Seventy years after World War II began with the invasion of Poland in September 1939, what can that war-ravaged nation teach us about human nature—and about the future of mankind?
Seventy years ago this month, World War II began with the German invasion of Poland. On the 70th anniversary of this historic event, what does Poland's past teach us about its future—and the future of world war?
September 1, 2009 marks a somber anniversary for the nation of Poland. It was on that day in 1939—70 years ago—that German troops crossed the Polish border, setting in motion a series of events that would soon plunge Europe and the whole world into the most horrific war in history.
Why did it happen? And what does it portend for the future? Does the Bible give us clues as to the future of Poland, Europe, and Russia in the coming years? The surprising—and sobering—answer is: Yes!
Before September 1939, Adolf Hitler had told the Polish government and the world that Nazi Germany only wanted lebensraum ("living space") and sought merely to "liberate" Germans in a Polish "corridor" adjacent to Germany. But the real truth was that Hitler had planned to invade Poland all along. On August 22, ten days before the invasion, Hitler outlined his policy on Poland to the Wehrmacht leadership, instructing them to kill "without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish descent or language" (Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation, p. 3). Hitler said, "The destruction of Poland is our primary task. The aim is not the arrival at a certain line but the annihilation of living forces… Be merciless! Be brutal… It is necessary to proceed with maximum severity… The war is to be a war of annihilation" (ibid., p. 4).
So began a horrifying nightmare for Poles and Poland, as the German war machine swarmed in on several fronts. Civilian targets were attacked with the same ferocity as military objectives. Peasants working in the field were viciously strafed by the Luftwaffe, hospitals and sanitariums were incinerated, and highway traffic was shot at to create confusion and terror as Nazi Germany waged a war not just to conquer Poland but to destroy it as a nation.
During that devastating September, Poland was not only ravaged by Nazi Germany but also by its eastern neighbor, Russia. On August 23, just nine days before the invasion, German and Russian foreign ministers signed a treaty of non-aggression, and the two newly aligned nations also signed an infamous secret protocol agreeing to the partition of defeated Poland into German and Russian zones. When Russia attacked Poland on September 17, the nation had to fight on two fronts to defend itself.
And the situation would only grow worse for Poland. Not only was the nation attacked from enemies on both borders—it would soon be betrayed by its avowed friends in the West.
Polish forces fought desperately, hoping to buy time until assured assistance came from France and Britain. Both France and Britain declared war on Germany on September 3, two days after the invasion. But although France had committed to launching a major offensive within 15 days of Germany's attack, it did not happen. Historian Andrew Hempel wrote: "While the Polish army fought alone, ninety-two French divisions stood idle behind the Maginot Line facing thirty-five third-grade German divisions" (Poland in World War II: An Illustrated Military History, p. 23). The murderous treachery of Germany and Russia had been compounded by the Allies' duplicitous betrayal of Poland.
Despite unfulfilled promises from the West, and while sustaining vicious attacks on two fronts, the Polish army still managed to inflict significant damage on the invaders.
But was 1939 the first time that Poland suffered from aggressive, belligerent neighbors? No. Poland is justifiably suspicious about its neighbors today, and not just because of what happened 70 years ago. The story begins centuries before that. In the 15th century, the kingdom of Poland was a prominent and powerful state, but by the 1700s it suffered under aggression by the same neighbors that attacked it in 1939: Russia, Prussia, and Austria. "In three successive territory seizures in 1772, 1793 and 1795, the three neighbors erased Poland from the maps of Europe…" (Hempel, p. 2). The suffering continued into the 19th century, as uprisings against Russia in 1830 and 1863 ended in defeat and thousands of Poles were exiled to Siberia (ibid., pp. 2–4).
When World War I ended, Poland emerged as a free and independent nation for the first time in 123 years (ibid., pp. 4–5). But its relative peace and prosperity ended catastrophically in 1939. Even when World War II ended after five years of horror for the Poles, their suffering continued under Soviet rule. In spite of its service to the Allied cause, Poland was given over to the Soviet sphere of influence, rewarded with the iron fist of Communism. The Soviet Union quickly clamped down on Poland (and the rest of Eastern Europe), not loosening its grip until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.
