Poland First To Fight
German Invasion of Poland

Nazi Rule in Poland - part 1



Text: Nazi Rule in Poland, Gertrude M. Godden, Catholic Truth Society, London, 1941
Photos: Hugo Jaeger



To-day Poland is an object lesson in Nazi domination. Poland has been so effectually isolated from all foreign visitors that here Nazi ideas and methods can be put into force without any restraining fear of outside criticism; and therefore the working of the Nazi régime can be seen to perfection. As it is a régime that is endeavouring to control a great part of Europe, Poland has a lesson for other nations which they cannot afford to disregard.

What did Poland represent before those terrible weeks, in September, 1939, when her freedom was suddenly wrested from her by an overwhelming and ruthless invasion of mechanized land armies and bombing planes? In the words of the Vatican broadcast, the Poles are "one of the most pious and devotional of the peoples of Europe." They are also a nation schooled in suffering; and they are characterized by an incomparable courage, as became the frontier guard of the eastern borders of Christendom. For centuries the Polish dwellers in the Eastern Provinces kept perpetual watch, ready to repel the Tartar invasions; the countless numbers who fell fighting heroically in this border warfare were regarded as soldiers of the Cross. Poland was called again to do battle for the Cross when, in the seventeenth century, her soldier king, John Sobieski, delivered Europe from the last great Moslem invasion in the battle that swayed for eight hours outside Vienna, till the historic charge of the Polish cavalry, led by the King himself, won the day. Truly the greatness of Poland was founded, as Cardinal Hinsley has said, "in her age-long struggle against unchristian hordes in defence of our common Christian heritage."1

Hugo Jaeger - German Invasion of Poland 1939
Near Warsaw, 1939

It is a struggle that has been continued in our own days. Twenty-one years ago Poland defended Europe from the onward sweep of the anti-Christian Bolshevik armies, transforming what seemed to be a forlorn hope into victory by the miracle of the Vistula. The British Ambassador to Germany, Lord D'Abernon, had no doubt as to the róle played by the Polish armies in August, 1920: "Had the Soviet forces overcome Polish resistance... Bolshevism would have spread through central Europe and might well have penetrated the whole continent."2 Polish resistance did not fail; and Poland, as Pope Pius XII has reminded the world, is "imperishably crowned in the pages of history by the long record of her loyalty to the Church and her services to Christian civilization."3

It is for those age-long services, and for this loyalty, that the Nazi rulers, animated by their fierce hatred of Christian faith and practice, have done all in their power utterly to destroy the Polish nation. For the first time in the history of Europe we see, to-day, the perpetration of the crime of the attempted assassination of a people. This is freely admitted by the Nazis themselves. High Nazi officials have declared that "The German victory has closed for ever Poland's existence" (Times, 9/12/40); that "an independent Poland will never rise again... the Poles will have to work as the Knechte der Deutschen - the servants of the Germans" (Times, 13/11/40); and that "Polish citizens no longer exist" (Times, 28/12/40). The effort of the Nazi rulers in regard to Poland appears to be, to quote Cardinal Hinsley again, "to blot out her national life and culture from the face of the earth... the like brutality and the like cruelty of exterminating hate the world has never seen before."4

This incredible fostering of hatred and cruelty, things so alien to modern humane thought, is an intrinsic part of the Nazi creed and practice. That expert observer of the Nazi régime, Dr. Borkenau, has pointed out that "Nazi psychology, as the background of all the various Nazi tenets, boils down to simple concentrated hate... They hate not only their adversaries... They hate even more all the things, beliefs, and attitudes which constitute the background from which they sprang. They hate liberty as such, justice as such, love as such, but most of all, pity as such... There exists a large Nazi literature revelling in advance in the abominations which the Nazis will inflict upon all their future victims, including, of course, all the democracies... And this cruelty itself has a decided metaphysical character... it is the cruelty of the anti-Christ. It is a cruelty which is primarily aimed at contradicting, through action, every value of that Christian and that humanitarian and liberal tradition which the Nazis loathe... what they really are is men in a state of ferocious revolt against the tenets of Christianity, anti-Christians, and therefore worshippers of all that in the Christian tradition is regarded as Satanic."5 That is the considered opinion of a trained sociologist and scientific observer. Dr. Borkenau sees in the Nazi creed and practice "all the elements of the religious spirit turned to a negative end... all diverted to the cause of anti-religion."6

Hugo Jaeger - German Invasion of Poland 1939
A city after German invasion, 1939

Catholic Poland, defenceless and isolated from all outside contacts, offers a perfect opportunity for the carrying out of this Nazi creed. Hatred of liberty, hatred of justice, hatred of pity, above all hatred of Christianity, have all been in unfettered action for the last eighteen months in the cities, the towns, and the villages of Poland. And, as always in her tragic and glorious history, the soul of Poland survives all the malice, all the brutality, all the hate-inspired savagery of the attack launched upon her by the enemies of Christ.

