attack on Poland

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Attack on Poland in 1939
The cadet training ship Schleswig-Holstein shelling the Westerplatte in the port of Gdansk at the beginning of the Second World War
The cadet training ship Schleswig-Holstein shelling the Westerplatte in the port of Gdansk at the beginning of the Second World War
date September 1 to October 6, 1939
place Poland and the Free City of Gdansk
output German troops victory
consequences Occupation and defeat of the Polish state, division of Poland between the German Reich and the Soviet Union (attack from September 17th), reintegration of the Free City of Danzig into the German Reich
Peace treaty none, on October 6, 1939 last battle with regular troops
Parties to the conflict

German Reich NSGerman Reich (Nazi era) German Reich
and SS Heimwehr Gdansk Slovakia
Slovakia 1939Slovakia 

Poland 1928Second Polish Republic Poland


German Reich NSGerman Reich (Nazi era) Walther von Brauchitsch
( Commander in Chief of the Army ) Fedor von Bock ( Army Group North ) Gerd von Rundstedt ( Army Group South ) Ferdinand Čatloš (Commander in Chief of the Slovak Army)
German Reich NSGerman Reich (Nazi era)

German Reich NSGerman Reich (Nazi era)

Slovakia 1939Slovakia

Poland 1928Second Polish Republic Edward Rydz-Śmigły
( Commander in Chief )

Troop strength
61 German divisions
6 German brigades,
3 Slovak divisions
10,000 guns
3,600 armored vehicles
1,929 aircraft

Total strength:
1,600,000 Germans,
50,000 Slovaks
37 divisions,
12 brigades

4,300 guns
750 armored vehicles
900 aircraft

Total strength:
1,000,000 men

15,450 dead (army only),
30,000 wounded,
3,404 missing,
300 armored vehicles,
560 aircraft.
37 dead,
18 missing,
114 wounded

Polish Armed Forces:
66,300 dead,
133,700 wounded,
694,000 prisoners,
330 aircraft

Several thousand ethnic Germans murdered ;
16,376 Polish civilians murdered (Sept./Oct. 1939)

The attack on Poland (also known as the Polish Campaign ) is the illegal war of aggression of the National Socialist German Reich against the Second Polish Republic , with which Adolf Hitler unleashed the Second World War in Europe . The German armed forces, supported by Slovak troops, attacked unprovoked on September 1, 1939, immediately after the alleged and justified raid on the Gleiwitz transmitter .

On September 3, 1939, France and Great Britain declared war on Germany as part of their assistance treaties with Poland . However, their limited military measures such as the Saar offensive were not suitable for relieving Poland. Supported by air strikes , two German army groups advanced from the north and south on Polish territory. German troops reached Warsaw on September 8th , which capitulated on September 28th .

After three Soviet armies marched into eastern Poland on September 17, in accordance with the secret additional protocol to the German-Soviet non-aggression pact , the Polish government fled on 17/18. September 1939 to neutral Romania , where she was interned. The Polish government-in-exile formed on September 30th tried to organize resistance against the occupiers with troops that had fled. The last units of the Polish armed forces remaining in Poland capitulated on October 6, 1939; most of the Polish soldiers were taken prisoners of war .

In their treaty of September 28, 1939 , Germany and the Soviet Union divided Poland among themselves (" fourth partition of Poland "). Western Poland, central Poland with the exception of the Białystok Voivodeship and the western parts of southern Poland fell to Germany, the eastern Polish areas to the Soviet Union. With a decree of October 8, 1939, Hitler separated part of the German-occupied territories, including purely Polish ones, as "integrated eastern territories" ( Reichsgaue Posen and West Prussia ) from the so-called remaining Polish state and expanded the province of Silesia to the south by predominantly Polish populated areas. The Free City of Danzig had already become part of the German Reich on September 1st. In the remaining German-occupied areas, the so-called General Government was created four days later as a zone of "isolation".

While a process of "reorganization" and Germanization began in the incorporated eastern regions, the Generalgouvernement was intended for the ruthless exploitation of Poles and Jews and became the target of "ethnic extermination measures". Already during the fighting and the German occupation of Poland from 1939 to 1945, Einsatzgruppen of the Security Police and SD and members of the Wehrmacht carried out mass murders of Polish intellectuals , priests, trade unionists, nobles and Jews, sometimes according to plan, sometimes spontaneously . This is considered to be the "prelude to the war of annihilation " of the German Reich against the Soviet Union and the Holocaust .

The term attack on Poland sometimes only describes the start of the war. The entire course of the war, optionally including the Soviet invasion, was often referred to in the past as the Polish campaign . In Poland this September campaign is called (Kampania wrześniowa) or the 1939 Defense War (Wojna obronna 1939 roku) .

Political history

After the three partitions of Poland between Russia , Prussia and Austria from 1795 until the First World War, Poland no longer existed as an independent state, with an interlude as a congress Poland connected with Russia , which was ultimately only a Russian province as Vistula . After the Central Powers conquered the area in 1916, the reign of Poland , which was dependent on them, was established. As a result of the German defeat, it became the basis for the independent Second Polish Republic proclaimed on November 11, 1918 .

Germany and Poland (1918–1933)

In the Peace Treaty of Versailles in January 1920, Poland was granted part of the Pomeranian Islands as access to the Baltic Sea ( Polish Corridor ). Danzig was declared a Free City under the mandate of the League of Nations . After uprisings and a referendum in Upper Silesia , Eastern Upper Silesia also became part of Poland in 1922 . In the areas ceded by Germany to Poland, Poles were in the majority. However, Germans lived everywhere, a total of 1.1 million of the approximately three million inhabitants. For the ethnic minorities in Poland - especially Ukrainians, Jews, Belarusians and Germans - protective rules were provided.

All the governments of the Weimar Republic strove to revise the eastern borders politically in order to regain the territories lost in 1919 ( treaty revisionism ). With the Locarno treaties in 1925, Germany and France reached an understanding that reduced Poland's importance for the French security system, while Great Britain made it clear that it did not want to guarantee the Polish Corridor. Germany hoped, with Soviet support, to be able to force an isolated and internally weakened Poland to recognize German requests for revision.

The League of Nations, which Germany joined in 1926, declared war of aggression an international crime and the obligation to settle disputes peacefully as a principle by a resolution of September 24, 1927 . In the Briand-Kellogg Pact of August 27, 1928, which Germany also signed, an international ban on war of aggression was declared.

Hitler's change of course in Ostpolitik

The NSDAP belonged since its inception to the bitterest opponents of the Versailles treaty of 28 June 1919. Adolf Hitler also said the acquisition of " Lebensraum in the East " in his manifesto Mein Kampf decisive for him policy objective. There was no specific hatred of Poland in Hitler's political thinking in the early 1920s, but rather an extreme anti-Semitism directed against the Soviet regime as a representative of Jewish Bolshevism . In those years the German Reich and the Soviets sought a policy of reconciliation and cooperation with the Treaty of Rapallo of 1922 and the Berlin Treaty of 1926, above all in order to break international isolation on both sides.

With the ten-year German-Polish non-aggression pact of January 26, 1934, Hitler made a U-turn in German Ostpolitik and ended the special German-Soviet relationship. With the autocratically ruled and also revisionist Poland, he set about pursuing anti-Soviet policies and promoting the development of the army in order, according to Hitler, to "short, decisive blows to the west" for "living space." in the east ”to conquer. Hitler's change of course in foreign policy is assessed differently. According to the historian Gottfried Schramm , Hitler was "the first politician of the German [sic] Reich who implemented a sensible policy on Poland and was able to show right away how profitable it was to turn away from the previous course." For Gerhard L. Weinberg , Hitler was more of a persecutor long-term goals of conquest, for which he postponed short-term revisionism when it got in the way of his long-term plans. According to a recent investigation, it was not just a case of Hitler's deception, but serious attempts to improve relations between the two countries.

In the following years, the Polish-French alliance disintegrated under the impact of the new alliance constellations. The Franco-Soviet Assistance Pact of May 2, 1935 distanced the former partners further, while Poland and the German Reich worked more closely together politically and economically. This became particularly evident after the Munich Agreement of September 30, 1938: If the Polish government had distanced itself sharply from the German occupation of the Rhineland (March 7, 1936), it now exploited the situation for its own interests. On 2 and 3 October occupied Poland the Czech part of the 1919 separate, formerly Teschen town called ( Český Těšín ) and the Olsagebiet . On October 10, 1938, the Germans occupied the Sudetenland in accordance with the Munich Agreement .

German-Polish negotiations

On October 24, 1938, German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop began negotiations with the Polish government to “resolve all controversial issues”. He demanded the reintegration of Gdańsk into the German Reich as well as transit traffic over a newly built extra-territorial section of the Reichsautobahn Berlin-Königsberg and over the railroad (formerly Prussian Eastern Railway ) through the Polish corridor. In return he offered the recognition of the remaining German-Polish borders, an extension of the German-Polish non-aggression pact to 25 years and a free port of any size in Danzig. These offers were connected with the invitation to join the Anti-Comintern Pact .

