Sunday, September 1, 2019


Eighty years ago, Nazi Germany started the Second World War by attacking neighboring Poland.

Transmitter mast at Gleiwitz.
This wooden structure is now a national shrine in Poland (©Wikipedia)
The pretext for the war was a raid by Polish regular troops on a German radio station near Gleiwitz. These Polish forces were fake. They were SS officers in Polish uniforms.

On September 1, 1939, Hitler lied to the German people, "Last night Poland fired for the first time on our own territory with regular troops. Since 5:45 a.m., we fire back." He lied double, for the German raid had already started one hour earlier.

Cadet Hans Buch calls his private diary  Logbook.
One witness is the 19-year-old cadet Hans Buch on duty on the training vessel Schleswig-Holstein moored in Danzig (Gdansk) harbor on the evening of September 1, 1939. Hans kept an illustrated diary that Der Spiegel revealed in time for this anniversary of shame.

The Schleswig-Holstein. Note Hans' perfect Sütterlin handwriting
On August 31, Hans writes in his diary, "We swabbed the decks, and we guessed what the announced special service meant noted on the duty roster."

"Well, two hours later, we were going to the beach in gym pants with cheerful songs - it's time for a swim. Wow, we were feeling like Indians. (...) "

"And then we are in the dunes, shoes off - in line, we storm into the salty water of the Baltic Sea until we have no more ground under our feet, swim far out, and return to the beach slightly tired (...) A few 'soldiers' are building sandcastles like little boys. It is a morning of most cheerful exuberance and lightheartedness, without thoughts about the coming hours and of which we have no idea."

The following morning the situation changed dramatically. The crew is informed: "Now we know - 4.45 a.m., we change uniforms, and the raiding patrol leaves the ship. We shake hands with the boys for the last time; we all love them. It's dark and quiet, and the Schleswig-Holstein is dimmed. While waiting for dawn, the ship slowly moves towards the Westerplatte."

At 4.47 a.m., the "Schleswig-Holstein" opened fire at the Polish ammunition depot on Westerplatte.

Suddenly Hans is very busy: "While deep down in the ammunition chamber, I am pulling pods out of the bodies of projectiles. It is starting upstairs: Wumm. That was the Anton gun tower. A slight trembling goes through the ship and then shot after shot for ten minutes on the fort and the plate. We stop, and everybody knows: 'The raiding patrol is going ahead.'"

The raiding patrol in lethal action
At the end of the day, the terrible news: "Fat Möller is dead, our funny Hamburger is no more, the little Black had a heart shot, and Arthur is missing in action. We are very quiet."

"Late in the evening, a Pinasse (a sloop) full of clothes arrives - a sad confirmation of the terrible news. We have to unload: shot bottles, gas masks, bloody pants, cut boots, bloody spongy socks, a steel helmet shot through from above, a jacket, half a rag, completely bloody (a shot in the hand grenade bag, the boy was torn to shreds). I don't need to keep it in the logbook. I'll remember it anyway."

Visiting Danzig. Note the Danzig flag.
On September 19, Hans has shore leave: "The Führer in Gdansk! The evening before, trousers were ironed, boots were cleaned, and the ship was coated while the heavy artillery fired. And in the afternoon, we, the 3rd watch, had shore leave. We stroll through the empty streets of the suburbs decorated with infinite love. Red swastika flags with golden ribbons flutter in the wind."

An embedded German film crew in Danzig's harbor.
In the background, the Schleswig-Holstein (©bkp)
This was no Blitzsieg (fast victory). It took the superior German army seven days to conquer Westerplatte. Seven days that will never be forgotten.

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