Nazi Broadcaster Defends Poland Invasion

Nazi Broadcaster Defends Poland Invasion

Putin’s Big Lie

In a series of comments in late December, the Russian president appeared to blame Poland for the outbreak of the Second World War.

About the author: Anne Applebaum is a staff writer at The Atlantic, a fellow at the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University, and the author of Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism.

In the opening scene of the most famous Polish movie of the past two decades, a crowd of anxious, desperate people—on foot, riding bikes, leading horses, carrying bundles—walks onto a bridge. To their immense surprise, they see another group of anxious, desperate people heading toward them, walking from the opposite direction. “People, what are you doing?!” one man shouts. “Turn back! The Germans are behind us!” But from the other side, someone else shouts, “The Soviets attacked us at dawn!” and both sides keep walking. General confusion ensues.

This scene takes place on September 17, 1939, the day of the Soviet invasion of Poland the Germans had invaded two and a half weeks earlier. The movie is Katyn. The director, the late Andrzej Wajda, had long wanted to film that scene on a bridge, a visual representation of what happened to the whole country in 1939, when Poland was caught between two invading armies whose dictators had jointly agreed to wipe Poland off the map.

Even while that joint invasion was unfolding, both dictators were already lying about it. The agreement to create a new German-Soviet border in the middle of Poland, as well as to consign Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland to a “Soviet sphere of interest,” was part of a secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the nonaggression deal between Hitler and Stalin signed on August 23. The secret protocol was found in Nazi archives after the war, though the Soviet Union went on denying that it existed for many decades.

Each side also manufactured special lies of its own. The Germans sponsored an entire false-flag operation, involving fake Polish soldiers—SS officers in Polish uniforms—who launched an orchestrated attack on a German radio station and broadcast anti-German messages. American newspaper correspondents were summoned to the scene and shown some corpses, which in fact belonged to prisoners, murdered especially for the occasion. This “crime,” together with a few other staged “attacks,” composed Hitler’s formal excuse for the invasion of Poland. On August 22, he told his generals not to worry about the legality of the operation: “I will provide a propagandistic casus belli. Its credibility doesn’t matter. The victor will not be asked whether he told the truth.”

The Soviet invasion of eastern Poland, meanwhile, was never formally described as an invasion at all. Instead, in the words of Corps Commissar S. Kozhevnikov, writing in the Soviet military newspaper Red Star, “the Red Army stretched out the hand of fraternal assistance to the workers of Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia freeing them forever from social and national bondage.” The Soviet Union never admitted to having conquered or annexed the Polish territory: These lands remained part of the U.S.S.R. after the war and are still part of modern Belarus and Ukraine today. Instead, the whole operation was described as a battle conducted on behalf of the “liberated peoples of Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia.”

Readers will, I hope, forgive this long excursion into the past, but it is necessary background to the series of strange and otherwise inexplicable statements made by Russian President Vladimir Putin at several meetings in late December. For in the course of a single week, Putin brought up the subject of Polish responsibility for the Second World War no less than five times. He told a group of Russian businessmen that he was consulting with historians and reading up on Polish diplomacy in the 1930s in order to make this case. At a meeting at the Russian defense ministry, he angrily proclaimed that the Polish ambassador to Nazi Germany in the 1930s—not really, one would think, a person of tremendous relevance—had been “scum” and “an anti-Semite pig.” After yet another meeting with the president, the speaker of the Duma, Russia’s parliament, publicly called for Poland to apologize for starting the war.

If this were some kind of caprice, just a little excursion into obscure events in the distant past, nobody would care. But these kinds of lies have a history of ending in catastrophe. The Soviet ethnic cleansing of eastern Poland and the Baltic states began immediately after the invasion, after all, with the arrest of hundreds of thousands of Poles and Balts and their deportation to settlements and concentration camps in the east. (The Nazi ethnic cleansing of western Poland began immediately too, with the mass arrest of university professors in Krakow, a city that was meant to become ethnically German, and—ominously—the construction of the first ghettos for Polish Jews.)

Back in the Gorbachev era, the Russian state actually apologized for the U.S.S.R.’s role in these atrocities. In 1989, the Soviet Congress of People’s Deputies even declared the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact null and void. But the mood has been changing for some time. Academic defenses of the Hitler-Stalin alliance began appearing again in Russia in 2009, timed to the 70th anniversary of 1939 one collection of essays published at the time even included an approving introduction written by Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister.

Events of this year, which marked the 80th anniversary, may also have reinspired the Russian president. In September, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the pact, as well as the two totalitarianisms that destroyed so much of Europe in the 20th century. That kind of statement rankles Putin, who now holds annual celebrations of World War II Victory Day and uses the war as one of the symbolic justifications for his own authoritarianism. He wants to make Russia not just great again, but “great” precisely as it was “great” in 1945, when the Red Army occupied Berlin.

But that was three months ago. Why stir trouble? Why create bad blood exactly now? After all, things are going rather well for Putin, at least in his relations with the Western world. The American president is a fan pro-Russian, far-right political parties are thriving in Germany, Italy, Austria, and France even moderate Europeans are tiring of the chilly relationship with Russia and are bored with sanctions. Poland, meanwhile, is more isolated than it has been in 30 years. The unique Polish-German relationship, built up over several decades, has been almost totally destroyed by the current populist, nativist Polish government, some of whose members are more anti-European than anti-Russian. More tension is coming. Having packed the constitutional court, the Polish Parliament is now preparing, this month, to vote on a law that could allow the government to fine, or even fire, judges who question the government’s judicial reform, or engage in any political activity at all. This illegal, unconstitutional assault on judicial independence, as well as on judges’ civil rights, will almost certainly bring Poland once again into conflict with its allies.

