Warsaw Uprising

In the summer of 1944, the Soviet Red army approached Warsaw and the polish home army (Armia Krajowa) saw an opportunity to attack the germans in the back while the russians attacked. The uprising started on 1 August 1944 and initially reaped successes, attacking the Germans in the back, barricading themselves among houses, bunkers and sewers, gathering weapons from all sides. Fierce battles were fought in buildings such as PAST and Prudential.

But the home army’s success was based on the Soviet Red Army coming to the rescue and the western allies from the air were able to supply the home army with supplies and materials. The German defence was led by SS-Obergruppenführer Erich von dem Bach-Zewelski and consisted of a motley scale of SS units, police units and anti-partisan units. The units that responded to the uprising with enormous brutality, both against civilians and soldiers from the home army, and carried out merciless massacres, including in the districts of Ochota and Wola.

Despite the appeal to Stalin from both the Polish government of exile in London and the British prime minister Winston Churchill for help to the home army, Stalin ignored this (even the support of the western powers was severely limited). The Germans were therefore able to devote the majority of resources to fighting the home army, an army made up not only of men but also of women and children. This contributed to the poorer equipped home army being slowly but surely ground down by the superior German troops. But the home army held out until October 3, 1944, when they surrendered.

Hitler, however, refused to accept any capitulation but ordered the city to be destroyed. Therefore, after the uprising, the Germans began a systematic destruction of the city where about 85 percent of the city was destroyed, including the old town and the castle. When the Soviet Red army in mid-January 1945 launched a new offensive and withdrew into Warsaw, it was therefore a completely devastated city that was captured. About 250,000 Poles, civilians and soldiers, are estimated to have been killed during the uprising.

From a broader perspective, the news of the uprising of the three great allies (USA, Britain and the Soviet Union) was met with restraint and no excessive joy. The uprising came as no surprise, but had been going on for a long time, but once it broke out, it was on local initiative and was not sanctioned by either the Polish government of exile in London, the western powers or the Soviet Union. The uprising therefore caused the above-mentioned political, military and diplomatic trouble. Polish and Soviet relations were extremely strained ever since the Soviet invasion of Poland in mid-September 1939.

Add to that the discovery of the mass graves in Katyn in march 1943 where the soviet security service (NKVD) murdered polish officers in march 1940. In addition, both the Polish home army and the Polish government of exile in London in Stalin’s eyes were illegitimate. From an American perspective, the uprising was of little importance and their approach was more from a global perspective where a local uprising was not allowed to jeopardise relations with the Soviet Union. The British were more or less politically and diplomatically bound and well aware that their ability to influence Stalin was largely non-existent. And from the Polish side they had absolutely nothing to say about but were completely omitted to Stalin’s benevolence.

Current status: Rebuilt with museum/monument (2015).

Location: 52°14'58" N, 21°0'21" E

Get there: Car, Tram or Bus.

My comment:

The monuments are scattered all over Warsaw and are most easily reached by car. In the post-communist description of history, the insurgents and their leaders were described as bandits and fascists who were in fact a threat to Poland. Leading insurgents were arrested, imprisoned, deported, tortured and even murdered by the Communists. No books, films, monuments, memorials or anything else that could nourish Polish nationalism were to be considered. This eased somewhat in the years after Stalin’s death, but it was only when communism began to crack in the early eighties that censorship was loosened. Even in the Western description of history, the insurrection was marginalized, more perhaps on a shameful account of having omitted an ally in distress than it would have been illegitimate. Only after the fall of communism has the uprising in both the west and the east been revised and finally received the recognition that it has been denied for almost 45 years.

Follow up in books: Davies, Norman: Rising ’44: The Battle for Warsaw (2004).