Defense of the Polish Post Office in Danzig


Defense of the Polish Post Office in Danzig
Defense of the Polish Post Office in Danzig (today Gdańsk)
Part of the Invasion of Poland
Defenders of the Polish Post Office, Gdansk, 1939.jpg
Captured postmen being led away under the SS escort, with members of the SA and Danzig police looking on.
Date September 1, 1939
Location Free City of Danzig
Result German victory
Belligerents
Poland Poland Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Commanders and leaders
Poland Konrad Guderski 
Poland Alfons Flisykowski
Nazi Germany Willi Bethke
Nazi Germany Johannes Schaffer
Strength
55 postmen and civilians, 1 railwayman More than 200 SS and SA soldiers, policemen, paramilitaries and regulars
3+ ADGZ armored cars
Casualties and losses
6 killed (2 killed surrendering)
14 wounded, 4 died of their wounds,
38 executed in captivity
10 killed
25 wounded
1 ADGZ

The Defense of the Polish Post Office in Danzig (Gdańsk) was one of the first acts of World War II in Europe, as part of the Invasion of Poland.

On September 1, 1939, Polish personnel and militiamen defended the building for some 15 hours against assaults by the SS Heimwehr Danzig (SS of the city Danzig), local SA formations and special units of Ordnungspolizei (Danzig police). All but four of the defenders who escaped from the building during the surrender were sentenced to death by a German court martial as illegal combatants on October 5, 1939 and executed.

Contents

Prelude

The opening of the Polish Post Office "Gdańsk 3" in 1925

The Polish Post Office (Poczta Polska) in the Free City of Danzig was created in 1920 under the Treaty of Versailles, and its buildings were considered extraterritorial Polish property. The Polish Post Office in Danzig comprised several buildings.

As tensions between Poland and Germany grew, in April 1939 the Polish High Command detached combat engineer and Army Reserve Sublieutenant (or 2LT) Konrad Guderski to the Baltic Sea coast. With Alfons Flisykowski and others, he helped organize the official and volunteer security staff at the Polish Post Office in Danzig, and prepare them for eventual hostilities. In addition to training the staff, he prepared the defenses in and around the building: nearby trees were removed and the entrance was fortified. In mid-August, ten additional employees were sent to the post office from Polish Post offices in Gdynia and Bydgoszcz (mostly reserve non-commissioned officers).

In the building of the Polish post on 1 September there were 57 people: Konrad Guderski, 42 local Polish employees, 10 employees from Gdynia and Bydgoszcz, and the building keeper with his wife and 10-year old daughter who lived in the building. Polish employees had a cache of weapons, including three Browning wz.1928 light machine guns, 40 other firearms and three chests of hand grenades.[1] The Polish defence plan assigned the defenders the role of keeping Germans from the building for 6 hours, when a relief force from Armia Pomorze was supposed to secure the area.

The German attack plan, devised in July 1939, devised that the building defenders would be stormed from two directions. A diversionary attack was to be carried out at the front entrance, while the main force would break through the wall from the neighbouring Work Office and attack from the side.

The battle

At 04:00 Germans cut the phone and electricity lines to the building. At 04:45, just as the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein started shelling the nearby Polish Army military outpost at Westerplatte, German forces began their assault on the Polish Post. German units detached for this task were composed of the special unit of Danzig police, local SA formations and the SS units SS Wachsturmbann "E" and SS Heimwehr Danzig, supported by at least three ADGZ heavy armored cars. The attack was commanded by German police colonel, Willi Bethke.

SS men attacking under cover of ADGZ vehicle

The first German attack, from the front, was repelled, although Germans managed to break through the entrance and briefly enter the building (at the cost of two killed and seven wounded attackers, including one group leader). The second attack, from the Work Office, was also repelled. The commander of Polish defence, Konrad Guderski, died during that second attack from the blast of his own grenade which stopped the Germans who broke through the wall.

At 11:00 German units were reinforced by the Wehrmacht with two 75 mm artillery pieces, but the second attack, even with the artillery support, was again repulsed. At 15:00 Germans declared a two hour ceasefire and demanded that Polish forces surrender, which they refused. In the meantime, Germans received additional reinforcements: a 105 mm artillery piece, and a unit of sappers, which dug under the walls and prepared a 600 kg explosive device. At 17:00 the bomb was set off, collapsing part of the wall, and German forces under the cover of three artillery pieces attacked again, this time capturing most of the building with the exception of the basement.

At 18:00 Germans brought automatic pumps, gasoline tanks and flamethrowers, which they used to flood the basements with burning gasoline. After three Poles were burned alive (bringing the total Polish casualties to six killed in action), the rest decided to capitulate. The first two people to leave the building — director Dr. Jan Michoń, carrying a white flag, and commandant (naczelnik) Józef Wąsik — were shot by the Germans (according to one version, Dr. Michoń was attacked with a flamethrower). The rest of the Poles were allowed to surrender and leave the burning building. Six people managed to escape from the building, although two of them were captured the following days.

