Poland First To Fight
German Invasion of Poland

Nazi Rule in Poland - part 2

 

 

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

 

 

Having destroyed religious freedom, the Nazi administrators in Poland have also destroyed, as far as they could, freedom of mind. "The Nazis", writes that competent authority, Professor Roberts, "have made every part of education a training ground in Nazi ideology."1 Schools of the anti-Christian Nazi State have been opened in every Polish town. Early in the year 1940 the crucifix had been removed from all Polish school classrooms; and the teaching of religion in the schools was prohibited (P.P.B., 18/2/40). Polish high schools are closed, and private teaching is forbidden. The teaching of Polish history and geography has been abolished from the school curriculum, and the private teaching of these subjects is penalized by arrest and a heavy fine. The six universities of Poland, at one of which, that of Warsaw, there were 10,000 undergraduates, were all closed within six months of the Nazi invasion. Some of these universities were transformed into Nazi high schools. The University of Poznań was turned into a Nazi university and was reserved solely for Germans. One hundred and sixty professors of the famous Polish University of Cracow were taken to a concentration camp, where they were savagely treated; sixteen of these professors died. The contents of the Polish museums, libraries, and private collections -everything in Poland which testifies to her ancient civilization, to her traditions, to her great cultural past- even scientific instruments and installations, have been taken away. The Nazi aim is obviously that of the complete annihilation of Polish education and of Polish intellectual life. It is an aim that will not be easily achieved.

Even the children of Poland have resisted the Nazi onslaught with such courage that the German authorities have had to force them to carry out heavy manual labour so as, in the words of the Nazi officials, "to break their rebellious spirit" (Daily Telegraph, 4/1/40). Death sentences have been inflicted on elder pupils. During the night of November 27th-28th, 1940, in the town of Bydgoszcz, 134 Polish lads were shot, mostly pupils from the secondary schools. Many inhabitants of the town were awakened that night, and forced to witness the mass shooting of these boys (P.P.B., 13/12/39). A searchlight on Nazi mentality is afforded by the practice of taking school children to witness the public executions by shooting which are so prominent an element in the Nazi régime in Poland. Over 1,000 Poles were shot, in three districts, in December, 1939. Executions took place in public, in market squares, with school children present (P.P.B., 3/1/40).

Every attempt has thus been made by the Nazi rulers to stamp out religious freedom, and freedom of the mind, in Poland. Freedom to live in a man's own home, or to choose the place in which to live, has been no less savagely destroyed. Since the Nazi invasion tens of thousands of Poles, men, women, and children, have been taken from their homes, frequently at night and with only an hour's notice, have been thrust into railway trucks, and then transported to other parts of Poland, in order to make room for German families imported into the vacant homesteads, houses, and flats. The mass misery resulting from these immense operations is almost inconceivable. During the winter of 1939-40 twenty thousand families were expelled from the ancient and royal Polish city of Poznań. In one instance thirty thousand Polish peasants had their homesteads confiscated and handed over to imported Germans (P.P.B., 19/2/40). In the region of Płock all the Polish peasants were deported, all their property was confiscated, and they were allowed to take with them only some food and 20 Reichs-marks in cash; they were driven out on foot, and were heard before they started intoning the Polish national anthem, in spite of the threats of the Nazi police.



Hugo Jaeger - German Invasion of Poland 1939
"Danger Zone - Do Not Proceed", Near Warsaw, 1939


Early in 1940 some 150,000 people were being driven out of Western Poland into Central Poland every month. In March, 1940, it was estimated that over a million Poles had been transported to Central Poland in the depths of a terrible winter, without food, shelter, or means of any sort (Times, 26/3/40). An evacuation train included children expelled from Poznań; when a cattle-truck was opened, at the station of their destination, thirty little bodies were found of children frozen to death (P.P.B., 14/4/40). The ruthless uprooting of the people of Poland from their homes, and their brutal transportation to other regions, continued to the last month of 1940. In December these unhappy people were arriving in Central Poland "in a deplorable state, without luggage, without any means of existence, and without identification papers which prevented them from receiving their food rations" (Times, 14/12/40).

