world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944

The Associated Press. Warsaw Uprising Remembered.

Reprinted from July 29, 2004 The Jerusalem Post.


Boy Scouts from across Poland paid tribute Thursday to the insurgents who rose up in 1944 against the Nazi occupiers of Warsaw, retracing their paths through city sewers.

The two-and-a-half hour passage on all fours through 700 meters of storm sewers in the Old Town was part of the 60th anniversary observances of the uprising where some 200,000 Poles were killed, including some 20,000 primarily teenage resistance fighters.

"This was our homage to them," said Tadeusz Motylewski, one of 20 scouts who took part in the commemoration, as he shook dust from the sewers off his clothes after emerging from under the ground.

"I went there because I wanted to know how they could do it and I see it required a lot of spirit and courage."

Polish resistance fighters rose up against the occupying Nazi forces August 1, 1944 as the Red Army approached the Polish capital.

But the Soviet army stopped its advance, leaving the poorly armed Poles to fight the Germans themselves until the resistance was eventually overwhelmed after 63 days of fighting.

In addition to the massive loss of life, the battle left Warsaw in rubble.

In their tribute, the Scouts retraced the paths the resistance fighters used to elude the Nazis, who retained control of many city areas, as they shuttled weapons and ammunition and evacuated their wounded.

"I had no load on me and still the passage was hard, physically exhausting," said Motylewski, 20, who studies computer science in the western city of Poznan.

Also Thursday, Poland's 460-member parliament unanimously passed a resolution paying homage to the insurgents and affirming the uprising as one of the "most important events in Poland's modern history."

US Secretary of State Colin Powell and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder plan to join Polish leaders and other dignitaries in the main observance of the uprising on Sunday.

Polish rebellion, unsupported by Allies, ended in disaster
The people of Warsaw rose up after five years of brutal German occupation at 5 p.m. on August 1, 1944.

The previous year, the uprising in the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw had been crushed. But this time, with Soviet forces massing on the edge of the capital, liberation seemed near. Early victories gave hope to the Home Army of rebels and the huge numbers of civilians who transported messages, procured food and water, and even joined in the fighting.

Yet in four days, the insurgents had achieved all they ever would.

Large German reinforcements soon moved in under orders from SS leader Heinrich Himmler to kill everyone, raze Warsaw and set "a terrifying example" to the whole of Europe.

Paul Peczynski, 17 when the uprising began, remembers how poorly armed the insurgents were.

"I only had a hand grenade. After throwing it, I helped build barricades to help defend our units from Germans," said Peczynski, who lives in the United States and will join about 3,000 veterans at Sunday's 60th anniversary commemoration in Warsaw. "After we stormed the YMCA building, which was occupied by Germans, I got my first rifle."

After 63 days the Home Army capitulated.

Beyond the sheer savagery of the German response, what still embitters Poles is the failure of the Soviet army, deployed on the east bank of the Vistula River, to intervene. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin maintained the uprising was an irresponsible act that would set back the war effort.

But it is widely believed his real motive was fear that the rebels would become Poland's future leadership and resist his scheme of bringing Eastern Europe under communist domination.

Oxford University's Norman Davies, a scholar of the uprising and author of the newly published Rising '44, says the rebels could have won had the Allies supported them. Even today, he says, it remains "a topic of acute embarrassment for the Western powers."

"We did have a couple of air drops with supplies," Peczynski recalled in an interview, "but the majority fell into the German sector."