Poland in World War II

Auschwitz Concentration Camp

Auschwitz concentration camp was a network of German Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II. It consisted of Auschwitz I (the original camp), Auschwitz II–Birkenau (a combination concentration/extermination camp), Auschwitz III–Monowitz (a labor camp to staff an IG Farben factory), and 45 satellite camps. Ausch ...
Founded: 1940 | Location: Oświęcim, Poland

Warsaw Uprising Museum

The Warsaw Uprising Museum is dedicated to the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The institution of the Museum was established in 1983, but no construction work took place for many years, and the museum finally opened on July 31, 2004, marking the 60th anniversary of the Uprising. The Museum sponsors research into the history of the Uprising, and the history and possessions of the Polish Underground State. It collects and maintai ...
Founded: 1983 | Location: Warsaw, Poland

Westerplatte

Westerplatte is a long peninsula at the entrance to the harbour. When Gdańsk became a free city after WWI, Poland was permitted to maintain a post at this location, at the tip of the port zone. It served both trading and military purposes and had a garrison to protect it. WWII broke out here at dawn on 1 September 1939, when the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein began shelling the Polish guard post. The garrison, ...
Founded: 1966 | Location: Gdańsk, Poland

Guardhouse No 1

WWII broke out here at dawn on 1 September 1939, when the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein began shelling the Polish guard post. The garrison, which numbered just 182 men, held out for seven days before surrendering. The site is now a memorial, with some of the ruins left as they were after the bombardment. The surviving Guardhouse No 1 houses a small exhibition related to the event, including a model of the battle la ...
Founded: | Location: Gdańsk, Poland

Wolf's Lair

Wolf"s Lair (Wolfsschanze) was Adolf Hitler"s first Eastern Front military headquarters in World War II. The complex, which would become one of several Führer Headquarters located in various parts of occupied Europe, was built for the start of Operation Barbarossa - the invasion of the Soviet Union - in 1941. It was constructed by Organisation Todt. The top secret, high security site was in the Masurian wo ...
Founded: 1941 | Location: Kętrzyn, Poland

Majdanek Concentration Camp

Majdanek, or KL Lublin, was a German concentration and extermination camp on the outskirts of the city of Lublin during the German occupation of Poland in World War II. Although initially purposed for forced labor rather than extermination, the camp was used to kill people on an industrial scale during Operation Reinhard, the German plan to murder all Jews within their own General Government territory of P ...
Founded: 1941 | Location: Lublin, Poland

Plaszów Concentration Camp

The Płaszów was a Nazi German labour and concentration camp built by the SS soon after the German invasion of Poland and the subsequent creation of the semi-colonial district of General Government across occupied south-central Poland. Originally intended as a forced labour camp, the Płaszów concentration camp, was erected on the grounds of two former Jewish cemeteries (including the New Jewish Cemetery) and populated ...
Founded: 1943 | Location: Kraków, Poland

Naval Museum

The Naval Museum of Gdynia is focused on the history of the Polish navy history. The museum contains a huge collection (20.000 pieces) of weapons used by the Polish navy. Show-piece is currently the ORP Blyskawica, a Polish destroyer used in the Second World War.
Founded: | Location: Gdynia, Poland

Chelmno Concentration Camp

Chelmno was the first Nazi camp where gassing was used to murder Jews on a large scale. It was located 47 kilometres to the west of the Lodz ghetto where many of the victims came from. A total of 320,000 people were murdered at Chelmno. These included Jews from the Lodz ghetto and throughout the area, in addition to 5,000 Roma who had been previously sent to the ghetto. Chelmno consisted of two sites, just two and a hal ...
Founded: 1941 | Location: Chełmno, Poland

Katyn Massacre Site

The Katyn massacre was a series of mass executions of Polish nationals carried out by the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), the Soviet secret police, in April and May 1940. Originally the term 'Katyn massacre', also known as the Katyn Forest massacre, referred to the massacre at Katyn Forest, which was discovered first and was the largest execution of this type. The massacre was prompted by NKVD chief La ...
Founded: 1940 | Location: Smolensk, Russia

Belzec Extermination Camp

Bełżec was a Nazi German extermination camp built by the SS for the purpose of implementing the secretive Operation Reinhard, the plan to eradicate Polish Jewry, a key part of the 'Final Solution' which entailed the murder of some 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. The camp operated from 17 March 1942 to the end of December 1942. The burning of exhumed corpses on five open-air grids and bone crush ...
Founded: 1942 | Location: Bełżec, Poland

ORP Blyskawica

ORP Błyskawica is a Grom-class destroyer which served in the Polish Navy during World War II and is the only ship of the Polish Navy awarded the Virtuti Militari medal. It is preserved as a museum ship in Gdynia, the oldest preserved destroyer in the world. It was the second of two Grom-class destroyers, built for the Polish Navy by J. Samuel White, Cowes in 1935–37. The name means Lightning. The two Groms were ...
Founded: 1935-1937 | Location: Gdynia, Poland

