"At daybreak on September 1, 1939 ... the German armies poured across the Polish frontier and converged on Warsaw from the north, south and west. ... The people in the streets ... were apathetic despite the immensity of the news which had greeted them from their radios and from the extra editions of the morning newspapers. ... Perhaps ... the German people were simply dazed at waking up on this first morning of September to find themselves in a war which they had been sure the Fuehrer somehow would avoid. They could not quite believe it, now that it had come."
One of the great what–ifs of history allegedly occurred on a battlefield in northern France in the autumn of 1918, the waning days of World War I.
Adolf Hitler, who was 29 at the time, was serving in the German army. He had been wounded and was stumbling across the battlefield when he encountered a British soldier named Henry Tandey, 27 years old.
That story may be merely a myth, a legend without a morsel of truth in it. But we do know that Tandey lived and served during World War I, and we know that Hitler also served in World War I and lived to propel the world into a second World War. If that story about the encounter between Tandey and Hitler is true, in such a moment, the course of human history truly hangs in the balance.
If Tandey had pulled the trigger, Hitler would have died that day, and the tens of millions who died on the European battlefields, in the gas chambers or in the ovens of World War II because of him would have been spared. If Tandey had been blessed with the ability to look into the future, my guess is he would have chosen to kill Hitler to prevent the deaths of the millions.
But Tandey couldn't do it. Even with the knowledge of what could be prevented, it might still be difficult for most of us to shoot at another human being. In general, it is a good thing that most of us have that spark of humanity within us that prevents us from taking another person's life. But sometimes it is necessary to prevent or, at least, mitigate the consequences of things that are inevitable. At least, they often appear inevitable in hindsight.
If Hitler had been killed on that battlefield in France, it is highly unlikely that Germany would have invaded Poland 75 years ago today. But Tandey couldn't pull the trigger — so Hitler lived to launch the Holocaust.
The fact that Hitler lived made the Holocaust virtually inevitable, didn't it? I mean, he might have died on that battlefield in France a couple of decades earlier — or he might have died any time (and for any reason) in the next 21 years. If he had died, the likelihood of the Holocaust happening would have died with him. But, of course, he didn't — and it didn't, either. No amount of revisionist history writing would change those facts.
The invasion of Poland didn't actually start the Holocaust. That really began years earlier when Hitler started to implement anti–semitic laws in Germany — and began to fine–tune his plans for eastern Europe. Consequently, it would be wrong to designate today as the anniversary of the start of the Holocaust. It had already begun and wouldn't go into overdrive for a few more years.
In Germany, the invasion of Poland was called the "Defensive War." The Germans were told that Germany had been attacked by Poland and that Germans living in Poland were being persecuted.
But we know that wasn't true. You can clearly see — in these pictures that were published in LIFE magazine — that the Poles were not invading Germany 75 years ago today.
When people speak today of a war on a particular demographic group, they should be reminded of what a war on a particular demographic group really looks like. There are still those who know, but their numbers grow smaller with each passing year. They remember the Holocaust and the price that humanity paid for it; unfortunately, many of those who have come along in the last half century or so think the invasion of Poland and the events that followed have been blown out of proportion — if many of them happened at all.
Revisionism does no one any favors.
The invasion of Poland had many objectives, some of which were obvious while others were not so obvious.
One of its objectives was Hitler's often–stated goal (consistently denied by western governments and elements in the media of the day who sought to appease the Nazis) of eliminating the Jewish race.
Los Angeles is home to the second–largest Jewish population in America, fourth largest in the world (larger even than Jerusalem). Amanda Susskind of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles writes of her own family's experiences in the German concentration camps and, while "it is hard to shock me," Susskind writes that she "found it particularly chilling" to discover from recent surveys that staggering numbers of people across the globe "never heard of the Holocaust or believe it has been greatly exaggerated."
"The survey data reveal that that it is imperative to continue to teach about the Holocaust. Sadly, we face another challenge meeting this imperative: One of the indicators of anti–Semitism is the stereotype — and roughly 30 percent of those surveyed worldwide think this — that 'Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.'"
Revisionist historians seem to have gained the upper hand, and appeasement is once again in the air.
As ISIS terrorists wage war with Israel and Russia continues its march to reassemble the Soviet Union, it is an appropriate time for us to remember the invasion of Poland 75 years ago today and ponder the perils of appeasement.
Have we learned anything from that experience?