Published in the Delaware County Daily Times October 3, 2018
By Joseph Batory
It is the 74th anniversary of a WWII battle full of hope and heroism and ultimately of betrayal.
Poland had been brutally occupied by the Nazi’s in 1939 being the first country to fight the Germans at the outset of World War II. After almost five years of subjugation, on August 1 of 1944, the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa) began a military insurgence to liberate Warsaw from German occupation.
The Warsaw Uprising (powstanie warszawskie) involved the Polish Home Army of men, women and children, estimated at 50,000, in a bloody 63-day street-by-street battle against the German Wehrmacht. The Poles had some initial success but eventually succumbed to superior Nazi firepower and numbers.
It is estimated that about 16,000 members of the Polish Home Army were killed and about 6,000 badly wounded. In addition, between 150,000 and 200,000 Polish civilians (including many Jews being harbored by Poles) died, mostly from mass executions by the German army following Nazi house-to-house clearances and mass evictions of entire neighborhoods.
Furious at this Polish revolt, Hitler ordered the most vengeful reprisal. Warsaw, a great city of 1.4 million people, was wholly “depopulated” by the German army. The Polish civilian and military survivors were dispatched either to concentration camps or forced labor in the Reich. Nazi troops systematically levelled the city block by block, and ultimately, more than 90% of Warsaw was destroyed.
Ironically, the Soviet Army (at the time, a supposed Western ally) was on the outskirts of Warsaw while the Polish Home Army was fighting the Nazis. The Soviets could have easily turned the tide of this battle by entering Warsaw, but the Russians deliberately sat back and watch the Poles get slaughtered. Beyond the Soviet treachery, many historians condemn the USA and Britain for their failure to meaningfully assist the Polish Home Army in The Warsaw Uprising. During the battle in Warsaw, Winston Churchill had suggested helping the Poles, but Franklin Roosevelt feared angering Russia’s Josef Stalin, now a Western ally but one who hated Poland and whose army already occupied half of that country. The Yalta Conference was forthcoming, and Roosevelt hoped to persuade Stalin to join the fight against Japan.
Subsequently, following the destruction of Warsaw, at the Yalta Conference, the USA traded the freedom of millions of Polish people to appease the lunatic dictator Stalin. Roosevelt and Churchill made concessions to Stalin, effectively allowing him to install a Communist government in Warsaw which would make Poland subservient to Moscow. So, Poland, which had suffered through the Nazi tyrannical regime for five years, was now passed on to an equally vicious one in the form of Stalin’s totalitarianism for the next 45 years.
Some historians have argued that Roosevelt and Churchill at Yalta with Stalin were pragmatic in sacrificing the freedom of Poland for the sake of stability/world peace. But other historians cite Roosevelt and Churchill as “naive” and “amoral” for using millions of Polish people as a bargaining chip with Stalin. Ultimately, this was a disastrous political maneuver which resulted in massive genocide and suffering for the Polish people for decades.
For nearly half a century because of the Yalta agreements, the Poles were denied freedom and forced to endure the brutal suppression of Soviet Russia. Many Polish citizens were killed and others were imprisoned. During those many years of Communist rule, all mention of The Warsaw Uprising was forbidden. In fact, Stalin declared The Warsaw Uprising illegal and set about hunting down any surviving Polish Home Army members, with a view to killing or imprisoning them. This reflected Stalin’s venom regarding Poland and his determined attempt to suppress Polish nationalism and spirit.
Today, the enforced silence of the Communists has been broken and the uprising of The Warsaw Uprising is finally gaining the recognition it deserves as one of the most heroic – and ultimately tragic – episodes of the Second World War.
The horrible brutality of the Second World War of course affected many nations. But Poland’s losses were among the worst, with seventeen percent of its population, a staggering 6 million people, dead. Compare this to the 500,000 Americans and 400,000 Brits who lost their lives in this war. Amazingly, the spirit of the Polish people and their quest for freedom was never crushed by Nazi and Soviet oppression. It is a living tribute to the resilience and spirit of a heroic people.