Paris, the French Resistance launched attacks against the German
garrison on Aug. 18, 1944. Six days later, a French armored division
split off from the Allied advance and entered the city. Two days after
that, on Aug. 26, the German commander surrendered, having ignored
Hitler's orders to set the city ablaze.
The news from Paris was greeted in Warsaw
with ``profound and sincere joy'' by the Polish Underground, which had
launched its own assault, the Rising, against the German occupation on
Aug. 1. But there would be no supporting attack by the advancing Soviet
army, and the Underground's Home Army would fight on in Warsaw for
another month before surrendering on Sept. 29.
was, historian Norman Davies writes in his powerful and compelling
account of the Warsaw Rising, "one of the great tragedies of the
twentieth century'' – and until now it remained a largely untold story.
a British historian whose "God's Playground'' is a highly regarded
history of Poland, anchors his account of the Rising in that nation's
"tradition of fighting for its freedom.''
"armed risings'' against occupying European powers, he writes, "were a
regular and well-publicized fixture of the nineteenth-century scene.''
Polish cavalry, charging with lances and sabers against German tanks in
the opening days of World War II, were gallant, but the Polish defeat
of an invading Red Army in 1920 had "postponed indefinitely'' Soviet
plans for "World Revolution,'' Davies writes.
1944, Davies reports, the Polish Underground was Europe's largest
Resistance movement. And Warsaw, like "other capital cities awaiting
liberation, was a dangerous place,'' with a "restless'' occupying
garrison and a populace that, by August 1944, had been awaiting
liberation for five years.
provides a detailed account of the Resistance in those five years. It
owed part of its success to "the prevalence of instinctive, spontaneous
social support'' of the city's residents. Polish agents flown in from
Britain, the seat of the government in exile, brought ``knowledge that
the Underground had allies, that it was not fighting alone.''
weeks leading up to the Rising, Davies writes, were agonizing. The
Underground's leaders realized they could not "smash the Wehrmacht
single-handedly,'' but could seize large parts of the city and hold out
for a week.
"Within that time,'' they
believed, the exile government's premier, Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, then
in Moscow, "should be able to strike a deal with Stalin.'' It would
also allow the Western allies "to fly in arms and possibly
reinforcements,'' the Underground to "establish their own
administration,'' and the Soviet Army, then advancing toward the
Vistula River on the city's eastern border, to be ``in position to
mount the conclusive assault and to drive the Germans from the scene.''
The Soviet advance had been stalled in
early August by "a determined German counter-attack,'' Davies reports.
Military and political considerations directed an advance on Berlin
through the Baltics and a nation-seizing swing into the Balkans.
significant, Davies suggests, was the attitude of Soviet leaders.
George Kennan, then the US charge d'affaires in Moscow, recalled that
Stalin and Molotov, the Soviet foreign minister, had expressed "a
spirit of malicious glee'' in a meeting with the US and British
ambassadors, implying that they intended "to have Poland, lock, stock
and barrel'' and that they did not "care a fig for those Polish
a gripping account of the Rising, interspersing his narrative with many
first-person accounts that detail moments of heroism and of tragedy. A
British observer, an escaped prisoner of war who had joined the
Underground, radioed London that "it is a battle that is being carried
on by the civilian population as well as by the AK [Home Army]. ... It
is total warfare. Every street in the city has been a battlefield. ...''
the Rising was doomed, taking a toll of 200,000 lives. And Red Army
units, by then just across the Vistula, "watched impassively'' as the
Germans exacted a "merciless revenge'' – carrying out, as they had not
in Paris, a 'total razing'' of Warsaw.
Repression of the Underground's leaders and fighters continued after the Soviets entered the city four months later.
the uprising in April 1943 in the Warsaw Ghetto, the 1944 Rising is a
relatively unknown part of World War II history. This is not the result
of the attention given to the history of the Holocaust.
writes of a deliberate decision by the postwar Communist government
that "it was not in the Party's interests that children should learn
how the people of Warsaw stayed loyal to the `Bourgeois Government' in
London, nor how the great fraternal army of the Soviet Union had
mysteriously ceased its advance.''
accounts of the event appeared only with the Solidarity movement, which
surfaced in August 1980. And while a monument to the Heroes of the
Ghetto uprising was erected in 1947, no similar monument to the 1944
Rising was erected until 1989. Davies's monumental account completes
the work of memory.