Germany invades Poland, initiating global conflict

Henry Lowenstein

Jack Adler

In February 1939, Jack celebrates his tenth birthday. As the year progresses, concern grows about anti-Jewish activity in Germany, where a multitude of laws have been passed targeting Jews and restricting their participation in all aspects of economic and civic life. With its annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland in 1938 and the occupation of Czech territory in March 1939, Germany becomes increasingly belligerent. The fear of an imminent German attack against Poland is palpable for Jack.

In the summer of 1939, Jack sees concrete signs of his country preparing for war: some of his cousins are drafted into the military, and others are called upon to dig ditches for defense purposes.

Transcript

Jack Adler: I would say a few months before World War II broke out and– and I’m making reference to September, 1939– there were a lot of rumors going around, what’s going on in Germany, with Hitler kind of having come– and I had no direct conversations with anyone, but I could overhear adults talk about it. Or even my mother and father at home talk about it. And, and the Jewish population, of course, became fearful what is going to happen. And this was prior to Hitler declaring war on Poland. Stuff like that. And the– some people made alternative plans, should anything happen, where Germany would occupy Poland. And my family, unfortunately, only one of the 10 children did so. And they escaped to the Soviet Union then. And that’s how they survived.
[…]

Jack Adler: Well, we had radios at home. Of course, it was before television. So– and my family was, I would say, middle class or maybe a little above middle class. So they had access to radios and communication with other people who were non-Jews, who exchanged the news with them, what they learned was going on. Especially we focused, of course, in those months prior to the war– or years when– since Hitler came to power, in Germany, what’s going on in Germany.

Interviewer: So you were paying particular attention—

Jack Adler: Exactly.

Interviewer: –to those activities.

Jack Adler: Most definitely.

Interviewer: Do you remember your family coming together at times like that, and listening together, or doing that as a family activity, where you would try to stay on top of what was happening?

Jack Adler: They did, but of course, they excluded the youngsters. They didn’t want us to be made aware of anything so negative that was going on in Germany.

Interviewer: OK. So as 1939 begins to come in, what were some of the first changes that you remember?

Jack Adler: Well, I remember they took people– asked for volunteers to dig ditches, zig-zagged ditches, like, anti-tank, anti-weapons, supposedly, whatever it was. And this was before– I would say it probably was August of 1939, or even maybe July.
They must have had some indications that Hitler may attack Poland. [PAUSES FOR 4 SECONDS] And people were worried, you know? And they, they had a draft. They drafted many youth who were of age into the Polish Army.

Interviewer: Including Jewish youth?

Jack Adler: Oh, yes. Most definitely. The Klenietz, my two cousins, were drafted into the Army.

Interviewer: And what about your brother, who was six years older?

Jack Adler: No, he was not. He was only, then, 16. He was six years older.

Interviewer: So he was still too young.

Jack Adler: Yeah. He was still underage.

“They didn’t want us to be made aware of anything so negative that was going on in Germany.”

USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, Interview 18433

On September 1, 1939, fears become reality as Germany invades Poland using Blitzkrieg tactics, a “lightning war” strategy that couples surprise with massive force using both air and land attacks. The modern German military easily overwhelms Polish forces and occupies western Poland. Per a secret protocol attached to a non-aggression pact signed by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in August 1939, the Soviet Union invades from the east on September 17. By the end of the month Poland surrenders and is partitioned according to the agreement between Hitler and Stalin, with the Bug River as the dividing line.

Invasion of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union, September 1939. Per the German-Soviet non-aggression pact, the line of demarcation ran along the Bug River.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Partition of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union per the non-aggression pact of August 1939.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Jack Adler's Timeline

V
Events Related to Current Page
  • Jack Adler is born in Pabianice, Poland

    Yakuv Szlama [or Szlomo] Adler (later: Jack Adler) is born to Cemach and Faiga Adler in Pabianice, a small city on the outskirts of Lodz in western Poland.

  • Europe’s Jewish population is c. 9.5 million

    This number represents 1.7% of the total population of Europe, and accounts for >60% of the world's Jewish population. Most Jews are in eastern Europe: Poland is home to 3.3 million Jews, some 2.5 million Jews live in the USSR, and around 756,000 Jews live in Romania. The Jewish population of the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia numbers c. 255,000. In central Europe, Germany is home to c. 523,000. Some 445,000 Jews live in Hungary, 357,000 in Czechoslovakia, and 191,000 in Austria. There are also large Jewish communities in Great Britain (300,000), France (250,000, and the Netherlands (156,000). Some 60,000 Jews live in Belgium. The Scandinavian countries are home to c. 16,000 Jews. In the South, the Jewish community in Greece numbers c. 73,000. Yugoslavian Jews number c. 68,000, Italy and Bulgaria each have communities of c. 48,000.

  • Dachau concentration camp established

    Hitler's paramilitary SS (Schutzstaffel) establish the first concentration camp near Dachau for political opponents of the regime. Dachau remains in operation from 1933-1945. Over 200,000 people are imprisoned and estimated 41,500 are murdered during this period.

  • Polish Jews number c. 3.3 million

    Jews have been living in Poland for 800 years. On the eve of World War II, Polish Jews constitute the largest Jewish community in Europe, accounting for 10% of the country's total population.

  • U.S.S.R. and Nazi Germany agree to non-aggression pact

    Germany and the Soviet Union negotiate a non-aggression pact. This agreement, often called the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact after its chief negotiators, divides eastern Europe between the Nazi and Soviet powers and results in the partition of Poland.

  • Nazi Germany invades Poland, sparking World War II

    Nazi forces invade and swiftly defeat Polish forces using the "Blitzkrieg"--a rapid and combined forces attack. Within days, Great Britain and France declare war on Germany, marking the beginning of World War II.

  • Nazi forces occupy Lodz and Pabianice, Poland

    Invading German troops reach the city of Lodz and nearby Pabianice. They immediately introduce strict measures restricting the freedom of the Jewish population, in particular.

  • U.S.S.R. invades Poland

    The Soviet military occupies eastern Poland, as secretly agreed with Germany in the non-aggression pact signed by the two countries on August 23, 1939 (Molotov-Ribbentrop pact).

  • Concentration of Polish Jews into ghettos ordered

    Nazi officials order the concentration of Polish Jews in designated, often enclosed districts in major population centers in preparation for their deportation and murder. Ghettos are established throughout Nazi-occupied Poland.

  • Annexation of western Poland

    Following the Nazi occupation of Poland, territories in the western part of Poland are annexed to Germany. Danzig-West Prussia and Warthegau are incorporated as new provinces of the Reich; the provinces of East Prussia and Silesia are expanded to incorporate newly gained Polish lands.

  • Generalgouvernement established in Nazi-occupied Poland

    Nazis establish civilian administration over areas of Poland under German control that are not annexed to the Reich. The "Generalgouvernement" under the autocratic rule of Governor General Hans Frank encompasses four districts: Warsaw, Lublin, Krakow, and Radom.

  • Pabianice Ghetto established

    Beginning in November 1939, Jews residing in wealthier areas of Pabianice are ordered to leave their homes, which are intended for Germans. In February 1940, the Jewish population is condensed into a designated area of the town. Jews are not permitted to leave the ghetto, the perimeter of which is indicated by signs.

  • Germanization of names in incorporated Poland

    In areas of Poland under German administration, the names of Polish cities in the newly annexed territories are Germanized. Lodz is therefore also known as "Litzmannstadt."

  • Lodz ghetto established

    Approximately 164,000 Jews are concentrated in a ghetto in the Polish industrial city of Lodz. They perform forced labor for the Nazi war effort, living under squalid conditions of severe overcrowding and insufficient sanitation, food and water.

  • Lodz ghetto sealed

    The Lodz ghetto is sealed off from the rest of the city with barbed wire and fencing. Passage by Jews between ghetto and outside world is strictly controlled. Inside the ghetto, residents are forced to work in factories producing goods for the Nazi war effort. Many die of starvation and disease.

  • Jews deported from Lodz ghetto to Chelmno

    Nazi forces and collaborators begin the deportation of Jews from the Lodz ghetto to the Chelmno killing center, where deportees are gassed in vans. Approximately 65,000 Jews are ultimately deported and murdered.

  • Wannsee Conference on the “Final Solution”

    Leading Nazi officials convene at Wannsee to plan and implement the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question." At this meeting, operational preparations for the extermination of European Jewry are outlined.

  • Deadline for “Final Solution” in occupied Poland

    Heinrich Himmler orders that by December 31, 1942 there should be no Jews remaining in the Generalgouvernement, calling for a "total purge" to secure the German Reich.

