The Gleiwitz Incident

You probably know the Gliwice radio station for many reasons. First of all, it is a world record holder - the transmitting mast constructed by the Lorenz AG company from Berlin in the period from May 20 to October 9, 1935, is 111 m high, which makes it the tallest wooden structure in the world to this day. Secondly, you may have heard about the “Gleiwitz incident”, which is probably the largest German subversive action carried out in the border areas of Upper Silesia, aimed at blaming Poland for starting an armed conflict. It took place on August 31, 1939, and was one of several dozen actions that took place here at that time. First things first.

Not a single steel nail was used to build the transmitting mast. The object was made of unimpregnated larch wood, and 16,100 brass screws were used to connect the elements. Theoretically, this would mean that the tower still has about fifteen years of operation remaining. Theoretically.

The 111.1 m high paraboloid tower has four platforms, a 20x20 m base, a 213x213 cm upper platform, and 365 rungs lead to the top. The radio station was entered in the register of monuments under the number A/694/64 of February 7, 1964, and October 8, 2012.

Before the war, Gliwice - at that time actually Gleiwitz - was located on German lands, in the border area. In the interwar period, Upper Silesia was constantly in a problematic position. Endless disputes over influences, the separation of cities by state borders, endless customs controls during ordinary, daily trips by tram - as a consequence, of course, simple citizens suffered the most. Let's add the endless crossfire of propaganda. The first radio station in Gliwice was not the building you see in the pictures. It was built on today's Radiowa Street in 1925 and houses a hospital today. It was to extend the range of the Wrocław (then: Breslau) radio station, Schlesische Funkstunde, to the eastern territories of the German part of Silesia, as well as to the western part of Poland. The first radio station housed a concert hall, microphone studios, and an editorial office. The Telefunken transmitter had a power of 1.5 kilowatts and operated from November 15, 1925, on a wave of 253.4 m. After three years of operation, it was replaced by a five-kilowatt transmitter that operated until the end of 1935. In the 1930s, most of the programs were imported from Wrocław, to reduce costs, but the daily program also included their own productions. The new transmitting radio station was launched on December 22, 1935. There was a Lorenz transmitter with a power of 8kW, transmitting on the frequency of 1231kHz (wavelength 243.7m). Two side residential buildings with the radio station formed a whole U-shaped complex. Thanks to the wooden structure, only one tower with a vertical antenna in the middle was enough to avoid the phenomenon known as the Faraday cage. Vertical antennas showed better emission values than horizontal ones.

About fifteen broadcasting towers over 100m high were built in Germany over the course of five years, from 1930 to 1935. It is worth remembering how important a propaganda tool, according to Goebbels, was radio. The highest of the towers - Sendeturm Mühlacker - was 190 meters high. The tower in Wrocław measured 140m. These structures are long gone.

 On August 31, 1939, the so-called “Gleiwitz incident” took place, i.e. a German subversive action prepared by the Nazi security service and the security police, aimed at blaming Poles for starting hostilities and place Germany in the role of the aggrieved party. The immediate commander of the actions was SS-Sturmbannführer Alfred Helmut Naujocks, SD officer, and the initiator of the action was none other than Reinhard Heydrich, then the head of the security service (SD) and the security police (Sicherheitspolizei). He prepared the entire plan of action in just three weeks, on the direct orders of Adolf Hitler. The seven attackers were disguised as pro-Polish Silesian insurgents. In the afternoon, Heydrich launched the action with the slogan "Großmutter gestorben" - "Grandma died". Then the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, personally gave the order to remove the security from the radio station. At 6 p.m., two policemen appeared on the spot, the first of whom let the attackers through the gate, and the second blended in with the crew and controlled their behavior.

The attackers, disguised as Silesian insurgents, entered through the back door and got to the transmitter room. They found three working technicians and the aforementioned policeman, listening to the evening news rebroadcast from Wrocław at 8 pm. Arrests were made in the basement, but there was no way to broadcast a message, as there were no microphones in the new radio station. According to the idea of the entire radio station, they were simply not needed there. The intimidated crew gave the attackers a so-called storm microphone, used to broadcast urgent messages about impending storms, broadcast several times a year. In this way, citizens were warned that emissions would be interrupted due to weather conditions.

From the several-minute message in Polish, only 9 words of the original version reached the audience: “Attention, this is Gliwice. The radio station is in Polish hands,” followed by a hitherto unexplained silence. The whole action was, in fact, one great embarrassment of the organizers. Prepared for each scenario, Hitler ordered to prepare in advance a long message about "Polish provocations", which on the same night (exactly at 10:30 pm) was broadcast by all transmitters of the national radio station Deutschlandsender. Hitler, being sure that the message about the alleged violations of the borders by the Poles would also reach France and Great Britain, thus became convinced that these countries were passive in the face of the German attack on Poland. However, on September 3, 1939, Great Britain declared war on the Third Reich, thereby rejecting the manipulations of Nazi Germany.

The Gleiwitz incident, although it was one of the largest subversive actions carried out in Upper Silesia in August 1939, probably did not bear any code name. There are no traces of it left in writing. It was one of the elements of the so-called Operation Himmler, consisting of a series of subversive operations. Adolf Hitler personally referred to the Gleiwitz incident when speaking in the Reichstag on September 1, 1939: “That night, for the first time, Polish soldiers of the regular armed forces opened fire on our territory. From 4:45 am we respond with fire."

Little is known about the attackers themselves. They wore civilian clothes and pretended to be Silesian insurgents who fought in working clothes during all three Silesian uprisings. The insurgents did not wear official uniforms, as such a form of support from Poland could be treated as a declaration of war on Germany. Although there are theories that the attackers were wearing "Polish uniforms", this is most likely a translation error or a mental shortcut. How in a city besieged by German soldiers, ready to attack, would seven people go unnoticed in Polish uniforms? The plan to attack Poland even postponed the school year, which always started on August 15 in Germany. The army was stationed in most schools... In fact, Polish uniforms were used on the German side of the border, among others, during the provocation in Hochlinden (today's Stodoły, a district of Rybnik) and during the attack on the forester's lodge in Pitschen, which is today's Byczyna near Kluczbork. The attackers were probably Polish-speaking SS men who returned to the hotel located in the city center after completing the task. At least three of them, including the commander Alfred Naujocks, who was responsible for reading the radio message, survived the war and testified at the Nuremberg trials. Perhaps the theories about Polish uniforms are also the aftermath of a completely different tragedy - Franciszek Honiok, a German citizen of Polish nationality, arrested the day before the provocation, drugged and shot dead, was brutally murdered in the building of the radio station. His corpse was to become evidence of the aggression of the Polish side. Honiok had his own documents with him and he was wearing civilian clothes. At the site of the incident, the Germans also left the bodies of murdered German prisoners, probably transported for this purpose from KL Sachsenhausen, wearing Polish uniforms.

Although many facts about the Gleiwitz incident were already known during the Nuremberg trials, its course raises many questions to this day, to which we will probably never know the answers. It is worth referring to the works of Alfred Spieß and Heiner Lichtenstein, as well as watching the films "Der Fall Gleiwitz" and "Operation Himmler".