Bloody Sunday (1939)

Bloody Sunday (1939)

Bloody Sunday ( _de. Bromberger Blutsonntag; _pl. Krwawa Niedziela) is the term used to describe an incident that took place at the beginning of World War II. On September 3, 1939, two days after the beginning of the German invasion of Poland, highly controversial killings occurred in and around the town of Bydgoszcz ( _de. Bromberg), a Polish town with a sizable German minority, located in the Pomeranian Voivodeship. The number of casualties and other details of the incident are disputed among historians.


As part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the region including the town of Bydgoszcz (Bromberg) was annexed in 1772 by the Kingdom of Prussia in the First Partition of Poland. It belonged to the German Empire from 1871 till the end of World War I. In February 1920, the Treaty of Versailles awarded the region to the Second Polish Republic. The city maintained a German majority (in contrast to the cities of Poznań and Gniezno that had always retained a clear ethnic Polish majority).Fact|date=March 2008 The German government began to encourage German professionals such as doctors and lawyers, to leave the region, believing that it would result in the "brain drain" and lead to instability in Poland. Other ethnic Germans left the Polish state because they did not want to serve in the Polish army. This resulted in a number of ethnic Germans leaving the region for Germany. Hence, over the interwar period the German population decreased and according to the German historian Hugo Rasmus, only about 10,000 German minority lived in Bydgoszcz in 1939.

During the interwar period, minority rights in both the Second Republic of Poland and Weimar Germany were to be based on amicable relations between the two countries. However, while the rights of ethnic minorities were legally protected in Poland, the Polish minority in Germany did not enjoy such protection.Fact|date=March 2008 Poland recognized the appendix of the Treaty of Versailles concerning minority rights until 1934, the same year that the Soviet Union joined the League of Nations. In addition, Poland's fragile economic position proved fertile grounds for ethnic divisions to subsist at the expense of national solidarity. This was not only in regards to the Polish Germans; other minorities vocalized their sentiments, whether they were in support of an independent "greater Ukraine", a separate Belarus, or even an autonomous Jewish entity. [ cite book | first = Tadeusz | last = Piotrowski | title = "Poland's Holocaust: Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces and Genocide in the Second Republic, 1918-1947" | location = London | publisher = McFarland & Company | year = 1998 | pages = 5-10, 38 .] The result was a rise in Polish patriotism and nationalism (similar to the situation in most other contemporary European countries). The German minority of western Poland, maintaining its separate identity and close ties with Germany, was increasingly seen as a fifth column. The rise of the Nazi Party only complicated matters. Adolf Hitler revitalized the Völkisch movement, making an appeal to the Germans living outside of Germany's post-World War I borders. Also, it was Hitler's explicit goal to reverse the work of the Treaty of Versailles and create a Greater German State. By March 1939, these ambitions, charges of atrocities on both sides of the border, distrust, and rising nationalist sentiment led to the complete deterioration of Polish-German relations. Hitler demands for the Polish Corridor, Polish opposition to appease him, and finally the German invasion of Poland fueled this vicious cycle.

Bloody Sunday

Before and after armed conflict erupted on September 1, 1939, both sides reported a number of atrocities.Christopher R. Browning, "The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy", University of Nebraska Press, [ Google Print, p.17] ] The Nazis claimed that the worst persecutions of ethnic Germans was that which occurred on September 3, in Bydgoszcz. The modern German version is that Polish troops and civilians massacred German civilians due to confusion.

The Polish version is that the Germany's fifth column forces were constantly engaging Polish troops behind the frontlines.Perry Biddiscombe, Alexander Perry, "Werwolf!: The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement, 1944-1946", University of TorontoPress, 1998, ISBN 0802008623, [ Google Print, p.207] ] As a contingent of the Polish Army from Pomerania (Army Pomorze's 9th, 15th, and 27th Infantry Division)) was withdrawing through Bydgoszcz it was attacked by Germans from within the city and reported to be engaging enemy elements who were sniping at Polish troops. In the ensuing fight both sides suffered some casualties; captured German nonuniformed armed insurgents were executed on spot, and in the confusion, some mob lynching was also reported.Richard Blanke, "The American Historical Review", Vol. 97, No. 2. Apr., 1992, pp. 580-582. Review of: Włodzimierz Jastrzębski,"Der Bromberger Blutsonntag: Legende und Wirklichkeit." and Andrzej Brożek, "Niemcy zagraniczni w polityce kolonizacji pruskich prowincji wschodnich (1886-1918)" [ JSTOR] ]

