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1944 Warsaw Uprising: A Brief History

Summary:

The 1944 Warsaw Uprising was a major event during World War II, and a very important part of the history of Poland and its capital Warsaw.

Warsaw’s resistance fighters were estimated to be around 40,000 soldiers, including about 4,000 women, but they only had weapons for 2,500 of them. There are roughly 15,000 Germans to fight, and they are much better-equipped, as they have tanks, planes, heavy weapons, and much more firepower. In that first week, the Polish take on dozens of different German installations around the city; they capture some significant locations, but are repelled at others.

Heinrich Himmler himself, the notoriously cruel head of the Schutzstaffel (SS), sent orders back to the Germans stationed around Warsaw to level the entire city and kill all of Warsaw’s population, as an example to the rest of Europe and Germany’s enemies. On the 4th of August, the Polish resistance starts to look strong, as they push their boundaries out to the neighborhoods of Wola and Ochota; however this seems to be the greatest victory by the resistance, and things regress from then on. German planes begin bombing the city daily, which will continue until the end of the uprising. Several days later, the Germans start exterminating the Polish citizens within its captured areas en masse.

1944 Warsaw Uprising Museum Info Bulletin
An information bulletin that was sent to Polish citizens, urging them to stay vigilant.

During the second week of the offensive, things get more technical. The sewers are now functioning as an underground escape route for the Polish, as well as also a means by sending communication amongst themselves. However, now the Germans have had time to regroup after the initial surprise of the uprising. Deaths by the hundreds and thousands happen on a daily basis.

The Polish resistance group faced an inevitable loss, ultimately; the British had pledged support before the uprising had even started, however they finally came, but in December – two months after the Polish resistance capitulated; they had not wanted to engage without Soviet approval. American support was in the form of an airdrop of supplies, and only once, and 80% of those supplies were recovered by the German enemy. And the Soviet Red Army marching west which the Polish had initially counted on to force the German retreat never came.

1944 Warsaw Uprising Museum Nie Jestesmy Sami
“Nie Jesteśmy Sami” (“We are not alone”) – one of the many posters of self-encouragement the Polish resistance put up, though ultimately the three countries whose flags are pictured here wouldn’t come to save them in time.

Finally, General Komorowski signed the capitulation declaration offered by German General von dem Bach; fighting ceases at 8 p.m. on 2 October 1944, and the Polish are promised that they will be afforded rights under the Geneva Convention. However, their problems are not over, as over 200,000 civilians were sent into forced labor camps and concentration camps, and mass looting of Polish homes by the Germans begins. However, capitulation was necessary in their eyes as the casualty count was becoming too high as hopes diminished for outside support.

Today

The 1944 Warsaw Uprising was actually the single largest resistance effort by any European forces; understanding it and its backstory goes a good deal toward understanding the Second World War in general.

For a great look at the history of the Warsaw Uprising, including videos, photos, letters from the era, and more, check out the Warsaw Rising Museum the next time you are in Poland’s capital city.

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Written by
Christian Eilers
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