In Defence of Katowice

11 May 2020
It's really time we all stood up for Katowice. Long the butt of jokes across the country and even throughout this guide until the city's renaissance in recent years, it was the butt end of a rifle for Silesia during World War II, with Katowice taking it in the chest. One of Poland’s youngest metropolises, lacking a cache of cultural treasures, Katowice was essentially left to the wolves when war broke out, as the Polish Army back-peddled to sure up their positions around Kraków. While the shelling of Westerplatte on September 1st, 1939 is recognised as the first engagement of the Second World War, what few people realise is that Hitler actually started that script here in Silesia a day earlier. Dressing his SS officers as Polish soldiers, Hitler staged a mock attack on Gliwice’s radio tower which lay just inside the eastern border of Germany at the time. International journalists were rushed to the scene and instructed to be outraged when they saw dead Dachau concentration camps victims strewn about in Nazi uniforms, giving the deranged Fuehrer justification for his invasion of Poland the next morning. As the Schleswig- Holstein fired artillery at fortifications outside Gdansk, Nazi troops were already advancing into Silesia, bearing down from the north and south in a well-orchestrated attack. To avoid entrapment in the region, General Szylling - commander of the Kraków army - retreated east on September 2nd, leaving the defence of Katowice to a ragtag team of volunteer citizens: haggard partisans vetted in the Silesian Uprisings twenty years earlier and pubescent Polish boy and girl scouts. One of the largest organisations in the country in 1939, the scouts valiantly came to the defence of Poland, making them the face of Nazi resistance.

Dispatching themselves to the highest points in the city, the scouts set up critical defence posts from which to await the Germans and rain hellfire upon them. As the front ranks of German General Neuling’s army approached Katowice from the south on September 3rd, they were met with a spirited resistance before even reaching Kościuszko Park. Stymied by the rifle-wielding upstarts, the German troops spent the night mending their egos until the morning. Upon the dawn of September 4th, the scene had shifted and a steady engagement of gunfire carried on around Plac Wolności with German troops being repelled from defensive positions on nearby Gliwicka and Mikołowska streets. A noble and tenacious effort it was, however the tide soon turned on the ill-equipped, inexperienced and hopelessly outnumbered scouts. Camping outside the centre seemed to have only refreshed the enemy, redoubling their ranks and munitions, while the trembling scouts were exhausted, cold and hungry atop their makeshift skyline foxholes. First fell Plac Wolności. Then fell the Rynek. In fact by noon on September 4th almost all of Poland’s underground resistance had been rounded up and executed en masse. Only the parachute tower in Kościuszko Park remained as the final outpost of Katowice’s independence. Exchanging fire with German troops into the evening of September 4th, the tower was finally destroyed when the foul-playing Germans used an antitank gun to obliterate the whippersnappers. The tower that stands in the park today is a 35 metre reconstruction of the original 50 metre structure and the only parachute tower remaining in Poland. The scouts’ heroic defence of the position, suicidal as it was, grew so legendary it became the popular subject of poems and songs. Today a granite obelisk commemorates their brief but noble ascent into adulthood atop that fabled tower, while another monument stands at Plac Obrońców Katowic.


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