The Polish Corridor

Political tensions between Germany and Poland grew in the months that led up to the German invasion of Poland. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the area containing Westerplatte and the Free City of Danzig.

Thanks to the creation of the ‘Polish corridor’ by the League of Nations which both provided Poland with a land route to the Baltic Sea and Hitler with a motive to attack due to the corridor cutting off a chunk of Germany from the rest of the country, this area was always going to prove to be a flashpoint.

Danzig itself had increasingly become pro-German in its political leaning, thanked in part to the high number of ethnic Germans in the area. Although nominally a ‘free city’ – within its borders it contained a small, specific section of Polish territory (similar to how an embassy works in a foreign country) – the Polish Post Office, built in 1920 and consisting of several buildings. 

It was of particular importance as unlike other Polish owned buildings in Danzig, the Post Office had a direct communication link with Poland.

A 1930's era German postcard showing a map of the 'Polish corridor.' It clearly show how it separates a large part of Germany - East Prussia - from the rest of the country.

Polish preparations

As the risk of hostilities grew, the Polish government took measures to increase security at the Post Office. They dispatched the experience combat engineer, Sublieutenant Konrad Guderski to oversee the strengthening of the defences, which included removing nearby tress, fortifying the entrance, and organising the staff and volunteers. Ten additional NCO officers were also dispatched to the Post Office to assist.

It is important to note that the Post Office workers all belonged to the Polish Rifle Association. They were adept at using guns as well as being trained in subversive activities and would regularly return to Poland to undertake various combat related training courses. They were trained and fully capable of acting in a military capacity should the situation arise.

By the 1st of September 1939, the Post Office complex now contained 56 people. Guderski, 42 local Polish employees including 37-year-old Alfons Flisykowski, who was designated second in command, the ten NCO’s who had arrived from Gydnia and Bydgoszcz and the building caretaker who lived on site (along with his wife and ten-year old daughter). They were equipped with an assortment of weapons including three Browning wz.1928 light machine guns, 40 other various weapons and several chests full of hand grenades. They anticipated having to hold out for six hours before reinforcements would arrive from Armia Pomorze.

The main entrance to the Polish Post Office in Danzig.

German plans

The Germans planned to storm the building from two separate directions, using a diversionary attack at the front while the main assaulting force would smash their way through a wall from the side. The pro-German Danzig police also formulated their own plans.

Lieutenant Konrad Guderski

The assault begins

As the German shelling of Westerplatte by the battleship Schleswig-Holstein began close by, the Germans in Danzig began their attack. Having cut the phone and electricity lines at 04:00 to further isolate the defenders, the Danzig police attacked, led by Polizeioberst Willi Bethke, and supported by local SA formations, SS units SS Wachsturmbann "E" and SS Heimwehr Danzig and three police ADGZ heavy armoured cars.

Close by, high-ranking Nazi, Albert Forster, head of the local Nazi party and journalists from Reichssender Danzig (the state radio station), Ufa-Tonwache (a newsreel company) and several journalists from local newspapers, watched the proceedings unfold.

SS Heimwehr-Danzig and members of the SA begin their assault on the Polish Post Office.

First attempt

The initial German attack struggled to make headway, facing stiff resistance from the Polish defenders. Some Germans did briefly break into the building, suffering two dead and seven wounded but could not hold their position. A second German attack was also repelled although the Polish commander, Guderski, died when caught in the blast of his own grenade – thrown while repelling the Germans. With the ground assaults faltering under the fierce Polish resistance, the Germans considered simply demolishing the buildings with high explosive instead, although this idea was ultimately vetoed.

German soldiers shelter behind one of the ADGZ armoured cars during the battle.


Judging that they needed heavier firepower, the Germans were reinforced with two 75mm artillery guns and a powerful 105mm howitzer. But even with this additional firepower, they still could not break through the Polish defences. The Germans then tried bringing in mortar support from their forces based at Westerplatte, but the distance made the supporting fire inaccurate and more of a threat to the German forces, so it was called off.

