In the aftermath of World War I, the Polish–Lithuanian War broke out due to disputes over territorial claims of the Vilnius and Suwalki Regions. In the midst of this battle was the ongoing war between the Second Republic of Poland (newly emerged as a state after 123 years of oblivion) and Russia, which disputed Polands territorial claims to the east. By July 1920 it seemed that Poland was losing the war with Russia, but its fortunes reversed when Polish troops won a major victory in the Battle of Warsaw resulting in an humiliating defeat for Russian troops. Following the cessation of battle, Poland did not recognize the terms of the Peace Treaty which established the new Lithuanian border, and fighting broke out again in the Suwałki Region. During the Battle of the Niemen River, Poland attacked Lithuania, leaving Vilnius open to an attack. Consequently the League of Nations compelled Poland to sign the Suwałki Agreement on October 7, 1920 by which a new demarcation line was established. However it did not provide protection to Vilnius. The next day, Polish General Lucjan Zeligowski, under the command of Polish Chief of State Jozef Pilsudski, planned a mutiny of his troops and marched on Vilnius demanding the right to self-determination of Poles living in the city. The city of Vilnius was captured and Poland proclaimed it as the Republic of Central Lithuania. After the ceasefire on November 29, the League of Nations mediated but did nothing to change the situation. The status quo was accepted in 1923 and the Republic of Central Lithuania was incorporated into Poland as the Wilno Voivodeship. (There were no diplomatic relations between Poland and Lithuania until the Polish ultimatum of March 17, 1938.)
At the end of August 1939, the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein had sailed to Danzig under the guise of making a "courtesy visit" and laid anchor in the channel just 164 yards (150m) from Westerplatte. Its orders were to launch an attack on Westerplatte on the morning of August 26, 1939, but Hitler postponed the attack due to the Anglo-Polish Mutual Defence Agreement signed on August 25, 1939.
Defence of the Polish Post Office in Danzig: At precisely 04:00 the Germans cut the phone and electricity lines to the building. At 04:45, just as the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein began shelling the nearby Polish Army military outpost at Westerplatte, the Danzig police launched their attack on the Polish Post Office building, reinforced by local SA formations, the SS units SS Wachsturmbann "E" and SS Heimwehr Danzig, and supported by three police ADGZ heavy armoured cars. Despite being greatly outnumbered, the Polish fighters were able to repel two German attacks. By 11:00 hours, German units had to add reinforcements with two 75 mm artillery pieces and a 105 mm howitzer. But despite additional firepower, and artillery support, their attack was again repulsed by the ferocious Polish fighters. Among the Polish personnel there were 55 postmen, army officers and civilian volunteers, and 1 railwayman fighting against more than 200 SS and SA soldiers, policemen, paramilitaries and regulars. The fighting lasted for fifteen hours. Four of the Polish fighters were able to escape, but the remainder were sentenced to death by a German court martial on October 5, 1939 and executed. They had been charged as being illegal combatants.
Terror in Wielun: On September 1, 1939, at 4:40 am the 29 Junker planes of the Luftwaffe began bombing the Polish medieval town of Wielun. It was the first aerial bombing of World War Two and preceded the attack at Westerplatte by sheer minutes. In a wave of three bombing sorties, the Luftwaffe dropped a total of 380 bombs totaling 46,000 kg, hitting numerous targets in the town including a hospital, killing all patients and staff . German flight logs described the weather as clear "blue sky" which gave German planes full visibility as they strafed Polish women and children in the streets fleeing in terror. German planes destroyed most of the town centre, including a clearly marked hospital and the historic Gothic church, and killed about 1,300 civilians. Over 70% of the town, and over 90 % of the central district were destroyed. The casualty rate was more than twice as high as that of Guernica, Spain (in 1937 ). Nazi propaganda claimed that there was a cavalry unit stationed in Wielun. (nb. Historians of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance had conducted a thorough investigation and concluded that there were no military units stationed in or around the city.)
