By Bob Graham and Stuart Clarke
This week marks the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War. The war was started by SS-Strumbannfuhrer Alfred Naujocks who led a raiding party dressed as Polish soldiers and attacked a German Radio station in Gliwice, a town a few miles from the Polish border.
They murdered a man, the first victim of the war, on 31st August 1939. Nearly twenty years later my reporter father, Comer Clarke tracked down the man who started the war, former SS officer Alfred Naujocks. Half a century later Reporter Bob Graham and myself travelled to Gliwice, which is now in Poland, where we identified the first victim of the Second World War.
The last of the early evening sun had settled over the giant wooden radio mast that stuck out through the forest of trees as the small team of German SS men drove in two cars through the station’s front gates and stopped outside the three-storey transmission buildings.
In the following few minutes the seven Nazi soldiers, all dressed in civilian clothes, would carry out a simple act leaving one man, dressed in Polish army uniform, dead on the station steps – and provide Adolf Hitler with the excuse to invade Poland and ultimately plunge the world into six dark years of global conflict.
The events that took place in the fading light of August 31st, 1939 around Gliwice Radio Station that, at the time was inside Germany – four miles from the Polish border — have largely been overlooked by war historians. Even relatives of the one man killed have only spoken of the incident in hushed, private family gatherings, preferring not to ask questions of authorities, on either side.
Now, this weekend during a small ceremony at Gliwice Radio Station to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the onset of the Second World War, the full treachery of the top secret raid will be discussed by historians.
Andrzej Jarczewski, the director of the museum that was established on the site of the radio station four years ago, told the Daily Mail in an exclusive interview: “Many people will have never known what took place here to start the entire war. It is not a moment that is easily remembered for many reasons.
‘There are some who remember but have wanted to forget because they believe it brings a stain to the reputation of Poland. But the truth is it is not a moment to forget but to remember and to learn about the real events that started it all.”
The simple audacity of the raid and the brazen manner in which it was exploited by the fanatical determination of Hitler to rule the world today stands out as a moment which beggars belief, given the cataclysmic events that followed.
Shortly before 8pm SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Alfred Naujocks and a specially-selected team of six SS soldiers drove into the radio station. In one of their cars was Franciszek Honiok, a 43-year-old local farmer who had been picked out as the person who would provide the necessary ‘proof’ of Polish aggression against Germany.
Honiok, a Pole living in the German area, was snatched at gunpoint from his farm nearly an hour away in the rural community of Polomia and ordered to dress in the light khaki uniform of the Polish army before being tied up and taken to the radio station. Inside the radio station the nine members of the broadcast staff were confronted by the SS gunmen.
In the hectic moments that followed Naujocks fired several shots and ordered the terrified staff to do as they were told. One of the team, Polish-speaker Karl Hornack grabbed the main microphone and shouted: “ Uwage! Tu Gliwice. Rozglosnia znajduje sie w rekach Polskich (Attention! This is Gliwice. The broadcasting station is in Polish hands.)”
The Germans and Poles had been bickering over various border claims in the area for years.
until 1958 when the full details were publicly revealed after British journalist Comer Clarke, tracked down former SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Alfred Naujocks in Hamburg. In the article he was identified as “The Man Who Started The Last War.”
Naujocks, who died in 1960 and never faced any war-crimes tribunal, disclosed how he had been summoned to the Berlin office of Reinhardt Heydrich, the feared head of the German Secret Police.
The German told Clarke: “Heydrich told me ‘Within a month we shall be at war with Poland. The Fuhrer is determined. But first we have to have something to go to war about. We’ve organised incidents in Danzig, along the East Prussian border with Poland and along the German frontier. But there has to be something big and obvious.”
Naujocks described how Heydrich strode over to a wall map of Eastern Europe and stabbed a finger at Gliwice. “This is where you come in. The idea is that six men and yourself will burst into Gliwice radio station, knock out the staff and broadcast a speech in Polish and German, attacking Germany and the Fuhrer and announcing Poland’s intention of taking the disputed territories by force.”
To ‘prove’ the Polish connection Heydrich revealed how a body, dressed in Polish uniform was to be left on the radio station steps. The top secret operation was given a codeword: ‘Grossmutter gestorben’, (grandmother died.)
