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Gleiwitz incident

Coordinates: 50°18′48″N 18°41′21″E / 50.313370°N 18.689037°E / 50.313370; 18.689037
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Gleiwitz incident
Part of Operation Himmler
TypeFalse flag attack
50°18′48″N 18°41′21″E / 50.313370°N 18.689037°E / 50.313370; 18.689037
ObjectivePretext for the invasion of Poland
Date31 August 1939 (1939-08-31)
Executed byGerman SS
Gleiwitz Radio Tower is located in Germany
Gleiwitz Radio Tower
Gleiwitz Radio Tower
Location of the Gleiwitz radio tower in Nazi Germany (1937 borders)

The Gleiwitz incident (German: Überfall auf den Sender Gleiwitz; Polish: Prowokacja gliwicka) was a false flag attack on the radio station Sender Gleiwitz in Gleiwitz (then Germany and now Gliwice, Poland) staged by Nazi Germany on the night of 31 August 1939. Along with some two dozen similar incidents, the attack was manufactured by Germany as a casus belli to justify the invasion of Poland. Prior to the invasion, Adolf Hitler gave a radio address condemning the acts and announcing German plans to attack Poland, which began the next morning.[1][2] Despite the German government using the attack as a justification to go to war with Poland, the Gleiwitz assailants were not Polish but were German SS officers wearing Polish uniforms.

During his declaration of war, Hitler did not mention the Gleiwitz incident but grouped all provocations staged by the SS as an alleged "Polish assault" on Germany. The Gleiwitz incident is the best-known action of Operation Himmler, a series of special operations undertaken by the Schutzstaffel (SS) to serve German propaganda at the outbreak of war. The operation was intended to create the appearance of a Polish aggression against Germany to justify the invasion of Poland. On September 3, Britain and France declared war on Germany, and the European theatre of World War II had begun. Manufactured evidence for the Gleiwitz attack by the SS was provided by the undercover German SS officer Alfred Naujocks in 1945.[1]

Events at Gleiwitz


Much of what is known about the Gleiwitz incident comes from the affidavit of SS-Sturmbannführer Alfred Naujocks at the Nuremberg Trials. In his testimony, he stated that he organised the incident under orders from Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Müller, chief of the Gestapo.[3] On the night of 31 August, a small group of German operatives dressed in Polish uniforms and led by Naujocks seized the Gleiwitz station and broadcast a short anti-German message in Polish (sources vary on the content of the message).[4] The operation was named "Grossmutter gestorben" (Grandmother died).[5] The operation was to make the attack and the broadcast look like the work of Polish anti-German saboteurs.[4][6] The operation was planned and carried out from the Sławięcice Palace (Schloss Slawentzitz).[7]

To make the attack seem more convincing, the Gestapo executed Franciszek Honiok, a 43-year-old unmarried Upper Silesian[8] Catholic farmer, known for sympathising with the Poles. He had been arrested the previous day by the Gestapo and dressed to look like a saboteur, then rendered unconscious by an injection of drugs, then killed by gunshot wounds.[9] Honiok was left dead at the scene so that he appeared to have been killed while attacking the station. His corpse was then presented to the police and press as proof of the attack.[10] Several prisoners from the Dachau concentration camp were drugged, shot dead on the site and their faces disfigured to make identification impossible.[4][6][11] The Germans referred to them by the code phrase "Konserve" (canned goods). Some sources incorrectly refer to the incident as Operation Canned Goods.[12]

In an oral testimony at the Nuremberg Trials, Erwin von Lahousen stated that his division of the Abwehr was one of two that were given the task of providing Polish Army uniforms, equipment and identification cards; he was later told by Wilhelm Canaris that people from concentration camps had been disguised in these uniforms and ordered to attack the radio stations.[13]

Oskar Schindler played a role in supplying the Polish uniforms and weapons used in the operation as an agent for the Abwehr.[14]


Plaque on site commemorating the incident

The Gleiwitz incident was a part of a larger operation carried out by Abwehr and SS forces.[6] Other orchestrated incidents were conducted along the Polish–German border at the same time as the Gleiwitz attack, such as a house burning in the Polish Corridor and spurious propaganda. The project was called Operation Himmler and comprised incidents intended to give the appearance of Polish aggression against Germany.[15][12] German newspapers and politicians, including Adolf Hitler, had made accusations against Polish authorities for months before the 1939 invasion of organising or tolerating violent ethnic cleansing of ethnic Germans living in Poland.[15][16] On 1 September, the day following the Gleiwitz attack, Germany launched Fall Weiss (Case White), the strategic plan for the invasion of Poland, which precipitated World War II in Europe. Hitler cited the border incidents in a speech in the Reichstag on the same day, with three of them called very serious, as justification for his invasion of Poland.[15] Hitler had told his generals on 22 August, "I will provide a propagandistic casus belli. Its credibility doesn't matter. The victor will not be asked whether he told the truth".[6][12]