But maybe, from Putin’s point of view, that makes this a good moment to launch a verbal attack on Poland. The nation is no longer quite so integrated, no longer quite so automatically European, no longer able to count on good German friends—maybe this is an excellent time for the Russian president to cast doubt on Polish history, too. Or, as we have all now learned to say, maybe it is a good moment to cast doubt on Poland’s “narrative”: Victim of the war, victim of communism, triumphant fighter for democracy and freedom—all of that can be thrown into doubt. Later this month, Putin will be the main speaker at an Israeli event to mark the 75th anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of Auschwitz, and that will be another moment to make the same argument. It’s also a good way to test the waters. Just as Poland is on the threshold of a move in the direction of real authoritarianism, Putin wants to see how the world reacts—how Poland reacts—to the idea that Poles and Nazis were more or less the same thing.

If that is the point, Putin may have been pleased. The Polish prime minister reacted, issuing a strong statement, but the Polish president has still not said anything at all. I was in Poland over the Christmas holiday—I am married to a Polish member of the European Parliament—and there was much speculation about why not. Strange though it sounds, the nativist ruling party, although happy to loudly denounce immigrants and gay rights, is actually rather afraid of Russia. Quietly, some of its members and sympathizers even admire Russia for its open racism and its aggressive nationalism. But the international reaction was also weaker than it might have been. True, the German ambassador to Warsaw protested, and the American ambassador to Warsaw responded boldly on Twitter. “Dear President Putin,” she tweeted, “Hitler and Stalin colluded to start WWII, Poland was a victim of this terrible conflict.” The Russian embassy in Warsaw replied, as Russian official Twitter feeds now often do, with a sneering personal insult: “Dear Ambassador, do you really think that you know about history any more than you do about diplomacy?”

But—I know, it’s shocking—there has been no word from the White House, and not much from other European heads of state either. And you can see why: Let’s leave those annoying Poles to squabble with Russia over the war is a temptation that’s hard to refuse, especially during the holidays, and especially now that attention has turned decisively toward the Middle East.

Some think that all this history talk may have other purposes. If Russia wasn’t a perpetrator of the war, after all, then perhaps it was a victim. And victims deserve compensation, surely. Perhaps Russia will now use some leftover historical arguments to claim that it is owed more land in Ukraine. Perhaps Russia, which has had its eye on Belarus for a long time, will use similar arguments to finally make that country, already a dependent state, into a full-fledged province. Only hours after the assassination of General Qassem Soleiman, Russia quietly cut off oil supplies to Belarus as economic talks collapsed, a move that went almost entirely unremarked. And, of course, many in the Baltic states are also deeply unnerved by the new Russian enthusiasm for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, whose secret protocol robbed them of their independence for nearly half a century. Could this be a prelude to another attack on their sovereignty? Or some other atrocity? Lies about the origins of the war have a way of leading to much worse things.

The truth about 'False Flags' from Nazi Germany, to the Vietnam War

On the night of the 31st of August 1939, several covert Nazi operatives dressed as Polish soldiers stormed the Gleiwitz radio tower on the Germany-Poland border. They broadcast a short anti-German message in Polish before leaving. The soldiers left behind the bodies of a pro-Polish German farmer and several unidentifiable Dachau concentration camp prisoners. The farmer and the prisoners had been murdered and dressed up in German uniforms. The attack was part of a series of covert actions along the Polish border that the Nazis would use to justify Germany’s attack on Poland the following day. Gleiwitz was a classic ‘false flag’ operation.

So, what is meant by the term ‘false flag’? Originally, the phrase was coined for the practice of pirate ships flying the colours of other nations to deceive merchant ships into thinking they were dealing with a friendly vessel. While the pirates would usually unfurl their true colours just before attacking, the wrong flag would sometimes continue to be flown throughout an attack, hence the term ‘attacking under a false flag’. Over time, the term ‘false flag’ came to be applied to any covert operation that sought to shift the responsibility on to a different party from the one carrying it out, as was the case with the Nazis at Gleiwitz.

One of the most famous incidents considered by many to be a false flag operation is the Reichstag fire, which took place on the night of the 27th of February 1933. A lone communist sympathizer called Marinus van de Lubbe was arrested and charged with setting fire to the German parliament building. This gave Hitler and his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, the excuse they needed to purge Germany of opposition, especially the communists. The sweeping emergency powers Hitler and the Nazi Party grabbed for themselves after the fire are the reason many people think the Reichstag was burned not by a lone communist protesting Germany’s treatment of the working classes (as van de Lubbe himself claimed while in custody), but by the Nazis themselves.

The United States and Great Britain jointly organized false flag operations during the 1953 Iranian Coup

Of course, it isn’t just the Nazis who stand accused of carrying out false flag operations prior to invasions during the 1930s. In November 1939, the Russian village of Mainila was shelled by an unknown party. The village was close to the border with Finland, and the attack was used as an excuse to break the Soviet Union’s non-aggression pact with the country and launch an invasion into Finland that would later become known as the ‘Winter War’. It was eventually concluded by both British and Russian historians that the shelling of the village was a false flag operation carried out by members of the NKVD – the predecessors to the KGB. As a result of the war between the Soviets and the Finns, Finland sided with Nazi Germany in World War II.

False flag operations carried on throughout the war, but most can be considered to be in the old sense of the word. One of the most famous false flag operations of World War II was the raid on the French drydock of St. Nazaire. There, British commandoes managed to float an explosives-laden old Royal Navy destroyer fitted out to look like a German torpedo boat close enough to the harbour to destroy all key structures in the port upon the destroyer’s detonation.

