World War II began on September 1, 1939 when German forces bombarded Poland on land and from the air. The German invasion was a primer on how Hitler intended to fight his enemies using ‘blitzkrieg’ or lightning war. Once the German forces had plowed their way through, devastating a swath of territory, infantry moved in, picking off any remaining resistance.
On display are two Polish relics of the war – a horse gas mask with its original wooden box, and a metal sign for Katowice that was excavated in southern Poland.
Although one million strong, the Polish forces were severely under-equipped and attempted to take the Germans head-on with horsed cavaliers. At the time, cavalry formed 10 percent of the Polish Army and on some occasions proved to be the elite of the army. The antiquated state of the Polish military, however, was no match for the overwhelming and modern mechanized German forces and Hitler’s “blitzkrieg” strategy.
During the early stages of the Poland Campaign, Katowice was essentially abandoned, as the Polish Army had to position itself around Kraków. The Germans destroyed many iconic monuments, including the Great Katowice Synagogue, which was burned to the ground three days after the invasion began.
Additionally, the use of Polish in public conversations was banned. The German administration was also infamous for organizing public executions of civilians and by the middle of 1941, most of the Polish and Jewish population was expelled from Katowice. Eventually the city was occupied by the Red Army in January 1945.