To Die for Danzig
Cameron Watt in his “How War Came” devotes an entire chapter to Danzig: “Hitler Steps up the Pressure: “Die for Danzig.”” The events in William Walker’s book occur prior to 1939; more specifically the period between 1934 -1936 when Sean Lester was the League of Nations High Commissioner for the “free city” of Danzig. Walker places Danzig at the fulcrum of the growing struggle between Hitler and the rest of Europe.
The mostly German city of Danzig (pop. 400,000) was established by the Treaty of Versailles as a “free city” that would give Poland an outlet to the Baltic Sea. Today it is the Polish city of Gdansk. The League of Nations was responsible for maintaining its constitutional safeguards which would have worked well in more harmonious times, but with the rise of Hitler the German majority of the city moved sharply in the direction of the NDSAP (Nazi Party) thereby creating a crisis for the League.
Although this is far from the best written historical novel Walker integrates the actions of some very real people with his protagonist, Paul Muller an upper-class League diplomat of Swiss-English parents. In the novel he is Lester’s chief aide and we find him fighting battles in Geneva, the League’s headquarters and on the streets of Danzig. He sees up close the role of Nazi thugs intimidating their opposition and the appeasement policy of Anthony Eden in Geneva as he continually sells out Lester. Eden would later break with that policy, but early on he was an appeaser.
Through Muller we become a fly on the wall in meetings at the League and in Danzig where Lester tries to negotiate with NDSAP leaders Arthur Greisser and Albert Forster who are following direct orders from Berlin and we also get a sense of the opposition Social Democrats who are fighting a losing battle. We also see which is timely for today, the very real risks diplomats and their families take in difficult environments.
I recommend William Walker’s book to those readers who want to get a sense of what dealing with the growing Nazi threat diplomats faced on a day-to-day basis as they struggled to maintain a semblance of collective security.
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