Realising that the frontal attacks weren’t working at 15:00, the Germans declared a two-hour ceasefire in the hope that the Polish forces could be simply persuaded to surrender (they didn’t), whilst also using the time to dig under the walls of the building and place a 600kg explosive device. This device went off promptly at the end of the cease-fire, destroying part of the wall and the Germans attacked again, using their artillery support to provide cover. This time they were successful, and they managed to breach the Polish defences and capture most of the building.

Smoke from the demolition charge floods the street.


The Poles, now only occupying the basement areas, still refused to surrender.

The frustrated Germans then resorted to pumping a rail car’s worth of gasoline into the basement and setting it alight in an attempt to get the stubborn Poles to throw in the towel. After three Polish fighters were burnt alive, the rest finally decided to surrender – understandable given the circumstances. However, the first Pole to leave the building under a white flag – Dr. Jan Michoń – was shot down in cold blood and the second, commandant Józef Wąsik, was burnt alive. 

This brutal treatment of the Polish prisoners contrasted sharply with the German behaviour at nearby Westerplatte.

Polish prisoners being marched away at the end of the battle.

Stefan Tompson


The remaining Polish defenders were allowed to surrender without further incident. Sixteen wounded were taken to a nearby Gestapo hospital (where six eventually died). Another 28 prisoners were imprisoned and tortured. Tragically, the ten-year-old daughter of the caretaker was also a casualty, having been badly burnt, she died of her wounds shortly afterwards. Six Poles managed to escape German clutches (although two were recaptured shortly afterwards). The Germans suffered around 10 dead and double that number wounded.

German stretcher bearers carrying Polish wounded.


Sadly, the gallant Polish defenders would shortly find themselves on trial being accused of being ‘illegal combatants’ by their German captors. On 8 September, the first group of 28 were all sentenced to death with a second group of 10 – having recovered from their wounds – receiving the same sentence on 30 September.

This harsh sentence was demanded by the prosecutor Hans-Werner Giesecke and presiding judge Kurt Bode.  It appears that not officially being members of the Polish military was enough to seal their fate – General Hans Günther von Kluge himself signed off on the death sentences, and these were sadly carried out by firing squad on 5 October 1939 with the victims then buried in a mass grave in Zaspa cemetary. The firing squad was overseen by a SS-Sturmbannführer Max Pauly who later rose to notoriety as commandant of the Neuengamme concentration camp – and was executed for his crimes after the war.

Of all those who took part in the defence of the Post Office, only the four escapees survived, having avoided capture, and sharing the same fate as their colleagues.

All the families of those involved in the defence of the Post Office suffered persecution and eleven Polish railways workers at Tczew were also executed for preventing the Germans from using an armoured train in a sneak attack. It appears that even at this early stage of the war, the Germans were drawing a very distinct line between those who they considered ‘official combatants’ and those they did not.

The damage  to the Post Office can be seen clearly in this picture.


For the Polish people, the defence of the Post Office is held as an example of Polish bravery against overwhelming odds and in 1979, the Defenders of the Polish Post Office monument was unveiled in Gdańsk (formerly Danzig).

As for the Germans, Giesecke and Bode were never held responsible for role in the death sentence being handed out, escaping accountability due to being ‘denazified’ after the war and being able to carry on their careers as lawyers. They both died of natural causes in the 1970’s. In 1997/98, the German Court in Lübeck finally reversed the legal decision from 1939, deciding that the presiding judge at the time – Bode – was negligent in his duties, and acquitted the defenders posthumously.

It is important to recognise that a German author – Dieter Schenk – was a major factor in this injustice finally being recognised and corrected by a modern court. He had published a monograph on the Defence of the Post Office and referred to the execution as judicial murder. Schenk also highlighted that the Danzig Police forces – an officially civilian force - taking part in the battle, meant that a military court marital was not appropriate in this situation - the defenders should have been tried under the Free City of Danzig’s penal law – which had no death penalty.

The present day memorial in Gdańsk (formerly Danzig) commemorating the actions of the Polish Post Office workers.