known by the name Uzbeks. The understanding has been established by their common belief in God and by the conviction that private property provided a rational basis for human existence. And this happened in a land where "communism" is the watchword and where belief in a godless world is favoured.
Another example is less far-fetched. Polish troops are stationed also somewhere in Scotland. At first, Poles disliked the weather in Scotland. Later they wrote to relatives in the United States: "If the weather in Scotland makes the people as they are, we wish that that weather would prevail all over the world."
During the First World War, the British and American people had included the rights of smaller nationalities among their declared war aims, and incidentally paragraph 3 of the Atlantic Charter points once more to the same course. But after the First World War, a lack of a vital interest had been exhibited by the dominant Allies in ensuing happenings irk Eastern Europe. I think that Mr. Churchill's words spoken in the Senate of the United States might properly have applied to this problem. I quote, "If we had kept together after the last World War, if we had taken common measures for our safety, this renewal of the curse need never have fallen on us."
You are a powerful factor in the camp of the United Nations. Having subscribed to a common program of purposes and of principles embodied in the joint declaration known as the Atlantic Charter, you are vitally interested in the future edifice. of a just and stable peace, which can only endure if built on solid foundations of principles of justice and humanity.
I submit that the knowledge of the past is necessary before we can understand the present and forecast the future. An industrial magnate across the border has declared "History is bunk!" I dare to disagree.
Poland is not only the name of a country fifth in population on the European continent. It is a name which evokes ten centuries in the history of a nation numbering 35 million people, fervently attached to its rights to freedom and independence, and ever ready to fight and to die in its defense.
The spirit of aggression was foreign to Polish temperament, to which the preservation of its institutions and its liberties was much more precious than any ideas of conquest. Polish wars were defensive, they were mostly fought within Poland's own borders. And that these territories were often invaded was a misfortune arising from Poland's geographical position.
In the fifteenth century slowly matured views of the economical and social necessities induced the representatives of Lithuanian and Ruthenian provinces to enter with Poland into a combination unique in the history of the world, a spontaneous and complete union of sovereign states, choosing deliberately the ways of peace.
The consolidation of the territories of the Republic which made it a Power of first rank for a time, was thus not accomplished by force.
In the end of the 18th Century there were two centres of liberal ideas in Europe. They were France and Poland. The only states that dreaded the contamination of the new principles and had enough power to combat them were: Prussia, Russia and Austria. The greed of Poland's powerful neighbours led to the partition of that country under the impudent pretext of suppression of revolutionary ideas in Europe.
Frederick, King of Prussia, appearing on the scene in the character of a friend, entered deliberately into a treaty of alliance with the Republic of Poland, and then before the ink was dry, he tore that treaty up in brazen defiance of the commonest decency.
A Canadian, Professor William John Rose of Manitoba, published a fine essay on Poland's past social history under the title, "The Drama of Upper Silesia". The fact of his becoming a civilian prisoner during the First World War, and of staying later for a long time in Eastern Europe, led to the interest taken by him in the renascence of the patriotic spirit of the plain man of Poland under Prussian rule. Dr. Rose mentioned many examples of oppression of Poles by their German feudal lords, and of the utter disregard for Polish lives by German authorities. I quote: "In the poorest areas of German Silesia, famines raged almost constantly during the first decades of the 19th Century. If and when the crop failures followed on one another as they did in 1846, '47, and '48, then the deathbell tolled over the land without a break. Those in high places, though warned, made light of it all, and the only notable echo was the remark made in the Landtag that the Polish Silesian peasants were like potato bugs, who flourished when the crop of tubers was good, but starved otherwise."
Under a destructive pressure of which Westerners have no notion, applied by forces that were not only crushing but corrupting, Poles had nevertheless preserved their sanity. Oppression has not made the Poles vengeful.
I have dealt possibly too extensively with the Poles in Germany, but I desired to lay before you facts as described by the unbiased Canadian scholar. The story of Poles under Russian and Austrian rules was not greatly different. In Russia, the intention of the Czar was to transform Poles into Russians. Schools were not available for the needy because the Russian Government considered enlightenment dangerous for the masses. In Austria the government was more liberal with regard to education, but the economic advance of the Polish people was hindered.
