Blitzkrieg in Poland
September 1, 1939

Attack on Poland

For seven of our survivors who lived in Poland, life changed forever on September 1, 1939. With a means of warfare known as Blitzkrieg, or Lightning War, the German army attacked and quickly destroyed the valiant but antiquated and hopelessly outgunned Polish army.

Felicia Fuksman recounts what happened on the first day of the war:

On September 17, 1939, the Soviet Red Army crossed Poland’s eastern frontier and occupied a huge swath of Poland’s eastern territories.

Stalin and Ribbentrop

The Soviet action was undertaken in accordance with the Nazi-Soviet Pact signed a week before the Nazi attack on Poland. Though avowed enemies, Hitler and Stalin put aside their differences on the matter of Poland: the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, in a secret protocol, allowed for the division of Poland between the two totalitarian powers.

Following immediately behind the German troops were mobilized units of SS killers known as the Einsatzgruppen, or strike commandos. As the German army general Franz Halder noted in his diary, the mission of these killers was “cleaning out: Jewry, [Polish] intelligentsia, clergy, nobility.”

Massacre of Polish elites

The first targets of the Nazis were the representatives of the Polish elite, the individuals perceived as most likely to organize underground resistance. They were murdered at killing sites such as Palmiry outside of Warsaw, and included doctors, lawyers, teachers, politicians, university professors, police men, army officers, and Catholic priests. The Poles would be treated as slaves by the “master race.” It would be enough, said Himmler, if the Poles knew enough to count to ten in German.

On September 21, 1939, as the Polish campaign drew to a close, the SS leader Heydrich issued a memorandum that detailed his plans for the “final solution of the Jewish question.” Jews would be concentrated in ghettos “for a better possibility of control, and later possibility of deportation.” He made a distinction between the “ultimate goal,” which required a certain period of time to implement, and the short-term measures “leading to the fulfillment of the ultimate goal.” Heydrich called for the establishment of a Judenrat, or Jewish council, in every Jewish community. The Judenrat would facilitate the dispersal of orders from the Germans to the Jewish populace. Jewish property was to be handed over to Aryans.

Siggy Boraks tells us that he had no idea that the Germans were determined to destroy the Jewish people.

Warsaw surrendered to the Germans on September 27, 1939, after a terrific pounding by artillery and the air force.

When Shep Zitler surrendered to the Germans, he was denounced as a Jew by Polish soldiers.

As Felicia Fuksman tells us, the public humiliation of the Jews, a precursor to ghettoization and destruction, began immediately. The soldiers of the German Reich did not receive instructions for this endeavor but acted on their own initiative.

The Times-Picayune provided detailed coverage of the war in Poland. For more of these articles, click on the Chronology of Destruction.