Nine weeks of blood and glory
Warsaw Uprising of 1944 day by day.
The greatest city battle in World War II fought between the resistance fighters and the German troops was coming to an end. Heinrich Himmler compared it to the battle of Stalingrad. Several dozen thousand insurgents took up arms against the regular army. Military aspect Political aspect Emotional and moral aspect
edited by: Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz Copyright © 2023 Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz. All rights reserved.
The insurgents' levels of training were very diverse. More experienced Kedyw troops were accompanied by volunteers fighting on the barricades, rookies for whom the Uprising was the very first time in their lives to handle a weapon.
They were opposed by German troops of military and standard police, pacification units experienced in combating guerillas, soldiers of the elite Paratroop Panzer Division "Hermann Göring".
The imbalance in weaponry was equally devastating. When the Warsaw Uprising broke out, only one in 10 insurgents had any weapon at his/her disposal. The others were to win a weapon in the battle or take it from a fallen comrade. As time passed the situation improved, mainly owing to Allied drops and supplies delivered by partisan troops rushing to help the fighting city. However, the greatest problem over all that time was a chronic lack of ammunition. The enemy was armed with heavy machine guns and supported by artillery, tanks, and aircraft. The battle was fought on very unequal terms, yet it lasted 9 weeks instead of a few days planned initially by the Home Army commanders.
The Germans suffered heavy casualties. Nearly 10 000 soldiers were killed, 9 000 injured, and 7000 missing in action. The insurgents lost 16 000 people, while another 15 000 were taken captive. But it was the civilian population on whom the battle took its heaviest toll - 150 000 people lost their lives, out of whom 50 000 were murdered within the very first few days of the Uprising in an unprecedented act of genocide in the Wola district. Reinefarth's mercenaries were responsible for the massacre of unarmed men, women and children. The injured, sick, doctors, clergymen, nuns - all died from a bullet. Their corpses were piled up, poured over with gasoline, and set on fire.
The number of casualties in the Warsaw Uprising, if viewed separately, seems to be dramatic. But if confronted with the reality Poland found itself in during the 6 years of wartime, the proportions seem to diminish.
During World War II the Polish nation lost over 6,8 million citizens in total. They comprised victims of concentration camps (including a large number of Polish citizens of Jewish origin), those who died or were murdered in ghettos, executed by firing squads, prisoners tortured to death, peasants from pacified villages. These numbers should be increased by partisans who were killed in skirmishes with the occupant and by Polish soldiers who lost their lives fighting on many front lines of Europe and Africa. In Warsaw alone, nearly 850 000 inhabitants died or were murdered over that time.
If we compare the daily casualties of the Polish nation over the course of World War II with the daily death toll in Warsaw during the Uprising, it turns out that the former were higher. This should come as no surprise. From the very first moment of the war, the Nazis had consequently pursued the policy of mass extermination of Poles, striving to acquire new territories for the Third Reich within the Drang nach Osten concept.
In the second half of 1944, Warsaw was to be transformed into a fortress that would stop the anticipated Soviet offensive. This is indicated, among others, by the fact that in late July 1944 over 100 000 Warsaw inhabitants were ordered by the German authorities to dig trenches and build fortifications. In the case of a city siege, bombarded by artillery and aircraft, the civilian casualties would be undoubtedly very high, take Wrocław as an example. When it comes to Warsaw, the occupant surely would not have cared about the fate of Polish civilians.
The way the Germans treated the city after the fall of the Uprising also testifies to their intentions. In view of the idleness of the Soviet forces standing on the right bank of the Vistula River, the Nazis plundered the city for over 3 months, carrying out Heinrich Himmler's directive on razing the rebellious capital of Poland to the ground. The districts engulfed in the Uprising were destroyed in 85%.
The debate over the Warsaw Uprising has been going on for years. The problem should be examined taking into account different aspects.
Around the same time another uprising had broken out - in Paris, in western Europe. After a few days of fighting the city was taken by Allied tanks, the Germans surrendered, and the uprising ended with success. This was not the case of Poland, naturally. Here, the Soviet tanks almost reached the eastern outskirts of Warsaw (at a distance of twenty-some kilometers) and stopped ... because of fuel shortage.