After the war, the United States and Great Britain jointly organized false flag operations during the 1953 Iranian Coup. The aim of the operations carried out in the country was to deliberately undermine the government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. Mosaddegh had made the mistake of nationalizing Iran’s oil companies. This angered the US and the UK, who jointly decided to launch a series of bombing campaigns against mosques and prominent people that they then blamed on communists sympathetic to the government. Protests grew against Mossadegh, egged on by the CIA and MI6, and Mossadegh was eventually fired from his post by the Shah of Iran and placed under house arrest. He would stay there until his death in 1967. The US refused to admit any involvement in the overthrow of Mosaddegh until 2013.

While questions still hang over the Reichstag fire, one planned operation from the early 1960s would definitely have been a false flag had it not been stopped in its tracks. ‘Operation Northwoods’ was the name given to a proposed covert campaign by the CIA that would have seen acts of terrorism committed against targets and civilians in the United States that could then be blamed on Cuban operatives as a precursor to an invasion of Cuba and the removal of Fidel Castro. Northwoods was proposed to the then US president, John F. Kennedy, but he ultimately rejected the idea.

While Northwoods may have been shelved, one American false flag operation definitely did take place in the ‘60s. On August the 2nd 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox was torpedoed and fired upon by three Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin in the South China Sea. The US’s National Security Agency then fabricated a second false flag attack two days later and the US subsequently passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution through Congress which led to the deployment of ground troops in what would become the calamitous debacle that was the Vietnam War.

To many online conspiracy theorists, the biggest false flag operation of all time was the 9/11 attacks

Of course, it isn’t just the Americans and the Europeans who have been accused of participating in false flag operations over the years. Between 1979 and 1983, the Israeli secret services stand accused of instigating a series of car bomb attacks in Lebanon that killed hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinians. Though the bombings were claimed by the terrorist organisation, the Front for the Liberation of Lebanon from Foreigners, many believe the bombs were set off by the Israelis to sew dissent throughout the region and justify an Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Though an Israeli general has admitted the attacks were carried out by his country, the official line is still that Israel was not involved.

In the modern era, things become a little murkier. Whether a modern-day false flag operation is real or not is now a matter to be bitterly fought over on the Internet. To many online conspiracy theorists, the biggest false flag operation of all time was the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Many believe that these attacks were deliberately carried out by the US government as a way to justify the subsequent attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, which they believe were carried out to install a gas pipeline across Afghanistan and to seize the oil wealth of Iraq.

Many ‘9/11 Truthers’ point out discrepancies in the official report into the destruction of the World Trade Center, focusing primarily on the collapse of the Twin Towers and 7 World Trade Center. They argue that the towers could not have been brought down by plane strike and fire alone, be must instead have been brought down by another means, such as by controlled demolition. The claims that 9/11 was an inside job have been vigorously disputed both by the US government and various experts many times, but it is highly unlikely the myriad of conspiracy theories swirling around 9/11 will ever go away.

Accusations of false flag operations have continued right up to the present day. One of the most widely-disputed and discussed is the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings of 2012, which has been laid at the door of the US Government. People who refuse to believe the shootings were the act of a lone gunman allege twenty students and six staff were deliberately murdered so stricter gun controls could be imposed on the US population. Sceptics point to the attack coinciding with President Barack Obama’s announcement that he would sign restrictive small arms legislation. The convenient timing of the attack could then be used by the president as the excuse he needed to impose new restrictions, hence why it must have been a false flag operation. Again, like 9/11, it is highly unlikely that the theories surrounding the tragic attack will ever die down.

We now live in an age where, to some at least, nothing is as it seems, everything can be labelled a conspiracy and no amount of evidence to the contrary will change people’s minds. There have been several documented false flag operations throughout history, and the existence of them goes some way to explaining why thousands upon thousands of people all around the world believe many more covert operations have been carried out regardless of government claims to the contrary. One thing’s for sure – the false flag operation has come a long way since the days of pirate ships flying false colours to get their hands on lots of lovely booty.

How Hitler Staged a False-Flag Operation to Justify the Invasion of Poland, Starting World War II

On Aug. 31, the day prior to the declaration, American newspapers reported Polish insurgents and army troops clashed with the German police at the Gleiwitz radio station along the Polish-German border. The reporters arrived in the aftermath to witness a scene showing several dead corpses wearing Polish uniforms.

“The German News Agency reports the attack came at about 8pm this evening when the Poles forced their way into the studio and began broadcasting a statement in Polish,” the BBC Broadcast in London issued in a statement. “Within a quarter of an hour, say reports, the Poles were overpowered by German police who opened fire on them.”

However, the attack was not carried out by willing Polish participants. It was part of a series of false-flag attacks that the Germans staged against themselves during a clever deception dubbed “Operation Himmler.” Nazi High Command used several “border incidents” to create the appearance of Polish aggression to justify Hitler’s invasion into Poland, sparking the beginning of World War II.

“I will provide a propagandistic casus belli,” Hitler told his generals on Aug. 22, 1939. “Its credibility doesn’t matter. The victor will not be asked whether he told the truth.”

Two separate raids occurred near the German village of Hochlinden and at a forestry office in Pitschen. Six prisoners were taken from the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp , dressed in Polish military uniforms, and executed. The sophisticated and well-choreographed propaganda wing then spread the lies to the press. The Nazi High Command took the lessons they learned from previous border incidents and applied them to their most famous black propaganda raid in what became known as the Gleiwitz incident .

