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Few people remember it was on Polish soil that the first shots in World War II were fired. It was September 1939. On September 3, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. The United States did not.

President Roosevent during a 'fireside chat.'
courtesy: NARA

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke to the American people in one of his famous fireside chats.

My countrymen and my friends. Tonight my single duty is to speak to the whole of America. Until 4:30 this morning, I had hoped against hope that some miracle would prevent a devastating war in Europe and bring to an end the invasion of Poland by Germany.

Let no man or woman thoughtlessly or falsely talk of America sending its armies to European fields. At this moment there is being prepared a proclamation of American neutrality. This would have been done even if there had been no neutrality statute on the books, for this proclamation is in accordance with international law and in accordance with American policy.

Within a month, Poland had been brutally occupied, not just by Hitler's Germany, but also by its neighbour to the east - Stalin's Soviet Union. The Polish government re-assembled in London to be joined by more than 200,000 pilots and soldiers who were to serve under Allied command. Its aim: to defeat the Nazis and return to Poland as its legitimate rulers.

Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill praised the Polish resistance saying, "I've seen your pilots, who have by their prowess, played a glorious part in the repulse of the German air hordes."

In Poland itself, Europe's largest resistance movement was being formed. At its peak, the so-called 'Home Army' had some 10,000 trained soldiers, an intelligence network and other clandestine organisations - some 350,000 members in all. Public support for the underground was overwhelming, as the inhuman behaviour of the German occupiers grew bolder by the day.

"The atrocities committed by Hitler upon the Poles," said Churchill, "the ravaging of their country, the scattering of their homes, the affronts to their religion, the enslavement of their manpower - exceed in severity and in scale the villainies perpetrated by Hitler in any other conquered land."


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