July 1944 Russians REach the Polish Border - History

July 1944 Russians REach the Polish Border - History


We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.


By the beginning of 1944 the Russians Soviets were beginning to achieve the upper hand all along the front, they had more men, more tanks, more aircraft. The time was ripe for a major offensive, an offensive that Stalin had promised the Americans and the British would take place soon after D-Day to make sure that the German could not reinforce their troops in France with troops from the Eastern Front. The Soviet goal was to keep the German guessing, not allowing them to reinforce any of their positions with enough troops to stop the Soviets. The Soviets with more men available were able to keep the German guessing until it was too late. The name of the overall operation was called Operation Bagration

On June 23 the Soviets launched the first stage of their offensive known as the Vitebsk-Orsha offensive in Beloruss. The Soviets achieved all of their objectives capturing the cities Vitebsk and Orsha and killing over 41,000 German soldiers and taking another 17,000 prisoner.

The second stage of the offensive was the Mogilev Offensive whose goal was the capture of the key city of Mogilev. The second goal of the offensive was to pin down the German Fourth Army it too began on June 23rd with a large artillery bombardment. The Soviets broke through
strong resistance and captured Mogilev . 33,000 German soldiers were killed and an additional 3,250 were captured

The third part of the offensive was called the Bobruysk Offensive, it was aimed at capturing Bobrusyk by breaking through German 9th army. The Soviets launched a twin offensive that succeeded in capturing Bobrusyk. 12,000 German soldiers managed to escape but over 20,000 were captured and over 50,000 were killed in the fighting.

The second stage of the offensive began on June 28th with the goal of capture Minsk it was called the Minsk Offensive. Soviet troops crossed the Berezina. The Soviets attack Minsk from the North and the South, enveloping it and trapping the Fourth Army and what was rest of the Ninth army. Minsk was liberated on July 4th. Over a period of a few days the German lost 25 division with 300,000 men. The German Group Centre effectively ceased to exist.

The Soviets then went on to capture Poltsk, blocking a possible counter offensive by the German Northern Army group.

At this point the extent of the German defeat became clear, and although the objective of the offensive had been reached Minsk, the decision as made to exploit the success and begin offensive operations along the Baltic. The Soviets in the North moved toward Riga, while in the center the troops who had captured Minsk moved on the Vilnius. The Soviets captured the city in what became known as the Battle of Vilnius on July 13.

The Soviets then launched the Belostock Offensive which capture the Polish town of Bialystok after two days of fighting on July 23rd.

The final stage of the offensive took place between July 18th and August 2nd as Soviet troops crossed deep into Poland. They crossed the Bug River on July 21st and captured Lublin. They went on to the Vistula River which they reached by August 2nd effectively ending the offensive.

Operation Bagration was the biggest defeat of the Germany army during World War II. It pushed the German out of the Soviet Union, resulted in the death of close to 400,000 German soldiers with an additional 158,000 captured.


Skeletons of WWII-era nuns murdered by Soviets unearthed in Poland

Religious objects, such as crucifixes and medallions, helped experts identify the victims.

Archaeologists recently unearthed the skeletons of three Catholic nuns who were murdered by Soviet soldiers at the end of World War II. Their discovery concludes a months-long search for the bones of seven nuns who were killed during the former Soviet Union's brutal occupation of the war-torn country.

Russia's Red Army invaded Poland in 1944, as Nazi Germany withdrew their soldiers. During that time, Soviet forces sought to seize control by suppressing Polish militia and religious figures, imprisoning, deporting and killing Polish soldiers, clergy and civilians. Records from 1945 documented Soviet soldiers slaughtering seven nuns in the order of St. Catherine of Alexandria, representatives of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) told Live Science in an email.

To find out where these murdered nuns were buried, archaeologists first excavated a site in Gdańsk in July 2020, where they found the remains of Sister Charytyna (Jadwiga Fahl), according to a statement from the IPN. An excavation in Olsztyn in October revealed what are thought to be the remains of Sister Generosa (Maria Bolz), Sister Krzysztofora (Marta Klomfass) and Sister Liberia (Maria Domnik), all of whom were nurses at Olsztyn's St. Mary's Hospital.

To find the remaining three nuns, archaeologists in December excavated a site in a municipal cemetery in Orneta that measured about 215 square feet (20 square meters), using local archival records, such as a hand-drawn burial plan, to find the nuns' bodies. To reach the graves from 1945, they first had to exhume more recent burials that were on top of them. The remains they eventually found are thought to belong to the last three nuns in the group: Sister Rolanda (Maria Abraham), Sister Gunhilda (Dorota Steffen) and Sister Bona (Anna Pestka), according to a separate IPN statement.

Historic documents, the age and sex of the remains, and the presence of numerous religious objects indicated that the skeletons belonged to the murdered nuns, the IPN said. The religious artifacts included articles of clothing associated with the St. Catherine order, small rosaries with polished beads, larger rosaries for wearing on a belt, a cross inlaid with metal designs and two medallions "with images of the holy family," IPN representatives said in the email.


Eastern Front Maps of World War II

Campaign In Poland, Industry and Communications,1939 Campaign In Poland, Disposition Of Opposing Forces, 31 August 1939 Campaign In Poland, Deployment Of The Wehrmacht, 1 September 1939 Campaign In Poland, 1–14 September 1939 Campaign In Poland, 15–22 September 1939

Russo-Finnish War, December 1939 — February 1940

German Invasion Of Russia, 22 June — 25 August 1941 German Invasion Of Russia, Advance On Moscow, 26 August — 5 December Soviet Winter Offensive, 6 December 941 — 7 May 1942

German Summer Offensive, 7 May — 23 July 1942

German Advance To Stalingrad, 24 July — 18 November 1942

Soviet Winter Offensive, 19 November — 12 December 1942 Soviet Winter Offensive, 13 December 1942 — 18 February 1942

Soviet Winter Offensive, 19 February — 18 March 1943 German Summer Offensive, Situation 4 July — 1943 & Battle Of Kursk, 4 July — 1 August 1943

Soviet Summer and Fall Offensives, 17 July — 1 December 1943 Russian Leningrad and Ukraine Offensives, 2 December 1943 – 30 April 1944 OPERATION BAGRATION. 22 June — 19 August 1944 Russian Balkan and Baltic Campaigns, 19 August — 31 December 1944 Soviet Offensive to The Oder, 12 January — 30 March 1945

Chris Bishop. (1998). Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, Barnes & Noble, Inc.


The Poltava Debacle

In the fall of 1943, the Germans moved many of their armament plants eastward, out of convenient range for Allied bombers flying from England. In order to bring the plants under attack, Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, commander of the Army Air Forces, proposed “shuttle bombing”—staging US aircraft into and out of airfields on the Russian front, which was much closer to targets in eastern Germany and Poland.

If B-17s could land at bases in Soviet territory instead of making the long round trip back to England or Italy, they could reach what would otherwise be the most distant targets. They could fly additional missions while deployed to the Russian bases and strike still more hard-to-reach targets on the flight home.

Arnold hoped the shuttle bombing would force the dispersal of German fighters, ease the fighter threat over western Europe, and draw Luftwaffe units away from Normandy before the impending D-Day invasion. In October 1943, Arnold secured approval from the Combined Chiefs of Staff to pursue the idea. The British agreed to cooperate but declined to take part, regarding it as little more than a stunt.

(Staff map by Zaur Eylanbekov)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was enthusiastic about the project and proposed it to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin at the Big Three conference in Tehran in November.

W. Averell Harriman, US ambassador to the Soviet Union, and Maj. Gen. John R. Deane, chief of the US military mission in Moscow, continued the negotiations.

Stalin was reluctant. He was by nature suspicious and distrusting, and as Harriman pointed out, “We have to realize that the establishment within the country of armed forces of a foreign nation under their own command has never before been permitted to my knowledge in the history of Russia, and there are many inhibitions to break down.”

Stalin approved the use of Russian bases “in principle,” but working out the details with the Soviet bureaucracy was a slow and tedious process. The shuttle bombing operation, code-named “Frantic,” did not begin until June 1944.

However, there was considerably more than that to the story. Bombing German industrial targets was not the only US objective in Operation Frantic, and not even the most important one. The main goals were of a more political nature.

Roosevelt fervently wanted to build a cooperative relationship with the Soviet Union. In the summer of 1943, Stalin accused the Allies of not doing their part in the war effort and failing to follow through on establishing a second front in France. A major motive for the shuttle bombing was “the desire to demonstrate to the Russians how eager the Americans were to wage war on the German enemy in every possible way,” said the official AAF history of the war.

Arnold hoped that Operation Frantic would be a first step toward use of Soviet bases elsewhere, notably in Siberia, from which US bombers would be able to reach targets in Japan. The Soviets employed their airpower to support the Red Army but they put little stock in strategic bombing. If the shuttle missions were successful, they might help change the Soviet assessment of bombers and lead to better cooperation.

The United States poured massive amounts of equipment, war materiel, and supplies into the USSR through Lend Lease, but in dealings with the Soviets, the compromises usually went one way: The Americans gave in to whatever the Soviets insisted on.

“The President favored what might be called a two-phased approach to the Soviets,” said historian Lloyd C. Gardner. “It was his belief that the crucial transition period after the war should be used to build trust among the Big Three. As that trust grew, presumably, the tendency to act unilaterally would fade away of itself. Whatever had to be conceded to reassure Stalin during the war would be redeemed when the transition to a more open world was complete. Admittedly, this was all quite vague in Roosevelt’s mind.”