Hitler brought in his most trusted and loyal followers to ensure the deception would be a success: Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and architect of the Holocaust Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the SD, an intelligence arm of the SS, and an ace fighter pilot and Heinrich Müller, the head of the Gestapo. Müller tasked Alfred Naujocks, a street brawler and dedicated agent of the Nazi’s Einsatzgruppen , or “mobile killing squads,” to lead the mission.

Hitler originally planned to invade Poland on Aug. 26 but for political reasons decided to wait, thus delaying the assault on the radio station. Müller informed Naujocks that his team of five to seven SS officers disguised in Polish military uniforms would receive several “ canned goods ” to be transported and scattered around the radio tower. The “canned goods” were more Polish inmates, either shot dead or dying from a deadly dose of drugs, to give a false impression that a skirmish had taken place. In addition, Naujocks had to prepare an anti-German black propaganda message to transmit through the nationwide airwaves.

On the night of Aug. 31, Naujocks and his team of covert operatives infiltrated the area and ran up the stairs of the wooden radio tower. One of the Polish-speaking operatives quickly voiced a message through the intercom declaring the radio station had been captured. They then slipped away from the scene before an investigation could be conducted. Less than 24 hours later, Hitler declared war on Poland citing these provocations, making these false-flag operations among the first actions of World War II .

News - Invasion of Poland

Newsreader Lionel Marson announces that Germany has invaded Poland and the armed forces in Britain and France have been mobilised in response. Many Polish towns have been bombed and Danzig (Gdansk) has fallen under German control. Translated excerpts from Hitler's proclamation to German citizens are also read out, revealing his objectives and his view of recent negotiations for a settlement.

In London preparations for war continue Queen Elizabeth, consort to HRH King George VI, visits the Women's Voluntary Service, while the evacuation of children gets under way. The bulletin also includes an appeal for all emergency services personnel to report for duty immediately. Picture shows Lionel Marson, who served in the army.

During the war, BBC news bulletins were heavily relied upon, both at home and in occupied Europe, as a source of accurate information. Newsreaders often started a bulletin by giving their names so that audiences would come to recognise their voices and know it was a genuine BBC broadcast. The announcement about changing wavelengths refers to the fact that domestic broadcasting was going to be restricted to one wavelength only (called the Home Service). Therefore, if one transmitter had to be shut down - to avoid accidentally guiding German bombers to their targets - others would be able to take over.

History Mystery: Why Did Hitler Target Poland in 1939?

The decision to invade Poland was one in a series of risky moves that led to World War II.

The Saar, 1935: Nazi Aggression Takes its First Steps

The Third Reich’s first success came in the Saar in 1935. This region of Germany was placed under Anglo-French occupation and control in 1920 for a period of 15 years. The Saar was an industrial center and contained coal fields that were given to France. A commission oversaw the territory until 1935, when a plebiscite was held to determine what would happen to the area. The situation was a reminder of German defeat in World War I and another territory stripped from the nation despite the ethnically German citizens in residence.

Once the Nazis came to power in 1933, large numbers of Germans who opposed their rule moved to the Saar precisely to escape them. Over the next two years, as the plebiscite grew near, these opponents of Hitler’s regime campaigned to have the region remain under French occupation. The Führer had other plans, as regaining the Saar would be a propaganda victory for his government. He directed Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels to conduct a media campaign aimed at swaying the populace to vote for return to the Reich. When the vote came in January 1935, over 90 percent of the voters chose to return to Germany. On March 1 the Saar became German again. With German reoccupation came the arrest of those considered to have collaborated with the French government and Nazi opponents who had fled there previously. Regaining the Saar was a first step for Nazi aggression.

The following year Hitler went further and reoccupied the Rhineland. The demilitarization of the area was stipulated in the Versailles Treaty and made permanent in the Locarno Treaty of 1925, which sought to normalize relations between various European powers. The Rhineland was occupied by Allied troops until 1935 under the terms of the treaty. In actuality these troops were withdrawn by 1930. Over the next five years, as the Nazis came to power and more openly disregarded the Versailles Treaty, German reoccupation of the Rhineland became an expected development, calculated to cause a crisis.

Hitler’s Annexation Gambles in the Rhineland, Austria, and the Sudetenland

In early 1936 Hitler gambled and sent a small force into the demilitarized zone. Hitler knew there was a possibility of war but deemed it minimal when War Minister Field Marshal Werner Von Blomberg expressed his fears, Hitler told him German troops would be withdrawn if French forces entered the Rhineland. The Reich went ahead with the move on March 7, 1936, sending a handful of infantry battalions into the Rhineland, where they joined local police and prepared for a French counterattack, planning a fighting withdrawal if necessary. When French troops stayed on their side of the border, Hitler’s confidence was bolstered, and he ordered the troops to stay.

Two years later Hitler made more moves that consolidated his nation’s position even further and reinforced his belief in the moral cowardice of the Western powers. In March 1938, Germany annexed Austria, incorporating its military into the Reich. There was a small pro-Nazi movement within Austria that was agitating for integration with Germany. This movement was suppressed by the Austrian government, which believed most Austrians wanted nothing to do with Hitler. On March 9, Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg announced a plebiscite to allow voters to state their preference about integration with Germany.

The Nazi propaganda machine went into full swing, announcing riots in Austria and unfair rules for the vote to sway the decision against integration. It claimed the uproar was a plea by Austrians for Germany to enter Austria and restore order. On March 12, Wehrmacht troops crossed the border, meeting no opposition. Hitler himself entered Austria that evening. Within days the union of Germany and Austria, known as the Anschluss, was announced. Hitler had once again increased German power without a war.

