Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Warsaw Uprising

August 1st marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising (1 August 1944 - 2 October 1944). This was the city-wide one, not the earlier, smaller Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (19 April 1943 - 16 May 1943), of which you may have already heard.

So, yes, there were two Uprisings, and the second would have worked had the Soviets taken advantage of the situation and come on in. However, they sat outside Warsaw and cooly waited for the Germans to kill all the leaders and raze the place. You can read all about that here. As usual, the Polish experience of the Second World War was even worse than I thought before I learned a little more.  In related news, my new Polish textbook informs me that "feeder of lice" is "karmiciel wszy" in Polish.

When I was in Warsaw last November, I stayed in a priests' residence very near the Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego (lit: Museum of the Warsaw Uprising)  and so not only did I visit it, it became one of my landmarks. For once jagged contemporary bunker-like architecture was totally appropriate.

Inside, however, it was incredibly noisy and jarring, in part because my arrival coincided with that of young teenagers on a school trip. I seem to remember panels in English, but as usual I tried to read the Polish first, and felt badly when I couldn't understand them--which was foolish as "The Boy Scouts risked execution by carrying messages through the sewer tunnels" is not everyday conversation. Naturally, everything I read was terribly sad, and I felt like I was intruding on a private sorrow.

There was a cinema section with films; that was a relief as I could sit invisibly in the dark. The films were surviving footage of the Uprising, created to hearten the Varsavians themselves. And there was a small exhibit in honour of a Home Army poet Kristina Krahelska codenamed "Danuta": her "Hey, Boys, fix bayonets" song had been my Polish study club's anthem for a few weeks, so she was a familiar sight in the noisy mechanical wilderness of the Warsaw Uprising Museum.

Don't get me wrong: the Museum is fantastic and an absolute must-see, but possibly not a mentally healthy excursion for the solitary traveller. Go with a guide or a Polish friend and be prepared to say "Gracious, how sad!" or "Goodness, how brave!" every five minutes. No Pole would resent a foreigner being there because one of their national missions is informing foreigners just how awful the Second World War was for all the Poles, not just the Jews.

Here's a little video put out by the Museum to make everyone cry:

The one with the nurse makes me cry, too.


  1. Have you ever read William Manchester's 3-volume biography of Churchill? I have only just finished the first 2 books and have been overwhelmed with rage at the way the 'appeasers' betrayed their allies in central and eastern Europe. These were real betrayals, in that the Western Allies (chiefly France and Britain) *used* their Eastern allies as cannon-fodder to preserve the peace. It may sound odd from one who is a historian by trade, but the sheer beastliness of 'appeasement' had never been clear to me before. I thought of it merely as a desperate bid to keep the peace, which it was at first perhaps, rather than an outright desertion of allies not even to keep peace (many English leaders did not believe Germany would make war on their country, it seems), but to remain in office. I ended by raging to my husband that Chamberlain, Halifax, Henderson et al ought to have been hanged as collaborators. And I don't even believe in capital punishment.

    Alias Clio

    1. No, I haven't. But, yes, the appeasement was pretty beastly. However, the last thing the thoroughly demoralised English need right now is more guilt about stuff very very privileged Englishmen who died decades ago did. Generally I argue that the French betrayed the Poles even worse than the English did, which makes me feel better even though it hasn't yet mollified any Pole I've argued with on the topic. On the other hand, I may get brownie points for not backing down. Personally, I find Americans who hate the USA a lot more annoying than Team America Rah Rah types. Actually, the older I get, the more I like real American patriots. American patriotism is interesting because it totally transcends ethnicity, unlike Polish patriotism.

      I am not squeamish about executing traitors in wartime although I suspect I would be squeamish about executing them myself. Another not-so-fun fact--and I say this fully conscious of my German roots--is that fully a quarter of the ethnic Germans living in Poland in 1939 joyfully collaborated with the Nazi overlords and some of them even explained which Poles ought to be shot at once.

  2. My response was intended to apply to privileged Englishmen; that's why I mentioned them by name! I agree that the English don't need to be made to feel any worse right now. In any case, it was an Englishman who fought to stop it all, and pulled victory out of the Jaws of Defeat.