Once again in Operation Frantic, the Americans had misjudged Stalin and the Russians. “Soviet Russia had a deep distrust of the United States and had no intention of collaborating during or after World War II except in those instances in which the Soviet Union would benefit,” said Glenn B. Infield, who recounted in The Poltava Affair the problems and warning signs ignored or underestimated by the Americans in their determination to make the operation work.

B-17s from the 97th and 99th Bomb Group land at Amendola Airfield, Italy, after the first shuttle bombing raid. In the foreground, a C-35 waits to take Lt. Gen. Ira Eaker back to Ukraine.

The Soviets permitted the Americans to use three airfields in Ukraine. The one closest to the battle front, Piryatin, was about 100 miles east of Kiev. Mirgorod was 50 miles beyond that, and it was 50 further on to Poltava.

Piryatin, being the westernmost of the bases, was the location for the US fighters, which did not have as much range as the bombers. Poltava was the main base for the B-17s, as well as joint Soviet-American headquarters throughout the operation. The bombers used Mirgorod as well.

Lt. Gen. Carl A. Spaatz, commander of US Strategic Air Forces in Europe, was in charge of the operation. Rotational aircraft and aircrews would be drawn from Eighth Air Force in Britain and Fifteenth Air Force in Italy. USSTAF Eastern Command was set up at Poltava to run the Russian end of things. The Russians would allow Eastern Command no more than 1,200 permanent party personnel. Maj. Gen. Robert L. Walsh took command of Eastern Command in June, reporting to Deane in Moscow.

There was considerable work to do. The Germans had left the bases in ruins when they retreated the previous September. All of the necessary facilities, including hangars and control towers, had to be built. Most of the permanent party and all of the shuttle crews would be housed in tents.

At Poltava, one runway was 3,300 feet, the other 1,900 feet. B-17s needed runways at least a mile long. There was no time to construct hard-top runways so mats of pierced-steel planking were laid down instead. The Americans provided the planking and the Soviets contributed the labor, much of which was performed, to the amazement of the Americans, by women.

Everything, including high-octane gasoline, vehicles, most rations, and 12,393 tons of pierced-steel planking, had to be shipped in, either by air through Tehran or by ship to Murmansk and south from there by rail. The Soviets supplied meat and fresh vegetables. In a stipulation that would prove to be critical, the Russians would not allow US fighters to perform air base defense. The three airfields would be defended by Soviet anti-aircraft batteries and Yak-9 fighters.

Much had changed in the six months it took to get Operation Frantic organized and started. The Red Army advanced faster than expected, and by June was surging through the Ukraine and pushing the Germans back into Poland and Romania. That left the shuttle bases farther from the front and reduced their operational value. The Russians, more confident of victory than before, were less willing to have foreign forces based in their territory, especially in the politically unstable Ukraine.

The first mission was named “Frantic Joe.” Spaatz had intended that Eighth Air Force would fly it. The most lucrative targets were on the way from England to the Ukraine, but with the D-Day invasion imminent, Spaatz assigned the mission to Fifteenth Air Force in Italy and chose Lt. Gen. Ira C. Eaker, commander of Mediterranean Allied Air Forces, to lead it in person.

A Soviet sentry guards remains of two B-17s at Poltava. Forty-three B-17s were totally destroyed and 26 damaged by the Germans during the June 22, 1944, raid.

Eaker wanted Frantic Joe to bomb aircraft plants in Latvia and Poland, which American aircraft could not ordinarily reach, but the Russians would not clear those targets. Eaker had to settle for striking a railway yard in Hungary, as close to Italy as it was to Russia. It was not a particularly important target, but it was all that the Russians would approve.

Frantic Joe launched from Italy the morning of June 2 with 130 B-17s and 69 P-51 escort fighters. Eaker flew as copilot on one of the B-17s and led the bombers into Poltava and Mirgorod after a seven-hour flight. The fighters landed at Piryatin.

Eaker was greeted in Ukraine by a host of senior Soviet officials as well as by Harriman and Deane. The welcome was warm and duly recorded by about 20 US, British, and Russian war correspondents who were there taking notes and pictures. The arrival got worldwide publicity, which had a mixed effect. Stalin was not pleased with all the stories about how the Americans were helping him win the war in the east.

Soon after landing, Eaker flew to Moscow, where the reception and discussions lasted until 4 a.m. Eaker spent 10 days in Russia, and the D-Day invasion began while the Frantic Joe contingent was in-country. Spaatz cabled Eaker to stay in Russia for a few more days as a threat to the German rear and perhaps draw some airpower away from Normandy. On June 6, US aircraft flying from the Ukraine bases attacked an airfield in Romania. Eaker led the task force back to Italy on June 11, bombing an airfield in northeastern Romania en route.

Frantic Joe was regarded as a big success. The mission had “enormous immediate and long-term importance,” said James Parton, Eaker’s aide and Fifteenth Air Force historian, who accompanied Eaker on Frantic Joe. “For the immediate, it opened a third air front for the strategic bombardment of German war industries for the longer future, it was America’s most dramatic effort to establish a complete, trusting relationship with Russia.”

Unfortunately, Frantic Joe was also the high point of the entire operation. Fissures, already present but unseen or disregarded, would soon tear the shuttle bombing partnership apart and call into question the initial wisdom of it. After that first Frantic mission, all of the bomber operations were flown by Eighth Air Force, although Fifteenth Air Force provided some of the fighters for subsequent missions.

Disaster at Poltava

The second mission, known as Frantic II, took off for Ukraine June 21, led by one of the stars of Eighth Air Force, Col. Archie J. Old Jr.

From the departure point off the English coast, it was 1,554 miles to Poltava, so the B-17s used auxiliary “Tokyo tanks,” which gave them considerably greater range with their combat loads. The task force, which consisted of 114 B-17s, and 70 P-51s, bombed an oil plant south of Berlin on the way East.

Beyond Warsaw, the Americans noticed a single-engine German fighter keeping pace with them. It ducked into the clouds when the P-51s went after it. It was a lone Me-109, and it had already reported the position of the bombers to the Luftwaffe. An He-177 reconnaissance aircraft followed the B-17s into Poltava and took pictures. The Russians would not allow the US fighters at Piryatin to intercept it.

The reconnaissance film was soon delivered to the Luftwaffe base at Minsk, where the Germans had sent medium bombers, He-111s and Ju-88s, to await the next US shuttle mission to Russia. They took off for Poltava at 8:45 p.m., and were joined en route by Me-109 and FW-190 fighters. As they crossed the Russian lines, they encountered several Yak fighters, shot one down, and chased the others away.

Maj. Gen. Robert Walsh (r, with cigarette) listens to a mission report at Poltava, as Capt. Henry Ware (c), a speaker of Russian on Maj. Gen. John Deane’s staff, interprets.

At 12:30 a.m. on June 22, the first German airplane swept over Poltava, dropping flares to illuminate the field. Close behind came the strike force of 150 bombers. The attack lasted for almost two hours, unhampered by anything resembling an air defense. The Luftwaffe destroyed 43 of the B-17s on the ramp and damaged another 26. Fifteen P-51s and assorted Russian aircraft were destroyed as well. The German bombs ignited 450,000 gallons of high-octane fuel, which had been brought to Poltava with grievous effort. Most of the munitions in the bomb dump were also lost. The Russians would not clear US fighters to take off and attack the Germans.

“Russian anti-aircraft and fighter defenses failed miserably,” Deane said. “Their anti-aircraft batteries fired 28,000 rounds of medium and heavy shells assisted by searchlights without bringing down a single German airplane. There were supposed to be 40 Yaks on hand as night fighters, but only four or five of them got off the ground.”

The Luftwaffe struck Mirgorod and Piryatin the next night, but the aircraft had been dispersed to other locations. Again, the attacks lasted for two hours, and again, no Soviet fighters showed up.

The surviving American aircraft departed for Italy June 26, striking an oil refinery in Poland on the way. The same day, Deane requested permission for a P-61 Black Widow night fighter squadron to deploy to Ukraine to defend the bases. The proposal was strung out and sidetracked until the Americans finally dropped it.

With fuel in short supply in the Ukraine, there were no B-17 deployments in July. However, to keep the operation from lapsing completely, Spaatz ordered two fighter-only shuttles, Frantics III and IV, from Italy in July and early August. They struck airfields in Romania and other targets but were peripheral to the basic purpose of the shuttle mission.

The American desire to continue the operation was so great that two more bomber shuttle missions were ordered. Frantics V and VI deployed from England Aug. 6 and Sept. 11, even though there had been no change in provisions for air defense.

Nose Dive in Attitude

“The German strike on Poltava cast a pall on Frantic,” said historian Mark J. Conversino, who dissected the failure of the shuttle bombing operation in Fighting With the Soviets. “By July, even transient aircrews who were on the ground for only a few days noticed that relations between the Americans and Soviets were showing signs of tension and strain,” Conversino said.

The new Soviet attitude was a sharp change from the welcome accorded to Eaker and Frantic Joe. It was seen not only in everyday encounters between Russians and members of the Eastern Command permanent party but also in official obstructionism and harassment.

A long list of factors may have contributed to the deterioration, including “fraternization” with local women, Russian resentment of Americans’ material wealth, fights and other confrontations inflamed by excessive drinking on both sides, the black market trade in American products, and the general Soviet dislike of large numbers of foreigners in their country.

These problems, familiar from other places and other wars, do not fully explain the sudden and pervasive chill that descended on the relationships in Ukraine. Eastern Command officials concluded that the change was directed by Stalin, who had developed second thoughts about Operation Frantic.

“Stalin saw victory clearly in his hands and felt much less reason to seek American aid or be cooperative with USSTAF,” Parton said. “But, with Muscovite wile, neither he nor his spokesman simply said Eastern Command was no longer necessary. Instead, they began a deliberate campaign of delay and sabotage.”