World War Two Began: On September 1, 1939 at 04:47 hours, the Schleswig-Holstein fired the first salvos at the Polish base at Danzig's Westerplatte, signalling German troops to begin their advance. The Polish garrison numbered only 182 soldiers and 27 civilian reservists while the German SS-Heimweh had a force of 1500 men and 225 marines. The Germans thought it would be an easy victory. It wasn't. Using the single 76.2 mm field gun, the Poles successfully knocked out machine gun nests on top of the warehouses along the canal, but was ultimately destroyed by the ship's guns. Despite being grossly outnumbered the Poles fought against the Germans for seven days, until they finally capitulated. German casualties amounted to 300 to 400 dead or wounded while Polish casualties were 15 to 20 dead and 53 wounded. Even before the war ended, the Battle of Westerplatte became the symbol of the Polish resistance and was embued in Polish folklore and spirit of the Polish people.
Proclamation by Hitler to the German Army: (Translated) "The Polish State has refused the peaceful settlement of relations which I desired, and has appealed to arms. Germans in Poland are persecuted with bloody terror and driven from their houses. A series of violations of the frontier, intolerable to a great Power, prove that Poland is no longer willing to respect the frontier of the Reich. In order to put an end to this lunacy, I have no other choice than to meet force with force from now on. The German Army will fight the battle for the honour and the vital rights of reborn Germany with hard determination. I expect that every soldier, mindful of the great traditions of eternal German soldiery, will ever remain conscious that he is a representative of the National-Socialist Greater Germany. Long live our people and our Reich!"
Without any declaration of war, Hitlers armies attacked Poland along three fronts: along the Poland's western border, from East Prussia in the north, and from the south. Poland's long frontiers and flat plains made conditions suitable for massive mobile operations by the Germans. Poland's border with Germany extended for almost 2,000 km (1,200 miles) and its southern border was lengthened by another 300 km (190 miles) as a result of the Munich Agreement of 1938. (Germany's annexation of Bohemia and Moravia meant that Poland's southern flank was also exposed to invasion.) All three assaults converged on the capital city of Warsaw which came under intensive bombardment, as well as many other cities. The Polish defence plan was based on the understanding that British and French forces would join Poland in the battles. (The Polish-British Common Defence Pact had been signed at the end of August 1939 where Britain gave Poland guarantees to come to its defence in the event of an attack by Germany.) German strength consisted of 60 divisions, 6 brigades, 9,000 guns, 2,750 tanks, 2,315 aircraft. Polish troops consisted of 39 divisions, 16 brigades, 4,300 guns, 880 tanks, and 400 aircraft. Despite being vastly outnumbered in strength and war material, the Polish armies courageously fought against the Germans (and the Soviets, who invaded Poland on September 17, 1939). After having suffered great casualties, Poland finally capitulated on October 6, 1939. The Poles had fought alone, and without any military or material assistance from Britain or France.
Telegram no. 110 from Viscount Halifax to Sir N. Henderson (Berlin). September 1, 1939, 5:45 p. m. ".....Information which has reached His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the French Government indicates that German troops have crossed the Polish frontier and that attacks upon Polish towns are proceeding......I am accordingly to inform your Excellency that unless the German Government are prepared to give His Majesty's Government satisfactory assurances that the German Government have suspended all aggressive action against Poland and are prepared promptly to withdraw their forces from Polish territory, His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom will without hesitation fulfill their obligations to Poland. ....." (nb. Viscount Halifax was British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and Neville Henderson was the Ambassador of the UK to Nazi Germany)
Proclamation by Albert Forster to Germans of Danzig: September 1, 1939. (No. 108) Message broadcast over the German wireless, as follows: (Translation ) "Men and women of Danzig: The hour for which you have been longing for twenty years has come. This day Danzig has returned to the great German Reich. Our Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, has freed us. The Swastika flag, the flag of the German Reich, is flying to-day for the first time from the public buildings of Danzig. It also flies from the former Polish buildings, and everywhere in the harbour, the towers of the ancient town hall and St. Mary's Church. The bells ring in Danzig's hour of liberation. We thank our God that He gave the Fuhrer the power and the opportunity of freeing us from the evil of the Versailles Diktat. We Danzigers are happy to be able to become now citizens of the Reich. Men and women of Danzig, we wish to stand together in this solemn hour and stretch out our hand and take a solemn oath to the Fuhrer to do everything that lies in our power for our glorious Greater Germany. Long live German Danzig, which has been liberated and returned again to the Reich! Long live our great German fatherland!"
