National Geographic : 1918 Dec
THE NATIONAL GEO( THE POLES * Next to the Russians, of whom they were long the rivals and foes, the Poles are numer ically the most important of the Slavs. They first appeared in Great, or North, and Little, or South, Poland in the tenth century, where they found other Slavic tribes in possession. The wise policy of their kings early induced the whole nation to profess Christianity. Of medium size, with round heads and healthful faces, the blond more common than the brunet, their physical appearance has ap parently changed little. The working classes, who constitute nine-tenths of the nation, have always been laborious, frugal, enduring, tem perate rather than abstemious, and intensely patriotic. Those qualities distinguish the thou sands of Poles in the United States. Their szlacta, or nobles, have shown themselves im petuous, brave to rashness, chivalrous, insub ordinate, emotional, artistic. During the formative period Poland was con solidated by the dynasty of the great Lithua nian, Jagellon, the Polish Wadislaus II-a suc cession of princes unsurpassed in constructive ability. Union with the Lithuanians doubled the population and the natural resources. To gether they crushed the Teutonic Knights at Tannenberg in 141o and half a century later at the peace of Thorn pushed them east of the Vistula. The Polish lands on the Baltic, to gether with Danzig and Marienberg, were recovered. The Duchy of Mazovia, of which Warsaw was the center, five centuries inde pendent, voluntarily joined the kingdom which a few years later spanned Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea. The Reformation, regarded with suspicion as having a German origin, only for a time disturbed the country. The advantageous situation of the kingdom, the admirable qualities of its common people, and the development already attained, seemed to assure the greatness and permanence of the Polish State. Yet disappointment meets us on every page. The brilliant passages are episodes without connection or result. Nowhere else is so much valor wasted. The chasm was always widen ing between the nobles and the common people. The people paid all the taxes. The nobles, all equal, possessed all the wealth and power, but had no sense of obligation or responsibility. Intrepid in battle, they were ready to fight for the country only when so inclined. The system of government was oligarchic in the extreme. Succession to the powerless throne was elective, native or foreigner alike eligible. Each election was an orgy of turbu lence and bribery. Twice the throne was put up at auction. The liberum veto, established in 1652, whereby the negative vote of a single member of the Diet nullified any act or all the * See also, in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, "Partitioned Poland," by William J. Sho walter (January, 1915), and "Devastated Po land," by Frederick Walcott (May, 1917). GRAPHIC MAGAZINE 499 acts of all the rest, culminated the anarchy and eventually brought about the destruction of Poland. Yet the criminal follies of a privileged class in no way excuse or palliate the iniquity of the three partitions of Poland in 1773, 1793, and 1795 by Prussia, Russia, and Austria. It must be noted that the first partition was confirmed by the Polish Diet, in which nearly all the members accepted foreign bribes. The belated heroic resistance of Kosciuszlko. of a handful of nobles and of the infuriated common people glorifies the fall of the State which some historians, confused by the farce of election, still call the "Republic" of Poland. By these partitions Russia acquired 181,ooo square miles of territory, with 6,ooo,ooo inhab itants; Austria, 45,000 square miles, with 2,500, ooo inhabitants; Prussia, 57,000 square miles, with 2,500,000 inhabitants. The Poles under the Austrians were in the main kindly treated. Also, being Roman Cath olics, there was no religious antipathy. Under the Russians every harsh measure was em ployed to accomplish their russification. Those under the Prussians were the most pitiably situated of all. In the effort to make them Germans there was no limit to the systematic, persistent cruelty directed against all classes and ages. Poland has enriched the world in music, art, and literature. The national dances, the polo naise and the mazurka, were always accom panied by singing. Copernicus is Poland's greatest name. Sienkiewicz, victim of the world war, by many considered the most bril liant writer of the day, was a Pole, as is Pad erewski. Situated between the upper millstone of Prus sia and the nether millstone of Russia, and at the same time subjected to lateral pressure from Austro-Hungarian armies, the land of the Poles during the world war suffered devasta tion which exceeds the imagination of those who have not actually witnessed the scenes of rapine, pillage, conflagration, and wanton de struction. The restitution of a reunited Poland to its loyal common people will be among the wor thiest achievements of the Allies. One of the most difficult problems which the restored nation's leaders will encounter is the Jewish situation. There are millions of Jews in Polish territory. It is admitted by all thought ful statesmen that great effort and sacrifice on the part of both the Poles and the Jews will be necessary before a satisfactory solution can be reached. THE JEWS * On the Arch of Titus in Rome are carved in bold relief laurel-crowned soldiers, bearing a massive seven-branched candlestick. This rep * See also, in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, "An Old Jewel in the Proper Setting," by Charles W. Whitehair (October. o118).