Stalin did not want to share credit for the Red Army’s success. Even more important, he did not want the Allies to share in postwar control of the vast territory liberated or conquered in eastern Europe. This would become dramatically apparent in the course of the last shuttle mission, Frantic VII.

As the Soviet armies approached Warsaw, the patriot force, the Polish Home Army, rose and attacked the Germans on Aug. 1. The Russians halted their advance, and Germans turned their full efforts on the Poles. US officials in Washington asked USSTAF to undertake a supply drop mission. B-17s could not complete an England-Warsaw-England round trip, so it could not be done without use of the Frantic bases. The Soviets refused permission, even after appeals to Stalin from Roosevelt and Churchill.

“Stalin was furious,” the Russian news agency RIA Novosti explained in its retrospective of events in 2005. “He realized that the pro-Western Polish leadership wanted to liberate the capital without the help of the Red Army, so that they could later restore the prewar anti-Soviet cordon sanitaire.” Said more directly, Stalin did not want to share postwar control of Poland with the Polish. It suited his purposes to let the Germans eliminate the competition.

On Sept. 11, Stalin finally agreed to a Warsaw airdrop shuttle mission and Frantic VII, with 107 heavily loaded B-17s, took off from England Sept. 18. The sad outcome, in the words of the official Army Air Forces history, was that the bombers “circled the area for an hour and dropped 1,284 containers with machine-gun parts, pistols, small-arms ammunition, hand grenades, incendiaries, explosives, food, and medical supplies. While at first it appeared that the mission had been a great success and so it was hailed, it was later known that only 288, or possibly only 130 of the containers fell into Polish hands. The Germans got the others.”

The Russians would not clear a second supply drop and before the Red Army offensive resumed, the Germans had extinguished the Warsaw insurrection, in which some 250,000 Poles were killed.

MSgt. John Bassett and MSgt. Michael Cajolda get help from Lenin Boykov, a Russian maintainer, as they work on a visiting task force bomber.

US Lingers and Leaves

Frantic VII was the last of the shuttle missions. The straightforward military objectives had been overcome by events. Poltava was now so far from the German front that it had little strategic value. The United States had captured the Marianas in the Pacific and B-29s could reach targets in Japan from there. The use of bases in Soviet Siberia was no longer that important.

Nevertheless, US and AAF leaders were unwilling to let Operation Frantic go or concede its failure. Soviet foreign minister V. M. Molotov bluntly told the Americans that the Russians wanted their bases back. By October, all but 200 Eastern Command caretakers had left, but USSTAF held onto an aircraft recovery and repair operation at Poltava, hoping to reactivate Frantic in the spring.

Soviet obstructionism intensified, bogging down US flights and movements. Every transaction was a struggle. The United States turned Eastern Command stockpiles, including tons of pierced-steel planking, over to the Russians, who received the bounty with the usual lack of grace. One of the transfers was a warehouse full of food, including thousands of cans of peaches. The Russians complained that they were 10 cans of peaches short of the listed inventory.

The last Americans finally left Poltava July 23, 1945, and the shuttle bombing experiment was over at last. During the course of it, a total of 1,030 US bombers and fighters had deployed in Operation Frantic. They flew 2,207 sorties to or from Ukraine. In addition to the aircraft destroyed by the Germans at Poltava, five B-17s and 17 fighters were lost in combat.

The planners expected 800 bomber sorties a month. In June, August, and September 1944—there were no bomber sorties in July—Operation Frantic produced only 958 sorties in which bombers reached their targets, and that included 107 in the supply mission to Warsaw. All of the targets bombed on Frantic missions could have been struck without using Russian bases and with less effort. “Some of the attacks would probably not have been regarded as worth making but for the desire to use those bases,” said the official AAF history of the war. The anticipated diversion of German air defenses did not happen. The Luftwaffe did not redeploy any of its fighters to the east.

“From a political viewpoint, President Roosevelt was determined that he could use a wartime friendliness with Stalin to develop a successful postwar relationship,” Harriman said. “Before he died, he realized that his hopes had not been achieved.”

Almost 70 years later, the failure of Operation Frantic is still studied and analyzed. Some accounts emphasize the sustained American effort to establish military cooperation. Infield makes a different and darker assessment in The Poltava Affair, which he subtitled A Russian Warning, An American Tragedy. In his interpretation, the concessions and compromises carried forward into the Cold War.

“This ‘backing down’ by the Americans never stopped throughout the entire lifetime of ‘Operation Frantic’ and there is little doubt that this lack of firmness affected the postwar relations between the United States and the Soviet Union,” Infield said. “Stalin used ‘Operation Frantic’ to probe the Americans to see what manner of men they were and to test their mettle.”


Soviets capture Warsaw

Soviet troops liberate the Polish capital from German occupation.

Warsaw was a battleground since the opening day of fighting in the European theater. Germany declared war by launching an air raid on September 1, 1939, and followed up with a siege that killed tens of thousands of Polish civilians and wreaked havoc on historic monuments. Deprived of electricity, water, and food, and with 25 percent of the city’s homes destroyed, Warsaw surrendered to the Germans on September 27.

The USSR had snatched a part of eastern Poland as part of the 𠇏ine print” of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (also known as the Hitler-Stalin Pact) signed in August 1939, but soon after found itself at war with its 𠇊lly.” In August 1944, the Soviets began pushing the Germans west, advancing on Warsaw. The Polish Home Army, fearful that the Soviets would march on Warsaw to battle the Germans and never leave the capital, led an uprising against the German occupiers. The Polish residents hoped that if they could defeat the Germans themselves, the Allies would help install the Polish anticommunist government-in-exile after the war. Unfortunately, the Soviets, rather than aiding the Polish uprising, which they encouraged in the name of beating back their common enemy, stood idly by and watched as the Germans slaughtered the Poles and sent survivors to concentration camps. This destroyed any native Polish resistance to a pro-Soviet communist government, an essential part of Stalin’s postwar territorial designs.

After Stalin mobilized 180 divisions against the Germans in Poland and East Prussia, Gen. Georgi Zhukov’s troops crossed the Vistula north and south of the Polish capital, liberating the city from Germans𠅊nd grabbing it for the USSR. By that time, Warsaw’s prewar population of approximately 1.3 million had been reduced to a mere 153,000.


World War II Database

ww2dbase On 11 Nov 1918, at the end of WW1, Poland returned to the map of Europe for the first time for 123 years. Józef Pilsudski, who ruled Poland from 1918 until his death in 1935, quickly established rather effective legal, transportation, administrative, and military systems under a dictatorial regime.

ww2dbase Economically, Poland had a relatively prosperous 1920s, but the global depression of the 1930s hit the country rather hard, especially considering the rapid population growth. The conservative government spending habits did little to increase the monetary supply in the Polish economy, though the Polish government did develop very advanced socialist programs.

ww2dbase During the inter-war years, Poland's greatest achievement was in the realm of foreign policy. Pilsudski laid out a careful circle of friends in the diplomatic arena, first allying with France to restrain Germany from the thought of invasion from the west, then allied with neighboring Hungary and Romania to discourage aggression from the Soviet Union in the east. In 1932, Poland signed a non-aggression treaty with the Soviet Union that calmed relations and reduced the incidents on the eastern border. In 1934, a similar treaty was signed with Germany to reduce tension and to normalize trade. On the surface, this seemed to have eased German's frustration with East Prussia having been separated from Germany Proper after the creation of Poland.

ww2dbase Militarily, the Polish Navy was small but strong enough to counter a modest attack from the Baltic Sea, the Polish Air Force was highly advanced with the world's only all-metal air fleet, and the Polish Army was unified and enjoyed high prestige. However, as the 1930s went on, politicians who controlled the armed forces, despite top leadership's military origins, did not effectively manage the build-up to its maximum potential during peace time, and the Polish military fell behind its neighboring counterparts as quickly as it had grown.

ww2dbase To bolster diplomatic and military efforts, the Polish dedicated many resources to the field of intelligence. As early as the early 1930s, Polish mathematicians from the University of Poznan cracked German and Soviet military codes, therefore the Polish military was able to monitor military deployments of the two neighboring powers.

ww2dbase As Europe moved toward war, Czechoslovakia and Poland drew closer in the face of the potential common enemy, Germany. The two countries negotiated toward an alliance where Poland would gain partial ownership of the Skoda weapons plants for the promise that Poland would come to the aid of Czechoslovakia should a German invasion take place. When Germany annexed Czechoslovakia, however, Poland turned on its ally and took part in the partition of the country, capturing a small piece of eastern Czechoslovakia (the territory of Treschen and the nearby Bohumin rail junction) in Mar 1939. Although Germany and Poland had been debating over the Danzig issue, Poland did not realize Germany would soon turn on Poland until it was too late.

ww2dbase On 1 Sep 1939, after a series of purposefully-made unacceptable ultimatums, German troops poured across the Polish border after staging a bogus border incident. The Polish forces fought back fiercely, outperforming the German Army in the few occasions where the two forces were evenly matched. The more modernized and mobile German military, with ample air support, made those situations rare, however, by simply out-maneuvering the Polish forces. On 5 Sep, Poland moved its military headquarters to southeastern Poland, with the intention of allowing its top generals to continue the fight while northern Poland was being overrun. This prolonged the war gave allied France and the United Kingdom more time to launch a counterattack against Germany (which would never happen), but it also created much confusion between the political and military leaders, making the defense effort uncoordinated. The prospect of French and British intervention and the Polish military's ability to inflict high casualties against the oncoming Germans gave Poland some hope, but the optimism took a decisive hit when the Soviet Union invaded from the east on 17 Sep 1939. Poland surrendered on 28 Sep, and coordinated military resistance ceased by the first week of Oct.

