Operation Himmler, also called Operation Konserve or Operation Canned Goods, was a 1939 false flag project planned by Nazi Germany to create the appearance of Polish aggression against Germany. That was then used by the Germans to justify their invasion of Poland.
Operation Himmler included the Germans staging false attacks on themselves using innocent people or concentration camp prisoners. The operation was arguably the first act of the Second World War in Europe.
Prior to the 1939 invasion, German newspapers and politicians like Adolf Hitler carried out a national and international propaganda campaign accusing Polish authorities of organizing or tolerating violent ethnic cleansing of ethnic Germans living in Poland.
The plan, named after its originator, Heinrich Himmler, was supervised by Reinhard Heydrich and managed by Heinrich Müller. The goal of this false flag project was to create the appearance of Polish aggression against Germany, which could be used to justify the German invasion of Poland. Hitler also might have hoped to confuse Poland's allies, the United Kingdom and France, into delaying or stopping their declaration of war on Germany.
The operations were mostly carried out on 31 August. The operation, as well as the main German offensive, was originally scheduled for 26 August; the shifting diplomatic situation resulted in delay until 31 August and 1 September. However, one of the German undercover units was not informed and carried out its attack on a German customs post, and several Germans were killed before the incident ended. The operations were carried out by agents of the SS and the SD. The German troops, dressed in Polish uniforms, would storm various border buildings, scare the locals with inaccurate shots, carry out acts of vandalism, retreat and leave behind dead bodies in Polish uniforms. The bodies were really prisoners from concentration camps who were dressed in Polish uniforms, killed by lethal injection, shot for appearances and left behind. They were described in plans as Konserve: canned goods, which also led to the informal name of the operation, Operation Konserve.
There were several separate operations, including staged attacks on the following:
- The strategic railway at Jablunka Pass (Jabłonków Incident), on the border between Poland and Czechoslovakia
- The German radio station Sender Gleiwitz (Gliwice), the Gleiwitz incident being arguably the most notable of the Operation Himmler operations
- The German customs station at Hochlinden, now part of Rybnik-Stodoły)
- The forest service station in Pitschen, now Byczyna
- The communications station at Neubersteich, which was Nieborowitzer Hammer before 12 February 1936 and is now Kuznia Nieborowska
- The railway station in Alt-Eiche (Smolniki), Rosenberg in Westpreußen District
- A woman and her companion in Katowice
On the night of 31 August a small group of German operatives, dressed in Polish uniforms and led by Alfred Naujocks, seized the Gleiwitz station and broadcast a short anti-German message in Polish (sources vary on the content of the message). Several prisoners (most likely from the Dachau concentration camp) and a local Polish-Silesian activist (arrested a day earlier) were left dead on the scene in Polish uniforms.
In his 1 September speech to the Reichstag announcing war, Hitler cited the 21 border incidents as justification for Germany's "defensive" action against Poland:
I can no longer find any willingness on the part of the Polish Government to conduct serious negotiations with us. These proposals for mediation have failed because in the meanwhile there, first of all, came as an answer the sudden Polish general mobilization, followed by more Polish atrocities. These were again repeated last night. Recently in one night there were as many as twenty-one frontier incidents: last night there were fourteen, of which three were quite serious. I have, therefore, resolved to speak to Poland in the same language that Poland for months past has used toward us... This night for the first time Polish regular soldiers fired on our own territory. Since 5:45 a. m. we have been returning the fire... I will continue this struggle, no matter against whom, until the safety of the Reich and its rights are secured
By mid-1939, thousands of Polish Volksdeutsche had been secretly prepared for sabotage and guerrilla warfare by the Breslau (Wrocław) office of the Abwehr. Their activities has the purpose provoke anti-German reprisals, which could be claimed as provocations by the Germans.
The German agents indeed co-operated with the German forces during the invasion of Poland, which led to some reprisals that were highly exaggerated by the German propaganda. One of the most notable cases of such a scenario was reportedly carried out during Bydgoszcz Bloody Sunday. An instruction issued by the Ministry of Propaganda stated that the press
must show news on the barbarism of Poles in Bromberg. The expression "bloody sunday" must enter as a permanent term in the dictionary and circumnavigate the globe. For that reason, this term must be continuously underlined.