Here is a short summary of the martyrdom of Poland under Nazi rule. Let us take first the attack on the Church. The Nazi authorities lost no time in this their most important campaign. Within six weeks of the first day of the invasion of Poland in September, 1939, 211 churches had been closed, together with 117 religious houses; seven bishops were under a rigid control; and 193 priests had been arrested (Times, 24/10/39). Before the end of the year in the See of Poznań, the See of the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Hlond, many of the clergy were shot; and all the Catholic churches were closed in Pomorze, and the majority of the priests were under house arrest (P.P.B., 28/12/39).7 It was learnt that all the Polish priests in the city of Gdynia were arrested, and sent to Danzig, where they were forced to do road-making (P.P.B., 16/12/39). Road-making was the least of the hardships and indignities inflicted by the ferocious hatred towards the Church of the Nazi administrators. The Bishop of Łódź was forced to clean the streets in front of his own Cathedral amid the jeers of the Nazi Black Guards, the S.S., known as the spearhead of Hitlerism (P.P.B., 10/1/40). A Catholic priest of Kościan, having interceded for the life of a man condemned to death, received only jeers and insults from the Gestapo (the Nazi Secret Police), and was compelled to be present at the execution, and afterwards to wash the stones reeking with blood and to dig the grave (P.P.B., 4/1/40).

By the end of January it was known that, in one diocese alone, 620 priests had been sent to concentration camps or imprisoned. This is how Catholic bishops are treated in Nazi concentration camps. The Bishop of Lublin, together with his Auxiliary Bishop, were sent to the camp at Oranienburg. Soon after their arrival they were ordered to strip; cold water from hoses was played upon them; and they were then photographed in this condition in the presence of a crowd of jeering Nazis (P.P.B., 16/5/40). Ridicule is varied with gross indignities. Canon Stedzcynski was imprisoned in a stable, with a great number of persons, including many other priests; the stable was so small that the prisoners had only standing room; they were forbidden to go out, and there was only a makeshift latrine in a corner. Canon Stedzcynski was compelled to clean up this corner daily with his hands; and the Vicar, Mgr. Adam Minithal, when trying to help him, was beaten by the Nazi police with the butts of their rifles.8 To a Polish priest, Father Szarek, was accorded the privilege of a martyrdom as prolonged as that of any of the early Christian martyrs. Father Szarek was attacked in front of his church, driven against a wall, and cruelly beatenby a group of young S.S. Nazi guards, the élite of the Nazi troops. One of them smashed his eyeglasses, blinding him; another broke his jaw by a blow with the butt of a rifle; a third broke his collar-bone, after which he was slowly beaten to death. The wall was covered with his blood (P.P.B., 23/1/40). Another of the Polish martyr priests, Father Powlowski, the parish priest of Chocz, was made to walk barefoot to the place of his execution (Times, 7/5/40). In a report presented to the Pope, early in May, 1940, the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Hlond, stated that "the majority of the clergy have been either murdered or are in prison... many died in prison as a result of the maltreatment they received" (P.P.B., 14/5/40). In September, 1940, an official report stated that the treatment of the Catholic Church showed "no improvement." In November, 1940, it was reported that all priests in Western Poland, aged 35 and upwards, were deported to work in Germany, or sent to Austria or to the Dachau concentration camp. In December, 1940, the news was received that Bishop Bursche, aged over 70, the Leader of the Evangelical Church, had been beaten to death. Reports from the Apostolic See, published in February of this year (1941), state that about 700 priests have been shot in the concentration camps at Oranienburg,Dachau, Oświęcim, and Buchwald. In this month it was estimated that 3,000 Polish priests were in concentration camps (Tablet, 8/2/41).

Hugo Jaeger - German Invasion of Poland 1939
Near Sochaczew, 1939

The leaders of the Nazi campaign against the Church in Poland know, of course, that "it is the Mass that matters." Within three months of the Nazi invasion and occupation of the country all the clergy of the See of Cardinal Hlond, that of Poznań, were forbidden to say Mass (Times, 14/12/39; Tablet, 23/12/39); and the saying of Mass by the Polish priests in Poznania was also forbidden (Free Europe, 15/12/39). It was reported in January, 1940, that even the saying of Mass behind locked doors was prohibited in the Archdiocese of Poznań.9 A summary of the persecution of the Church in Western Poland, issued in November, 1940, stated that Mass could only be said publicly on Sundays, from 7 a.m. till 10.30 (Polish Fortnightly Review, 1/11/40).

