PolandGdańsk

Major Henryk Sucharski

On 1 September 1939 a German battleship opened fire on Gdansk, thus starting the Second World War. Like the rest of Poland, Gdansk was to suffer through both Nazi and Soviet occupation before regaining its freedom in 1989. 

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On 1 September 1939 the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire on the Westerplatte in Gdansk. After several days of fighting the Poles on the Westerplatte surrendered. The Battle for Gdansk became an important symbol of Polish resistance. After the war Gdansk would again become the scene of resistance in the form of the Solidarity Movement, which played a large role in the fall of the Soviet Union.

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Highlighted story: Westerplatte

On 1 September 1939 the Germans attacked the Westerplatte peninsula in the port of Gdańsk. This assault marks the beginning of the Second World War. A small Polish garrison held out for seven days, bolstering the morale of the Polish people. After the war Westerplatte became a symbol of Polish resistance against the German invasion.

Westerplatte - where the War began
In this picture:
Westerplatte
A guard at the Westerplatte.

The Military Transit Depot on Westerplatte was constructed in 1924 to enable Poland, that regained independence as a result of the First World War, to trans-ship military supplies within the Free City of Gdańsk. When the Germans invaded Poland on the morning of 1 September 1939, the Depot was their first objective and the attack is therefore considered to be the beginning of the Second World War. The small Polish garrison fiercely defended the Depot against infantry assaults and heavy bombardments by the battleship Schleswig-Holstein, Stuka dive bombers and land-based artillery. For seven days the defenders held out against overwhelming odds. Then they ran out of ammunition and their commander, Major Sucharski, was forced to surrender.

After the War, surviving defenders of the Depot placed a cross on the peninsula and created a small cemetery. At first the Communist authorities disliked this spontaneous veneration of pre-communist heroism, but since the late fifties they embraced it as useful propaganda for the People’s Republic. A monument to the ‘Defenders of the Polish Coast’ was erected in 1966. Five years later, in an emotional ceremony, Major Sucharski’s ashes were buried at the Westerplatte cemetery.

Westerplatte thus became a national monument for the Poles. Visiting heads of state and official delegations were often invited to Westerplatte, and mass military swearing-in ceremonies were held on its grounds. During the peaceful ‘Solidarity’ revolution in 1980, the cross which had been removed by the Communists was brought back. In 1987 Pope John Paul II chose Westerplatte for a meeting with young people.

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