First posted 1 August 2008
On 1 August 1944 the Polish Home Army launched a uprising in Warsaw against the German occupiers. They had few weapons but possessed an abundance of courage. The time was right: the Red Army was at the gates of Warsaw and Allied armies were advancing against the Germans in France. Wehrmacht officers had nearly killed Hitler on 20 July. It seemed that end of the Nazi state was at hand,
Moscow radio had even broadcast a call to arms to the Poles on 29 July.
In the first days, the uprising had success. The Home Army gained control of central Warsaw. Then they were betrayed by their allies and their allies ally.
The Red Army took no steps to aid the Poles. They even refused to allow British and American planes to use Soviet airfields in airlift and bombing operations. Churchill and Roosevelt had no military options and only a few diplomatic ones. Churchill wanted to put pressure on Stalin but FDR refused. The Warsaw Uprising was a potential embarrassment to a man running for his fourth term. He had already acquiesced to Stalin’s plans for Poland but dared not admit it for fear of losing the votes of Polish-Americans and other Catholics. The Uprising threatened to make Poland an issue in his last campaign.
Many in the West believed the Uprising was hopeless and tragic from the very beginning. The Home Army disagreed. They sent this message to London on 24 August:
Hello.. here is the heart of Poland! Hear Warsaw speaking!
Throw the dirges out of your broadcasts;
Our spirit is strong it will support even you!
We don’t need your applause!
We demand ammunition!!!
They did not get their ammunition but still the Poles fought on. They held out for 63 days-- fighting house to house and hand to hand against tanks and professional soldiers while under continuous bombardment from artillery and the Luftwaffe. Over 200,000 Poles died. It was the equivalent of a 9/11 a day for over two months.
Just before the end, Warsaw radio broadcast a searing message:
This is the stark truth. We were treated worse than Hitler’s satellites, worse than Italy, Rumania, Finland. May God Who is just, pass judgment on the terrible injustice suffered by the Polish nation, and may He punish accordingly all those who are guilty.
Your heroes are the soldiers whose only weapons against tanks, planes, and guns were their revolvers and bottles filled with petrol. Your heroes are the women who tended the wounded and carried messages under fire, who cooked in bombed and ruined cellars to feed children and adults, and who soothed and comforted the dying. Your heroes are the children who went on quietly playing among the smoldering ruins. These are the people of Warsaw.
Immortal is the nation that can muster such universal heroism. For those who have died have conquered, and those who live on will fight on, will conquer and again bear witness that Poland lives when the Poles live.
It is a sad fact that the only party to behave honorably toward the Home Army was the Wehrmacht. After 63 days the Poles were still fighting though they had no hope of success. They agreed to surrender to the regular army on the condition that they be treated as POWs. Those terms were granted and, amazingly, the Germans upheld their end of the bargain.