September 1, 1944 Polish Revolt in Warsaw Begins - History

September 1, 1944 Polish Revolt in Warsaw Begins - History

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Old Town in Warsaw in flames during the Warsaw Uprising.

As the Soviets neared Warsaw the Polish underground began a revolt against the Germans. The Poles were expecting to receive Soviet aid which did not come. The rebels initially achieved some of their objectives, but the German fought back. Using their advantages in armor, artillery and aircraft the German defeated the rebels, killing 16,000 Polish fighters and between 150,000-200,000 civilians.

As the Soviets neared Warsaw the Polish underground decided to revolt and seized control of the city. The decision to do so was both to help defeat the Nazis and support in the war effort, as well as to exert Polish sovereignty as Soviet troops neared. In addition, there was a fear that the Germans would round up every able-bodied male in the city when they withdrew.

The Poles began the revolt on August 1, 1944, in an operation called Operation Tempest. The Poles initially gained control of most of central Warsaw. The uprising was launched with the understanding that once the Poles had secured the critical areas of the city, the Soviets who had reached parts of the Eastern bank of the Vistula River opposite Warsaw would step in on their side. The Soviets, however, stood opposite the city and let the Polish underground fight alone. The Nazis fought back and received reinforcements from outside the city. They also began systematically killing Poles in the areas they controlled, going apartment to apartment killing Poles. The underground managed to liberate the Gesiowka Concentration Camp in the city freeing the 350 Jews there. Despite the Germans bringing tanks into the city, the Poles managed to fight the Germans to a stalemate. The German, however, began to use both artillery to bombard the Polish positions and their air force to bomb them. The Soviets who were close by and who had overwhelming air superiority did not intervene nor did they send their massive army across the Vistula to defeat the Germans.

The British and Americans were pleading with Stalin to intervene, but he ignored their pleas and the British began to send transport planes to help resupply the rebels. The United States sent one flight of B-17, and towards the end of the rebellion, the Soviets even dropped some supplies. In the end, Germans with their overwhelming air and artillery support defeated the rebels. A total of 16,000 members of the Polish resistance were killed as were between 150,000 and 200,000 Polish civilians. 70% of the city was destroyed. The reason Stalin ordered his troops to stand down, he wanted the Germans to kill any possible opposition to the Soviet post-war domination of Poland.

The timeline is not intended to chronicle the rich history of Poland in the twentieth century, but is rather meant to outline major events in Polish history that are reflected in the collections of the Manuscript Division.

Piłsudski. Between ca. 1915 and ca. 1920. George Grantham Bain Collection. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

November 11: Polish Independence Day. Marshall Józef Piłsudski becomes &ldquochief of the state&rdquo.

June 28: Signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Poland is ratified as a sovereign state and gains access to the Baltic Sea.

April 21: Signing of the Treaty of Warsaw, also known as the Polish-Ukrainian Alliance, signed during the Polish-Soviet War.

March 17: Adoption of the modern Polish constitution: the March Constitution.

November 5&ndash12: Legislative election. Gabriel Narutowicz becomes President on December 9.

December 16: Gabriel Narutowicz is assassinated and Stanisław Wojciechowski becomes President on December 22.

May 12&ndash14: May Coup organized and carried out by Marshal Józef Piłsudski, overthrowing the government of President Stanisław Wojciechowski and Prime Minister Wincenty Witos. A new government is installed, and Ignacy Mościcki becomes President on June 4.

March 4-11: Legislative election, often considered the last free election in Poland until 1989. Piłsudski's Nonpartisan Bloc for Cooperation with the Government, a coalition of the Sanation faction, wins the election.

July 25: Signing of the Soviet&ndashPolish Non-Aggression Pact.

January 26: Signing of the German&ndashPolish Non-Aggression Pact.

Do you know that…?

• the Uprising lasted 63 days
• about 30,000 Home Army soldiers from the Warsaw District took part in the fighting
• only 10 percent of the combatants were armed
• the German side, numbering about 20,000, were fully armed, with armoured front units, artillery and air power at their disposal
• around 18 thousand insurgents died in the Uprising, and 25,000 were injured
• about 150,000 civilians were killed in the Uprising
• after the capitulation, about 500,000 inhabitants were expelled from Warsaw
• the last shot of the Uprising was fired on the evening of 2 October 1944
• the Warsaw Uprising was the largest act of resistance of this type in German-occupied Europe

The Story of a Polish Freedom Fighter Against Nazi Occupation

Stout-hearted Poles kept up the resistance. The Polish AK (Armja Krajowa, or Home Army) began with a small nucleus but eventually totaled 40,000 soldiers, which included about 4,000 women. It took direction from the London-based Polish government-in-exile and throughout the war funneled information on German military activities to the Allies and engaged in anti-Nazi sabotage, including an estimated 27,000 attacks on railroads. Most AK fighters were amateurs with no military training or warfare experience and came from all walks of life. Like Mieczkowski, many were young students who had little to offer but courage, love of country, and a will to fight. They also took crash courses in warfare. After France fell to the Germans in the summer of 1940, Mieczkowski attended resistance meetings. Like any gathering under the occupation, these conclaves were small, and attendees studied military tactics and learned how to operate pistols, grenades, and flamethrowers, usually by reviewing diagrams since they lacked the real thing. Once the Uprising began, Poles relied on captured German arms, Allied supplies, and homemade guns and grenades. Initially, though, like many AK members, Mieczkowski had no weapons, not even a knife.

