Katowice is the capital of the Silesian Voivodeship and the central city of the Upper Silesian metropolitan area in southern Poland.

It is the 11th most populous city in Poland, with the most populous urban area in the country and one of the most populous in the European Union.

Katowice before the Second World War.

A Brief History of Katowice (inyourpocket.com)

From dynasty to Second Republic

The Polish Silesian Piast dynasty ruled the area that would become Katowice until its extinction. The region was administered by the Kingdom of Bohemia under the Holy Roman Empire beginning in 1327. In 1526, it was passed to the Habsburg monarchy of Austria as part of the Bohemian Crown. Following the First Silesian War, Prussia seized control of most of Silesia in 1742.

The two subsequent Silesian Wars depopulated the area and destroyed the economy. Franz von Winckler purchased Katowice from Karl Friedrich Lehmann in 1838 and made it the headquarters of his estate in 1841.

Following the discovery of rich coal reserves in the area in the mid-18th century, Katowice grew into a village. Intensive industrialization transformed local mills and farms into industrial steelworks, mines, foundries, and artisan workshops in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Map of the City of Katowice drawn in 1938. The map includes main transport routes within the city.

Map of Greater Katowice | Urban Media Archive (lvivcenter.org)

The railway link to major European cities (Katowice gained connections to Berlin, Kraków, Vienna, and Warsaw, among others, between 1847 and 1848) aided economic and population growth. On 29th September 1858, the population grew sufficiently to warrant the construction of the first Lutheran church.

Because of the abundant mineral (especially coal) deposits in the area, the city thrived. The coal mining and steel industries, which boomed during the Industrial Revolution, were critical to city growth and prosperity. The city was primarily populated by Germans, Poles (including Silesians), and Jews.

The League of Nations organised the Upper Silesia plebiscite following the First World War as part of the Treaty of Versailles. Although Kattowitz proper voted 22,774 in favour of remaining in Germany and 3,900 in favour of Poland, it was attached to Poland because the larger district voted 66,119 in favour of Poland and 52,992 in favour of Germany. Katowice became a part of the Second Polish Republic after the Silesian Uprisings of 1918-21.

In 1924, the surrounding villages and towns were incorporated into Katowice, and the population increased to over 112,000; since then, the number of Poles has outnumbered the number of Germans - throughout the interwar period, the number of Germans has decreased (in 1925, they constituted 12% of Katowice's inhabitants, and in 1939, only 6%, while Poles constituted 93%). The population surpassed 134,000 at the end of the interwar period.

Katowice and the Polish part of Upper Silesia were linked with Gdynia and the Polish part of Pomerania via the Polish Corridor from 1926 to 1933.


At the time, Katowice was located near the Polish-German border. With Polish-German tensions rising, local Polish activists, primarily former Silesian insurgents and Polish Boy and Girl Scouts, began organising self-defence militia units by the end of August 1939. Jan Faks was the commander of the Polish militia as of 1st September.

The town was within the operational area of the Polish Kraków Army, but the Polish Army high command decided to abandon it, with government officials, police forces, regular army units, and some support formations, including elements of local militia, evacuating by 2 September and some militia retreating the next day.

The German forces advancing on the city included the 8th Panzer Division, General Ferdinand Neuling's 239 Infantry Division, and the 28th Jäger Division, as well as Grenzschutz Abschnittskommando units and German militia Freikorps (Freikorps Ebbinghaus units. On September 1, Katowice's Muchowiec Airport was bombed.

On September 1-2, the Battle of Mikołów took place near Katowice.

The defence

On 3 September, German forces appeared in the city's vicinity, and some brief, sporadic clashes broke out.

The German forces that took the city on 4th September only had to deal with a few remaining irregular Polish self-defence militia units that either refused to evacuate or were unaware of orders from the Polish army command.

As Nazi tanks approached, Katowice's boy and girl scouts dispatched themselves to the city's highest points, establishing critical defence posts from which to await the Germans and rain down hellfire. 