The Polish side delayed the replies by almost six months, did not respond to most of the offers from Berlin and only promised gradual changes. She was right to fear that acceptance of the demands would have made Poland a German satellite state. Foreign Minister Józef Beck , on the other hand, wanted Poland to play a leading role in a “ Third Europe ” that would extend from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic. His government therefore rejected a military alliance with Germany directed against the Soviet Union, although the USSR was still viewed as "enemy number 1" in Poland. The Polish government, however, hoped to achieve quicker foreign policy success through loosely following the German Reich, instead of fully integrating it into its alliance ideas, which would ultimately have led to accession to the Anti-Comintern Pact, with which Poland would have exposed itself irresponsibly to the Soviet Union and, moreover, in fact the western alliance system would be eliminated. According to Klaus Hildebrand, Ribbentrop's offer was an “unacceptable imposition” for Poland, because if it had been accepted it would have isolated itself completely from its previous ally France. The country would have been “in the future on the chain of the empire” and would have become a “ satrap for a conquest in the east”. The German-Polish negotiations therefore dragged on with no results.

Hitler's breach of the Munich Agreement and further territorial gains

On 15./16. In March 1939 the Wehrmacht invaded the Czech regions of Bohemia and Moravia that remained with the Czecho-Slovak Republic in the " smashing of the rest of the Czech Republic" in breach of the Munich Agreement . They were incorporated into the empire as a formally autonomous “ Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia ”. On March 18, 1939, the German Empire forced the German-Slovak Protection Treaty on Slovakia , which had only just become sovereign by Hitler's grace . As a result, Slovakia was included as a de facto satellite state in the upcoming fight against Poland (and later against the Soviet Union). In September she finally took part in the attack on Poland with the self-interest of recapturing the Slovak border areas that had been lost to Poland after the First World War .

In response to the German ultimatum to Lithuania of March 20, the Lithuanian government returned Memelland , which had been separated from the German Reich in 1920 as a League of Nations mandate and was finally annexed by Lithuania in 1923 . The Memel area (about 2600 square kilometers) became part of the province of East Prussia again . With the threat of invasion, the German Reich was given back another of the areas that it had renounced in the Versailles Treaty. The disputed corridor, including Danzig, of essential importance for relations with the Republic of Poland , was still outstanding; the threat to Poland was thus evident.

The way to war

Handshake by Stalin and Ribbentrop after the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, Moscow, August 24, 1939
Nevile Henderson (August 1939)

On March 26, 1939, the Polish government finally rejected the German offer and made it clear that it would treat any unilateral territorial change as a reason for war. As early as March 23, she initiated a partial mobilization of her armed forces in order to be able to counter a sudden German occupation of Danzig. This step by Warsaw was criticized as premature in the first Polish analyzes of the outbreak of the Second World War, since the British and French allies were not yet prepared for a military conflict with the Wehrmacht.

Great Britain ended its previous policy of appeasement after the German breach of the Munich Agreement and the aggressively conquering policy of the Third Reich that had now become apparent . On March 31, the British Prime Minister Arthur Neville Chamberlain promised Poland military support if its existence was threatened (→  British-French guarantee ). At the request of Poland, negotiations on a formal mutual assistance pact began on April 6th. On May 17th, the Polish-French alliance was renewed through a military agreement. In it, France committed itself in the event of a German attack on Poland to immediate air strikes against Germany, from the third day to limited offensive strikes and from the 15th day to a major offensive. In April and May Poland tried to obtain loans from Great Britain and France to buy weapons and raw materials. But they refused. It wasn't until July 24th that the British government granted a loan of just £ 8 million. Poland was thus dependent on itself.

On April 28, 1939, Hitler terminated the German-Polish non-aggression pact and the German-British naval agreement of June 18, 1935. On April 11, he had already given the Wehrmacht instructions to work out a war plan against Poland. In his speech to the Commander-in-Chief on May 23, 1939 , he announced the real aim of the upcoming campaign:

“Gdansk is not the object in question. For us it is about rounding off the living space in the east and securing food ... In Europe there is no other possibility. "

In doing so, Hitler wanted to reduce dependence on Western imports ( see also: Autarky ) and avoid a sea ​​blockade that had contributed to Germany's military and political defeat in the First World War . He continued the negotiations on Danzig until August 1939 in order to gain time for war preparations and to prevent Great Britain and France from intervening as far as possible.

They could have helped Poland by invading Germany from the west, but despite the numerical superiority of their divisions, they were neither prepared nor willing to do so. In order to be able to provide effective military support to Poland in its territory, the Western powers had been negotiating a military convention with the USSR since the summer of 1939. This demanded the right to march through Poland for the Red Army . Its government feared that the Soviets would take advantage of this right to reclaim the territories they had lost in 1921. Poland's foreign minister therefore finally rejected this condition on August 15, 1939. Even during these talks, the Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov negotiated the German-Soviet economic agreement with Ribbentrop in Moscow , which was supposed to secure raw material supplies to the German Reich even in the event of a sea blockade.

In the on the Berghof held Hitler's speech before the commanders on August 22, 1939 , there are a number of recordings, he defined as the target of the upcoming campaign, "destruction of Poland = removing his living force". The campaign will not cause any major problems with the Western powers: “He does not expect England and France to intervene , but is convinced that both states are threatening, rattling their sabers, imposing sanctions, and maybe even setting up a blockade, but never would intervene militarily. "In order to contain Germany, they had hoped for an alliance with the Soviet Union -" I have now knocked this card out of their hands. "

On August 24, 1939, the Hitler-Stalin Pact followed , whose "Secret Additional Protocol" divided the areas of interest: Eastern Poland and the Baltic States were then to be added to the Soviet sphere of interest. According to a diplomatically negotiated amendment, the rivers Pissa , Narew , Vistula and San should form the border between the spheres of interest of Germany and the USSR.

While the Hitler-Stalin pact was still emerging, Great Britain had let Hitler know that nothing would change in its promise of assistance to Poland. Poland, which had always distrusted the Soviet Union, did not assume that anything essential had changed, and accordingly did not believe that the Soviet Union could enter a war. In order not to give Poland time to mobilize, Hitler was determined to forego the formalities of an ultimatum and a declaration of war. On August 23, the time of the attack was set for August 26, 4:30 a.m. On the evening of August 25, however, Hitler received news from Mussolini that Italy was not adequately prepared for war. Thereupon Hitler stopped the attack that had already started. He saw the British government's willingness to negotiate as a way of isolating Poland and creating a pretext for the attack. On August 29, he asked the British Ambassador, Nevile Henderson , Danzig, the corridor and the protection of German minorities in Poland. A Polish emissary with full powers had to appear in Berlin within 24 hours. The deadline was deliberately too short to increase the pressure. In view of the reports from Germany on that day, Poland had ordered general mobilization , but postponed the announcement decided by the Council of Ministers on the advice of British and French. Foreign Minister Ribbentrop declared on August 30th that the Poles were not ready to negotiate and that German proposals were therefore irrelevant. On the following day sixteen points were read out on the German radio, which Poland allegedly had rejected, but which Poland had never been given. At this point, Hitler had already given the order to attack on September 1st.

Propaganda and bogus border incidents

As the situation worsened, reports of border violations and incidents had increased on both sides. From the beginning of 1939 there had been riots against ethnic Germans in Poland. The Nazi propaganda , which was not allowed to report negatively about Poland during the duration of the German-Polish non-aggression pact, used these incidents since March 1939 to reinforce an enemy image of Poland. German police reports described, for example, the Polish shelling of military and civil aircraft and numerous attacks, some of which resulted in death on the German side. The Poles also made a list of incidents.

Organizers of the attack on the Gleiwitz transmitter : Heydrich and Naujocks, April 11, 1934

Around August 10, 1939, preparations began for the attack on the Gleiwitz transmitter and for other bogus border incidents under the direction of Reinhard Heydrich and supported by the head of the Gestapo, Heinrich Müller . From August 22, 1939, SD and SS members disguised as Polish irregulars, as well as concentration camp inmates who were forced to do so (who were murdered and left lying as evidence of fighting), faked several "border incidents". On August 31, 1939, a group of SS men led by Sturmbannführer Alfred Naujocks attacked the Gleiwitz transmitter in order to simulate a Polish attack as a pretext for a criminal war of aggression against Poland. In his Reichstag speech on September 1, Hitler spoke of 14 border incidents that Poland had provoked the previous night, "including three very serious ones": He was referring to these self-ordered attacks. Since the SD had carried out its actions in an amateurish way, they were no longer mentioned in the propaganda after Hitler's speech. German newsreels from September 1939 showed burning German farms in the Polish corridor or the funeral of a Gdansk SS man who had been shot and killed as reasons for war.

Military history

Starting positions of the armies and planned main thrusts

German plans

The Army High Command (OKH) completed its planning by June 15, 1939 (code name Fall Weiß ). The preparations were carried out undercover as maneuvering exercises, building border fortifications and other things. For example, an infantry and a tank division were seconded from the Reich to the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Tannenberg in East Prussia . The actual general mobilization, however, did not begin covertly until August 25, 1939.