The second Nazi move of 1938 was the annexation of the Sudetenland. This event, the result of an agreement meant to maintain peace, was a major step toward the conflict to come. After obtaining Austria with such relative ease, Hitler turned his gaze toward the north-northwestern area of Czechoslovakia, a region known as the Sudetenland. Many ethnic Germans lived in this area, making it a good target for expansion. The usual propaganda claims were made, stating the Czech government was abusing ethnic Germans within its borders.

The Czechs prepared for war, but no one else did. Hitler met with representatives of Britain, France, and Italy in Munich during late September. There, he obtained an agreement from those powers to give the Sudetenland to Germany. Without support, Czechoslovakia had little choice but to acquiesce. German troops entered the Sudetenland to the applause of its Germanic populace.

Supposedly this was Germany’s last territorial demand returning from Munich, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain made his now infamous statement of having achieved “peace with honour” and “peace in our time.” That peace lasted less than six months on March 15, 1939, the Wehrmacht marched into the rest of Czechoslovakia. Appeasement had failed, and Hitler had Poland in his sights. With Czech territory in German hands, a Nazi invasion of Poland could proceed from both the west and south, making that nation’s defense more difficult.

Planning the Nazi Invasion of Poland

The Polish Crisis began 10 days after the Nazis took Czechoslovakia. Hitler ordered the Wehrmacht High Command (Oberkommando Der Wehrmacht, OKW) to prepare a military campaign against Poland. He tried obtaining concessions from the Poles regarding Danzig and the Polish Corridor, including threats of military action. The efforts proved futile as the Poles refused to give in. Both sides began aggressive propaganda campaigns, with the Nazis claiming Polish atrocities against Germans in the corridor area.

Given his string of successes, Hitler was willing to gamble on Poland, although the situation in 1939 was worse than in earlier years. Unlike at Munich, there was no agreement with France and Great Britain for a resolution, and previous German actions had destroyed trust in Hitler’s word. The Third Reich’s racist policies and actions were also turning world opinion against it. Other members of Hitler’s civilian and military hierarchy were unwilling to express resistance to his plans. The Nazi leader had decided on another risky gamble, and with his absolute control there was no one to stop him.

With the decision made, a plan had to be created. During April 1939, OKW issued its annual directive to the armed forces. Within it was Fall Weiss (Case White). The plan was introduced with a statement from Hitler himself describing current relations with Poland. It required the German military to be prepared to attack by September 1. The plan stressed surprise. Mobilization would not take place until just before the actual invasion. Only regular Army units would be used at first, since calling up reserves would alert the Poles.

These active units would be secretly moved into assembly areas along the frontier before being ordered into their jumping-off points. The Army could also attack from Czech territory. There were also arrangements for defending the border with France, the Baltic Sea area, and German airspace. All this would effectively isolate Poland from her Western supporters until it was too late.

On April 28, Hitler nullified the German non-aggression treaty with Poland and demanded resolution on the Danzig issue. German operatives were sent into Danzig, where they attacked a customs house and tore down Polish flags. Polish actions against ethnic Germans were given wide press coverage. There was a Nazi faction in Danzig, and it clamored for return to Germany. This was the beginning of a months-long campaign to pave the way for German goals, with or without war.

Diplomatic Machinations and Nazi Propaganda

Over the following months further diplomatic machinations took place. On May 22, a pact was signed with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, taking pressure off Germany’s southern flank. However, Hitler assured Mussolini there would be no war, and the Italians made no promise of military support. This kept Italy from the Allied camp and threatened France’s and Britain’s Mediterranean holdings. Hitler also received visits from the leaders of Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Bulgaria. These affairs were accompanied by extravagant displays of German military power, with scores of aircraft roaring overhead or hundreds of tanks clanking past.

A major victory for the Nazis was the rapprochement with the Soviet Union. The British and French were seeking a tacit alliance with the Soviets as a counterbalance to Germany, but this new development quashed that hope. Russia and Germany secretly negotiated an agreement for respective spheres of influence. The Soviets would have a free hand in Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia along with eastern Poland. In exchange, Germany would regain Danzig, the Polish Corridor, and western Poland.

Openly, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was a non-aggression treaty between the nations. This was a surprise development as the Nazis were staunchly anti-communist. Both Hitler and Stalin still expected eventual war the Soviets expected conflict as early as 1944. While war would come much sooner with the German invasion on June 22, 1941, in August 1939 the issue seemed settled.

Thank you!

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain laid out the argument for ending the appeasement strategy in a Sept. 4 radio address aimed at the German people: “He gave his word that he would respect the Locarno Treaty he broke it. He gave his word that he neither wished nor intended to annex Austria he broke it. He declared that he would not incorporate the Czechs in the Reich he did so. He gave his word after Munich that he had no further territorial demands in Europe he broke it. He has sworn for years that he was the mortal enemy of Bolshevism he is now its ally.”

Hitler’s propaganda endorsed the theory of Lebensraum (often translated as “living space”), his idea that the Germany needed more room. Citino points out that Poland was geographically the logical next step after Czechoslovakia, in terms of the application of that theory. In addition, the dictator believed that the Polish population was racially inferior to Germans, and thus would be easily overrun and enslaved. (On Sept. 17, the Soviet Union also invaded Poland, in accord with a non-aggression agreement Hitler and Stalin had come to that summer that agreement would end on June 22, 1941, when the Nazis invaded Soviet territory.)

“It seems Hitler can no longer be appeased [in 1939], but attempting to appease him was wrong all along,” Citino says. “He would just continue to make demands and threaten his neighbors ad infinitum.”

