Excuse for War
By David Lippman
July 2016

On the night of August 10, 1939, a tall, heavy-set, blond, freckled Nazi goon named Alfred Naujocks reports to Germany’s Security Police headquarters on the Prinz Albrecht Strasse in Berlin. At 10 minutes past midnight, Naujocks is ushered into the big, plainly furnished office of Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Security Police, Secret Police (Gestapo) and Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst).

“What I’m about to tell you,” Heydrich says, “is a top secret matter of state and must, therefore, be handled with utmost discretion. The Fuehrer has decided to settle the Danzig question once and for all and smash Poland. Both X-Day and Y-Hour are set. All is prepared – except a pretext for war.

“What the Fuehrer needs, we will supply, you and I, my dear Naujocks! We are going to create the cause for this war!

“We will begin the Polish campaign without a formal declaration of war, with a counterattack, telling the world that it was the Poles who fired the first shot. But telling it isn’t enough. Practical proof is needed, hard clues Goebbels can show to the foreign press. We will simulate a series of frontier incidents and make it appear the attacking forces are Poles.”

Heydrich shows Naujocks a map of eastern Germany. “The incidents are to take place in this general area, around Gleiwitz in Upper Silesia,” Heydrich says. “We’ll put a couple of hundred men into Polish uniforms and let them shoot up places, burn farmhouses and run amuck for a few hours.”

Heydrich points at Gleiwitz. “Here we have a radio station. It will be your job to stage an incident there. Party Comrade Mueller is in personal charge of these operations. You will find him at either Gleiwitz or Oppeln. Report to him when you get there.” Mueller is Heinrich Mueller, chief of the Gestapo under Heydrich.

Naujocks finally opens his mouth. “Thank you, Obergruppenfuehrer, for your confidence! Heil Hitler!” he says. Naujocks heads off to Silesia, inspired.

He finds Mueller in Oppeln, working with a thug named Mehlhorn to send 100 Nazis in Polish uniforms to cause chaos in Silesia. Another group, under a man named Langhans, is to storm the customs house at Hochlinden. And Naujocks draws the prize assignment: the attack on the Gleiwitz radio station.

Mueller says, “You will pick six trustworthy SD men and dress them in Polish uniforms. At zero hour, you’ll attack the radio station and seize it. You need not hold it long, five or ten minutes at the most, just long enough to enable a man who’ll accompany you to make an anti-German speech in Polish.”

In the Gestapo jail at Oppeln, Mueller has several concentration camp prisoners. They will be put in Polish uniforms and given lethal injections, then left dead on the ground as if they had been killed in the attack, with a few gunshots added. “After the incidents, we’ll show them to members of the foreign press Goebbels is going to bring from Berlin.”

With that, Mueller also gives the operation its code-name, the first of thousands of critical military monikers that will be issued: the cynical “Operation Canned Meat.”

On August 25, Naujocks rehearses the attack, but without any dead bodies. Then he sits by the phone, awaiting the orders. They come on August 31, from Heydrich himself.
“Naujocks, the die is cast,” Heydrich says in his high-pitched voice. “It will start at 5 a.m. tomorrow morning. Your operation is to take place at 8 p.m. tonight. You’d better call Mueller right away and ask him to send you one of his ‘canned meats.’”

At 11:10 a.m., Naujocks phones Mueller and asks for the fake dead Pole. At 7 p.m., he sends his men to their posts at the radio station, and at 7:30 p.m., a Gestapo car arrives with the “Pole.” Injected with a fatal dose and bleeding from gunshots, the first unknown casualty of World War II is still alive. At 7:50, Naujocks carries the human prop to the main entrance of the station and arranges him on the ground.

The fateful Gleiwitz radio station was actually just a repeater.

At 8 p.m., Naujocks glances at his wrist watch and orders the “attack.” His six “Poles” enter the station and seize the microphone, which is actually in a cupboard – the station does not broadcast original programming, it merely relays it from Berlin. It takes some work to set up for the broadcast, which is only heard in the immediate Gleiwitz area. The fake “Polish agitator” takes the mike from Naujocks and shouts that the time has come for war between Germany and Poland and calls on patriotic Poles to kill Germans. Naujocks and his crew fire a few staccato shots near the open microphone, to provide random sound effects.

At 8:07, Naujocks and his crew are done. They climb back in their cars and drive off. The now-dead prisoner lies on the ground – World War II’s definitive Unknown Soldier.
He is later identified as Franz Honiok, aged 41. Honiok is a 41-year-old ethnic German who fought alongside Polish nationalists in the Upper Silesian rebellion of 1921, and is by 1939, a salesman of agricultural machines. The Gestapo arrests him on August 30, and incarcerates him in the Gleiwitz lockup. The Nazis drug him into unconsciousness, transport him to the radio station, and shoot him as he lies helpless on the floor.

Naujocks goes on to engage in more secret operations, most notably the Venlo Incident of 1939, when he kidnaps two British agents from a Dutch border tavern. He is also involved in the initial attempts to counterfeit British banknotes, and establish “Salon Kitty,” the wiretapped bordello for foreign bigshots in Berlin. However, by January 1941, Naujocks falls out of favor with Heydrich, who has him arrested, demoted, and sent to Russia with the 1st SS Liebstandarte Division. Naujocks suffers a nervous breakdown and is discharged from the division, and assigned to occupied Belgium, where he participates in hunting down resistance fighters, rising to the rank of SS Obersturmfuhrer.

In December 1943, Naujocks commands the Petergruppe, which massacres captured Danish partisans. Returning to Belgium, Naujocks deserts to the Americans in the Ardennes on October 19, 1944, and his testimony is used by American interrogators at the Nuremberg Trial.

But while awaiting his own trial, Naujocks escapes from POW camp, and lives in Hamburg, initially under a false name, and then under his own identity, working as a businessman. He is convicted in Denmark of the massacre, but never serves a sentence, and dies in Hamburg on April 4, 1966.

After Naujocks’ stunt, comes another one by other Nazis, a successful mock attack on the German customs station at Hochlinden. SS men leave rigid bodies of more “konserven” dressed in Polish uniforms. The fact that the bodies are rigid, proving they did not die in a recent battle, is of little importance to SS leaders – they can control the “investigation” and keep the Poles out of the picture. Before the SS men return to their barracks, the Wehrmacht’s troops are headed for the Polish border.

Hitler has his excuse for war.

The Nazi Criminal Police “investigate” the incident, and naturally, blame the Poles. Heydrich, however, is quite annoyed. While the “raid” is a success, nobody in Berlin has heard the false broadcasts, as Heydrich does not realize that Gleiwitz is merely a local radio station.

The Gleiwitz “raid” is the most “successful” of the stunts the Germans undertake to justify their invasion of Poland. However, it’s immaterial to Hitler. At 4:47 a.m., September 1, 1939, the Second World War officially commences with the German pre-dreadnought battleship Schleswig-Holstein - Heydrich's old ship during his abortive Navy career - opening fire on Danzig’s Westerplatte fortress. The war is on.

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David H. Lippman, an award-winning journalist and graduate of the new School for Social Research, has written many magazine articles about World War II. He maintains the World War II Plus 55 website and currently works as a public information officer for the city of Newark, N.J. We're always pleased to add his work to our Daily Content.