Mass deportations of the helpless Polish workers, for forced labour in Germany, have been carried out with equal ruthlessness. The numbers of Polish workers scheduled early in 1940 for deportation into Germany, under conditions that are virtually those of slave labour, amounted to one million, and included children of fourteen years of age. The Secretary of the British Anti-Slavery Society immediately issued a protest against "an act of barbarism never attempted by any of the most ruthless conquerors in the history of the Dark Ages"; and said, very truly, that "the sympathy of every decent man and woman in every country of the civilized world will assuredly go out to these million peasants destined to be transported from their homes and families to an unknown land and to unknown tasks" (Daily Telegraph, 18/3/40). Within a few months additional misery had been inflicted on these helpless slave workers. The Head of the Nazi Gestapo (Secret Police), Herr Himmler, decreed that all Poles deported to Germany must wear a yellow, lilac, and white badge, so that they might be distinguished from the rest of the population; and an official circular explained that "decent Poles do not exist... therefore no intercourse between Germans and Poles is permissible. All Germans must therefore see that Poles in their employment wear this distinguishing mark... no German must ever forget that he is a member of the Herrenvolk, the master race" (Times, 20/9/40). Nothing could demonstrate more clearly than this decree the fundamental cleavage between the Nazi creed, with its utter contempt for all "subject" peoples, and the Christian recognition of the individual value and the individual rights of every member of the human race.



Hugo Jaeger - German Invasion of Poland 1939
Head of the SS Heinrich Himmler (right) speaks with an officer, Warsaw, 1939


The Nazi methods of obtaining their serf labour are methods of sheer violence. The Polish workers are frequently simply kidnapped by Nazi raiding parties, sent out into the streets of Polish towns. Or a street would be barred off and the people living in it given fifteen minutes in which to prepare to leave. Men, women, and children were collected into trucks and taken to concentration "camps"; the "camp" might be an old barrack with dirty straw as the only furniture. A correspondent writing from Italy described these "camps" as holding "tens of thousands of women and children, without adequate food, clothing, or fuel." In the "camps" the sorting-out process took place. The elder people and children were despatched to Central Poland; those between fifteen or sixteen and fifty were separated from their families and deported into the interior of Germany for work in forced-labour gangs (P.P.B., 13/12/39). It was Hitler himself who declared, in Mein Kampf, that during the early development of Aryan culture "the members of the inferior race became the first mechanical tools."2 Apparently Nazi Germany aims at becoming a slave-owning State, filled with human "mechanical tools."3 Well might the Vatican Radio sum up Nazi actions in Poland as "one more grievous affront to the moral conscience of mankind, one more contemptuous insult to the law of nations."4

The callous disregard of all laws, divine or human, which is so marked a characteristic of the Nazi "New Order," is very apparent in the mass executions which were continued in Poland more than a year after the complete cessation of any military operations. At the end of last year (December, 1940) a correspondent who had been recently in Poland wrote that "the number of victims of Gestapo (Nazi Secret Police) executions has been computed at 70,000... the terror has not been relaxed. It persists with diabolical ferocity" (Times, 30/12/40). In the following month, January, 1941, it was reputed that there were more than 6,000 nameless graves in a village fifteen miles from Warsaw, known as "The Village of Death." Nazi methods show not only a diabolical ferocity but also a diabolical ingenuity in the infliction of suffering on a helpless population. Thus at Wawer, near Warsaw, where 138 innocent persons were massacred, agents of the Gestapo removed the victims from their homes at 2 a.m.; if more than one man was found in a house the women present were ordered to choose between them, a mother having to choose between two sons, a wife having to choose between her husband, her father, and her brother.

Sometimes the administrative terror, which is the Nazi conception of local government, is less subtle. In Zolazna Street, in Warsaw, a butcher overcharged on one pound of meat; his body was sewn into a sack and left in front of the shop for a whole week (P.P.B., 11/3/40). It was a German judge at Bydgoszcz (Bromberg) who admitted that it was necessary to use the largest square in the town for the executions, and that the heaps of dead were allowed to lie there for several days "as a warning to the population" (Times, 5/2/40). In March, 1940, five months after the conclusion of the invasion and occupation of Poland, executions were taking place in Warsaw at the average rate of 10-14 persons shot every day; the shootings were carried out in the gardens of the Polish Parliament building, at 3 a.m. and 3 p.m. Orders came to one Polish town to shoot one in every ten of its inhabitants; all through the night the selection of victims went on, innocent men, women, and children being dragged from their houses. Next morning they were tied to a fence and mowed down by machine-gun fire; seventeen were women and thirty-four were under the age of eighteen (Times, 14/2/40). It was reported in April, 1940, that five thousand men and women had disappeared from their homes in a single fortnight in Warsaw (Free Europe, 5/4/40).