When Naujocks was traced by Clarke he admitted over a beer: “Yes, I started it all. I don’t think anyone will bother about me now.” According to German war records, the final member of the SS team who took part in the Gliwice raid died two years ago.
In any other circumstance the killing of Franciszek Honiok would be marked with some sort of commemoration. But not in Poland, where his memory is virtually erased from the records.
His only remaining relative, nephew Pawel Honiok who now lives in Koszecin, an hour’s drive from Gliwice, told the Mail: “I know about Franz and my father who was a brother was always proud of him. But no one in the family ever really spoke about what happened to him or what happened to the body.”
Following the invasion of Poland by the Nazis, the Honiok family were never able to inquire what had taken place and at the end of the war the entire area was occupied by Russian troops as Poland became a part of the Communist Eastern Europe.
“No one ever mentioned what had taken place because at that time it was a time to be silent and secret,” explained 73-year-old Pawel, a retired car mechanic. “As time passed nothing has really changed until now.”
Although the majority of the Honiok family deaths are recorded in the Polomia area and their bodies buried in a family plot, there is no record of Franciszek.
Pawel explained: “As a young boy I can remember my family sitting in a room, quietly speaking about what had happened to Franz. But I was not allowed to sit in and listen, this was for the adults, not the younger ones.
“The only thing I know was it was rumoured his body was buried in the mountains where a number of bodies were buried. But there is no memorial, it was as if Poland was ashamed of the way his body was used to start the war.
“They never even accepted he was a victim of the war because he was killed on the evening of August 31 and, officially, the war did not begin until September 1. But now, people now accept he was the first person killed in that war.”
Survivors of the time are few in the area around Gliwice which is now in Poland – the boundaries were redrawn after 1945. At the Domu Wspolpracy Polsko-Niemeickiej (House for Polish German Cooperation) in the town a spokesman explained: “We have contact with a small number of people who were in the area at the time the German raid took place but not one of them will be identified or interviewed.
“They still retain a fear and paranoia about speaking of what took place because of the shame they believe it brings to the region. We have tried for many years to get them to speak to us of their memories of what life was like in Gliwice before the war began and what they recall taking place on August 31, 1939. But they will not speak, even anonymously, because of the past and how they had to live through it.”
The exact sequence of events has been gradually pieced together by Jarczewski, a technician by trade, who became fascinated by the conspiracy of silence that surrounded by SS raid and eventually was appointed director of the museum on the site.
Hornack continued with a warning that Poles were invading Germany to achieve “ our just claims.” But the final words were never heard, the transmission had already been shut down by one of the engineers who stood beside the electrical equipment. However, the nine words that were broadcast were enough. Naujocks and his team had done their evil worst and set in motion the earth-shattering events that followed.
As the SS team left they killed Honiok with a shot through the forehead and left his body, dressed in a Polish army uniform they had previously stolen, draped across the entrance steps.
Almost immediately, every German radio station, in a carefully coordinated nationwide broadcast repeated the nine words used by the “invaders”, adding, for good measure, other anti-German threats. It was also claimed that bodies of Polish regular soldiers who were killed in the incident remained at the scene.
In London the BBC broadcast a statement: “There have been reports of an attack on a radio station in Gliwice, which is just across the Polish border in Germany. The German News Agency reports the attack came at about 8pm this evening when the Poles forced their way into the studio and began broadcasting a statement in Polish. Within quarter of an hour, says reports, the Poles were overpowered by German police who opened fire on them. Several of the Poles were reported killed but the numbers are not yet known.”
The following morning a raging Hitler used the incident at Gliwice as his excuse for war and addressed a cheering Reichstag claiming the violation of German territory by “Polish Army hooligans had finally exhausted our patience.”
British, French and other European governments were informed that Poland had started the war. It was all part of the evil duplicity of Hitler’s Third Reich to ensure his armies gained vital hours as they plunged Europe into all-out conflict. As history later revealed Hitler wanted more, much more. He wanted all of Europe, including Britain. And then the world with the Germans as the “Master Race,” and everyone else as slaves.
Details of the Gliwice raid were first discovered in the post-war Nuremberg trials but it was not