ww2dbase After the conquest, Eastern Poland was occupied by Soviet forces. Western Poland was annexed by Germany. Central Poland was governed by a German military government. Economically, the occupation forces looted Poland, with the Germans taking large portions of the produce without regard to the starvation of the people, while the Soviets uprooted Polish industries and relocated them to the east. Politically, the Soviets planted intrigue and fostered violence between Jews and ethnic Ukrainians, while the Germans did the same between Christians and Jews. Both sides created slave labor from the population, while leaving the conquered and dismembered country to suffer starvation and disease.

ww2dbase In Jun 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and eastern Poland became one of the first battlefields. As the Soviet occupiers fled east, the German Einsatzgruppen units moved in immediately after them. Polish towns and villages that had survived the Soviet NVKD now faced German mobile killing squads. These squads systematically rounded up Jews, potential political opponents, and even innocent civilians for detention or massacre. Throughout the WW2 period, German mass killings, particularly against Jews, increased in efficiency and ruthlessness. The most infamous was the use of gas chambers, which began at the Auschwitz Concentration camp in occupied Poland on 3 Sep 1941. Within months, entire trains were dedicated to bringing Jews and other unwanted peoples for extermination.

ww2dbase Many groups of armed Polish resistance existed during the war. The group that posed the greatest threat to the German and Soviet occupiers was the Home Army (Armia Krajowa). The AK, which absorbed smaller resistance groups, was more so a secret underground government than a mere guerrilla force. In addition to having a military chain-of-command, it also maintained schools, industries, radio stations, and publishing services for the Polish people. The military wing of the AK initially opposed frequent confrontations with German forces in order to preserve strength, particularly with the brutal retribution attacks on civilians in mind. That restraint was lifted on 1 Aug 1944 as Soviet troops neared Warsaw. Although the Polish still held the Soviets, the AK thought the Soviet troops would, at least temporarily, ally themselves with the Polish resistance fighters for the common goal of removing German forces from Warsaw. When Warsaw would become liberated, AK leaders would then be able to claim legitimacy for being those who liberated the capital. Resistance fighters rose up as ordered against great odds, destroying German armored vehicles and killing many occupation soldiers. Adolf Hitler, furious, ordered the occupation force to systematically level entire sections of Warsaw until the city was nothing more than a pile of rubble. As the fighting continued and Polish resistance strength slowly waned, Soviet forces stood by. Furthermore, the Soviet Union even refused the Western Allies from using Soviet air bases to mount supply operations for the Polish resistance. As the Germans brutally quelled the uprising, Joseph Stalin's intentions were, belatedly, crystal clear. Tactically, the Soviets were letting the Germans to expend ammunition and lives. Strategically, Stalin, who had a puppet regime for post-war Poland already in mind, saw this as an opportunity to remove future political opposition.

During the occupation between 1939 and 1945, an estimated 5,200,000 civilians died as a direct result that number alone was staggering without needing to stress the fact that it amounted to 15% of the 1939 population of Poland.

ww2dbase The liberation of Poland by the Soviet Union was a repeat of the 1939 conquest. The Soviets once again looted all they could from Poland, and the people starved. As the Western Allies turned a blind eye to the Soviet treatment of Poland, the AK fell apart without western support. Polish border was redrawn as Stalin pleased. Eastern Poland, conquered by the Soviets during the 1939 invasion, was annexed. To justify the territorial loss, the Allies granted Poland eastern portions of Germany. The border changes resulted in forced population relocations, which led to further human suffering. With a Moscow-backed puppet government in place in Warsaw, Poland remain independent in name only until the end of the Cold War.

ww2dbase Sources:
John Radzilowski, A Traveller's History of Poland
William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich


Soviet Union invades Poland

On September 17, 1939, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov declares that the Polish government has ceased to exist, as the U.S.S.R. exercises the 𠇏ine print” of the Hitler-Stalin Non-aggression pact—the invasion and occupation of eastern Poland.

Hitler’s troops were already wreaking havoc in Poland, having invaded on the first of the month. The Polish army began retreating and regrouping east, near Lvov, in eastern Galicia, attempting to escape relentless German land and air offensives. But Polish troops had jumped from the frying pan into the fire𠅊s Soviet troops began occupying eastern Poland. The Ribbentrop-Molotov Non-aggression Pact, signed in August, had eliminated any hope Poland had of a Russian ally in a war against Germany. Little did Poles know that a secret clause of that pact, the details of which would not become public until 1990, gave the U.S.S.R. the right to mark off for itself a chunk of Poland’s eastern region. The “reason” given was that Russia had to come to the aid of its 𠇋lood brothers,” the Ukrainians and Byelorussians, who were trapped in territory that had been illegally annexed by Poland. Now Poland was squeezed from West and East—trapped between two behemoths. Its forces overwhelmed by the mechanized modern German army, Poland had nothing left with which to fight the Soviets.

As Soviet troops broke into Poland, they unexpectedly met up with German troops who had fought their way that far east in a little more than two weeks. The Germans receded when confronted by the Soviets, handing over their Polish prisoners of war. Thousands of Polish troops were taken into captivity some Poles simply surrendered to the Soviets to avoid being captured by the Germans.

The Soviet Union would wind up with about three-fifths of Poland and 13 million of its people as a result of the invasion.


July 1944 Russians REach the Polish Border - History

CAMPAIGN SUMMARIES OF WORLD WAR 2

EASTERN EUROPE & RUSSIAN FRONT

Each Summary is complete in its own right. The same information may therefore be found in a number of related summaries

(for more ship information, go to Naval History Homepage and type name in Site Search)

'Barbarossa' June 1941, The Attack on Russia - Plans and Reality

1919 - Tre aty of Versailles - Under its provisions, Germany was to be disarmed, the Rhineland occupied and reparations paid. At this time Poland was recreated from parts of Germany and Russia, as were other Central European states out of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

1926 - The German Weimar Republic joined the league of Nations.

1933 - Following earlier Nazi Party election successes, Adolph Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January. He took the country out of the League of Nations later in the year.

1934 - Russia joined the League of Nations. Meanwhile Hitler consolidated his power and in August proclaimed himself Fuehrer.

1935 - Hitler introduced military conscription.

1936 Ma rc h - German troops were sent to reoccupy the Rhineland. July - The Spanish Civil War started Italy and Germany became aligned with one side and Russia with the other.

1938 M arc h - German troops marched into and annexed Austria. September - In the Munich Crisis, Czechoslovakia was forced to cede Sudetenland to Germany.

1939 M ar ch - Germany completed its occupation of Czechoslovakia and took back Memel on the Baltic coast from Lithuania. Now Britain and France guaranteed Poland's independence. The Spanish Civil War came to an end. April - Italy invaded Albania. May - Britain reintroduced military conscription. Germany and Italy joined forces in the Pact of Steel. August - Following secret negotiations the Russian-German Non-Aggression Pact was si gned in Moscow to the world's amazement. Its provisions included the dismemberment of Poland. September 1st - Germany invaded Poland.

1939

SEPTEMBER 1939

Poland - After Germany invaded Poland on the 1st, Britain and France demanded the withdrawal of German forces. The ultimatum expired on the 3rd, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain broadcast to announce that Britain was at war with Germany.

Polish Campaign - As the Germans advanced into Poland, Russia invaded from the east on the 17th September. Warsaw surrendered to the German Army on the 28th and next day the country was partitioned in accordance with the Soviet-German Pact

OCTOBER 1939

Polish Campaign - With Poland partitioned between Germany and Russia, the last of the Polish Army surrendered on 5th October. Poland entered its long dark years of brutality and oppression.

NOVEMBER 1939

Russo-Finnish War - Negotiations on border changes and control of islands in the Gulf of Finland broke down and Russia invaded on the 30th. Fiercely resisted by the small Finnish army, the war dragged on to March 1940

1940

FEBRUARY 1940

Russo-Finnish War - Britain and France planned to send aid to Finland. This would allow them to occupy Narvik in northern Norway and cut back Swedish iron ore supplies to Germany.

MARCH 1940

Russo-Finnish War - A peace treaty on the 13th brought the war to a close, with Finland ceding the disputed territory to the Soviet Union.

APRIL 1940

Norway - Germany invaded Norway on the 9th and within a few week totally subjugated the entire country including the Arctic North with its proximity to Finland and Soviet Russia

JUNE 1940

Norway - The surviving Norwegian troops surrendered to the German Army on the 9th and the Norwegian Campaign was over. The Norwegian people would not be liberated until after the German surrender in May 1945. During that time, large German forces were maintained there at Hitler’s command in case the Allies should invade.

France - France capitulated and the Franco-German surrender document was signed on the 22nd. Its provisions included German occupation of the Channel and Biscay coasts and demilitarisation of the French fleet under Axis control.

Eastern Europe - Soviet Russia occupied the Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. In July they were formally incorporated into the USSR. Russia also took over parts of Rumania.

JULY 1940

Russo-German Cooperation - Only 11 months before German attacked Russia, German raider “Komet” sailed for the Pacific through the North East Passage across the top of Siberia with the aid of Russian icebreakers. She operated in the Pacific and Indian Oceans until returning to Germany in November 1941.

AUGUST 1940

Eastern Europe - The Germans started planning the invasion of Russia.

SEPTEMBER 1940

Axis Powers - Germany, Italy and Japan signed the Tripartite Pact in Berlin on the 27th. They agreed to jointly oppose any country joining the Allies at war - by which they meant the United States.

OCTOBER 1940

Eastern Europe - German troops occupied the Rumanian oilfields.

Balkans - On the 28th, the Italians invaded Greece from points in Albania, but were soon driven back. Fighting continued on Albanian soil until April 1941.