All three partitioning powers, Germany, Russia, Austria, had in their hands their own particular aims and needs and-last but not least-strategic motives determined their policies. Therefore, in the Russian part, railways were few and roads were bad. In the German territory a contrary scheme was pursued. However, in one point these policies did not differ--defense industries were never built upon Polish territory.
In 1918 the First World War ended. In 1918 the sun of freedom shone once again over Poland. It rose because of the spirit of sacrifice of the English-speaking people. However, that sun of freedom found the country ruined by war, in a state of indescribable poverty, and lacking the industrial equipment necessary to rebuild and to defend the country.
Millions of tourists visited the battlefields of France after the First World War, but only a few pushed further and investigated the devastation caused by the World War in Poland. A few figures might serve to illustrate this destruction: About 2,000,000 houses were damaged and had to be rebuilt, actual battlefields extended over one-fourth of the surface of the country. Direct war damages were computed at $2,500,000,000. Three billion feet of earth alone had to be shifted to fill excavated trenches. The loss of human life, which I should have mentioned first, is hard to estimate for Poles fought in all three contending armies. A part of Poland then belonging to Russia was deliberately laid waste in order to deprive the Germans of the necessary supplies. The inhabitants of that region were evacuated to Russia. When famine occurred in Russia in 1923 after the Bolshevik Revolution, these people were sent back by the Russians under the most appalling conditions.
Reconstruction was proceeding apace when across the border the now familiar story was acted out. The drone of German planes was heard, the click of armoured divisions began to fill the air, and a campaign of vituperation poisoned the public mind. The plain man in Poland responded quickly to the patriotic appeal. He did not indulge in wishful thinking. But Poland was still a poor country, desperately poor in equipment as a consequence of foreign rule and oppression for over a century. The assault itself was launched treacherously without warning by an army of seventy infantry divisions, ten or fifteen motorized and armoured divisions, and an air force sixteen times the size of that of Poland. Owing to the advice and to the request of foreign statesmen, the mobilization of Poland had been postponed and this invading force of eighty-five or ninety divisions was met on the Polish side by twenty-five not fully mobilized divisions.
The flat country favored the invasion and so the result of this unequal struggle was never in doubt to the trained eye of the American military observer. The performance of the Polish infantry, however, surprised the German command. Polish infantry proved equal, nay, even superior to the German, but German regiments of tanks, outflanking the Polish positions, and the Russian invasion from the East made impossible any further resistance.
I think that the following episode characterizes well the spirit of the plain man in this battle. Somewhere in Poland, close to an isolated hut, a heavy machine gun fired on an approaching tank. The crew of the machine gun should have consisted of six men, but three of them lay already dead on the ground, one man was severely wounded, the fifth, although wounded in the hand, was passing the ammunition belts, and an old sergeant was firing at an approaching tank. When a friend of mine, the Commander of the Division, came upon this group unexpectedly, he saw tears running on the sergeant's face; the man wept because he could not damage the tank. My friend yanked him into safety at the very moment when the German tank rolled over the machine gun.
The attack of the Nazis on Eastern Europe crowned with success for a time the ambitions of the preceding German generations educated in the spirit of Bismarck, but replacing Bismarck's command of Germanization of the Poles by Hitler's order of brute extermination.
I had an insight into Hitler's mind while listening to Carl Burchard, the High Commissioner of the League of Nations at Danzig, who had a conversation with Hitler at Berchtesgarten shortly before the invasion of Poland. In reply to Burchard's remark, that the invasion of Poland would lead to a World War, Hitler retorted
"I shall fight without mercy, up to the limit. I am the specialist on re-armament, not the others." He mentioned figures, now obsolete, demonstrating the superiority of the German Air Force. He displayed photographs. He alleged these photographs referred to events in Poland. At that moment, Hitler's face became transformed by anger, an expression of intense hatred crept in his looks. "That horrible expression on Hitler's face I cannot forget", said Burchard to me.
