On this day in 1939, 140,000 Polish troops are taken prisoner by the German invaders as Warsaw surrenders to the superior mechanized forces of Hitler’s army. The Poles fought bravely, but were able to hold on for only 26 days.
On the heels of its victory, the Germans began a systematic program of terror, murder, and cruelty, executing members of Poland’s middle and upper classes: Doctors, teachers, priests, landowners, and businessmen were rounded up and killed. The Nazis had given this operation the benign-sounding name “Extraordinary Pacification Action.” The Roman Catholic Church, too, was targeted, because it was a possible source of dissent and counterinsurgency. In one west Poland church diocese alone, 214 priests were shot. And hundreds of thousands more Poles were driven from their homes and relocated east, as Germans settled in the vacated areas.
This was all part of a Hitler master plan. Back in August, Hitler warned his own officers that he was preparing Poland for that “which would not be to the taste of German generals”–including the rounding up of Polish Jews into ghettos, a prelude to their liquidation. All roads were pointing to Auschwitz.