In August this year we published a post to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Uprising. Today, on the anniversary of its ending our guest blogger Andrzej Dietrich looks back again at the events of 1944. (You can read the original Polish text of this post here)
The decision to start the uprising was made in a difficult political situation without taking into consideration the fighting power of the Home Army (known as AK). There was no consensus at AK Headquarters as to the launch of the uprising, its sense, chance of success and its possible date. Similarly, the Polish Government-in-Exile in London was divided in opinion over this matter. The AK was poorly equipped. It had enough arms and anti-tank weapons for only three to five days. The Germans had 15,000 soldiers, including 3,000 Russians and Cossacks in the unit called RONA (Russkaia Osvoboditel’naia Narodnaia Armiia). The German side also had at their disposal large amounts of weapons and ammunition, tanks and planes.
A number of turbulent meetings were held at AK Headquarters in the last week of July 1944. Colonel Janusz Bokszczanin, an opponent of the uprising, was in favour of waiting for events to unfold. The legendary ‘Courier from Warsaw’, Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, who recently arrived from London, conveyed Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Army Kazimierz Sosnkowski’s negative attitude towards a potential uprising as well the allies’ lack of ability to provide aid. General Leopold Okulicki was sent from London to Poland in March 1944 with instructions from General Sosnkowski to block the launch of an uprising in Warsaw. However, he ignored the order and, instead, became the principal advocate of the uprising. At some point, General Tadeusz Bór- Komorowski, the Chief Commander of the Home Army (photo below from Wikimedia Commons), driven to despair, arranged for a vote [sic!]. This reflected his state of mind and lack of control over the situation: you can vote in a parliament, but in an army you must carry out orders!
Finally, Komorowski gave in to pressure and on31 July made a decision for the uprising to start on 1 August , at 5pm, also called “W-hour”. 30,000 soldiers of the Home Army who were mobilised and placed in specific locations of the city were unarmed. They were supposed to be given arms before “W- hour”, but in reality only a small proportion of weapons reached the meeting points. As a result, at the crucial hour only 1,500 soldiers were fully armed. In the first days of struggle (i.e., up to 5 August ) the insurgents were successful to some extent owing to the Germans being taken by surprise. Later the Germans received reinforcements and a massacre started. The city was bombarded both by heavy artillery and planes. The Dirlewanger brigade, made up largely of criminals, were known for their exceptional atrocities. They murdered 40,000 civilians in the Wola District of Warsaw, sparing not a single soul and burning the corpses.
Warsaw suffered shortages of food, water, medicine and first aid supplies. Hunger and disease were ubiquitous. One should honour the heroism of the soldiers and civilian population of the city, which systematically day by day was falling into ruin.
The tragic balance of the uprising:
18,000 soldiers and 200,000 inhabitants were killed. Material losses included 70% of the city’s buildings being destroyed, burnt archives, libraries, works of art and culture created by generations of Poles throughout the centuries. In addition, Poland lost a generation of intelligentsia with significant consequences for the country in the following decades. In contrast, the Germans lost 6,000 soldiers including many common criminals sent to suppress the uprising. General Władysław Anders, in a letter to General Marian Kukiel, wrote:
…a fighting Warsaw brought me to my knees, but I consider the uprising in Warsaw a crime. Thousands killed, the capital utterly destroyed, the enormous suffering of the whole civilian population, the fruit of hard work throughout the centuries annihilated…
In his diary Winston Churchill gently noted: “There are few virtues that the Poles do not possess and there are few errors they have ever avoided.”
After 63 days of futile and hopeless struggle General Bór-Komorowski signed an act of capitulation in the early hours of 3 October 1944.
On 1 October, 1983 the Monument of the Little Insurgent (picture above by Cezary p from Wikimedia Commons) was erected to let future generations know that children were also involved in the struggle. To commemorate the city’s fight, the Monument of the Warsaw Uprising was unveiled on August 1 1989 (picture below by DavidConFran from Wikimedia commons).
Both these monuments are, alas, memorials of shame to those whose tragic decisions led to the destruction of Warsaw.
Translated by Magda Szkuta
J.K. Zawodny, Nothing but honour: the story of the Warsaw Uprising (London, 1978) X.809/43121
Władysław Bartoszewski, Abandoned heroes of the Warsaw Uprising (Kraków, 2008) LD.31.b.1915