In August 1939, a group of concentration camp prisoners were dressed in Polish uniforms, shot and then placed just inside the German border. Adolf Hitler claimed that Poland was attempting to invade Germany. On 1st September, 1939, the German Army was ordered into Poland.
Following the German invasion of Poland a Polish Home Army was established under the leadership of its commander-in-chief, General Tadeusz Komorowski. During the Second World War it was heavily involved in the resistance to German occupation.
On 21st September, 1939, Reinhard Heydrich told several Schutz Staffeinel (SS) commanders in Poland that all Jews were to be confined to special areas in cities and towns. These ghettos were to be surrounded by barbed wire, brick walls and armed guards.
The first ghetto was set up in Piotrkow on 28th October 1939. Jews living in rural areas had their property confiscated and they were rounded up and sent to ghettos in towns and cities. The two largest ghettos were established in Warsaw and Lodz.
In October 1939, the SS began to deport Jews living in Austria and Czechoslovakia to ghettos in Poland. Transported in locked passenger trains, large numbers died on the journey. Those that survived the journey were told by Adolf Eichmann, the head of the Gestapo's Department of Jewish Affairs: "There are no apartments and no houses - if you build your homes you will have a roof over your head."
In Warsaw, the capital of Poland, all 22 entrances to the ghetto were sealed. The German authorities allowed a Jewish Council (Judenrat) of 24 men to form its own police to maintain order in the ghetto. The Judenrat was also responsible for organizing the labour battalions demanded by the German authorities. Conditions in the Warsaw ghetto that in two years an estimated 100,000 Jews died of starvation and disease.
At the Wannsee Conference held on 20th January 1942, Reinhard Heydrich chaired a meeting to consider what to do with the large number of Jews under their control. Those at the meeting eventually decided on what became known as the Final Solution. From that date the extermination of the Jews became a systematically organized operation. It was decided to establish extermination camps in the east that had the capacity to kill large numbers including Belzec (15,000 a day), Sobibor (20,000), Treblinka (25,000) and Majdanek (25,000).
Between 22nd July and 3rd October 1942, 310,322 Jews were deported from the Warsaw ghetto to these extermination camps. Information got back to the ghetto what was happening to those people and it was decided to resist any further attempts at deportation. In January 1943, Heinrich Himmler gave instructions for Warsaw to be "Jew free" by Hitler's birthday on 20th April.
A group of men and women in Warsaw formed the Jewish Fighter Organization. Led by Mordechai Anielewicz, Yitzhak Zuckerman, Gole Mire and Adolf Liebeskind, it was decided to resist next time the Germans attempted to round up Jews in the ghetto.
On 19th April 1943 the Waffen SS entered the Warsaw ghetto. Although though only had two machine-guns, fifteen rifles and 500 pistols, the Jews opened fire on the soldiers. They also attacked them with grenades and petrol bombs. The Germans took heavy casualties and the Warsaw military commander, Brigadier-General Jürgen Stroop, ordered his men to retreat. He then gave instructions for all the buildings in the ghetto to be set on fire.
As people fled from the fires they were rounded up and deported to the extermination camp at Treblinka. The ghetto fighters continued the battle from the cellars and attics of Warsaw. On 8th May the Germans began using poison gas on the insurgents in the last fortified bunker. About a hundred men and women escaped into the sewers but the rest were killed by the gas. It is believed that only 100 Jews survived the 1943 ghetto rising.
In June 1944 the Red Army launched a new offensive in Poland. The offensive was carried out on four fronts and the German forces were unable to stop the sweeping Soviet advance. Lublin was captured on 28th July and on 1st August General Walther Model ordered the retreat at Vistula.
The Polish government-in-exile in London feared that the Soviet Union would replace Nazi Germany as occupiers of the country. In July 1944 the Polish government secretly ordered General Tadeusz Komorowski, the commander of the Home Army, to capture Warsaw before the arrival of the advancing Russians.
The German Army used 600mm siege guns on Warsaw and the Luftwaffe bombed the city around-the-clock. British and Polish airmen flew in supplies from bases in Italy but it was difficult to drop the food and ammunition to places still in the hands of the rebels.
In September 1944 the Red Army led by Marshal Konstantin Rokossovy, attempted to enter the city but met heavy resistance. Rokossovy withdrew and waited for reinforcements. However, some historians have argued that Rokossovy was following the orders of Joseph Stalin, who wanted the Germans to destroy what was left of the Polish Home Army.
After holding out for nine weeks General Tadeusz Komorowski was forced to surrender on 2nd October 1944. It is estimated that 200,000 inhabitants of Warsaw were killed in the uprising. The Red Army now attacked again and entered Warsaw on 17th January 1945.
In February, 1945, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt held a conference in Yalta in the Crimea. With Soviet troops in most of Eastern Europe, Stalin was in a strong negotiating position. Roosevelt and Churchill tried hard to restrict post-war influence in this area but the only concession they could obtain was a promise that free elections would be held in these countries.
Poland was the main debating point. Stalin explained that throughout history Poland had either attacked Russia or had been used as a corridor through which other hostile countries invaded her. Only a strong, pro-Communist government in Poland would be able to guarantee the security of the Soviet Union. As a result of the conference the Allies withdrew their recognition for the Polish government-in-exile.
The Polish Home Army, under the leadership of Leopold Okulicki, continued the fight against the Red Army. In March 1945, 16 leaders of the army were arrested and sent to the Soviet Union where they were convicted of sabotage.