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World War II, The Drama of Poland
Zolta Turnia Peak in the Tatra Mountains, Poland
The Invasion of Poland Marks the Start of World War II
Why was Poland invaded?
The entire situation involving Germany, Russia and Poland during WW2 is full of myths and misunderstandings.
I admit it has been difficult to trace all the facts, so I will not try to offer a complete overview of those troubled days, but concentrate on a few selected points.
I heard about the fighting in Poland from my mother just a few years after the end of the war. She had all the news reports at her finger tips, especially when my Dad joined the war effort as a member of Allied Counter Espionage activities in Santiago, Chile. (See my three articles on hubpages.com, about spying and Counter Espionage in Latin America and Chile)
I just wish I remembered all those details better than I do. However I have done a lot of reading and research on this topic, so I hope to be able to put together a coherent version.
The Old Market at Poznan, Poland
The First Weeks of World War II
The cold facts, as stated in all reports, are as follows:
- On the 1st of September 1939, Nazi Germany invaded western Poland without prior warning. The attack was massive, by land, by air and by sea.
- The Polish forces were taken by surprise but quickly rallied to defend themselves.
- On the 17th September, Soviet Russia invaded Poland from the East, thus overwhelming the Polish defenses by establishing a second battle front.
- France and Great Britain sided with Poland against Germany, and declared war on the Nazis on the 3rd of September.
- However, the German advance was too fast for the Allies to provide any material aid, and Poland fought alone for several weeks.
- After more than a month of desperate battle, the Polish defenses were defeated by the combined force of the two most powerful armies in the world at that date.
- In spite of fact that their planes were technically inferior to those of the Luftwaffe, the Polish Air Force put up a great counter-offensive in the skies over Polish territory, shooting down a considerable number of German planes.
- Realizing that defeat was imminent, the Polish pilots made a desperate dash to save their planes, and a high percentage of their number landed safely in Britain.
- The Polish Government also made it to Britain and from there coordinated the efforts of the Polish Resistance for the rest of the War.
Europe, 1914 at the Start of WW1
Why Was Poland Invaded?
From what I have been able to understand, some of the reasons are as follows:
- The Treaty of Versailles that was signed at the end of WW1 favored Poland considerably by shifting the boundaries in such a way that Poland gained a lot of territory at the expense of its neighbors, especially in the case of Germany.
- One of the results of this shift in the boundaries was that thousands of Germans from the eastern areas of that country were obliged to become Poles as Poland shifted more to the West.
- This was not a satisfactory arrangement, especially from the ethnic point of view, because Poles are Slavs and Germans are not.
- Hitler rose to power on an agenda that spoke of “racial purity” and “racial supremacy”. He not only hated Jews, he also hated Slavs, Gypsies and the physically and mentally defective, among other groups that were classified as “racially inferior”.
- At the start of WW2, after Poland surrendered, the Western part of Poland that was annexed by Germany contained about 10 million inhabitants. This was the area that Hitler wanted “dePolonized” and in turn “Germanized” as quickly as possible.
- Some 8 million Poles and Jews were moved into a small area that was under German military control and their places were taken by ethnic Germans that were “repatriated” from other parts of German territory.
- The eastern half of Poland was occupied by the Red Army.
- The result was a drastic reduction of the territory gained through the Treaty of Versailles, which pleased both Germany and Soviet Russia.
Modern Map of Countries in Europe
Extermination, an Important Aspect of the Invasion of Poland
There was never any doubt about it that Nazi plans for Poland were based on genocide on a scale never seen before.
Hitler gave explicit permission to his commanders to kill "without pity or mercy, men, women, and children of Polish descent or language."
All Polish nobles, clergy, intelligentsia, other leading elements and Jews were to be killed systematically.
In March 1940, there was another statement: “All Polish specialists will be exploited in German military-industrial complexes. Later, all Poles will disappear from this world.”
In addition, the German nation was expected to consider the elimination of all Polish people as their chief task.
And so began the atrocities, the concentration camps, the mass murders… Poland was the experiment center for all the methods that were created for the mass extermination of humans in the most efficient way possible.
The statistics are terrible. It has been calculated that over 3 million ethnic Poles were exterminated, along with another 3 million Polish Jews. Diverse minorities living in Poland number another 500.000 victims of this repression. The great majority of these victims were civilians.
The Invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany in 1939
Were you familiar with these reasons for Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939?
Polish Soldier's Grave at Warsaw, 1944
In the face of all this hardship, Polish resistance was admirable. The Home Army, as it was named, eventually grew to be over 400.000 strong.
Some of their more important contributions can be listed as follows:
- The Polish Air Force in exile reinforced the RAF during the Battle of Britain, a very welcome addition. The Polish pilots were well trained and brave.
- The Polish Navy was small, but participated in all sorts of theaters. One outstanding event was the fact that the Polish destroyer ORP Piorun was the first Allied ship to engage the Bismark in the battle in which the great German battleship was sunk. (See my description in my article on the Arctic Convoys, the Murmansk Run).