The debate in scholarship

It is hard to say how many Germans died exclusively during the Bloody Sunday. German author Peter Aurich gave a number of German civilian deaths in Bydgoszcz as 366 deaths. Another German historian, Hugo Rasmus, estimates the number of ethnic German deaths in Bydgoszcz as "at least 415". Two Polish historians - Włodzimierz Jastrzębski and Czesław Madajczyk against the Polish soldiers in the city, estimate ethnic German deaths respectively 103 (Jastrzębski), and about 300 (150 on September 3, the rest in the days after) victims (Madajczyk).Christopher R. Browning, "The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy", University of Nebraska Press, [,M1 Google Print, p.441] , footnotes 68 and 69] The Polish historians point out that since these losses occurred during actual combat, most of the civilian losses should be attributed to accidents common in urban combat conditions; further they argue that civilian losses might have occurred when the town was attacked by the German airforce (Luftwaffe). The Nazi propaganda, which reinforced the Polish perception of German minority as hostile - and which during the invasion reported (without details) on German minority aiding the forces - has contributed to the misconceptions, as Poles were expecting the German minority to be actively hostile.

An even bigger debate in the scholarship concerns the question whether - as the Polish historiography suggests - they were indeed any members of the German fifth column in the city who opened fire on the Polish troops (and if so, whether they were composed of members of Bydgoszcz German minority or not), or whether - as critics among the German historiography argue - Polish troops (or panicking civilians) overreacted in confusion and targeted innocent German civilians.

Nazi investigation in 1939 and 1940 concluded that the events were a result of panic and confusion among the Polish toops. [↑ Alfred M. de Zayas: Die Wehrmachtuntersuchungsstelle. 6. erweiterte Auflage, Universitas 1998] To a significant extent, those conclusions are repeated in post-war German historiography. According to Aurich, author of the most thorough German account (according to Harry Gordon), after police forces retreated from Bydgoszcz, agitated Polish civilians charged many Germans with assaulting Polish soldiers and executed them and any Poles who stood up in their defense. Rasmus attributes the situation to confusion and the disorganized state of the Polish forces in the city. Along those lines another German historian Christian Raitz von Frentz wrote that "In Bydgoszcz, the event was probably caused by confusion among the rapidly retreating soldiers, a general breakdown in public order and panic among the Polish majority after two German air raids and the discovery of a small reconnaissance group of the German army on the previous day." He quotes the Nazi German reports about the civilian victims and atrocities, later collaborated by a Red Cross commission that Nazis invited to the scene. Frentz however also noted that eyewitness accounts of atrocities committed against the German population are also as unreliable as Polish accounts of the fifth columnists. It is also pointed out that during the war no ethnic Germans are known to have spoken of participation in that event.Richard Blanke, "The American Historical Review", Vol. 97, No. 2. Apr., 1992, pp. 580-582. Review of: Włodzimierz Jastrzębski,"Der Bromberger Blutsonntag: Legende und Wirklichkeit." and Andrzej Brożek, "Niemcy zagraniczni w polityce kolonizacji pruskich prowincji wschodnich (1886-1918)" [ JSTOR] ] In the post-war collaboration trials, no ethnic German was charged with relation to the Bloody Sunday. Another counterargument to the fifth column theory is one that Polish troops were being targeted by advanced units of German regular army (Wehrmacht), or that the shots were fired in the confusion of the mass withdrawal by other Polish soldiers.

Polish historians, such as Madajczyk, Jastrzębski, Karol Marian Pospieszalski, Ryszard Wojan and others claim that the killings were triggered when the ethnic Germans, dressed up as civilians, opened fire on the Polish troops, and Poles retaliated, killing many and executing captured ones afterwards.Christopher R. Browning, "The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy", University of Nebraska Press, [,M1 Google Print, p.442 (footnote 83)] ] Polish historians like Pospieszalski and Janusz Kutta, point out to a Nazi top secret false flag Operation Himmler (which took place on August 31-September 1) and was designed to create an illusion of Polish aggression against Germany.James J. Wirtz, Roy Godson, "Strategic Denial and Deception: The Twenty-First Century Challenge", Transaction Publishers, 2002, ISBN 0765808986, [ Google Print, p.100] ] Bradley Lightbody, "The Second World War: Ambitions to Nemesis", Routledge, 2004, ISBN 0415224055, [ Google Print, p.39] ] Thus there is argument that actions like the Gleiwitz incident and events in Bydgoszcz were all part of a larger Nazi plan to discredit the Poles. [ Czy historia jest wybiórcza?] "Pomorska" pyta, odpowiada dr. JANUSZ KUTTA, dyrektor Archiwum Państwowego w Bydgoszczy, Gazeta Pomorska, 20 VII 2003] Polish historians such as Pospieszalski and Wojan also argued that the German fifth column agents (or their higher ups) might have been deliberately aiming to produce a situation likely to result in German civilian casualties to fuel Nazi propaganda. [ [ "A jednak dywersja?"] Rozmowa z prof. dr. hab. KAROLEM MARIANEM POSPIESZALSKIM z Poznania, prawnikiem i historykiem, badaczem dziejów dywersji niemieckiej w Polsce, Express Bydgoski] [ pl icon cite book | last = Wojan | first = Ryszard | title = "Bydgoszcz Niedziela 3 września 1939" | publisher = Wydawnictwo Poznańskie | location = Poznań | year = 1959 ] This argument has been criticized, for example Harry Gordon questioned whether the Germans were willing to sacrifice their minority for propaganda gained. In 2004 the Polish historian Tomasz Chinciński in a publication of Institute of National Remembrance summarized Polish research related to the Bloody Sunday, conforming that the majority of Polish historians support the fifth column theory. [pl icon Tomasz Chinciński, [ "Koniec mitu "bydgoskiej krwawej niedzieli"] («The End of the Myth of the Bromberg (Bydgoszcz) Bloody Sunday), Bulletin of the Institute of National Remembrance (Biuletyn Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej), issue: 121/ 20032004, pages: 2427] He has further published a work detailing the new evidence of German diversionary activity in September of 1939 in Poland. [pl icon Tomasz Chinciński, " [ Niemiecka dywersja w Polsce w 1939 r. w świetle dokumentów policyjnych i wojskowych II Rzeczypospolitej oraz służb specjalnych III Rzeszy. Część 1 (marzec–sierpień 1939 r.)] ". Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość. nr 2 (8)/2005] There are numerous Polish eyewitness accounts for action of German fifth column, which included members of local minority.Harry Gordon, "The Shadow of Death: The Holocaust in Lithuania", , [,M1 Google Print, p.230] ] Pospieszalski for example cited multiple witnesses for at least 46 cases of German civilians opening fire on Polish troops. There are numerous Polish Army reports and German documents confirming the saboteur actions of armed German Poles in other icon Tomasz Chiciński, " [ Niemiecka dywersja we wrześniu 1939 w Londyńskich meldunkach] ", Biuletyn Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej, nr 8-9/2004] According to German historians, any members of the fifth column, if present in the city, were infiltrators from Germany, not natives of Bydgoszcz.Christian Raitz von Frentz, "A Lesson Forgotten: Minority Protection Under the League of Nations", LIT Verlag Berlin-Hamburg-Münster, [,M1 Google Print, p.252 - 254] ] Eyewitness accounts have been however criticized, among others by Richard Blanke. Chinciński in a recent work in 2004 discussed previously unpublished reports of Polish Army Pomorze, which reported "a large scale diversion" in Bydgoszcz on September 3 and numerous smaller incidents in surrounding area around that time.

A number of Polish and German historians discussed the problem 4 September 2006 in German Historical Institute in icon [ Dyskusja panelowa „Wydarzenia bydgoskie z 3 i 4 września 1939 r.” – Warszawa, 4 września 2006 r.] ] Notably, Jastrzębski have argued that Polish historians should treat German sources as more reliable. Chinciński discussed newly discovered documents of the German military intelligence (Abwehr) that show that there were indeed plans for a fifth column and diversion activities in Bydgdoscz; he also discussed the bias of communist era Polish historiography which minimized the cases of Polish mob lynching of ethnic Germans, which did occur in Bydgoszcz. German historian, Hans-Erich Volkmann, noted the problems with German historiography, outlining some of the unreliability inherent in early post war studies, which were still significantly affected by the Nazi-era, and that the Bydgoszcz events were and still are a politically charged issue. Overall, German and Polish historians continue to argue with one another over the validity of their claims, but a more consensus version is emerging.

