WW2 Photo Essay: Poland
Poland's entry into the Second World War is marked by the German Invasion which also began the war in the European Theater - 1 week after the singing of the Moltov-Ribbentrop Pact, the non-aggression pact which shocked the world. After a defeat in a month, Poland upheld the Polish Underground State as means of organizing both military resistance as well as providing for the civil population. However, the conditions in Poland throughout the war were in many instances very harsh even for a Nazi-occupied territory, especially in comparison to the conditions which existed in other countries overtaken by Germany.
Dickson, Mary. German Armored Divison Invades Poland. N.d. World Civilizations. German Armored Divison Invades Poland. By Thomas Pearcy. Web. 26 Nov. 2015. <http://www.wwnorton.com/college/history/ralph/resource/36poland.htm>.
The beginning of war in Poland marks the most commonly accepted start of the Second World War in the European theater. Poland was invaded by 62 German divisions supported by 1,300 aircrafts on the morning of September 1, 1939. The Polish were greatly outnumbered, especially in regards to tanks as the Germans attacked with 3,200 and they only had 600 to defend themselves.
After the German invasion, a Polish government-in-exile was formed and would reside mostly in London. The group actually held significant influence in Poland during the duration of the war, as the Polish Underground State and the Home Army remained very loyal to it. This government would continue to exist through the duration of the Cold War, however, it held much less influence then - until it finally seceded all power at the time of the creation of the Third Polish Republic in 1990.
The Polish lead a counterattack on September 9 which lead to the Battle of Bzura. Initially, Polish forces were somewhat successful yet they were soon overrun by the superior German air attacks and the ability of the German army to quickly redirect their forces to meet the Polish attack. Poland was successfully overtaken by the Germans in four weeks when it surrendered on September 27.
Unlike is most occupied territories, such as France, the Germans did not put into power a collaborationist government in Poland. Instead, the Germans governed directly over Poland by means of the Generalgouvernement, or the General Goverenmnt, which was compromised of solely German officials. This administrations ruled over one of the three newly carved Second Polish Republic parts: the central piece, while the other two were annexed by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.
Polskie Państwo Podziemne W Okresie Okupacji Hitlerowskiej. 1942. Warsaw. Polskie Państwo Podziemne. Web. 26 Nov. 2015. <http://ipn.gov.pl/archiwalia/polskie-panstwo-podziemne-w-okresie-okupacji-hitlerowskiej>.
The greatest resistance to the General Government was the Polish Underground State. It was established as a civil and military organization in the finals days of the German invasion of 1939 and was loyal the the exiled government of the Republic of Poland in London. This organization was not only the hub for all resistance military operations but also a civilian structure which included education, culture, and social service,
Nazi-occupied Poland was unique in that it was the only occupied territory in which aid to the Jews was punishable by death for the individual who helped and their entire family. Even so, Poland was the only occupied nation to establish an organization intended to specifically help the Jews. This organization was known as Żegota and it worked to provide food, shelter and fake documents to Polish Jews it was was mostly funded by the Polish government in exile.
The Armia Krajowa, or Home Army worked as the military arm of the Polish Underground State. It was one of the three largest resistances of the war and numbered approximately 400,000 at its peak. The organization focused mostly on sabotage, diversions, and intelligence gathering, such as bombing railway shipments, in the first years of war. Concurrent with the advances of the Red Army on the Eastern front which began to weaken the Nazis, the Home Army began Operation Tempest, a nationwide uprising and after 1943, direct combat greatly increased as German losses increased to 850-1,700 per month in early 1944 from the 250-320 per month on 1942.
Execution of 56 Polish Civilians in Bochnia during the German Takeover of Poland. 1939. War Crimes in Occupied Poland during World War II. Web. 26 Nov. 2015. <http://www.wikiwand.com/en/War_crimes_in_occupied_Poland_during_World_War_II>.
Hans Frank, who was largely put in charge of a large chunk of Poland led a ruthless regime which was of a stark contrast to many other Nazi-occupied German territories. He once told a reporter, "In Prague, for example, large red posters were hung up announcing that seven Czechs had been executed that day. [but] if I had to hang up a poster every time we shot seven Poles, we'd have to cut down all the Polish forests, and we still wouldn't be able to produce enough paper for all the posters I'd need."
German soldiers committed horrendous war crimes from the onset of the invasion as Polish civilians and military would be dragged out into the streets. Once the Germans were done with them all that would be left was a burning village.