The front ranks of German General Neuling's army were met with a spirited resistance before reaching Kociuszko Park. Stunned by the determination of the rifle-wielding defenders, the German troops withdrew and spent the night licking their wounds until the next morning.

The scene had shifted by the morning of September 4th, and a steady exchange of gunfire continued around Plac Wolnoci, where the Silesian Insurgents' House on ul. Matejki had become the headquarters of Katowice's citizen defenders. German troops were also driven out of defensive positions on nearby Gliwicka and Mikoowska, as well as the city's iconic Cloud Scraper building (Drapacz Chmur) on ul. Werki I Wigury. 

This 14-story modernist marvel, completed five years earlier in 1934, was the pride of Katowice, and as the tallest building in town at 60 metres high, assumed the role of sniper station for the Polish scouts, whose sniping skills, especially from that distance with the armaments at their disposal, probably left a lot to be desired.

The tide quickly turned against the ill-equipped, inexperienced, and outnumbered scouts. Camping outside the centre seemed to have only refreshed the enemy, doubling their ranks and munitions, while the defiant scouts atop their makeshift skyline foxholes were exhausted, cold, and hungry. Plac Wolnoci and the Insurgents' House were the first to fall, followed by Cloud Scraper. Then came the fall of the Rynek, where the Silesian Theatre had become a brief insurgent stronghold.

German soldiers reported being shot at in a number of incidents, with approximately 15 people killed in the process of securing the city. The most notable incidents involved the defence of the Silesian Insurgent House (the Polish militia's headquarters) and a group of Polish Boy and Girl Scouts shooting German troops from the Parachute Tower Katowice.

The parachute tower in Kociuszko Park was the last remaining defensive outpost. After exchanging fire with German troops until the evening of 4th September, the 50-metre-high tower was finally destroyed when the Germans used an antitank gun to obliterate it. The scouts' valiant defence of the position, however doomed, became legendary, inspiring poems and songs.

Witness reports indicate that at least ten defenders were killed in the latter incident, and several defenders may have been taken prisoner. 

For the rest of the day, a small number of rear-guard units or stragglers from the Polish 23rd Infantry Division's 73rd Polish Infantry Regiment clashed with the Germans in Katowice, with several soldiers killed, wounded, or taken prisoner.  The German advance on the city began on 4th September, and they took control of the city within a few hours.


Following the battle, the Germans executed over 80 prisoners, all of whom were wearing insurgent or scouting uniforms. The total number of Polish casualties from fighting and subsequent executions on that day is estimated to be around 150. An unknown number of people were arrested, and some were executed in the weeks that followed. The German Einsatzkommando 1 was stationed in the city in the following weeks, and its units were responsible for many crimes against Poles committed in the region including the notorious Katowice massacre.

Many of the city's historical and iconic monuments were destroyed during the German occupation, most notably the Great Katowice Synagogue, which was burned to the ground on September 4, 1939. Following this, street names were changed, and strict rules were implemented. Furthermore, the use of Polish in public conversations was prohibited. The German administration was also notorious for carrying out public executions of civilians, and by the middle of 1941, the vast majority of the Polish and Jewish populations had been expelled.

Within present-day city limits, the Germans established and operated a Nazi prison and multiple forced labour camps, including:

  • Two camps solely for Poles,
  • Four camps solely for Jews,
  • Two subcamps (E734, E750) of the Stalag VIII-B/344 prisoner-of-war camp,
  • A subcamp of the Stalag VIII-B/344 prisoner-of-war camp.
  • A subcamp of the Auschwitz concentration camp

Katowice was eventually liberated by the Red Army in January 1945. During the occupation, significant portions of the downtown and inner suburbs were demolished.


The Defenders of Katowice Monument was unveiled in 1961. A September Scouts Monument in Katowice was unveiled on 4th September 1983, to commemorate the Polish Boy Scouts who were killed during the defence of Katowice.

There are also individual and mass graves, as well as memorial plaques dedicated to Katowice defence victims, including those who were executed. Several of these monuments are visited by government officials and activists during Second World War anniversaries.

Further reading