Contemporary German depiction of the Polish deployment

Due to the borderline and alliance policy, Germany had encircled Poland from several sides right from the start - from the north-west to the territory of the allied Slovak Republic in the south, and from the north-east from East Prussia. After the start of the war, the previously neutral Danzig area was added, and the allied Soviet Union lay in the east. Therefore, the German armed forces were in an advantageous position. For the attack they were divided into two army groups: The Army Group North (630,000 men under Colonel General Fedor von Bock ) was initially supposed to smash the Polish forces in the Polish corridor in order to establish a connection between East Prussia and the main area of ​​the German Empire. Then it was supposed to advance directly on Warsaw in order to relieve the main attack that was to take place in southern Poland. The Army Group South (886,000 men under Colonel General Gerd von Rundstedt ) had three armies. The 14th Army under Colonel-General Wilhelm List was to take the Polish border fortifications in Eastern Upper Silesia from Silesia and Slovakia, then cover the German operations towards Galicia with attacks and advance on the River San . The 10th Army under General der Artillerie Walter von Reichenau was to lead the main attack on Warsaw. Most of the motorized units were assigned to her for this purpose. On its left flank, the 8th Army under General of the Infantry Johannes Blaskowitz was supposed to shield the operations towards Posen. The German leadership hoped to encompass and destroy the bulk of the Polish army still west of the Vistula.

On August 25th, a large part of the troops were in their staging areas . Hitler ordered the attack for August 26th, but withdrew the attack order at short notice after he learned that Italy was not ready for war and England and Poland had contractually fixed their mutual promises . The Wehrmacht leadership was given a further seven days to complete the mobilization of the troops.

However, some units did not hear about the stop order and started the planned acts of war. A raid troop of the 10th Army opened fire on the bunker facilities near Lubliniec at around 4:30 am ; as the expected reinforcement as a result of the halt order did not materialize, the troop was almost completely wiped out. A commando operation against the Polish-occupied station of Mosty since 1938 , with the aim of securing and occupying the Jablunka Pass , initially achieved success, but had to withdraw again. There were also some clashes between German and Polish troops at the Dirschau Bridge , with initial losses on both sides.

Polish plans

Polish infantry in helmet pattern 31

The Polish General Staff did not have a detailed plan for war with Germany . The Zachód Plan (Plan West), his operational and deployment plan for this case, he had to renew again and again in 1938/39 in accordance with the changing strategic-political situation, which remained in flux until the outbreak of war. The threat to the Carpathian border through the inclusion of Slovakia in the German staging area after the " smashing of the rest of the Czech Republic " in March 1939 and the partial mobilization that began in the same month with the purely politically justified diversion of a corps to prevent a German coup against Danzig led to dissipation of forces. In the crisis of the summer of 1939, planning only took place at the very highest level and took on the character of improvisations.

In March 1939, the Polish government realized that the German government would insist on their demands. A German ultimatum was also no longer ruled out. The Polish government then came to the conclusion that giving in was no longer an option, because Berlin would inevitably make new demands, and it was now known that “German border guarantees were worthless at all”. The Polish government also expected a German attack in March 1939, but believed it would then receive the support of the Western powers.

Poland began partial mobilization on March 23, 1939, by bringing five units to war strength, mainly in the western districts, and relocating two units and one cavalry brigade to the western border. The hasty precautions remained incomplete and were complicated by the constantly changing operational plan. The Polish army command tried to react to the increasingly threatening situation on the flanks, especially in Slovakia, by extending the left wing to the Hungarian border by forming a new "Karpaty" army. The Western powers also urged Poland to hold back so as not to provide Hitler with an excuse to accuse Poland of aggressive intentions, and the partial mobilization also posed a great burden economically.

In addition, it was clear to Poland that in the event of a war against Germany defeat would be expected, and a military catastrophe in the event of a delayed French offensive. Because the government and the general staff knew about the military inferiority of their armed forces, especially when it came to modern aircraft, tanks, artillery and means of transport. The Polish Minister of War Tadeusz Kasprzycki and the French Chief of Staff Maurice Gamelin therefore agreed on May 19, 1939 that in the event of a German attack in the east, the Polish army should remain on the defensive and, in the event of a German attack in the west, should endeavor “to use the largest possible number of to bind German troops ”. The Polish politicians and soldiers considered no more ambitious military operations than minor forays into East Prussia . “The legend of the confident and high-spirited Polish politicians and military who would have dreamed of the march to Berlin”, writes the historian Hermann Graml , “is actually nothing more than a legend that owes its birth to National Socialist propaganda, and also to part of the Polish press, which tried to spread confidence, and a small minority of right-wing extremist screamers ”.

The Polish operational plan assessed the German attack formations, operational capabilities and intentions by and large correctly. Since the main mobilization and war economy base of Poland was to the west of the Vistula, one was determined to fight close to the border, especially since a close political and military alliance with the Soviet Union was eliminated. In view of the superiority of the German Wehrmacht, the Polish defense had to concentrate on surrendering as little terrain as possible until an offensive by the Western powers, to gain time and inflict losses on the enemy. In order to secure the areas threatened by "coup d'état" early and strongly, the armies of the 1st Squadron should be deployed in the area south of Bromberg and west of Łódź and in the Upper Silesian industrial area, while relatively strong wings, especially in the north, based on the Vistula, the Narew and the Biebrza as well as the Carpathian Mountains in the south should protect the main forces from surprises.

Five armies and an independent group were posted in the front line as I. Squadron. Two armies and two smaller groups formed the reserve as second squadron. The main focus was on the armies " Kraków " (General Szylling ) and "Lódz" (General Rómmel ) in the south, which were supposed to hold up the main attack by the Germans. It depended on their steadfastness whether a retreat to the southeast would be necessary. In the west and north the armies " Poznań " (General Kutrzeba ) and " Pomorze " (General Bortnowski ) were advanced. The group " Kutno " (General Bołtuć ) should provide support. The exposed location brought with it the danger that these associations would be cut off in the event of a rapid German breakthrough in the direction of Łódź – Warsaw. On the other hand, the central armies "Prusy" (General Dąb-Biernacki ) and the army "Lublin" (General Tadeusz Piskor ), which was still being formed, were concentrated west and on the Vistula as a reserve . Later on from September 7, 1939, under the command of General Kleeberg, the independent Polesie Operative Group (Samodzilna Grupa Oberacyjna) was established in the area east of Radom and near Chełm , which should cover the approaches to Brest and Kobryn . In the north, the "Modlin" army (General Krukowicz-Przedrzymirski ) was supposed to block the way to Warsaw for the German forces attacking from East Prussia. The operation group "Narew" (General Młot-Fijałkowski ) had to provide support from the east. The overall aim of the Polish army command was to cover the areas necessary for fighting as long as possible.

When Foreign Minister Ribbentrop traveled to Moscow on August 22, 1939, the Polish government decided to “alarm mobilization” in the six corps districts bordering Germany, with the mobilized troops remaining in or near their locations. On August 27, the mobilization of the remaining "alarm units" was ordered. At the same time, parts of the Polish leadership may still have doubted until August 28th whether a war with Germany would really break out; also, in some cases, only limited German actions, especially against Danzig, were expected. On August 29, the order was given to move the troops to their starting positions and to bring the most important ships of the Polish fleet to safety in British waters ( Operation Peking ), but in the afternoon the general mobilization was canceled again because France and Great Britain would thereby saw the last chance to settle the conflict lost. When mobilization was re-ordered on August 30, effective the following day, there was considerable confusion and delays. At the beginning of the German attack, only a third of the units in all armies of the 1st Squadron were operational.

In addition to the unfortunate geographic location of the defense and Poland's military inferiority, the Polish plan of operations and mobilization also contributed to the defeat, as it underestimated the thrust of the German army and its operational capabilities, especially in the south. The Soviet invasion of eastern Poland on September 17th finally shattered the last hopes of holding out for about three months or of waging a kind of guerrilla war.

The military forces in comparison

Poland had the equivalent of about 44 divisions compared to about 57 German divisions, which were also much better equipped and armed. 2400 light and medium German tanks - Panzer I , II , III and IV as well as the Czech booty tanks Panzer 35 (t) and 38 (t) - faced around 800 light ( tankettes , 7TP ) and obsolete Renault FT tanks . There were no large armored formations based on the German model except for two motorized brigades.

The Poles were only able to manage 842 aircraft in the German Air Fleets 1 and 4, with their mostly state-of-the-art aircraft (the He 111 medium-range bomber , the Bf 109 fighter , the Ju 87 dive bomber and others) - the PZL P.7 and above all PZL P.11 , the modern bombers PZL.23 Karaś and PZL.37 Łoś as well as some older models.

For the organization of the forces, see the schematic structure of the armed forces on September 1, 1939 .

The beginning of the war

Posed recording for Nazi propaganda. Danzig national police officers and border officials tear down the Polish barrier near Sopot .
Air raid on Wieluń on September 1, 1939

On August 31, 1939, Hitler gave orders to begin the attack on Poland at 4:45 a.m. the next day. The exact time and place of the first fighting is disputed. From 4:45 a.m., shortly before sunrise, the former liner and former naval flagship Schleswig-Holstein , which was visiting the Free City of Danzig as a training ship of the Navy, shot at the Polish garrison on the Westerplatte . The SS Heimwehr Danzig and German police troops stormed the Polish post office in Danzig. According to the Treaty of Versailles, both places were legally Polish enclaves on the territory of Danzig.

