September 1, 1939–80 years ago today–World War II begins

At 4:45 a.m on September 1, 1939, German Dictator Adolf Hitler ordered his land, air, and naval forces to attack Poland–thus starting World War II.

For the prior year and a half, the world had been on war watch; Hitler, seeking “lebensraum” or “living space” for Germans, had already ordered the successful “anschluss” (annexation) of German speaking Austria in March of 1938. Hitler would annex the Sudetenland–and eventually the whole of Czechoslovakia–by that summer. Following this last event, war was averted during the September 1938 Munich Peace Treaty in which Hitler promised no further aggression, thus prompting then British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s infamous declaration that he had helped achieve “peace for our time.”

Neville-Chamberlain-Galeazzo-Ciano-Edouard-Daladier-Benito-September-1938(Hitler, Italian leader Mussolini, and and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain at Munich circa 1938)

That peace was tenuous at best; on August 23, 1939, Hitler and Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin, by and through their respective Foreign Ministers Joachim Von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov signed a non-aggression pact in which they agreed to divide Poland between their two nations, thus assuring that Hitler would not have to face an eastern front if Great Britain and France followed through on their assurances that they would declare war on Germany if it invaded Poland.

Equally crucial was the economic pact that the two nations signed in which the Soviets promised to supply food and oil to the Germans, a move that would allow Hitler to ride out any blockade that Great Britain’s vastly superior Royal Navy might pursue to cut off supplies and subsistence.

7e60e917-99fa-4279-bc6b-07a63e679f9f(Ribbentrop and Molotov with Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin circa August 1939)

Two weeks after the German-Soviet pacts were signed, on September 1st, after German SS officers faked a Polish invasion by donning Polish Army uniforms and leaving deceased concentration camp inmates adorned in both German and Polish uniforms as proof of a skirmish, Hitler unleashed his first “blitzkrieg”–a “lightning war,” highly coordinated series of air and land strikes that was so devastating that within one week, the Germans had cleared 140 miles and were on the outskirts of Warsaw–Poland’s capital city.

For reasons that remain unknown, despite declaring war on Germany on September 3rd, neither Chamberlain’s British Royal Air Forces, nor France’s vast army under the authority of Premier Edouard Daladier, attacked Germany from its then very vulnerable western border along the Rhine. Such an attack not only could have saved Poland–but it could have stopped World War II before it truly began.

Nearly 80 million people would die from 1939-1945, including nearly six million Jews and Roma that were murdered in Nazi German death camps, including the infamous Auschwitz camp in Eastern Poland.

Lest we forget…