Poland's history gives us insight into what the Poles are facing today. Poland is a small but burgeoning country desperately seeking assurance that the horrors of its past will never be repeated. But will it and the rest of free Europe succeed? Will Germany—and Russia—rise again as belligerent world military powers?
Poland is right to distrust its European neighbors. Bible prophecy shows that the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s was only the sixth in a succession of resurrections of the European Holy Roman Empire. It also shows there is yet one more to come.
Where do we find these prophecies? From the book of Daniel, we learn that God foretold the coming of four world-ruling empires: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome (Daniel 7:3–7). The Apostle John then spoke of the end-time resurrections of the Roman empire—a beast that "was, and is not, and yet is". (For more information, please request our free booklet, The Beast of Revelation: Myth, Metaphor, or Soon-Coming Reality?).
Though the Roman Empire fell in 476ad, it was restored and reborn under Justinian in 554, with the help of the church in Rome. This church is the harlot "woman sitting on the scarlet beast," which sits on seven mountains, as described in Revelation 17:3, 9. Further revivals of the Holy Roman Empire followed Justinian: Charlemagne in 800ad, Otto the Great in 962ad, and Charles V of the Hapsburg dynasty, in 1530ad The fifth revival was the empire Napoleon Bonaparte established in 1804–1814. The sixth was the menacing Axis power that devastated Poland and much of Europe.
But that leaves one more European dictator to come—the seventh. "There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time" (Revelation 17:10). This final revival of the Roman beast—a coming European mega-power—will be a group of ten major nations, all giving their allegiance and power to one "king" (vv. 12–13). Poland is right to be wary of a resurgent Germany, as it—and other countries in Europe—face being swallowed up by that system. Poland itself may become one of the ten "kings" from the eastern leg of the empire (Daniel 2:33), coerced or even deceived by a powerful, charismatic Hitler-like European leader to submit to this Empire, or face the same deadly consequences as September 1, 1939.
But that is not all. Bible prophecy also indicates another powerful army will arise in the East—most likely including Russia—that will compete with Europe for dominance of the world. The prophet Daniel predicts a great war between these two giants. After the European "king" establishes control of Jerusalem, notice what will happen next: "…news from the east and the north shall trouble him [the king of the North]; therefore he shall go out with great fury to destroy and annihilate many" (Daniel 11:44). A 200-million-strong monolith from the East will confront the German-led European power, most likely including an exchange of powerful nuclear weapons. This onslaught will cause great suffering around the globe to combatant and noncombatant nations alike. Billions of people will be killed—one-third of the globe's population according to the Bible—in this battle described as the "second woe" of Revelation 9. Jesus said that except for His intervention, this horrific war would erase all life on earth (Matthew 24:22).
As Poland is wary of the war-like tendencies of both Germany and Russia, it has actively sought a new, powerful ally since the end of the Cold War. On March of 1990, only months after the fall of Communist rule in Poland, the newly freed nation began its drive for membership in NATO. In 1997, it was officially invited to begin the process towards NATO membership.
In August of 2008, Poland and the United States signed preliminary agreements to build a defense system of ten ballistic missile sites in Poland. America's stated reason for installing these interceptor missiles is to protect itself from attacks from Iran and North Korea. In return, Poland obtained the promise of short-range Patriot missiles for its own air defense, and the assurance that the U.S. would come to Poland's assistance in case of an attack. The plan has angered the Russians, who have threatened to install their own missiles near Poland's border ("Russia to station missiles near Poland," Reuters, November 5, 2008). But it has also annoyed Germany because Poland did not consult the EU.
Why does Poland today have such a strong desire to position itself with the U.S., even against angry opposition by its neighbors? The key is remembering Poland's past. Poland's memory of its treatment by belligerent neighbors for centuries is only too vivid and raw. But can Poland really ensure its safety and protection by aligning itself with America? Political alliances can shift. The Obama administration has already placed missile defense systems in Poland on a lower priority than other pressing concerns in Iran and Afghanistan—and may make concessions to the Russians in response for Russian help in the Middle East. Poland has already warily sensed the shift, and has tried to hedge its political bets by improving relations with Russia.