The town of Wielun was later, according to witnesses already at 4:37 am, according to German application message one hour - two - without declaring war Stuka -Geschwadern commanded by Wolfram von Richthofen attacked . The city's hospital was razed to the ground in the first wave of attacks. The completely surprised residents were targeted with guns on board. Two more attacks with 29 aircraft each followed during the day. Around 1200 of the then 16,000 inhabitants were killed. After the air raids, 90 percent of the historic town center and 70 percent of all buildings in Wieluń were destroyed.

Further commando operations should prevent the railway bridges from being blown up. For this purpose, three Ju 87 B Stukas took off at 4:26 a.m. under Lieutenant Bruno Dilley in the East Prussian district of Elbing . At 4:34 a.m., they set off their bombs over the railway embankment to the left of the Dirschau bridge , which hit the detonators and Polish pioneers there. Nevertheless, the bridge was blown up at 6:10 and 6:40 a.m. by Polish defenders.

At about 10:10 a.m. on the same day, Hitler said in a radio broadcasted Reichstag speech :

"[...] Poland fired for the first time last night on our own territory with soldiers who were already regular. They have been firing back since 5:45 a.m. And from now on, bomb will be rewarded with bomb! [...] "

Ultimately, France and Great Britain demanded the immediate withdrawal of all German troops from Poland. Shortly after 9:00 a.m., Hitler received from his interpreter the translation of the British ultimatum given at 11:00 a.m. to evacuate Poland immediately. The day after the attack on Poland, on September 2, 1939, the French Chamber of Deputies and Senate unanimously approved new military loans. France mentioned 5:00 p.m. in its ultimatum. When Hitler did not respond to the demand for a withdrawal, both states declared war on the German Reich on September 3. Accordingly, from that day on, “war” was officially allowed to be used in Germany, mostly using the phrase “forced war”. Despite the promises made to Poland, there was no major offensive by the Western Powers; on the German western border it came to the " seat war ".

The French Communist Party initially voted in favor of the military loans, but from September 20, on Moscow's instructions, called for an armistice . However, their base was anti-fascist and only partially followed the party line. 21 of the 72 Communist MPs left the party.

Fight until September 6th

Situation development by September 14th

The attack by Army Group North progressed according to plan in the first few days, at least in the area of ​​the 4th Army under Artillery General Günther von Kluge . During the battle in the Tucheler Heide near Graudenz , parts of the Polish Pomerellen army were trapped and broken up in the corridor . Only two of their divisions escaped defeat and joined the Poznan army .

To illustrate the hopeless inferiority of the Polish army, it is often stated that they overestimated their cavalry and mounted Polish soldiers attacked German tanks with lances and sabers. This legend is based on the battle near Krojanty , in which a Polish Uhlan regiment attacked an infantry unit of the Wehrmacht on September 1, 1939 , but was surprised and repulsed by an armored car .

According to the British historian Norman Davies, the popular notion that the Poles wielding sabers and attacking German tanks on horseback “hardly does justice to the facts”. Rather, the tough Polish defense caused the Wehrmacht to lose more than 50,000 men. So the attack of the 3rd Army under Artillery General Georg von Küchler halted in front of the Mlawa position . The Modlin Army fighting there did not withdraw until the German forces had bypassed their right flank ( Battle of Mława ). However, they gathered again in the Modlin Fortress and on the bow .

Meanwhile, the armies of Army Group South pushed the Polish units back towards Warsaw. However, they did not succeed in rubbing up or encircling the Polish troops. It was not until September 6 that the 10th Army managed to break deeply into the Polish defensive front. On the same day the 14th Army occupied Krakow . However, they could not encircle the Polish army in Krakow as planned.

The rapid advance of the German units overtook the Polish strategy, so that after five days the Polish high command ordered a retreat behind the planned defensive line on the rivers. The Polish government withdrew to Brest-Litovsk . The order to withdraw was issued too late for the Polish infantry units to reach the rivers before the Wehrmacht tanks. The German OKH, in turn, believed that it could no longer crush the bulk of the Polish army west of the Vistula. It therefore ordered the 3rd Army and 14th Army to concentrate their forces east of the Vistula for an encircling battle.

Romania , allied with Poland, declared itself neutral on September 6, in view of the rapid German advance and the lack of intervention by the Western powers, so that Poland remained completely militarily isolated.

Fight until September 18th

Situation development after September 14th

From the outset of the war, the German Air Force had almost complete air superiority . The air raids on Wieluń , Frampol and Warsaw are considered to be the first area bombings to be used as a means of waging war in World War II. The German planes used the Soviet transmitter Minsk as a guide, which extended its transmission time at Hermann Göring's request . The Army Group South used its breakthrough to deploy a tank corps on the Polish capital. This reached the suburbs of Warsaw on September 8, and there met strong resistance from the Polish defenders. In order to avoid a house-to-house war with many losses, the tanks stopped their advance. On September 15, the first German units, coming from the northeast, reached the eastern suburbs of Warsaw and united south of Warsaw with the German troops west of the Vistula. A huge cauldron was created. It comprised the area of ​​the city of Warsaw, a few kilometers wide corridor to the Polish fortress Modlin and a forest swamp area ( Kampinos Heath ) located in the northwest of Warsaw .

On September 9, the right wing of the 10th Army succeeded in overtaking and encircling strong Polish forces that were trying to retreat across the Vistula. From this the Battle of Radom developed . At the same time, the Polish army attacked Posen , which had advanced unnoticed by the German reconnaissance, surprisingly north of Kutno on the left wing of the German 8th Army (see Battle of the Bzura ). This only Polish counter-attack forced Army Group South to fight at Radom, Warsaw and the Bzura at the same time. She fended off the flank attack with heavy losses.

Army Group North was already to the east of the Vistula on the Narew and now had to relocate large parts of the 4th Army through East Prussia to its left wing according to the order of the OKH, which took a few days. After that, on September 9, it enclosed Modlin Fortress and Warsaw from the north. The XIX. Army Corps (part of Army Group North) under the command of General of the Armored Force Heinz Guderian penetrated the Polish defense line on the Narew River after fighting near Wizna , advanced east of the Bug with strong armored forces to the south and began the attack on the fortress of Brest on September 14th that fell after three days.

On September 12, 1939, the Polish troops capitulated in the Radom pocket (60,000 prisoners). On September 13, the small town of Frampol near Lublin was almost completely destroyed by a German air raid. Then the Polish army command ordered all remaining troops to withdraw independently to the southeast. It was hoped to be able to hold out there in impassable terrain longer until supplies from the Western Allies would be delivered via Romania.

So far, only the German 14th Army has fought in the southeast. However, this swiveled to the northeast to unite with Army Group North behind the River Bug. With the vacant associations Army Group South was now the army poses include and until 17 September ream (170,000 prisoners). That shattered the Polish hope of being able to defend at least the south-east of the country.

After the capture of Brest-Litovsk, the troops involved in it united with those of the 14th Army south of the city on September 18. This included the bulk of the Polish forces.

President Ignacy Mościcki was in the southeastern Polish border town of Kuty . Here he crossed the border river Cheremosh to Romania on September 18, 1939 together with a large number of soldiers and civilians . The rest of the Polish government had fled there as well. Romania initially interned the refugees.

The Nazi propaganda therefore described Germany's aggression against Poland as an 18-day campaign .

Soviet attack, end of war without surrender

Europe in September and October 1939
German and Soviet soldiers meet in Poland, September 20, 1939

Since France and Great Britain declared war, the Germans have been urging their Soviet contract partners to invade Poland for their part, as had secretly been agreed. However, the government in Moscow did not want to intervene until the Polish state had largely collapsed, fearing that it would be drawn into a war with the two western powers that guaranteed Poland's independence. She had also expected the fighting to last longer. On September 10, the German ambassador Friedrich-Werner Graf von der Schulenburg reported to the Foreign Office that Molotov had told him "that the Soviet government had been completely taken by surprise by unexpectedly quick German military successes." The Red Army needed two or three more Weeks of preparation before she could invade.

When the Wehrmacht invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, the Red Army was already standing with rifles to secure the Soviet share of the booty from the Hitler-Stalin Pact. While the Polish government was fleeing to eastern Galicia, a qualitative change took place in Soviet foreign policy. Early in the morning of September 17, Foreign Minister Molotov declared in his official radio statement that the Red Army would cross the border in order to “take under its protection the lives and property of the people of western Ukraine and western Belarus”. The “Polish state and the Polish government” have “effectively ceased to exist”. Therefore, "the treaties that were concluded between the Soviet Union and Poland are ineffective". The historian Sergei Slutsch points out that the Polish state in terms of international law by no means ceased to exist on September 17, 1939, even if it temporarily did not have central power. Therefore the invasion of the Soviet Union on the territory of a sovereign state undoubtedly represented a warlike and aggressive act.