Heinrich Himmler had plans for Poland which specifically created great chaos, unrest, and fear. He wanted to make the Poles a nation of slaves which were all only educated in four-year primary school where they would learn that their greatest duty was to serve the Germans. In October of 1940, Hitler ordered for all members of the Polish Intelligentsia to be found and executed with the AB-Aktion plan - he then followed to target others such as teachers and clergymen. This onset a nightmare of erratic leaders and terrorizing rule such as the district head of Radom who instigated the death penalty for felling trees to use as firewood.
Polish Jews were made to wear armbands with a blue star of David almost two years before the more common yellow star sew-on was introduced in the Altreich. In February of 1940, the first major ghetto in Lodz was set up and approximately 160,000 Jews were forced into this area of 1 square mile. This came to average at about 6 people living per room and had dire psychological effects on the residents. Ghettos such as the one in Warsaw would follow soon after.
In accordance with the German policy of Lebensraum, German police officers began to brutally evacuate all residence of cities such as Zamosć and Lublin. Some 100,000 Polish were relocated in order to make room for 20,000 ethnic Germans. Fit workers were sent to Germany as slave laborers, children and the elderly were resettled in "retirement villages" while those who were deemed inferior were sent to Auschwitz.
Perhaps the most important operation of the Polish Home Army, and the largest single military effort taken by any European resistance movement in WW2, was the Warsaw Uprising (1 August - 2 October 1944). The operation began as part of Operation Tempest in order to drive German occupiers out of the city, just as the Soviet Union's Red Army was approaching the suburbs of the city. However, the Red Army stopped before entering the city and thus left the Polish nationalists to fight unsupported for 63 days which eventually lead to what can be considered a German victory.
With the Warsaw Uprising, the planned destruction of Warsaw was put into full force, and as the Germans succeeded in destroying somewhere between 80 and 90% of buildings in Warsaw, their actions can be considered successful. The German leaders, angered by the uprising, wanted to make an example out of Warsaw in their efforts to make Eastern Europe for the Germans. This destroyed a significant part of Polish heritage such as, but not limited to, buildings and libraries and the wealth of data they contained.
Hashomer Hatzair Socialist Zionist Youth Movement. 1939. JEWISH YOUTH MOVEMENTS IN WARTIME POLAND: FROM MINORITY TO LEADERSHIP. Web. 26 Nov. 2015. <http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007224>.
Many of the official Polish Jewish leadership managed to flee Poland at the beginning of the German invasion. However, after the onset of the war, certain youth leaders of particularly Zionist groups decided to make their way back to Poland, motivated by a sense of responsibility to both their youth group members but also the whole Jewish community. Zionist youth groups began to work to try to understand the needs of these communities and began to serve them by setting up kibbutz groups and underground schools in the ghettos. The youth movement leaders them in turn naturally became the leaders of the resistance movements in the ghettos.
Concentration Camp in Płaszów near Kraków. 1942. German Camps in Occupied Poland during World War II. Web. 26 Nov. 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_camps_in_occupied_Poland_during_World_War_II>.
Much of the Polish Nazi-occupied land came to serve as grounds for German camps - with the number of camp complexes exceeding 400. After the Wannsee Conference, Poland became home to 6 extermination camps which were Industrially mastered factories of death. Many Poles, who were considered racially inferior by the Germans would also be sent to these camps, even if they were not Jewish.
Polish Soldier from Mokotów District Surrenders to German Troops 27 September 1944. 1942. 67 Years Ago Today. Web. 26 Nov. 2015. <http://strzelczaniewbanderze6.blox.pl/2011/08/65-years-ago-Warsaw-Uprising.html>.
Although the Polish resistance armies were supposed to work alongside the Red Army in its efforts against the Nazis as hoped for by the government in exile, the Underground State took power in the Allied-controlled Polish territory in order to secure and independent Poland after the war. However, the failure of Operation Tempest and the Warsaw Uprising left the country vulnerable to Soviet communist rule.
During the war, women who wanted to contribute to the resistance had a few options. They could join the Home Army, serve with the Communist Resistance or join international resistance. In the Warsaw Uprising, there were two unit compromised of solely females, one was a unit of demolition experts and the other served as detachment in the city sewer system - working as guides, smuggling weapons or even working in assassination squads.
The Soviet advance through Poland was crucial in driving out Nazi forces out of the occupied territory, as the Vistula-Oder Offensive liberated Warsaw, Kraków, and Poznań. However, this advance was also a foreshadowing of the Soviet occupation to come and the advance in itself was later revealed to be violent especially towards Polish women as raped reached an enormous number. For example, the city of Dębska Kuźina had 268 cases of rape reported by the Soviet soldiers just in the first 6 months of 1945.