This week saw the 80th anniversary of the beginning of World War II. World leaders met in Wielun, Poland, to commemorate the event.
At an event in Warsaw, the German President apologized to Poland for the German Nazi invasion that began the war, saying:
“As a German guest I walk before you here barefoot. I look back in gratitude to the Polish people’s fight for freedom. I bow sorrowfully before the suffering of the victim. I ask for forgiveness for Germany’s historical guilt. I profess to our lasting responsibility.”
Vice President Mike Pence also attended the ceremony, where he celebrated the courage of Polish people during the war. “None fought with more valour, determination, and righteous fury than the Poles,” he said. “America and Poland will continue to call on our allies to live up to the promises we have made to one another.”
What Started WWII?
On September 1, 1939, the Luftwaffe – the German air force – bombed the city of Wielen, Poland. It was the first strike and beginning of the Second World War. The airstrikes were the start of a six-year worldwide conflict that left more than 70 million people dead and several countries occupied before the surrender of Japan and Germany in 1945. At the time, Germany was controlled by the Nazis, who were lead by Adolf Hitler.
Just two weeks after Germany invaded Poland, the Soviet Union – under the control of communist Premier Joseph Stalin – overran Poland from the east. Within days, Poland and the Baltic states were divvied up by two dictators. The agreement between the Nazis and Soviets included a clause with a guarantee of peace by each party towards the other, stating:
“To desist from any act of violence, any aggressive action, and any attack on each other, either individually or jointly with other Powers.”
Germany occupied Poland for well over five years, killing three million Jewish citizens – an overall loss of 25% of the nation’s population. Few places suffered the level of death and destruction seen in Poland during World War II under the control of Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin.
Propaganda is information that may or may not be true, but either way, is intended to make people believe a certain way. Hitler used propaganda to stir up civil unrest and get people to support his war. One of the most notorious accounts of this tactic occurred on August 31, 1939 – one day prior to the airstrikes on Poland and the beginning of the second “war to end all wars.”
Widely spread through the news media was a fake story of an attack on a German radio station near the Polish border after a group of armed Schutzstaffel (SS) men – known as Hitler’s paramilitary protection squad – stormed the station dressed in civilian clothes. The SS claimed to be Polish people asking their citizens to rise up against Germany. It was one of several “false flag” attacks that set off other German media outlets to portray Germans as victims – all which helped Hitler solidify his nation’s agreement to go to war and to rally behind his imminent invasion of Poland.
The Human Impact
Historians estimate that 70–85 million people were killed during WWII. That’s almost 3% of the 1940 world population. Around 15 million soldiers died in battle and another 25 million were wounded, but there were also about 45 million civilians killed. The United States lost 418,500 soldiers and citizens. Jewish people were sent to prison camps, where about six million perished from medical research, starvation, disease, and execution.