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On this day: September 1st in History – The “Gleiwitz episode” – How World War II began

On September 1, 1939, German troops invaded Poland, starting what was sure to happen, no matter how many pretended not to see it coming: World War II.

For some incomprehensible reasons all his own, Hitler needed an occasion. Perhaps because he believed that this would delay involvement in the Anglo-French war. Perhaps because he wanted to keep up appearances in front of his people. Maybe just because he wanted to.

In any case, the occasion was not exactly given, but created by him.

A completely fabricated casus belli

The episode of Gliwice (today’s Polish city of Gliwice, a few kilometers from Krakow, in Silesia), was a German provocation, which aimed to accuse Poland of aggression and thus start the German invasion of the country.

The episode took place shortly after midnight on August 31, 1939 at the Sender Gleiwitz radio station in the then German town. At the same time, about 20 more similar incidents occurred in other parts of the border between the two countries.

Shortly before the German invasion began, Hitler made a radio address in which he spoke of casus belli and justified the invasion, which began early on the morning of September 1.

The people who carried out the Gleiwitz attack were not Poles, as Hitler claimed, but German SS officers in Polish uniforms.

Hitler did not refer to any specific incident in his speech, but spoke generally of Polish provocations and an attack on Germany.

The Gleiwitz episode is the most famous of the operations carried out under the general name “Operation Himmler”, a series of provocative acts aimed at creating the basis for German aggression.

“Grandma Died”

The Gleiwitz episode became widely known during the testimony of SS officer Alfred Neujox at the Nuremberg trials. He himself admitted that he organized the episode under the orders of Heinrich Müller, Commander of the Gestapo.

On the night of 31 August a group of Germans wearing Polish military uniforms attacked the radio station, took it over and broadcast a short anti-German message in Polish. Neujox said the operation’s code name was “Grandma’s Dead.” The aim was to make it appear that the attack was organized by Polish saboteurs.

To make the whole incident more believable, the Gestapo executed Franciszek Honyok, a farmer from Upper Silesia known for his pro-Polish sentiments. He had been captured the day before and dressed as a saboteur, then drugged and executed with enough gunshots to make it look like he had taken part in the attack.

Honyock’s body was then taken to the scene of the attack and when it was “found”, it was presented to the police as evidence of the attack. Also, some prisoners were taken from Dachau, drugged, dressed in similar clothes and killed, completely disfiguring their faces so that they could not be recognized. These people were referred to by the Nazis as “canners”.

At the Nuremberg trials, Erwin von Lahausen, who served in German counterintelligence, said his agency had earlier been tasked with finding Polish uniforms and identity cards. Wilhelm Kanaris himself had later confessed to him that all this material was used at Gleiwitz and elsewhere. Some of the uniforms and identifications were given to the service by Oskar Schindler, the industrialist who later became famous for rescuing many Jews.

On September 1st German troops invade Poland and on the 3rd of the same month France and Britain enter what has gone down in history as World War II.

The Gleiwitz episode came as a culmination of Hitler’s rhetoric, which for months had spoken of “Polish aggression” against Germany and ethnic cleansing by the Poles. On 22 August he had told his generals: “I will give Germany an occasion to attack. It doesn’t matter how believable it is. The winner will never be asked if he told the truth.”

The possibility that Germany might finally be on the side that would have to answer if he told the truth completely escaped him.

September 1st in History

1918, France. American soldiers take up positions in France during World War I.

1923, Tokyo. The Nihonbashi district, one of Tokyo’s most vibrant districts, has been flattened by the 8.3-magnitude earthquake that struck the Japanese capital.

1937, New York. The Associated Press newsroom.

1939, Polish-German border. German soldiers tear down the bar on the border with Poland. The first shots of the Second Great War had already been fired in Poland earlier that day. The war eventually spread to 61 countries, on four continents, and claimed the lives of 50 million people before it ended six years later.

1939, Poland. Polish soldiers heading to the front on the first day of World War II.

1956, Italy. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Prince Edward and Willis Simpson, at the Venice Lido at the International Film Festival.

1957, Italy. A man gives a fascist salute in front of the coffin containing the dead body of Benito Mussolini at the San Cassiano Cemetery in Predapio, Italy. The former dictator’s body has been returned to his hometown for burial after a decade in an unknown location.

1962, Iran. Aerial view of a village in Iran, after the biggest earthquake to hit the country in the last 70 years. In the center is the mosque, the only building left standing.

1972, Iceland. American chess player Bobby Fischer leaves Logerdahl Hall in Reykjavik after his opponent Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union withdrew from the World Chess Championship.

1986, New York. Steffi Graf at the US Open.

1997, London. Passers-by leave flowers in front of Buckingham Palace in memory of Princess Diana. Diana was killed, along with her partner, Dodi Al Fayed, in a car accident in Paris.


The article is in Greek

Tags: day September #1st History Gleiwitz episode World War began

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