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Start of World War II: September 1939-March 1940

World War II Timeline: October 12, 1939-November 4, 1939

October 1939 saw Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany begin to reveal their answer to the "Jewish question." The World War II timeline below highlights some of the important events of October 1939.

World War II Timeline: October 12-November 4

October 12: The Nazis begin to consolidate the Jewish population in Germany's occupied territories. They send Austrian and Czechoslovakian Jews to Poland.


The Soviet Union sends Finland a list of territorial demands, which include a land exchange and the right to establish military bases. Finland will reply with its own acceptable terms on October 14, but Russia will stand by its initial demands.

October 14: More than 800 sailors die when a German submarine torpedoes the Royal Oak, a British battleship.

October 26: Nazi Hans Frank is appointed governor general of a portion of German-occupied Poland, with his headquarters in Kraków.

October 28: A motion to amend the U.S. Neutrality Act to allow the sale of arms to besieged allies passes the Senate. It will clear the House and be signed by President Franklin Roosevelt on November 4. The change is contingent on the requirement that arms are not transported by American ships.

October 31: The SS imposes a series of arbitrary and highly restrictive laws on the Poles, including prohibitions against using phone booths and wearing felt hats. Violators can be given the death penalty.

November: In just one week, some 60,000 tons of supplies destined for the Allied cause are lost to German magnetic mines.

November 1: Western Poland officially becomes part of the Reich. Eastern Poland will become part of the Soviet Union two days later.

November 4: An anonymous person who signed himself "German scientist who wishes you well" leaves German weapons research secrets and a mine fuse on the windowsill of the British attaché in Oslo, Norway.

Warsaw's Jews are all herded into a ghetto.

World War II Headlines

See more headlines and images from World War II below, tracing events following Nazi Germany's conquest of Poland.

Nazi soldiers round up Polish Jews: The Germans arrived at Plonsk, Poland -- with its 6,000-strong Jewish community -- on September 5, 1939, then established a Judenrat (Jewish council) the following July and a ghetto that September. Here, German troops assemble the Jews soon after the town's capture. During the next two years, as many as 12,000 Jews from Plonsk and the surrounding area passed through the ghetto. It was eventually emptied in November 1942 when its remaining inhabitants were consigned to Auschwitz for extermination.

Polish campaign results in massive casualties: By the end of the four-week campaign in Poland, 50,000 German soldiers were dead, wounded, or missing. Polish losses amounted to some 70,000 soldiers killed and 130,000 wounded. Another 90,000 Polish soldiers escaped to Hungary, Lithuania, Romania, and Latvia; many of them later made their way to Allied lines. Initially, the Wehrmacht's treatment of its 694,000 Polish prisoners was generally appropriate, although many civilians, a large proportion of them Jewish, were murdered. The SS and Sicherheitsdienst (German secret service, or SD) soon established themselves in Nazi German-occupied Poland, which was now regarded as a "nonexistent" state. Thereafter, the civilian population, especially Jews, suffered increasing oppression and persecution.

On the next page you'll find a World War II timeline highlighting the important events of November and December 1939, when the Soviet Union invaded Finland.

To follow more major events of World War II, see: