1939: Germany attacked Poland: The plight of the people

This is an album which shows the human side of the Second World War. What the people of Poland went through when Germany attacked Poland and overran it within a month.

The German attack was ruthless. the world had a taste of it earlier when Germany had attacked and overrun countries in Western Europe. On September 1, 1939, Poland was the country which had a taste of blitzkrieg.
In another incident, in Obluze, near Gdynia, the smashing-in of a window in the local police station resulted in the arrest of fifty Polish schoolboys. When they refused to name the culprit, their parents were ordered to beat them in front of the local church. The parents refused, so the SS men beat the boys with their rifle-butts then shot ten of them, leaving their bodies lying in front of the church for a whole day.

The Polish army was no match for the Germans with their latest weapons and naked aggression.
"Póki swiat swiatem, Polak Niemcowi nie bedzie bratem." This is a Polish proverb, and translated into English it means: "As long as the world will exist, the Pole will never be the German's brother." While the age of this proverb cannot be traced precisely, it is reflected by a recent poll (1989) taken amongst students of three educational establishments in Warsaw, where only four of 135 fourth-graders [ten-year-olds!] declared having amicable feelings toward the German people. Half of the students questioned considered the Germans to be cruel, spiteful and bloodthirsty. One of the students wrote: "The Germans are as bad as wild animals. Such a people oughtn't even to exist. And now they even want to unite!"2 One year later, in 1990, the then Polish Prime Minister Lech Walesa made his feelings towards his German neighbors publicly known: "I do not even shrink from a statement that is not going to make me popular in Germany: if the Germans destabilize Europe anew, in some way or other, then partition is no longer what will have to be resorted to, but rather that country will have to be erased from the map, pure and simple. East and West have at their disposal the advanced technology necessary to carry this verdict out."

Lower-ranking German soldiers were fuelled by fear, contempt and rage as they encountered Polish resistance. In many units, officers gave pep-talks before the invasion, underlining the barbarism, bestiality and sub humanity of the Poles. Corporal Franz Ortner, a rifle-man, railed in a report against what he called the ‘brutalized’ Poles, who had, he thought, bayoneted the German wounded on the battlefield. A private, writing a letter home,described Polish actions against ethnic Germans as ‘brutish’. Poles were ‘insidious’, ‘treacherous’, ‘base’; they were mentally subnormal, cowardly,fanatical; they lived in ‘stinking holes’ instead of houses; and they were under the ‘baleful influence of Jewry’. Soldiers waxed indignant about the conditions in which Poles lived: ‘Everywhere foul straw, damp, pots and flannels’, wrote one of a Polish home he entered, confirming everything he had heard about the backwardness of the Poles

Initially the Polish put up a fight. In the image hopeful Polish civilians march to welcome Britain's declaration of war on Germany.

A few days later, on 10 September 1939, Gerhard M.’s unit was fired on from another Polish village and set the houses alight.Soon burning houses were lining our route, and out of the flames there sounded the screams of the people who had hidden in them and were unable any more to rescue themselves. The animals were bellowing in fear of death, a dog howled until it was burned up, but worst of all was the screaming of the people. It was dreadful. It’s still ringing in my ears even today. But they shot at us and so they deserved death

Source: Scribd


The Germanization of the incorporated territories began when 88,000 Poles and Jews were arrested in Posen in the first half of December 1939, taken by train to the General Government and dumped there on arrival. Fit and able-bodied men were separated out and taken to Germany as forced labourers.None of them received any compensation for the loss of their homes, their property, their businesses or their assets. The conditions of their deportation,in the middle of winter, with inadequate clothing and supplies, in unheated freight trucks, were murderous. When one trainload arrived in Cracow in mid-December 1939, the receiving officials had to take off the bodies of forty children who had frozen to death on the journey


