If you find yourself in Warsaw at the end of July, you are likely to see posters all around town commemorating the Warsaw Uprising and reminding people about these difficult and tragic times from Polish history.
The main event, which pays respect to the Warsaw Uprising and deceased insurgents who fought for freedom during World War II is called “W” Hour, or Godzina “W” in Polish.
In this article, you’ll find what “W” Hour is, how “W” Hour is commemorated in modern Warsaw, and why it is so important for Polish history.
What is “W” Hour?
“W” Hour is an event that honors the beginning of the Warsaw Uprising, which took place during World War II. Nowadays, every year on the 1st of August at precisely 5 pm, the whole of Warsaw freezes what they’re doing for just a minute.
Just imagine: in various districts all around the city you can hear roaring alarms and sirens. They work as a call to action, or rather, inaction, to all residents of the capital of Poland. No matter where you are – outside, in your office, in a car, or even on public transport – people around you will stop, stand up, and spend a minute in silence to commemorate the heroes of the Warsaw Uprising. Even buses, trams, and cars unanimously stop in the middle of the road! And after just one minute of stillness, the city goes back to its normal routine.
Many people gather in the main squares of the city with flares and Polish flags, but, regardless of where you will be at this moment, it is a truly unforgettable experience, whether you are a tourist and accidentally came to Warsaw at this particular time for a weekend or if you live here and witness “W” Hour every year.
Related Read: Warsaw Rising Museum (Warsaw’s 1944 Uprising)
The History of “W” Hour
So, I already mentioned that “W” Hour takes place exactly on the 1st of August at 5 PM.
In 1944, the Polish Home Army, which led the Polish Underground resistance, set an exact date to start the operation which aimed to free Poland from the Nazi occupation. By that time, Poland was under the oppression of the Nazi regime for 5 years, and people planned for a long time to start an uprising.
On the 31st of July, 1944, it was agreed that the operation will start the next day, the 1st of August, at 5 PM, and the letter “W” comes from the Polish word wybuch or explosion. At that hour, the streets of the city were filled with people, so it would be easier for insurgents to get lost in the crowd of civilians.
It is interesting to note that, for many troops, it was difficult to keep the hour a secret and refrain from fighting till 5 pm, so the first open-fire happened around 2 PM, but nevertheless, the main battle started as scheduled at 5 pm.
Unfortunately, the Nazi army was prepared for any kind of rebellion, and even though the Polish Underground resistance had been preparing for this fight for some time, it was difficult to gather all the forces with one day’s notice. The next two months became one of the grimmest pages in the history of Poland, leading to thousands of deaths and to the utter destruction of the capital of Poland.
If you want to learn more about the course of the Warsaw Uprising and why it was such an important part of the history of Poland, check out our article dedicated to Warsaw Uprising!
In our times, the tradition of commemorating the “W” Hour stays strong, and every year all residents of Warsaw stop for a minute on the 1st of August to honor the memory of people who gave up their lives fighting for Poland’s freedom. And, in my opinion, this is an admirable tradition, as remembering our history we remember the mistakes that were made and, hopefully, learn from them.