NOVEMBER 1940

Eastern Europe - Hungary and Rumania joined the Axis Tripartite Pact on the 20th and 23rd. Only Yugoslavia and Bulgaria held out against German pressure to become members the only countries in Eastern Europe and the Balkans not completely dominated by the Axis or Russia.

DECEMBER 1940

Eastern Europe - Hitler ordered detailed planning for Operation 'Barbarossa' - the invasion of Russia.

1941

MARCH 1941

Eastern Europe and Balkans - Bulgaria joined the Tripartite Pact on the 1st March and German troops marched in. As of now, only Yugoslavia in the Balkans retained national independence

Yugoslavia - On the 25th Yugoslavia joined the Tripartite Pact, but two days later an anti-Nazi coup toppled the Government.

APRIL 1941

Yugoslavia and Greece - Germany invaded both countries on the 6th. By the 12th they entered Belgrade and within another five days the Yugoslav Army had surrendered. Greek forces in Albania and Greece suffered the same fate. Starting on the 24th over a period of five days, 50,000 British, Australian and New Zealand troops were evacuated to Crete and Egypt in Operation 'Demon'. The Germans occupied Athens on the 27th.

Far East - Five Year Neutrality Pact between Japan and Russia benefited both powers. Russia could free troops for Europe and Japan concentrate on expansion southwards.

MAY 1941

Britain - Heavy raids on Belfast in Northern Ireland, the Scottish Clyde, Liverpool and especially London on the night of the 10th/11th marked the virtual end of the Blitz. The bulk of the Luftwaffe was now transferring east for the attack on Russia. RAF raids on Germany continued, and grew as a major plank in British and Allied strategy for the defeat of Germany.

Malta - The transfer of many German aircraft from Sicily for the attack on Russia brought some relief to Malta.

JUNE 1941

The invasion of Russia soon led to the introduction of the Russian or Arctic convoys with their dreadful conditions and after some months had elapsed, high losses in men and ships. However, the Royal Navy's presence in the Arctic was first made known in August when submarines started operating, with some success against German shipping supporting the Axis attack from Norway towards Murmansk. The port was never captured. Conditions with these convoys were at the very least difficult. Both summer and winter routes were close to good German bases in Norway from which U-boats, aircraft and surface ships could operate. In the long winter months there was terrible weather and intense cold, and in summer, continual daylight. Many considered that no ships would get through. The first convoy sailed in August and, by the end of the year, over 100 merchantmen had set out in both directions. Only one was lost to a U-boat. In 1942 the picture changed considerably. (See also the more detailed "Russian Convoys", starting with Eastern Front and Russian Convoys, Jun 1941-Oct 1942 .)

Eastern Front - German forces advanced in all sectors, and in the centre captured Minsk, capital of Byelorussia and surrounded Smolensk on the road to Moscow. Russian losses in men and material were immense. On the 12th, an Anglo-Soviet Mutual Assistance Pact was signed in Moscow. Both countries agreed not to seek separate peace negotiations with the Axis powers.


Eastern Front, June-November 1941

United States - Winston Churchill crossed the Atlantic to meet President Roosevelt off Argentia, Newfoundland between the 9th and 12th. Together they drafted the Atlantic Charter setting out their aims for war and peace. This was signed by Britain, the United States and 13 Allied governments in September.

The attack north on Leningrad continued. In the centre Smolensk was taken, but the drive on Moscow was halted. Instead German forces were directed south to help capture Kiev in the Ukraine.

Middle East - The possibility of a pro-Axis coup d'etat led to Anglo-Soviet forces going into Persia on the 25th from points in Iraq, the Persian Gulf and Russia. A cease-fire was announced within four days, but later violations led to Teheran being occupied in the middle of September.

In the north the siege of Leningrad was abo ut to start, and would not be lifted completely until early 1944. Kiev in the south was captured and Centre Army Group released to continue the Moscow offensive. Further south still, the Crimea was cut off and German forces drioe on towards Rostov-on-Don.

As German forces in the centre approached Moscow a state of siege was declared, but the offensive was temporarily halted at the end of the month. In the south Kharkov, east of Kiev in the Ukraine, fell.

The German centre advance on Moscow was restarted and troops were soon on the capital's outskirts. In the south they had driven right into the Crimea. Only Sevastopol held out and the siege lasted until June 1942. Further east Rostov-on-Don was captured, but the Russians re-took the city.

Declarations of War - In a series of diplomatic moves, numerous declarations of war were made: 5th-6th December - Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa declared war on Finland, Hungary and Rumania. 11th-13th December - Germany, Italy, Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary against the United States. 28th December-14th January - Britain, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa against Bulgaria.

As the Germans halted outside Moscow, the Russians launched a major Counter-Offensive starting from near Leningrad in the north down to the Ukrainian city of Kharkov in the south. By April 1942 Russian forces had regained much lost territory, but few major cities. The siege of Leningrad continued.


Eastern Front, December 1941-May 1942

Arcadia Conference - In late December and early January, Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt with their Chiefs of Staff met in Washington DC. They agreed to the setting up of a Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee and to the defeat of Germany as the first priority. On 1st January the United Nations Pact embodying the principles of the Atlantic Charter was signed in Washington by 26 countries.

The Russian advance continued to make headway. In the centre it reached to within 70 miles of Smolensk. To the south they drove a deep salient into the German lines south of Kharkov in the Ukraine. However German resistance grew as the Russians begin to over-extend themselves.

The Russian Counter-Offensive launched in December 1941 in the north and centre came to a halt. Territory had been regained but few cities. The Russians maintained their hold on the Kharkov salient in the south.

In the south, Russian forces attacked from the salient below the Ukrainian city of Kharkov and made some progress, but the Germans counter-attacked and soon encircled and captured the Russians. The Germans pushed on beyond Kharkov ready for the main Spring Offensive.

United States - Winston Churchill flew to Washington DC for another series of meetings with President Roosevelt. They agreed to share nuclear research and concentrate the work in the United States. Agreement did not come so easily on the question of where to open a Second Front in 1942. The Americans wanted to land in France to take pressure off the Russians, but the British considered this impossible at present and proposed the invasion of French North Africa. The President did not come to accept this until July.

Czechoslovakia - Reinhard Heydrich, German 'Protector' of Czechoslovakia died from wounds sustained in an assassination attempt in May. In part reprisal, the village of Lidice was wiped out and its people murdered.

Towards the end of the month the Russians started to evacuate Sevastopol and by early July all the Crimea was in German Hands. By this time the Germans had started their Spring Attack in the south with the aim of taking Rostov-on-Don and pushing further south towards the vital oilfields of the Caucasus. Meanwhile, from the area of Kursk and Kharkov, a second army group would move on Stalingrad to protect the left flank of what was initially the main thrust to the south. Stalingrad later dictated the outcome of the entire campaign.


Eastern Front, June-October 1942

In the south the German Spring Offensive continued with the taking of Rostov-on-Don. After crossing the Don River they pushed on into into the Caucasus. Meanwhile the protective left flank army group was approaching Stalingrad. The German advance into the Caucacus came at a critical time for the North African campaign, opening up the possibility of a German link-up in the Middle East. The loss of the region's oil and the potential for a German-Japanese meeting in India could have proved fatal for the Allies.

The south continued to be the main focus of this long and bitterly contested front and remained so until January 1943. In the Stalingrad area the German reached the River Volga and were within a few miles of the city at the start of the Battle of Stalingrad. They broke into the suburbs in September and the fighting increased in intensity as the Russians struggled to hold on to the west bank of the Volga. Further south still, the German invaders reached the Caucasus Mountains, but thereafter made slow progress.

Still concentrating on the south, the Germans made little progress in the Caucasus. By November they were being worn down and the Russians started to go over to the offensive. Hitler decided to take Stalingrad and major attacks were started in October and then November. Neither attacks succeeded in merciless factory-to-factory, house-to-house, room-to-room fighting.

In the south, as the German forces in the Caucasus and within Stalingrad were slowly ground down, the Russians started a long-planned Major Offensive to relieve the city and trap the invaders in the Caucasus. Along 50-mile fronts to the north and the south of Stalingrad, two large armies broke through the largely Rumanian defenders. Before the month was out the Russian pincers had met and Gen Paulus’ Sixth Army was surrounded.


Eastern Front, November 1942-May 1943

In the south, a scratch German force tried to reach Stalingrad from the southwest but was soon driven back. Further north, the Russians resumed their push and annihilated an Italian army. By now the Germans in the Caucasus were under heavy pressure. Fearing the Russians would reach Rostov-on-Don and trap them, they started to withdraw from the oilfields considered so important by Hitler.

Russian strength was now great enough to attack along other parts of the front as well as in the south. In the north they managed to open a narrow corridor through to Leningrad. The siege was partially lifted, but another year was needed to complete its liberation. The offensive in the centre/south continued with the Russians aiming (from north to south) for Kursk, Kharkov and Rostov-on-Don. In the south itself, the pressure on the trapped Germans at Stalingrad was increased. A powerful attack starting early in the month forced Gen Paulus and the remnants of Sixth Army to surrender on the 31st January with the last troops giving in on the 2nd February. The Battle of Stalingrad was at last over. Further south still German forces in the Caucasus retreated as the Russian attacks gathered momentum. Those who coukd, escaped through Rostov-on-Don before its inevitable fall.

By mid-February in the centre/south the Russians had liberated the cities of Kursk, Kharkov and Rostov-on-Don, but within a matter of days German forces started a successful counter-attack around Kharkov. In the south with the Russian capture of Rostov-on-Don, those Germans left in the Caucasus were driven back towards the Taman Peninsula opposite the Crimea.