German reprisals

The massacres were used by the Germans as a pretext for reprisals and oppression, including "de-Polonisation" campaign.Norman Davies, "God's Playground", Oxford University Press, 2005, ISBN 0199253404, [,M1 Google Print, p.331] ] In an act of retaliation, hundreds of Polish civilians were picked at random and executed by German military, including by units of Einsatzgruppen, Waffen SS and Wehrmacht, with further reprisals soon to follow.Christopher R. Browning, "The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy", University of Nebraska Press, [ Google Print, p.29] ] After attacks by Polish snipers on German troops in Bydgoszcz continued for several days, German governor, general Walter Braemer [ [ General der Kavallerie Walter Braemer ] ] (commander of the rear army area), ordered the execution of 80 Polish hostages over the next few days. By September 8 1939, between 200 to 400 Polish civilians had been killed. According to the book "Masters of Death" (published by Richard Rhodes in the "The New York Times" [Richard Rhodes, [ "Masters of Death"] , FIRST CHAPTER, "The New York Times"] : Books] ), some of these victims

"were a number of Boy Scouts, from twelve to sixteen years of age, who were set up in the marketplace against a wall and shot. No reason was given. A devoted priest who rushed to administer the Last Sacrament was shot too. He received five wounds. A Pole said afterwards that the sight of those children lying dead was the most piteous of all the horrors he saw. That week the murders continued. Thirty-four of the leading tradespeople and merchants of the town were shot, and many other leading citizens. The square was surrounded by troops with machine-guns."

Before the end of 1939, 876 Poles were tried by German tribunal for involvement in the events of the Bloody Sunday; 87 men and 13 women were sentenced without the right to appeal. Polish historian Czesław Madajczyk notes 120 executions with relation to Bloody Sunday, and an execution of 20 hostages for wounding of one German soldier. Many Poles, particularly members of the intelligentsia and the Jews, were singled out for deportation, or outright killed.Christopher R. Browning, "The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy", University of Nebraska Press, [ Google Print, p.32-33] ]

Altogether, more than 20,000 Polish citiziens of Bydgoszcz (14% of the population) were shot or died in concentration camps during the occupation. [Guenter Schubert [ Bydgoska Krwawa Niedziela. Śmierć legendy] ]


Further reading

* MacAlister Brown, ‘The Third Reich's Mobilization of the German Fifth Column in Eastern Europe,' The Journal for Central European Affairs 19/2 (Jul. 1959)
* cite book | last = Wojan | first = Ryszard | title = "Bydgoszcz Niedziela 3 września 1939" | publisher = Wydawnictwo Poznańskie | location = Poznań | year = 1959
* cite book | last = Jastrzębski | first = Włodzimierz | title = "Dywersja czy masakra. Cywilna obrona Bydgoszczy we wrześniu 1939 r." | publisher = KAW | location = Gdańsk | year = 1988 | id = ISBN 83-03-02193-1
* cite book | last = Schubert | first = Günter | title ="Das Unternehmen „Bromberger Blutsonntag" | publisher = Bund-Vlg |location = Köln | year =1989
* T. Esman, W. Jastrzebski, "Pierwsze miesiące okupacji hitlerowskiej w Bydgoszczy w źródeł dokumentów niemieckich", Bydgoszcz, 1967
* Włodzimierz Jastrzębski, "Tzw. Bydgoska Krwawa Niedziela w Świetle Zachodnioniemieckiej Literatury Historycznej", 1983
* Szymon Datner, "Z dziejow dywersji niemieckiej w czasie kampanii wrześniowej", Wojskowy Przeglad Historyczny 4/1959
* Marian Wojciechowski, "Geneza dywersji hitlerowskiej w Bydgoszczy w Swietle historiografii i publicystyki polskiej,", Bygdoskie Towarzystwo Naukowe, Prace Komisji Historii, 1967
* Edmund Zarzycki, "La Diversion Allemande le 3 Septembre 1939 a Bydgoszcz a la Lumiere des Actes du Tribunal Special Hitlerien de la Ville", 279—94 in Polish Western Affairs/La Pologne et les Affaires Occidentales 22/2(1981)
* Tadeusz Jasowski, ‘La Diversion Hitlerienne le 3 Septembre 1939 a Bydgoszcz,' 295—308, in Polish Western Affairs/La Pologne et les Affaires Occidentales 22/2(1981)

External links

* [ Nuremberg Trial Proceedings, question to Goering] [ mirror]
* [ A documentary about Bromberg/Bydgoszcz from a Polish/German cooperation]
* [ Wydarzenia 3 i 4 września 1939 r. w Bydgoszczy - „Blutsonntag"] , reproduction of text from Historia Bydgoszczy, Tom II, część druga 1939-1945, Marian Biskup (ed.), Bydgoszcz 2004
* [ "Krwawa niedziela" w Bydgoszczy]
* Katarzyna Staszak, Bogusław Kunach, [ Krwawa niedziela poprawia Niemcom samopoczucie. Romowa z Guenterem Schubertem]
* Selection of Polish articles (regional press) on Bloody Sunday: [] , []

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