On this day in 1939, months of brown-nosing Hitler’s Nazis by the winners of World War One – Britain, France and America AKA the Western Powers – resulted not in a safer Europe but in the Invasion of Poland, when, at 4.45 am, 1.5 million German troops, ably abetted by hundreds of screaming Stuka dive-bombers, stormed across the Polish frontiers from the north, south and west, destroying from the air much of the country’s considerable air force before its pilots had time even to get airborne. In Polish towns and villages, the Nazis ensured that maximum civic disruption would be caused when all local intellectuals and authority figures – the mayor, the teachers, librarians, etc. – were rounded up and removed, later to be shot without trials. Within weeks, the equally ruthless Joseph Stalin would send into Eastern Poland his own Soviet tanks and troops, like a belligerent carrion crow determined to wrestle away his own portion of the lion’s victim.
Nazi Germany’s expansion had begun in 1938 with the annexation of Austria and continued with the occupation of the Sudetenland and then all of Czechoslovakia in 1939. Despite various allied pacts and agreements, these invasions were allowed to occur without resistance or challenge from the world’s major powers. Hitler therefore proceeded with his plan to conquer Poland – which was key to his vision of Lebensraum or “living space” for the German people. According to his plan, the “racially superior” Germans would colonise the territory and the natives would be enslaved.
Hitler gambled that his invasion of Poland would, like Czechoslovakia, be accomplished without igniting hostilities with the major powers. Two days later, Britain and France could no longer maintain their policy of appeasement and acquiescence and declared war on Germany.
World War II had begun.