Until now the Germans had held on to the salients in the Moscow area left over from the Russian winter offensive of 1941/42 in the north and centre. Under attack they pulled back and straightened their lines. In the centre and south, the Germans retook Kharkov, but the Russian Army held on to the salient around Kursk. As the front stabilised both sides prepared for the coming Battle of Kursk - the greatest tank battle of the war.

War Crimes - The site of the massacre of Polish officers was found at Katyn near Smolensk: the Russians and Germans accused each other of the atrocity.

In the south the Russians squeezed the Germans trapped in the Caucasus further into the Taman Peninsula across from the Crimea. Here they held out for a further six months until October 1943.

Resistance Forces - In occupied Europe, Tito's partisan armies continued to hold down large numbers of German troops in Yugoslavia.


Eastern Front, June-December 1943

There was little activity in the north and Leningrad had to wait until early 1944 for the siege to be fully lifted. It was a different matter in the centre/south where the Battle of Kursk was fo ught. The Germans attacked the 100-mile wide salient around Kursk from the Orel in the north and Kharkov in the south. Total forces engaged on both sides included 6,000 tanks and 5,000 aircraft. Russian defences were well prepared and in depth and the Germans made little progress. Within a week they had ground to a halt. Losses were heavy on both sides. Now the Russian armies launched the first of numerous offensives in these sectors, which by year's end saw them reaching Byelorussia and recapturing more than half the Ukraine. The first attacks were north of Kursk against the German salient around Orel. In early August it was the turn of Kharkov to the south.

From east of Smolensk south to the Sea of Azov the Russians attacked and pushed forward all along the line: in the centre towards Smolensk itself in the centre/south first Orel and then Kharkov were captured, followed by an advance towards the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in the south from the Rostov-on-Don area towards Odessa, threatening to trap the Germans in the Crimea.

The Russians continue to push forward in the centre and south, capturing Smolensk on the 25th September. Thereafter they made little progress in this area for the rest of 1943.

British Aegean Campaign - With the surrender of Italy, Winston Churchill wanted to seize the Italian Dodecanese islands in the southern Aegean before the Germans could establish themselves. From here the Allies could threaten Greece, support Turkey and (with an eye on the post-war world by Mr Churchill) forestall future Russian moves in the Balkans , but the Americans and some British commanders were lukewarm on what they saw as a sideshow compared with the battle for Italy. Insufficient forces and especially aircraft were made available, and the Germans soon took Rhodes from where, together with other bases, they maintained air superiority throughout the coming campaign.

In the centre and south the Russians still made little progress against fierce German resistance. Further south still the remaining German troops in the Caucasus evacuated the Taman Peninsula and were ferried across to the Crimea.

In the centre/south, Russian forces captured Kiev, capital of the Ukraine on the 6th and pushed on. However, the Germans managed to counter-attack and recaptured some of the towns to the west of the city. A larger German counter-offensive in the same area faded out by early December. Further south the attacks towards Odessa finally cut off the Germans in the Crimea where they held out until May 1944.

Since October 1943, five Russian attacks in the centre had been launched against the Germans west of Smolensk. The greatly outnumbered defenders had held on, but the Russians now had a foothold back in Byelorussia. In the centre/south all the Ukraine east of the Dnieper River together with deep bridgeheads across much of its length were now in Russian hands. They prepared to recover the rest of the Ukraine, push into the Crimea and move on Poland and Rumania.

Now the German invaders in the north felt the weight of Russian attacks. A series of offensives drove them back from the gates of Leningrad by the end of January. By early March the Russian armies had regained a large chunk of Russian territory that took them just over the border of northern Estonia and close to Latvia. Here they stayed until July. Meanwhile, the massive assaults continued in the centre/south from north of Kiev down to the Black Sea, and the ground lost to the west of Kiev was soon regained. The Russians pushed on and early in the month crossed into the southeast corner of pre-war Poland.


Eastern Front, January-August 1944

In the centre the Russians moved further into Poland. All the time German commanders were severely restricted by Hitler's refusal to allow them to fall back on more defensible positions. Large formations found themselves encircled by the Russians and the Germans' limited resources were used up in rescuing them.

Nearly all the Ukraine was now back in Russian hands and in the south the advance towards the southwest brought the Russians to the foothills of the Carpathian mountains, just inside pre-war Rumania. Thoroughly concerned about the potential collapse of the Balkans, Hitler ordered troops into Hungary to prevent the country leaving the Axis. As this happened the Finnish Government was trying to negotiate an armistice with Russia.

In the south the Russians started the task of clearing the Crimea. Further west, on the 10th they captured the major Black Sea port of Odessa.

Air War - In one facet of the air war, a V-2 rocket crashed in Poland near Warsaw and resistance groups managed to arrange for the parts to be successfully airlifted to Britain.

Against fierce German resistance, the Russians in the south had now re-captured all the Ukraine including the Crimea. In the centre, they were over the border into pre-war Poland and Rumania.

Normandy Invasion 6th June, Operation 'Overlord'

In the far north Russia attacked into southern Finland on the 10th in order to force the government to the negotiation table. Fighting carried on into July, but by early September a cease-fire was in effect. In the centre of the main front, the Russians started the First of their major summer offensives on the 23rd from around Smolensk. The aim was to clear the Germans out of Byelorussia and head on for Warsaw, East Prussia and the Baltic through Lithuania.

Germany - In the 20th July Bomb Plot, a device left by Col von Stauffenberg in Hitler’s East Prussia headquarters only injures him slightly.

The attacks in the centre pushed on. Minsk, capital of Byelorussia was ta ken by the 4th and by mid-month all the Russian republic had been liberated. Vilna, disputed capital of Lithuania, was captured on the 13th. By the end of July the Russians were approaching the outskirts of Warsaw. In the north, the Second Main Phase of the summer offensive got underway with the aim of ejecting the Germans from the Baltic states. The Third Phase started in the middle of the month in the centre/south from the Ukraine into southern Poland. Lvov was taken on the 27th.

Nearly all pre-war Russia had now been liberated. On the 1st, the Polish Home Army launched the Warsaw Rising against their German oppressors. With little help from outside, least of all the Russians, the fight went on through August and September 1944 until the Poles were finally crushed with great brutality. Around 200,000 died by the time the survivors surrendered on 2nd October 1944. Further south the Russians gained a bridgehead over the River Vistula and their forward lines ran along much of the length of the Carpathian Mountains by month's end. By now running short of supplies and facing increasing German resistance, this sector was stabilised until January 1945. However the Fourth Phase of the Summer offensive started in the far south, aimed at clearing the Balkans. The Russian armies attacked on the 20th from the Ukraine south and west into Rumania. Events moved rapidly. Three days later Rumania accepted the Russian armistice terms, on the 25th declared war on Germany, and by the 31st the Russians were entering Bucharest. Now Bulgaria tried to declare its neutrality and withdraw from the war, just as the Russian forces swung west and north towards Hungary and on to Yugoslavia threatening to cut off the Germans in Greece.

I n the far north Finland agreed to a cease-fire on the 4th and six days later in Moscow signed an armistice with Russia, followed by one with the Allies. By mid-month the Finns were effectively at war with Germany although the formal declaration was not made until March 1945. On the Baltic front, major attacks continued into Estonia and Latvia, and the Estonian capital of Tallinn was captured on the 22nd. In the Balkans, Rumania signed an Allied armistice in Moscow on the 12th, by which time its troops were in battle alongside the Russians. The country was almost free of the Germans by the end of the month. From Rumania, the Russians reached the eastern border of Yugoslavia by the 6th and crossed into southern Hungary before September was out. Russia declared war on Bulgaria on the 5th, which in turn declared against Germany three days later as Russian forces crossed into the country near the Black Sea. They enter Sofia on the 16th and at the end of October signed an armistice with the Allied powers. By then Bulgarian troops were attacking into Yugoslavia with the Russians


Eastern Front, September 1944-May 1945

In the Arctic, the Russians started a series of attacks and amphibious hops which by the end of the month had driven the Germans back from the Murmansk area just over the border into Norway. The Russians, now joined by Norwegian troops, came to a halt. Still in the north in the Baltic States, Riga capital of Latvia was captured on the 15th. By then the Russians had reached the Baltic north of Memel, which eventually fell in January 1945. German troops fell back in to the Courland Peninsula of Latvia and held out there until May 1945, but by the end of October most of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were free of the Germans. Following an abortive uprising in eastern Czechoslovakia in late August, the Russians now attacked over the Carpathian mountains from southern Poland and were cross the border in mid-month. In the Balkans, the struggle up through Hungary continued, but the Russians could only reach the outskirts of Budapest in early November. Meanwhile the Eastern Allies were advancing into Yugoslavia and joined forces with units of Marshall Tito's partisan armies on the 4th. Belgrade fell on the 20th.

The main activity was in Hungary where the Russians still battled towards Budapest, and in the Balkans as southern Yugoslavia was c leared by the Eastern Allies.

Greece & Albania - By mid-month Greece was free of those Germans that could escape and British troops had landed in the north. They also had the job of disarming the various resistance movements. In Albania the Germans were pulling out and on the 21st the capital of Tirana was o ccupied by Albanian partisans.

In Hungary the Russians attack towards Budapest, reaching Lake Balaton early in the month and encircling the city at Christmas. Following the setting up of a provisional Hungarian Government in the Russian-held area, war was declared on Germany on the 31st and an armistice signed with the Allies in late January 1945.

