Monday, Mar. 31, 2003

Storming into Poland

Sept. 1, 1939

Hitler, by some reports, spent the week before the invasion confined to the Reich Chancellery, the opulent quarter-mile edifice he had built to symbolize Germany's might. During that time, he subsisted on a spartan diet of vegetables, buttered bread and his custom-brewed 1%-alcohol beer. He slept little, usually going to bed at sunrise.

The border fighting began under cover of night. By dawn the Polish city of Dirschau was under siege, and it was official: Germany had attacked its neighbor. At 10 a.m. Hitler finally emerged from his fortress. He was wearing a new suit specially tailored for the occasion; it was lighter gray than the regular army uniform, with shiny gold buttons, a swastika and the Iron Cross medal he had won in the previous World War. As more than 1 million troops flooded into Poland and began taking civilian prisoners, Hitler drove to the Reichstag to appear before the Parliament. "I myself am today, and will be from now on, nothing but the soldier of the German Reich," he said. "I shall not take off this uniform until we have achieved victory." Within two days Britain and France jumped to Poland's defense, and World War II was under way in Europe.