The Nazi Invasion of Poland 81 Years Later

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In his poem September 1st 1939, W.H. Auden penned these words in response to Hitler’s invasion of Poland:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Auden’s words are timeless, as they not only pertain to Hitler, but to every tyrant who has tried to destroy other nations and peoples. There are many such men today, and most start with crushing the resistance of their own countrymen, in order to build up a cult following that will enable them to take their need for conquest to other nations. President Trump, like Hitler, Stalin, Putin, Mussolini, and so many more has been engaged in the first steps of tyranny Since he took office: undermining the courts, congress, and state and local governments, eradicating the written and unwritten norms of our democracy and republic, dismembering the constitutional guardrails that prevent any one person or branch of government to rule by fiat. Pitting White Conservative Christian against religious, racial, or ethnic minorities, and engaging in practices that violate the Constitution, Federal and state laws, and destroying the separation of powers that our founders knew were the only guard against tyranny, especially the tyranny of the Executive Branch.

Eighty one years ago Tuesday, the German Wehrmacht on the orders of Adolf Hitler invaded Poland. He had already bloodlessly conquered Austria and Czechoslovakia without war, he believed that he could do it again in Poland, but after years of appeasement the British and French declared war on Germany, it did not help Poland, because the British and French had the means but lacked the will to threaten Germany by invading her scarcely defended western border from a determined French ground attack, or prevent the Royal Navy from attacking her North Sea Ports, or entering the Baltic to aid Poland. Likewise they had refused Stalin’s offer to aid them if they went to war with Czechoslovakia in 1938, which enabled Hitler, the enemy of all things Communist to negotiate a non-aggression It began the European phase of the Second World War and by the time the war was over Europe would be devastated, Hitler would be dead, and the world changed. An epoch had ended, a new epoch begun. It is quite possible that the epoch that began with the defeat of Nazi Germany is ending, and something else, maybe like the previous era from 1918-1945 is returning. But, what follows the epoch that began in 1945 and appears to be ending, is the province futurists, seers, and prophets.

Not being the Prophet, nor the son of the Prophet, I shall not engage in speculation, but return to 1 September 1939.

When Hitler announced the war to a less than enthusiastic German nation, he used his usual lies to shield himself from starting the war. William Shirer, one of the few American reporters remaining in Europe wrote in his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich:

“Having lied so often on his way to power and in his consolidation of power, Hitler could not refrain at this serious moment in history from thundering a few more lies to the gullible German people in justification of his wanton act. You know the endless attempts I made for a peaceful clarification and understanding of the problem of Austria, and later of the problem of the Sudetenland, Bohemia and Moravia. It was all in vain… In my talks with Polish statesmen… I formulated at last the German proposals and… there is nothing more modest or loyal than these proposals. I should like to say this to the world. I alone was in the position to make such proposals, for I know very well that in doing so I brought myself into opposition to millions of Germans. These proposals have been refused…. For two whole days I sat with my Government and waited to see whether it was convenient for the Polish Government to send a plenipotentiary or not… But I am wrongly judged if my love of peace and my patience are mistaken for weakness or even cowardice… I can no longer find any willingness on the part of the Polish Government to conduct serious negotiations with us… I have therefore resolved to speak to Poland in the same language that Poland for months past has used toward us… This night for the first time Polish regular soldiers fired on our own territory. Since 5:45 A.M. we have been returning the fire, and from now on bombs will be met with bombs.” 

But things did not turn out Hitler’s way. He expected England and France to remain neutral. When they refused to budge and announced their support for Poland on September 3rd 1939 Hitler called his foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop to his office. One witness told Shirer, who again recorded it in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” 

“When I entered the next room [Schmidt later recounted] Hitler was sitting at his desk and Ribbentrop stood by the window. Both looked up expectantly as I came in. I stopped at some distance from Hitler’s desk, and then slowly translated the British ultimatum. When I finished there was complete silence. Hitler sat immobile, gazing before him… After an interval which seemed an age, he turned to Ribbentrop, who had remained standing by the window. “What now?” asked Hitler with a savage look, as though implying that his Foreign Minister had misled him about England’s probable reaction. Ribbentrop answered quietly: “I assume that the French will hand in a similar ultimatum within the hour.

His duty performed, Schmidt withdrew, stopping in the outer room to apprise the others of what had happened. They too were silent for a moment. Then: Goering turned to me and said: “If we lose this war, then God have mercy on us!” Goebbels stood in a corner by himself, downcast and self-absorbed. Everywhere in the room I saw looks of grave concern.”

Hitler, though he had concluded non-aggression pact with Stalin’s Soviet Union, that divided Poland between the two authoritarian powers, did not believe that Britain or France would do any more than to conclude a peace agreement after he finished Poland. Though France and Britain could have caused havoc and maybe even ended the war had they even attempted a serious campaign against Germany in September 1939, they did not. Hitler’s gamble which gave great concern to his Generals paid off. Poland was defeated, and with his pact with Stalin in place, Hitler was able to turn his attention to the West.