In breach of the Polish-Soviet non-aggression pact of July 1932, the Red Army attacked eastern Poland on September 17th, which was militarily exposed except for the border guard corps. The German high command of the army welcomed the Soviet invasion as a military relief. The Polish government had not been prepared for this attack and had not given the Border Guard Corps any instructions in this case. In Tarnopol ( Ternopil ), Stanisławów ( Stanislau ), Łuck ( Lutsk ) and Równe ( Rivne ) the Red Army was therefore warmly welcomed by the municipal authorities in complete misunderstanding of the situation. In other areas there was sometimes heavy fighting between the attacking Soviet units and Polish units. At the town of Szack in eastern Poland, Polish units managed to regain the military initiative in a counterattack at short notice, regionally and for a limited time ( Battle of Szack ).

The fighting between the Wehrmacht and the Polish army was now concentrated in the area between the Vistula and the Bug, where the remains of the Polish army were trapped. Polish troops operating south-east and trying to withdraw to Romania were wiped out in the battles for Lemberg and Rawa-Ruska . With the defeat of most of the rest of the Polish armed forces in the Battle of Lublin on September 23, the organized resistance of the Polish army ended.

After the Warsaw / Modlin area had been largely enclosed since September 15, German troops advanced north of Warsaw from the east to the Vistula on September 22. This split the great Warsaw kettle into two parts, a Warsaw and a Modlin kettle. Polish army remnants that had escaped from the Kutno pocket tried to break through in the direction of the Warsaw pocket until September 20 ( battle in the Kampinos Heide ). On September 22nd, 1939, General H. Guderian and Brigade Commander S. Kriwoschein held the first joint German-Soviet victory parade in Poland and ceremoniously exchanged swastika for red flag. The Polish Supreme Commander Marshal E. Rydz-Śmigły followed his government into Romanian exile on September 27, 1939 .

Ten-year-old Polish woman Kazimiera Mika mourns the loss of her older sister, who was killed in an
air force attack in a field near Jana Ostroroga Street in Warsaw .

The battle for Warsaw ended on September 28, 1939, after two days of heavy bombardment by the artillery and air force, with the partial surrender of the around 120,000 Polish soldiers trapped in the cauldron. According to Polish sources, up to 26,000 civilians were killed. The fighting over the Modlin Cauldron ended a day later.

Aerial view of the burning Polish capital, September 1939

On September 28, Ribbentrop and Molotov concluded the supplementary German-Soviet border and friendship treaty in Moscow , in whose secret additional protocol the demarcation line along the bow was redefined. The German Reich renounced its influence on Lithuania . The course of the demarcation line roughly corresponded to the Curzon Line , which the Western powers had proposed as the Polish-Soviet border immediately after the First World War, but which had not been implemented as a result of the successful Polish resistance in the Polish-Soviet war . In addition, the exchange of population groups of the conquered areas according to ethnic criteria was agreed.

On October 1, the occupation of the Polish fortress on the Hel peninsula surrendered . Poland's last field troops capitulated because of the hopeless overall situation on October 6th after the battle of Kock , which was in itself tactically victorious . This is considered to be the end of the German Polish campaign. Only a fraction of the Polish army escaped German or Soviet captivity by crossing over to Romania, Hungary and Lithuania. There was no total surrender of the Polish armed forces or a request for an armistice by the Polish government.

Naval warfare

Submerged wreck ORP Gryf

In contrast to the land forces, the Polish Navy was also heavily outnumbered by the German Navy (→  balance of forces of the naval forces at the beginning of the war ). The Polish naval command under Rear Admiral Józef Unrug recognized this fact and evacuated three destroyers to Great Britain as early as the end of August as part of Operation Beijing .

The first fighting took place on September 1, when German Stukas attacked the two remaining large Polish units ORP Gryf and ORP Wicher in the Danzig Bay . The first naval battle took place on September 3rd off Hel . The Navy had to withdraw the two destroyers Z 1 Leberecht Maass and Z 9 Wolfgang Zenker used after Z 1 was damaged by an artillery hit from a coastal battery . On the same day, the remains of the Polish surface forces in the port of Hel were bombed and destroyed several times.

All five Polish submarines were originally supposed to defend the Polish Baltic coast (“ Plan Worek ”) and were later able to escape. But they did not achieve any combat success against enemy ships - apart from the German M 85 minesweeper , which ran into a sea ​​mine moved by the submarine ORP Żbik . The two submarines ORP Wilk and ORP Orzeł were able to move to Great Britain. The remaining three submarines were interned in Sweden . The naval base on the Hel Peninsula defended itself until October 1 and fell as one of the last Polish positions.

Air war

German Heinkel He 111 aircraft bomb Warsaw.

In the first two days of the campaign, the German Air Force smashed the ground organization of the Polish Air Force. However, it was not able to destroy the Polish Air Force on the ground as planned, as a large part of its aircraft had been moved to camouflaged alternative airfields. Nevertheless, in the first days of the campaign, it gained control of the air due to superior equipment and numerical superiority. They cordoned off the combat rooms by attacking traffic routes and supply targets. Attack aircraft and fighter pilot fought at critical points, the Polish ground forces and helped the army as a breakthrough. The Polish fighter pilots managed to shoot down 129 German aircraft, losing 116 of their own aircraft. On September 17 and 18, 1939, 50 remaining fighters were evacuated to Romania.

Constant German air raids (a total of almost 5,000 air-to-ground missions in the first five days) caused the Polish troops to feel inferior and without a chance. They considerably hindered the bringing in of supplies or the gathering of units (this was therefore only possible at night); they also disrupted many Polish lines of communication. After the fighting ended, analyzes showed that the actual physical successes of the Air Force in the Polish campaign were quantitatively far less significant than initially assumed. The Polish bomber units carried out air raids on the German troop units, especially in the first days of the attack, but suffered heavy losses and could hardly do more than set needle sticks. For the Polish High Command, aerial reconnaissance was particularly useful. With the Soviet invasion, these units, which had been relocated further and further east before the advancing German troops, were left without protection and Smigly-Rydz ordered their evacuation to Hungary and Romania.

Side effects and consequences

Hitler visits the front as "First Soldier of the Reich"

Hitler had left Berlin on September 3, 1939 and made a series of so-called front visits during the Poland campaign, where he was strongly secured by a military column. He presented himself as particularly close to the soldiers , visited field kitchens and ate with ordinary soldiers. These informal encounters were part of the new propaganda role as “First Soldier”, in which Hitler wanted to be regarded as a “comrade among comrades” and supposedly shared the fate and dangers of average soldiers following the example of Frederick the Great in the Seven Years War . Accordingly, in the previous Reichstag speech of September 1, 1939, he had described himself as “First Soldier”, put on a field-gray uniform and made succession arrangements in the event of his death. Since Hitler presented himself as a general at the same time, albeit by far not as intensely as from the French campaign , the propaganda also picked up encounters with leading generals during Hitler's front trips, showed him how he saw soldiers marching past important bridges that had just been captured decreased and tried to establish a connection between his front trips to alleged focal points of the fighting and the military successes. In fact, however, Hitler's role as Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht in the Polish campaign was still rather nominal and his interference in the military leadership was marginal. The depiction in Otto Dietrich's book “On the Streets of Victory” (1939), which, as a direct commission from Hitler, glorifies the Führer headquarters in Hitler's special train and his journeys to the front, is therefore far exaggerated .

War dead, prisoners, losses

Corpses of Polish soldiers in a ditch (September 1939)
Polish residents, presumably Jews, during clean-up work in bombed Warsaw (September / October 1939)
Polish prisoners of war in a transit camp (September 1939)

It is unknown how many Polish civilians were killed in the German war of aggression. An estimated 66,000 to 100,000 fallen and around 133,000 wounded Polish soldiers. More than 400,000 Polish soldiers, including around 16,000 officers, were taken prisoner by Germany. In addition, there were around 200,000 civilians captured as “suspect elements”. About 61,000 Jews were immediately separated from the other Polish prisoners of war and treated worse. Around 100,000 Polish soldiers managed to flee abroad.

There are no final figures for the German losses either. On October 6, 1939, Hitler spoke of 10,572 dead, 3,409 missing and 30,322 wounded by September 30. Of these, 734 soldiers were in the Air Force . This information was based primarily on the data of the medical inspection, which had registered 10,244 fallen soldiers and 593 fallen officers during the campaign. Like the entries in the war diaries, they were drawn up in direct connection with the fighting. The war diaries indicated 14,188 soldiers and 759 officers as war dead of the Wehrmacht. After years of research, the military alternative service or the Wehrmacht Loss Department came to the conclusion in 1944 that 15,450 German soldiers in the army, including 819 officers, were killed by enemy action.

According to Norman Davies (2006), the Polish defense of the Wehrmacht is said to have inflicted losses of over 50,000 men.

The material losses suffered by the Wehrmacht were considerable. Most of the divisions reported the failure of up to 50 percent of their vehicle inventory, mostly due to wear and tear in the rough Polish terrain. Some of the motorized divisions were not fully operational again until the spring of 1940. While all Polish military aircraft were lost, with around 140 escaping abroad, the German losses amounted to 564 aircraft and thus around a quarter of the total; about half of them were total losses.