But even if Poland and the U.S. develop further security ties, will that save Poland? Will that ensure there is never another attack like September 1, 1939? Can Poland depend on the commitments and military alliances it is making with the Western powers? Can it trust in America?
The long-term answer is: "No!" Bible prophecy explains that the power and prestige of the U.S.—and the other Western nations—will at first falter, and then collapse altogether, as a result of its national sins. Inevitably, the time will come when the U.S. and other Western nations will not be able to defend Poland and other Eastern European countries. Why? Because they will not be able to defend themselves.
The God of the Bible forewarns that modern Israel—made up of the modern English-speaking and Western European nations, including the U.S.—will be overtaken by this European Beast power (for more information on the identity of modern Israelite nations, please request our free booklet, The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy). The prophet Ezekiel was instructed to warn Israel of a coming captivity—long after the Assyrian captivity had taken place. This could only signal that there is a coming dual application yet to occur—and Bible prophecy indeed shows that this time is yet ahead.
Why will this prophesied calamity come? Because of modern Israel's refusal to repent of rebellion and disobedience towards God. "Then He said to me: 'Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them… But the house of Israel will not listen to you, because they will not listen to Me; for all the house of Israel are impudent and hard-hearted'" (Ezekiel 3:4, 7). Because of our nations' sins, our national prosperity and military dominance is going to come to an abrupt end. God will use Poland's long-time foe, the ancient nation of Assyria (modern Germany), to humble the modern descendants of Israel through warfare and captivity (Isaiah 10:5–6). Only after a time of trouble unlike any the world has ever seen will the Israelite nations return from captivity, weeping and sorrowing for their sins (Jeremiah 30). God warns the American and British-descended peoples to repent of their backsliding ways and return to God! As the prophet Jeremiah recorded, God says, "I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you… Because My people have forgotten Me" (Jeremiah 18:11, 15).
Western nations have enjoyed prosperity and military dominance in the 20th century because of God's promises to Abraham—not because of any supposed goodness or strength. But God is taking those blessings away. Moses warned ancient Israel, "How could one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had surrendered them?" (Deuteronomy 32:30). Modern Israelite nations increasingly do not realize how much they need God's powerful helping hand, and how powerless they will be to help other nations in the coming calamity.
But is there good news of future peace after these prophesied events? The answer is: "Yes!" After the prophesied Great Tribulation and Day of the Lord, Jesus Christ will usher in a new age when nations will no longer terrorize other nations, nor betray them for political expedience. When Jesus Christ returns and puts His glorified saints over the nations, their governance will be a blessing, not a curse (Revelation 20:6).
God will bring His people back from their captivity, as Isaiah prophesies: "It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left, from Assyria (modern Germany) and Egypt, from Pathros and Cush, from Elam and Shinar, from Hamath and the islands of the sea" (Isaiah 11:11). Isaiah further prophesies: "There will be a highway for the remnant of His people who will be left from Assyria, as it was for Israel in the day that he came up from the land of Egypt" (v. 16).
God will bring repentant, formerly aggressive nations into a peaceful community under the rule of Jesus Christ. "In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria… and the Egyptians will serve with the Assyrians" (Isaiah 19:23). Angry, despotic nations will no longer threaten smaller nations, for "the wolf" (large, devouring nations symbolically) shall dwell with the "lamb" (small nations unable to protect themselves) in peace. "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).
September 1, 2009 marks the anniversary of an evil scheme, hatched in the minds of men influenced by mankind's supreme adversary, Satan the devil. We should be sobered that God's word tells us there will be one more dark time of global warfare and mass death before the coming millennial reign of Jesus Christ. But those who heed the warning, looking forward to Christ's intervention for the good of all humanity—those who direct their faith, trust and obedience toward God, rather than toward men, machines or military alliances—will be protected by a loving and powerful God (Revelation 12:14–16).