35,000 bodies in the rubble

On September 12, 1939, while the battle of the Bzura River was raging, the largest of all the campaigns in Poland, in which some 300,000 Poles faced some 400,000 Germans, Warsaw was encircled. But the German lines were not yet well welded and by those gaps the Polish forces in retreat ran to defend their capital. They were the most critical days of the Nazi invasion and while the Poles were still fighting desperately, their allies, the French, convinced that Poland was lost, chose to abandon it: on September 13 they suspended their shy six-day offensive in Saarland, in those who suffered 77 casualties, which gives full idea of ​​the effort they made to pay off their commitment to help the Poles. The international public opinion did not understand anything: William Shirer, the great American journalist, commented on the CBS: «We are baffled by the passivity of Great Britain and France (...) It is obvious that they are exaggerating their actions on the western front. The Germans maintain that so far there has been no more than skirmishes. Warsaw was completely fenced on September 16, but neither this, nor the continuous setbacks, or the abandonment of its allies, discouraged the defenders, some 200,000, who prepared to resist until their last breath. Nor did he double his will that on the 17th, Stalin, under the pretext that in Poland there was no longer a Government that could protect Soviet subjects, invaded the east of the country to where it established the secret clause of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Treaty of 23 previous August The unexpected and artful disaster was followed by the foreseeable defeat on the banks of the Bzura, where the Poles had put the Wehrmacht in serious trouble, who could conjure them thanks to the talent of General Von Manstein and the troops and means he had to overcome the unexpected problem and reverse the situation by pocketing the Poles. The general noted: "After hard fighting and attempts to break the enemy to the south, then to the southeast and, finally, to the east, on the 18th, finally, his resistance crumbled." Polish losses rose to 50,000 casualties (18,000 dead), 170,000 prisoners, 500 guns, 230 armored vehicles and planes and more than ten thousand horses; the Germans are estimated at some 20,000 casualties (8,000 dead) and 200 armored vehicles and cannons.

Resist against all hope

But Warsaw continued to resist. The Wehr-macht repeatedly urged his surrender and offered the evacuation of civilians, but such an option proved impossible because of the incessant bombing. Hitler took a tantrum before the Polish tenacity and ordered that the surrender be imposed on blood and fire, rejecting all truce for the evacuation of civilians, considering that it would facilitate resistance. Thus, on September 16, 820 aircraft dropped 328 tons of bombs causing hundreds of victims and pulverizing some neighborhoods. However, the defense continued under the shrapnel rain and the infantry and armored assaults, whose vulnerability among the rubble was first noticed. It was going to be a slow and hard siege, as the Germans were able to observe in their advances the quality of Polish defensive works: obstructed access roads, good choice of defensive positions and communication tunnels between sectors so that the reserves could go to plug Debris attacks and mountains. But Hitler urged to end the resistance at any cost. As of September 21, when the last diplomats left the city, the German artillery began a continuous bombardment, day and night, and on Monday, September 24, the "black Monday", the Luftwaffe threw over Warsaw 1,500 .000 tons of explosives. Much of the city was razed.

Then came the "black Tuesday": half a thousand bombers were able to choose whites among what remained standing as the Poles lacked anti-aircraft weapons at that point. On September 26, the Germans, eliminating nests of deafening, hungry, exhausted and surrounded by dead combatants, advanced to the urban center. Finally, at nightfall on the 27th, almost without ammunition, the defenders capitulated and at dawn on the 28th the Modlin garrison ceased, a fortress in the suburbs and last breath of resistance. The numbers of casualties are eloquent in the harshness of the siege: more than 35,000 bodies were removed from the rubble, largely civilians; One hundred thousand combatants delivered the weapons and it is estimated that no less than 80,000 hid or left Warsaw to follow the resistance in the forests. The war was over in Poland. In the four weeks of struggle, they fought with extraordinary value, losing no less than 200,000 lives, civilians in high percentage; the prisoners amounted to about 700,000 (half were sent to work in Germany). The German losses testify to the energy of the defense: 45,000 casualties (15,000 dead) 300 armored vehicles and not less than 200 aircraft, proportionally higher figures than those suffered in the campaign in France.

Walk among ruins

The victory did not excite the Germans. Poland was just the prelude to a war that was presaged universal and long. According to the great historian Alan Bullock: "How many people were in Berlin in the autumn of 1939 were impressed by the unpopularity of war and the desire for peace" ("Hitler", Bruguera, 1972). This could be personally verified by the Italian Foreign Minister, Galeazzo Ciano, who visited Hitler in Berlin on October 1: «The German people are resigned and determined. He will make war and do it well, but he dreams and hopes for peace. It took Hitler a week to celebrate his victory. On October 5 he arrived at the ruins of Warsaw: thousands of Poles had worked to remove the debris from a downtown avenue appropriate for an open car ride, so the Führer could hear the cheers of the soldiers covering the sidewalks in front of rows of ruined buildings; later, he reviewed several regiments from a stand erected in a garden decorated with large flags, so that news and press photographs hardly warned of the ruin of the city. What could not be hidden was the stench of corpse. The Nazi plans for Poland began immediately: it was divided into two; the west, almost a straight line from Slovakia to Prussia, was assimilated to the Reich; and in the east, between the above and the part occupied by the USSR, the General Government was created under the government of Hans Frank, Hitler's lawyer and friend, who was to turn it into a German colony. In the assimilated territories, the population of German origin and the Poles of Aryan type, "racially valuable", were concentrated. There also lived 603,000 Jews, who in a year disappeared on the way to ghettos and extermination camps. The Germans, about 600,000, were able to continue in their homes and with their occupations, but the Poles, about nine million, were a special problem: they were screened for Aryan records but, whether they had them or not, they were warned that they were essential, because they moved the economy of the territory: administration, agriculture, industry, mining and services were in their hands and, worse, they were scarce because they had to fill the vacancies of the deported Jews. Despite their usefulness they suffered all kinds of outrages: arbitrary transfers and resettlements in rural areas, 200,000 of their children, with Aryan appearance, were torn from their families and sent to training camps to be "Germanized." Add to all that the sevices, injustices, ill-treatment, expropriations, detentions and murders. They were little more than slaves with minimal rights and their life was worth the same as that of a working animal. Worse was, much worse, the fate of the Poles settled further east, in the General Government area. But that is another story.

Where are the Polish officers?

As of September 17, the Soviets seized eastern Poland, 180,000 square kilometers, capturing with little effort 217,000 soldiers, including about 16,000 chiefs and officers. During the first months of captivity, the officers passed a political filter. Half a thousand, of Marxist ideas, were separated and the rest disseminated by several prison camps. That situation lasted until March-April 1940. From then on, a thick silence. The first suspicion of what happened was Colonel Berlin, a Polish communist who, when the first frictions between Berlin and Moscow began, in the fall of 1940, was ordered to organize a small Polish army with the prisoners. When he asked Beria to allow him to recruit the officers, he received a disturbing response: “You cannot count on them. We made a serious mistake ». That gave the pessimism to the most pessimistic conjectures, confirmed when, on April 13, 1943, Radio Berlin released the news that in Katyn, a region near Smolensko, several mass graves had been found with the remains of thousands of Polish officers. The Red Cross investigation determined that the bodies were buried in late winter or early spring 1940, 14 or 15 months before the German attack on Russia.

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