Mass murders

Shootings of Poles by a German Task Force (October 21, 1939)

During the Polish campaign, the Nazi regime began with targeted mass shootings of Polish civilians. Five of the six task forces of the Security Police and the SD set up by Heinrich Himmler accompanied the five armies of the Wehrmacht, the sixth group was active in Posen . Their mission was to “fight all anti-Reich and anti-German elements backwards from the fencing troops” and to largely “destroy the Polish intelligentsia”. According to secretly prepared wanted lists ( Sonderfahndungsbuch Poland ), they murdered around 60,000 Polish citizens by the end of 1939, including teachers, doctors, lawyers, professors, Catholic priests and bishops as well as representatives of parties and unions of the Polish labor movement .

Around 7,000 Polish Jews also fell victim to these massacres . They were not only murdered as members of Polish elites, but also indiscriminately in order to drive the survivors into the Soviet sphere of influence. Less known are the murders of patients in psychiatric institutions, for the first time in Kocborowo on September 22nd. They are regarded as the preliminary to the euthanasia murders that began in Germany in January 1940 . In addition, the “ Volksdeutsche Selbstschutz ”, a militia that later belonged to the SS and consisted mainly of Germans living in Poland, carried out mass murders of Poles as a “settlement” for Polish pre-war attacks on “Volksdeutsche”. Members of the Wehrmacht, the Danzig Heimwehr , the SD and the SS were involved.

At this point in time, the cooperation between the groups of perpetrators was usually not yet centrally controlled and coordinated, but it was ideologically intentional and based on the National Socialist worldview. Even before the war began, Hitler had signaled to his military leaders that he was aiming for the “physical extermination” of the Polish population and that tens of thousands of representatives of Poland's intellectual, social and political elite were to be murdered. The German soldiers were indoctrinated to view the Polish civilian population as " subhumans " and Jews as Eastern barbarians. Hitler wanted to "Germanize" the conquered Polish territories as quickly as possible and thereby assimilate "racially valuable" Poles. The Slavic Poles, on the other hand, were to be combined in the General Government and, with strict racial demarcation, were to become uneducated forced laborers for the Germans.

War crimes

Prisoners of War Shot in
Ciepielów (September 9, 1939)

By the end of the military administration on October 25, 1939, according to Polish investigations, mostly based on eyewitness reports, 16,376 people were shot in 714 actions in Poland. Wehrmacht soldiers committed around 60 percent of the attacks against the population. Apart from the fighting, more than 3,000 Polish soldiers were murdered by German soldiers who were denied the right to defend themselves against the German invaders and were denied combatant status, for example in the Ciepielów massacre . According to many reports, Jewish soldiers in particular were singled out immediately after their capture and murdered on the spot or systematically singled out and treated worse in the POW camps according to an order of the OKW of February 16, 1939. In September 1939, the Wehrmacht abused Jews in Volhynia and set synagogues on fire. These were war crimes under the then valid international war law , which Germany recognized in 1934 with the signing of the Geneva Prisoners of War Convention on July 27, 1929.

Although a harsh criminal ordinance against “willful exploitation of the exceptional circumstances caused by the course of the war” had been issued in the Reich on September 5, 1939, members of the Wehrmacht committed massive amounts of looting and some rapes . For Jochen Böhler , this was "both an expression of deep contempt for the Slavic population and indifference to the suffering they caused."

It is also assumed that in September 1939 between 4,000 and 5,000 Polish citizens of the German minority perished or were killed. The Nazi propaganda increased tenfold the originally stated total number of civilian victims for the autumn of 1939 to 58,000. The victims at the " Bromberger Blutsonntag " on 3/4. September murdered: Realistic estimates assume 300 to 500 German victims. In retaliation for this, Einsatzgruppe IV murdered 1,306 Poles - clergy, Jews, women and young people - between 7 and 12 September in Bromberg, according to eyewitness reports. Further murders and occupation crimes against tens of thousands of Poles in the area around Bydgoszcz were also justified by the Polish act.

Some German army generals protested against the "wilderness", and courts-martial initiated some investigations into the murders of Jews and Poles. But Hitler declared in September that he could not wage war with " Salvation Army methods". On October 4, 1939, together with Keitel and Roland Freisler, he had the proceedings discontinued through the pardon after the Polish campaign and amnestied the perpetrators.

Many war diaries of German soldiers report on activities of "gangs" and " irregulars ", the German convoy departments were attacked. However, these were often scattered regular units of the Polish army, which had cut off rapidly advancing Wehrmacht units from their units. Many murders of Polish civilians were reported as part of anti-partisan efforts.

Other war crimes within the meaning of international law at the time were the bombing of undefended Polish cities. According to British newspaper reports and information from the Polish Information Office in London , the German Air Force is said to have dropped bombs filled with poison gas on the Warsaw suburbs on September 3, 1939. Victims were not named.

German occupation

Partition of Poland in 1939 by the aggressors Germany and the USSR

On October 4th, Germany and the Soviet Union laid down the exact border line with which they divided the Polish area among themselves in an additional protocol to the German-Soviet border and friendship treaty of September 28, 1939. The areas of eastern and southern Poland conquered up to this line became the German general government , the former German eastern areas and large parts of central Poland, which had been revoked in the Versailles Peace Treaty in 1919, were annexed in the spirit of the "rounding-off" aimed at by Hitler. The Soviet side agreed to this.

With the abolition of all existing Polish administrative authorities, district governments, political organizations and the establishment of new administrative districts, for which Hitler appointed administrative heads subordinate to the OKH, the occupation regime completely dissolved the nation-state of Poland. The executive in the Generalgouvernement formally left it to the army command, whose troops they secured. In fact, however, the Chief of the General Staff was occupied almost exclusively with the conduct of operations, while the administration was directed from Berlin, largely with simple ordinances.

The German occupation policy aimed at "Germanization" as quickly as possible. Around 200,000 Jews fled from the Germans to Soviet-occupied eastern Poland, increasing their number there from 1.2 to 1.4 million. By the end of 1939, around 90,000 Jews and Poles had been expelled from the annexed areas to the Generalgouvernement, and by 1945 a total of 900,000. The remaining Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. About 400,000 total in their place German nationals from the " Old Reich " and 600,000 ethnic German from all over Eastern Europe settled in occupied Poland. These violent measures were in turn accompanied in many places by arbitrary mass shootings.

Government in exile and Polish resistance

In total, around 140,000 Polish military personnel fled to Romania, Hungary or Lithuania, where they were interned in many cases under German pressure . The Polish government was interned in Romania on September 17, 1939 after they had fled. Thereupon President Ignacy Mościcki resigned. His office was taken over by Władysław Raczkiewicz , who lived in exile in France and who in October constituted a Polish government in exile. The first seat of government was Paris, later Angers. In the following year he had an army in exile set up and a National Council in Paris to replace the disbanded Sejm . Many Poles who fled to third countries subsequently managed to flee further to France and to strengthen the new Polish armed forces. These troops, in association with Allied troops, participated in many important operations of World War II.

Despite requests from Roosevelt and Churchill to the contrary, Stalin declared on April 25, 1943 that relations with the Poles in exile had broken off. As the provisional government of Poland, the Soviet Union openly supported the Lublin Committee established in its sphere of influence from around January 1945 .

As a result of the brutal German policy of repression, a broad resistance against the German occupying power also formed in Poland itself . A real " underground state " was created, which opposed the racist occupation policy of the Germans with a secretly produced press and a conspiratorial system for higher education. The military efforts of the Polish resistance culminated in 1944 under the aegis of the government- in- exile in an attempt to liberate the capital Warsaw by its own forces before the approaching Soviet troops. This ultimately unsuccessful Warsaw Uprising since August 1 ended with an armistice agreed on October 1, 1944. This was followed by the deportation of the still living civilian population of the city, many to concentration camps, and the systematic destruction of Warsaw by the German Wehrmacht.

Polish forces side with the Red Army

Some of the prisoners of war of 1939 who survived the Soviet gulags formed the army of General Władysław Anders in 1941 during the temporary collaboration with Joseph Stalin , which came about at the urging of Great Britain . This army took up the fight against the Germans again via Persia and Palestine . It was used in North Africa and Italy . From 1943 onwards, other Poles were integrated into the 1st Polish Army of General Zygmunt Berling , which was set up by the Soviets, and from 1944 they fought on the Eastern Front . A 2nd and 3rd Polish Army was set up later.

The attack on Poland and the Nuremberg Trial

Back row from left: Karl Dönitz, Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach, Fritz Sauckel, Alfred Jodl, Franz von Papen, Arthur Seyß-Inquart, Albert Speer, Konstantin von Neurath, Hans Fritzsche. Front row from left: Hermann Göring, Rudolf Heß, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Julius Streicher, Walther Funk and Hjalmar Schacht.

With the attack on Poland, the German Reich not only had the I.  Hague Agreement for the peaceful settlement of disputes and the III. Hague agreements on the start of hostilities, both of October 18, 1907, broken, but also the arbitration treaty it concluded with Poland in Locarno on October 16, 1925 , and the declaration of non-aggression of January 26, 1934 . The German annexation of the Free City of Danzig violated the Versailles Treaty. The German war of aggression also disregarded the Briand-Kellogg Pact of 1928.

