In the early morning hours on September 1, 1939, without
any declaration of war, Germany's armies, and air force
launched a blistering attack on Poland. Over a million and
a half German troops stormed into Poland along three
fronts - Germany from the west, East Prussia from the
north, and Slovakia from the south.
It was the Blitzkrieg, an attack so massive in scale never
seen before. The German war machine consisted of
2,600 tanks and 2,000 aircraft, while the Polish military
had only 180 tanks and 420 aircraft. The bombing of
Poland was so intense, it was described by one Varsovian
like being bombarded inside a steel drum.
Warsaw everywhere was burning. Huge billowing columns of smoke filled the sky with thick massive clouds as
red as blood. Railway tracks were so heavily bombed that they became like twisted pretzels. Huge craters where
bombs had been dropped lined every street in Warsaw, and other cities. Enormous hills of rubble marked areas
where buildings used to stand, and protruding from the rubble were scattered the bodies of people who had been
crushed beneath the collapsed buildings. Military posts, as well as residential areas were bombed and strafed.
Defenceless civilians were gunned down as they ran from burning buildings. Peasants were massacred as they
worked in the fields in the countryside. Men, women, and children were slaughtered. Churchs, schools, hospitals,
monuments, museums - all were targets for destruction. The Polish people, their culture, and the very existence of
the Polish nation were targeted by Hitler for annihilation. Warsaw, the Paris of the east was transformed into a
wasteland - an open grave.
In August 1939, the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement, signed between Germany and Russia, was a non-aggression
pact, which contained a secret clause that called for the partition of Poland between the two great powers. In the
same month, Britain and Poland signed the Agreement of Mutual Assistance, by which both parties gave guarantees
to provide one another with assistance in the event of hostilities from an outside power:
Article 1 Should one of the Contracting Parties become engaged in hostilities with a European Power in
consequence of aggression by the latter against that Contracting Party, the other Contracting Party
will at once give the Contracting Party engaged in hostilities all the support and assistance in
Article 3 Should any of the Contracting Parties become engaged in hostilities with a European Power in
consequence of action by that Power which threatened the independence or neutrality of
another European State in such a way as to constitute a clear menace to the security of that
Contracting Party, the Provisions of Article 1 will apply, without prejudice, however, to the rights
of the other European State concerned.
Two days after the Wermacht slammed into Poland, both France and Britain, Polands' closest Allies declared war on
Germany. The news of this promised liberation was greeted with wild enthusiasm by the Poles. Throngs of people
flowed into the streets, waving flags and singing the Polish national anthem. They believed that their Allies had come
to help them in their time of great need. But in a grotesque travesty of justice, neither Great Britain, nor France
intervened. British Prime Minister Chamberlain did little more than dispatch the Royal Air Force to air drop leaflets
over German military positions. The message commanded German troops to lay down their weapons and informed
them that their declining economy could not withstand a protracted war. Needless to say, it was a futile and cowardly
response. Subsequent action was equally ineffective: a British Expeditionary Force was sent to join the French
troops already posted along the Maginot Line facing German troops dug in on the other side. This military farce
came to be known as the Phoney War. Britain and France kept busy over the next several months bombing the
Siegfried Line and conducting pointless raids into No-Man's Land.
The Polish people had been ready for the German invasion. The Mayor of Warsaw, Starzynski, called upon the
citizens of Warsaw to set up blockades, dig trenches, and arm themselves against the Germans. The Poles were far
outnumbered, but their fighting spirit more than made up for it. A German officer who had witnessed the attack
reported that the Poles ... " did not come forward with their heads down like men in heavy rain...and most
attacking infantry come on like that...but they advanced with their heads held high like swimmers
breasting the waves. They did not falter."
Germany carried out its policy of Lebensraum with ruthless efficiency. They systematically eliminated the Polish
intelligentsia, but soon victimized all Poles who might resist the German occupation. Poland was slated for extinction,
and its territory taken over by incoming German settlers. Hans Frank, the Governor of the General Gouvernement of
central Poland made this declaration: "I frankly admit that it will cost the lives of some thousand of Poles,
particularly of the intellectual leaders of Poland. In these times we, as National Socialists, are bound to
ensure that no further resistance is offered by the Polish people...(they) must be liquidated."