Here’s how TIME described the Nazi invasion of Poland in its Sept. 11, 1939, issue:

World War II began last week at 5:20 a. m. (Polish time) Friday, September 1, when a German bombing plane dropped a projectile on Puck, fishing village and air base in the armpit of the Hel Peninsula. At 5:45 a. m. the German training ship Schleswig-Holstein lying off Danzig fired what was believed to be the first shell: a direct hit on the Polish underground ammunition dump at Westerplatte. It was a grey day, with gentle rain.

In the War’s first five days, hundreds of Nazi bombing planes dumped ton after ton of explosive on every city of any importance the length & breadth of Poland. They aimed at air bases, fortifications, bridges, railroad lines and stations, but in the process they killed upward of 1,500 noncombatants. The Nazi ships were mostly big Heinkels, unaccompanied by pursuit escorts. Germany admitted losing 21 planes to Polish counterattack by pursuits and antiaircraft. They claimed to have massacred more than half of a 47-plane Polish squadron which tried to bomb Berlin.

Out of a welter of sketchy bulletins, counter-claims and unpronounceable names flowing from Poland, the broad outlines of Germany’s assault began to take shape. Recapture of what was Germany in 1914 was the first objective: Danzig, the Corridor, and a hump of Upper Silesia. It is believed that Adolf Hitler, if allowed to take and keep this much, might have checked his juggernaut at these lines for the time being. When Britain & France insisted that he withdraw entirely from Polish soil or consider himself at war with them, he determined on the complete shattering and subjugation of Poland…

Heroes this week were a handful of Polish soldiers left in charge of the Westerplatte munitions dump. Under steady bombing and shell fire, they held out as a suicide squad in the thick-walled fortress, replying from its depths with machine gun fire, resolved to blow up the dump and themselves with it before surrendering.

Another small band of Poles took and held the Danzig post office until artillery was drawn up to blow away the building’s face, gasoline poured on from above and set afire.

On “Black Sunday”&mdashthe day Britain and France declared War&mdashthe President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt announced, “This nation will remain a neutral nation, but I cannot ask that every American remain neutral in thought as well. Even a neutral has a right to take account of facts. Even a neutral cannot be asked to close his mind or his conscience.”

As TIME pointed out, the sentence was “the most striking sentence in the broadcast” because of the contrast with President Woodrow Wilson’s 1914 edict that Americans must remain “impartial in thought as well as action” in the early years of World War I. The Roosevelt version suggested to the magazine that the president might be priming Americans to get ready to take up arms&mdashand after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, they did.

The lead-up to World War II, Bouverie says, was about “what bad people are able to do when they think that the good people aren&rsquot prepared to fight.” The fighting, however, would come in the end.

Nazi Broadcaster Defends Poland Invasion - HISTORY

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain gave this speech to the House of Commons on September 1st, 1939, just hours after Hitler's troops had invaded Poland.

Chamberlain and others had spent years negotiating with Hitler in order to prevent another war in Europe, two decades after the Great War in which an entire generation of young men had been wiped out.

Negotiations with Hitler had included ceding the German-speaking portions of Czechoslovakia, amid promises by Hitler he would have no further territotial demands. Unknown to Chamberlain, Hitler yearned for war all along and was simply biding his time until his armies were prepared.

In September 1939, Nazis staged a fake attack on a German radio outpost along the German-Polish border and used that as an excuse for the invasion of Poland.

I do not propose to say many words tonight. The time has come when action rather than speech is required. Eighteen months ago in this House I prayed that the responsibility might not fall upon me to ask this country to accept the awful arbitrament of war. I fear that I may not be able to avoid that responsibility.

But, at any rate, I cannot wish for conditions in which such a burden should fall upon me in which I should feel clearer than I do today as to where my duty lies.

No man can say that the Government could have done more to try to keep open the way for an honorable and equitable settlement of the dispute between Germany and Poland. Nor have we neglected any means of making it crystal clear to the German Government that if they insisted on using force again in the manner in which they had used it in the past we were resolved to oppose them by force.

Now that all the relevant documents are being made public we shall stand at the bar of history knowing that the responsibility for this terrible catastrophe lies on the shoulders of one man, the German Chancellor, who has not hesitated to plunge the world into misery in order to serve his own senseless ambitions.

Only last night the Polish Ambassador did see the German Foreign Secretary, Herr von Ribbentrop. Once again he expressed to him what, indeed, the Polish Government had already said publicly, that they were willing to negotiate with Germany about their disputes on an equal basis.

What was the reply of the German Government? The reply was that without another word the German troops crossed the Polish frontier this morning at dawn and are since reported to be bombing open towns. In these circumstances there is only one course open to us.

His Majesty's Ambassador in Berlin and the French Ambassador have been instructed to hand to the German Government the following document:

"Early this morning the German Chancellor issued a proclamation to the German Army which indicated that he was about to attack Poland. Information which has reached His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the French Government indicates that attacks upon Polish towns are proceeding. In these circumstances it appears to the Governments of the United Kingdom and France that by their action the German Government have created conditions, namely, an aggressive act of force against Poland threatening the independence of Poland, which call for the implementation by the Government of the United Kingdom and France of the undertaking to Poland to come to her assistance. 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."

If a reply to this last warning is unfavorable, and I do not suggest that it is likely to be otherwise, His Majesty's Ambassador is instructed to ask for his passports. In that case we are ready.

Yesterday, we took further steps towards the completion of our defensive preparation. This morning we ordered complete mobilization of the whole of the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. We have also taken a number of other measures, both at home and abroad, which the House will not perhaps expect me to specify in detail. Briefly, they represent the final steps in accordance with pre-arranged plans. These last can be put into force rapidly, and are of such a nature that they can be deferred until war seems inevitable. Steps have also been taken under the powers conferred by the House last week to safeguard the position in regard to stocks of commodities of various kinds.

