On the 1st September 1939, the Nazi regime in Germany unleashed the horror of a Second World War on the planet by invading Poland.
At the end of World War I, with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, Upper Silesia, Greater Poland, and West Prussia were given to Poland. This had angered the Germans at the time and continued to fester.
Hitler signed a non-aggression treaty with Poland in 1934. This was a pact he had little intention of honoring in the long run but was designed to prevent a Franco-Polish alliance and give Germany time to recover, rearm and rebuild her armed forces.
At this time, Britain’s public opinion favored some form of concession around the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. This drove British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to follow a policy of limited appeasement and concessions to the Germans. Added to public opinion was the fact that Britain was not militarily prepared for another all-out European war.
At the end of August, there was a flurry of negotiations and secret negotiations, leading up to the secret signing on the 23rd August 1939 of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union.
Six days later, Hitler demanded the Polish Corridor’s return leading to the free city of Danzig so that the Germans would have a link to the East Prussian territory. This was refused by the Polish government.
To justify their invasion that started on the 1st September, the Germans claimed that the Polish people were persecuting German nationals, and Poland, along with Britain and France, were intending to invade Germany. This was blatantly rubbish, but with a staged attack on a radio station, Hitler had his ‘smoking gun’ and used it as an excuse to invade Poland.
The Polish army wasn’t fully mobilized and poorly equipped compared to the technology available to the German troops, and they were quickly overcome. France and Britain honored their treaty with Poland and formally declared war on Germany on 3rd September. This declaration, however, did not come with substantial military support.
From the start, the Luftwaffe attacked civilians, and a favored target was the long lines of refugees fleeing the fighting. Estimates on the number of civilians killed vary, but the most reliable estimates show that the Luftwaffe killed between 6,000 and 7,000 refugees during the battle for Warsaw.
They were not the only German troops that committed atrocities against the Polish people. The SS was also implicated in many atrocities where entire villages were burned and all the men, women, and children massacred.
On the 17th September, the Soviet Union invaded Poland along its eastern border. By the 6th October, all Polish resistance had faded.
The German military then took over the control of the country, and it was not long after that concentration camps were built. Many thousands of Polish people lost their lives to the gas chambers.
The photographs in this collection show the peacekeeping efforts before the war and then the horrors of the battleground encountered by the ordinary Polish people.