Hitler’s biographer, the late German historian Joachim Fest wrote:

In spite of all expenditures in the preceding years Germany was armed only, for the war that Hitler launched on September 1, not for the war of September 3. The army did consist of 102 divisions, but only half of these were active and battle-ready. The state of its training left much to be desired. The navy was distinctly inferior to the British and even to the French fleets; not even the strength permissible under the Anglo-German Naval Treaty of 1935 had been attained. Shortly after the Western declarations of war reached Berlin, Grand Admiral Raeder declared tersely that the German fleet, or rather “the little that is finished or will be finished in time, can only go down fighting honorably.” The air force alone was stronger than the forces of the enemy; it had 3,298 planes at its disposal. On the other hand, the ammunition supply had been half consumed by the end of the Polish campaign, so that the war could not have been actively continued for even three or four weeks. At Nuremberg, General Jodl called the existing reserves at the outbreak of the war “literally ridiculous.” Troop equipment also amounted to considerably less than the four-month stock that the High Command of the army had demanded. Even a small-scale attack from the West in the fall of 1939 would probably have brought about Germany’s defeat and the end of the war, military experts have concluded.

But Hitler’s war went far beyond a typical military invasion, occupation and revision of borders or exploitation of economic resources. Hitler’s invasion of Poland was his first movement to achieve Lebensraum “living space” in the East. It was also a racial war where the less than human inhabitants of that space, especially the Jews would be expelled from their homes, driven into ghettos, and eventually exterminated. In Poland the victims included the Polish intelligentsia, professors, priests, military officers, government officials, nobility; anyone who might be able to lead a revolt.

By invading Poland Hitler had abandoned politics which had served him so well against, party rivals, domestic opponents, and later European and World leaders. After Poland Hitler rejected political options and pressed forward with war. Fest wrote:

One of the striking aspects of his behavior is the stubborn, peculiarly blind impatience with which he pressed forward into the conflict. That impatience was curiously at odds with the hesitancy and vacillations that had preceded earlier decisions of his. When, in the last days of August, Göring pleaded with him not to push the gamble too far, he replied heatedly that throughout his life he had always played vabanque. And though this metaphor was accurate for the matter at hand, it hardly described the wary, circumspect style with which he had proceeded in the past. We must go further back, almost to the early, prepolitical phase of his career, to find the link with the abruptness of his conduct during the summer of 1939, with its reminders of old provocations and daredevil risks. There is, in fact, every indication that during these months Hitler was throwing aside more than tried and tested tactics, that he was giving up a policy in which he had excelled for fifteen years and in which for a while he had outstripped all antagonists. It was as if he were at last tired of having to adapt himself to circumstances, tired of the eternal talking, dissimulation, and diplomatic wirepulling, and were again seeking “a great, universally understandable, liberating action.”

Hitler having brought about the destruction of Europe died by his own hand in his bunker having determined that the German people were not worthy of him. The conflict which he bathed in the mythological understandings of Wagner and Paganism was also an eschatological war. Race and Lebensraum overrode all sense of ethics, morality, and even diplomacy that might lead to long term alliances with partners that shared shared mutual interests. Instead, Hitler’s most base instincts, hatred, and the racist desire to establish his mythological Aryan Race as the overlords of Poland, and the. Of every other conquered nation put him in a league of his own.

Fest wrote:

Morally, too, he now crossed the boundary that made the war irrevocable. In the same conversation he demanded the repression of any sign “that a Polish intelligentsia is coming forward as a class of leaders. The country is to continue under a low standard of living; we want to draw only labor forces from it.” Territory that went far beyond the borders of 1914 was incorporated into the Reich. The remainder was set up as a general government under the administration of Hans Frank; one part was subjected to a ruthless process of Germanization, the other to an unprecedented campaign of enslavement and annihilation. And while the commandos, the Einsatzgruppen, commenced their reign of terror, arresting, resettling, expelling, and liquidating—so that one German army officer wrote in a horrified letter of a “band of murderers, robbers and plunderers”—Hans Frank extolled the “epoch of the East” that was now beginning for Germany, a period, as he described it in his own peculiar brand of bombastic jargon, “of the most tremendous reshaping of colonizing and resettlement implementation.”

Diplomacy has no place in eschatology. Interestingly, the same day he invaded Poland, he signed an order for a euthanasia program directed against the weakest members of his own German nation. Called the T-4 operation, it was directed by the SS and was the proving ground where those who operated the gas chambers at Auschwitz, Treblinka, Soribor, and Belzec their training in mass murder.

In Hitler’s worldview the handicapped, the mentally ill, and others with any kind of disability were life unworthy of life. They were a drain on society. Sadly, President Trump and his followers view differs little from Hitler’s.

Anyway, this is enough for the night. I shall refrain from further comparisons with the current American President, and the authoritarian and racist leaders taking power in parts of Europe, and the British Prime Minister working to overthrow Britain’s relationship with Europe while threatening the very fabric of the British Constitutional Monarchy, and the unity of the United Kingdom.

The British Historical John Keegan wrote: “The great men of power who seek to change the nations they belong to usually are pretty terrible people.” I cannot think of any more accurate words to describe President Trump and his cult, be they political, law enforcement, military, media, or common citizens.

The ghosts of the past seldom remain there and often return with a vengeance when awakened by the same forces that unleashed them then.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

4 Comments

Filed under crimes against humanity, Foreign Policy, History, Military, nazi germany, Political Commentary, war crimes, war crimes trials, world war two in europe

4 responses to “The Nazi Invasion of Poland 81 Years Later

  1. Pierre Lagacé

    There some dates in history that most people who are living today remember vividly. November 3rd, 2020 will be one of them.

  2. Pierre Lagacé

    Holding a sign about sacrificing the weak says a lot about this person. What the Lt. Governor of Texas the one who said old people were willing to sacrifice their lives for the economy?

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