Did Poland attack Germany first in WW II? (Explained)

On 1 September 1939 Adolf Hitler, the Führer of the German Third Reich, spoke on the radio and announced the beginning of the Second World War.

During that speech he claimed that „Polen hat heute Nacht zum ersten Mal auf unserem eigenen Territorium auch mit bereits regulären Soldaten geschossen. Seit 5:45 Uhr wird jetzt zurückgeschossen“. (Tonight for the first time Poland has used regular soldiers on our (german) territory. We are returning fire since 5:45 am.)

But did Poland really, like Hitler claimed, start World war II by attacking the Third Reich first?

Poland did not attack the German Reich first. The claimed acts of Polish aggression against Germans were staged by SS men who were dressed as Polish saboteurs. The goal of the false flag attacks was to justify Hitlers’ invasion into Poland as an defensive act.

Hitler did not want to appear as the aggressor. A defensive war would not only be way easier to sell to the German public but also the german allies. And Hitler hoped that Great Britain and France, both had promised Poland their aid against foreign invasions, would -at least for some time- keep out of the war.

Find out if Hitler`s plan worked in my article here!

The staged Polish attacks on Germans

Most of what we know about Hitlers’ strategy of framing Poland as the aggressor comes from the Nurnberg Trials, especially the affidavit of Alfred Naujocks, an SS-Sturmbannführer (the equivalent of a Major in the regular army).

He claimed that he was the one who had staged the so-called Gleiwitz incident. He also claimed that he had gotten his orders directly from Reinhard Heydrich (an SS-Officer who would later become the main architect of the Holocaust and Heinrich Müller (A high-ranking member of the Gestapo and also a key figure of the Holocaust).

These false flag attacks prior to the start of World war II on the 1. September 1939 were called Operation Himmler. The most prominent attack was the Gleiwitz incident.

Operation Himmler

Operation Himmler, named after the Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler, was a series of German false flag operations with the goal of justifying Hitlers’ invasion of Poland.

Prior to August of 1939 German newspapers, Hitler and other high-ranking nazi politicians had systematically accused Poland of tolerating ethnic cleansings and the discrimination of the German minority that was living in Poland.

That set the stage for further accusations against the Polish government. Especially the claim that polish saboteurs would operate on German territory. To prove these (wrong) claims several false flag events were staged by the SS and the SD.

The first date for these false flag events was set for 26 August of 1939 but it had to be postponed due to political negotiations.

In the night from 31 August to 1 September 1939, a total of 21 false flag events were performed by Germans in Polish uniforms.

All of them followed the same pattern:

A Unit of Germans dressed in Polish uniforms would storm into a building close to the German-Polish border, fire their guns over the heads of the shocked locals, vandalize the property and leave a few bodies in Polish uniforms.

Obviously, these Bodies in Polish uniforms weren`t German soldiers but usually inmates of Concentration camps. These men were forced to put on Polish uniforms before they were killed with lethal injections.

After their death, they would be shot at with guns in order to stage German resistance against the saboteurs.

The most well-known of these false flag attacks was the Gleiwitz Incident.

The Gleiwitz Incident

During the night of 31 August 1939, a small group of German SS-men who were dressed in Polish uniforms attacked the small radio station in the city of Gleiwitz.

Gleiwitz (nowadays situated in Poland and called Gliwice) was situated in the German region of Upper Silesia and was close to the German-Polish border.

The group of these disguised soldiers was led by SS-Sturmbannführer (the equivalent rank in the regular Wehrmacht was Major) Alfred Naujocks and had orders to attack the German radio station in Gleiwitz. The attack on the radio station was ended after a short, anti-german message had been broadcasted.

In order to make the entire attack more realistic a body dressed in Polish uniform was left behind. That body was the corpse of a German farmer who was known for his pro-polish opinions. He had been imprisoned by the Gestapo a few days before the attack.

He was forced to dress in a polish uniform before he was killed with a lethal injection. After that, his corpse was shot several times. And his Face was also demolished in order to prevent the German police from identifying him.

International observers were allowed to visit the crime site but would not be permitted to start any own investigations. Their role was to legitimize the German investigations which would deliver the justification to start WW II.

The 1. September 1939: The start of World War II

Hitler claimed that these incidents and the presence of corpses in Polish uniforms on German territory were proof for the „Polish aggression“. And that Polish aggression was the justification Hitler needed to start world war II.

The German army invaded Poland and 17 days later, on the 17 September of 1939, the Soviet union also marched into Poland.

Poland was split up between Hitler and Stalin just like they had agreed on in the secret additional papers of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact (signed on 24 August 1939 but with the date of 23 August 1939 by the soviet and german foreign Ministers).

By the way, if you read the part of Hitlers’ speech on the top of the page you realize that Hitler claimed that the German army returned fire since 5:45 am.

That is actually not true, the German battleship SMS Schleswig Holstein had already started the bombardment of the so-called Weser Platte, a Polish area with an important ammunition depot, at 4:47 am.

And according to eyewitnesses the German attack on Poland had already begun at 4:37 am when the German airforce bombarded the city of Wielun.

Why all the troubles of staging Polish aggression?

You might wonder why Hitler went through all that trouble to justify his invasion of Poland.

A lot had to do with the Polish allies France and Great Britain. Both had guaranteed to defend Poland against foreign aggressions. By disguising his aggression as a defensive act Hitler hoped to at least gain some time before the polish allies would declare war on Germany.

Hitlers` plan didn`t really work, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany on the first of September 1939. But while both countries declared war on Germany none of them took immediate actions to assist Poland.

Because of that Poland was basically grated between two rocks, one being Hitler` Germany and the other one being Stalins` Soviet union.

The German army started the invasion of Poland in the early morning of 1 September 1939, the soviet troops started their invasion on September the 17th from the east.  

35 days after the German invasion, on the 6th of October 1939, the last Polish unit surrendered. And on the 8th of October, the western part of Poland was annexed by the Third Reich while the eastern part was absorbed by the Soviet Union, just as Hitler and Stalin had agreed on.

Obviously Germany was not allowed to keep these territories after 1945. Here you can find my article with more information on the territories that Germany had to give up after the end of World War 2.

And here you can also find out if the Soviet Union returned the annexed Polish land after the end of the war.

It had different reasons why France and Great Britain did not immediately start an offensive into the Western regions of Germany. Find out more about these reasons and how they were connected to the experiences of WW I in my article here.

And Here you can find my article with more information on why in 1939 especially Great Britain wasn`t ready for another war against Germany.

Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.

Until next time

Yours truly

Luke Reitzer


H. Winkler: Geschichte des Westens, Die Zeit der Weltkriege 1914-1945 (München 2011).