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World War II, The Drama of Poland

Updated on July 13, 2013

Zolta Turnia Peak in the Tatra Mountains, Poland

Beautiful mountain range in Poland, showing the Zolta Turnia Peak
Beautiful mountain range in Poland, showing the Zolta Turnia Peak | Source

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 market at Poznan, showing an urban style that is different from the western nations of Europe
The market at Poznan, showing an urban style that is different from the western nations of Europe | Source

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

An overview of the boudaries of coutries in Europe in 1914 Poland does not reach the sea, and appears rather small
An overview of the boudaries of coutries in Europe in 1914 Poland does not reach the sea, and appears rather small | Source

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

Countries of Europe
Countries of Europe | Source

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

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Polish Soldier's Grave at Warsaw, 1944

A tragic result of the Warsaw Uprising
A tragic result of the Warsaw Uprising | Source

Polish Resistance

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

A beautiful view of the reverence of Polish Catholic religious beliefs
A beautiful view of the reverence of Polish Catholic religious beliefs | Source

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

The Enigma Machine, first studied by the Polish team of mathematicians
The Enigma Machine, first studied by the Polish team of mathematicians | Source

Monument in honor of the Mathematician Marian Rejewski

Marian Rejewski, the Polish mathematician who led the work on the Enigma codes. This monument honors him
Marian Rejewski, the Polish mathematician who led the work on the Enigma codes. This monument honors him | Source

Other Contributions

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

Another symbol of the religious fervor of the Polish nation
Another symbol of the religious fervor of the Polish nation | Source

Contributions to the Allies provided by Poland during WW2

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Concluding Thoughts

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

Beautiful view of the Poprad River, Poland
Beautiful view of the Poprad River, Poland | Source

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)

The Warsaw Concerto (Richard Addinsell)

Final Opinions on the Role of Poland in WW2

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    • joanveronica profile image
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      Joan Veronica Robertson 3 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Richard, what a lot of coincidences! I really feel involved with this Hub, I think the Polish nation deserves much more recognition for both their suffering and their achievements during WW2. Glad you liked it. See you!

    • Richard-Bivins profile image

      Richard Bivins 3 years ago from Charleston, SC

      Excellent history lesson and poignant considering tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of the invasion. Having a BA in history and living in Chicago which has the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw, and being a member of the Chicago Society of the Polish National Alliance, were I just came from their annual Taste of Palonia food festival, this Hub really hit the spot... Thank you.

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 3 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi teaches, I do so agree! The whole pòint of my effort in publishing these hubs with various aspects of WW1 and WW2 plus my personal memories, has been centered on the famous "Lest We Forget!" theme. The younger generation should learn so much more about all this. As teachers, we must help!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      Joan, I have come back to watch the video. What a beautiful piece of music. The fact that it was composed during wartime is amazing. I felt the peace but also the power of the flight. I was teaching Anne Frank this week and for the first time I realized the vast amount of nono-jewish people affected by WWII. The enigma code breaking was fascinating! I voted this information should be shared more, especially with our young children.

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 3 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Mel Carriere so happy for your visit and comment, and yes I do agree, the Polish contribution was far greater than is commonly known or accepted. A valiant nation indeed!

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Fascinating account of the Polish contributions to the war effort. The code breaking alone probably did more to defeat the Nazis then anything else. Great hub!

    • joanveronica profile image
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      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi volcalcoach! Your comment has left me speechless! So many compliments! And so interesting to know you actually played the Warsaw Concerto, it's a little gem, isn't it? I thought the video was also visually very beautiful, too! After reading your comment, my small tribute to the "Drama of Poland" has gained even more value. I'm so glad I made the effort to structure this Hub and get it published! Have a good day!

    • joanveronica profile image
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      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Peggy W! Many thanks for your visit, your comment, the votes and the share! I do so agree with your remark about keeping these happenings ever in our minds, God willing we will not have to go through experiences like those again! That is I think the principal motivation that moves me to write the Hubs I have researched about WW2, it must not happen again! Your comment inspires me to continue with this thread! Have a good day!

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 4 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      I am floating on a cloud as I listen to the magnificent Warsaw Concerto. When I turned 16, I played this concerto with our small but passionate school orchestra. You have filled me with memories long for-gotten but recaptured again. Thank you for this treasured gift.

      I love this hub and the detailed story of WWII and the drama of Poland. The great composer and pianist Frederick Chopin was passionate about his country and wrote an Etude, "The Apassionata" which expresses his full range of emotion for this very drama you so brilliantly write about.

      You...are a true artist! I thank you immensely and voted up, useful, awesome, interesting and will share.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Thanks for writing this informative hub about the devastation that Poland underwent during World War 2. I have often heard that the new borders drawn after World War 1 was a simmering cause for World War 2 and your hub confirmed that. The genocide and atrocities that took place in Poland under the Nazi flag need to be read about and studied from one generation to the next so that history does not repeat itself. Thanks for recalling what you did and researching the rest to assemble this important hub. Love the Warsaw Concerto! Up, useful and interesting votes and intend to share this.

