Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki attended observances held on Westerplatte in Gdańsk on the Baltic coast, where on September 1, 1939 at 4:45 am the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein began shelling a Polish military depot in the first battle between Polish and German soldiers of WWII.
Morawiecki called Westerplatte a symbolic “patch of Poland,” where Polish soldiers fought to defend their country’s independence.
“From the very first days of World War II, Polish soldiers and society changed the fate of the world; they fought to protect the free world against the enemies of freedom, Poland and Europe,” Morawiecki said.
Sirens wailed and the Polish national anthem was played at a monument honouring those who defended the Polish coast.
The week-long defence by the Poles against overwhelmingly larger German forces became a symbol of the heroism of Polish soldiers.
Observances were also held in central city of Wieluń, the first Polish town to be bombed by the Germans at 4:40 am on 1 September 1939.
In a letter read out at the ceremony President Andrzej Duda said: “Bombing a sleeping city, which had no Polish military garrison and was of no strategic importance, was a crime.”
“The destruction of houses, churches, a Protestant church, synagogue, hospital were barbaric and a dramatic harbinger of the character of World War II, which was symbolised by a mass annihilation of entire communities.”
The Wieluń observances took place at a site where there was a hospital on the day the war broke out. The war’s first bombs fell on that building, killing 32 people, including 26 patients. In all, the Germans killed around 1,200 civilians in the city that day.
Duda took part in commemorations in the northern town of Tczew, where 16 people, chiefly rail workers, were killed on September 1, 1939.
Duda said this year’s ceremonies fell on the centenary of Poland’s independence, which Poland regained on November 11, 1918, the day World War I ended, after 123 years of partition by Russia, Austria and Prussia.
He said: “The dates 1 September and 17 September [marking the Soviet invasion from the east] are a bleak reminder in this year’s 100th anniversary of Poland’s independence as these dates remind [Poles] of the time they again lost their homeland and Poland was divided between its two major enemies, two totalitarian regimes: Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.”
Source: PAP, IAR