In the Nuremberg trial of the major war criminals from November 15, 1945 to October 1, 1946, the attack on Poland was taken into account on charges of 1) conspiracy against world peace and 2) planning, unleashing and conducting a war of aggression. The defendants Karl Dönitz (2), Wilhelm Frick (2), Walter Funk (2), Hermann Göring (1 + 2), Rudolf Heß (1 + 2), Alfred Jodl (1 + 2), Wilhelm Keitel (1 + 2 ), Konstantin von Neurath (1 + 2), Erich Raeder (1 + 2), Joachim von Ribbentrop (1 + 2), Alfred Rosenberg (1 + 2) and Arthur Seyß-Inquart (2) were convicted.

The conviction was based on the total breach of the ius ad bellum under Article 6a of the London Statute of August 8, 1945, according to which planning and conducting a war of aggression were crimes against peace. In response to the defense's objection that such a judgment contradicts the principle of " nullum crimen sine lege ", the Nuremberg Main War Crimes Tribunal stated:

“To claim that it is unjust to punish those who, in violation of treaties and insurance, have attacked their neighboring states without warning, is clearly incorrect, because under such circumstances the attacker must know that he is doing wrong, and far from it That it would not be unjust to punish him, it would rather be unjust to allow his crimes to be punished. Given the position the defendants occupied in the government of Germany, they, or at least some of them, must be aware of the treaties signed by Germany declaring war illegal as a means of settling international disputes; they must have known that they were acting in defiance of all international law when they carried out their intentions of invasion and attack with full forethought. "

To the reception after 1945

In January 1946, the new communist rulers passed a decree entitled “On Responsibility for the Defeat in September and the Fascization of State Life”. This document outlined the main direction of the communist “politics of remembrance” for about ten years. “The reason for the defeat in September” was “the criminal Sanacja regime and the illegal actions of its leaders at the time”. These had "by weakening the material and spiritual defenses of the nation" promoted the spread of fascism and were therefore complicit in the war.

Martin Sabrow wrote in 2009 that there were "taboos and blind spots" in the war memory of West Germany and East Germany:

“In the west, the mass murders backed by the Wehrmacht and carried out with their participation behind the front in the east and the extermination of the intellectual elites in Poland and Russia remained practically hidden for decades, [...] also the communist resistance against Hitler's rule and the participation of the German society at the National Socialist break in civilization. "

See also



  • Walther Hofer : The unleashing of the Second World War. Lit Verlag, Vienna [u. a.] 2007, ISBN 978-3-8258-0383-4 (based on Hofer's book Die Entfesselung des Second World War. A study of international relations in the summer of 1939. DVA 1954 or on his habilitation thesis Die Europäische Mächte und der Ausbruch des Second World War. FU Berlin , 1952).
  • Tomasz Lubienski: 1939. Poland was not yet lost. Edition.fotoTAPETA, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-940524-08-9 (Original title: 1939 Zaczelo sie we wrzesniu. Translated by Antje Ritter-Jasinska.)
  • Erwin Oberländer (Ed.): Hitler-Stalin Pact. The end of East Central Europe? Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1989, ISBN 3-596-24434-X .
  • Manfred Messerschmidt : Foreign Policy and Preparations for War. In: Wilhelm Deist , Manfred Messerschmidt, Hans-Erich Volkmann and Wolfram Wette: The German Reich and the Second World War , Vol. 1: Causes and requirements of German war policy , published by the Military History Research Office , DVA , Stuttgart 1979, ISBN 3-421- 01934-7 .
  • Horst Rohde: Hitler's first "Blitzkrieg" and its effects on Northeast Europe. In: Klaus A. Maier , Horst Rohde, Bernd Stegemann, Hans Umbreit: The German Reich and the Second World War, Vol. 2: The establishment of hegemony on the European continent , published by the Military History Research Office, DVA, Stuttgart 1979, ISBN 3- 421-01935-5 , pp. 79-156. (during the planning and deployment phase, less fighting)
  • Herbert Schindler: Mosty and Dirschau 1939 - Two hand strokes by the Wehrmacht before the start of the Polish campaign. Rombach, Freiburg 1971, ISBN 3-7930-0151-2 . (on two commando companies of August 26, 1939)
  • Günter Wollstein : The Policy of National Socialist Germany towards Poland 1933–1939 / 45. In: M. Funke (Ed.): Hitler, Germany and the Powers - Material on the foreign policy of the Third Reich. Düsseldorf 1976.

Course of war

  • The Second World War on the map. Volume 1: The Polish Campaign. A situation atlas of the operations department of the General Staff of the Army. Scale 1: 3000000. Biblio-Verlag, 1989, ISBN 3-7648-1760-7 .
  • Rolf Elble : The Battle of the Bzura in September 1939 from a German and a Polish point of view. Freiburg 1975, ISBN 3-7930-0174-1 . (on the differences between the armies and a Polish operation)
  • Janusz Piekałkiewicz : Polish campaign. Hitler and Stalin smash the Polish Republic. Augsburg 1998, ISBN 3-86047-907-5 . (on the Polish point of view, with many previously unknown images and contemporary documents)
  • Bertil Stjernfelt, Klaus-Richard Böhme: Westerplatte 1939. Rombach, Freiburg 1978, ISBN 3-7930-0182-2 . (Standard work)
  • Jochen Böhler : The attack. Germany's war against Poland. Eichborn, Frankfurt am Main 2009, ISBN 3-8218-5706-4 .

War propaganda and self-portrayal of Hitler

  • Wolfram Pyta: Hitler. The artist as politician and general. Siedler, Munich 2015.
  • Christoph Raichle: Hitler as a symbol politician. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2014.

War crimes


  • Christoph Kleßmann (Ed.): September 1939. War, occupation, resistance in Poland. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1997, ISBN 3-525-33559-8 .
  • John Mosier: The Blitzkrieg Myth: How Hitler and the Allies Misread the Strategic Realities of World War II. HarperCollins, 2004, ISBN 0-06-000977-2 .
  • Jan T. Gross: Revolution from Abroad: The Soviet Conquest of Poland's Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia. Princeton University Press 2002, ISBN 0-691-09603-1 .


  • Alexander Hogh, Jean-Christoph Caron (Director): Poland 39. How German soldiers became murderers. TV documentary, Germany, 2019, 52 min., ZDF