For all his resentment against the independent power of the SS, Frank made sure that Poles were explicitly excluded from the protection of the law. ‘The Pole,’ he said in December 1940, ‘must feel that we are not building him a legal state, but that for him there is only one duty, namely to work and to behave himself.’ Special legal provisions were introduced for Poles in the incorporated territories too, gradually though never completely replacing the arbitrary terror of the early months of German occupation. Poles were subjected to a draconian legal order that prescribed harsher punishments (labour camp, corporal punishment, or the death penalty) for offences that would lead only to imprisonment for German citizens. Appeal was ruled out, and offences such as making hostile remarks about Germans were made punishable by death in some cases. Introduced in December 1941, these measures codified what in fact had been widely carried out in practice in more arbitrary ways, and paralleled the harsh legal measures already introduced in the Reich to deal with Polish and other foreign workers. Poles were second-class citizens, whose inferior position was underlined by a host of local police regulations ordering them to stand aside and remove their hats if Germans passed them on the street, or to serve Germans first in shops and markets


Polish culture was assaulted in the General Government too. On 27 October 1939 the mayor of Warsaw was arrested (he was later shot), and on 6November 182 members of the academic staff of the university and other higher education institutions in Cracow were arrested and taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
Universities, schools, libraries, publishing houses, archives, museums and other centres of Polish culture were closed down.‘The Poles,’ said Frank, ‘do not need universities or secondary schools: the Polish lands are to be changed into an intellectual desert.’‘For the Poles,’ he declared on 31 October 1939, ‘the only educational opportunities that are to be made available are those that demonstrate to them the hopelessness of their ethnic fate.’ Frank only allowed Poles cheap, undemanding entertainment such as sex shows, light opera and drink. Music by Polish composers (including Chopin) was banned, and Polish national monuments were blown up or pulled down

The Polish fire-fighters are all agog to spring into action.

Not only were supposedly suitable Poles reclassified as German, but large numbers of ethnic Germans quickly began to be moved in to take over the farms and businesses from which the Poles had been so brutally expelled. Already in late September 1939, Hitler specifically requested the ‘repatriation’of ethnic Germans in Latvia and Estonia as well as from the Soviet-controlled eastern part of Poland. Over the following months, Himmler took steps to carry out his wishes. Several thousand ethnic Germans were moved into the incorporated areas from the General Government, but most were transported there from areas controlled by the Soviet Union, under a series of international agreements negotiated by Himmler. So many German settlers arrived In the General Government and the incorporated territories in the course of the early 1940s that another 400,000 Poles were thrown out of their homes from March 1941 onwards, without actually being deported, so that the settlers could be provided with accommodation. Over the course of the following months and years, 136,000 ethnic Germans came in from eastern Poland, 150,000 from the Baltic states, 30,000 from the General Government and200,000 from Romania. They were persuaded to leave by the promise of better conditions and a more prosperous life, and the threat of oppression under Soviet Communism or Romanian nationalism. By May 1943 some 408,000 had been resettled in the Wartheland and the other incorporated parts of Poland, and another 74,000 in the Old Reich.

Source: Scribd

The civilians initially fled as the Germans moved in.

But many adults went voluntarily to the incorporated territories, seeing them as an ideal area for colonial settlement. Often they regarded themselves as pioneers. One such was Melita Maschmann, sent as press officer for the Hitler Youth in the Wartheland in November 1939. Noticing the absence of educated people amongst the Polish population, she concluded that the Poles were a miserable, poverty-stricken, underdeveloped people who were incapable of forming a viable state of their own. Their high birth-rate made them a serious threat to the German future, as she had learned from her ‘racialscience’ lessons at school.