Stutthof Concentration Camp

Stutthof was a German Nazi concentration camp completed on September 2 1939 in a secluded, wet, and wooded area west of the small town of Sztutowo located in the former territory of the Free City of Danzig. It was the first camp built outside of 1937 German borders and the last camp liberated by the Allies, on May 9, 1945. More than 85,000 victims died in the camp out of as many as 110,000 people deported there. Soviet fo ...
Founded: 1939 | Location: Sztutowo, Poland

Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp

Gross-Rosen concentration camp was a German network of Nazi concentration camps built and operated during World War II. The main camp was located in the village of Gross-Rosen not far from the border with occupied Poland, in the modern-day Rogoźnica, Poland. At its peak activity in 1944, the Gross-Rosen complex had up to 100 subcamps located in eastern Germany, Czechoslovakia, and on the territory of occupied Pola ...
Founded: 1940 | Location: Rogoźnica, Poland

Potulice Concentration Camp

The Potulice concentration camp was established by Nazi Germany during World War II. It is estimated that a total of 25,000 prisoners went through the camp during its operation before the end of 1944. It became notable also as a detention centre for Polish children that underwent the Nazi experiment in forced Germanisation. Initially the Potulice camp was one of numerous transit points for Poles expelled by the German au ...
Founded: 1941 | Location: Potulice, Poland

Gestapo Headquarters

During the World War II Gestapo Headquarters in Gdánsk was located to this building. It’s currently occupied by the Internal Security Services, but above the main entrance it’s still possible to make out lettering feebly disguised with paint: ‘Polizei Prasidium’.
Founded: | Location: Gdańsk, Poland

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Königstein Fortress

Königstein Fortress is located on the left bank of the River Elbe. It is one of the largest hilltop fortifications in Europe. The 9.5 hectare rock plateau rises 240 metres above the Elbe and has over 50 buildings, some over 400 years old, that bear witness to the military and civilian life in the fortress. The rampart run of the fortress is 1,800 metres long with walls up to 42 metres high and steep sandstone faces. In the centre of the site is a 152.5 metre deep well, which is the deepest in Saxony and second deepest well in Europe.

The fortress, which for centuries was used as a state prison, is still intact and is now one of Saxony's foremost tourist attractions, with 700,000 visitors per year.

By far the oldest written record of a castle on the Königstein is found in a deed by King Wenceslas I of Bohemia dating to the year 1233. It is probable that there had been a stone castle on the Königstein as early as the 12th century. The oldest surviving structure today is the castle chapel built at the turn of the 13th century. In the years 1563 to 1569 the 152.5 metre deep well was bored into the rock within the castle - until that point the garrison of the Königstein had to obtain water from cisterns and by collecting rainwater.

Between 1589 and 1591/97 Prince-Elector Christian I of Saxony and his successor had the castle developed into the strongest fortification in Saxony. The hill was now surrounded with high walls. Buildings were erected, including the Gatehouse (Torhaus), the Streichwehr, the Old Barracks (Alte Kaserne), the Christiansburg (Friedrichsburg) and the Old Armoury (Altes Zeughaus). The second construction period followed from 1619 to 1681, during which the John George Bastion was built. The third construction period is seen as the time from 1694 to 1756, which included the expansion of the Old Barracks. From 1722 to 1725, at the behest of August the Strong, coopers under Böttger built the enormous Königstein Wine Barrel, the greatest wine barrel in the world, in the cellar of the Magdalenenburg which had a capacity of 249,838 litres. It cost 8,230 thalers, 18 groschen and 9 pfennigs. The butt, which was once completely filled with country wine from the Meißen vineyards, had to be removed again in 1818 due to its poor condition. Because of Böttger, Königstein Fortress is also the site where European porcelain started.

Even after the expansion during those periods of time there continued to be modifications and additions on the extensive plateau. The Treasury (Schatzhaus) was built from 1854 to 1855. After the fortress had been incorporated in 1871 into the fortification system of the new German Empire, battery ramparts were constructed from 1870 to 1895 with eight firing points, that were to have provided all-round defence for the fortress in case of an attack that, in the event, never came. This was at this time that the last major building work was done on the fortress.

Because Königstein Fortress was regarded as unconquerable, the Saxon monarchs retreated to it from Wittenberg and later Dresden during times of crisis and also deposited the state treasure and many works of art from the famous Zwinger here; it was also used as a country retreat due to its lovely surroundings.

The fortress played an important role in the History of Saxony, albeit less as a result of military action. The Saxon Dukes and Prince-Electors used the fortress primarily as a secure refuge during times of war, as a hunting lodge and maison de plaisance, but also as a dreaded state prison. Its actual military significance was rather marginal.

Since 1955 the fortress has been an open-air, military history museum of high touristic value.