By Joseph Batory
My first visit ever to Poland, the birthplace of my grandparents a few years ago far exceeded my expectations. I was truly amazed at the historic bravery and resilience of the Polish people.
In 1939, the Nazi invasion of Poland from the west was accompanied by the Soviet armies simultaneously invading from the east. The Poles fought valiantly against tremendous odds but eventually were overwhelmed and subjugated to terrorism.
In 1940, the Russian lunatic dictator Joseph Stalin ordered the murder of 22,000 Polish prisoners of war in the Katyn Forest. This was a genocidal massacre of 8000 Polish military officers, 6000 police officers, and 8000 government officials, priests, lawyers and other Polish leaders. For seventy years the Russians denied guilt and the United States was party to this cover-up.
That’s because in 1943, England’s Prime Minister Churchill had sent the American President Franklin Roosevelt an explosive report that documented the Russian responsibility for these murders. However, out of fear of upsetting Stalin, the American people were kept in the dark by Roosevelt and their leaders and the documents were classified.
On August 1 of 1944, the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa) began its own 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 Jews being hidden 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 supposed Western ally 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.
Today, in the narrow cobblestone streets of Warsaw’s Stare Miasto, or Old Town, church bells chime, babushka ladies sell flowers, sidewalk cafes bustle and horse-drawn carriages roll past the royal castle. At first glance, the Polish capital feels quintessentially Old World.
But all of these historic-looking buildings have been rebuilt after WW II.
The beauty of Warsaw’s Old Town masks this city’s bloody past.
At the end of WW II, Poland, the first country to fight invaders in World War II, was shamelessly handed to Stalin and the Soviets at Yalta for Russian subjugation and oppression which lasted more than 40 years.
It is remarkable that today, the Polish language and culture is somehow miraculously intact. Their devout Catholicism is not like anything I have seen anywhere else in the world. The nation is full of dynamic young people…friendly and hopeful. It is interesting to note that an incredible 65,000 students currently attend the University of Warsaw. And the Polish economy is doing well relative to many of its neighbors. My visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa was on the Catholic holy day of Corpus Christi and the religious fervor onsite there was truly remarkable.
It is staggering to think that Poland had somewhere around six million deaths in World War II, losing 17% of its population which is a higher percentage than either Germany or the Soviet Union and far exceeds the military losses of the USA and Great Britain.
This is a stunning legacy for the people of Poland who despite thr oppression and cruelty from Nazis and then Soviets refused to relinquish their roots and allow their culture and values to be destroyed.
Joseph Batory is the author three books and nearly 200 published articles on politics, history and education.