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The Story of One Tragic September
by Stan Biernacik
Polish American Journal, September 1990
 

There were several loud explosions heard from the direction of the central railroad station on the early morning of that fateful day of September 1, 1939 — the sound of blasts and detonations got me out of my bed and it must have wakened most of the people of the Southern Polish city of Lwow, who had gone to sleep on the previous night.

They went to rest praying that all the threats of imminent war were just a remote possibility, which surely could be averted by the frantic diplomatic activity of the time, aimed at preventing an armed conflict. Many of those who heard the powerful explosions emanating from the Northern part of the city believed that they were caused by a very realistic practice of the civil defense units, which were always on the alert — just in case! Unfortunately everything that occurred on that bright and sunny day in September was not a dream, but a painful reality. The rest of the tragic events followed at the fast pace of the "Lightning War." The first air raids and bombings were only the early harbingers of cataclysmic and cruel events that preceded the long war—full of its dire consequences of suffering, death and destruction. Soon the whole nation was involved in a struggle for survival, which caused untold human sacrifices full of pain and misery, thrust by the invader upon the innocent people whose only crime was their refusal to surrender their freedom to Hitler and his Nazi henchmen. Now, according to his insane plans, the "inferior race" had to be subjugated or be annihilated to fulfill his desire to become the master of the entire European continent.

The Poles were forced to fight to save their honor — "We can not accept peace at any price," declared the Polish Foreign Minister, Joseph Beck in answer to Hitler’s demands. We must have "Lebensraum" in the East where food can be produced to feed the members of the "Herren Volk" claimed Adolph Hitler. The master race will then, under his leadership, conquer the entire continent of Europe and establish Nazi Hegemony over the rest of the free world.

All during that September morning and the day that followed, the Nazi bombers pounded all major Polish cities and saturated the main communication centers with bombs in an attempt to disrupt and prevent the mobilization and deployment of Polish air and ground forces. The simultaneous attack by several German Panzer Divisions, which rolled across the Polish plains surprised Polish defenders with a synchronized military action concentrated in several areas and executed with the precision and speed of the blitzkrieg.

The new and powerful tactic of the modern war forced Polish fighting units to retreat and regroup. Their bravery was no match for the overwhelming power of the German Panzer. The surviving Polish units retreated toward central Poland in a vain hope to stabilize their defenses around the city of Warsaw along the line of the Vistula River. During the entire campaign—though badly outnumbered often by the ratio of ten to one—the Polish Air Force and ground forces made desperate attempts to hold back the enemy, hoping that Polish Allies, France and England, would soon come to the aid of Poland and would help to stem the Nazi avalanche. The Governments of England and France stood by their agreement: both countries declared war on Germany in the early days of September, but none of them offered any substantial assistance to stop the Nazi invasion in Poland. Poland stood alone fighting and hoping against all odds.

On September 17, Russian troops—as a result of the pact signed for their countries by Ambassadors V. Molotov and J. Ribbentrop—moved across the Eastern border of Poland. Now the situation of Polish defenders turned from a grave one to a state of hopelessness. Soon only the open city of Warsaw — the capital of Poland — stood alone and continued to fight the Nazi troops, which encircled the city. For thirty days, the defenders of Warsaw — men, women and children, repelled every attempt of the Nazi units to enter the city, and they still hoped that their desperate plight would end when helped arrived from Polish Western Allies. After thirty days of fighting, often without food and water, with weapons and ammunition running out, the defenders could not carry on the fight any longer without substantial help from outside. Seeing that the situation of the city was becoming hopeless, and to spare further suffering and bloodshed, the mayor of the city, Stefan Starzynski surrendered the ruined city, with thousands of dead, wounded and hungry defenders, to the dreaded enemy.

Radio Warsaw, which for many days of fighting instilled hope in her brave citizens and raised hope in all those who could still hear all over Poland, was silenced. There was no more war and no more fighting in the streets of the ruined city. All that was left was great suffering and desperation—the sad legacy of the struggle for freedom. Trains filled with prisoners rolled again West toward Germany. Though defeated, those who survived and were free did not lose hope, which continued to linger deep in their hearts. Though temporarily out of fight, they found inspiration in the words of Dabrowski’s Mazurka, The National Anthem of Poland, which proclaimed "Jeszcze Polska Nie Zginela Poki My =Zyjemy" — "Poland is not lost as long as we live." They refused to believe that this was the end, and had no doubt in their minds that the glorious day would dawn again when they would stand and fight the Nazi menace once more. In their hearts they were convinced that evil would be conquered so peace and justice could reestablish in the entire new and better world—a world that respects the rights of everyone and knows no masters and no slaves. Though temporarily silenced by the enemy, the spirit of the Polish nation was not destroyed.