Hugo Jaeger - German Invasion of Poland 1939
Burned-out tank in Warsaw, 1939


"The Poles," writes an observer lately in Warsaw, "carry their serfdom with courage and pride. To have been tortured by the Gestapo is considered an honour which every patriot is glad to have suffered" (Times, 30/12/40). Here is a final instance of terrorist executions, bearing witness to the unquenchable Polish courage and the pride felt even by Polish children. Great numbers were being executed in the principal square of Bydgoszcz (Bromberg). Among them was one young Pole who looked with an air of proud indifference straight into the rifle muzzles. Just before the volley was fired he stretched his hand toward heaven and shouted, "Poland is still not lost!" For several weeks after this execution the children were playing a new game in the streets of Bydgoszcz. They were playing at execution squads; the hero of the game was always a boy who, trembling with enthusiasm, stretched his hands towards heaven and cried, "Poland is still not lost!" Then he threw himself on the stones in imitation of the young Pole who had been executed. The Nazis know that this game will be taken up all over Poland. When the new Poland rises again may she be worthy of such children.

Religious liberty, cultural liberty, personal liberty, all these natural human rights of every individual man and woman have been ruthlessly torn from the Polish people by the Nazi domination of the last eighteen months. And yet the Poles, whether in servitude in their own land or in Germany, or forming their splendid fighting squadrons in England, have no doubt but that, in the proud words of the Polish Legions, "Poland hath not perished." It will be remembered that King John Sobieski, on his way to give battle to the Moslem armies invading Europe, armies outnumbering his own Polish troops by four to one, served Mass on the morning of the battle, kneeling with his arms outstretched in the form of a cross, having already prayed at the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. The ensuing victory saved Europe from Moslem domination. To-day Polish men, women, and children are praying at many altars for the release of their country from the hideous tyranny that is trampling her underfoot; to-day Polish troops are fighting to save Europe from a domination more evil than that of any Moslem aggressors.

It is very necessary to realise that this tyranny intends to achieve nothing less than the annihilation of the Polish people. The attempt is the more monstrous when we remember that Poland was already a Christian sovereign State in the ninth century. The idea is so alien to minds not contaminated with the Nazi ideology that only the most complete proofs will convince the world that a deliberate attempt at the assassination of a nation is actually taking place. Here are a few more of such documented and attested facts. There has been a savage onslaught on the use of the Polish language. An English eyewitness writes: "I myself saw a Polish lady having her ears boxed by a German in a tram for speaking Polish in a whisper, and I have direct personal knowledge of another case in which a small girl was struck in the face and her young brother beaten unmercifully for the same reason. Germans go about the streets with dog-whips and strike across the face anyone they hear talking Polish" (Times, 6/3/40). Anyone who dared to speak Polish in queues outside food shops was immediately pushed to the end of the queue, and frequently could not purchase any food at all. Those who do not speak German keep silence -the eloquent silence of Poland. Neither may the Poles read in their own language. Polish newspapers, periodicals, and bookshops have been suppressed. By the middle of February, 1940, it was stated that "not a single Polish book can be seen either in Poznań, Pomorze (Pomerania), or Silesia" (P.P.B., 18/2/40). Neither may Poles hear the music of the greatest of Polish composers, Chopin. The playing of the music of Chopin in public is forbidden. Even the obliteration of Polish inscriptions on tombstones in cemeteries has been ordered; tombstones from which Polish inscriptions had not been removed by a certain date were to be confiscated (Deutsche Rundsschau, 15/1/40). Last, but by no means least, it had been forbidden, as we have seen, to hear confessions in Polish; only German may be used.