The Nazi hatred of the Christian faith is shown most clearly in their deliberate sacrilege of the Blessed Sacrament. Thus at Żnin, Father Dobrzynski, when taking the Last Sacraments to a dying man, had his vestments stripped off him, and the Host was stamped upon (Daily Telegraph, 24/1/40). The Franciscan Nuns of Perpetual Adoration, an enclosed order, had their precincts invaded by the Gestapo; they were herded into the church, and the Gestapo leader said: "You pray in vain, because God does not exist. If He did exist, we should not be here." The Mother Superior, who was ill in her cell, had a chalice with the consecrated Hosts thrust before her with orders to "Devour!" (Vatican Broadcast, Times, 23/1/40). Further, Nazi officials prevented the administration of the Sacraments to the sick and dying (P.P.B., 8/2/40).

The churches of Poland have suffered deliberate desecration at the hands of the Nazi administrators, being converted into prisons, stables, concert halls, and garages. Thus the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Gnesen was turned into a concert hall; the chapel of the Bishop's Palace at Chełmo was made into a dance hall; the great Franciscan centre at Niepokalanów, one of the largest religious communities in the world, was converted into a Nazi concentration camp (P.P.B., 14/5/40).

Nazi desecrations of the crucifix are of course well known in Germany. In Poland similar outrages have been experienced. When the monument to Christ the King was dynamited in Poznań, passers-by who bared their heads were beaten up and forced to assist in the destruction; and the statue of Christ was dragged through the streets of the city before being destroyed. All the roadside shrines, with their crosses, chapels, and statues of the saints, have been broken up. In the great Polish port of Gdynia all crosses and religious statues were thrown into the mud and hacked to pieces. The Polish people made pilgrimage to the places where the crosses and statues had been, covering them with flowers and carrying away fragments of the crosses as relics, a practice that the Nazi authorities at once prohibited. Throughout Poland, in this period of national distress, the people have been praying before the altars of the national saint and martyr, Saint Andrew Bobola; whereupon the Nazi authorities prohibited the holding of services at his altars.

Other measures taken for the attempted destruction of religion in Poland are the suppression of all religious orders, including those devoted to charitable work; the dissolution of Catholic organizations; the confiscation of Catholic newspapers; and an order, for Western Poland, that confessions must be heard in German.

Hugo Jaeger - German Invasion of Poland 1939
Dead were buried in parks and streets, 1939

Clearly the statements of the Vatican radio concerning the persecution of the Church in Poland, under Nazi rule, are if anything an understatement of facts. In January, 1940, the Vatican broadcaster declared that the crowning iniquity of the Nazi rule in Poland was "the cynical suppression of all but the merest suggestion of religious worship in the lives of one of the most pious and devotional of the peoples of Europe"; and in the same month the report of Cardinal Hlond, presented to the Pope, was published, in which the Primate of Poland protested against the "trampling underfoot of all liberty of conscience and the religious rights of the population" (Times, 29/1/40). It will be recalled that Dr. Borkenau especially noted the Nazi hatred of liberty. Early in May, 1940, Cardinal Hlond had presented a second report to the Pope which affirmed that the Nazi rulers were "systematically seeking to enslave or destroy the Polish population and root out their religion by means of deportations, executions, and material ruin" (P.P.B., 14/5/40). In November, Radio Vatican described the persecution of the Church in Poland (tablet, 23/11/40). On the last day of the year a brief final report was published stating that "the most severe persecution of the Catholic Church is taking place," including the forbidding of the enrolment of new students in the Catholic Training Colleges, and the sequestration of all the Training College buildings (P.P.B., 31/12/40). This is, of course, an effort to check the supply of future priests for the Polish dioceses. It is evident that the close of the year 1940 brought no remission of an intense persecution of the Church by the Nazi authorities.


(1) Broadcast by H.E. Cardinal Hinsley, November, 1939

(2) The Eighteenth Decisive Battle of the World, Lord D'Abernon, p.11

(3) Pope Pius XII, Encyclical, Summi Pontificatus

(4) Broadcast by H.E. Cardinal Hinsley, transmitted in Polish, Easter Sunday, 1940

(5) The Totalitarian State, F. Borkenau, 1940, pp. 137-140

(6) Ibid, p. 141

(7) References to the Polish Press Bulletin are give for convenience as P.P.B.

(8) Vatican Broadcast quoted in the Times, 25/1/40

(9) Persecution of the Church in the Third Reich, p. 222




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