All along the Polish Vistula front the Russians started a major offensive through Warsaw directed at Berlin. Devastated Warsaw fell on the 17th and by the end of the month they had gained a huge wedge of territory taking them over the border of Germany to the River Oder only 60 miles from the German capital. The Germans were now cut off in East Prussia and some 1 1/2 million servicemen and civilians were evacuated by the end of the war. To the south, the Eastern Allies continued to fight their way through Czechoslovakia as the Russians struggled to capture Budapest in Hungary.

Yalta Conference - For a week early in the month, Prime Minister Churchill, President Roosevelt and Generalissimo Stalin met at Yalta in the Crimea. With the Russians advancing through Eastern Europe and agreement on the future frontiers of Poland and the division of Germany into four occupation zones, the shape of much of post-war Europe was determined. Stalin agreed to declare war on Japan once the war in the west was over.

Having penetrated into Germany the Russians pushed out north towards the Baltic coast and southwest, so that by the beginning of March they were establishing themselves along the Oder-Niesse line of rivers. In Hungary, Budapest finally fell on the 13th.

By the end of March the Russians had taken most of the Baltic coast of Germany and Poland east of the River Oder and captured Gdynia and Danzig. They were now poised along the Oder-Niesse Line ready for the final attack towards Berlin. To the south, the Eastern Allies continued their progress into Czechoslovakia. In Hungary the Germans made their last important counter-offensive of the war around the Lake Balaton area. By mid-month they had been stopped and the Russians drove on towards eastern Austria.

As the Eastern Allies fought through Czechoslovakia towards Prague, Hungary was finally freed of the Germans, and the Russians pushed into Austria, capturing Vienna on the 13th. To the north, as the Western Allies came to a halt along the line of the River Elbe, the Russians started their final, massive drive into eastern Germany from the Oder-Neisse Line. They had surrounded the German capital by the 25th and the Battle for Berlin got underway.

Germany - The End of Adolf Hitler: As the month drew to a close and the Allies completed the destruction of the German Reich, Heinrich Himmler tried to surrender to Britain and the United States through Swedish intermediaries, but anything short of unconditional surrender was refused. On the 29th in his Berlin bunker, Hitler married Eva Braun and nominated Grand-Adm Doenitz as his successor. Next day Hitler and his wife committed suicide and Doenitz became Fuehrer on 1st May.

Western Front - In the last week of the war in Europe, US First and Ninth Armies stood along the west bank of the River Elbe. To their north, British Second Army reached the Baltic on the 2nd and next day took Hamburg. In the south, US Third Army pushed into Czechoslovakia as far as Pilsen and Austria around Linz, and Seventh Army into Austria and through Innsbruck before crossing the Brenner Pass into Italy. There the Western Allies stopped . On the 4th outside Hamburg, German envoys surrendered their forces in Holland, Denmark and northwest Germany to Field Marshal Montgomery.

Eastern Front - Berlin fell to the Russian Army on the 2nd. Fighting continued in Czechoslovakia and Austria and, on the 5th, resistance forces rose to take over Prague. A few days later the last major German units surrendered to the Russians to the east of the Czech capital.

Surrender and Occupation - At Gen Eisenhower's HQ at Rheims in France on the 7th, the unconditional surrender of Germany was signed to take effect from midnight on the 8th - VE day. On the 9th it was ratified in Berlin and signed for the Allies by Air Chief Marshall Tedder (as Gen Eisenhower's Deputy) and Russian Marshal Zhukov. As the last remaining German forces surrendered in France, Germany, Norway and elsewhere, and the Allies completed the liberation of all Europe from their hold, the four major powers moved into their zones of occupation in Germany and Austria. The war in Europe was over.

Potsdam Conference - In the second half of the month, the heads of the three great powers met at Potsdam outside Berlin to continue discussing the future of Europe and final defeat of Japan. By the end of the conference only Stalin remained of the original three major Allied leaders who had met in the past. Accompanied by President Truman of the United States for the first time, Winston Churchill was only there at the start. On the 26th the Potsdam Declaration was broadcast, demanding the unconditional surrender of Japan.

Far East - Russia declared war on Japan on the 8th and invaded Manchuria early next day overwhelming the Japanese defenders.


Potsdam Conference begins

The final 𠇋ig Three” meeting between the United States, the Soviet Unionਊnd Great Britain takes place towards the end of World War II. The decisions reached at the conference ostensibly settled many of the pressing issues between the three wartime allies, but the meeting was also marked by growing suspicion and tension between the United States and the Soviet Union.

On July 17, 1945, U.S. President Harry S. Truman, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met in the Berlin suburb of Potsdam to discuss issues relating to postwar Europe and plans to deal with the ongoing conflict with Japan. By the time the meeting began, U.S. and British suspicions concerning Soviet intentions in Europe were intensifying. Russian armies occupied most of Eastern Europe, including nearly half of Germany, and Stalin showed no inclination to remove his control of the region. Truman, who had only been president since Franklin D. Roosevelt died three months earlier, arrived at the meeting determined to be “tough” with Stalin. He was encouraged in this course of action by news that American scientists had just successfully tested the atomic bomb. 

The conference soon bogged down on the issue of postwar Germany. The Soviets wanted a united but disarmed Germany, with each of the Allied powers determining the destiny of the defeated power. Truman and his advisors, fearing the spread of Soviet influence over all Germany𠄺nd, by extension, all of western Europe𠄿ought for and achieved an agreement whereby each Allied power (including France) would administer a zone of occupation in Germany. Russian influence, therefore, would be limited to its own eastern zone. The United States also limited the amount of reparations Russia could take from Germany. Discussion of the continuing Soviet occupation of Poland floundered.


July 1944 Russians REach the Polish Border - History

Przemysl is a city in Poland, situated on the San River, in the Lvov district, Eastern Galicia and before the Second World War approximately 24,000 Jews lived in Przemysl.

The Germans bombed Przemysl on 7 September 1939 and the following day the bombing continued setting fire to the shopping centre Pasaz Gansa.

Many of Przemysl inhabitants fled the city, to escape the bombings, and the Germans entered the city for the first time on 15 September 1939, approximately 20, 000 Jews lived in Przemysl, including refugees from western Poland.

The Germans immediately began to humiliate the Jewish inhabitants and started to arrest members of the Jewish intelligentsia, physicians, lawyers, industrialists and Jewish political activists. Forty-three leading Jewish citizens were arrested, taken for forced labour, savagely beaten and then shot. Among the forty-three was Asscher Gitter, whose son had emigrated to the United States in 1938, hoping that one day his father would join him.

Jews were taken from their dwellings by members of the Sicherheitspolizei or were rounded up on the streets and taken to nearby woods surrounding Przemysl where they were shot and buried in communal graves.

The first mass executions of approximately 600 Jews took place between 16 and 19 September 1939, at a number of places in the cities outskirts, these included Lipowica, Pralkowce also at Przekopana near the Wiar River and near the Jewish cemetery at Slowackiego Street.

On 23 September 1939 notified the inhabitants of Przemysl that the San River was the demarcation line between the German and Soviet areas. On 28 September 1939 the Soviets took possession of the city. Shortly before the withdrawal the Germans burnt down the Old Synagogue, the Klois, the Hassidic prayer house, the Tempel Synagogue on Jagiellonska Street and parts of the Jewish quarter.

As in other places that fell into Soviet hands in 1939, the lives of Jews changed greatly. Jewish cultural and political activity, especially religious and Zionist the Soviets ended.

Private industries and businesses were turned into co-operatives and in April and May 1940 about 7,000 Jews were deported to the Soviet interior.

On 26 September, Jewish inhabitants of Zasanie and villages on the German side of the San River were ordered to move to the Russian occupied part of Przemysl. Since the bridge over the San had been bombed by the Germans, the Jews could only reach the eastern part of the

city only via the railway bridge. Later this crossing was prohibited for all civilians especially Jews.

On the German side whilst most of the Jews had been moved to the Soviet side, only a handful were left, 66 in all mostly women, elderly and sick were later housed in two buildings on 11/13 Dolinskiego Street.

Around the turn of the year in 1940 the Frontier Police Authority (Grenzpolizeikommissariat) was set up, and their job was to ensure that movement across the border area was restricted.

On 27 June 1940 the German part of Przemysl was re-named Deutsch- Przemysl and for two years became a collection point for ethnic Germans returning “home.”

In January 1940 Heinrich Himmler and Hanns Johst, a writer, were both at the bridge over the San River to greet ethnic Germans, and Johst recalled “all the returnees bow deeply and faithfully to this greeting, which is for them a promise and the host of infinite happiness.”

Deutsche- Przemysl included the areas Zasanie, Ostrow, Kunkowce, Buszkowce, Buszkowiczki, Zurawica, Walawa, Przekopana, Polnocna, and parts of Ujkowice and Bolestraszyce.

In the spring of 1940 a Judenrat was established in Zasanie – this was probably the only Judenrat in occupied Poland headed by a woman, Anna Feingold.

Anna Feingold exact fate is unknown, but in all probability she was probably shot by the Germans in Lipowice, prior to the first mass deportations.

With Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union the Germans reoccupied Przemysl on 28 June 1941 some 17,000 Jews were living there. The Nazis immediately began rounding up Jews for forced labour. On their own initiative the Jews established a committee to represent themselves, headed by Dr. Ignatz Duldig.

Within a few days the Gestapo arrived and enforced anti-Jewish measures, such as the wearing of the Jewish badge, the registration of all Jews in the labour office, and the establishment of a Jewish Council (Judenrat) under Dr Duldig.

During the following year Jews were forced to hand over their valuables and various household goods. Those who did not comply with the Nazi decrees were beaten and imprisoned.

In August 1941, Galicia was incorporated into the General Government and Przemysl was administratively reunited under its former name and with the surrounding municipalities it now formed the Kreishauptmannschaft Przemysl, under Stadtkommissariat and Landkommissariat Dobromil.

