World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Danzig
Unknown Source

Danzig:

Germany invaded Poland on September 1 after having signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union in late August. The German attack began in Danzig, with a bombardment of Polish positions at Westerplatte by the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein, and the landing of German infantry on the peninsula. Outnumbered Polish defenders at Westerplatte resisted for seven days before running out of ammunition. Meanwhile, after a fierce day-long fight (1 September 1939), defenders of the Polish Post office were murdered and buried on the spot in the Danzig quarter of Zaspa in October 1939. To celebrate the surrender of Westerplatte, the NSDAP organized a night parade on September 7 along the Adolf-Hitlerstrasse that was inadvertently attacked by a Polish hydroplane taking off from Hel Peninsula. The city was officially annexed by Nazi Germany and incorporated into the Reichsgau Danzig-West Prussia.

About 50 percent of members of the Jewish Community of Danzig had left the city within a year after a Pogrom in October 1937, after the Kristallnacht riots in November 1938 the community decided to organize its emigration and in March 1939 a first transport to Palestine started. By September 1939 barely 1,700 mostly elderly Jews remained. In early 1941 just 600 Jews were still living in Danzig who were later murdered in the Holocaust. The Nazi secret police had been observing Polish minority communities in the city since 1936, compiling information, which in 1939 served to prepare lists of Poles to be captured in Operation Tannenberg. On the first day of the war, approximately 1,500 ethnic Poles were arrested, some because of their participation in social and economic life, others because they were activists and members of various Polish organizations. On September 2, 1939, 150 of them were deported to the Stutthof concentration camp some 30 miles from Danzig, and murdered. Many Poles living in Danzig were deported to Stutthof or executed in the Piaƛnica forest.

In 1941, the German government ordered the invasion of the Soviet Union, eventually causing the fortunes of war to turn against it. As the Soviet Army advanced in 1944, German populations in Central and Eastern Europe took flight, resulting in the beginning of a great population shift. After the final Soviet offensive began in January, 1945, hundreds of thousands of German refugees, many of whom had fled to Danzig on foot from East Prussia (see evacuation of East Prussia), tried to escape through the city's port in a large-scale evacuation involving hundreds of German cargo and passenger ships. Some of the ships were sunk by the Soviets, including the Wilhelm Gustloff after an evacuation was attempted at neighboring Gdynia. In the process, tens of thousands of refugees were killed.

The city also endured heavy Allied and Soviet bombardment by air. Those who survived and could not escape encountered the Soviet Army, which captured the city on March 30, 1945. The city was heavily damaged. In line with the decisions made by the Allies at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences, the city became part of Poland. The remaining German residents of the city who had survived the war fled or were forcibly expelled to postwar Germany, and the city was repopulated with ethnic Poles, many of whom had been deported by the Soviets in two major waves from Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union, i.e. from the eastern portion of pre-war Poland.