Today in History: The Warsaw Uprising

Anything regarding World War II is tragic and morbid. Any war is gory but the capability of the Nazis to show a high level of violence and torture against other human beings still remains astounding.

However, not all passively accepted this. Resistance groups emerged all over Europe. Today in 1944, a group of resistance soldiers in Poland began the Warsaw Uprising.

Resistance fighters

From history.com

“During World War II, an advance Soviet armored column under General Konstantin Rokossovski reaches the Vistula River along the eastern suburb of Warsaw, prompting Poles in the city to launch a major uprising against the Nazi occupation. The revolt was spearheaded by Polish General Tadeusz Bor-Komorowski, who was the commander of the Home Army, an underground resistance group made up of some 40,000 poorly supplied soldiers.

In addition to accelerating the liberation of Warsaw, the Home Army, which had ties with the Polish government-in-exile in London and was anti-communist in its ideology, hoped to gain at least partial control of Warsaw before the Soviets arrived.

Resistance fighters

Although the Poles in Warsaw won early gains–and Soviet liberation of the city was inevitable–Nazi leader Adolf Hitler ordered his authorities to crush the uprising at all costs. The elite Nazi SS directed the German defense force, which included the Kaminiski Brigade of Russian prisoners and the Dirlewanger Brigade of German convicts. In brutal street fighting, the Poles were gradually overcome by the superior German weaponry. As the rebels were suppressed, the Nazis deliberately razed large portions of the city and massacred many civilians.

Burning of Polish victims
German casualty

Meanwhile, the Red Army gained several bridgeheads across the Vistula River but made no efforts to aid the rebels in Warsaw. The Soviets also rejected a request by the British to use Soviet air bases to airlift supplies to the beleaguered Poles. The rebels and the city’s citizens ran out of medical supplies, food, and eventually water. Finally, on October 2, the surviving rebels, including Bor-Komorowski, surrendered.

During the 63-day ordeal, three-fourths of the Home Army perished along with 200,000 civilians. As a testament to the ferocity of the fighting, the Germans also suffered high casualties: 10,000 killed, 9,000 wounded, and 7,000 missing. During the next few months, German troops deported the surviving population, and demolition squads destroyed what buildings remained intact in Warsaw. All of its great treasures were looted or burned. The Red Army remained dormant outside Warsaw until January 1945, when the final Soviet offensive against Germany commenced. Warsaw, a city in ruins, was liberated on January 17. With Warsaw out of the way, the Soviets faced little organized opposition in establishing a communist government in Poland.”

Today Poland’s leaders and WWII veterans are honoring those who fought in the uprising.

President Andrzej Duda laid a wreath at a memorial in Wola district, where German forces killed tens of thousands of civilians in early August 1944, in retaliation for the revolt organized by Poland’s clandestine resistance movement.

Traditionally, Warsaw traffic stops for a minute’s remembrance when sirens wail at 5 p.m., the exact hour when the revolt started Aug. 1.

An article from the Associated Press stated, “an estimated 50,000 young Poles took part in the Warsaw Rising. Some 18,000 among them were killed and another 25,000 were injured in 63 days of struggle. Some 180,000 civilians were German bombings and executions.”(1)

(1) “Poland Honors Fighters, Victims of Warsaw’s 1944 Revolt,” The Star Tribune. August 1, 2018.

For Further Reading:

Borodziej, Włodzimierz. The Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Translated by Barbara Harshav. University of Wisconsin Press, 2006.

Ciechanowski, Jan M. The Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Cambridge University Press, 1974.

Davis, Norman. Rising ’44: The Battle for Warsaw. New York: Viking, 2004.

Lukas, Richard C. The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation. New York: Hippocrene, 2012.

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