The brutal blitzkrieg: the 1939 invasion of Poland

When Nazi and Soviet forces invaded Poland 80 years ago – triggering the Second World War – they inflicted on their victims arrests, lynchings and massacres on an epic scale. Historian Roger Moorhouse tells the story of a campaign that set a murderous template for the six-year conflict that was to follow

Jews stand with hands up before German soldiers

Far from the front lines, the people of the city of Przemyśl in south-eastern Poland might have thought themselves remote from the German invasion of their country in September 1939. Such cosy assumptions would soon be confounded, however. And when the invaders arrived on 15 September, they quickly showed the new face of warfare.

Soon after, the Jews of Przemyśl began to be rounded up. Initially, they were abused and humiliated by German soldiers, but the persecution swiftly turned murderous. In time, the soldiers hounded a crowd of Jewish men towards a nearby cemetery, raining blows and kicks down on the unfortunates, pistol-whipping those who fell behind.

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