Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Today is the 70th anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Uprising

Today is the 70th anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Rising

By: Jason Morningstar, author of "Night Witches"

Seventy years ago today the Polish underground state and government in exile initiated a general uprising to coincide with the Soviet counteroffensive in eastern Poland. The goal was to greet the Red Army not as liberators but as allies. It was to be the largest and best organized effort to resist Nazi occupation in history, and it was to end in utter defeat.

To say that Poland got a raw deal in the twentieth century is an insult to raw deals. By 1944 she had been ripped in half by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany like dogs fighting over scraps, then completely occupied by a murderous Germany committed to the systematic destruction of not just the nation but the people. The Jews would be exterminated and the ethnic Poles would be transformed into a slave caste. Poland's allies effectively abandoned her to this fate.

And despite this the Poles fought.

The Polish Home Army, the Armia Krajowa, was the largest underground resistance organization in occupied territory, and perhaps the only one organized along strict military lines. AK soldiers were just that, soldiers, and if they were also occasionally saboteurs and assassins, well, that was just a side show on the road to the general uprising they knew would come. Maybe knew is the wrong word - in 1942 they didn't know anything - a future Europe completely dominated by Hitler was not inconceivable. The British weren't exactly kicking ass. The Americans couldn't even find theirs. And the Russians were still learning how to make war, when they weren't killing their own. So the AK was, in a very real sense, an organization built on faith and rage.

But by the summer of 1944 the writing was on the wall. The First Belorussian Front was grinding west and the German war machine was fighting a two-front war it could not sustain. The Soviets would be in Warsaw by the middle of September (and in fact had reconnaissance units near the eastern suburbs as early as 29 July) so today - seventy years ago - the word went out to liberate the city. The Home Army had as many as 50,000 soldiers answer the call in a carefully coordinated plan. They initially outnumbered the German garrison two to one at least.

But they were poorly equipped after almost five years of occupation, and they had no reserves and no support. They hoped the Soviets would render aid, but those who had seen them gleefully parcel up their country in 1939 were not so sanguine. They knew all this and still they fought.

Despite early gains the Germans reinforced, and brought in partisan-hunting units known for their extreme brutality. Hitler, enraged at the open defiance, ordered the entire city to be razed. At a minimum 150,000 civilians died. By January 1945, long after the AK capitulated, 85% of the buildings in Warsaw were destroyed. And long after it was over, the Soviets, who had parked across the Vistula and watched, moved in as liberators after all.

It is a tragic story, the centerpiece of a tragic century for Poland, but the thing I always remember is that they fought.

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Comment by Cap'n Tony on August 14, 2014 at 4:17pm

Well-written salute to those daring warriors.

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