The Biologic Urge to Readjust the Map of Europe

In the two years since Dymphna died I have dedicated myself to putting my affairs in order, so that the future Baron won’t have too hard a time when I shuffle off this mortal coil and go to claim my 72 virgins. One of the most difficult and time-consuming tasks has been to clean out, cull, and reorganize the material in the filing cabinets here at Schloss Bodissey. I have to pull out all the papers and scrutinize them before deciding whether to keep them or not. In the process I have come across a number of delightful surprises, plus a few mysteries.

An example of the latter is a hand-written chart (to be discussed in detail below). It’s in pencil, in my handwriting (and very small — you can tell my eyes were still working), written on the back of a computer printout that dates it to 1990. It’s basically a compendium of territorial changes in Europe between 1916 and 1945.

(Click to enlarge)

The big mystery is: why the heck did I put the thing together? It was written fourteen years before we started blogging. The future Baron was too small at that point for the document to have been one my lesson plans for him. The material in it closely tracks what I had to absorb to take my A-levels (and special papers) in European history. But it was written twenty years after I took my exams, so I couldn’t possibly have been regurgitating it from memory. I can tell I consulted the Harvard Encyclopedia of World History (a 1948 edition inherited from my father that is now held together by duct tape. It is one of the most treasured resources in my reference library, second only to the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology). Alas, I can no longer read it without a magnifying glass, so I won’t be checking any of the dates and facts on my chart to make sure they’re right.

For weeks I puzzled over the document, trying to figure out why I compiled it. My best guess is that Dymphna had been reading something — possibly The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman — and wanted to know about the territorial adjustments made in the map of Europe by the Treaty of Versailles and others that followed in the wake of the Great War. She knew I was well-versed in modern European history, so she must have asked me if I would put something together that would summarize it for her. I would have been delighted by her request, because I love to do that sort of thing — or used to, when my eyes still functioned normally.

The chart is a useful resource, so I took the trouble to transcribe it as well as I could. Doing so brought back memories of all that old A-level material. Vojvodina! I hadn’t thought about that name in a while. And some of the other names — Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Moldavia, etc. — are well-known now, because they’re sovereign states, but they weren’t in 1990; they were still socialist republics within one or the other of the communist superstates.

I can still remember a few more names that didn’t make it to the chart — the Sanjak of Novi Bazar, for example, or Eastern Rumelia.

The map of Europe was drastically reorganized after 1917 (after the Bolshevik Revolution, that is) and then even more so after 1918 in a series of treaties that divvied up the territory of the collapsed empires. Adolf Hitler did his part to rearrange the map even further, and then major revisions took place after the end of World War Two until 1946 or so. After that everything was frozen in place by the Cold War for the next 45 years. Then suddenly in the 1990s you started to see names in the newspaper that hadn’t been there since the 1930s — Montenegro, for instance, and Estonia. And things are still in flux now — who knows what the map of Europe will look like after the EU finally collapses?

Here’s my transcription of the document. I tried to put it in date order as far as possible. I expanded abbreviations when I was sure what they meant; otherwise I left them as-is:

Poland   by Germany   Nov 5, 1916   War with Ukraine Nov 1918
Danzig a free state
Polish corridor
War 1920
Treaty of Riga 1921
—> boundaries
Ukraine   People’s republic   Nov 20, 1917   Peace treaty with Germany,
Feb 9, 1918
Germans threw out Reds,
March 1918
Fr, Whites, Reds, Poles, Reds
USSR Dec 1920
Estonia*   Independent   Nov 28, 1917    
Finland   Independent   Dec 6, 1917   Reds vs. Whites,
Reds defeated with German help
Troops remained till Dec 16, 1918
Karelian isthmus —> Russia 1940
Moldavia   Republic   Dec 23, 1917   Joined Romania Nov 27, 1918
Bessarabia —> Russia June 1940
Latvia*   Independent   Jan 12, 1918   Reds out Jan 1920
Lithuania*   Independent   Feb 16, 1918   War with Reds, Poland till 1927
over Vilna (Poland won by plebiscite)
Allied occupation 1923
Memel from Germany by treaty
Memel —> Germany 1939
Vilna —> Lithuania Oct 10, 1939
by Russia
of the Don
      Jan 10, 1918    
  Independent   Oct 21, 1918   Teschen —> Czechoslovakia
(War 1920)
Teschen —> Poland 1938
Sudetenland —> Germany 1938
Bohemia/Moravia —> Germany 1939
Part of Slovakia/Ruthenia
—> Hungary 1938
Slovakia, Ruthenia independent 1939
Yugoslavia   Independent   Oct 29, 1918    
  Split   Nov 13-16, 1918   Hungary occupied by Romania 1919
Transylvania —> Romania
Slovenia, Croatia, Vojvodina,
Bosnia-Herzegovina —> Yugoslavia
Austria —> Germany 1938
Hungary occupied Ruthenia
(Carpatho-Ukraine) 1939
Ruthenia —> Russia Jun 29, 1945
Caucasus       Dec 1918   USSR 1921
          —> Poland
Schleswig           Plebiscite —> North to Denmark
Saar           Allied/League administration
—> Reich 1935
          —> France
Belgium           <— Eupen, Malmédy, Moresnet
      Mar 20, 1921   Plebiscite, partition
Rhineland   Republic   Oct 21, 1923   Demilitarized by treaty
Belgian/French support
(till Jan 31, 1924)
Reoccupied by Hitler 1936
          —> Poland
Tyrol           —> Italy
          Occupied by Italy 1922
—> Yugoslavia in 1945

* “Asked” Soviets, July 1940

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The title of this post is a reference to “At the Cenotaph”, a between-the-wars poem written by Siegfried Sassoon. It reportedly refers to a visit to France in 1938 by German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop to lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier. Other sources say it refers to a visit by Ribbentrop to London, where he laid a wreath at the Cenotaph. The latter version makes more sense, given that the poem specifically refers to the London monument.

At the Cenotaph

by Siegfried Sassoon

I saw the Prince of Darkness, with his Staff,
Standing bare-headed by the Cenotaph:
Unostentatious and respectful, there
He stood, and offered up the following prayer.
‘Make them forget, O Lord, what this Memorial
Means; their discredited ideas revive;
Breed new belief that War is purgatorial
Proof of the pride and power of being alive;
Men’s biologic urge to readjust
The Map of Europe, Lord of Hosts, increase;
Lift up their hearts in large destructive lust;
And crown their heads with blind vindictive Peace.’
The Prince of Darkness to the Cenotaph
Bowed. As he walked away I heard him laugh.

3 thoughts on “The Biologic Urge to Readjust the Map of Europe

  1. Very interesting.

    The lesson seems to be go big and regionally strong or be absorbed.

  2. Fascinating- I’m saving this. Some of the names take me back to my childhood stamp collection; not sure whether the wonderful sounding Eastern Rumelia was there, and I sold the albums when broke in my thirties. I almost expected Ruritania to be included (it’s in the novels of Anthony Hope, if anyone’s curious).

    Not to be irreverent or disrespectful, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to claim the 72 virgins if Dymphna’s around.

  3. Siegfried Sassoon is a member of that fine generation of WWI poet-warriors and novelist-warriors that produced some of the most moving accounts of soldiering, battles and mental anguish ever written. WWI was a literary war. Lesser known than the great WWI writers of Britan, Germany and France (Barbusse) are writers who covered the Eastern Front in WWII.

    WWI was a cataclysmic event whose effects are still with us,, not only in Europe, but also, in the Middle East.

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