Telegram to Hitler from Albert Forster: Forster dispatched a telegram to Hitler in which he confirmed having signed a new constitutional law reuniting Danzig with the Third Reich, and nullifying the legitimate Constitution of the Free City of Danzig. Hitler replied via telegram, as follows, ""I accept the proclamation of the Free State of Danzig concerning the return to the German Reich. I thank you, Gauleiter Forster, and all Danzig men and women for the resolute loyalty....I appoint you herewith as head of the civil administration of Danzig."
German Jews were forced to wear yellow stars on the outside of their clothing at all times. At first, non-Jewish neighbours responded sympathetically but the Ministry of Propaganda and Enlightenment of the Nazi Party launched a massive propaganda campaign in which pamphlets were distributed to the German public instructing them how to respond when encountering their Jewish neighbours wearing the yellow star. The Nazis intended this branding to make Jews immediately identifiable not only to ostracize and humiliate them, but to facilitate their identification for future deportations.
Destruction of Polish icon: During the Warsaw Uprising, the Nazi German's demolished many of Polands greatest treasures, including Sigismund's Column, located in Castle Square, Warsaw. It was erected in 1644 to commemorate King Sigismund II Vasa, who had moved Poland's capital city from Krakow to Warsaw. After the end of World War Two, Sigismund's Column was reconstructed and now stands at 22 metres and is adorned by four eagles. The statue of the king is dressed in armor and carries a cross in one hand and wields a sword in the other.
Protest Letter from George Orwell: "I want to protest against the mean and cowardly attitude adopted by the British press towards the recent rising in Warsaw. ... One was left with the general impression that the Poles deserved to have their bottoms smacked for doing what all the Allied wirelesses had been urging them to do for years past,. ... First of all, a message to English left-wing journalists and intellectuals generally: 'Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Don't imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet régime, or any other régime, and then suddenly return to mental decency. Once a whore, always a whore."
The Monte Cassino Cemetery was consecrated during a multi-faith celebration conducted according to the rites of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Jewish faiths, and was attended by representatives of the Polish Government-in-Exile and of Allied Command. Work commenced in 1944, and was finished in 1946. The Monte Cassino Cemetery is located in a flat area of the mountainous region - between the Monastery and Hill 593. It is the final resting place of 1,072 Polish soldiers who died during the Battle of Monte Cassino. The ashes of General Władysław Anders, Commander of the 2nd Polish Corps, were brought from London, where he had lived in exile, and were interred here on May 18, 1970. Hill 593 was a treacherous obstacle to the allies. (The Germans called the hill Calvary Mount). Despite ferocious fighting of the American infantry 34th Division, they could not capture it. There are many monuments at Monte Cassino honouring the memory of Polish fighters (Christians and Jew). An 11 metre obelisk stands at the top of Hill 593. On it is the dedication, " For Our Freedom and Yours, We Soldiers of Poland, Gave Our Soul to God, Our Life to the Soil of Italy, Our Hearts to Poland."
Wladyslaw Gomulka Died. After the Polish October in 1956, Gomulka became the First Secretary of the Polish United Workers Party, a position which he held until 1970. Initially he received widespread public support for his plans of reforms which he referred to as the "Polish way to socialism", also known as "Gomulka's Thaw", which focused on incorporating greater Polish independence along "local, national socialism" rather than following the Soviet model in every detail. Soviet communism was undergoing a transition since the death of Stalin three years earlier and his successor, Nikita Khrushchev addressed the 20th Congress of the Communist Party in February 1956 giving a scathing speech against Stalin, his cult of personality, and reign of terror. A month later, Boleslaw Bierut, a vanguard of the Stalinist regime had died. In June, worker protests broke out in Poznan, due to the intolerable shortages of food and necessary consumer goods, the bad housing situation, decline of real income, and overall bad management of Poland's economy. It caused a chain reaction of more protests in other Polish cities. The Soviet government called the rioters, "provocateurs, counterrevolutionaries and imperialist agents". About 60 to 80 protesters were killed, while hundreds were wounded and arrested. However, the Soviets reversed their initial threats, raising wages by 50 percent, and promised economic and political changes. There was a surge of public support for the reformers faction, led by Gomulka. His position as First Secretary of the Polish United Workers Party was secure only after he assured the Soviet Union that his reforms would only be internal, and that Poland would not abandon communism, nor challenge its treaties with the Soviets.