In substantiation of my assertion concerning the extermination of Poles, may I read to you excerpts from a letter from Poland received and read by the Polish Commander-in-Chief in Treat Britain, and written by the women of Poland? I quote: "Our only weapon in the fight with the enemy is silence. We are silent when at night the Nazis rob Jews of sons and daughters, when German soldiers shoot at Jewish children in the street, when they drown Jewish children in the sewers and brain mothers bringing food to their family. We are silent when they shoot at our husbands, hang them along railroad tracks, and use the butt-end of their rifles to herd us together to witness their executions as happened in Krakow, in Silesia, and in Paznan. We are silent when they take our last bushel of rye, when we pick weeds, when our bodies bloat from hunger as in eastern Malopolska, when they throw us out of our farms for failure to meet our quotas, when they burn our villages, kill the defenseless inhabitants of areas where parachutists have landed, but our silence of two years ago and our silence of today are two different things.
Sir, we report with a cry: Do you and the Government know what is happening in Poland? And if your knowledge is derived from bare account, you can certainly not grasp the full truth. We ourselves did not imagine things could be so horrible as they are today.
"Hundreds of cities and villages have been depopulated. They call it by different names. But we cry out
'They are murdering human beings!'
Tennyson wrote once a pathetic poem about Poland wherein he said
" 'The heart of Poland has not ceased to quiver'."
You can watch now that secret throbbing of Poland's heart in the underground press of Poland. Scores of these papers are published, though death is the penalty for editing and circulating clandestine news. The tone of these underground newspapers is remarkable. They affirm that human institutions should be controlled by the spirit of human sympathy, love and service. After the invasion only elementary and professional schools were reopened; therefore, the press formulated plans for the establishment of already functioning secret universities.
I abstain from speaking on the desperate fate of the Polish deportees in Russia because delicate negotiations are now pending.
What do these developments convey to you. In one of his speeches, Mr. Churchill affirmed that pestilences may break out in the Old World, which carry their destructive ravages into the new world, from which once they are afoot, the new world cannot by any means escape." I repeat what he said to the Senate of the United States: "If we had kept together after the last war, if we had taken common measures for our safety, this renewal of the curse need never have fallen upon us." "And over here," Lord Tweedsmuir submitted, "That the peace and freedom of the world depended upon a close understanding between the British Commonwealth and the Government of the United States."
Into that great scheme, Poland should be integrated.
And why, you may inquire? Because, true to her traditions, Poland was first to oppose armed resistance to Germany's aggression in 1939, regardless of overwhelming odds. Thus Poland is the oldest European member of the fighting community now known as the United Nations.
If love of freedom, attachment to religious faith, respect for the rights of the individual and abhorrence of aggressive imperialism are credentials that make a people eligible to the association of the United Nations-then Poland was predestined by her ideology and designated by her history to be a constructive member of that family of nations.
Poles choose rather to face firing squads than to become Quislings to their nation, and the Poles deplore the tragic death of the former Prime Minister, Professor Bartel, who heroically faced his ordeal in the town of Lemberg.
In the past, in the early Middle Ages, Poles stopped the rolling waves of German penetration from the West, and had resisted the Nomadic tribes which advanced from the East. The wall built by Polish bodies was not shattered by the arrows of the Tartars and of the Turks.
For over a century, the conspiracy of the three despots had held the Polish people in submission, but their efforts to curb the Polish spirit failed completely. In music and in poems, the exiled Polish poets and composers recreated the eternal soul of the Polish people. During the Partition, Poland survived in the hearts of her children, because her genius inspired the people with the will of sacrifice, and love for the martyred country. You have met Paderewski, the lofty ambassador of that cultural and immortal Poland.
I continue by giving you some economic arguments on this problem. The existence of Poland guarantees that the Baltic will remain open to your ships, and that a certain nation will not impose its will on other nations settled on the shores of the Baltic.
Dr. Rose's pioneer work seems of infinite value; he interpreted Poland to the world outside. But just as in private life, friendship is a thing which must be cultivated, so between nations there must be a continuous effort towards a better comprehension. It was Dr. Johnson who said that a man should keep his friendships in a constant repair.