Web links

Commons : German invasion of Poland 1939  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Commons : Polish Defense War 1939  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files
Wiktionary: Poland campaign  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Rüdiger Overmans : German military losses in World War II. 3rd edition, Oldenbourg, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-486-20028-3 , p. 53 f.
  2. a b Rolf-Dieter Müller : The Second World War, 1939–1945. In: Wolfgang Benz (Hrsg.): Handbuch der deutschen Geschichte , Volume 21, 10th, completely revised edition, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-608-60021-3 , p. 69.
  3. MGFA (ed.): The German Reich and the Second World War . Stuttgart 1979, Volume 2, p. 133.
  4. ^ Mark WA Axworthy: Axis Slovakia: Hitler's Slavic Wedge, 1938–1945. Axis Europa Books, Bayside, NY 2002, ISBN 1-891227-41-6 , p. 81.
  5. MGFA (ed.): The German Reich and the Second World War . Stuttgart 1979, Volume 2, p. 133.
  6. ^ Jürgen Heyde: History of Poland. 3rd edition, Beck, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-406-50885-1 , p. 92 f.
  7. ^ Richard Blanke: Orphans of Versailles: The Germans in Western Poland 1918–1939. University of Kentucky Press, Lexington / KY 1993, ISBN 0-8131-1803-4 , pp. 21 f.
  8. Klaus Hildebrand : The past realm. German foreign policy from Bismarck to Hitler 1871–1945. (1995) Oldenbourg, Munich 2008, ISBN 3-421-06691-4 , pp. 460-469.
  9. Klaus Hildebrand: The Past Reich , Munich 2008, p. 496 .
  10. ^ Rüdiger Wolfrum, Norbert J. Prill, Jens A. Brückner (editors): Handbook United Nations [A publication by the research center of the German Society for the United Nations, Bonn] Walter de Gruyter Verlag , Berlin 2016, p. 131 .
  11. Hans-Ulrich Thamer: Seduction and violence. Germany 1933–1945. Siedler, Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-256-83175-3 , p. 124 ff.
  12. ^ Rolf-Dieter Müller: The enemy is in the east. Hitler's secret plans for war against the Soviet Union in 1939 . Ch. Links, Berlin 2011, ISBN 3-86153-617-X , p. 41 f.
  13. Klaus Hildebrand: The Past Reich , Munich 2008, pp. 586–590, quotation p. 589.
  14. Gottfried Schramm: The change of course of the German Poland policy after Hitler came to power. In: Roland G. Foerster (Ed.): "Enterprises Barbarossa" - On the historical site of German-Soviet relations from 1933 to autumn 1941. (1993) De Gruyter / Oldenbourg, Munich 2015, ISBN 3-486-55979-6 , P. 27.
  15. ^ Gerhard L. Weinberg: Hitler's Foreign Policy 1933–1939. The Road to World War II. Enigma, New York 2010, ISBN 1-929631-91-X , p. 55.
  16. See Rolf-Dieter Müller: The enemy is in the east. Hitler's secret plans for a war against the Soviet Union in the year 1939. Ch. Links, Berlin 2011, p. 47 with reference to Karina Pryt: Befehlefreundschaft . German-Polish cultural relations 1934–1939. Fiber, Osnabrück 2010, ISBN 3-938400-53-6 .
  17. Beate Kosmala: Article “Poland”. In: Wolfgang Benz, Hermann Graml, Hermann Heiss (Hrsg.): Encyclopedia of National Socialism . Stuttgart 1997, p. 642 f.
  18. ^ Jörg K. Hoensch : The Hitler-Stalin Pact and Poland. In: Erwin Oberländer (Ed.): Hitler-Stalin Pact. The end of East Central Europe? , Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1990, ISBN 3-596-24434-X , p. 46 f.
  19. ^ Jörg K. Hoensch: The Hitler-Stalin Pact and Poland. In: Erwin Oberländer (ed.): Hitler-Stalin-Pakt , Frankfurt am Main 1990, pp. 45–47.
  20. ^ Klaus Hildebrand: The past realm , Stuttgart 1996, p. 678 f.
  21. See Stanisław Mackiewicz: O Anyastej - powiada aktor - sztuka jest skończona. Polityka Józefa Becka. London 1942, pp. 258-259; Piotr Zychowicz: Pact Ribbentrop-Beck. Historia, Poznań 2012, ISBN 83-7510-921-5 , pp. 51–53.
  22. ^ Jean-Baptiste Duroselle : La décadence (1932-1939) , Imprimerie nationale, Paris 1979, p. 460.
  23. Richard Overy : The Last Ten Days. Europe on the eve of World War II . Munich 2009, p. 18 f.
  24. Horst Rohde: Hitler's first "Blitzkrieg" and its effects on Northeast Europe. In: Klaus A. Maier, Horst Rohde, Bernd Stegemann, Hans Umbreit: The German Reich and the Second World War, Volume 2: The establishment of hegemony on the European continent. Military History Research Office (Ed.), Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1979, ISBN 3-421-01935-5 , p. 82.
  25. Richard Overy: The Last Ten Days. Europe on the eve of World War II - August 24 to September 3, 1939. Random House, 2009, ISBN 3-641-03298-9 , p. 8 .
  26. ^ Jean-Baptiste Duroselle : Politique étrangère de la France. La decadence 1932–1939. Seuil, Paris 1979, ISBN 2-02-006347-6 , pp. 428-435.
  27. Winfried Baumgart : On Hitler's address to the leaders of the Wehrmacht on August 22, 1939. A source-critical investigation. In: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte . Volume 16, 1968, No. 2, pp. 120-149; Quotations p. 133 and 145 ( PDF ).
  28. Donald Cameron Watt : How War Came. The Immediate Origins of the Second World War, 1938-1939 . Pantheon Books, New York 1989, p. 463 f.
  29. Donald Cameron Watt: How War Came. The Immediate Origins of the Second World War, 1938-1939 . Pantheon Books, New York 1989, p. 466 f.
  30. Donald Cameron Watt: How War Came. The Immediate Origins of the Second World War, 1938-1939 . Pantheon Books, New York 1989, p. 479.
  31. Donald Cameron Watt: How War Came. The Immediate Origins of the Second World War, 1938-1939 . Pantheon Books, New York 1989, pp. 494 f.
  32. Donald Cameron Watt: How War Came. The Immediate Origins of the Second World War, 1938-1939 . Pantheon Books, New York 1989, pp. 502-516.
  33. Donald Cameron Watt: How War Came. The Immediate Origins of the Second World War, 1938-1939 . Pantheon Books, New York 1989, pp. 518-526.
  34. Walther Hofer: The unleashing of the Second World War. Presentation and documents. (1955) Droste, Düsseldorf 1984, ISBN 3-7700-0907-X , pp. 95-103 .
  35. ^ Mario R. Dederichs: Heydrich: The Face of Evil. Casemate Publishers, 2009, ISBN 1-935149-12-1 , p. 89.
  36. Jochen Böhler: Introduction. In: Adolf Hitler, declaration of the Reich government before the German Reichstag, September 1, 1939. In: 100 (0) key documents on German history in the 20th century .
  37. Thomas Kees: "Polish Abominations" - The Third Reich's propaganda campaign against Poland. Diploma thesis, Saarland University, March 1994 (PDF; 912 kB) .
  38. Christian Hartmann: Halder: Chief of Staff of Hitler's 1938–1942. Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 1991, ISBN 3-506-77484-0 , p. 128.
  39. Cajus Bekker : Attack Height 4000: A war diary of the German air force. Pavillon, 2003, ISBN 3-453-87098-0 , p. 14.
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  41. Herbert Schindler: Mosty and Dirschau 1939 - Two hand strokes by the Wehrmacht before the start of the Polish campaign. (1971) Rombach, Freiburg 2001, ISBN 3-7930-0151-2 , pp. 25-29.
  42. Horst Rhode: Hitler's first "Blitzkrieg" and its effects on Northeast Europe. In: Klaus A. Maier, Horst Rhode, Bernd Stegemann, Hans Umbreit: The establishment of hegemony on the European continent. DVA, Stuttgart 1979, pp. 79–156, here: The Polish Operations and Deployment Plan, pp. 104–110 (Military History Research Office (ed.): The German Reich and the Second World War, Volume 2 ).
  43. ^ Hermann Graml: Europe's way to war. Hitler and the Powers 1939. Oldenbourg, Munich 1990, pp. 184–186, quotation p. 185.
  44. Horst Rhode: Hitler's first "Blitzkrieg" and its effects on Northeast Europe. In: Klaus A. Maier, Horst Rhode, Bernd Stegemann, Hans Umbreit: The establishment of hegemony on the European continent. DVA, Stuttgart 1979, pp. 79–156, here: The Polish Operations and Deployment Plan , pp. 108 f.
  45. ^ Hermann Graml: Europe's way to war. Hitler and the Powers 1939. Oldenbourg, Munich 1990, p. 188.
  46. ^ Hermann Graml: Europe's way to war. Hitler and the Powers 1939. Oldenbourg, Munich 1990, p. 187.
  47. a b Horst Rhode: Hitler's first "Blitzkrieg" and its effects on Northeast Europe. In: Klaus A. Maier, Horst Rhode, Bernd Stegemann, Hans Umbreit: The establishment of hegemony on the European continent. DVA, Stuttgart 1979, pp. 79–156, here: The Polish Operations and Deployment Plan , pp. 104–107.
  48. Horst Rhode: Hitler's first "Blitzkrieg" and its effects on Northeast Europe. In: Klaus A. Maier, Horst Rhode, Bernd Stegemann, Hans Umbreit: The establishment of hegemony on the European continent. DVA, Stuttgart 1979, pp. 79–156, here: The Polish Operations and Deployment Plan , p. 107.
  49. Horst Rhode: Hitler's first "Blitzkrieg" and its effects on Northeast Europe. In: Klaus A. Maier, Horst Rhode, Bernd Stegemann, Hans Umbreit: The establishment of hegemony on the European continent. DVA, Stuttgart 1979, pp. 79–156, here: The Polish Operations and Deployment Plan , p. 109 f.
  50. Horst Rhode: Hitler's first "Blitzkrieg" and its effects on Northeast Europe. In: Klaus A. Maier, Horst Rhode, Bernd Stegemann, Hans Umbreit: The establishment of hegemony on the European continent. DVA, Stuttgart 1979, pp. 79–156, here: The Polish Operations and Deployment Plan , p. 110.
  51. Instruction of the Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht Adolf Hitler for the attack on Poland ("Fall Weiß") of August 31, 1939 , in: (ed.)
  52. ^ Thomas Urban : Poland: Portrait of a neighbor , CH Beck (Beck'sche Reihe Volume 6043), Munich 2012, ISBN 3-406-63326-9 , p. 14 f.
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  54. Jens Mattern, Hans Michael Kloth: The beginning of the war in 1939: Stukas via Wielun , one day , August 26, 2009.
  55. Jochen Böhler : The Destruction of the Neighborhood - The Beginnings of the War of Extermination in Poland in 1939. In: Mike Schmeitzner , Katarzyna Stokłosa: Partner or Counterparty? German-Polish neighborhood in the century of dictatorships. Central and East Central European Studies Vol. 8, Lit Verlag, Berlin 2008, ISBN 3-8258-1254-5 , p. 82 f.
  56. ^ Joachim Trenkner: Second World War: Destroyed target , Die Zeit 07/2003.
  57. ^ Chr. Zentner: The Second World War 1939-1945: The campaign in Poland. In: The Second World War - data, facts, comments. 3rd edition 2003, p. 27.
  58. Quoted from Ian Kershaw : Hitler 1936–1945 (=  Hitler ; Vol. 2), Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 2000, p. 313; see. also Adolf Hitler, declaration of the Reich Government before the German Reichstag, September 1, 1939 on .
    According to Hans-Erich Volkmann , there was no time difference between Poland and Germany in 1939, since summer time was only introduced here on April 1, 1940, and the war began at 4:45 a.m. according to German and Polish times: Hitler's time was given a slip of the tongue. (H.-E. Volkmann: Wolfram von Richthofen, the destruction of Wieluń and the international law of war. In: Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift 70 (2011), Issue 2, pp. 287–328, here pp. 288 f.)
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  119. - videos , media library; Original Sept. 2019 at .