From the point of view of a history student, there’s really only one anniversary worth mentioning today that towers above all the others — on this day eighty years ago, German troops invaded Poland to start the Second World War in Europe.
However, the carefully planned attack, known as Fall Weiss (Case White) to the Germans, needed something to set it off.
For the Nazis, the quaint notion of casus belli was still something they needed to honor. It was a concept that they would feel very little further need to observe in subsequent campaigns.
All during the summer of 1939, diplomatic discussion centered on the free city of Danzig, so declared by the League of Nations after the First World War. Danzig was located inside old Prussian territory before the war, but the League of Nations assigned the city to the newly-redesigned nation of Poland to give it a seaport.
They also provided Poland with a “corridor” carved out of former German territory to allow that nation to reach its new port. Germans were, of course, furious at the incursion into their old territory and reacted accordingly.
Eventually, the German Army developed a plan to attack Poland but before Danzig and the Corridor could be retaken by the Germans, they needed a reason to justify their invasion.
The result was Operation Himmler, a string of what are now termed “false flag” operations.
The goal of a false flag is, in essence, to frame one entity for the actions of another. In this case, those involved in Operation Himmler were tasked to come up with a series of attacks on German targets which would be blamed on the Poles — giving the Germans the justification they needed to invade.
There were 21 such operations, but the most famous occurred at a German border radio transmitter known as Gleiwitz. After the war, a German SS Lieutenant named Alfred Naujocks related his orders in an affidavit used at the Nuremberg Trials:
“I, Alfred Helmut Naujocks, being first duly sworn, depose and state as follows:
“1. I was a member of the SS from 1931 to 19 October 1944 and a member of the SD from its creation in 1934 to January 1941. I served as a member of the Waffen-SS from February 1941 until the middle of 1942. Later I served in the Economics Department of the Military Administration of Belgium from September 1942 to September 1944. I surrendered to the Allies on 19 October 1944.
“2. On or about 10 August 1939 the Chief of the Sipo and SD, Heydrich, personally ordered me to simulate an attack on the radio station near Gleiwitz, near the Polish border, and to make it appear that the attacking force consisted of Poles. Heydrich said: ‘Actual proof of these attacks of the Poles is needed for the foreign press, as well as for German propaganda purposes.’ I was directed to go to Gleiwitz with five or six SD men and wait there until I received a code word from Heydrich indicating that the attack should take place. My instructions were to seize the radio station and to hold it long enough to permit a Polish-speaking German, who would be put at my disposal, to broadcast a speech in Polish. Heydrich told me that this speech should state that the time had come for the conflict between the Germans and the Poles and that the Poles should get together and strike down any Germans from whom they met resistance. Heydrich also told me at this time that he expected an attack on Poland by Germany in a few days.
“3. I went to Gleiwitz and waited there a fortnight. Then I requested permission of Heydrich to return to Berlin but was told to stay in Gleiwitz. Between the 25th and 31st of August I went to see Heinrich Muller, head of the Gestapo, who was then nearby at Oppeln. In my presence Muller discussed with a man named Mehlhorn plans for another border incident, in which it should be made to appear that Polish soldiers were attacking German troops …. Germans in the approximate strength of a company were to be used. Muller stated that he had 12 or 13 condemned criminals who were to be dressed in Polish uniforms and left dead on the ground at the scene of the incident to show that they had been killed while attacking. For this purpose they were to be given fatal injections by a doctor employed by Heydrich. Then they were also to be given gunshot wounds. After the assault members of the press and other persons were to be taken to the spot of the incident. A police report was subsequently to be prepared.
“4. Muller told me that he had an order from Heydrich to make one of those criminals available to me for the action at Gleiwitz. The code name by which he referred to these criminals was ‘Canned Goods.’
“5. The incident at Gleiwitz in which I participated was carried out on the evening preceding the German attack on Poland. As I recalls war broke out on the 1st of September 1939. At noon on the 31st of August I received by telephone from Heydrich the code word for the attack which was to take place at 8 o’clock that evening. Heydrich said, ‘In order to carry out this attack, report to Muller for “Canned Goods.”‘ I did this and gave Muller instructions to deliver the man near the radio station. I received this man and had him laid down at the entrance to the station. He was alive, but he was completely unconscious. I tried to open his eyes. I could not recognize by his eyes that he was alive, only by his breathing. I did not see the shot wounds, but a lot of blood was smeared across his face. He was in civilian clothes.
“6. We seized the radio station as ordered, broadcast a speech of 3 to 4 minutes over an emergency transmitter, fired some pistol shots, and left.”
“Fatalities” from the attack were believed to have been concentration camp victims killed and dressed in Polish army uniforms.
Grim, to be sure. However, Naujocks’ affidavit is the only known evidence of an attack having been staged at Gleiwitz.
There are those who, as a result of this fact, believe that the Gleiwitz incident was fictional. Yet it is also known, however, that Naujocks had previously in his career actually commanded a covert attack against a radio station — knocking out an anti-German station broadcasting from Zahori, Czechoslovakia in 1935, a crime to which he confessed after his capture by American forces in 1944.
Naujocks was unrepentant throughout his life. It is believed he eventually helped the former commando Otto Skorzeny run ODESSA, the organization which helped many SS men to avoid justice by escaping to South America after the war.
But Operation Himmler itself is documented, and is regarded by some historians as the first act of the Second World War in Europe.
Have a great long weekend and enjoy the open thread.