The Polish Frontier Strip (German: Polnischer Grenzstreifen; Polish: polski pas graniczny) refers to territory held by the German Empire that was nominally part of the Kingdom of Poland. The area was the target of a larger effort to resettle ethnic Germans in Eastern Europe. Failed policies ultimately led to the Frontier Strip being quietly returned to Polish control by the German government.
Occupation during the Weltkrieg
The Kingdom of Poland was created from the collapsing Russian Empire on November 5, 1916, under German protection. The restoration of the old Polish state was partly to legitimize the German military occupation of Eastern Europe. To the Poles, the Imperial German Army were meant to be liberators, freeing them from Russian oppression, but the Germans had their own designs on the region.
In July 1917, the German Supreme Command under General Erich Ludendorff issued a memorandum outlining their intentions. Germany would hold a “border strip” of approximately 20,000 square kilometers from Poland, expel the existing Polish inhabitants, and resettling the area with ethnic Germans. Poles living in Germany itself or other German-occupied areas were also to be encouraged to move to the new Kingdom of Poland. This policy was detested in Poland, not only for the obvious reason of their so-called liberators annexing a part of their nation, but also because the ban on Polish workers inside the "German-administrated areas" led to enormous upheaval in the traditionally intertwined economies.
The German Empire would not be able to focus any efforts on the frontier strip until after the end of the Weltkrieg in 1921. Neighboring East Prussia was still reeling from the Russian incursion in 1914, with the numerous Junker estates now facing financial ruin. Ludendorff, now by this time the dictator of Germany, re-engineered the original concept into one to shore up East Prussia.
Using language that conjured up an idealized medieval Germany - namely the term Grenzmark (German: Frontier March), calling back to the Empire of Charlemagne - Ludendorff called for patriotic Germans to move to West Prussia and the Polish Frontier Strip. He focused particularly on veterans of the Weltkrieg to relocate, portraying them as a vanguard to protect the Empire.
Disappointment and End
Despite the enthusiasm the German government attempted to instill in the endeavor, migration to the east fell far below expectations. The post-war economic boom in the Rhineland forced the German populace to gravitate towards the prosperous west. The Junkers were left worse off, now with an even more diminished work force to draw from, while those that did move east fell into near absolute poverty. The image of impoverished Weltkrieg veterans became a cause célèbre in the German Empire in the early 1920s.
The failure of the Polish Frontier Strip scheme exacerbated the corruption inherent in the Osthilfe program which led to the Osthilfeskandal and the end of the Ludendorff junta. The lack of funds and investment in the area made it an unappealing prospect for resettlement. With no agriculture or industry worth holding onto, the Germans were apt to cut their losses. By the 1923 German elections, all administrative links to the Frontier strip were cut and the area was quietly transferred to the Kingdom of Poland. Economic ties with Poland were damaged and the wider integration of Eastern Europe into Mitteleuropa was set back by several years.