A Distrust of the Soviets

But the goal was ambitious—to rise up and repulse the Nazi occupiers. On August 1, 1944, word came that the resistance would begin, with action to start at 5 pm. The Soviet leadership encouraged the Poles to rebel, and Moscow radio broadcast the start date to coordinate the attack. In the strange alchemy of war, Soviets and Poles had become uneasy partners in fighting a common enemy after June 1941, when Germany invaded the USSR. For the Poles, the Soviets appeared the lesser of two evils, even though their invasion of Poland’s eastern half had been savage. Poles still mistrusted the Soviets—and with good reason.

In 1943, the Kremlin severed relations with London’s Polish government-in-exile after it demanded an investigation of the 1940 Katyn Forest massacre, in which Russians executed 10,000 Polish Army officers, dumping their bodies in a mass grave in eastern Poland. Given their experiences with such treachery and violence, Poles were determined to avoid Soviet control of their country after the war. It was vital, then, for Poles to overthrow the Germans and establish a free government, instead of handing the USSR an opportunity to control the country after the war. At the very least, Poles expected their reward for the Uprising would be a strong bargaining position over their nation’s future. But they expected Soviet help to repel the Germans and, indeed, needed it.

Close Shaves With Death

One of Mieczkowski’s first assignments during the Uprising was to prevent attacks from tanks, the Nazis’ prime weapon, which they used to demolish buildings and ram through AK barricades. For weapons, he had two gasoline-filled bottles with wicks—the famous “Molotov cocktails.” He commanded four fighters in a detachment charged with defending an entrance gate to a building. Mieczkowski tried unsuccessfully to start a nearby car, and he and his men began to push it inside the gate so that they could siphon its gasoline to use in Molotov cocktails. Just as they nudged the car into position, a German tank appeared down the street, swiveling its turret in their direction. Mieczkowski and the others ran into the building.

The car exploded. The tank’s round hit it square-on, the impact sending metal fragments flying everywhere. Inside the building, one comrade gestured that Mieczkowski’s jacket had blood stains. “I could not believe I was wounded because I had not felt anything,” he said, “but the blood convinced me.” He relinquished his command of the unit and sought help at his company’s first aid post, where nurses cleaned and bandaged his wounds (a decade later, in 1955, a chiropractor found shrapnel still embedded in his cheek).

Mieczkowski had more close calls. At one point, he led a detachment that defended the second floor of a building, while the Germans occupied the ground level. After throwing grenades downstairs, he peeked down the stairwell. Seeing nothing but hearing noises, he retreated toward an apartment. Just then, the Germans unleashed a flamethrower attack, and a surge of fire enveloped the staircase. Mieczkowski’s company withdrew to an adjacent building by using a hole in the wall connecting the two structures. Moments after his unit fled, the first building collapsed the Germans had used a Goliath, a small tank packed with explosives and steered by a wire from a nearby tank. By seconds, Mieczkowski and his men had avoided annihilation.

Injury and Tragedy

The Uprising’s first days went auspiciously for the Poles, who caught the Germans off guard and gained control of 60 percent of Warsaw. But the Nazis counterattacked, forcing them to relinquish their gains. In early September 1944, the Polish command decided to abandon the Old Town section of Warsaw, then receiving a vicious pounding from German infantry and Stuka dive bombers. At this time Mieczkowski, trying to help fellow resistance fighters flee from Old Town, embarked on the ill-fated mission where he lost his right thumb and absorbed shrapnel in his thigh.

After getting shot, Mieczkowski limped back through the dynamited wall, crossed the street, and went to a first aid station. There, a nurse bandaged his thumb and dressed his leg. In searing pain, he walked to a makeshift hospital, located in the basement of a nearby building, where a surgeon stitched his cuts and tried to even out his thumb bone. Doctors operated under horrendous conditions, with minimal medicine and often working with flashlights or candles. This hospital was dark and crowded, and anguished groans filled the air Mieczkowski left almost immediately. Days later, in a jarring reminder of Nazi air power, a German bomb destroyed the hospital.

Just two weeks after losing his thumb, on the night of September 18, 1944, Mieczkowski fell asleep in the basement of his apartment building, an edifice darkened by the lack of electricity. A bomb blast jolted him awake, and minutes later his younger brother rushed into his cellar room. Their mother, he cried, had just been killed. “I got up as fast as I could, crossed the courtyard and went down to the basement on the other side,” Mieczkowski remembered. “My mother lay on the floor in a pool of blood. She and another woman had been standing at the entrance to the basement, probably enjoying some clean night air, when the bomb struck. Shrapnel entered her back and pierced her heart.” Both women died instantly. Friends carried Aniela’s body to the building’s first floor, where Mieczkowski tenderly cleaned her face of blood. Her front showed no wounds, but shrapnel had gouged a deep hole in her back. Although he and his brother sobbed for most of the night, near dawn they finally fell asleep.

The next day, Mieczkowski and his brothers made a simple casket out of untreated boards and lowered it into the earth. Aniela died at age 49—“in great physical shape, active and caring, the focus of our family,” Mieczkowski recalled. For the next year he felt numb, “letting life pass by without much sense of personal involvement,” he said. “The abortive Uprising added to my feeling of separation from reality.”

The Fall of the Uprising

The Uprising soldiered on valiantly but vainly, with the Nazis tightening their noose around Warsaw. Withering under bombs and ground artillery, Warsaw became a shell of the city it was just weeks earlier, as Germans pulverized a quarter of its buildings, adding to the destruction they had already wrought during the 1939 invasion and the 1943 Ghetto Uprising. For the third time during the war, the city found itself the nexus of conflict, and this combat was the deadliest, with fighting taking place from building to building at point-blank range.

