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Elusive Alliance: The German Occupation of Poland in World War I, by Jesse Kauffman

Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 2015. Pp. viii, 288. Illus., maps, notes, index. $35.00. ISBN: 0674286014.

Germany’s Effort to Create a Polish Client State

Prof. Kaufman (Eastern Michigan), who has specialized in German-Polish relations in the era of the Great War, does several things in this work, which addresses German – and to a lesser extent Austro-Hungarian – efforts to create a Polish client kingdom.

Kaufman first gives us an overview of military events on the Eastern Front during the Great War, in the process reminding us that Poland was under Central Powers occupation for most of the war. This provides a framework for the other two themes, the nature of the occupation and the efforts to create an alliance which would tie a restored Polish state to Imperial Germany.

The key actor in both of these efforts was the German general Hans Hartwig von Beseler (1850-1921), who became Military Governor of Poland in mid-1915. Beseler’s regime in Poland was very rigorous, though perhaps not so much so as that Germany imposed on Belgium, and certainly not to be compared with Germany’s occupation of Poland in a later war. He administered Poland primarily for the purpose of sustaining Germany’s wartime economic interests.

In terms of recreating a new Poland, Beseler worked toward creating a client state that would provide military, diplomatic, and economic support to Germany. But despite the interests of many Germans and some Poles, the problem of the restoration of a Polish state was more complex than those of the occupation.

Kaufman demonstrates that there were some apparently sincere efforts by the occupation to spark a Polish revival. This interest, however, did not – perhaps could not – bear much fruit due to the conflicting aims of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Poles themselves. So ultimately, although a “Kingdom of Poland” was proclaimed in 1917 under a regency, it disappeared with the collapse of the Central Powers.

Elusive Alliance is an worthwhile read for anyone interested in the war on the Eastern Front, Polish history, and military occupation and government.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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