Official Languages: German, Polish
Established: 1920 AD/CE
Disestablished: 1945 AD/CE
Danzig had an early history of independence. It was a leading player in the Prussian Confederation directed against the Teutonic Monastic State of Prussia. The Confederation stipulated with the Polish king, Casimir IV Jagiellon, that the Polish Crown would be invested with the role of head of state of western parts of Prussia (Royal Prussia). In contrast, Ducal Prussia remained a Polish fief. Danzig and other cities such as Elbing and Thorn financed most of the warfare and enjoyed a high level of city autonomy. Danzig used the title Royal Polish City of Danzig.
In 1569, when Royal Prussia's estates agreed to incorporate the region into the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, the city insisted on preserving its special status. It defended itself through the costly Siege of Danzig in 1577 in order to preserve special privileges, and subsequently insisted on negotiating by sending emissaries directly to the Polish king. Danzig's location as a deep-water port where the Vistula river met the Baltic Sea had made it into one of the wealthiest cities in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries as grain from Poland and the Ukraine was shipped up the Vistula on barges to be loaded onto ships in Danzig, where it was shipped on to western Europe. As many of the merchants shipping the grain from Danzig were Dutch, who built Dutch-style houses for themselves, leading to other Danzigers imitating them, the city was thus given a distinctively Dutch appearance. Danzig become known as "the Amsterdam of the East", a wealthy seaport and trading crossroads that linked together the economics of western and eastern Europe, and whose location at where the Vistula flowed into the Baltic led to various powers competing to rule the city.
Although Danzig became part of the Kingdom of Prussia in the Second Partition of Poland in 1793, Prussia was conquered by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806, and in September 1807 Napoleon declared Danzig a semi-independent client state of the French Empire, known as the Free City of Danzig. It lasted seven years, until it was re-incorporated into the Kingdom of Prussia in 1814, after Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Leipzig (Battle of Nations) by a coalition that included Russia, Austria, and Prussia. The city remained part of Prussia until 1920, becoming part of the Reich in 1871.
Point 14 of U.S. president Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points called for Polish independence to be restored and for Poland to have "secure access to the sea", a promise that implied that Danzig which occupied a strategic location where the Vistula river flowed into the Baltic sea, should become part of Poland. At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, the Polish delegation led by Roman Dmowski asked for Wilson to honor point 14 of the 14 Points by transferring Danzig to Poland, arguing that Poland would not be economically viable without Danzig and that since the city had been part of Poland until 1793, it was rightfully part of Poland anyway. However, Wilson had promised that national self-determination would be the basis of the Treaty of Versailles. As 90% of the people in Danzig in this period were German, the Allied leaders at the Paris Peace Conference compromised by creating the Free City of Danzig, a city-state in which Poland had certain special rights. It was felt that including a city that was 90% German into Poland would be a violation of the principle of national self-determination, but at the same time the promise in the 14 Points of allowing Poland "secure access to the sea" gave Poland a claim on Danzig, hence the compromise of the Free City of Danzig.
The Free City of Danzig was largely the work of British diplomacy as both the French Premier Georges Clemenceau and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson supported the Polish claim to Danzig, and it was only objections from the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George that prevented Danzig from going to Poland. Despite creating the Free City, the British did not really believe in the viability of the Free City of Danzig with Lloyd George writing at the time: "France would tomorrow fight for Alsace if her right to it were contested. But would we make war for Danzig?". The Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour wrote in the summer of 1918 that the Germans had such a ferocious contempt for Poles that it was unwise for Germany to lose any territory to Poland even if morally justified as the Germans would never accept losing land to the despised Poles and such a situation was bound to cause a war. During the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, the British consistently sought to minimize German territorial losses to Poland under the grounds that the Germans had such an utter contempt for the Poles together with the rest of the Slavic peoples that such losses were bound to deeply wound their feelings and cause a war. For all the bitterness of the French–German enmity, the Germans had a certain grudging respect for the French that did not extend to the Poles at all. During the Paris Peace Conference, a commission of inquiry chaired by a British historian, James Headlam-Morley, investigating where the borders between Germany and Poland should be, started to research Danzig's history. Upon discovering that Danzig had been a Free City in the past, Headlam-Morley came up with what he regarded as a brilliant compromise solution under which Danzig would become a Free City again that would belong to neither Germany nor Poland. As the British were opposed to Danzig becoming part of Poland and the French and the Americans to Danzig remaining part of Germany, Headlam-Morley's compromise of the Free City of Danzig was embraced.
