Photographed in 1940, unaware of what the world was coming into, these innocent children smile before the camera. Behind them is a tent made of tattered clothing, built within the Kutno Ghetto, where Polish prisoners were crowded and forced to work under Nazi command.
From 1939, the year of the German invasion, to 1945, an estimated 1.5 million Polish citizens were either put in labor camps, or sent to Nazi concentration camps. Around 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish citizens, and over 3 million Jewish citizens either died or were killed at the hands of their captors. Among those victims were defenseless women and children.
Germany’s invasion of Poland sent Polish citizens sliding down into the dregs of a conquered society. They were completely overpowered, confused, still recovering from the shock of the unexpected battle. In fact, there are few formal documents to really show what most Polish citizens went through during captivity.
What we do know is, immediately after their defeat, Polish men and women were put to forced labor, as shown by this picture. They were ordered to clean captured Polish weaponry at the Modlin fortress just north of Poland. It is possible that some of them may have been sent to factories, and those that could not be taken advantage of—the old, and the sick—sent to extermination camps.
Work In The Ghetto
Jewish men, who were captives of the invading force, are seen rebuilding a part of the Kutno Ghetto that was damaged during the war against the Germans. Put into hard labor, they are no different from men being told to dig their own graves. They wear the Star of David badge while repairing what used to be a sugar factory.
The occupying German soldiers would en-swathe the factory with barbed wires, and guard the area to prevent its prisoners from escaping. Inside the factory, all the sweetness of sugar changed to the smell of urine, feces, the breath of starving, sick, dying, and dead human beings. It is believed that the only time the residents of Kutno would be free again was through the extermination camps at Chelmno.
Polish People Were Left Homeless
The Nazis didn’t just invade Poland so they could take command of their strategic location and grow their dominion. After they bombed the country, not only did they pulverize military bases and government buildings, but they took down the homes of helpless civilians, too. Residences were destroyed, like the one featured in this photograph.
People were indiscriminately dragged out of their homes and sent to labor camps. Those who showed a bit of grit were killed in front of their families. There was resistance formed by the members of the once-Polish government stationed in London, but they could only do so much. When the war was over, only 1 out of 10 Jews living in Poland had survived.
Into The Devil's Den
On a fateful day that would end with over 10,000 deaths, photographer Robert F. Sargent was able to take a stirring photo that shows US soldiers disembarking from their landing crafts to wade through sea water towards the beaches of Normandy.
The photographer was just arriving at Omaha Beach along with the soldiers, and he aptly captioned it “Into The Jaws Of Death,” where many were killed in action even before they could raise their weapons. Some found themselves lost in fear, psychologically broken down, dead within a minute of disembarkation. Sargent’s photograph was eventually colorized to bring it closer to a semblance of reality.