On October 2, 1944, the Poles surrendered. The Uprising had lasted 63 days. The marvel was that it stretched that long, because it involved ragtag fighters, armed with only courage and crude weapons, confronting one of the world’s strongest military machines. All told, 200,000 Polish civilians and 15,000 resistance fighters perished during the Uprising.

Warsaw Historical Timeline

1569 Poland and Lithuania are united and parliament shifts from Kraków to the more centrally located Warsaw.

1596 King Sigismund III Vasa moves his court to Warsaw.

1655 - 1660 sees prolonged warfare with Sweden.

1700 - 1721 The Great Northern War sees Polish forces run ragged by the Swedes and Russians.

1764 Stanisław August Poniatowski becomes king. His finest hour comes in 1791 with the signing of a constitution that promises sweeping reforms. Russia invades in 1792 to quash the constitution and in 1793 the Second Partition of Poland promises the end of the Polish state.

1795 Austria, Russia and Prussia impose a third partition of Poland, effectively ending Polish independence.

1807 Napoleon’s troops enter Warsaw and a semi-independent Duchy of Warsaw is created. Following the collapse of Napoleon’s campaign in Russia, the 1815 congress of Vienna rules that Warsaw is to come under Imperial Russian tutelage, effectively wiping Poland off the map for over a century.

November 23, 1830 An armed uprising in Warsaw takes the Russians until September 1831 to crush.

1863 - 1864 Citizens of Warsaw again try and fail to topple the governing Russian government in what becomes known as the January Insurrection. Warsaw flourishes for the next half a century under Mayor Starykiewicz.

1918 The end of World War I leads to the collapse of the partitioning powers. Polish hero Józef Piłsudski is released from detention in Germany and assumes control of Poland. Warsaw is once again the capital of an independent Poland.

1920 Bolshevik troops invade Poland, but are beaten back after the epic Battle of Warsaw, effectively saving post-WWI Europe from the Red Army.

1921 The foundation of the first modern Polish constitution and beginning of what is commonly called the 2nd Polish Republic.

1939 August 23 The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is signed. Based around Soviet/German non-aggression it effectively carves Poland up between the two. Poland is invaded on September 1, with the first gunshots fired on the Westerplatte Peninsula in the north, signalling the start of WWII. On September 17 the east of Poland is invaded by the USSR and Warsaw capitulates 11 days later on the 28th.

1944 August 1 Poland’s Home Army launches the Warsaw Uprising with the intention of liberating Warsaw from Nazi occupation. It ends in defeat two months later with the city in ruins.

1945 January 17 Soviet and Polish units enter the rubble of Warsaw. Total destruction stands at 84%, civilian losses are estimated at over 700,000.

1945 Business is nationalized and political and religious leaders are imprisoned. With much of the capital, Warsaw, in ruins, Łódź is used as Poland’s temporary capital until 1948. In 1947 the Communists consolidate a political monopoly after rigged elections. In 1955 the Warsaw Pact is created and Warsaw’s Palace of Culture is completed.

Władysław Gomułka becomes Poland’s premier in 1956 and a political thaw begins. Events in Gdańsk are the first to rock the system protesting about plunging living standards workers at the Lenin Shipyards call a strike in 1970, with the army promptly called in to intervene. Bloody clashes lead to the deaths of 44 workers, and ultimately force Gomułka out of power. The late 1970s witness a dramatic drop in living standards and spiralling prices a half-mad economic policy propped up by foreign loans is exposed as useless. 1978 sees Cardinal Karol Wojtyła elected as Pope and taking the name John Paul II. The following year he returns for a nine day tour of his native Poland in what is regarded by many as the pivotal point in the collapse of communism. Preaching 32 sermons in nine days his brief return offers hope and unity to Poles, and lights the flame that will later explode in the Solidarność (Solidarity) revolution.

1980 A general strike is called in August by the fledgling Solidarność trade union, led by shipyard electrician Lech Wałęsa.

1981 Martial law is declared by the Minister of Defence General Jaruzelski on December 13.

1982 Solidarność is outlawed by the government.

1983 Martial law is lifted in July and most political leaders released from prison. Lech Wałęsa receives the Nobel Peace Prize.

1985-88 Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika reforms initiate a period of liberalization, though economic crisis and popular frustration continue to deepen.

1989 Following more strikes Solidarność is legalized. Partly free elections are held. Solidarność sweeps the elections and the Communist regime collapses.

1990 Lech Wałęsa becomes the first popularly-elected president of post-Communist Poland.

2004 Poland enters the European Union on May 1, 2004 sparking a mass exodus of young Poles seeking their fortune.

2005 April 2nd Following a long battle with illness Pope John Paul II passes away. His funeral in the Vatican is attended by a million Poles.

2007 Platforma are voted into power, thereby breaking the Kaczyński twins hold on power.
Poland is awarded the rights to co-host Euro 2012 along with the Ukraine.

2009 World leaders convene in Poland to mark the 70th anniversary of WWII.

2010 April 10th. A plane carrying President Lech Kaczyński, his wife and 94 other Polish dignitaries to Smoleńsk in Russia to commemorate the murder of Polish officers in WWII crashes while trying to land. Everyone on board is killed, many who form the Polish elite. The country is sent into a state of shock.