The rural areas around Danzig were overwhelmingly Polish and the representatives of the Polish farmers around Danzig complained about being included in the Free City of Danzig, stating they wanted to join Poland. For their part, the representatives of the German population of Danzig complained about being severed from Germany, and constantly demanded that the Free City of Danzig be reincorporated into the Reich. The Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan wrote that a sense of Danzig national identity never emerged during the Free City's existence, and the German population of Danzig always regarded themselves as Germans who had been unjustly taken out of Germany. The loss of Danzig did indeed deeply hurt German national pride and in the interwar period, German nationalists spoke of the "open wound in the east" that was the Free City of Danzig. However, until the building of Gdynia, almost all of Poland's exports went through Danzig, and Polish public opinion was opposed to Germany having a "choke-hold" on the Polish economy.
The Free City of Danzig (1920–39) included the city of Danzig (Gdańsk), the towns of Zoppot (Sopot), Oliva (Oliwa), Tiegenhof (Nowy Dwór Gdański), Neuteich (Nowy Staw) and some 252 villages and 63 hamlets, covering a total area of 1,966 square kilometers (759 sq mi). The cities of Danzig (since 1818) and Zoppot (since 1920) formed independent cities (Stadtkreise), whereas all other towns and municipalities were part of one of the three rural districts (Landkreise), Danziger Höhe, Danziger Niederung [pl] (both seated in Danzig city) and Großes Werder [de], seated in Tiegenhof.
In 1928, its territory covered 1,952 km2 including 58 square kilometers of freshwater surface. The border had a length of 290.5 km, of which the coastline accounted for 66.35 km.
The Free City was to be represented abroad by Poland and was to be in a customs union with it. The German railway line that connected the Free City with newly created Poland was to be administered by Poland, as were all rail lines in the territory of the Free City. On November 9, 1920, a convention that provided for the Presence of a Polish diplomatic representative in Danzig was signed between the Polish government and the Danzig authorities. In article 6, the Polish government undertook not to conclude any international agreements regarding Danzig without previous consultation with the Free City's government.
A separate Polish post office was established, besides the existing municipal one.
With the creation of the Free City in the aftermath of World War I a security police force was created on 19 August 1919. On 9 April 1920, a military style marching band, the Musikkorps, was formed. Led by composer Ernst Stieberitz, the police band became well known in the city and abroad. In 1921, Danzig's government reformed the entire institution and established the Schutzpolizei, or protection police. Helmut Froböss became President of the Police (i. e. Chief) on 1 April 1921. He served in this capacity until the German annexation of the city.
The police initially operated from 12 precincts and 7 registration points. In 1926 the number of precincts was reduced to 7.
After the Nazi takeover of the Senate, the police were increasingly used to suppress free speech and political dissent. In 1933, Froböss ordered the left-wing newspapers Danziger Volksstimme and Danziger Landeszeitung to suspend publications for 2 months and 8 days respectively.
By 1939, Polish-German relations had worsened and war seemed a likely possibility. The police began making plans to seize Polish installations within the city, in the event of conflict. Ultimately the Danzig police participated in the September Campaign, fighting alongside the local SS and the German Army at the city's Polish post office and at Westerplatte.
Even though the Free City was formally annexed by Nazi Germany in October 1939, the police force more or less continued to operate as a law enforcement agency. The Stutthof concentration camp, 35 km east of the city, was run by the President of the police as an internment camp from 1939 until November 1941. Administration was finally dissolved when the city was occupied by the Soviets in 1945.