Treaty of Zgorzelec establishing Poland’s post WWII border with Germany signed 70 years ago today
Seventy years ago today Poland signed its first ever border treaty with Germany.
The document signed by Prime Ministers Józef Cyrankiewicz and Otto Grotewohl and imposed by the Soviet Union, established the border on the Oder- Lusatian Neisse rivers.
Although Poland had been granted land reaching the rivers as well as parts of East Prussia during the Potsdam Conference in 1945, the detailed border was to be determined at a future international conference.
The event failed to materialise, however, as in the meantime the USSR fell out with its former western allies.
The unresolved issue was problematic for the Polish side, which feared for the integrity of its territory and had lukewarm relations with GDR, to say the least.
The Communist authorities were well aware that Moscow's support for the new borders could be changed by the Kremlin at any time to suit its needs.
Consequently, the negotiations of “The Agreement Concerning the Demarcation of the Established and the Existing Polish-German State Frontier” were filled with tension with East German politicians refusing to treat the new border as a finality, especially since they saw it as taking away land that rightfully belonged to their country.
In addition, western powers were absent from the process (in opposition to what was decided in Potsdam) and West Germany’s chancellor Conrad Adenauer saw the negotiations as unlawful, demanding they could only be held once Germany was unified.
For Moscow, the quick conclusion of the agreement was important to show the international community that the GDR was a fully-fledged state and not a puppet regime functioning under the protection of Soviet bayonets.
The significance of the first international agreement concluded by the government in eastern Berlin would have been all the greater because it was concluded with Poland, the country Germany invaded and occupied over a decade before.
Therefore the main conditions of the agreement were not discussed, with decisions about things such as drinking water only being allowed.
Poland was also forced to agree to lower the amount of war reparations it should have received from Germany, although this was later annulled.
On July 6th, 1950, the prime ministers of both countries met in the border town of Zgorzelec and signed the Soviet-dictated document in the town’s cultural centre.
The Zgorzelec Treaty stated: “Desiring to express the will to perpetuate universal peace and to contribute to the great work of harmonious cooperation between peace-loving nations, (…) The People’s Republic of Poland and the German Democratic Republic recognize that (…) the established and existing border running from the Baltic Sea along a line to the west of Świnoujście and further along the Oder River to the place where the Lusatian Neisse River falls and along the Lusatian Neisse to the Czech-Slovakian border constitutes the state border between Poland and Germany".
To enhance the propaganda image that would circle around the globe, both sides that were at war merely a few years before walked hand in hand across the border, to stage a show of friendship and unity in the communist bloc.
Despite initial protests, West Germany accepted the Zgorzelec Treaty in 1970, during a period of normalization with the Soviet countries.
The treaty was then ratified after 21 years and the unification of Germany. The border set in the document is still valid.