2012: Poland successfully co-hosts the Euro 2012 football tournament with neighbouring Ukraine (though the Polish team didn't make it out of the group stage).

2016: Warsaw plays host to a strategically important and historically significant NATO Summit.

September 1, 1944 Polish Revolt in Warsaw Begins - History

Maciej Siekierski. Remembering the Warsaw Uprising. Hoover Digest. 2004, No. 4, Fall Issue.

Maciej Siekierski is the curator of the East European Collection at the Hoover Institution Archives. A member of the Hoover Library staff since 1984, he has principal responsibility for the acquisition of East European library and archival materials. From 1991 to 1993, he directed the Hoover Institution&rsquos Warsaw Office, overseeing the collection and shipment to Hoover of tons of documents released by the revolutions and transitions to democracy in Eastern Europe. The holder of a Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Berkeley, he has written articles on Hoover archival collections and a variety of historical topics. In June 2001, the prime minister of Poland honored him with the Laur Award for his work on behalf of the preservation of Polish historical records.

A City under Siege

In the first half of the twentieth century, no European capital had a more eventful and tragic history than Warsaw. It was occupied by the German army during World War I, and its eastern suburbs were scorched during the Bolshevik onslaught in 1920. The city succumbed to the Nazi invasion in 1939 after a month of indiscriminate artillery shelling and aerial bombing. German occupation was particularly brutal and deadly. The Jewish population of more than 350,000 was confined to a walled ghetto and systematically exterminated by deportations to death camps, hunger, disease, and executions. The process was completed in the spring of 1943, despite the heroic resistance of several hundred Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Poland was the first country in Europe to resist Hitler: World War II started in Poland with a coordinated Nazi and Soviet invasion in September 1939. Poland&rsquos five-week struggle against overwhelming forces ended in defeat and the country&rsquos being partitioned between Germany and the Soviet Union. Almost simultaneously a government in exile was set up, first in France and then in London. Polish units made up of refugees in Western Europe fought with distinction in defense of France and later in the Battle of Britain. By the summer of 1944, with the release of tens of thousands of prisoners and deportees from the Soviet Union, the Polish government in exile commanded an army of some 150,000 soldiers. Free Polish divisions were a significant component of the Allied effort. In Italy, the Polish Second Corps under General Wladyslaw Anders succeeded where the British and Americans had failed, capturing the German-fortified abbey of Monte Cassino. In France, after the Normandy invasion, the Polish First Armored Division helped to inflict a crushing defeat on the Germans at Falaise.

Inside occupied Poland, anti-Nazi resistance was consolidated around the Home Army (Armia Krajowa, in Polish), an underground military organization loyal to the Free Polish government in London, which at its peak in mid-1944 included more than 300,000 soldiers. The Home Army was involved in sabotage, self-defense, and retaliation activities against the Germans. It also provided a great service to the Allies in the area of intelligence, obtaining information on German forces in the east and on the development of Germany&rsquos secret V-1 and V-2 rockets. But the primary purpose of the Home Army was to prepare for the anticipated German military collapse and the liberation of the country. That moment seemed to be at hand in the summer of 1944.

The war in Europe was going well for the Allies in late July 1944. After a successful invasion of Normandy, American and British forces were moving through northern France toward Paris. In Italy, they were already well past Rome. On the Eastern Front, the Germans had suffered a series of devastating losses and seemed to be withdrawing hastily to the west. Soviet tanks had reached the eastern suburbs of Warsaw. It appeared that Warsaw would be the first Allied capital to be liberated from the Nazis. Broadcasts from Moscow called on the Polish people to rise up against the Germans. The Battle for Warsaw was about to begin.

Battle and Betrayal

The Home Army offensive began in the afternoon of August 1, 1944. The uprising was expected to last about a week and was seen largely as a &ldquomopping-up&rdquo operation. This turned out to be a miscalculation. The Germans decided to make a stand and defend &ldquofortress&rdquo Warsaw as the Soviets halted their offensive. The uprising lasted not one but nine weeks, turning into the longest and bloodiest urban insurgency of the Second World War. Despite an initial success in liberating most of the city from the Germans, the tide soon turned against the Home Army. The strength of the two sides was disproportionately in favor of the Germans. The Home Army had at its disposal about 40,000 fighters&mdashincluding 4,000 women&mdashbut no more than 10 percent of them were armed, mostly with light weapons. The Germans had roughly the same number of soldiers, but they were heavily armed, with tanks, artillery, and planes.

The civilian population suffered the most. On August 5&ndash6 alone more than 40,000 inhabitants of the district of Wola&mdashmen, women, and children&mdashwere slaughtered. The mass killing was the work of the SS, police, penal battalions, and units of the Russian People&rsquos Liberation Army, made up mostly of Russian collaborators. Altogether, the Polish losses during the uprising included 150,000 civilian dead and about 20,000 Home Army casualties. The German forces lost about 10,000. Fighting ceased on October 2 with the formal capitulation of the Home Army forces. The remaining civilian population of 650,000 was deported to a camp south of Warsaw. During the next three months, the Germans proceeded to demolish much of what was left of the city when the Soviet troops &ldquoliberated&rdquo Warsaw in January 1945, Poland&rsquos capital was a vast desert of hollow-shelled buildings and rubble.