Within a short time after the fall of Poland, the Government in exile was formed in France and later in England. Once again Polish men and women escaping Nazi occupied Poland began to arrive in France to form new fighting units. On the home front, Polish Armia Krajowa terrorized and harassed the Nazi occupation forces, and in 1944, staged the tragic uprising in Warsaw which. Though unsuccessful, forces had tied down large numbers of Nazi troops for 63 days and helped the Allies to defeat the German armies in Western Europe. After the fall of France most of the members of the newly-organized Polish forces on the French soil, managed to escape to England. There, again, new units of Polish Air Force and land troops were formed to fight along side their British Allies. In 1940, Polish fighter pilots distinguished themselves by bringing down 15% of the Nazi planes which attacked London during the famous Battle of Britain. The units of the Polish Navy were meanwhile patrolling the German submarine-infested waters, protecting convoys that brought vital supplies to England from the United States and Canada.

The Polish land forces, formed into several fighting units, patrolled the English coast against possible invasion and trained for the future invasion of the European continent. Following the signing of the treaty between Marshall J. Stalin and Gen. W. Sikorski in 1941, the Second Polish Army Corps was formed from the thousands of Polish soldiers who were held prisoners in the Soviet Union. Under the command of Gen. W. Anders, these troops trained first in Russia and then in the Middle East, fought in many theaters of war. Their military exploits earned them glory in the defense of Tobruk in Africa and in 1944, in Italy. The Corps gained fame by capturing the Nazi-fortified monastery of Monte Cassino, thus opening the road to the Allied forces for a further thrust North in pursuit of retreating German forces. By the year 1944, the well-trained and eager-to-fight Polish troops were organized as the First Polish Armored Division and placed under the command of the well-experienced Gen. S. Maczek. When the Allied command decided in 1944 to invade Europe, the Polish armored troops went along as part of the forces of the First Canadian Army commanded by Gen. Crerar. After landing in Normandy, the First Armored fought in most of the major battles in that theater of war and spearheaded the drive to encircle the Nazi troops in the area of Caen-Falaise. During the operations to trap several German units, the Polish Division established contact with fighting men of the 90th American Infantry Division and thus closed the escape route for German forces. During that operation, Polish troops deployed near the French village of Chamboix, stood their ground for seven days, and prevented the enemy units from rejoining the German forces retreating East. The Poles thwarted all desperate attempts of the enemy to break out of the encirclement and in fierce battles took great numbers of prisoners and war material. The Canadians, after inspecting the scenes of the battles fought heroically by Polish troops, called the area of Chamboix "The Polish Battlefield." The First Armored continued to fight the enemy across Northern France, Belgium, and Holland and finally entered the German territory, where in its moment of glory, her troops accepted the surrender of the large German port of Wilhelmshaven, which held some 200 units of the German Navy and several units of land forces.

When the war ended, many of those Poles—who fought with great valor and distinction in almost every major battle of the Second World War—were not given their well-deserved chance to return home following the cessation of hostilities. Due to post-war agreements between Polish former allies, the resulting political situation in Poland forced them to remain in the West. Though many of them still felt betrayed by their former comrades at arms, they have settled in the United States, in England and in other countries of the free world, becoming useful and valuable citizens of their adopted countries.

The latest developments in the relationship between the Eastern Bloc and the Western Democracies seems to usher a new era of thawing of the former cold war and bring a new hope of freedom to Eastern European countries. This long-overdue change seems like a reality in Poland and in Hungary. Poles abroad hope that this trend will continue, and that finally after fifty years, "Poland will be Poland" and the Poles will be free.

It was fifty years ago when the Second World War erupted in Europe and the Nazi troops swarmed across the Polish borders. Many years of uneasy peace have gone and many memories have faded into oblivion. The time has healed many wounds and erased the thoughts of hatred and revenge, but the sound of the loud explosions on that fateful morning of September 1, 1939 still lingers in my memory, and I do recall vividly the tragic events and results of the unprovoked attack on Poland by Nazi Germany, with all the ensuing human misery and the hungry and helpless refugees — innocent victims of war. But, I also remember the days of pride and glory when the resurrected Polish Forces marched alongside their American and British comrades at arms as partners in the victory over Hitler and his Nazi cohorts — yes! I still remember all these memorable events of so many years ago, and in my mind I harbor a very clear recollection of the sad days of defeat and of the days of triumph. I have not forgotten the many moments of great sadness caused by the insanity of war and I often relive the times of rejoicing when humanity returned to peaceful co-existence — these unforgettable memories will always remain with me — because I was there.

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