September 1939 and the consequences for Poland


Why is it so difficult for the west to understand how big a catastrophe September 1939 was for Poles and how far-reaching its consequences were? The history of twentieth-century Poland is not only difficult, but it is also an uncomfortable topic for the leading countries in the world.

On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, not only fighting against the Polish army, but also bombing civilian targets and murdering prisoners of war. Despite earlier agreements on mutual assistance with France (1921) and the United Kingdom (1939), and formal declaration of war on Germany (September 3, 1939), Poland’s allies decided not to take action against the aggressor under the Abbeville agreement (September 12, 1939). Fifteen days after the declaration of war, France did not attack Germany, as required under a military agreement with Poland. Thus, on September 17, 1939, Poland was invaded by the Soviet army from the east. In line with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of August 23, 1939, the Third Reich and the USSR divided the territory of Poland among themselves.

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There are no greater allies than Poles


How the Poles on the beach of Normandy saved Canadians: an unknown fragment of the war

One summer I decided to go with my brothers to French Normandy to see the places where Canadian soldiers fought heroically. But standing on Hill 262 – which in August 1944 was captured by the 1st Polish Armoured Division (which was then part of the 1st Canadian Army), thus closing the Falaise corridor and cutting off the escape route for German troops – I was thinking only about the Poles.

The fighting in this place in France included one of the bloodiest clashes during the entire Second World War. I admired the courage and bravery of Polish soldiers who, isolated and cut off from all reinforcements at Mont Ormel, defended their positions until the end. Canadian grenadiers were the first to break through to them. This battle ended the great bloody campaign in Normandy.

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Every family in Poland lost someone in this war


The sacrifice made by the tens of thousands of victims is still alive in the memory of Poles.

Every family in Poland lost someone in this war. The greatest losses were suffered by the Polish intelligentsia. Professors and teachers, people of culture, officers, entrepreneurs, and priests were targeted by the German occupying forces when, on September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland at the beginning of the Second World War. A few days later, when the French and British refused to help Poland, the intelligentsia was also targeted by the second occupier, who entered Polish territory on September 17, 1939, namely Soviet Russia.

My city, Warsaw, was razed to the ground. In the crumple zone between Germany and Russia, the last few centuries saw partitions, extermination, deportation to Siberia, and after September 1939, mass street round-ups and deportations to concentration camps, and mass emigration to France, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Each Polish familiy can tell you its story!

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Poles brought forward the end of the war


The British and French working on breaking the German cipher actually abandoned their work, believing the task to be impossible. They were amazed to find out how much the Poles had achieved.

If I were to make a film about how the Enigma machine was broken, in the first scene I would show the moment when Marian Rejewski reconstructed its construction. It was the end of 1932. He had been working for several months on breaking Enigma, but had never even seen the device. Polish intelligence never managed to obtain its military version; it had only a commercial one, which was constructed differently. Rejewski did not even know how the individual parts of the coding machine were connected to each other.

And yet he succeeded in fathoming this out. The uniqueness of his discovery lies in the fact that he made it on the basis of entirely theoretical analyses of encrypted messages, based solely on mathematical models. It was one of the greatest achievements in cryptology in the 20th century – and would have been considered such even if the Second World War had not broken out in 1939.

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Poland was betrayed


The West urged Poland to fight, but it did not lift a finger to help.

The Second World War was the result of Hitler’s claims and miscalculations, and was exacerbated by the weakness of western democracies and Stalin’s reluctance to defend the status quo. Hitler had always wanted to annex territories to the east of Germany. The only thing stopping him was the Treaty of Versailles, safeguarded by London and Paris, and the threat of Stalin’s armed reaction. In 1939, both obstacles were successfully eliminated.

Hitler had reasons to believe the western powers were so weak and immersed in internal problems that they would not resist when he moved east. And this was his mistake. Although the British and the French were not able to use force in Eastern Europe, they decided to defend Poland at least nominally. Meanwhile, Stalin concluded that an armed revision of the Versailles order was inevitable and even desirable, and he agreed with Hitler as to the division of the spoils. As a result, Hitler assessed that the west would not go to war because of Poland.

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