On February 10, 1920, following the Treaty of Versailles, Polish General Józef Haller celebrated Poland’s Wedding to the Sea by throwing a ring into the water, thereby marking the recovered access of Poland to the Baltic sea lost during the 18th century partitions of the country.
After more than a century of Partitions between the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and the Habsburg Monarchy, Poland regained its independence at the end of World War I when the three partitioning powers were fatally weakened by war and revolutions. But until the Paris Peace Conference formally established Poland as a sovereign state, many territorial issues remained unresolved.
As a result, fighting for the borders of the reborn state dragged on even after the Armistice was signed in November 1918. The Polish-Ukrainian War expanded the Polish republic’s territory to include Volhynia and parts of Galicia, while at the same time Poznań was severed by the Greater Poland uprising, which succeeded in attaching most of the province’s territory to Poland by January 1919.
Guaranteeing Poland “a free and secure access to the sea” was one of United States President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, and in June 1919, the Treaty of Versailles awarded to the new state the lands of the so-called Polish Corridor, which were part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth before the First Partition of Poland and connected Poland to the Baltic Sea. The Free City of Danzig (Gdańsk) was to remain independant and under League of Nations protection.
General Józef Haller, who commanded the Polish legions during World War I, was entrusted with the command of the Pomeranian Front, created to peacefully recover the former German Empire’s province, which had been granted to the Polish Republic by the peace treaty. Despite a few incidents of sabotage, carried out by the retreating German forces, the Polish Army reached the Baltic Sea coast on February 10.
In a heavily orchestrated ceremony, General Józef Haller boarded a train from the Free City of Danzig to the small seaside town of Puck, further up the coast, where he joined up with the rest of his troops. Garlands were stretched across the roads, children threw flowers under the horses’ hoofs and saluting guns were fired as thousands of people gathered to welcome their liberators.
Accompanied by a unit of uhlans, Józef Haller headed towards the shore on horseback before riding into the sea where he now famously threw into the water a platinum ring given to him earlier by Polish Danzigers. He concluded Poland’s symbolic wedding to the sea with the words: “The White Eagle has spread its wings not only over the Polish lands but also over the Polish sea. Now free worlds and free nations stand open before us”.
“Now a Polish sailor will be able to reach everywhere under the banner of the White Eagle. The whole world is open to him”, he added. In his memoirs, Haller confessed that on that day, the Bay of Puck was frozen, so local fishermen had to cut an hole in the ice into which he threw the ring.
“At this place and on this date, Polish cavalry, with Poland’s most famous General at their head, rode fetlock deep into the waves of the Baltic and in so doing symbolized that Poland’s writ once more runs to the water’s edge and that its ancient kingdom is reclaimed, its century of cherished ambition achieved”, reported at the time the New York Times.
Nowadays, the shore of the Baltic Sea in Puck is decorated with a commemorative post of Poland’s Wedding to the Sea, with the inscription “In the year of our Lord 1920, on February 10, the Polish Army with General Józef Haller at the head of the troops took the Polish sea into eternal possession”.
But Germany’s territorial losses following the Treaty of Versailles incited German revanchism and created unresolved problems, particularly on the status of the Free City of Danzig and of the Polish Corridor. Attending to these issues was part of Adolf Hitler’s political platform… and became a pretext used for invading Poland in September 1939.
In the early spring of 1945, following the Red Army’s Vistula–Oder Offensive and the Polish-Soviet advance into Pomerania, a number of new Wedding to the Sea ceremonies were held in several locations, indicating the importance that Poland attached to its access to the Baltic Sea.
Find out more about Central European history in our On this Day series.
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