After Versailles internal politics caused unfortunate international reactions. This should not happen again. In future friend and foe should not be confused.
You hold a position of vantage. Your contribution toward victory and solution of the world problems can be unique.
I sum up by quoting from a broadcast released by a spokesman of the United Nations, who interpreted succinctly mine, and, I hope, your views and ideas: I quote
"If we are sincerely determined to establish a just and durable peace, we must irrevocably decide to discourage the mighty and to strengthen the weak. We will have to stand pat on the principles for which we are fighting, refusing to surrender any of them to any pressure whatever its source."
"We will have to recreate security, prosperity and happiness in a world of untold suffering and destitution. The future of the world is in the hands of the United Nations. But, success will entirely depend on their sustained unity of purpose. It will be the greatest chance in history to fulfill this creative task; it will be the greatest responsibility of all."
I end by reading you a letter from Poland showing you the present spirit of the plain man in Poland. The letter reads;
A LETTER SMUGGLED OUT OF X PRISON
I am coming to the end of my torture, for the sentence of death was passed on me the day before yesterday. tomorrow more than a dozen of us are to die I believe this letter will reach you, and I would like you to know that my last prison was at---and the place of my execution will be---near---. I do not know what kind of death awaits me, but today- I openly admit that it will be as nothing compared with the tortures that have been inflicted on me for the past six months and nineteen days. Forgive me all the trouble you have had on my account, and I know you will forgive me, for it is all for the future of Poland. . . It is not hard for me to die, for I have endured everything, and they got nothing out of me which could hurt others. I am only sorry that I have not been allowed to see a priest before my death. I take farewell of you in this world, but you must live with faith in Poland and God . . . .Know that I die with the words on my lips: "Long Live Poland."
In this context, a Polish short-wave broadcast released by a mysterious Polish station may be mentioned British flyers and American flyers, do not mind the spilling of our blood. We welcome the zooming of your bombers, this is sweet music for our ears. It brings us the message of deliverance. Your bombs have killed many, and numerous people have been wounded, but we prefer death to enslavement. Do come, discharge your bombs over our heads! We want to live as a free people or prefer to die!
I thank you.
MR. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: Dr. Werner, your friend, and my friend, Dr. C. E. Silcox, is going to express to you the thanks of The Empire Club for this wonderful address.
DR. C. E. SILCOX: Dr. Werner, as you gave us today the recital of the tragic facts of Poland, my mind went back to 1926, when a knock came to my office in Geneva. A young man entered, an American, who told me he was the representative of certain banking interests in the United States. He asked me what I knew about Poland, and, like a good Canadian, I told him that I knew practically nothing. He said that Poland wanted to borrow $400,000,000, but he had come over to see whether it was a good risk. I advised him to see my friend, Dr. Rhodes, in Poland, who is one Canadian who does know Poland, and he did see him, and I think, Sir, you got a loan of $200,000,000, or nearly, at that time.
You have told us today a good deal about Poland. We knew relatively little about it. Of course, we knew Polish art. We knew great names in Polish music. We knew at least the Polish novelist who wrote By Fire and Sword, and we knew something of the business revival in Poland, but you have given us something of an historic background, by which we can understand better, not only the problems of the past but also the problems of the future, and you have shown us something of our responsibility as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and as Canadians, to see that Poland rises again.
Aristotle taught us in The Poetics that the function of tragedy is to create a catharsis of the spirit, through the display of those tragic elements that describe pity and fear. You have described to us the pity of Poland. I hope it will not simply mean to us a catharsis of pity and fear, but a catharsis of those things that make us uncomplaining about the small hardships we in Canada must endure before we achieve the final goal, and, if it creates that catharsis in our minds, then, Sir, with Poland we shall go on, to use the words of Mr. Podoski, "Towards Victory" or to use your own words, "Towards Unity". (Applause.)
MR. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: I have an announcement to make. You will be glad to know that our year is drawing to a close--that is, my Presidential Year--and we are looking around for a new Executive. You are asked to submit any suggestions that you may have to the Executive of the Club and they will be passed on to the Nominating Committee.