The Warsaw Uprising failed because of lack of support from the Soviets and British and American unwillingness to demand that Stalin extend assistance to their Polish ally. The Soviet advance in Poland stopped on the Vistula River, within sight of fighting Warsaw. Stalin had broken off diplomatic relations with the Polish government in exile when, in the spring of 1943, it asked the International Red Cross to investigate the killing of thousands of Polish officers at Katyn. [ katyn ] The Polish officers were prisoners of the Soviets following its 1939 invasion of Poland in collaboration with Hitler. The Soviets tried to pin the blame on the Germans and did not admit the April 1940 summary executions of at least 21,000 Polish prisoners until some 50 years after the fact.

Simply put, the Soviets had no interest in assisting the Home Army to liberate Warsaw. The Soviets were planning to annex the eastern half of Poland, first occupied in 1939 under the provisions of the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, and to exercise control over the rest. The Western Allies had secretly agreed to these points at the conference in Teheran in December 1943. [ teheran ] The Poles suspected the worst from Stalin, but they had confidence that their British and American allies would keep Soviet ambitions in check. This turned out to be a complete miscalculation. When the Home Army requested airdrops of arms and supplies into Warsaw, the Soviets refused permission for Allied planes to land and refuel on airfields under their control. In the end, the Allies did virtually nothing. FDR even turned down Winston Churchill&rsquos suggestion for a strongly worded joint request to Stalin for help. Not until the second half of September did massive airdrops become possible, but by that time it was already too late to save Warsaw.

September 1, 1944 Polish Revolt in Warsaw Begins - History

In January l944 my father was on a cargo boat tranporting live horses, about two-thousand of them (I think) along the coast of Norway, a short, night-time trip. the boat was hit and sank, only three men survived and my father was one of them only because he had taken over nightwatch for a sick buddy. Talk about God looking out for him. My father jumped into the ocean and started swimming as the boat sank. He woke up in an Oslo hospital three days later, had been picked up by a Norwegian fishingboat and after thawing out he was perfectly all right. While swimming in that icy water and before he lost consciousness, he promised God to take his children to America if he got out of this trouble and he did.

Oral history provided by the decendants of Nathanael Werner, born August 16, l914 in Rumania, died January 9, 1979 in Canada. there are now eight adult grandchildren and four great-grandchildren enjoying the freedoms of what he fought for more than fifty years ago.

January 17, 1944

Battle for the Gustav Line in Italy begins with an Allied troop attack on the German lines. Germans hold up attack at Monte Cassino.

January 22, 1944

Operation Shingle starts with Allied landing on Anzio, Italy beaches. Allies only progress seven miles before German troops under General Kesselring pin the Allies down.

May 11, 1944

Allies begin decisive assault against German lines in Italy and by May 17 had reached 25 miles behind German positions forcing German withdrawl from Monte Cassino.

May 18, 1944

Allied troops capture Monte Cassino after long seige.

June 4, 1944

Video of Allied troops entering Rome, Italy and being greeted by Pope Pius XII

Allies score big victory
with taking of Rome.

Troops of the 85th Division
enter the gates of Rome.

June 6, 1944

General Eisenhower talks with men of Company E, 502d Parachute Infantry Regiment, at the 101st Airborne Division's camp at Greenham Common, England, 5 June 1944.

Lines of men and material stream ashore onto the Normandy beaches. Click here for larger image.

Video interview with veteran of Omaha Beach

July 18, 1944

August 1, 1944

Jewish civilians. Copy of German photograph taken during the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, Poland.

More prisoners. Another copy of German photograph taken during the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, Poland.

Jewish Rabbis rounded up during the crushing of opposition in the Warsaw Ghetto, Poland.

August 12, 1944

Final Japanese garrison at Guam is defeated by U.S. forces.

A Water Buffalo, loaded with Marines, churns through the sea bound for beaches of Tinian Island near Guam.

August 15, 1944

Allies land in southern France.

Troops of the 45th Division wade ashore near Ste. Maxime.

September 17, 1944

October 1944

An American medium tank hit a Japanese land mine in surging forward to the Tacloban Air Strip during the early stages of the Philippines invasion on Oct. 20. Here, one of the wounded from the wrecked tank is being bandaged by a medical corpsman. 10/20/1944

The liberation of the Philippine Islands by the Allies begins.

Task Group 38.3 in line as they enter Ulithi anchorage after strikes against the Japanese in the Philippines. USS LANGLEY, TICONDEROGA, WASHINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA, SOUTH DAKOTA, SANTA FE, BILOXI, MOBILE, and OAKLAND. (National Archives)

Remembering the Warsaw Uprising: August 1, 1944

As the world looks back at World War I, another anniversary looms large.

Much like the lead up to that previous paroxysm of European violence whose centenary we mark on August 4, the lead up to the Second World War saw a proliferation of alliances in anticipation of a revisionist German challenge. The French sealed a military alliance with Poland as early as 1921 this was strengthened by a commitment of mutual assistance in the Treaty of Locarno in 1925, which also committed France to the protection of Czechoslovakia in the event of a German attack and bound Britain to France. In the aftermath of the Munich Crisis of 1938, the British and Polish governments signed reciprocal guarantees in the spring of 1939, and they undertook to sign the Anglo-Polish Treaty of Mutual Assistance just two days after the announcement of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 23. A secret protocol contained within the former named Germany as its object.

The agreements proved to be of nugatory deterrent value and within a month, both Germany and the USSR had invaded the Second Polish Republic, which was, in the words of a British historian, “foully murdered by two assailants acting in collusion.” Indeed, even while the fighting was going on (the Poles did not capitulate until October 6), the two invaders held a joint victory parade at Brest-Litovsk and by September 28, had signed a German-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Demarcation and Cooperation—“cooperation” being the operative word, because the Treaty had provisions that provided for the two countries to work together to undermine the Polish resistance, which would grow to become the largest in all of Nazi-occupied Europe. By September 30, the Underground Polish government-in-exile had been formed under the leadership General Władysław Sikorski.

