75 years ago today, another invasion started a world war
Seventy-five years ago today, in the early morning hours of September 1, 1939, German intelligence operatives silently crept toward a German radio station near the Polish border. They were led by one of the more unlovely characters of World War II, Alfred Naujocks. A major in the SS, Naujocks would later terrorize the Danes during the occupation and helped Otto Skorzeny run the notorious ODESSA group, which helped spirit Nazi war criminals out of Germany after the war. (Skorzeny had a spectacular career as a special ops soldier, including masterminding the dramatic rescue of Mussolini who was overthrown in 1943 and imprisoned in a mountaintop villa by the new Italian government.)
But that night, Naujocks had a job to do; he was charged with helping start a war. Wearing Polish army uniforms, the German operatives broke into the radio station, shot the place up, and made a bombastic broadcast claiming that the Poles were invading. The Germans then shot several prisoners from Dachau dressed up in Polish uniforms and left them as "evidence" of Polish perfidy.
There were 21 other false flag operations of a similar nature that Hitler used as justification to invade Poland. The rest, is history. According to secret protocols in the Nazi-Soviet Pact signed just hours before the invasiion, Hitler and Stalin carved up Poland between them, starting one of the most brutal occupations of the war.
Today, Poland looks back at those dark times and wonders; can history repeat itself?
Poland marks the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II Monday with one eye on Russia, which invaded it during the war and is now throwing its weight around in neighbouring Ukraine.
From the very first German shells fired at a Polish fort in Gdansk in the early hours of September 1, 1939, to the final days in 1945, Poland suffered some of the worst horrors of the war, chief among them the extermination of most of its Jewish population by the Nazis.
Nearly six million Poles, or about 17 percent of the population -- including around three million Jews -- died in the conflict.
Memories of the era have been bubbling to the surface since Russia seized Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in March, and a fierce conflict began in the country's east.
"To use military force against one's neighbours, to annex their territory, to prevent them from freely choosing their place in the world -- this provides a worrying reminder of the dark chapters of Europe's 20th-century history," Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said in a newspaper opinion piece ahead of the anniversary.
Polish historian Andrzej Friszke meanwhile recalled the infamous Munich agreement that Britain and France signed with Nazi Germany in 1938, allowing it to annex swathes of Czechoslovakia in a failed bid to avert war.
"There is an attempt again to sacrifice some (people) to buy an illusion of peace for the rest," he told AFP.
Barbara Rybeczko-Tarnowiecka was nine years old and living with her parents in Warsaw in 1939.
"I still remember the sound of the bombs and the frightening din of the windows all shattering at once," she told AFP.
"And I retain the sight of the column of German troops passing before our house and singing at the top of their lungs."
She peered at them through the bars of the front gate to her building along with other neighbourhood children. Fast-forward 75 years and Rybeczko-Tarnowiecka is again apprehensive.
"I am very concerned by what is going on between Russia and Ukraine," she said.
"To be honest, I've been avoiding the news, because it sends shivers up my spine."
Poland is part of NATO now, but how much does she trust her allies? Recall that President Obama renegged on the agreement to install anti-missile batteries in Poland during the "reset" with Russia. And given what the Polish government is seeing in Ukraine, they can't be very confident in NATO's response to aggression.
No one has yet figured out how to stop Vladimir Putin from committing any aggression he chooses. Should the Russian president's eyes fall on Poland next, there doesn't appear to be any plan to counter him. Would NATO countries risk world war to save Poland?
That's exactly the question the Poles are asking themselves today.