Hitler Strikes Poland

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Hitler Strikes Poland

Blitzkrieg, Ideology, and Atrocity

Alexander B. Rossino

344 pages, 32 photographs, 1 map, 6-1⁄8 x 9-1⁄4
Modern War Studies





It was one of the most ruthlessly conceived and executed invasions in the annals of warfare. Hitler’s Polish campaign unleashed a blitzkrieg in which SS troops, police squads, and the army itself waged an ethnic war of unprecedented brutality. Tens of thousands of Poles—roughly 80 percent of whom were Christian—were summarily executed in acts of collective punishment. After six weeks, a country was crushed and the world was at war.

Usually given short shrift in most histories of World War II, the invasion of Poland was more than a series of opening salvos; it was a testing ground for German brutalities to come. In this first intensive study of the invasion, Alexander Rossino provides a comprehensive study of the Polish campaign, including disturbing new insights into its racist and ideological underpinnings.

Rossino tells how this invasion melded the ideology of the Nazi party with Germany’s military yearning for empire in the East. The Polish campaign was important as the first step in Hitler’s drive for “living space” for Germans in Eastern Europe, and as the blitzkrieg decimated urban residential areas, civilians soon became indistinguishable from combatants. In addition to describing military operations, Rossino also provides a close analysis of SS plans to murder Polish leaders, German army reprisal policies, and the close collaboration of Wehrmacht and SS forces in the subjugation and execution of Polish citizens.

Rossino considers both top-level decision making and the experiences of German soldiers as he explores the mentality of those who perpetrated crimes against civilians. He particularly investigates the links between Nazi racial-political policies and military action to show that Poland was merely the German army’s dress rehearsal for the later slaughter of other Slavs and Jews during the Russian campaign. By providing a detailed examination of atrocities committed by both military and SS personnel, he shows that the Wehrmacht’s criminality was clearly evident at the beginning of the war.

Hitler Strikes Poland is a startling reconstruction of history that clearly reveals the extent to which Nazi philosophy drove the German war machine. It also helps us better understand the brutality of the years that followed and better appreciate the suffering of the Polish people.

Praise for Hitler Strikes Poland

“An excellent and powerfully written book that every student of the war, the Holocaust, and Nazi Germany will have to read.”—Omer Bartov, author of Mirrors of Destruction: War, Genocide, and Modern Identity

“Up to now, Operation Tannenberg, the Nazi assault on Poland, has been overshadowed by the enormous literature on Operation Barbarossa. Rossino’s book more than corrects that imbalance with a gripping account that conveys a real feel for those grim times and places.”—Michael Burleigh, author of The Third Reich: A New History

“A signal contribution to Western knowledge about [the] German genocidal campaign in Poland.”—Polish Review

“Haunting in its graphic descriptions and photographs of atrocities, [this] book deserves a wide audience.”—International History Review

“Deeply researched and carefully crafted. . . . The amazing photographs that accompany his narrative recapture the sheer horror of the war’s very first days.”—Slavic Review

“Adds profoundly to the debate over the Wehrmacht’s complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity.”—History: Reviews of New Books

“A powerful book and an apt documentation of an ethnic war of extreme brutality. . . . Essential reading.”—Library Journal

“A significant contribution to our understanding of World War II.”—American Historical Review

“Rossino’s fine study provides the ‘missing link’ between the traditional German expansionism of World War I and the ‘war of annihilation’ against the Soviet Union in 1941.”—Christopher Browning, author of Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland

“An important work for anyone who wants to understand the war and the Wehrmacht’s evolving relationship with National Socialism.”—Geoffrey P. Megargee, author of Inside Hitler’s High Command


2 thoughts on “Hitler Strikes Poland

  1. I recently bought a copy of this book and read selectivley in it. Well-researched, with an important over-arching thesis: that of German cruelty in the 1939 Polish campaign, as based on ideology and several other factors (as delineated in the conclusion). I wonder if it received some (in my view unjustified) negative critique from Zionists, who at times seem to be almost hijacking the Holocaust. Great book!

    • Hi John,

      Thanks for your comment. Actually, the majority of criticism I received came from Polish nationalists who did not like the fact that I simply recounted what the German records said. Namely, that Polish riflemen (uniformed and otherwise) sniped at German columns from behind the front. The Germans then used this as a pretext for embarking on brutal reprisals – exactly as they did in the Balkans and USSR a couple of years later. My work attempted to put all of this into context. Of course Poles sniped at German soldiers. What self-respecting patriot wouldn’t fire on an enemy invader in any country? Furthermore, many thousands of Polish troops became separated from their units as a result of the German Army’s rapid movements. This is the “Blitzkrieg” element mentioned in the title. My argument runs that the absence of a formally defined front line caused by blitz tactics opened the civilian population to violent reprisals from German troops conditioned to think of them as sub-humans. The point isn’t that Poles should or should not have fired on German troops. It is, rather, that German behavior in response was far more vicious than anyone expected and provided a perfect setting for SS and police units to carry out more ideologically motivated shootings.

      As for scholars focused on the Jewish experience, I don’t recall receiving much criticism from them. The evidence plainly shows that SS terror operations were intended to drive as many Jews out of occupied Poland as possible, not necessarily to murder them wholesale as began to happen in 1941.

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