Primary Documents - Speech by Polish Member of Prussian Legislature Regarding German Rule in Poland, 1917

Hans von Beseler, German Military Govenor of Poland Reproduced below is the text of a speech given by a Polish member of the Prussian legislature, M. Trompczynski, in 1917.  In his speech Trompczynski lambasted the German military authorities in Poland for their policy of seizing able-bodied Polish workmen for deportation to Germany to provide labour for the German war effort.

Click here to read a related account of German military rule in Poland by a member of the U.S. Commission to Poland, Frederick C. Walcott.  Click here to read a German account of the fall of Warsaw in 1915.

Speech by a Polish Member of the Prussian Legislature, M. Trompczynski in 1917

In the first place, I wish to call attention to the sad fate of the Polish workmen from the Kingdom of Poland (Russian Poland).

I know very well that different abuses, of which these workmen are victims, are not the fault of the Minister, or of his Department, because he has to share his power with the military authorities.  If, however, the Minister cannot help I appeal to public opinion to force a change in the conditions.

At the outbreak of the war, 250,000 Polish workmen happened to be in Germany.  In accordance with military orders, they were forbidden to leave the territory of the German Empire.  This order was completely illegal and contrary to the principles of international law, which admit only such aliens to be interned who might be summoned to the enemy army.

You can easily imagine the condition of these people who now for two and a half years have been separated from their families.  They have simply become victims of exploitation on the part of their employers, who now that the workman cannot leave his place of employment pay only as much as they choose.

For instance, in a certain village of West Prussia a certain farmer pays the season-workman literally 30 pfennigs daily, and has kept him for the last two years!

As the need for workmen was greater than the number of those interned, attempts have been made to get a bigger number of workmen from the Kingdom of Poland.  Gradually the number of workmen from the Kingdom has reached the figure of half a million.

The present Minister of the Interior has handed over the monopoly of finding new workmen to the Central German Labour Office.  I am compelled to accuse that institution of choosing for its agents - and there are some 600 of them - people who grossly mislead the workmen concerning their future pay and mode of employment.

One of their special ways of attracting people is to promise in a written agreement very considerable supplies in kind, for instance, 30 pounds of potatoes a week, a litre of milk a day, etc., and they do not call attention to the postscriptum which states that instead of the supplies in kind, money will be given.

The German newspapers have raised an outcry that those workmen get so much food, whereas in reality they get very little food, and instead of a pound of potatoes they get three-and-a-half pfennigs, and for a litre of milk 4 or 5 pfennigs.  It is clear that for that money they cannot buy even sufficient food.

The next way in which the workman is being exploited is the time of service to which he agrees.  In the printed agreements it is usually stated that the agreement is for six months or the duration of the war.

The agents rely on it that no one reads the printed contract and persuade the workman that he is agreeing only to six months' work.  I know it from hundreds of workmen that they have been cheated in that manner.

But the military authorities have twisted the matter still more to the detriment of the workmen by declaring that all workmen from the Kingdom of Poland without regard to the nature of their agreement are considered unfree, i.e., prisoners who are not allowed to go home.

I appeal to public opinion to consider in what an unworthy way these people have been attracted by lies to Germany.  And thus there are many thousands of them who imagined that they agreed to a contract for six months and who have by now been kept here for more than a year and a half.

Also in this respect the employers obviously exploit the situation by dictating arbitrary conditions for the extension of the contract, because they know that the workman is unable to defend himself.  It has, moreover, to be considered that even a contract extending the original conditions is now detrimental to the workmen, because it is impossible to live at the present day on the pay which was sufficient a year and a half ago.

I pillory before public opinion the orders of the Commanding General of Munster of October 16, 1915, and February 16, 1916, in which he recommends to the employers to compel unwilling workmen to accept an extension of the contract by depriving them of their bedding, of light and food.

I hope that the Minister will use his influence in order to prevent the new military authorities from continuing such a policy.

Nor can I remain silent on the point that recently the Central Labour Office has instituted with the help of the local authorities in the Kingdom of Poland a regular hunt for people.

Thus, for instance, towards the end of November, 1916, i.e., after the Manifesto of November 5th (the Proclamation of Polish "Independence"), a free entertainment was announced in the theatre.  The lights were put up in the theatre, but when the public had assembled the theatre was surrounded by soldiers, men fit for work were caught and handed over to the Central Labour Office.

Further, the Minister of the Interior has issued an order that subjects of the Kingdom of Poland can be employed only in big or middling undertakings and not in small ones.  The result of this order is that the police remove hairdressers, bakers, tailors, etc., from their workshops and send them to the farmers.

These orders are supposed to help the farmers who suffer from a lack of labour, whilst in reality they burden the farms with workmen, some of whom are weak and others incapable of doing the work, and who, anyhow, are unwilling to do it.

We have no objection to our countrymen from the Kingdom of Poland seeking work in this country, but we consider it a most scandalous injustice that an order has been issued which, without any reason or sensible purpose, has changed these workmen into slaves.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. IV, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

The Parados was the side of a trench farthest from the enemy.

- Did you know?

Primary Docs