In the last days of August 1939 Gliwice was a border-town, in all meanings of that word. Just beyond the city gates there ran the border with Poland, drawn seventeen years before – and such places as Gierałtowice and Knurów, currently leaning towards Gliwice, lay already within the bounds of the Republic of Poland. The situation was similar regarding what is commonly termed as the political atmosphere of the city. Particularly after 1933, following Hitler’s ascent to power in Germany, the role of Gliwice as the German bastion on the eastern fringes of the Reich was emphasized, intensifying everything that could serve for strengthening the bonds with the raison d’État as understood by the Nazi government.
Propaganda activity was to be enhanced by the implementation of a transmitter station (Gleiwitzer Sender) in Tarnogórska Street, put into service in 1935. The transmitter’s power (8 kW) was increased as compared to the previous one, and the station was equipped with a vertical transmitting antenna located in a 111-meter high wooden tower. From that point on the Gliwice radio station consisted of two sites. Gleiwitzer Rundfunk was situated in what is known today as Radiowa Street (former Rundfunkstrasse), in which ever since the transmitter station was added, only microphone studios were in operation. Prior to that, from the moment of its construction in 1925, it had been a radio station working in full range with a transmitter power of 1.5 kW. Next to the station building there was a radio transmitting antenna stretched between two 75-meter long iron towers that were demolished in 1937. The transmitter station in Tarnogórska Street was located about 4 km away from the radio station in Radiowa Street, due to technical reasons.
All that remains today from the first radio station in Gliwice is just the building, currently used by the Municipal Hospital No. 3, while its original destination resurfaces only in the name of the street.
The Gliwice radio station served generally for retransmitting the programme of the Wrocław radio station, that is Reichssender Breslau. Thanks to the Gliwice transmitter its broadcasts were heard on both sides of the border dividing the Upper Silesia. By night, in turn, thanks to favourable conditions of the emission signal, the Gliwice broadcasts could be heard in all of Europe, also parts of Asia, and even North America. What contributed to it was the tower built from larch-wood and held together with thousands of solid brass screws, in which the vertical antenna was located.
However, it was not until 31 August 1939 that the Gliwice radio station became world-famous. It was then, around 8 PM, that a 7-person troop, led by a Sicherheitsdienst officer (German intelligence organization) and SS-officer Alfred Helmut Naujocks, burst into the transmitter station in Tarnogórska Street. Having terrorized the staff, the attackers, masquerading as Silesian insurgents, tried to read out a manifesto in Polish, announcing an imminent Polish offensive and calling for an uprising. It began with the words: “Attention, this is Gliwice. The radio station is in Polish hands…”. It was all that the technical conditions allowed for, due to the lack of the microphone studio, which was located in Radiowa Street and about which Naujocks simply did not know. In desperation, he made use of the so called “storm microphone” to deliver his declaration, completely unsuited to such purpose. So even those few words were only audible within the radius of a couple of kilometers.
The attack on the Gliwice radio station was only a fragment of a much wider-ranging action later assigned the code-name “Tannenberg”, coordinated by the SD, with significant help from the Abwehr (German military intelligence and counterespionage organization). The action included a whole series of border provocations – apart from Gliwice, the attacks on the German customs post in Stodoły (Hochlinden) and on the forester’s lodge in Byczyna (Pitschen) also had a similar character, as well as simulated attacks on German institutions and symbols in Silesia, in Polish Pomerania and in Greater Poland. In Katowice, SD agents planted a bomb in the building of the printing house of the “Kattowitzer Zeitung”, a leading German newspaper in the province of Silesia, quite clearly supporting the Nazi government.
Yet another role was played by the border clashes provoked by paramilitary raiding squads penetrating from Germany across the border, which later on in September 1939 gained the collective name of Freikorps Ebbinghaus. In Gliwice, in what was at the time the barracks of the SA (Storm troops of the Nazi party) in the current Wincent Pol Street, there was situated one of the recruitment points and the quarters of the Freikorps, which attracted also the refugees from Poland, including deserters from the ranks of the Polish Army.
This is where on the eve of the attack on the Republic of Poland German raiding squads departed, attacking mainly industrial sites located near the border – mines and foundries.
The evident failure of the Gliwice provocation did not, however, eclipse by any means the essential aim of the action, which was to load Poland with the responsibility of the outbreak of war (possibly also the world war) and justify the start of hostilities on the part of Germany, which – against such a background – was to look almost like necessary defence forced by the circumstances.
As early as two hours after the bogus attack on the radio station, the Berlin radio broadcast the news in exactly this tone. Nevertheless, it was impossible to impose this line of communication to full extent, although on 1 September 1939 the first thing the world public opinion saw was the falsified information regarding the “Polish attack”. The true face of the Gliwice provocation was only known by the world through the testimony of Naujocks delivered during the Nuremberg trials.
Today the radio station buildings in Tarnogórska Street form a department of the Gliwice Museum. They are no longer used for transmitting broadcasts. Only for the first few years after the war the Gliwice radio station was used for retransmitting the broadcasts of the Katowice Radio, and in the years 1950-1956 it served as a radio jamming device for disrupting the signal of the Radio Free Europe.
The historic antenna tower, which is now the highest wooden building in Europe, still serves the purpose of communication, although in a slightly different manner, by carrying dozens of different types of antennas, which in no way diminishes its tourist appeal.
Although the entrance to the top platform is reserved for technical crews only, the area around the tower was designed with residents and tourists in mind, drawing in summer seasons walking enthusiasts and those, who having travelled the Route of Industrial Heritage, are in need of a little rest. The tower has become a part of the city’s landscape. It is visible from many places, not only in Gliwice, especially at dusk, when it is illuminated by powerful spotlights.