By the end of the war over three million Poles had been murdered by the Nazis. Hitlers plan was to allow only a small
colony of Poles to survive which would be relegated to a life of servitude to the German people. Poles were deported
to central Poland, (the General Gouvernement) which was, in fact one large penal colony.
"All Poles will disappear from the world....It is essential that the great German people
should consider it as its major task to destroy all Poles." (Hitler)
Germany established over 2,000 concentration camps throughout Poland. Separate camps were allotted to Polish
Christians, to Polish Jews, as well as to women, and children. The largest concentration camp, Auschwitz
(Oswiciem, in Polish) was originally intended only for Poles, who were its first interns. Thousands were singled out
for the most bestial of treatment. Polish men were castrated, and sent to the gas chambers.
During the September Campaign the Germans had used twice the ammunition to bomb Poland than the combined
artillery used against France and England. But the Poles were able to inflict considerable damage to Germany's war
machine. They succeeded in destroying 33% of German armored cars and 25% of German aircraft, an impressive
accomplishment for a nation so outnumbered by the enemy.
On September 17, the Red Army invaded Poland from the east. Like the Germans, their plan was to systemically
drain from Poland all people of value to the nation. It amounted to a political and social beheading of a nation. The
Sovietization of Poland was planned in several stages beginning with the arrest and deportation of thousands of
Polish officers and soldiers, political leaders at the national, provincial, and local governments, landowners, factory
owners, Chief Justices, public prosecutors, police, professors, doctors, nurses, priests, and so many more. Families
of influential people, grandparents, parents, and children were all rounded up and deported to Siberia. In the long,
difficult journey, the old, the sick, and infants died along the way.
Within a few days of having invaded eastern Poland, the Red Army had control of over 77,000 square miles of
territory and its 13 million inhabitants. In the process they claimed the cities of Lwow and Wilno, Polish cities that had
been the center of Polish culture and art for centuries. Over 230,000 Polish troops were captured and deported to
labor camps in Siberia. By the time Germany had invaded Russia in 1942 the total number of Poles deported
reached 1.5 million men, women, and children. Tens of thousands of Polish soldiers and pilots poured out of Poland
- not to escape the aggressors, but to reorganize their troops for battle. Days before Germany attacked Polish ships
and submarines had barely escaped to England carrying with them many Polish troops.
The British government was anxious to hear about the fate of the Polish people, and wired a message asking them to
respond, "if you can" The Mayor of Warsaw did respond, asking for help.
" When will the effective help of Great Britain and France come to relieve us from this terrible
situation. We are waiting for it!"
The Poles were trapped between the two most powerful armies in the world, while Britain and France abandoned
Poland to fend for herself. On September 23, the Mayor of Warsaw spoke on Free Radio Warsaw for the last time.
" Today, Warsaw, defending the Honor of Poland, is at her pinnacle of Greatness......."
And then there was silence. German bombs had destroyed the main power plant. On September 28, Warsaw fell
to the Germans. Oct 5, Polish troops which were fighting in the Battle of Kock (near Lublin) had lost. The survivors
were forcibly conscripted into the Red Army. The nations of the world were in shock, but like Britain and France,
made no resolution, nor intervention to stop the carnage. Chamberlain's administration expressed indignation and
horror over the invasions, but made no formal protest, nor took military action. France too had repeated what would
become a familiar mantra, that they had not forgotten their obligations to their Allies and friends. Promises easily
made but broken.
Among critics of Chamberlain was one of his closest friends, Leo Amery, who verbally lambasted him in the House of
Commons for giving Hitler a time limit. He decried, "The Poles have been bombed and massacred and we are
still considering within what time limit Hitler should be invited to tell us whether he felt like relinquishing
In the aftermath of the invasion, the British Foreign Office tried to defend its failure to act appropriately, by asserting
that their declaration of war was the extent of British assistance to Poland. In other words, the Imperial powers of
Britain and France assumed that mere Imperial Threats would be sufficient to deter Hitler and Stalin.
Apparently they were mistaken.