During the German assault on the Westerplatte, Mieczysław Słaby was responsible for treating the wounded. In spite of the desperate conditions he managed to keep all injured men alive until the moment of surrender. After the war Słaby became a victim of the communist persecutions, and died in prison.
Mieczysław Słaby was born on 9 December 1905 in Przemyśl. He graduated from the Medical Department of Jan Kazimierz University in Lwów in 1933. On 4 August 1939 he was sent to the Military Transit Depot on Westerplatte.
During the attack in September 1939, German shelling destroyed nearly all the equipment of the garrison’s sick room. Słaby was forced to use the most primitive, improvised methods to dress wounds. For example, he operated on Lieutenant Pająk without anaesthetic and used ordinary nail scissors to reconnect his damaged muscles. But despite the catastrophic hygienic conditions in the barracks cellars, all the wounded survived until surrender.
After capitulation, Captain Słaby served as a doctor in Stalag (prisoner-of-war camp) IA in Klein Dexen near Königsberg (today Kaliningrad Oblast). He looked after numerous prisoners and forced labourers, and saved many lives. After the war, Słaby joined the Border Guards and was promoted to major. In 1947 he was treacherously arrested, falsely charged with espionage and imprisoned in Cracow’s Montelupich prison. There he was most probably tortured, became very ill and died. He was buried at the military cemetery on Prandoty Street in Cracow.
Słaby was decorated posthumously with the Virtuti Militari Silver Cross.
The obsolete German battleship Schleswig-Holstein played an important role at the outbreak of the Second World War. The ship moored in the port of Gdańsk under false pretences, and then, in the early morning of 1 September 1939, proceeded to bombard the Polish defensive positions on the Westerplatte Peninsula: the first shots of the Second World War.
On 1 September 1939 German SS troops took possession of Polish buildings and institutions in the city of Gdańsk. Some 1.500 members of the Polish minority were arrested to be imprisoned, deported or executed. Many others were expelled from their homes and directed to central Poland. That same day the Nazis proclaimed the reunion of Gdańsk with the German Reich.
In 1966 a 25-metre high monument was erected on the Westerplatte peninsula. The Communists used it mainly as a propaganda instrument. Not until many years later the monument became an important place of remembrance for the Battle of Westerplatte and the beginning of the Second World War in Europe.
The exhibition is devoted to the history of the place that is commonly associated with the beginning of the 20th century’s greatest catastrophe, the Second World War. A place that, like Thermopylae before it, became the symbol of a heroic struggle against an overwhelming adversary. Yet the story of Westerplatte, as told by the Museum of the Second World War, is not limited to the defence of Poland’s Military Transit Depot in September 1939; rather, we travel back to the peninsula’s formation in the 17th century as a sandbar at the mouth of the Vistula and forward, all the way to the fall of Communism in Poland in 1989.
After the Second World War the former deputy commander of the Military Transit Depot, captain Dąbrowski, initiated the building of a cemetery for the fallen during the German attack. At this cemetery the urn with the ashes of Major Sucharski was reburied in 1971.
The Museum of the Second World War was launched in November 2008 and is located in Gdańsk. The museum is situated 200 metres from the historic Polish Post Office and 3 kilometres across the water from Westerplatte Peninsula. The German attack on these places marked the beginning of the Second World War in September 1939.