Aftermath

Captured defenders of the Polish Post Office

16 wounded prisoners were sent to the Gestapo hospital, where six subsequently died (including the 10-year old Erwina). The other 28 were first imprisoned in the police building and, after a few days, sent to Victoriaschule, where they were interrogated and tortured.[2] Some 300 to 400 Polish citizens of Danzig were also held there.[2]

Court martial

All the prisoners were put on trial in front of the martial court of the Wehrmacht's Gruppe Eberhardt. A first group of 28 Victoriaschule-prisoners, with a single Wehrmacht officer as defence lawyer,[3] was tried on 8 September, a second group of 10, who recovered in the hospital, on 30 September. All were sentenced to death as illegal combatants under the German special military penal law of 1938. The sentence was demanded by the prosecutor Hans Giesecke and declared by presiding judge Kurt Bode, Vice-President of the Oberlandesgericht Danzig (Higher Regional Court of Danzig).[4] 28 of the judgements were countersigned, and thus became legally valid, by General Hans Günther von Kluge, the further 10 by Colonel Eduard Wagner, who committed suicide on 23 July 1944 as a member of the 20 July plot.[5] A clemency appeal was rejected by General Walther von Brauchitsch.[6] A similar fate awaited eleven Polish railway workers south of the city after they foiled a German attempt to use an armoured train, and were executed by the SA along with their immediate families.

Monument to the Defenders of the Polish Post Office, Gdańsk

The prisoners were mostly executed by firing squad led by SS-Sturmbannführer Max Pauly (later commandant of the Neuengamme concentration camp) on 5 October and buried in a mass grave at the cemetery of Danzig-Saspe (Zaspa).[7] One, Leon Fuz, was later recognised and murdered in the Stutthof concentration camp in November. Four defenders who managed to escape and hide survived the war. Families of the postmen were also persecuted.

Giesecke and Bode were not held responsible for this episode or held accountable for Justizmord. They were denazified after the war and continued their careers as lawyers. Both died of natural causes in 1970s. However, in 1995, the German court at Lübeck invalidated the 1939 ruling and rehabilitated the militant "postmen", citing among the reasons that the ruling had been in violation of the Hague Convention.[citation needed] The decision of the German court occurred thanks to the work of a German author, Dieter Schenk, who published a monograph on the defense of the post office and referred to the execution of the defenders as Judicial murder (Justizmord).[8] Schenk stresses the commanding role of Danzig policeforces, which made a Wehrmacht court martial not competent to convict the defenders. Instead, the Free City of Danzig's penal law would have been applicable, without the alternative of a death penalty.[4]

In Poland, the whole episode has become one of the better known episodes of the Polish September Campaign and it is usually portrayed as a heroic story of David and Goliath proportions. In this view, it was a group of postmen who held out against German SS troops for almost an entire day. In 1979 in the People's Republic of Poland a Defenders of the Polish Post Monument was unveiled in Gdańsk.

See also

Further reading

  • Günter Grass Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum), 1959
  • (Polish) Adam Bartoszewski, Wiesław Gomulski, Żolnierze w pocztowych mundurach (Soldiers in the Postal Uniforms), 1969
  • (German) Dieter Schenk 'Die Post von Danzig. Geschichte eines deutschen Justizmords (Post-Office of Gdańsk. History of a German Justice Murder), 1995

References

  1. ^ (Polish) OBROŃCY POCZTY GDAŃSKIEJ: CHWAŁA I ZBRODNIA, Bogusław Kubisz, Mówią Wieki
  2. ^ a b Dieter Schenk, Die Post von Danzig, page 80
  3. ^ Dieter Schenk, Die Post von Danzig, page 96
  4. ^ a b Schenk, Dieter (1995) (in German). Die Post von Danzig, Geschichte eines deutschen Justizmordes. Rowohlt. p. 150. ISBN 3-498-06288-3. 
  5. ^ Dieter Schenk, Die Post von Danzig, page 103
  6. ^ Dieter Schenk, Die Post von Danzig, page 106
  7. ^ deutsche-und-polen.de (German)
  8. ^ Andrzej Gasiorowski in Chrzanowski, et. al. Polska Podziemna na Pomorzu w Latach 1939-1945 (Polish Underground State in Pomerania in the years 1939-1945), Oskar, Gdansk, 2005, pg. 50
This article incorporates information from the revision as of 8 May 2006 of the equivalent article on the Polish Wikipedia.

External links

Coordinates: 54°21′18″N 18°39′25″E / 54.355°N 18.657°E / 54.355; 18.657


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