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Wednesday, July 3: Day 72 – Bookends

Beginning of World War II

The first shots fired of World War II occurred in Gdansk: at the post office in town and at the seaside port of Westerplatte on September 1, 1939.

Gdansk was a free city so it had its own currency, post office, etc. Hitler loved Gdansk and all the world knew that the first shots of war fired would be at Westerplatte. Poles intended to fight and prepared for it.


Germans attacked the post office and had no idea that the workers had been storing up ammunition and prepared for the battle. Eventually, the postal workers tried to surrender. One came out with a white flag, he was killed; a second grabbed the white flag and he was killed. The Germans pumped gasoline into the basement and set the building on fire. The inhabitants came out. They all eventually were executed. There was no mercy. It was clear from the outset that the Nazis were brutal killers!


Our transportation to Westerplatte was by pirate ship.

Westerplatte originally was a summer resort and spa. Then it became a Military Transit Depot. About 200 soldiers defended this area for week despite artillery and bombing from the Germans.

One Polish account said that they were holding their position until a German soldier hit a wasp nest. Those wasps did the most damage that day.

Fifteen Polish men died before the rest surrendered on September 7th, mainly due to the deteriorating health of the wounded.

We saw many student groups here on field trips. It is important for future generations to know about sacrifices made by past generations.


The Museum of the Second World War Gdansk is the best WWII musuem that I have seen. We spent 3½ hours there and could have stayed another 3½. I often get “museum fatigue” by reading lots of placards. It was opened in 2016.

Technology: The audio guides were RFID activated so when you entered the room, commentary would begin. If a movie was playing, the audio guide provided narration at what point you entered the room. It could even tell you if you took a wrong turn.

Displays: One was encouraged to pause and uncover details of the room. One could open files of arrested Poles with the flip of a screen.

One could walk on a street and experience life before the war…and after.

Comprehensive: The content was from a Polish standpoint. I learned much that I did not know.


Communism (Soviet), Fasism (Italy), National Socialism (Germany) and Imperialism (Japan) had the following commonalities:

Leaders’ drive for absolute power

Use of terror and aggressive propanda

Contempt for democracy

Drive to regulate their societies

Great power ambitions

Poland had terrible neighbors: Germany wanted to expand state borders and the Soviets wanted to enlarge the Bolshevik revolution.


St. Maximilian Kolbe: Our previous home in Liberty Township was in the same neighborhood as a Catholic church affectionately called St. Max. I was surprised to find the story of his sainthood in the museum. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan Friar, was in Auschwitz when a prisoner had escaped. In applying collective responsibility and to deter escapes in the future, ten men were selected to be put into a bunker to starve to death. When Franciszek Gajowniczek cried out about his wife and children, Kolbe offered to go in his place. Two weeks later without food and water, Kolbe remained alive. The Nazis needed the bunker so they gave him a lethal injection.

Gajowniczek survived the concentration camp and was miraculously reunited with his wife. His sons had died in the war.

Movies:

Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (2000) Jewish children sent to Great Britain to escape the horrors of war.

The Siege (1940) documentary from a journalist who was in Gdansk on the first days of war.

Katyn (2007) This movie could not be made sooner as the truth was only beginning to be unravelled after the Iron Curtain was lifted. The Germans said that the Russians did it and the Russians said that the Germans did it.

Hunger Plan: Three million Soviets were starved to death. The Germans calculated that they would need food for soldiers as they advanced into Russia in 1941 so they took the local people’s provisions. It will take additional research to understand why Hitler, who had agreed to split Poland with Stalin, was now fighting for these lands. It is sure that a Hitler pact or decree is not worth the paper it is printed on.

NKVD: (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) was the Soviet police and secret police from 1934 to 1943. This was the forerunner of the KGB. These individuals were conducting mass murders in the woods of the Eastern front. No NKVD ever stood trial for these war crimes.

Katyn: A 1940 massacre of Polish officers and Intelligensa by the NKVD, our Soviet Allies. The following is an interesting read. I was incensed to read the US response in Discovery>Western Response. We don’t hear about THIS in our US history books.

Katyn Massacre

Babi Yar: This occurred outside Kiev. We don’t often hear about the Eastern front. In an effort to find “what would I have done?”, Rob said that I would have been among the first to go: smart, quick to speak up for injustices, and asking questions. One woman was killed for tearing down a propaganda poster. I certainly admired the courage of quick thinking actress, Dina Pronicheva.

Dina Pronicheva

Polish Leadership: The army never surrendered and the government was in exile in France.


End of World War II

Ninety percent of Gdansk was destroyed and mostly by the Russian army in April 1945. Russia was both liberator and then conqueror. Gdansk was the first “German” city that the Russians had come across so they took out their full anger on it with memories of the Battle of Stalingrad and Siege of Leningrad.There were two weeks of hell of unspeakable acts of terror by the Russians.

Most of the German population fled Gdansk in advance of the Red Army. Over 20,000 buildings were destroyed and fires raged for months.

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