The following comes from The Writer's Almanac today. What is so striking to me is that the German people did not want war. We must carefully watch where we are led, for we are responsible for what the country we belong to, does.
from The Writer's Almanac:
It was on this day in 1939 that Germany invaded Poland, starting World War II. The previous year, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had tried to prevent a war with Germany by allowing Hitler to take control of part of Czechoslovakia. But that compromise only encouraged Hitler to expand his power. He took control of all of Czechoslovakia, and then began to plan an invasion of Poland. He claimed that the only part of Poland he wanted was the city of Danzig, which he said was rightfully a German city.
And so, without making any formal declaration of war, Hitler ordered the invasion on this day in 1939. At the time, Poland had an army of 1.7 million men, and Hitler's invasion force consisted of only 800,000. But Hitler's army was the most advanced in the world. Whereas almost all of World War I had been fought on the ground, in the trenches, at a slow-motion pace, Hitler saw speed as the future of warfare. He began the invasion with dive-bombing planes, equipped with screaming sirens that would terrify the people on the ground. Then he sent in high-speed panzer tanks, which could drive over fences and destroy stone walls and buildings.
The Polish soldiers were completely outmaneuvered. In one of the battles, a group of Polish cavalrymen rode out on horseback with lances and swords to fight the German tanks, and they were slaughtered in minutes. The fighting lasted barely more than a month, and Hitler arrived in Warsaw for his victory parade on October 5, 1939. Fifty thousand Polish soldiers had been killed or wounded and 750,000 had become prisoners of war.
But back in Germany, people were not celebrating. Most Germans remembered the horrors of the First World War, and they didn't want to go through that again. Two days after the invasion began, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. American journalist William Shirer was in Berlin as a correspondent for CBS Radio, and he wrote in his diary that day, "It has been a lovely September day, the sun shining, the air balmy, the sort of day the Berliner loves to spend in the woods or on the lakes nearby. I walked the streets. On the faces of the people astonishment, depression. Stunned."
Back in New York City, the poet W.H. Auden was inspired by the news of war to write what became one of his most famous poems, "September 1, 1939," which begins,
"I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-Second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade."