Sixty-four years separate us from September 1939 and from the German invasion of Poland. Gradually, the eyewitnesses diminish, left are graves, memories, legends, scripts of the historical battles, movements of armies, names of commanders, and losses that grew with every passing day of the defensive.
From today’s perspective, many scenarios can be derived, but then the situation would have to be recollected as it really happened, no different. Nobody foresaw the catastrophe; nobody thought that we would be left alone in battle. Our defense plan was to hold the Germans on the western border of Poland, while giving the British and French forces a chance to move in. But the worst thing happened, and our allies did not come through. Great Britain and France did declare war with Germany on September 3rd, but no military action followed. Believes are that the Hitler-Stalin pact signed by Ribbentrop and Molotov brought fear to countries which once guaranteed us help in time of war.
On September 1st, the radio announcer on duty in Warsaw receives a verified statement from the Air Defense Commander – today at 5:40 AM the German army crossed the Polish border breaking the peace pact. From the radio speakers, sounded the words: – “I am announcing an alarm for the city of Warsaw, for Poland. There is a war. Today, all tasks and questions must be put aside. We have to think about one thing only: fighting until victory.”
That victory was not our destiny; we did not have a chance of obtaining it through fighting!
Hitler directed to Poland 1.8 million well-armed soldiers, tanks, and 1,600 planes on September 1st. On September 17th, the Red Army entered Poland on the east border with about 500,000 soldiers. The locked in country, after fighting the enemies on two fronts, was forced to surrender. The decision was made for humane reasons – the loss of lives, especially in Warsaw, lack of electricity, water, and medicine, the bombings, house and farm fires, the army falling apart, and communications broken. The disoriented people began to move east, making way for the soldiers.
Against the two enemies, stood the Polish Army about 1 million strong. Our Air Force had 400 airplanes. The month long battle, when evaluated in view of the large strength of the enemies, was a great military accomplishment – it destroyed the plan for a fast war. The Germans suffered massive casualties of about 50,000 dead and wounded. Soviets, though there were no official battles with the Red Army, had 3,500 dead and wounded.
Germans took 600,000 Polish soldiers as prisoners of war. Soviets took about 300,000 with 13,000 officers and 12 generals. Part of the Red Army retreated to Romania and Hungary.
Right after the military activities ceased, Poland was divided.
The Germans occupied 190 thousand square kilometers and 22 million people. The Soviets took 200 thousand square kilometers and 12 million people.
The torture and killing of Polish people began right away in September. During the first two months, 714 executions took place, which resulted in the deaths of 16,000 Poles, mainly the intellects. Systematically the culture was being destroyed, churches were closed, and education facilities were eliminated. All together during this time Poland lost 40% of its university professors, 33% of doctors, and 18% of clergy. Over 6 million Polish citizens, for every 1000 people 200 of them died. The Polish holocaust was the loss of 3,000 lives on a daily basis.
The situation was similar in the area occupied by the Soviets. Deportations, premeditated murders, and transportation of prisoners and people to Siberia and Central Asia, all together 1.2 million individuals were effected. Military officers were placed in camps in Kozielsk, Starobielsk, Katyn, and Ostaszkow and were later killed between April and May 1940.
In total, 14,552 died as a result of a bullet to the back of the head. This crime was brought to light in 1943, but neither Great Britain nor the United States discovered the true account of the murders, as the Soviets destroyed evidence and blamed the Germans.
The Germans organized over 200 concentration and death camps. The largest in Auschwitz-Birkenau, where as a result of suffocation in gas chambers, starvation, disease, heavy workload, and executions, 1.5 million people died. Majority was made up of Jews from all European countries.
The Polish Army, though non-existent, never put down its weapons. It kept fighting as an underground operation of the National Army. It ordered and carried out sentences against Germans, rescued prisoners, destroyed trains and bridges, and upheld a well organized information network.
The bravery of the Polish officers is exemplified by the fact that no other army during World War II lost more officers than Poland. On the battlefield, five generals lost their lives. Out of the total dead and wounded, 11% were officers.
In the end, I hope to straighten out the lies of the anti-Poland propaganda, from the west and the east. Manipulated and overstated became the legend of the Polish cavalry in 1939. A German propaganda film showed Poles on horseback as suicide committers charging against tanks. Nothing more unfair and hurtful could have happened to this army. The cavalry was made up of well-educated men, with the highest Army ranks. They attacked and defended themselves using weapons and grenades. They were not the only cavalry in Europe or in the world. France, Italy, Germany, the Soviets, and even USA had large cavalry companies.
In 1939, Poland gave an example to Europe and the World, that you can and should fight the Hitler beast.
Dr. Elzbieta Ulanowska
Translated by Monika Glazar