Bob Graham: World War II's first victim

Roundup: Talking About History

As the rays of early evening sun lingered over the giant wooden mast that protruded through the pine forest, two cars passed through the gates of the German radio station and stopped outside the three-storey transmission building.

In the following minutes, seven SS officers posing as Polish partisans, would carry out a simple act that would leave one man dead on the station steps – and provide Adolf Hitler with the excuse to invade Poland, plunging the world into six dark years of conflict.

The events that took place in the fading light of August 31, 1939 around Gliwice radio station – some four miles inside Germany, on the border with Poland – have largely been overlooked by historians. Even relatives of the dead man have only spoken of the incident in hushed, private family gatherings, preferring not to ask questions of authorities on either side.

And on Tuesday, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets the prime ministers of Russia and Poland in Gdansk (formerly Danzig) to commemorate the day 70 years ago when Hitler's tanks rolled across Poland's borders, little thought will be given to the place where it started – or the man who died there.

However, on Monday, in the manicured grounds of the radio station on the edge of the industrial city of Gliwice, which is now within Poland's borders, there will be a low-key commemoration and, for the first time, German and Polish historians will gather to discuss what took place.

The radio station, still dominated by the 111-ft high transmitting mast, was reopened as a museum in 2005. This week, its director, Andrzej Jarczewski, said: "Many people will have never known what took place here to start the entire war. It is not a moment easily remembered for many reasons.

"There are some who remember but have wanted to forget because they believe it brings a stain to the reputation of Poland. But the truth is it is not a moment to forget but to remember and to learn about the real events that started it all."

The audacity of the raid and the brazen manner in which it was exploited by Hitler is still astounding. It was shortly before 8pm that SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Alfred Naujocks and his elite six-man team drove into the radio station. In one of the cars was Franciszek Honiok, a 43-year-old unmarried Catholic farmer. He had been arrested by the SS in the village of Polomia on August 30, and ruthlessly selected as the person who would provide the ''proof'' of Polish aggression against Germany.

The Nazis charged up the steps and through the station's front door. They met no resistance from the guards and quickly overpowered the three engineers on duty.

In the hectic moments that followed, Naujocks fired several shots into the air and ordered the terrified staff to do as they were told.

One of the SS men, Karl Hornack, was a Polish speaker. He grabbed the main microphone and shouted: "Uwage! Tu Gliwice. Rozglosnia znajduje sie w rekach Polskich.''(Attention! This is Gliwice. The broadcasting station is in Polish hands.)...

... Details of the Gliwice raid first emerged during the Nuremberg trials, but it was not until 1958 that the full facts were revealed after the British writer Comer Clarke tracked down former SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Alfred Naujocks in Hamburg. Confronted by Clarke, Naujocks admitted: "Yes, I started it all. I don't think anyone will bother about me now." In the resulting article, he was identified as "The Man Who Started The Last War".

Naujocks, who died in 1960 and who never faced a war-crimes tribunal, disclosed how he had been summoned to the Berlin office of Reinhard Heydrich, the feared head of the German secret police.

"Heydrich told me 'Within a month we shall be at war with Poland. The Fuhrer is determined. But first we have to have something to go to war about. We've organised incidents in Danzig, along the East Prussian border with Poland, and along the German frontier. But there has to be something big and obvious'." ...

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