International reactions


American correspondents were summoned to the scene the next day but no neutral parties were allowed to investigate the incident in detail and the international public was skeptical of the German version of the incident.[6][17]


There have been several adaptations of the incident in cinema. Der Fall Gleiwitz (1961), directed by Gerhard Klein for DEFA studios (The Gleiwitz Case; English subtitles), is an East German film that reconstructs the events.[18]

Operacja Himmler (1979) is a Polish film that covers the events.[19]

Both Die Blechtrommel (1979), directed by Volker Schlöndorff and Hitler's SS: Portrait in Evil (1985), directed by Jim Goddard, briefly include the incident.[20][21]

It was also mentioned in a video game; Codename: Panzers (2004), which stirred up some controversy in Poland where the game was briefly discussed in Polish media as anti-Polish falsification of history, before the issue was cleared up as a case of poor reporting.[22]

See also



  1. ^ a b Gleiwitz casus belli. 2018. Nazi government under Hitler's leadership staged the Gleiwitz incident as a casus belli for the invasion of Poland the following morning
  2. ^ "Address by Adolf Hitler - September 1, 1939". fcit.usf.edu. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  3. ^ "20 Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Volume 4". Avalon Project. 20 December 1945. Retrieved 12 October 2009.
  4. ^ a b c Christopher J. Ailsby, The Third Reich Day by Day, Zenith Imprint, 2001, ISBN 0-7603-1167-6, Google Print, p. 112
  5. ^ "Grossmutter Gestorben". Der Spiegel. Spiegel-Verlag. 12 November 1963. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d e James J. Wirtz, Roy Godson, Strategic Denial and Deception: The Twenty-First Century Challenge, Transaction Publishers, 2002, ISBN 0-7658-0898-6, Google Print, p.100
  7. ^ "Pałac w Sławięcicach i jego wojenna historia. Miał 45 pokoi i wielką salę balową. Co się z nim stało?' (The palace in Sławięcice and its wartime history. It had 45 rooms and a large ballroom. What has happened to it?)". kedzierzynkozle.naszemiasto.pl. 1 September 2021. Retrieved 28 February 2023.
  8. ^ The World War II's first victim. A farmer was murdered as part of a Nazi plot to provide an excuse to invade Poland, the story of a man forgotten by history. By Bob Graham, 29 Aug 2009. The Telegraph.
  9. ^ "World War II's first victim - Telegraph". www.telegraph.co.uk. Archived from the original on 14 March 2012. Retrieved 11 January 2022.
  10. ^ "Museum in Gliwice: What happened here?". Muzeum.gliwice.pl. Archived from the original on 4 November 2006. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
  11. ^ Thomas Laqueur, 'Devoted to Terror,' in London Review of Books, Vol. 37 No. 18–24 September 2015, pp. 9–16.
  12. ^ a b c Bradley Lightbody, The Second World War: Ambitions to Nemesis, Routledge, 2004; ISBN 0-415-22405-5, Google Print, p.39
  13. ^ "20 Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Volume 2; Friday, 30 November 1945". Avalon Project. Retrieved 8 November 2012.
  14. ^ Lebovic, Matt. "80 years ago, how a very different Schindler's 'list' helped ignite WWII". www.timesofisrael.com. Retrieved 8 October 2020.
  15. ^ a b c "Address by Adolf Hitler". archives of the Avalon Project at the Yale Law School. 1 September 1939. Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  16. ^ "Holocaust Educational Resource". Nizkor. Archived from the original on 2 July 2017. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
  17. ^ Steven J. Zaloga, Poland 1939: The Birth of Blitzkrieg, Google Print, p. 39, Osprey Publishing, 2002; ISBN 1-84176-408-6
  18. ^ Der Fall Gleiwitz (1961), IMDb.com; accessed 4 June 2015.
  19. ^ Operacja Himmler (TV 1979), IMDb.com; accessed 4 June 2015.
  20. ^ Die Blechtrommel (1979), IMDb.com; accessed 4 June 2015.
  21. ^ Hitler's S.S.: Portrait in Evil (TV 1985), IMDb.com; accessed 4 June 2015.
  22. ^ "Skrytykowali grę, choć jej nie widzieli". Wiadomosci.gazeta.pl. 23 August 2004. Retrieved 18 May 2012.

Further reading