Poland Marks 70th Anniversary of WWII's Start

Leaders gather at Polish fort where Nazis launched blitzkreig
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 1, 2009 6:58 AM CDT
A German battleship, the Schleswig-Holstein, bombards the Polish coast at Westerplatte at the start of World War II 70 years ago today.   (Getty Images)
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(Newser) – Polish leaders gathered at dawn today at the fort the Nazis attacked to begin World War II exactly 70 years ago, the BBC reports. A German battleship attacked Westerplatte on September 1, 1939, as German troops launched a blitzkreig attack on three fronts. The invasion triggered declarations of war from Britain and France and within a month, Poland had been split between Germany and the Soviet Union.

The fort's 182 Polish defenders held out for a week against thousands of German invaders who had expected to prevail within hours. "Westerplatte is a symbol, a symbol of the heroic fight of the weaker against the stronger," Polish President Lech Kaczynski said. "It is proof of patriotism and an unbreakable spirit." Other European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, will gather for another ceremony at the fort today.