  • Nazi surrender at Stalingrad

    After months of bitter fighting, the Soviet army is finally able to surround and trap German forces besieging the city. Of the nearly 250,000 troops that attacked the city in August 1942, some 90,000 surrender to the Soviets. The German defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad marks a turning point in the war; Soviet forces will now advance and push the Axis to retreat.

  • First prisoners arrive in Kaufering concentration camp

    The first concentration camp at Kaufering is established with the arrival of 1,000 Jewish Hungarian men from Auschwitz. Kaufering will eventually become the largest subcamp complex in the Dachau system, with eleven camps located near Landsberg am Lech in Bavaria. It is also one of the most deadly Nazi labor camps: around half of the c. 30,000 prisoners sent to the Kaufering camps between June 1944 and April 1945 will die there. Prisoners in the Kaufering camps supply labor for the construction of underground aircraft production sites for the German airline industry, which has suffered heavy damage from Allied bombs.

  • Liberation of Majdanek

    Advancing Soviet troops reach the Majdanek concentration and extermination camp. They find gas chambers and other evidence of genocide. Approximately 2,500 survivors provide details of the camp to their liberators, who document the horrors. Majdanek is the first concentration camp to be liberated by the Allies.

  • Liquidation of Lodz ghetto

    Nazi forces liquidate the Lodz ghetto and deport between 60,000-75,000 Jews, as well as an unknown number of Roma, to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

  • American forces liberate Dachau

    American troops reach Dachau and find approximately 32,000 inmates still alive, as well as 30 railroad cars with the corpses of prisoners who died in transport to the camp.

  • Unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany

    Nazi Germany's High Command unconditionally surrenders on 7 May to the Allies and 9 May to the Soviets. May 8 is proclaimed "Victory in Europe Day."

  • US military opens hearings in Dachau trials

    Between November 1945 and August 1948, the United States military holds hearings of camp guards, SS officials, and other personnel from the camps at Dachau, Flossenburg, Mauthausen, Nordhausen, Buchenwald, and Mühldorf. Of the 1,672 individuals tried before a military panel rather than a jury, some 1,400 are convicted. 297 are sentenced to death and nearly the same number to life imprisonment. Jack Adler provides testimony in advance of the trials.

  • Truman Directive prioritizes displaced persons for U.S. visas

    President Harry S. Truman issues an executive order granting priority to displaced persons (DPs) for visas to enter the U.S. The order is expressly intended to help orphaned children. While it does not expand the restrictive U.S. immigration quotas, it enables some 41,000 DPs from Central and Eastern Europe – many of them Jewish – to enter the country between December 1945-July 1948.

  • Attacks on Jewish survivors in Poland

    Attackers kill more than 40 Jewish survivors in Kielce, Poland. The attack spurs returning Jews to once again flee. Many find sanctuary in Allied displaced persons (DP) camps.

  • Jack Adler sails from Bremen to New York

    Sailing on the SS Marine Marlin from northern Germany, Jack is one of 928 passengers on one of the first post-war transports of refugees from Europe to the United States. They arrive in New York harbor during the night of December 22 and disembark at Ellis Island the next day.

  • Jack Adler leaves New York for Chicago

    After nearly a year and a half in New York, Jack learns that he has been placed with a foster family in Chicago and travels by train to meet them.

  • Korean War begins

    After World War II, Korea is partitioned at the 38th parallel, creating a socialist state under Soviet influence in the North and a Western-style democracy in the South. In June 1950, North Korea invades South Korea, armed by the Soviet Union. Under the banner of fighting the spread of communism, the United States leads a UN coalition in the conflict against North Korea, which is backed by communist Russia and China. An armistice agreement in July 1953 puts an end to the military conflict, but the division of Korea persists until today.

  • U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Village of Skokie v. National Socialist Party of America

    When a request by the National Socialist Party of America (NSPA) to hold a White Power rally in the Chicago suburb of Skokie, IL, is denied at the insistence of the town’s large Jewish community, which includes many Holocaust survivors, the NSPA files a claim for infringement of their right to free speech under the 2nd Amendment. The NSPA is represented by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, who successfully argue in favor of the universality of free speech under the Constitution, maintaining that the government does not have the authority to selectively suppress voices, no matter how unpopular the opinion.

View the Main Timeline »