And while just shy of two years later the Soviets would be compelled to switch sides, it would not be the last time the two totalitarian states, aptly described by Evelyn Waugh as “huge and hateful”, would act in concert. Five years into the war, the ancient Polish capital of Warsaw would meet a tragic fate, only this time with the Germans and Soviets acting in tacit, rather than overt, cooperation.

The launch of Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941 put an end to what can only be described as a fruitful period of Nazi-Soviet cooperation, during which both sides traded political prisoners, dealt in commerce and built on what they began by splitting Poland the Soviets took control of the Baltics, attacked Finland and Romania, while Hitler moved to conquer Western Europe with rather more ease than perhaps even he had expected.

Into the summer of 1944, as the Soviet advance on Berlin accelerated (they crossed the River Bug into German-held Polish territory on July 19), the time for the long-awaited Rising (or Operation Tempest)—to be led by the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa) in Warsaw—seemed to its commander Bor-Komorowski, to be at hand. The primary dilemma Bor-Komorowski faced was one of timing according to the eminent historian of Poland, Norman Davies “the only moment for a successful Rising would lie in a short interval of two or three days,” during which the Germans had begun their retreat, but before the Soviets could arrive in the city.

The assumption was that (though Stalin had opportunistically and cynically broken off relations with the Polish government-in-exile in April 1943 over the Katyn revelations) once the Rising had begun, the Soviets would come to the aid of the Home Army and help them drive the Germans from the capital. This was assumed with good reason: Soviet tanks had been spotted in Warsaw’s Praga district, on the eastern bank of the Vistula. On July 30, the Stalinist Lublin Committee broadcast the following:

Soviet troops are attacking fiercely. People of Warsaw! To arms! Help the Red Army in the crossing of the Vistula!

A further assumption, that the Rising would receive material support from its principal allies, Great Britain and the United States, was not without basis. That June, Sikorski’s successor (Sikorski had died the previous summer in a plane crash off of Gibraltar), Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, traveled to Washington to seek support for—and appeared to receive—substantial moral and material support for the Rising FDR met with Premier Mikolajczyk multiple times and approved an $8.5 million grant to support the effort. Mikolajczyk also recalled FDR’s encouraging him “not to worry” about Stalin “because he knows the United States government stands solidly behind you.” Churchill also signaled his enthusiasm for the operation. Nevertheless, even in the absence of monetary aid and words of support from London and Washington, the Rising probably would have happened regardless, because, as the chief delegate of the Underground government in Warsaw explained later, “we wanted to be free and to owe this freedom to nobody but ourselves.”

The evening the Rising commenced, August 1, a mid-level State Department diplomat then serving as an assistant to the Ambassador in Moscow reflected on a dinner he had had the night before with the by-now-peripatetic Mikolajczyk. The experience left him in a (familiar) state of despair:

I wished that instead of mumbling words of official optimism we had had the judgment and the good taste to bow our heads in silence before the tragedy of a people who have been our allies, who we have saved from our enemies, and whom we cannot save from our friends.

…And thus, George F Kennan’s well-deserved reputation for prescience.

As it was to be throughout the sixty-three-day battle, there was little good news to report after the initial round of fighting. According to the historian Halik Kochanski, the Home Army’s efforts to retake the airports and capture the bridges and main thoroughfares all failed. Its attacks on the police and Gestapo headquarters, and its attempts to cut German lines of communication also failed. Yet one important victory from the early days of fighting was recorded at Concentration Camp Warsaw where 348 remaining Jewish prisoners were liberated by the Home Army, about a third of the liberated went on to join the Rising, and fought, according to a Home Army regular, “with complete indifference to life or death.”

Enraged by the Rising, Hitler ordered that Warsaw be “wiped from the face of the Earth, all the inhabitants were to be killed, there were to be no prisoners.” The SS acted accordingly: on August 5 and 6, some 40,000 civilians were massacred in the Wola District alone.

The novelist and Solidarity activist Andrzej Szczypiorski was fourteen years old at the time. Equipped with only a pre-WWI vintage rifle, he fought on the barricades from August 1 to September 2, when he was captured and sent to concentration camp Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg. His eyewitness account testifies to the savagery inflicted on the Varsovians:

…the Germans gave no quarter even to women, old people or children. The German tanks storming the insurgents’ barricades were screened from fire by a simple and effective method: the Germans drove women and children forward in front of the tanks.

As Soviet tanks sat idly on the opposite bank of the Vistula, Stalin repeatedly turned down allied requests to assist the Poles. He rebuffed a plea for assistance from Churchill on August 16 and a joint appeal from Churchill and FDR on the 20th. Direct requests to the Soviets from the Poles themselves were either ignored or refused outright. Airdrops by the Soviets (who controlled six airfields on Polish territory) only began on September 13. Stalin described the leaders of the Rising, in his weird Communist patois, alternately as “adventurers” or “power-seeking criminals.” A final plea from Bor-Komorowski to the Soviet commander sitting in Praga on September 29 received no response he was forced to capitulate to the Germans three days later.

The losses were horrendous. Civilian casualty figures are estimated to have been between 150,000-200,000. According to Kochanski, the Home Army, which was comprised of 40,000 men at the start of the Rising, suffered a casualty rate of over 50 percent. A week after the capitulation, Heinrich Himmler gave the order to destroy Warsaw “brick by brick.” According to Yale’s Timothy Snyder: “No other European capital suffered such a fate: destroyed physically, and bereft of about half of its population.”

