Invasion of Poland

Bielsko, Poland

The German occupation of Poland and how Gerda's family suffered from the persecution of Jews.

Gerda’s father had suffered a mild heart attack which put him on bed rest for quite sometime to follow. (Klein, 4). Gerda’s family was dealing with the issue of her father’s heart attack, but the real concern was coming from the political tension between Poland and Germany. The Nazi power was rising and they were starting to attack surrounding countries to create a much larger Germany than what had already existed. A letter from Gerda’s Uncle, who was living in Turkey at the time, arrived and expressed, “Poland’s last hour has come. Dangerous for Jews to remain. Your visas waiting at Warsaw embassy. Urge you to come immediately.” (Klein, 5) With her father’s condition not being the best to travel at that moment, Gerda’s mother concealed the truth of the letter from her father about what was happening. (Klein, 5). Then on September 3, 1939, a Sunday morning, the German army invaded Poland and Gerda’s life would be forever changed after that moment.

With the invasion of Poland by both the German army from the West and the Soviet Union from the East it did not take long for the Polish people to succumb to the devastation. (Bergen, 131) "France and Britain declared war on Germany, although for the time being they remained outside the fray.” (Bergen, 131) The Polish citizens were on their own, which resulted in the local population being happy about the German invasion and allies to the German political system. The reason for the local population to shift was because before the war Bielsko was 80% German. Gerda describes how her neighbors treated the German soldiers that invaded Poland by stating, “A big truck filled with German soldiers was parked across the street. Our neighbors were serving them wine and cakes and screaming as though drunk with joy, Heil Hitler! Long live the Führer! We thank thee for our liberation!” (Klein, 8) The landscape of Poland was quickly changing and fear started to set in for the Jews.

Some of the Jewish people decided to flee to the Eastern side of Poland under the Soviet Union. Bergen states, “In contrast to their Christian neighbors, Polish Jews tended to regard Soviet rule as a lesser evil than Nazi German domination. At least in theory, antisemitism did not exist under Communism." (Bergen 134) The Germans were already being known to deport Jewish people to concentration camps and to avoid that same fate the Polish-Jews decided to take their chances with the Soviet Union. Doris L. Bergen states, “In conquered Polish territories, German planners began to implement schemes to recast the face of Europe. They forced millions of people to move, resettled those they deemed desirable and robbed, evicted, enslaved, and eventually killed those they did not want.” (Bergen, 129)

Gerda describes some of the diversities that her family and the rest of the Polish Jews suffered under Nazi leadership. First, came the mailing in mid-October stating that all men from the age of sixteen to fifty had to register. (Klein, 16) Gerda’s older brother, Arthur left soon after to register with the Nazis and this would be the last time that Gerda would ever see her brother again. As the war progressed, Gerda did receive letters from Arthur because he had managed to stay alive by escaping to the Soviet Union conquered territories. Eventually, as the war continued the letters would stop coming from Arthur, which meant that the last time Gerda saw her brother was in October of 1939.

This was only the start of the persecution against the Jews along with the Polish citizens, Bergen states, “German authorities prohibited activities that advanced the education of Poles, fostered communal ties, or promoted national feelings. They imposed curfews and seized Polish businesses. They shut down Polish newspapers, closed cultural institutions, and used forced labor and public hangings to make examples of people who defied them.” (Bergen, 137) While it might have looked rough for the Polish citizens it was nothing compared to the cruelty that the Jews were facing by the Nazi party. “The first phase of the war became a kind of open season against Polish Jews for Stormtroopers, SS, Nazi Party members, and unruly soldiers. Undisciplined and often drunk, they roamed around occupied Polish territories burning, looting, and raping.” (Bergen, 139) So for Gerda’s family the more that they could stay inside their house then hopefully nothing bad would be brought down upon the family.

As the months went by, Gerda’s family suffered even more at the onset of the German political operation in Poland. The family had to sell all of their belongings in their house and the money that was received for the items was not at a market value. The people around the neighborhood would take items from the kitchen, bookshelves, and any other valuables. (Klein, 31) The Weissmann family was soon left with nothing in their house. Then in December, a German policeman showed up at their house telling them that they would have to move to the basement of the house. Gerda describes the basement as being, “…flooded, the walls were damp, and the electricity had been cut off.” (Klein, 33) This was life for the Weissmann family going forward until eventually a new set of orders was distributed.

"At the same time, in late 1939 and throughout 1940, German police evicted hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews from their homes and squeezed them into Ghettos.” (Bergen, 141) Gerda, her mother, and father were eventually evicted to a small ghetto located in Biala, Poland.