On September 1, 1939, the Nazi-controlled Luftwaffe – the German air force – bombed the city of Wielen, Poland. The airstrikes were the start of a six-year worldwide conflict that we now call World War II. It left more than 70 million people dead and several countries occupied before the surrender of Japan and Germany in 1945. This week saw the 80th anniversary of the start of the war.
To commemorate the 80th anniversary, world leaders gathered in Poland. US Vice President Mike Pence praised the courage and bravery of the Polish people, saying “None fought with more valour, determination, and righteous fury than the Poles.”
The German president apologized for the past attack. “I ask for forgiveness for Germany’s historical guilt. I profess to our lasting responsibility,” he said.
Germany occupied Poland for 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 Germany’s Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and Russia’s Joseph Stalin.
How the war got started is something that may people still debate today. It is widely agreed that propaganda played a part. Propaganda is information that may or may not be true, but either way, is intended to make people think a certain way. Hitler used propaganda to get people to support his war. This is what happened on August 31, 1939 – one day before 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. But the attackers were German army disguised as Polish people and asking other Poles to fight against Germany. It was one of several “false flag” attacks that set off other German media outlets to portray Germans as victims – all of which helped Hitler solidify his nation’s agreement to go to war and to rally behind his 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 6 million perished from starvation, disease, and execution.