|The Early Baltics and the Teutonic Knights
SOMETIME DURING THE 13TH
More pertinent to our study is the conflict between Poland and the Teutonic Knights. In
the thirteenth century the Baltic shores were peopled with pagan races-Prussians,
Lithuanians and their neighbours. With the blessing of the Pope, 'a great military order
had been formed among the German kingdoms, the Teutonic Knights of the Cross. Formed
originally for service in the Crusades, these knights perceived more profitable
battlegrounds nearer home. They began to organise expeditions to the north-east:
capturing a village by virtue of their superior armaments, they would summon the people
to accept the Cross. Those who refused and clung to I their old gods were massacred:
those who accepted Christianity became the serfs of the Teutonic Knights. Such was the
terror of their methods that for generations the Lithuanian peasants used to shudder at
the sign of the Cross.
(There is a deep similarity between the Teutonic Knights and the Nazis. Both started off
with high-sounding ideals which were almost a religion: both degenerated into bands of
unscrupulous opportunists intent on their own aggrandisement.) .
Along the Baltic shores the Teutonic Knights built strong castles from which they
dominated the countryside. Under their 'protection' trading cities developed. They ruled
over what are now called Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. They almost exterminated the
heathen Prussians, taking from them all their possession_ven their name. By the accidents
of history the Knights failed to occupy a narrow strip of territory to the west of the Vistula,
which remained in the hands of its Polish inhabitants. Thus the problem of the Polish
'Corridor' was born.
Weak Polish rulers invited the Knights to protect them against pagan tribes raiding
from the north and east. The Teutonic Knights did this-and more: they seized not only
heathen lands but Poland's Baltic coast. The time came when the reality of the danger
could no longer be ignored. By this time the power of Poland had increased, for in 1386 a
royal marriage had resulted in union with Lithuania. The Teutonic Knights, too, had
vastly increased their influence, and their Prussian kingdom was a menace to Poland. The
Polish king was a man of peace: like Hitler, the Knights interpreted his distaste for war
as weakness: they discovered their mistake.
At Tannenburg in 1410, the Teutonic Knights were hopelessly defeated. Their Grand Master
bore a proud name, Albert of Hohenzollern, but he had to pay homage to the king of
Poland. This is one of the indignities of history which Hitler finds so irritating.
NEWMAN BERNARD. THE NEW EUROPE. THE MACMILLAN COMPANY, NEW YORK; 1943. PGS 60-61.