By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published April 20, 2006
Published: April 20, 2006
German forces invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, as part of Hitler’s quest to expand Germany. The Poles fought valiantly against the vastly better equipped forces but fighting by regular Polish army units ended by early October, when more than 50,000 civilians died. The Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland in September 1939 in accordance with the German Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939 that divided Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union, and many were victims then of deportations to Siberia and Central Asia. But after Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, it also seized eastern Poland and controlled the country from Cracow.
Germany had a genocidal policy with the Polish Jews and for the Polish Catholic majority first targeted the political, religious and intellectual leaders. In 1939 tens of thousands of wealthy landowners, clergymen and members of the intelligentsia were either murdered in mass executions or sent to prisons and concentration camps. In the summer of 1940 the Germans rounded up several thousand more members of the intelligentsia and shot them outside Warsaw in the Kampinos forest near Palmiry and inside the city at the Pawiak prison. Seeking to destroy Polish culture, they closed or destroyed universities, schools, seminaries, churches and convents, museums, libraries and scientific laboratories and demolished hundreds of monuments to national heroes. Germans seized many crying children to be racially screened for possible adoption by German parents in the “SS Fount of Life” program, where thousands were chosen for Germanization. Many thousands more were rejected and sent to children’s homes or killed, some at Auschwitz by phenol injections.
Between 1939 and 1945 at least 1.5 million Polish citizens were transported to the Reich for labor against their will. Among the many camps they were sent to, an estimated 140,000-150,000 were brought to Auschwitz and in that camp alone 70,000-75,000 died there as victims of executions, cruel medical experiments, starvation and disease.
Poland had one of the largest underground movements in Europe, including the Polish government in exile in London. The universities of Warsaw, Cracow, and Lvov all operated clandestinely, as did an underground armed force. With the approach of the Soviet army imminent, the underground launched an uprising in Warsaw against the German army on Aug. 1, 1944, during which nearly 225,000 Poles, mostly civilians, died, and the Germans deported hundreds of thousands of men, women and children to concentration and forced labor camps.
In total three million Jewish Poles died and an estimated 1.8 to 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish citizens died in the invasion, uprising, prisons, forced labor and concentration camps, and during the allies’ military campaign of 1944-1945 to liberate Poland.