After over a month, in September, the Soviet forces moved a bit forward, captured Praga and reached the line of the Vistula River. Here, they finally stopped for a few months. The Germans had blown up the bridges, effectively preventing the Soviet army from crossing the river. Any attempts at helping the insurgents, undertaken in the second half of September as a result of exerting pressure by the Polish People's Army soldiers accompanying the Red Army, could not change the situation. The troops landing in the districts on the left bank of the Vistula River, which were practically under German control, were defeated. The decision to help the insurgents cost General Berling, the commander of the Polish People's Army, his military position.
At the same time, the Americans and British had been busy carrying out a huge military operation - Normandy landings. The operation had engaged enormous resources, so their involvement in any other undertaking was out of the question. The outbreak of the Uprising, not agreed upon previously with the West, was in fact even unwelcome by the Allies. This was one of the reasons for serious problems with weaponry and supply drops delivered by the Allied planes to support the insurgents.
The 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade under the command of Major General Stanisław Sosabowski, which had been planned to take part in the "Tempest" operation to be dropped in the area of Kampinos village to support the insurgents, was eventually used in the Operation Market-Garden near Arnhem.
Taking into consideration the military situation presented above, the fact that Warsaw fought relentlessly for as long as 63 days should be seen as nothing short of a miracle.
One of the assumptions behind the outbreak of the Uprising was to seize power in the capital by bodies loyal to the government in London, in this way demonstrating the continuity of the Polish state.
The commanders of the Home Army were not aware about the true intentions of Stalin and had no knowledge about the provisions of secret treaties at the Yalta Conference. The Western Allies had agreed to put the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, including Poland, in Stalin's sphere of influence as a reward for the Soviet contribution to the destruction of the Third Reich.
In this situation Stalin had absolutely no interest in granting aid to fighting Warsaw. On the contrary, he stated that he was distancing himself from "the Warsaw affair".
Stalin had revealed his attitude to the Home Army and Polish patriots even earlier. The Home Army partisan troops that had taken part in liberating Vilnius and other borderland places together with the Red Army were then surrounded and disarmed by the NKVD. The soldiers were either forced to join the Polish People's Army or deported to gulags.
The same situation occurred near Warsaw. When the Red Army reached the line of the Vistula River, the soldiers of the right-bank Home Army troops of "Obroża" ("Collar") were systematically arrested by the NKVD on the basis of lists that had been prepared earlier. A special camp was set up in Rembertów to imprison the Home Army soldiers. Some of them were later liberated as a result of a daring action of capturing the camp. The others were transported to Soviet gulags. Repressions towards Home Army soldiers were later continued by the "Polish" secret political police - the Security Office.
From the political point of view, the outbreak of the Uprising actually suited Stalin. He could handle the Polish problem he would have to tackle himself later in velvet gloves, i.e. with German hands, without the necessity to offer aid to the insurgents. The elimination of the hostile political element - the active and valuable part of Polish society - took place without his direct participation.
In view of these facts, the attitude of the Western empires to Poland, their ally who had borne considerable hardships of the war, an ally even before the Soviets, with whom the Western countries had established cooperation only after the German aggression against Russia in 1941, seemed equivocal to say the least. In the name of their own interests, Great Britain and the USA gave assent on considerable limitation of Poland's sovereignty by a foreign country for the next several decades.
In the opinion of its participants still living today, the Uprising had to break out. The Polish raison d'etat demanded it. Poles had the right and duty to fight for their freedom. They had to show the world at all costs that they were hosts in their own country and would remain so against all odds.
For 5 long years of the war, the Polish nation had been relentlessly persecuted and repressed by the Nazi occupant. The Polish intelligentsia was destroyed and youth murdered - both on purpose. People were forced to work beyond their strength. There was not one Polish family that had not lost a relative at the hands of the Nazis. The Generation of Columbuses, born and raised in the country that had regained its independence after over 100 years of enslavement and partitions, could not come to terms with that new reality. Those young people, brought up in the noble spirit of patriotism and honor, took up an uncompromising, yet unequal fight with the aggressor.
