Seventy-five years ago, on 17 September 1939 ended, after seventeen days of bloody fighting, the Second World War. Albeit the overrun Poland heroically defended itself against the German and Slovak army, nevertheless when the Soviet army also crossed the Polish border on 17 September – according to the official argument, in order to defend the Ukrainian and Belorussian minority, exposed to danger by the irresponsibility of the Polish government, and in the reality to take possession of Eastern Poland, allotted to the Soviet Union three weeks earlier, in the secret clause of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – the Polish army, on British advice, gave up the resistance, and did not declare war on the Soviet Union. The Polish government fled to the allied Romania, where they were closed in internment camp. The optimistic part of the Polish army surrendered to the Soviet army in exchange for free withdrawal. Some hours later their officers – about 40 thousand persons – were rounded up and deported to the Soviet Union, where in April 1940 they were massacred in Katyń. The pessimistic part of the Polish army crossed the mountains to Hungary, an ally of Nazi Germany, where, however, instead of interment camps they were received with a warm welcome, they were given state payment, and – despite the repeated protest of the German embassy – they could freely organize themselves, so that about seventy thousand Polish soldiers could continue their way to France. The triumphant German and Soviet armies held joint parades in Brest and other towns along the common border, and then the Germans retreated to the area assigned to them by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The partition of Poland resulted in a new, stable border between the two superpowers, which guaranteed for long decades the peace in Eastern Europe.
The quickly pacified Poland was visited in these weeks by Hugo Jaeger, the Führer’s personal photographer, who shot a series of color photos on the post-war state of affairs. In addition to the pictures on the devastation of war, his pictures also report on how warmly the people of Poland welcomes the relief brought to them by the Wehrmacht, and how quickly Poland, freed from its incompetent leaders, recovers under the new, responsible German government. Thirty-two of his color photos were published by Life two weeks ago, on the anniversary of the outbreak of the war, which we also publish on the 75th anniversary of the rapid completition of the blitz, and the advent of the peace in Europe.