T H E I N T E R-WA R Y E A R S

Sequel: war and nationalisation

On 1 September 1939, German troops invaded Poland. On 17 September Soviet forces attacked from the other side. Fighting lasted until early October. The Polish government and sizeable numbers of soldiers managed to escape and form a Polish army in exile, which continued the struggle. However, the country was dismembered by the invaders. Many banking institutions were liquidated, starting with those regarded as Jewish enter- prises. In October, the banks embarked on a policy of Aryanisation : all employees of Jewish origin were dismissed. At the end of 1939, a Bankaufsichtstelle (banking super- visory office) was set up by the Nazi authorities, with wide-ranging powers. A plan to rationalise the banks was drawn up. It proposed liquidating many secondary banks, while German banks would take over the larger ones.

Three of its SGBP s ten regional head offices Warsaw, Cracow and Tarnow were now in what was known as the General Government Zone, three others Gdynia, Bielsko-Biała and Cieszyn were in the zone annexed by the German Reich, while the remaining four in Lvov, Drohobycz, Przemyśl and Stanisławów fell into the area of Poland occupied by the USSR. The German authorities ordered individual arrangements for the liquidation of each regional office. Following a letter from the Zivilverwaltung (Civil Administration) on 11 October, the Cracow regional office has had to go into liquidation, surrender the use of its offices to another local bank, Kommerzialbank A.G. (an affiliate of Dresdner Bank) and transfer to Kommerzialbank A.G. any new deposits made by its customers as from 9 September, the date on which the Germans occupied Cracow. The same thing happened at the Tarnow regional office ( ). At Bielitz (Bielsko-Biała), the occupying forces have handed over most of the bank s offices to Berlin-based Commerz Privat Bank, which has opened a branch there ( ). The Cieszyn office has been closed 21. Meanwhile all contact with the branches in the region occupied by USSR forces had been lost.

After the Second World War, the Potsdam and Yalta agreements placed Poland in the Soviet sphere of influence . Nationalisation of foreign assets on Polish soil was decreed in January 1946. This decree applied to all companies with more than fifty workers.

France and Belgium subsequently negotiated compensation agreements for French and Belgian companies that had been nationalised. Negotiations between Paris and Warsaw began in February 1947. The total value of French assets in Poland affected by the nationalisation decree, which was initially estimated by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs at eight billion francs, eventually rose to at least twenty-five billion. Meanwhile the Poles tried to ensure France s support for the Polish reconstruction effort, inter alia by purchasing Polish coal. In November 1947 a Memorandum of Understanding was drawn up stating the Polish government s commitment to paying compensation in kind

21. State Archives of the Kingdom of Belgium Vol II, SGB 4, 3585, copy of a letter from the Governor of Société Générale de Belgique, Alexandre Galopin, to Paul-Henri Spaak, Belgium s Minister for Foreign Affairs, 11 December 1939.

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