Terror, Blitzkrieg and Beyond – Nazi Reign Over Poland

World War I - Trench Warfare
Krieg. Education Images/UIG-Universal Images Group@gettyimages.de

This specific period of German history is not actually set in Germany. In fact, it is a part Polish history as well as it is German. The years from 1941 to 1943 were the Nazi reign over Poland during World War II. Just as the Third Reich is still leaving a trace in the German present, it is still influencing the relationship between the two countries and its inhabitants.

Terror and Blitzkrieg

The German invasion of Poland is generally seen as the event marking the beginning of World War II. On September 1st, 1939, Nazi troops began attacking Polish garrisons, in what is usually called the "Blitzkrieg". A less known fact is that this indeed wasn’t the first altercation called a Blitzkrieg, nor did the Nazi “invent” this strategy. The attack on Poland and the Baltic States was not conceived and carried out by the Reich alone as Hitler and the Soviet Union under Stalin had ​agreed to conquer the region together and divide it between them.​

The Polish defense forces fought hard, but after a few weeks, the country was overrun. In October 1939, Poland was under Nazi and Soviet occupation. The "German" part of the country was either directly integrated into the "Reich" or turned into a so-called "Generalgouvernement (General Governorate)". Following their quick victory, each the German and Soviet oppressors committed heinous crimes against the population. German forces executed tens of thousands of people in the first months of the Nazi Reign. The population was divided by race into several groups of differing status.

Expanding the Habitat

The months and years following the Blitzkrieg became a time of horror for the Polish population in the German parts of the country. This was where the Nazis began their infamous experiments on euthanasia, race breeding and gas chambers. About eight large concentration camps were located in what today comprises Poland.

In June 1941, the German forces broke their pact with the Soviet Union and conquered the rest of Poland. The newly occupied territories were integrated into the “Generalgouvernement” and became a gigantic petri dish for Hitler’s social experiments. Poland was to become a settlement area Germans in the Nazi’s strive to expand the habitat for their people. The current inhabitants were, of course, to be cast out of their own country.

In fact, the implementation of the so-called "Generalplan Ost (General Strategy for Eastern Europe)", contained intentions to resettle all Eastern Europeans to make way for the "superior race". This was all part of Hitler’s ideology of the "Lebensraum," the living space. In his mind, all "races" were constantly fighting each other for dominance and living space. To him, the Germans, in broader terms – the Aryans, were in dire need of more space to supply their growth.

A Reign of Terror

What did this mean for the Polish people? For one, it meant being subjected to Hitler’s social experiments. In Western Prussia, 750.000 Polish Farmers were quickly driven out of their homes. After that, the Nazi’s common strategies of arson, brawls and mass killings were implemented in Central Poland, even though the violent resettlement slowed down, simply due to the fact the SS, entrusted with the task, did not have enough men at hand. All of the "Generalgouvernement" was covered in a web of concentration camps, leaving the SS to do whatever they wanted. As most of the regular military were stationed close to the front, there was no one to stop or punish the men of the SS in committing their heinous crimes. Beginning in 1941, there were not only working camps or camps for prisoners of war (which had a high mortality rate as it was) but explicit death camps. Between 9 and 10 Million people were murdered in these camps, approximately half of them Jewish, brought here from all over occupied Europe.

The Nazi occupation of Poland can easily be called a reign of terror and it cannot really be compared to the rather "civilized" occupations, such as the one of Denmark or the Netherlands. Civilians lived under constant threat. Maybe this is why the Polish resistance was one of the biggest and most inter-laced movements in occupied Europe.