Warsaw Uprising Museum - Nazi Collage
A Nazi Collage shown at the Warsaw Uprising Museum.

One of the most famous events that happened in Poland’s capital over the last century was the Powstanie Warszawskie (Warsaw Uprising) towards the end of World War II, in 1944. To understand an important bit of Polish history such as this event is crucial to understanding the identity of the Polish people themselves.

Background

At the beginning of the Second World War, in September of 1939, the infamous Invasion of Poland took place, also called the September Campaign. Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany, after withdrawing Germany from the League of Nations, signed the “Pact of Steel” with Benito Mussolini of Fascist Italy and together they formed the Rome-Berlin Axis, or the Axis Powers, which Japan would soon join, when both countries signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, to support each other over the threat of communism and the Soviet Union.

Though the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were enemies, both countries agreed to sign a non-aggression compromise, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, which secretly divvied up the countries of Finland, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia between them, as if they had already won the yet unconquered states.

Poland, in the very midst of enemies due to its location in Europe, was attacked on all sides, and by three separate forces: the Germans from the west, the Soviets from the east, and even a small Slovak group affiliated with the Germans from the south; this campaign began on 1 September 1939, and ended about a month later, on 6 October, when enough control was taken away from Poland by the aggressors, even if Poland never formally surrendered. As discussed, the Soviets and Nazis partitioned the Polish land amongst themselves.

So now it’s summertime, 1944; Germany has been occupying Poland for five years.

Warsaw Uprising

At the end of July of 1944, Poland is in its fifth year of German occupation. However, the German armies have been retreating around the rest of the country, due to an offensive by the Soviet’s Red Army; the Soviets have been drawing closer to Warsaw, and General “Bor”‘ Komorowski, commander of the Armia Krajowa (Polish Resistance Home Army), organizes the uprising in Warsaw to coincide with what they assume will be the German forces retreat. ‘W-hour‘ (for wybuch, meaning “outbreak”) would be at 17:00 on 1 August 1944. Komorowski plans for about a week of fighting before the Polish resistance forces reassume Warsaw.

Unbeknownst to the Polish resistance is the fact that the Germans have decided to defend Warsaw as one of their fortresses, using the capital area to stand against Red Army forces.

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