official start of World War II
In August 1939, Nazi forces were already concentrating their soldiers and war-making machines along the Polish border in preparation for an all-out attack. In order to establish a pretense for invasion, Hitler had enlisted the assistance of Commander Heinrich Himmler of the Nazi SS. The commander conceptualized and set in motion a collection of deceptions designed to make war appear inevitable, an undertaking code-named Operation Himmler. But the task of executing the initial subterfuge ultimately fell to another SS officer named Alfred Naujocks.
On 31 August, in the hours before the attack on Gleiwitz radio station, Alfred Naujocks lingered in the shadow of its 380-foot broadcasting tower with a group of Nazi storm troopers. The men were awaiting the arrival of canned goods– a Nazi codeword for expendable convicts. When the “goods” were delivered by SS agents, the unconscious man was hastily changed into Polish clothing and dumped outside the entrance. A doctor had administered a lethal injection before the prisoner was transported to the site, but it had yet to take full effect when he was riddled with pistol rounds on the ground outside the radio station.
With the more gruesome portion of their task behind them, Naujocks and his operatives entered the Gleiwitz radio station at about 8:00pm outfitted in Polish uniforms. The gaggle of men seized control of the equipment, shut down the regular signal, and powered up the emergency transmitter. The microphone was given to a Polish-speaking operative, who read a prepared speech about three minutes long, urging Poles to rise up and help in the invasion of Germany. At the end of the transmission, the officers fired their pistols repeatedly for the benefit of anyone who might be listening, and departed.
During the night a handful of other such incidents were executed elsewhere along the border, using other “canned goods” from German prisons to create the illusion that Polish soldiers were attacking German troops. The following day the bodies of the dead prisoners were presented to the press and to police as evidence of the Poles’ organized aggression against the Nazis. Hitler addressed the German Army with artificial outrage:
“The Polish State has refused the peaceful settlement of relations which I desired, and has appealed to arms. Germans in Poland are persecuted with bloody terror and driven from their houses. A series of violations of the frontier, intolerable to a great Power, prove that Poland is no longer willing to respect the frontier of the Reich.”In order to put an end to this lunacy, I have no other choice than to meet force with force from now on. The German Army will fight the battle for the honour and the vital rights of reborn Germany with hard determination. I expect that every soldier, mindful of the great traditions of eternal German soldiery, will ever remain conscious that he is a representative of the National-Socialist Greater Germany. Long live our people and our Reich!”
The German military attacked on that very morning, marking the official start of World War 2. The Russians also attacked Poland from the east, playing their part in a secret joint plot to conquer and divide Poland between the two Axis powers countries. Within a week of the attack Germany claimed victory over the Polish Corridor, and the Polish capital of Warsaw was captured in just over a month.