Sunday, August 3, 2014
Seventy years ago, on August 1, the Warsaw Uprising began. It was the largest military effort by a resistance group. It has been said that more Jews fought in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 than in the Ghetto Uprising of 1943.
The Polish fighters were so effective that the Germans began to retreat, especially as they saw the Soviet Red Army nearing Warsaw. Once they realized the Soviets would not come to the aid of the Poles, the Germans regrouped and defeated the outgunned Poles. The Germans began systematic massacres of civilians. By the end of the Uprising 200,000 civilians had been killed. Forty thousand were killed on August 8 in the Wola Massacre alone. Another 50,000 are said to have fled. Over eighty percent of the city was leveled.
Yet the Warsaw Uprising was carried out with limited outside support. Only one American airdrop of supplies was allowed by the Soviets. The Polish pilots with the British Air Force were too far away in Italy. Nevertheless, the British made over 200 flights to help the Polish Home Army in 1943 and 1944. When a British mission did finally arrive in December, to help the Poles in Warsaw, they were promptly arrested and imprisoned by the Soviets.
On August 15, the same Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov sent an emissary to inform American Ambassador Averell Harriman that the Soviets would not support the Poles. So, the Red Army was waiting for resupply across the Vistula river, as they watched the city burn.
There was only one attempt at providing help to the Polish insurgents allowed. It was made by Poles serving under General Zygmunt Berling in the Red Army. Many of these men were taken prisoner in 1939-1940 under the terms of the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact and spent two years in gulags. They were freed only after the Germans reneged on the agreement and invaded Soviet territory in July, 1941, when they actually invaded the eastern part of Poland previously ceded to the Soviets. After that point, the Soviets needed soldiers and freed the Polish prisoners. Some made it out with the Anders Army under British command, while others were too late to join General Wladyslaw Anders and then joined the Berling Army in the hopes of liberating their homeland.
The Soviets gave orders on August 23 not to help the Poles, rather the arrest and disarm them. The attempt to help the Poles in Warsaw occurred on September 14. Only 900-1200 made it across the river. There was no artillery or air support provided. No further attempts were made after September 19. General Berling was relieved of his command and ordered to return to Moscow, perhaps for his disobedience in this matter.
Even with the limited outside support, the Poles continued to fight until October 2, when they finally surrendered. The Uprising had lasted 63 days. The combatants were taken as prisoners of war, since it was felt that they fought as an organized military unit. Even the women combatants were given that distinction. Earlier, even Polish soldiers were deemed "bandits" since they served a country which the Germans felt did not exist since 1939, after the joint invasions from the west by the Germans on September 1, 1939 and the east by the Soviets on September 17, 1939. The two powers had divided Poland in accordance with the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact of August, 1939.
During the years of communism, the history of the Warsaw Uprising was suppressed by the Soviets, who painted the partisans of the Home Army as Nazi sympathizers, despite the fact that they were the largest resistance movement in Europe. For years after the war, they arrested, imprisoned and often executed former members of the Home Army. Since the fall of communism, this history is again remembered.
Photo courtesy "Sąd najwyższy s5" by Spens03 - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:S%C4%85d_najwy%C5%BCszy_s5.jpg#mediaviewer/File:S%C4%85d_najwy%C5%BCszy_s5.jpg