The Grenzpolizeikommissariat a department of the Sicherheitspolizei, and a Criminal Investigation Department were all under the command of SS- Untersturmfuhrer Weichelt. The premises of these departments were separated from each other, but were under the sole command of the Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei and the SD Dr Schongarth in Krakow.

Furthermore Przemysl became headquarters of the Gendarmarie under Hauptmann Hassler as well as a regular police which utilised Polish and Ukrainian volunteers and one company of Police Battalion 307.

After the occupation the GPK Przemysl was housed in the Gestapo Headquarters, a multi-storied private house on Ulica Krasinskiego.

In charge of the GPK Przemysl until May 1941 was Kriminal-Kommissar Freidrich Preuss, who was succeeded by SS-Untersturmfuhrer Adolf Benthin, who was replaced by SS-Sturmscharfuhrer Rudolf Heinrich Benewitz and finally by SS- Hauptsturmfuhrer Weichelt in early 1944 until the unit was dissolved in July 1944.

The GPK was responsible for the surveliance of the Jews in Przemysl and Sturmscharfuhrer Richard Timme was responsible for Jewish matters, although economic administration was still under the authority of the Kreishauptmannschaft.

The conditions for the Jews deteriorated sharply in the summer months of July and August 1941 as the Nazi grip tightened, in late autumn 1941 the quarter of Garbarze was proclaimed as the Jewish residential area. It was bordered East, North and West by the bend of the San River and in the South by the Lvov – Krakow railway route.

The establishment of the Jewish Quarter lasted until the summer of 1942, with Jews being allowed to walk freely through the streets, only the crossing to Zasanie via the provisional bridge was prohibited for Jews.

On 26 December 1941 Schutzpolizei along with Volksdeutsche and Polish policemen entered Jewish homes and seized furs and other clothing, destined for German troops fighting on the Russian front. Schutzpolizei officers started to remove furs and fur collars from the coats of all Jewish men and women they met in the streets. They also removed winter boots, particularly from women and made them walk with bare-feet in the cold.

From the spring of 1942 there were numerous executions of Jews by shooting at the Jewish cemetery at Slowackiego Street. These shootings were carried out by Gestapo officials responsible for Jewish affairs and by members of the Przemysl GPK.

By the summer of 1942 some 5,000 Jews from neighbouring villages, such as Bircza, Krzywcza, Nizankowice and Dynow had been brought to Przemysl, at the same time rumours of Nazi savagery began to reach the city, such as the murder of 45 women who had been imprisoned in nearby Zasanie.

The violence soon reached Przemysl during June 1942, on the 3 June the Germans murdered all Jewish residents of the Zasanie Ghetto at Dolinskiego Street were taken by trucks to the former Austrian Fort Vlll Letownia in the Kunkowce suburb. On the 18 June 1942 1,000 Jewish men from the city were sent to the Janowska labour camp in Lvov. On the day of the deportation, the Gestapo guards shot many of the deportee’s relatives, as they parted from one another. They also shot men who tried to evade the deportation.

The establishment of a sealed ghetto was announced on 14 July and all Jews had to be within its boundaries by the following day, between 22,000 -24,000 Jews lived in the ghetto.

Only the members of the Jewish council and their families were allowed to remain in their homes outside the residential area until the deportations commenced.

On 20 July 1942 the German authorities demanded 1,300,000 zloty stating that payment of this sum would guarantee peace and quiet, the same day the resettlement action was planned for the 27 July 1942. This took place in the Gestapo headquarters - the chief participants were the Kreishauptmann, the municipal administrator, representatives of the Security Police, Order Police and the head of the Przemysl Labour Office.

On 23 July 1942 the Judenrat was told that in four days some Jews would be taken away for forced labour and others would be given work permits.

In the end the Gestapo gave Duldig only 5,000 work permits, complete with a Gestapo stamp. On 24 July the Judenrat collected all the work cards and handed them over to the Gestapo, and the cards with the Gestapo stamp were returned two days later.

Thus followed three separate “Aktions” carried out on 27 July 1942, 31 July 1942 and 3 August 1942. On the first day the ghetto was surrounded by Schutzpolizei and Gestapo units, under the command SS- Hauptsturmfuhrer Martin Fellenz, from the SSPF Krakow office.

On the first day of the “aktion” 6,500 Jews were deported to the death camp at Belzec, and Dr Ignatz Duldig and his deputy were shot, the elderly, handicapped, ill and some children – approximately 2,500 people were taken in trucks to the Grochowce forest and other places on the outskirts of the city. They were shot and buried in a number of mass graves.

On the second day 3,000 Jews were deported to Belzec and on the 3 August 1942 a further 3,000 were sent to the same place. At the end of the “Aktion” the Jews were forced to turn over a sum of money to the Gestapo, ostensibly to defray the deportation transportation costs. By the end of August, the Gestapo had murdered one hundred more Jews in Przemysl.

During the first day of the Aktion an extraordinary rescue act took place. The adjutant to Major Max Liedtke the Military Governor of the town Lieutenant a Dr. Alfred Battel, requested from the Gestapo, that the Jews who worked for the German Army, whether they had work permits or not, should be spared.

When his request was not granted German Army forces took control of the bridges that connected the two parts of the city and threatened that they would not let any transports leave.

After calling their commander in Krakow Julian Scherner the Gestapo acceded to his request, for this Battel and Liedtke were both named a Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

During these mass deportations Josef Buzhminski witnessed the following scene from his hiding place near the ghetto fence, bordering “Aryan” Przemysl. It was from this hiding place that Buzhminski saw an SS man by the name of Kidash catch a Jewish woman who was holding a baby in her arms. The baby was about eighteen months old. “She held the baby in her arms,” Buzhminski recalled, “and began asking for mercy, that she be shot first, leaving the baby alive. From behind the fence there were Poles who raised their hands ready to catch the baby,”

The woman was about to hand the baby over to the Poles, when Kidash “took the baby from her arms and shot her twice,” and then took the baby into his hands and tore him as one would tear a rag.”

Towards the middle of November 1942 the Jews started to fear that another “Aktion” was brewing and began to build bunkers.

When the second “Aktion” came on 18 November 1942 more than 8,000 Jews without work permits were slated for deportation and about 1,500 were to be exempted. Only 3,500 however, showed up at the concentration point – the rest of the Jews were hiding in bunkers.

During the day some 500 were found and added to the transport bound for Belzec death camp.

After the second “Aktion” the ghetto was divided into two sections – Section A with 800 and later about 1,300 Jews, was preserved primarily for workers. Section B was for the remaining Jews, primarily non-workers.

In February 1943, SS-Unterscharfuhrer Joseph Schwammberger took over Section A, which was officially declared a labour camp. Schwammberger survived the war and fled to Argentina. In 1990 he was extradited to Germany tried and convicted of war crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment. Schwammberger died in Stuttgart prison hospital on 4 December 2004.

There was no massive armed resistance in Przemysl, in mid-April 1943 twelve young men escaped from the ghetto and tried to join the partisans. They were intercepted by Ukrainians not far from the city and all but one was murdered.

The survivor known only by his surname Green was hanged in public, shortly thereafter, along with Meir Krebs, who had stabbed a Gestapo man, Karl Friedrich Reisner, on 10 May 1943.

The liquidation of Section B began on 2 -3 September 1943 – during the “Aktion” 3,500 Jews, most of whom were hiding in bunkers, were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz. An additional 600 Jews were selected from the labour camp and sent to Szebnie camp from there they were sent to Auschwitz several weeks later.

One week after the start of the final “Aktion” the commander of the GPK Rudolph Bennewitz stated that all Jews who reported for resettlement voluntarily would go to a work camp, and 1,580 Jews gave themselves up.

On 11 September 1943, after they had undressed and surrendered their valuables they were shot in the yard of the Judenrat building in Kopernika Street, in groups of fifty. Their corpses were burned where they fell during the days following the executions. This “aktion” known as the “Turnhallen – Aktion” (Gymnasium Action) was carried out in the city centre, only 200 meters from Przemysl railway station.

On 28 October 1943 100 more Jews were brought to Szebnie from the Przemysl work camp- they too subsequently were deported to Auschwitz. At the end of February 1944 the final 150 inmates were sent to Stalowa Wola and from there to Auschwitz.

From October 1943 to April 1944 the Nazis continued to search for Jews in hiding, finding and killing about 1,000. These killings were carried out by the Gestapo, SS and the camp commander Schwammberger.

The camp was destroyed at the end of February 1944 which should have meant that Przemysl was “Judenfrei.” However, this was not the case around 120 Jews were in hiding in secret “bunkers” within Przemysl and the surrounding area.

Between March to May 1944 three or four secret “bunkers” housing 40 -50 Jews were killed, the last hiding place was discovered in May 1944 in Tarnawce near Przemysl where 27 Jews were shot. The Kurpiel family who helped the Jews in hiding were executed in Lipowica.

On 23 July 1944 Przemysl was bombed by Russian airplanes and on 27 July 1944 the Russians captured the city, which was the exact anniversary of the first major deportation to the Belzec death two years earlier. Only 300 Jews of those living in the Przemysl area in June 1941 survived the war.

In the German Military cemetery at Przemysl are buried the remains of Erwin Fichtner and Fritz Jirmann, who were both members of the Belzec death camp guard squad. Fichtner was killed on the 29 March 1943 near Tarnawatka by partisans, and Jirmann was accidentally killed by Heinrich Gley also in March 1943.

Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1990.

Das General Gouvernement by Dr Max Freiherr Du Prel, published by Konrad Triltsch Verlag Wurzburg 1942.


Watch the video: The Evacuation of East Prussia German Refugees in World War II 1944 1945