The last days of the war in Gdańsk

Apart from Allied air raids towards the end, the Second World War didn’t affect the infrastructure of the city of Gdańsk much. By the end of 1944 though, more than a million refugees from East Prussia arrived in the city hoping to escape the Soviet Army. During the final battle, Gdańsk was almost completely destroyed.

The German authorities did not allow the inhabitants of Gdańsk to leave the city until January 1945, and by that time most escape routes were already overcrowded. Many people decided to evacuate by sea. This attempt to escape across the Baltic often ended fatally, most notably for the more than 9000 passengers who drowned when the MS Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk by a Soviet submarine. Even in this obviously hopeless situation the German terror apparatus did not stop its dreadful work. Dozens of deserters were publicly hanged in central places in the city.

When the Soviet Army reached Gdańsk, bombing and shelling went on for days and most of the city centre was destroyed by fire. The soldiers of the Red Army often treated women as the spoils of war, and rape, plunder and senseless destruction ruled the day. Before the war, Gdańsk (Danzig) counted 250 000 inhabitants, a mixture of Germans, Polish, and Jewish. By June 1945, some 124 000 Germans remained in the city. The majority of them were forced to leave and Polish nationals took their place. Throughout the settling down and rebuilding of the destroyed parts of the city, the multicultural and multilingual city of Gdańsk (Danzig) changed into Polish Gdańsk only. If the years of German domination erased many traces of Polish culture, the new Polish rulers developed an anti-German policy, destroying German heritage sites like cemeteries and obliterating other traces of German life before 1945.

3 Maja 19, 80-802 Gdańsk, Pologne