For all the years of the occupation, Poles had accumulated a great deal of hatred towards the enemy. This anger had to find its outlet, regardless of the order being given or not. When the time had come, the outbreak was inevitable. The nation would go forth and fight even without the order to do so.
The fates of those insurgents who had survived the Uprising ran different courses. Several thousand of them were sent to prison camps. Part of them decided to stay in exile, others returned home. Some Home Army soldiers managed to leave the city with the civilian population and continued their conspiratorial activity.
The Home Army soldiers posed an obstacle to the new authorities and their intentions to implement Stalin's policy in Poland. The new power and security apparatus levied ruthless war against the former insurgents, presuming that they were hostile elements and all deserved to be destroyed.
Many heroes from the time of the occupation were arrested and condemned in rigged political trials. They were accused of espionage or even collaboration with the Nazis. Polish patriots were sentenced to death or long-term imprisonment. Many death sentences were carried out.
Others were persecuted and oppressed. Former Home Army soldiers could not enroll for studies or take up a job. They were harassed and treated as second class citizens. This situation lasted several decades.
The truth about the Uprising was either passed over in silence or manipulated. Its meaning was belittled or even bluntly ridiculed. In the opinion of the authorities that were in power at that time it would be best if the future generations just forgot about it.
This turned out not to be possible, however. The nation, and Warsaw population in particular, remembered about their heroes. Starting as early as in 1945, on August 1 every year throngs of people would gather around the monuments devoted to the insurgents. The memory of the fallen ones was honored. Memorial plaques were put up to commemorate the locations where battles had been fought. Initially, they were placed at church walls or inside the temples. Often, August meetings would transform into patriotic manifestations repressed by the Security Office. Rebellious Poles were arrested even at cemeteries.
But the situation was gradually evolving. After years, the former "bandits" and "dwarves of the reaction" were rehabilitated (some posthumously), redecorated and reinstated to their former ranks. Still, many of them had not lived to see those days because of lapse of time.
After several decades of being subordinate to a foreign empire, the independent Republic of Poland has a debt to pay to the August 1944 heroes. Their effort and sacrifice must be forever retained in the memory of future generations and must be viewed as a paragon to follow. The ideals that the Home Army soldiers and Warsaw insurgents had believed in served to inspire the formation of a unique social movement - "Solidarity".
After many years of difficulties and failures, the Warsaw Uprising Museum was also finally built. Its modern, unconventional formula attracts the attention of young generations and brings them closer to the truth about those distant times. It has also been approved by the generation of the Uprising veterans.
The ethos of the Uprising is still alive in the Polish nation. Organizations and associations are formed, whose goal is to uphold the patriotic tradition and memory about the great independence spurt from years ago. With time, they will replace the initiatives of the participants of the Uprising who are still alive but who, as time passes, are slowly and inevitably leaving for "eternal guard duty".
One of such organizations is the 1944 Warsaw Uprising Remembrance Association, established in 2004 at the initiative of the Association of Warsaw Insurgents.
translated by: Beata Murzyn
Military aspectFrom the purely military point of view, the decision to initiate the Uprising was na?ve and based on unsound premises. The disproportion of the forces was tremendous. A sudden attack on the Germans would have only been reasonable if it had resulted in capturing the bridge crossings, thus enabling the Soviet armor troops, heading towards the Vistula River from the east, to immediately charge the city. However, this would have required full collaboration and coordination between the Home Army and the Red Army.
Political aspectThe Warsaw Uprising was an important element in the fight for the Polish raison d'etat. It should be remembered that the Republic of Poland was the only country in Europe conquered by the Germans that had not signed an act of surrender with the Nazis. The Polish Government-in-exile still operated in London, while the structures of the Polish Underground State still functioned in the country.
Emotional and moral aspectTo this day there has been an ongoing dispute among historians about the feasibility and inevitability of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising.
edited by: Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz
Copyright © 2023 Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz. All rights reserved.