Dr Klukowski noted with despair the rapid disintegration of Polish society under the impact of such horrifying levels of violence, destruction and deprivation. Bands of robbers were roaming the countryside, breaking into people’s houses, terrorizing the inhabitants, looting the contents and raping the women. Poles were denouncing each other, mainly for possessing hidden weapons. Many were volunteering for work in Germany, and collaboration was rife. Polish girls were consorting with German soldiers, and prostitution was spreading; by November 1940 Klukowski was treating thirty-two women for venereal diseases in his hospital, and noted that ‘some are young girls also, even as young as sixteen, who were first raped and later started prostitution as the only way to support themselves’. ‘Drunkenness is growing,’ he reported in January 1941, ‘and naturally there are more drunken fights,but it appears that the Germans are rather pleased about it.’ Poles were joining in the looting of Jewish shops, and officers of the prewar Polish police were now working for the Germans. ‘I never expected the morale of the Polish population to sink so low,’ he wrote on 19 February 1940, ‘with such a complete lack of national pride.’ ‘We are lacking a uniform stand against the Germans,’ he complained two months later: ‘all the rumours, intrigues,and denunciations are growing.

The Polish  cavalry units were no match for the German armored divisions. The horse is all that remained of an Polish army unit.

The general atmosphere of racial hatred and contempt encouraged by Hitler’s instructions to the generals before the outbreak of the war gave soldiers clear encouragement to take whatever they wanted from Poland’s Jews. As the German army entered Warsaw, the troops immediately began looting Jewish shops and robbing Jews at gunpoint in the street.

The Jewish schoolmaster Chaim Kaplan recorded in his diary on 6 October 1939 that German troops had broken into his flat and raped his Christian maid (they were not raping Jewish women because of the Nuremberg Laws, he thought -although in practice this did not prove much of a hindrance). Then they beat her to try to get her to reveal where he had hidden his money (he had in fact already removed it). Kaplan recorded how even officers were manhandling Jews in the street and roughly cutting off their beards. They forced Jewish girls to clean public latrines with their blouses, and committed innumerable other acts of sadism against Warsaw’s Jewish inhabitants.

Zygmunt Klukowski recorded many instances of theft and looting by German soldiers, often aided and abetted by local Poles, particularly where Jewish shops and premises were concerned. Theft was often followed by arson and wanton destruction, in which local people, their prejudices fed by years of antisemitic propaganda and indoctrination from Polish nationalists, including senior figures in the Polish Catholic Church, participated with enthusiasm

From Scribd

The Polish soon capitulated. In the image are piles of arms seized from Polish soldiers.

Many Polish civilians died in the fierce German attack.

The Polish soon understood that they had nowhere to flee as Germany and Russia carved up the country. Civilians return to Warsaw.

The German soldiers made searches to capture Polish elements that they perceived as a threat.

Many civilians were executed by the Germans in Poland during the occupation.

Another image of executions of Polish civilians. This was in 1943.

German soldiers round up Polish forced labor in Warsaw, 1942.

German troops rounding up Polish people, at Warsaw, Poland, in 1942

The Warsaw ghetto uprising in August, 1944, was an important event during the occupation. See the article.

More on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
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Points To Ponder


It is difficult to distinguish between the quality of both the German and Russian soldiers. Both were motivated by their love for their motherland. But there were others factors that drove the two sides to such desperate fighting.

One, both sides knew that this was a no-holds bar war. Not fighting was thus not an option.

Second, both Hitler and Stalin had squads that killed any deserter. Turning away from fighting was just not possible.

Thus was seen some of the most bitter, brutal and desperate fighting on the WW2 eastern (Russian) Front.
"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
-- George Santayana


"Be polite; write diplomatically; even in a declaration of war one observes the rules of politeness."
--Otto von Bismarck

"When the enemy advances, withdraw; when he stops, harass; when he tires, strike; when he retreats, pursue.'
--Mao Zedong


"The main thing is to make history, not to write it."
--Otto von Bismarck

"When you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite."
--Winston Churchill


"In time of war the loudest patriots are the greatest profiteers."
--August Bebel

"God is not on the side of the big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best."

Quotes about War....

"Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war."
---Otto von Bismarck


"Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
--Hermann Goering


"To conquer the enemy without resorting to war is the most desirable. The highest form of generalship is to conquer the enemy by strategy."
--Tzu Sun

"All men are brothers, like the seas throughout the world; So why do winds and waves clash so fiercely everywhere?"
--Emperor Hirohito