On 1 September, German forces overran Poland. The wide, open plains of Poland were ideally suited to the rapid movement of tanks central to a blitzkrieg attack. The Polish Air Force was put out of action almost immediately—its small force of 350 combat aircraft was no match for its German counterpart. The 2,000 planes that bombed Warsaw (the capital city of Poland) launched the first indiscriminate bombing of a city in the war. It was not to be the last. Figure 2 shows the human cost of the invasion. The Germans proved expert in carrying through another strategic initiative when they landed troops by parachute, glider, and aeroplane. This was the first full-scale use of blitzkrieg. The Germans conquered everything in their path, enabling the Red Army to move forward on 17 September to claim its share of Poland, as promised by the secret clause in the Nazi–Soviet Non-Aggression Pact signed one month earlier. Although international law designated this Soviet move as an act of aggression, the Soviets protested that they were merely intervening because the Polish state had collapsed. The rapidity of the German victory shocked the Allies. It had taken only one month to crush Poland. By 28 September, Poland had been partitioned, with the Russians grabbing 77,000 square miles and the remaining 73,000 square miles being placed under the ‘protection’ of the German Reich. Thus, between 17 September 1939 and 22 June 1941, the beautiful rivers of Narew, Vistula, and San divided Poland between the two occupying countries of Germany and the Soviet Union. Prior to the occupation, Hitler had admitted that ‘the destruction of Poland is our primary task. The aim is not the arrival at a certain line but the annihilation of living forces.’ He advised his men to ‘Be merciless. Be brutal. It is necessary to proceed with maximum severity. The war is to be a war of annihilation.’1 German soldiers were willing to obey, sharing Hitler’s characterization of the Poles. Their diaries are replete with disparaging references to ‘Polacks’, ‘primitive peoples’, and the ‘animal sub-humanity of the Poles’. As a consequence, it is little wonder that terror was an integral part of the occupation. Just one statistic can illustrate the level of brutality endured by the Poles during the war: around 20 per cent of the population of Poland was killed, compared with less than 2 per cent of the French population while they were occupied by Axis powers. In order to weaken Polish resistance, the SS targeted the intelligentsia: teachers, writers, and the educated classes were particularly vulnerable. Children were also victimized. The Germans deported around 15 per cent of all Polish children as slaves to Germany. Of the 200,000 children taken, only 20,000 returned to Poland after the war. Children remaining in Poland were victims in other ways. As Heinrich Himmler decreed in his memorandum ‘The Treatment of Racial Aliens in the East’ of 25 May 1940, Polish children were not to be educated higher than the fourth grade of elementary school. In his words: ‘The sole goal of this schooling is to teach them simple arithmetic, nothing above the number 500; writing one’s name; and the doctrine that it is divine law to obey the Germans. . . . I do not think that reading is desirable.’3 In their quest for racial superiority, Germans murdered the inmates of mental institutions and tuberculosis sanatoria and herded the Jews into ‘ghettos’ in the cities, killing many and forcing the rest to live in conditions so bad that death rates soon began to soar. Finally, national treasures were looted during the war. In just three months between December 1939 and March 1940, 100 libraries, 96 manors, 74 palaces, 43 historic churches, 15 museums, and innumerable art galleries were looted and the bounty carefully packed and sent to Germany. Polish girl weeping over her sister, killed by German bombing of Poland As late as 1990, the Polish government established a new post of Commissioner for Cultural Heritage Abroad to trace ‘cultural losses’ from the war. In the Soviet part of Poland, the destruction may have been even more devastating, at least prior to 1941. While the Germans killed around 120,000 Poles between 1939 and 1941, the Russians killed more than 400,000. The graves of 25,700 Polish officers, soldiers, and civilians captured by the Red Army and massacred in April and May 1940 were later unearthed in the Katyn and Miednoje forests and in a wooded area on the outskirts of Kharkov. These were some of the earliest mass shootings of POWs during the war. In addition, over 1.2 million Poles, Jews, ethnic Volga Germans, Ukrainians, and Belorussians were forcibly deported to Siberia, the steppes of Kazakhstan, and remote regions in the Far East and north during these years. Their property was confiscated. Stalin set out ruthlessly to eradicate all signs and symbols of Polish identity. Repression became central to everyday life. Pettiness ruled. Poles were forbidden to ride in taxis, wear felt hats, walk in public parks, and carry briefcases. Everything recognizably Polish was banned, including Mass and the teaching of Polish history in schools. Polish was relegated to the status of a secondary language. A terrifying silence was imposed, as parents instructed their children to ‘say nothing at school, speak to nobody, answer no questions, or else we go to Siberia’. Poland sank into a period named ‘The Great Silence’. Meanwhile, the Red Army invaded Finland, which had also been assigned to the USSR under the Nazi–Soviet Non- Aggression Pact of August 1939. The Soviets had expected a short war that would result in the establishment of a puppet government (the Terijoki Government) in Helsinki as the new ‘Democratic Republic of Finland’. Between 30 November 1939 and March 1940, a one-million-strong Red Army clashed with 200,000 Finnish troops. The Soviet troops were not trained for deep-snow conditions, they had poor radio communications, and the long nights and heavy snow limited the support of Soviet aviation. In contrast, the Finns excelled at small-unit tactics in the forests, leaving the Soviet troops to stumble along the roads. This became known as the ‘Winter War’. By March, Stalin had been forced to concede a humiliating defeat. The final agreement was not wholly in Finland’s favour, however, since Finland was forced to cede 10 per cent of its territory to the USSR. The campaign was to have one crucial long-term impact: it gave the Germans a false image of the Red Army as a weak force, thus paving the way to ‘Barbarossa’, or the invasion of the Soviet Union by the Germans.