One of Adolf Hitler’s first major foreign policy initiatives after coming to power was to sign a nonaggression pact with Poland in January 1934. This move was not popular with many Germans who supported Hitler, but resented the fact that Poland had received several former German provinces under the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. However, Hitler sought the nonaggression pact in order to neutralize the possibility of a French-Polish military alliance against Germany before Germany had a chance to rearm. He was stacking the deck in his favor.

In the mid and late 1930’s, France and especially Britain followed a foreign policy of appeasement. The objective of this policy was to maintain peace in Europe by making limited concessions to German demands. Moreover, neither Britain nor France in 1938 was militarily prepared to fight a war against Nazi Germany. Britain and France essentially acquiesced to Germany’s rearmament from 1935-1937, remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936, and the annexation of Austria in March of 1938. In response to the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia being turned over to Germany and subsequently divided, Britain and France guaranteed the integrity of the Polish state. Hitler responded by negotiating a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union. The German-Soviet Pact of August 1939, which stated that Poland was to be partitioned between the two powers, enabled Germany to attack Poland without the fear of Soviet intervention.

In 1939, Britain and France signed a series of military agreements with Poland that contained very specific promises:

“… in the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence, and which the Polish Government accordingly considered it vital to resist with their national forces, His Majesty’s Government would feel themselves bound at once to lend the Polish Government all support in their power. They have given the Polish Government an assurance to this effect.
I may add that the French Government have authorized me to make it plain that they stand in the same position in this matter as do His Majesty’s Government.”

–Statement by the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, in the House of Commons on March 31, 1939

The leaders of Poland understood very clearly that they stood no chance against Germany alone should the mounting tension in Europe lead to an invasion or all-out war. The French, in fact, promised the Poles in mid-May 1939 that in the event of German aggression against Poland, France would launch an offensive against the Germans “no later than fifteen days after mobilization.” This promise was sealed in a solemn treaty signed between Poland and France.

In the days prior to the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the Nazis initiated a campaign designed to persuade the international community that Germany was the victim of Polish aggression. Nazi propagandists and the SS, in collusion with the German military, staged a series of false Polish attacks on a German radio station. Hitler used this to justify and launch a retaliatory campaign against Poland. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and, in response, Great Britain and France declared war on Nazi Germany, thus triggering World War II in Europe.

Nazi Germany possessed overwhelming military superiority over Poland. The invasion was Germany’s first successful implementation of Blitzkrieg–lightning war. Britain and France, standing by their guarantee of Poland’s border, declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939. The Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland on September 17, 1939. Unsuccessful at fighting a war on two fronts, Poland surrendered to the Germans ten days later.

After Poland’s defeat, the country was divided between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, in accordance with the secret German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact.

Nazi Germany occupied the remainder of Poland when it invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. Poland remained under German occupation until January 1945. During World War II, Poland suffered through one of the worst occupations in history, losing roughly six million of its citizens to mass murder and deportation at the hands of both the Germans and Russians. Among these were three million Polish Jews, whose society, language, and way of life were almost completely eradicated in the gas chambers of the Nazi death camps. After the war, it had to suffer 45 years as a colony of the Soviet Union.

Invasion of Poland, Fall 1939, Holocaust Encyclopedia, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Archives, Washington, DC.

The French and British Betrayal of Poland in 1939. World Future Fund.,

Cassie. How a False Flag Sparked World War Two: The Gleiwitz Incident Explained. History Hit. 2018.