The thoughts of many of us must at this moment inevitably be turning back to 1914, and to a comparison of our position now with that which existed then. How do we stand this time? The answer is that all three Services are ready, and that the situation in all directions is far more favorable and reassuring than in 1914, while behind the fighting Services we have built up a vast organization of Civil Defense under our scheme of Air Raid Precautions.

As regards the immediate manpower requirements, the Royal Navy, the Army and the Air Force are in the fortunate position of having almost as many men as they can conveniently handle at this moment. There are, however, certain categories of service in which men are immediately required, both for Military and Civil Defense. These will be announced in detail through the press and the BBC.

The main and most satisfactory point to observe is that there is today no need to make an appeal in a general way for recruits such as was issued by Lord Kitchener 25 years ago. That appeal has been anticipated by many months, and the men are already available. So much for the immediate present. Now we must look to the future. It is essential in the face of the tremendous task which confronts us, more especially in view of our past experiences in this matter, to organize our manpower this time upon as methodical, equitable and economical a basis as possible.

We, therefore, propose immediately to introduce legislation directed to that end. A Bill will be laid before you which for all practical purposes will amount to an expansion of the Military Training Act. Under its operation all fit men between the ages of 18 and 41 will be rendered liable to military service if and when called upon. It is not intended at the outset that any considerable number of men other than those already liable shall be called up, and steps will be taken to ensure that the manpower essentially required by industry shall not be taken away.

There is one other allusion which I should like to make before I end my speech, and that is to record my satisfaction of His Majesty's Government, that throughout these last days of crisis Signor Mussolini also has been doing his best to reach a solution. It now only remains for us to set our teeth and to enter upon this struggle, which we ourselves earnestly endeavored to avoid, with determination to see it through to the end.

We shall enter it with a clear conscience, with the support of the Dominions and the British Empire, and the moral approval of the greater part of the world.

We have no quarrel with the German people, except that they allow themselves to be governed by a Nazi Government. As long as that Government exists and pursues the methods it has so persistently followed during the last two years, there will be no peace in Europe. We shall merely pass from one crisis to another, and see one country after another attacked by methods which have now become familiar to us in their sickening technique.

We are resolved that these methods must come to an end. If out of the struggle we again re-establish in the world the rules of good faith and the renunciation of force, why, then even the sacrifices that will be entailed upon us will find their fullest justification.

Neville Chamberlain - September 1, 1939

Post-note: On September 3rd, amid the continuing Nazi Blitzkrieg (lightning attack) against Poland, Chamberlain announced that a state of war now existed between Great Britain and Germany. Chamberlain remained Prime Minister until May 1940. Following Hitler's successful invasion of Norway and Denmark, Chamberlain was driven from the House of Commons amid the hoots and chants of even his own supporters. He was replaced on May 10, 1940, by Winston Churchill.

Terms of use: Private home/school non-commercial, non-Internet re-usage only is allowed of any text, graphics, photos, audio clips, other electronic files or materials from The History Place.

Nazi persecution of the Catholic Church in Poland

During the German Occupation of Poland (1939–1945), the Nazis brutally suppressed the Catholic Church in Poland, most severely in German-occupied areas of Poland. Thousands of churches and monasteries were systematically closed, seized or destroyed. As a result, many works of religious art and objects were permanently lost.

Church leaders were especially targeted as part of an overall effort to destroy Polish culture. At least 1,811 members of the Polish clergy died in Nazi concentration camps. An estimated 3,000 members of the clergy were killed. Hitler's plans for the Germanization of the East did not allow Catholicism. [1]

The actions taken against Polish Catholicism were part of Generalplan Ost which, if carried out, would have eventually eradicated the existence of the Poles. Adolf Hitler said in August 1939 that he wanted his Death's Head forces "to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish descent or language". [2]

This week in history: Nazis stage fake attack at the start of WWII

On Aug. 31, 1939 — 75 years ago this week — Nazi agents staged a fake attack on the German radio transmission tower at Gleiwitz, on the German-Polish border. Adolf Hitler used this “attack” as a pretext for the invasion of Poland the next day.

By the summer of 1939, relations between Germany and Poland were quickly deteriorating. Hitler had insisted that Poland return the Polish Corridor to Germany, a strip of land that gave Poland access to the sea and the free city of Danzig but cut off Germany proper from its East Prussian territory. The Polish Corridor had been granted to the new state of Poland in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, a document that Hitler and most Germans had denounced.

For the previous few years, Hitler had been bloodlessly acquiring more and more territory in Europe in violation of the treaty. In 1936, Hitler sent his army into the Rhineland, which, though German, had been demilitarized by the treaty. England and France did nothing to stop him. In March 1938, Hitler's army moved into Austria. A few days later, Germany annexed the central European nation, again in violation of the treaty.

In September 1938, Hitler demanded the return of the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia, territory Germany had lost after World War I. Allied with France and friendly toward Britain, Czechoslovakia was the only stable democracy in central Europe. Prague called upon Paris to help defend its borders. Fearing Germany's strength and a repeat of the 1914-1918 war, Britain and France wanted a settlement and signed the Munich Pact with Germany. With its allies refusing to fight, Czechoslovakia gave up the Sudetenland to Hitler.

Hitler had stated throughout this crisis, as he had in his earlier bloodless invasions, that he was only working in the interests of protecting ethnic Germans throughout central Europe. Indeed, in Czechoslovakia there were several violent attacks on ethnic Germans by the Czech population, though these instances were relatively few. To strengthen his hand, Hitler had sent special units into the Sudetenland to fake anti-German attacks and increase anti-German propaganda. These false-flag operations gave Hitler the leverage he needed to issue ultimatums during the crisis, which led to his diplomatic victory.

