Wednesday, September 2, 2015

World War Wednesdays: The Invasion of Poland, 1 September, 1939

     Yesterday marked 76 years since the German invasion of Poland in 1939. As we know now in hindsight, that day was the spark that set in motion the events of the Second World War. Millions of people watched helplessly as the world seemed to spiral out of control in the chaos of a single day. For me, this anniversary now holds a more personal connection, though I can still never come close to imagining what was happening in Poland 76 years ago.

     According to Adolf Hitler, the conquest of Poland would mean an increase in Lebensraum (living space) to the "racially superior" German people, who would colonize the territory and enslave the inferior Slavic people. This policy had already been carried out against Austria with its annexation in 1938 and the occupation of the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia in 1939, and Hitler hoped that the Polish conquest would be met with similar tolerance from the world powers.

     In order to limit the possibility that the USSR would provide aid to Poland, Germany signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union on 23 August, 1939 with a secret clause that would have Poland divided between them. The invasion was postponed when Britain signed a new treaty promising protection for Poland in the event of attack, so to forestall British intervention Hitler used propaganda to allege persecution of German-speakers in eastern Poland. Polish troops began to be called up in fear of imminent attack, but they were persuaded by France and Britain to postpone mobilization in a final attempt to stop the war.

German troops parade through Warsaw after the invasion of Poland 
     On 1 September, some 1.5 million German troops invaded Poland along its border with German-controlled territory. The Polish army, which had hastily mobilized one million men, staged a valiant offensive campaign, but was no match for the sophisticated German "Blitzkrieg" strategy. On 3 September, war was declared on Germany by Britain, Australia, India, New Zealand, and France, and by 17 September all hope was lost for Poland. Its government and military leaders fled the occupied country the next day.

     I consider myself extremely lucky to have a dear friend who can tell me exactly what 1 September, 1939 was like as a young Polish citizen (from Silesia in the west, bordering Germany). The day was sunny and hot, with not a cloud in the sky. When they saw the first planes, everyone thought that the Polish air force must be doing a training exercise. It wasn't until they got closer that they realized the planes were from the German Luftwaffe, and then people began running from their houses shouting that they were being attacked and war had begun.

     It is amazing to me to hear these stories in the context of what had been a perfectly normal and happy life up until that moment. I recently came across this picture, which really solidifies how sudden the events were on that day. These chairs were laid out on 1 September, 1939 for a wedding. When the Germans invaded, the wedding was abandoned, with the chairs still set up. Eventually, trees grew up through them, adding to the eeriness of the scene. They are repainted every year as a monument to the lives forever changed that day.

     As with all aspects of the Second World War, the significant events can be broken down and analyzed from the perspective and experiences of individuals whose lives were changed because of them. This is what allows people to better connect with what really happened, and to understand it on a human level. This is my focus for my historical studies, my writing for these posts, and my everyday life!
     Thanks for reading,

  Delany Leitch

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