The first congress of Poles in Germany
In the latter half of the 1930s the situation of Poles in Germany considerably deteriorated when the Nazis placed increasing restrictions on the Poles’ many different educational, cultural, social and economic activities. The German-Polish minority declaration of November 1937 contained nothing more than empty phrases and resulted in no positive changes. Given these conditions the Union of Poles in Germany (the Polish umbrella organisation) decided to organise a major congress in Germany to manifest and articulate the rights of Poles more clearly. The occasion was the 15th anniversary of the founding of the Union of Poles in Germany. The Central Council of the Union met in December 1937 and decided to hold a congress of Poles in Berlin at the beginning of March 1938. At first they considered holding the congress in Breslau but this idea was soon abandoned. Preparations for the congress took place in all the regional sections of the Union in January and February 1938. The organisers hoped that the anniversary and the congress would arouse so much attention that it would be impossible for the Nazi authorities to dissolve the Union of Poles: or, if they did so, this would involve a huge amount of time and money. A lot of legal work on the part of the Union was involved in organising the congress. All the applications to the Nazis (assembly rooms, collective journeys, folk evenings and concerts) were prepared by the Union’s legal office. The congress was to take place in the second largest venue in Berlin, the “Theater des Volkes” in Friedrichsstrasse, which could hold up to 5000 persons. Contracts were made with the Reich railways (special trains), bus companies, hotels and hostels, restaurants and cafes. The organisation of the congress presented a huge logistic challenge. A special office was set up consisting of staff from the headquarters and the Union’s press headquarters. Their duties consisted of printing tickets for the participants, entrance tickets, armbands, flags with the Rodlo emblem (the symbol of the Union) and even suitcase stickers. They even considered postage stamps and picture postcards.
The congress took place on Sunday 6th March 1938 and was one of the largest demonstrations organised by Poles in Germany. Poles came to Berlin – often in traditional dress – from Opole Silesia, the district of Babimost, Kaschubia, Warmia, the district of Marienburg, the area around the Elbe, from Westphalia and the Rhineland. Delegates from Polish organisations in France, Czechoslovakia, the USA, Romania and other countries were also present as well as representatives of other national minorities in Germany. All the participants paid for their own travel and the cost of food and accommodation. The Sunday was a fine sunny day and the colours of white and red were to be seen all over the streets of Berlin. It was not long before all the seats in the "Theater des Volkes" were occupied. The congress opened at midday. In the centre of the stage was an outsize Rodlo emblem, to the left the Chapel of the Holy Virgin (after the congress it was taken to Zakrzów/Sakrau), to the right the speaker’s lectern and behind it a leaf from a Linden tree, the emblem of Polish Jews in Germany. The congress opened with a Polonaise conducted by Aleksander Sienkiewicz. The opening speech was given by Pastor Dr. Bolesław Domański, the President of the Union of Poles in Germany, and the participants sang the Rodło hymn. Five people later appeared on stage, as symbols of the five sections of the Union consisting of Silesia, Berlin. the area around the Elbe, Westphalia and the Rhineland, East Prussia, the Babimost region, the Międzyrzecz area and Kaschubia. In his opening speech Pastor Domański spoke of the Fatherland and the unity of the Polish nation. Greetings were then read out from the primate Cardinal August Hlond. A variety of different persons also spoke, including representatives from the Union of National Minorities in Germany. A speech by Dr. Jan Kaczmarek, the General Secretary of the Union of Poles in Germany completed the official section of the congress. In it he focussed on the situation of Poles in Germany and the struggle to have the rights of the Polish minority respected in Germany. His speech was interrupted with applause on several occasions. He finished with the words: “On 6th March 1938 we, the sons of the Polish Nation, faithful sons gathered beneath the Rodło emblem at this huge congress of Poles in Germany, solemnly proclaim the Five Truths of Poles:
First truth: We are Poles!
Second truth: Our fathers’ faith is our children’s faith.
Third truth: A Pole is a brother to other Poles!
Fourth truth: A Pole serves his people every day!
Fifth truth: Poland is our mother – you do not speak ill of your mother!