Today in History: the Nazi invasion of Poland (1939)

Today is Labor Day, which doesn’t have any particular significance in terms of Middle East history but is obviously an important day to reflect on the history of labor and the labor movement in shaping our society. Erik Loomis has done a considerable amount of writing on labor history at Lawyers, Guns & Money, so if you’re interested I’d give some of his work a read.

Today is also September 1, on the other hand, which means it marks the 75th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland, kicking off the European phase of World War II (the Pacific phase doesn’t officially begin until Pearl Harbor, though it could easily be argued that it started with the Japanese invasion of China in 1937). World War I may have seen more direct fighting in the Middle East than WWII did, but the second war’s impact on the region was just as great. For one thing, there was a fair amount of direct fighting in North Africa, and the war forced the abdication (in 1941, after an invasion by the Brits and Soviets) of Iran’s ruler, Reza Shah Pahlavi (he’d angered the Allies by declaring Iran’s neutrality and then sticking to it), who was replaced by his son, Mohammad Reza Shah.

Maybe you’ve heard of him.

More importantly, the war led to the dismantling of the WWI-imposed colonial Mandate system and, of course, the founding of the new state of Israel, and the legacy of both of those developments still echoes strongly throughout the region today.

But those things were all in the future on September 1, 1939, when the Nazi blitzkrieg overwhelmed Poland’s antiquated defenses. Rather than rehash any number of remembrances happening today, or your high school history WWII lecture, let me point you toward this really amazing LIFE collection of color photos from the invasion. Some fascinating pictures, including several of Hitler and his top aides at the post-invasion victory parade.

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