Hitler Strikes Poland

Blitzkrieg, Ideology, and Atrocity

Alexander B. Rossino

Choice Outstanding Title

It was one of the most ruthlessly conceived and executed invasions in the annals of warfare. Hitler's Polish campaign unleashed a blitzkrieg in which SS troops, police squads, and the army itself waged an ethnic war of unprecedented brutality. Tens of thousands of Poles—roughly 80 percent of whom were Christian—were summarily executed in acts of collective punishment. After six weeks, a country was crushed and the world was at war.

“This valuable study reveals the ideological dimensions of Hitler’s five-week conquest of Poland in September 1939. Rossino argues that ‘despite its brevity, the historical importance of the Polish campaign cannot be overestimated.’ . . . With clear, vigorous prose and a significant thesis, Rossino’s study gives us a new perspective on the German invasion of Poland as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for yet greater, perfected barbarities to come.

—Central European History

“An invaluable introduction to a highly significant phase in National Socialist Germany's prosecution of its ideological policies during the Second World War. Specialists and novices alike will profit greatly from Rossino’s work.

—Journal of Modern History
See all reviews...

Usually given short shrift in most histories of World War II, the invasion of Poland was more than a series of opening salvos; it was a testing ground for German brutalities to come. In this first intensive study of the invasion, Alexander Rossino provides a comprehensive study of the Polish campaign, including disturbing new insights into its racist and ideological underpinnings.

Rossino tells how this invasion melded the ideology of the Nazi party with Germany's military yearning for empire in the East. The Polish campaign was important as the first step in Hitler's drive for "living space" for Germans in Eastern Europe, and as the blitzkrieg decimated urban residential areas, civilians soon became indistinguishable from combatants. In addition to describing military operations, Rossino also provides a close analysis of SS plans to murder Polish leaders, German army reprisal policies, and the close collaboration of Wehrmacht and SS forces in the subjugation and execution of Polish citizens.

Rossino considers both top-level decision making and the experiences of German soldiers as he explores the mentality of those who perpetrated crimes against civilians. He particularly investigates the links between Nazi racial-political policies and military action to show that Poland was merely the German army's dress rehearsal for the later slaughter of other Slavs and Jews during the Russian campaign. By providing a detailed examination of atrocities committed by both military and SS personnel, he shows that the Wehrmacht's criminality was clearly evident at the beginning of the war.

Hitler Strikes Poland is a startling reconstruction of history that clearly reveals the extent to which Nazi philosophy drove the German war machine. By placing German expansionism in its ideological context, it can help us better understand the brutality of the years that followed and better appreciate the suffering of the Polish people.

About the Author

Alexander B. Rossino is a research historian at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series