The operation convinced very little international opinion about the German claims.
- Roger Manvell, Heinrich Fraenkel, Heinrich Himmler: The SS, Gestapo, His Life and Career, Skyhorse Publishing Inc., 2007, ISBN 1-60239-178-5, Google Print, p.76
- Address by Adolf Hitler - September 1, 1939; retrieved from the archives of the Avalon Project at the Yale Law School.
- Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Volume VI (PDF). United States Government Printing Office: Washington: Office of United States Chief of Counsel For Prosecution of Axis Criminality. 1946. p. 188.
31. On 1 September, the day of the beginning of the battle against Poland, Hitler's speech in the Reichstag gave the instructions for the press, especially as to the ticklish problem of the attitude of the Western powers.(what displays as page 188 on bottom of page is page 193/1125 of this PDF)
- 20 Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Volume 4; Thursday, 20 December 1945 Archived 24 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine. The Avalon Project. Retrieved 4 August 2007.
- Gerald Reitlinger, The SS, Alibi of a Nation, 1922-1945, Da Capo Press, 1989, ISBN 0-306-80351-8, Print, p.122
- Steven J. Zaloga, Poland 1939: The Birth of Blitzkrieg, Osprey Publishing, 2002, ISBN 1-84176-408-6, Google Print, p.39
- 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
- Jack Weidner, A Question of Honor, Infinity Publishing, 2002, ISBN 0-7414-0953-4, Google Print, p.61
- Martin Allen, Himmler's Secret War: The Covert Peace Negotiations of Heinrich Himmler, Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2005, ISBN 0-7867-1708-4, Google Print, p.51
- Christopher J. Ailsby, The Third Reich Day by Day, Zenith Imprint, 2001, ISBN 0-7603-1167-6, Google Print, p.112
- John S. Craig, Peculiar Liaisons in War, Espionage, and Terrorism of the Twentieth Century, Algora Publishing, 2005, ISBN 0-87586-331-0, Google Print, p.180
- Jorgensen, Christer, "Hitler's Espionage Machine", Spellmount Ltd., 2004, ISBN 1-86227-244-1
- "Museum in Gliwice: WHAT HAPPENED HERE?". Archived from the original on 2 May 2008. Retrieved 5 March 2008.
- Perry Biddiscombe, Alexander Perry, Werwolf!: The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement, 1944-1946, University of TorontoPress, 1998, ISBN 0-8020-0862-3, Google Print, p.207
- For an example of Nazi propaganda document discussing "Polish atrocities against the German people", see The Polish Atrocities Against the German Minority in Poland Compiled by Hans Schadewaldt (Berlin: German Foreign Office, 1940) pp. 35-54, cases 1 - 15. signed testimony of Herbert Matthes, Bromberg furniture maker
- Richard Blanke, The American Historical Review, Vol. 97, No. 2. Apr. 1992, pp. 580-582. Review of: Włodzimierz Jastrzębski,Der Bromberger Blutsonntag: Legende und Wirklichkeit. and Andrzej Brożek, Niemcy zagraniczni w polityce kolonizacji pruskich prowincji wschodnich (1886-1918)
- A. K. Kunert, Z. Walkowski, Kronika kampanii wrześniowej 1939, Wydawnictwo Edipresse Polska, Warszawa 2005, ISBN 83-60160-99-6, s. 35.
- (in Polish) Tomasz Chinciński, Niemiecka dywersja we wrześniu 1939 w Londyńskich meldunkach, Biuletyn Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej, nr 8-9/2004
- (in Polish) Tomasz Chinciński, Niemiecka dywersja w Polsce w 1939 r. w świetle dokumentów policyjnych i wojskowych II Rzeczypospolitej oraz służb specjalnych III Rzeszy. Część 1 (marzec–sierpień 1939 r.). Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość. nr 2 (8)/2005