In March 1939, Hitler made a mistake by invading and annexing the rump of Czechoslovakia. Not only was this move in violation of the September 1938 agreement at Munich but it also showed Hitler for what he really was — a madman with vast territorial ambitions in Europe who could not be trusted. There were virtually no ethnic Germans in the rump of Czechoslovakia.

Soon after, when Hitler announced that he wanted the Polish Corridor returned, Britain and France took a firm line and offered Poland a guarantee of its borders. That summer Hitler repeatedly accused Poles of attacking ethnic Germans in Poland, and again he sent agitators to fake incidents. Finally, Hitler decided to attack Poland. To give Germany its excuse, Hitler wanted a dramatic provocation that he could use to justify his actions.

Hitler's most loyal and fanatical followers belonged to the Schutzstaffel, the Protection Squad or SS. Headed by Heinrich Himmler, the SS controlled the machinery of the German police and concentration-camp system, as well having a stake in the Sicherheitsdienst, the Security Service, or the SD, which essentially functioned as Nazi Party intelligence. The head of the SD was Reinhard Heydrich.

A man of such ice-cold nerves that Hitler once called him “The Man with the Iron Heart,” Heydrich was one of those rare individuals who could accomplish anything he set his mind to. A concert-level violinist, an Olympic-level fencer and an ace fighter pilot, Heydrich had created in the SD an efficient organization that could take care of the dirty tricks that Hitler so often employed.

Heydrich's tool within the SD for these missions was something known as the Einsatzgruppen, Special Action Squads, which later would prove to be an integral part of the Holocaust. One of the men Heydrich used for such operations was Alfred Naujocks.

Not yet 30 years old, Naujocks had been an early street brawler for the Nazis in the days before the party came to power. In the book “Who's Who in Nazi Germany,” historian Robert Wistrich wrote:

“A well-known amateur boxer, (Naujocks) was frequently involved in brawls with communists. He joined the SS in 1931 and three years later enrolled in the SD, becoming one of Heydrich's most trusted agents. In 1939 he was made head of the sub-section of Section III of SD Ausland, (foreign section), and put in charge of such special duties as fabricating false papers, passports, identity cards and forged notes for the SD agents operating abroad.”

Heydrich had devised a scheme to give Hitler his justification for an attack upon Poland. Several border incidents would be created, under what was called “Operation Himmler,” after Heydrich's boss. An Einsatzgruppe unit under Naujocks would attack the Gleiwitz radio tower along the border then broadcast Polish propaganda into the Reich. This attack would be the centerpiece of “Operation Himmler.” Hitler had ordered his military to invade Poland on Aug. 26. Heydrich and Naujocks had only a few days to get things prepared for the attack on Gleiwitz on Aug. 25.

Naujocks and his team traveled to the town and checked into a hotel, claiming to be engineers looking for suitable materials to mine in the area. Under various pressures to avert war, and sensing the Poles and their Western allies might back down, Hitler postponed the invasion until Sept. 1. Naujocks and his men spent nearly two weeks in Gleiwitz waiting for the order to proceed.

It wasn't nearly enough, however, to broadcast anti-German propaganda. If the incident was to have a look of authenticity to it, it would have to appear as though a small skirmish had indeed taken place near the radio tower. To that end, Heinrich Müller, the head of the Gestapo, had several concentration-camp inmates shot or drugged and their bodies transported to the area. With Polish army uniforms and paybooks supplied by Adm. Wilhelm Canaris, the head of German military intelligence, the former camp prisoners now appeared to be Polish casualties of the battle. This aspect of plan was cynically named “Operation Canned Goods.”

Finally, on Aug. 31, the order arrived at Oberschlesischer Hotel in Gleiwitz and Naujocks' team went into action and rendezvoused en route to the tower with Müller, who handed over the bodies. In the book “SS Intelligence,” historian Edmund L. Blandford wrote:

“Naujocks then took his squad into the radio station, finding the two men on duty ready and compliant. The Polish speaker then yelled a short tirade into the microphone calling for war to begin between Poland and Germany. The squad then ran outside, firing off their pistols as they went. Years later, Naujocks would try to cash in on his claim as the 'man who started the war.' ”

The attack, such as it was, was a success. Hitler had his propaganda weapon with which to start the war. In his speech to the Reichstag the following day in which he formally declared war on Poland, Hitler cited the various border incidents and Gleiwitz in particular as “frontier violations of a nature no longer tolerable for a great power.”

American journalist William L. Shirer, reporting from Berlin when the war broke out, noted in his book “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” that the New York Times and other American newspapers reported on the Gleiwitz incident as one of the events that touched off the war. Additionally, Shirer suggests that many of the SS men who were involved in the operation were “put out of the way.” Whether they were killed or merely assigned to dangerous combat duty in Poland, Shirer doesn't say.

In any event, most of the hard facts of what happened at Gleiwitz come from Naujocks himself, who defected to the Americans in November 1944 after falling out of favor with his Nazi superiors. Little is known for certain about the SS men under his command who participated in the attack, though given the almost astronomical casualty rates suffered by Waffen-SS units in the war, it is entirely possible they were indeed all killed.

The attack on Gleiwitz was another criminal act and deception in a long line of lies and falsehoods perpetrated by Hitler and his regime. It was certainly not the last. With the invasion of Poland the Einsatzgruppen sought out Polish professionals, politicians, clergy and others who the Nazis believed would make trouble for them. Approximately 60,000 of Poland's intelligentsia were summarily shot by these SD thugs at the beginning of the conflict, and as it progressed millions more Poles died in the war or in the death camps.