    • joanveronica profile image
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      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi, thanks for the visit and the comment! It would be interesting to collect some more stories, I'm sure there are lots that have never been told, and that need telling.

      I'm so glad you liked the video and the Concerto, I have always found it so expressive. Thanks again, and I hope to see you around!

    • farmloft profile image

      farmloft 4 years ago from Michigan

      Loved this tribute which makes me want to talk to my old Polish friends and see if they have more stories of that time. The video and music is beautiful

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Mary, so happy to have you read my Hub! It's an honor to receive your comment! Isn't the video beautiful? I loved it when I checked it out. And yes, I am getting near, up to 9,973. But as usual the counter is stuck, especially being Sunday. I will watch until late, and early tomorrow also! Have a good day!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      As always this hub is superb! Whether you remember details or not your remember enough and supplement it with the best research. This was terribly interesting and informative. The video was incredible by the way. I hope you're getting closer to 10,000 views!

      Voted up, useful, awesome and interesting.

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi teaches, it's always wonderful to have your visit and your comment. I'm glad you liked this post. Did you have time to watch the video? Please do so, it's beautiful! See you soon and have a good day!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I have friends from Poland who love the country and would testify to the beauty of the area. Your photos really do bring out these highlights. Thank you for the history and education, as always, it's is very interesting. Voted up++

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi janet, thank you for your very supportive comment! This was a complex Hub to organize, and to select what to include and what to leave out. I tried to strike a middle road, and judging by the comments, I seem to have managed this relatively well! I intend to persevere with these themes, I have several I am working on at the moment, so I hope to see you there! Have a good day!

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Gypsy! Im' so happy to receive your visit and comment! This was not an easy Hub to write, that period in history is very confusing, and a lot of the information is so bleak and tragic that to include it would make a very depressing Hub. My interest was to offer a tribute to the Polish nation, and I hope I succeeded in that. Thanks for the visit and the share. Have a good day!

    • janetwrites profile image

      Janet Giessl 4 years ago from Georgia country

      Thank you for the time you took and the efforts you made for researching and creating this great hub. I have learned a lot from it as my background knowledge of Poland in WWII is relatively poor. I'm looking forward to reading further hubs from you!

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 4 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Voted up and interesting. Thanks for sharing this fascinating bit of history. Great pics and loved the music. Passing this on.

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi panpan, so nice to have your visit and your comment! Also thanks for the follow! I agree, the story of Poland is amazing! Have a good day!

    • panpan1972 profile image

      Panagiotis Tsarouchakis 4 years ago from Greece

      Awesome story! I remembered that amazing film "The Pianist". Polish people always had my greatest respect and admiration.

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi JC, so happy for your visit and comment! This support motivates me to make bigger and better efforts at producing Hubs with inspiring content. These are slow to produce because of the research involved, but very satisfying, I find! So thanks again and have a nice day!

    • jcressler profile image

      James E Cressler 4 years ago from Orlando, Florida

      Fascinating piece and thanks for sharing it. The stories or fortitude and heroism that came out of WWII haven't begun to be exhausted. You have just shared another collection with us! Very well done, especially about your teacher, Ilse. Thumbs up, useful and interesting!!!

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Jools, so happy to have you visit and comment, especially as your comment is so supportive. I had many debates with myself over this Hub, it's a very complex history and so bleak. But I really wanted to provide some sort of tribute to that nation, I think they were so incredible, both individually and as a group. Thanks for the vote and the share! Have a good day!

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      Joan, I really enjoyed this article because my knowledge of the invasion of Poland was pretty poor. I think it is hard to imagine Hitler's orders, they are so merciless. Your PE teacher sounds like a remarkable woman, to have survived all that she did and then to basically have to rebuild her own identity must have been a terrible experience. Voted up, shared etc.

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi there GM, you are so right! I am aware of the contrast betweenPolish actions and French actions, but didn't include it so as not to be too controversial. There's a lot more to this story, but some of it is so depressing, I decided to cut it down a bit. My main concern was to offer a tribute of sorts, which I hope I achieved. Thanks for the visit, the comment and the share! Have a good day!

    • gmarquardt profile image

      gmarquardt 4 years ago from Hill Country, Texas

      A proper analysis of why Poland was able to hold out for four weeks, while France held out for only two has never been properly done. Moreover, Poland was attacked by the USSR soon after the German invasion. The Polish Army was much more effective than is believed, and this hub hopefully will help stimulate some of that research. Well done.

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi there UH, so happy to have you visit my Hub! And your comment is very supportive, for which I thsnk you. Please listen to and watch the video on the Warsaw Concerto, it's well worth it! I hope to see you around again soon! Have a good day!

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Very nice. joan! As you point out, Poland suffered severe hardships under the Nazis and was systematically reduced by both the Nazis and the Soviets. My dad reminisced about dating my mom (this was a couple years after the war in England) and had to contend with very polite and gentlemanly Polish soldiers. The English girls oftentimes were swept off their feet by the attention. Mom enjoyed the attention but resisted their charm.