Few people know that among all the countries occupied by the Third Reich during the Second World War (1939-1945) only in Poland was any kind of help to a person of Jewish faith or origin punishable by death. This penalty was widely announced by the occupying authorities. What is more, this punishment was quite often imposed not only on the rescuer, but also on his/her family, often on neighbors, and on whole towns or villages. The Germans believed in collective responsibility, trying to eliminate as many Poles, and Slavic people, as possible, making them the most terrorized populations after the Jews and the Gypsies. Close to three million Polish Christians lost their lives by execution, torture, starvation, or overwork in more than 2,000 prisons, forced labor and concentration camps.
The occupiers persecuted not only the intelligentsia, (educated classes) and opponents of the new regime but all potential opposition leaders, including simple peasants. Millions were deported to Germany for forced labor. Millions of Jews and Poles were expelled from the Western provinces, which had been annexed to the Third Reich, a territory that included the site of the death camp Auschwitz, where approximately 80,000 Poles were killed. Military losses during the September 1939 campaign amounted to 66,300 Polish soldiers killed, more than 133,700 wounded and 587,000 captured. Between the German invasion of Poland on September 1, through October 2, 1939 the Polish Army destroyed approximately 33% of German armored cars and 25% of German air power. During that time the Germans had to use more than twice the amount of ammunition, artillery shells and bombs than they did eight months later when they defeated French and British forces within six weeks. See: Iwo Cyprian Pogonowski, Poland: An Illustrated History. New York, Hippocrene Books, 2000.