- After Germany attacked Russia in June 1941, thus breaking their non-aggression pact, the Polish resistance forces took full advantage of the fact that the flat plains of central Poland were being used as a corridor for the transportation of German war materials and supplies to the Eastern Front.
- The various Resistance groups attacked trains, convoys and military bridges. Some statistics state that from June 1941 to December 1941, the Poles destroyed over 2,000 railway engines, derailed nearly 100 trains and blew up three bridges.
Participation outside of Poland
The Polish armed forces fighting outside of Poland took part in many campaigns. The most important actions in which they were involved were, amongst others, the defense of Tobruk in North Africa, the assault on the citadel of Monte Cassino in Italy, the D-Day invasion at Normandy, and the terrible airborne operation at Arnhem
Beautiful Cathedral Interior, Poland
The Polish Secret Service
The Enigma Codes
Before the war, Polish Secret Service mathematicians and cryptographers managed to find a way to break the Enigma codes, the most secret German encoding system. The Polish experts provided France and Britain with advance secret information in July 1939.
After Poland’s surrender, the task was continued at Bletchley Park in Britain. The ability to read German coded messages was a key element in the final victory obtained by the Allied forces. (See my article on the Enigma Codes)
The V-1 and V-2 rockets
The Polish Secret Service also identified the plant at Peenemunde Peninsula for what it was: the secret base for the construction and testing of the famous rockets which the British population baptized as “Buzz Bombs” or “Doodlebugs” The great majority of the rockets that were actually fired over the Channel caused damage and terror to the civilian inhabitants in London.
Members of the Polish Home Army managed to acquire one of the rockets after it was fired in a test flight, and transport it in pieces over to Britain, together with technical information obtained by the Polish Secret Service.
This information was of great help in neutralizing the negative effects of these weapons on the British population.
The Enigma Machine
Monument in honor of the Mathematician Marian Rejewski
The mine detector was also a Polish contribution. The first models were made in Scotland by Polish soldiers. They consisted of a plate, mounted on a wooden arm, which located metal objects underground. A mine was detected when a buzzing sound came through the earphones that were worn by the operator.
Church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, Poland
Contributions to the Allies provided by Poland during WW2
Did you know about the important contributions provided to the Allies by Poland in WW2?
World War II was a global disaster by any standards and Poland was one of more devastated nations to be affected by this tragic event.
Poland not only suffered a high proportion of loss of life and resources, but also suffered the loss of territory and sovereignty after becoming part of the zone under Soviet influence. This situation lasted practically until the end of the Cold War.
All in all, a tragic story.
Poprad River Gorge, Poland
Wartime Poland , My Personal Memories and Reflections
The Polish saga has always been of interest to me. There is much to engage the interest and thoughts of a young person such as I was at the end of World War II.
I have very vivid memories of my Physical Education teacher at my British school in Concepcion Chile, a war refugee. Her name was Ilse; she was a highly trained therapist and masseuse who could not obtain permission to practice her craft because she arrived to Chile with a bare minimum of identifying documents. She was that tragic result of the War: a person with no definite nationality or country to call her own.
My very open minded family submitted me to her treatments regardless, and to her I owe the use of my left leg, as she was the first to discover that I had a bone defect on my shin bone that eventually was operated on in time to ensure that I continued to walk normally ever after.
In brief, she was originally born in Germany and learnt to speak German. Then she suddenly became Polish and had to learn that language. Then she became a German again and could not speak Polish for fear of being arrested. She was shifted around to several locations, always in fear of reprisals. Towards the end of the war she fled for fear of the advancing Russian forces.
After all this drama, she no longer had a clear idea of her nationality, and as I said, had no identifying papers. She married another refugee, a Spaniard who was also fleeing the destruction of the Spanish Civil War, and acquired the protection provided by his nationality, as Chilean law does not allow husband and wife to be separated due to this kind of situation. She ended up speaking four languages: Polish, German, English and Spanish. She was a really brilliant teacher and professional.
Another factor that helped me to identify with the drama of Poland was my mother’s love of music. The “Warsaw Concerto” was a great favorite in my home, we listened to it often. The first recount I received came from my mother, who told me the story (fictitious) of the Polish pilot officer who composed this concerto in the midst of flying against the German planes, with bombs falling all over and buildings burning.
I’m a bit hazy as to this particular sequence of events; I never imagined I would be writing about it more than fifty years later. But I distinctly remember seeing a movie with brilliant scenes in colors, flames and flashes and bombs exploding, and the Warsaw Concerto as a background theme.
I have been researching this point and I've discovered that the composer was a Britisher, not a Pole at all. His name was Richard Addinsell. I have chosen a most beautiful video which combines the force and beauty of the Concerto with wonderful visual images. This video is a feast for the senses and a just tribute to all the Polish victims of World War II.
I hope you listen to it and enjoy it as much as I have
© 2013 joanveronica (Joan Robertson)