Major Henryk Sucharski, the commander of the small garrison at Westerplatte, was under orders to thwart the German advance for 12 hours. He managed to hold out an amazing seven days. After the war he became a national hero and was posthumously awarded an important military decoration.
Henryk Sucharski was born on 12 November 1898 in Gręboszów near Tarnów. During the First World War he fought on the Italian front and after that in the Polish-Bolshevik War, where he was decorated for bravery. In 1938 he was promoted to major and appointed commander of the Military Transit Depot on Westerplatte. His garrison was supposed to offer resistance for 12 hours in case of a German invasion. The Germans indeed attacked Westerplatte on 1 September 1939. The next day, Sucharski ordered the burning of secret documents and considered surrender. But he decided to continue the defence. Only after the collapse of Guardhouse no. 2 on 7 September, Sucharski finally capitulated.
After his liberation from a POW (prisoners of war) camp, Sucharski joined the 2nd Polish Corps in Italy where he commanded the 6th Carpathian Rifle Battalion. Exhausted by his years of captivity and tormented by doubts, Sucharski died on 30 August 1946 and was buried at the Polish military cemetery in Casamassima. On 1 September 1971 the urn with his ashes was reburied at the Cemetery of the Defenders of Westerplatte.
Sucharski was posthumously awarded the Virtuti Militari Commander’s Cross. Numerous schools and streets in Poland have been named after him.
On 1 September 1939 the Germans attacked the Westerplatte peninsula in the port of Gdańsk. This assault marks the beginning of the Second World War. A small Polish garrison held out for seven days, bolstering the morale of the Polish people. After the war Westerplatte became a symbol of Polish resistance against the German invasion.
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.
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.
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 1939 Major Sucharski commanded the small garrison that heroically defended the Westerplatte peninsula during the first week of the German invasion of Poland. In 1971 his ashes were reburied at the Westerplatte cemetery. The huge turn-out and the emotional public response heralded the importance of the Second World War memories for thousands of Poles.
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.