Hugo Jaeger - German Invasion of Poland 1939
German troops prepare for victory parade after the invasion of Poland, 1939


To annihilate a nation it is necessary not only to destroy the religion, the language, the literature of the people marked down for destruction. The leaders of national action and thought must also be removed. All the intellectual leaders of Poland have been imprisoned, and many of them have been done to death. Men can be "removed" by other means than shooting. For example, M. Rataj, leader of the Polish Peasants' Party and Speaker of the Polish Parliament of 1922-28, died "suddenly" while being cross-examined by the Gestapo. Polish prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps work sixteen hours a day without rest, except half an hour for a scanty meal. Torture is often used, such as pouring water from a rubber hose for an hour into the mouth, eyes, nose, or abdomen of the victim. Older or weaker men succumb quickly (Times, 28/10/40). Professor Estreicher, a jurist of European reputation, was asked by the Nazi authorities to become President of the Nazi "Protectorate" of Poland. He flatly refused -not a single quislingite has been found in the whole of Poland- and was sent to the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen, where he was tortured to death. In the three provinces of Silesia, Pomorze, and Poznań, during three months, executions took place daily of leading citizens, as well as of the political, industrial, and intellectual leaders. In the spring of last year(1940) it became known that mass arrests of lawyers, doctors, and other intellectuals had taken place in Warsaw. Last April (1941) reports were published of the systematic suppression of all cultural life, and of education. As The Times has pointed out, "The German administration is deliberately eliminating the bravest, the most distinguished, the most learned, and the ablest of the Polish inhabitants" (Times, 14/2/40).

Some sense of the horror with which Nazi operations in Poland have filled the civilized world has evidently penetrated the consciousness of the Nazi administrators, as desperate efforts have been made to conceal from all outside observation the conditions prevailing in the country. All foreign Consuls, and of course all diplomatic representatives, have been expelled from Poland. It is pleasant to be able to state that the representatives of America in Poland showed themselves extremely reluctant to depart. All foreigners have received orders to leave the country; and an announcement was made that, after April 3rd, 1940, permits to enter Poland would only be granted in cases of emergency. Further, a confidential circular was issued to the German press, by the Kleiner Presse Informations-Dienst, early last April (1940), requiring that "as little as possible should be said about Poland. It is useless to publish descriptions of what is actually happening in Poland." The circular added that editors would be liable to severe penalties in case these confidential orders were infringed.

A wall of silence has been built round Poland as she lies "bleeding from a thousand wounds," and this silence has also been imposed on her conquerors. It is a silence which may well prove to be a two-edged weapon, capable of dealing a mortal blow to the hand that holds it. As a Polish writer has said, "The Germans fear the silence of Poland, and they understand it. And they fear lest the world should hear it; lest the world should know that there is a vanquished nation that has not surrendered. Therefore they impose silence on themselves; and in this silence they carry on, by day and by night, the murder of the defenceless... A new German war is being waged against Poland -the war of oblivion" (Slowo, April, 1940). The least that nations still enjoying religious, cultural, and political freedom -freedom of spirit, mind, and body- can do is to ensure that Poland is not submerged in the black-out of Nazi oblivion.

On Easter Sunday, 1940, Cardinal Hinsley broadcast to the people of Poland. His words were transmitted in Polish by B.B.C. Foreign Service. His message was one of confidence and hope. "Poland," the Cardinal declared, "holds the faith of the Resurrection... Poland will rise again." When the brief but terrible Nazi domination is swept away into that oblivion which it is now endeavouring to enforce on a defenceless nation, then the churches of Poland will be re-opened and restored, the wayside shrines of Poland will be rebuilt, the crucifix will be restored to her schools, the Christian social order will remodel her State. Even to-day Poland, though vanquished, has not surrendered.



*****


(1) The House that Hitler Built, Professor S.H. Roberts, pp. 244-46, 254 sqq.

(2) Mein Kampf, English Ed., p. 247

(3) It is not only stricken Poland that is being compelled to supply tens of thousands of workers as "mechanical tools" for Nazi Germany. By the first month of the present year (1941), 25,000 Danish workers and 94,400 Dutch workers had been transported to Germany, according to a statement of the International Transport Workers' Federation (Daily Telegraph, 9/1/41)

(4) Vatican Broadcast, January 22, 1940

 

 

 

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