World War II began when a germans battleship shelled a polish base on the Baltic Coast on September 1, 1939 right?
Wrong! Say residents of Wieluń, who want the southern polish town to win global recognition 70 years late.
On the road into this community of 24,000, a „Welcome to Wieluń” sign looms large three number stick out: „4:40”. That was the time the Luftwaffe bombs rained down, five minutes before the battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire at polish garrison in Danzig (modern-day Gdańsk), triggering six years of warfare around the world. We want people to remember that the barbarity started here. It is not a contest with westerplatte. There were two different things. Westerplatte was the first battle, but Wieluń was the first attack on defenceless civilians.
Tragedies of Warsaw, Rotterdam or Coventry are commonly known. The case of japanease cities such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known even better. Meanwile the fact that the town of Wieluń was almost completely ruined by german air forces in the first hour of World War II, when its first victim fell, is hardly known.
In 1939 Wieluń was a small district town located in the distance of 21 kilometers from the former german-polish border. According to the statistic on 1 of January 1939 it was inhabited by 15 689 people, one third of which were jews.
The thing unexpected by anyone happened. The assault on the defenceless open town was not expected neither on 1 of September 1939 nor earlier there were any polish military trops in Wieluń. On the eve of war there were gossips circulating around the town that a test air raid warning for the members of anti-aircraft and anti-gas league would take place on 1 of September 1939. Therefore the inhabitants of Wieluń thought that it had been the signal of that test warning. Reality proved more brutal. The planes having completed a circle over the town began bombing. Suddenly a centre of the town stood in flames. Many buildings fell into ruins. People in panic, many of them only in night clothes rushed into streets. The cries of horror, calls of numerous wounded for help, could be heard. Meanwhile the fighter planes, which did not ave to protect their bombers against polish planes as there were none of them either in Wieluń or in its surrounding, were chasing and shooting at escaping men, women and children with a board machine-guns.
After the first starting air raid the second followed in a few minutes. High explosive and incendiary bombs were droped. After the raid the whole center of the town turned to rubble with hundreds of dead and wounded under it. The center of the town, the most densely urbanized part of Wieluń was a target of the assault.
It is symptomatic that the first bombs were dropped down on a town hospital. The greatest tragedy happend there. Bombing of the hospital building resulted in the death of 32 persons, 26 of which the sick. The town was bombed systematically with high precision. At first the most densely urbanized monumental centre of the town was bombed. Not only was the hospital ruined but monuments of sacral architecture were destroyed as well.
The first air raid in the early morning was followed by three others at approximately 7 and 10 o clock in the afternoon. The centre of town was not so heavily bombed in the next raids (actualy it had been almost totally ruined in the first one), but the buildings adjoining the junction of main streets of the town.
Those destructive raid were completed by pilots of the Immelmann I Division of 2nd regiment of diving bombers under major Oskar Dindort’s command, before war known german pilots of I Division of 76th Regiment of diving bombers under Walter Siegel’s command. Enlisted air force units were under coomand of an air force commander for special assignments Wolfram von Richthofen. His soldiers gained experience in a condor legion known for massacre of civilians in towns during a civil war in spain. During the raids, Wieluń suffered substantial losses of defenceless civilians.
We think that definite number of air raid victims killed in the town 1 September 1939 will be never known. It results from the fact that the town was assaulted nevertheless. Many people got swamped by the rubble of collapsing buildings or in cellars where they had looked for shelter. We tend to regard as most likely the number of victims quoted by M.D. Zygmunt Patryn approximately 1200 people.
In spite of so numerous casualties the Wehrmacht soldiers when occupying the town on 2 september 1939 executed several town residents who due to advanced age or bad health had not left the town.
Source: Prof. Tadeusz Olejnik
Sorry for wrong hyphenation but WordPress editor is set to polish language – Marcin SQ7OVZ