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Bismarck’s Speech to the Prussian House of Deputies on the "Polish Question" (January 28, 1886)

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But that was not the German Fatherland, rather the Polish, that the Berlin organ grinders were lamenting. The appropriate twin of this was the interest in all things French. Who, of my age, has not heard with enthusiasm the recitation of, for example, “Bertrande's Farewell”? Or the poetry of Baron von Gaudy or other glorifications of Napoleon I, who thoroughly mowed down the Germans, for which they demonstrated their gratitude in a way I may not describe with a zoological adjective. (Great laughter) [ . . . ] I recall my university days in the year 1832 at Göttingen which was a kind of depot for Polish refugees from the uprising of 1831. As a young man I got to know some of the outstanding people of the Polish parliament. They were interesting, charming people, but what interests me most is the memory of the enthusiasm with which these Poles were received in all the cities of central Germany. I have experienced the reception for the victorious and upright returning soldiers of our army, but it was scarcely warmer than the reception of these Polish refugees in every German city (Aha!) And ye – I heard them say it themselves – they in no way left off their strivings or changed their minds about Germans and Germany. I recall that I occasionally discussed with one of the gentlemen the Slavic echoes which appear in many of the place names of my home, dating from the earlier Wendish period. He said to me – the conversation was in French – “Just wait, we will soon give them back their original names.”

You find this [sentiment] also in the manifestoes of the [Polish] revolutions of 1846 and 1863. The manufacturers of Poland do not renounce a single dependency [of the historic Kingdom of Poland]. Pomerania belongs to it just as well as Pomerelia, and Pomerelia just as well as Warsaw itself. I have already mentioned how forthcoming the inhabitants of Berlin were toward the Poles in 1848. On the corner of Charlottenburg-Strasse and [Unter-den-] Linden, I remember seeing the funeral cortege for the fallen March fighters. There, in contradiction to the funeral solemnities, stood [Ludwik] Mieroslawski, the actual hero of the moment, in a richly decorated wagon dressed in a picturesque Polish costume. His appearance—and he looked quite good, I can assure you—made almost a greater impression on the Berliners and engaged their hearts almost more than the king, who announced his intention that Prussia should merge into Germany. Thus German nationality went into eclipse, even though it was represented by the highest bearer of Prussian nationality.

[ . . . ]

I cannot say that I was misunderstood at the time. I spoke clearly about these matters, perhaps more clearly than was good, in the now-famous but imperfectly understood “blood and iron” speech.* It dealt with military questions, and I said then: Put the strongest possible military forces, in other words, as much “blood and iron” as possible, in the hands of the king of Prussia. Then he will be able to make the policy you want. Policy is not made with speeches and shooting-matches and songs. It is made solely with “blood and iron.” (Bravo!) I would perhaps have been understood if I had not had too many rivals in this area--the creation of Germany. (Hilarity.)

In this situation I harbored a conscious intention that I could not yet speak aloud. Had I done so, I would have received support from neither Russia nor France, neither Austria nor England; the latter would have [supported my goal] with no more than words; the former, not even with words. The seed that I cultivated carefully would have been nipped in the bud by the combined pressure of all Europe, and our ambition would have been put to rest. None would have acted on behalf of the German cause out of love for us, and none even out of self-interest.

* Bismarck's speech to the budget commission of the Prussian Lower House in 1862, one of his first official acts after becoming Prussian minister-president, was a masterpiece of enticement and menace. The commission, dominated by liberal opponents of the king and his government, heard Bismarck remind them of their failure to create a united Germany in 1848. His speech ended with the taunt that history was made, not through majority decisions of parliamentarians, but by “blood and iron.” Bismarck here puts a slightly different interpretation on his words of 1862.

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