The massive loss of life coupled with the total destruction of their city, engendered, quite understandably, a feeling of bitterness toward the Rising in some of the survivors. Czeslaw Milosz recalls walking through the rubble of the city with his friend (the novelist Jerzy Andrzejewski, who appeared in The Captive Mind as Alpha the Moralist) feeling “as did all those who survived, one dominant emotion: anger.” Milosz, surely not alone, wondered, “in the name of what future, in the name of what order, were young people dying every day?” Twenty years later, this time in the role of interlocutor in the poet Aleksander Wat’s spoken-word memoir, My Century, Milosz draws out Wat’s shared disgust over the seemingly futile sacrifice of Warsaw’s children during the Rising:

Wat: That’s the Polish magical mentality. Sacrifice the children…so that the nation will endure to create a legend.

Milosz: I saw plenty of that during the occupation.

Wat: The entire Warsaw Uprising!

September 1, 1944 Polish Revolt in Warsaw Begins - History

Home Army soldiers of 8PP-AK, Lublin 1944 The Armia Krajowa, abbreviated AK ( Army of the Homeland or more commonly known as the Home Army), was the dominant Polish resistance movement in World War II German-occupied Poland. It was formed in February 1942 from the Związek Walki Zbrojnej (Union for Armed Struggle). Over the next two years, it absorbed most other Polish underground forces. It was loyal to the Polish government in exile and constituted the armed wing of what became known as the "Polish Underground State".

Estimates of Home Army membership in 1944 range from 200,000 to 600,000, with the most common number being 400,000 that figure would make it not only the largest Polish underground resistance movement but one of the 3 largest in Europe during World War II, after the Yugoslav partisan army and Soviet partisans. It was disbanded on January 20, 1945, when Polish territory had been mostly cleared of German forces by the advancing Soviet Red Army.

Civilians being force marched out of Warsaw by German troops In the course of the Warsaw Rising and its suppression, the Germans deported approximately 550,000 of the city’s residents and approximately 100,000 civilians from its outskirts, sending them to Durchgangslager 121 (Dulag 121), a transit camp in Pruszków set up especially for this purpose. The security police and the SS segregated the deportees and decided their fate. Approximately 650,000 people passed through the Pruszków camp in August, September, and October. Approximately 55,000 were sent to concentration camps, including 13,000 to Auschwitz.

The Story of a Polish Freedom Fighter Against Nazi Occupation

Here's What You Need to Know: The Uprising had lasted 63 days.

“This mission is suicidal,” thought Bogdan Mieczkowski. In the autumn of 1944, the 19-year-old Polish resistance fighter battled in the Warsaw Uprising. Poles, although outnumbered and outgunned, rebelled against Nazi Germans who overran western Poland and seized the capital city. Mieczkowski’s unit now mounted an offensive to allow trapped comrades to escape from Warsaw’s Old Town section, where a Nazi counteroffensive pinned them down. With just eight soldiers and armed only with hand grenades, Mieczkowski thought they risked slaughter.

Two Polish engineers placed dynamite next to a wall separating them from the Germans and then ran across the street. An explosion blasted a hole in the wall, emitting an enormous dust cloud, and Mieczkowski and the others scurried through the opening. As they ran, a German machine gun opened fire. Mieczkowski felt his right arm jerk violently, and brick shards struck his upper thigh as bullets ripped out pieces of the wall, turning them into projectiles. “I hit the ground and looked at my hand. Instead of my right thumb, a flap of skin was hanging in its place,” Mieczkowski said. He had to continue fighting—only now he was bleeding profusely, his right thumb sliced off and leg pierced by shrapnel. World War II, which had devastated his family and the life he knew, was becoming deadlier every minute.

War Begins in Poland

Before the war began, Mieczkowski was enjoying his teenage years in Bydgoszcz, a city of 150,000 in northwestern Poland. He had older and younger brothers, Zbigniew and Janusz, and their mother Aniela was a devout Catholic who read voraciously and loved to play the family’s grand piano. The family patriarch, Tadeusz, had gone to America to study engineering at Chicago’s Armour Institute. After earning his degree in 1915, Tadeusz returned to Poland and parlayed his U.S. education into business success, co-owning a thriving construction company that had two brick-making plants in Bydgoszcz, plus other factories and storage depots nearby.

Tadeusz’s success as an industrialist allowed the family to live in comfort. They owned a large, five-bedroom house, employed a cook and domestic servant, and had two cars, including an American-built Willys Overland. The family vacationed along the Baltic Sea during summers and took winter retreats in the Carpathian Mountains, where Tadeusz owned a small hotel.

On September 1, 1939, distant explosions signaled an end to this idyllic lifestyle. On that day, Bogdan was at his dentist’s office. From far away came rumbling, like thunder. Although he didn’t know it, those sounds marked the start of World War II. Also unaware of what the booms meant, the dentist arranged another appointment with Mieczkowski. Neither of them would keep it. (Mieczkowski later learned that the Gestapo arrested and tortured his dentist, releasing him to die within just two weeks.)

