The Spy Who Started a War

Dr. Thomas Boghardt, Historian

Seventy years ago, World War II began. Or, more precisely, a German spy created the pretext for Hitler’s premeditated invasion of Poland. To me, this story epitomizes not only the amorality of Nazi Germany; it also serves as a cautionary tale about intelligence abuse for political ends.

Alfred Naujocks was a Sturmbannführer (major) in the Sicherheitsdienst (security service or SD), the intelligence unit of the SS.  In early August 1939, Naujock’s boss, SD Chief Reinhard Heydrich, instructed him personally to simulate an attack by Polish subversives on a German radio station near Gleiwitz, at the Polish border. “Actual proof of these attacks of the Poles is needed for the foreign press, as well as for German propaganda purposes,” Heydrich explained.

Naujocks delivered the goods, literally. The SD had earmarked a dozen convicts to be dressed in Polish uniforms, killed, and left on the spot as “evidence” of Polish aggression. The SD cynically referred to these men as Konserven (“canned goods”). After Naujocks had “captured” the radio station with a small band of German operatives dressed in Polish uniforms, a Polish-speaking German broadcast a brief anti-German message. A political prisoner of the Nazis was dressed as a saboteur, received a lethal injection from an SD doctor, was shot several times, and left dead at the scene.

The Gleiwitz incident was part of a series of similarly staged attacks along the German-Polish border. Even though few people outside Germany bought into the Nazi bluff, it provided Hitler with an opportunity to cast the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, as a defensive measure. That was all he needed. Just a few days earlier, he had told his generals: “I shall give a propaganda reason for starting the war; whether it is plausible or not. The victor will not be asked whether he told the truth.”


Nothing is What It Seems.

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1 Response to The Spy Who Started a War

  1. DB says:

    With all the shows I’ve seen on the History Channel about WW2 you think one of them would have mentioned this information. Good Stuff, thanks for sharing.

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