The significance of those sounds soon became clear. Just nine days earlier, on August 23, 1939, Germany and Russia had signed a nonaggression pact. The treaty removed German Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s worry about a conflict with the Soviet Union and allowed the two nations to forge a secret agreement to divide Poland. On September 1, Germany smashed through the country, and two days later, Britain declared war on Germany. Because larger, hostile countries traditionally bordered Poland, invasions and annexations so bedeviled its past that one aphorism said that Poland “had no history, just neighbors.” As if to prove that adage true, on September 17 the Soviet Union invaded and occupied the country’s eastern half. This new aggression doomed Poland, which was attacked by Germany to the West and the USSR to the East in effect, the country had been stabbed both front and back.

For millions of Poles, World War II meant injury, death, and destruction of the lives they once knew. So it was for the Mieczkowskis. The Nazis overran Bydgoszcz, killing especially upper-class citizens, and Tadeusz was a prominent target. For safety, the family fled the city in their Willys Overland, abandoning everything else they owned. The threat of German strafing was everywhere, and as they traveled they saw burning houses, dead livestock, and soon, bodies. The family reached Kobryn, where Tadeusz’s sister lived, a city that seemed peaceful, giving the sense that there was no war. But the illusion soon ended. After two days, county officials decided to evacuate families on a bus. With gasoline now scarce, the Mieczkowskis left their car and joined the exodus.

At a roadblock, a civilian dressed in black and wearing a red armband boarded the bus. He told the driver to proceed to Brest, where the bus stopped at a jailhouse. Two Soviet tanks stood in front—a brutal reminder that they were now in the Soviet-occupied zone of Poland. Once inside the jail, Mieczkowski and his family saw more black-clad civilians, all wearing red armbands. They were processing a long line of Polish policemen, whom the Soviets singled out for harsh treatment—likely, forced labor in the Gulag—because they represented Polish authority, which they were abolishing. On the second floor, the Mieczkowskis joined other civilians and spent the night, sleeping on the bare floor. In the morning, Bogdan could hear the cries of men being tortured, and he saw a police officer’s wife hastily shredding his uniform to protect his identity and prevent him from being beaten her husband hid under a blanket, fearing discovery.

The Mieczkowski family got lucky. Taduesz and Aniela were middle-aged parents with three teenage boys, and their captors released them. The next step was to keep moving. The family feared deportation to Siberia if they stayed in Brest and, moreover, conditions there were intolerable: food was in short supply, people were displaced (many sleeping in the railroad station), and more arrests were taking place. They decided to brave German and Soviet border guards and go to Warsaw, a metropolis where they could seek refuge with one of Aniela’s relatives and blend with its more than million residents. Arriving in late November 1939, Bogdan and his family began a transient existence.

Living Under German Occupation

Amid tumultuous change, Mieczkowski had to refocus his priorities and adapt. Whereas most teenagers worry about school, he lost the 1939-1940 academic year and still had two years of junior high plus all of high school to complete. The Germans wanted to prevent Poles from studying beyond the elementary level, but Polish teachers convinced them that an educated Polish work force would redound to the Third Reich’s glory. In this way, trade schools stayed open, and Mieczkowski completed junior high. High school was trickier. Warsaw Poles devised an underground educational system in which small groups of students and teachers—numbering just a half dozen so as not to arouse suspicion—met furtively, usually at the apartment of a teacher or student. This secret schooling allowed Mieczkowski to finish his secondary education, earning no diploma but gleaning enough knowledge that he hoped to enter a university when the war ended.

Earning money was even more important. Stripped of his construction empire, Tadeusz pawned family watches and jewelry and became a partner in a second-hand store. He used an alias to remain incognito, and to disguise his appearance, he grew a beard and used different glasses. Bogdan worked in a delivery business, shoe-making plant, toy manufacturing facility, and agricultural seed factory, and he rolled cigarettes for pay. The earnings brought only subsistence living, and the family ate meat just once or twice a year. Like his father, Bogdan learned to blend into the environment to avoid attracting attention. He recalled, “I did not wear any signs that might inspire curiosity—no rings, no military-style cavalry boots, no prewar high school uniform, nothing to indicate that I was anything but a poor, undernourished boy.”

Joining the Resistance

He also joined the resistance movement, helping to distribute an underground newspaper, wholesaled by a married couple who owned a small Warsaw grocery store. This was dangerous: had the Germans caught him carrying the newspaper, the result would have been torture and death. Two months after Mieczkowski began courier work, he was walking to the store to pick up his load of contraband papers when he noticed the place was shuttered, marked with a piece of paper carrying a German eagle and swastika. He briskly walked past the storefront, pretending to be oblivious but surmising that the couple had been caught and executed.

Although it offered hope and tested the Poles’ will to survive, resistance carried perils—as did everyday life. The brutality of the German occupation helped to explain why Poland had the highest casualty rate of any European country during World War II. The Germans viewed Poles as one of mankind’s lowest groups, a subhuman race like Gypsies and Jews, and they held Polish life in dim regard. “To be a Pole was almost—but not quite—the most unfortunate thing a person could be in World War II,” historian James Stokesbury has commented. In Warsaw, Nazi snipers picked off men, women, and children, and Germans also snatched Poles from the streets, torturing and killing them or sending them to concentration camps. Aniela hosted a couple from Bydgoszcz who also sought shelter in Warsaw, and one evening the husband decided to stroll outside just before the night curfew began. He never returned. In this way, the Nazis instilled fear among the Poles, patrolling the city and abducting residents. Once, a German patrol stopped Bogdan on a street. An officer frisked him and removed a wad of papers. Luckily, they were letters he was delivering to a German agricultural office, and the officer let him go.

Watch the video: Det Polen forhelved (May 2022).


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