The Warsaw Uprising
August 1st marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising (1 August 1944 – 2 October 1944). This was the city-wide one, not the earlier, smaller Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (19 April 1943 – 16 May 1943), of which you may have already heard.
So, yes, there were two Uprisings, and the second would have worked had the Soviets taken advantage of the situation and come on in. However, they sat outside Warsaw and cooly waited for the Germans to kill all the leaders and raze the place. You can read all about that here. As usual, the Polish experience of the Second World War was even worse than I thought before I learned a little more. In related news, my new Polish textbook informs me that “feeder of lice” is “karmiciel wszy” in Polish.
When I was in Warsaw last November, I stayed in a priests’ residence very near the Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego (lit: Museum of the Warsaw Uprising) and so not only did I visit it, it became one of my landmarks. For once jagged contemporary bunker-like architecture was totally appropriate.
Inside, however, it was incredibly noisy and jarring, in part because my arrival coincided with that of young teenagers on a school trip. I seem to remember panels in English, but as usual I tried to read the Polish first, and felt badly when I couldn’t understand them–which was foolish as “The Boy Scouts risked execution by carrying messages through the sewer tunnels” is not everyday conversation. Naturally, everything I read was terribly sad, and I felt like I was intruding on a private sorrow.
There was a cinema section with films; that was a relief as I could sit invisibly in the dark. The films were surviving footage of the Uprising, created to hearten the Varsavians themselves. And there was a small exhibit in honour of a Home Army poet Kristina Krahelska codenamed “Danuta”: her “Hey, Boys, fix bayonets” song had been my Polish study club’s anthem for a few weeks, so she was a familiar sight in the noisy mechanical wilderness of the Warsaw Uprising Museum.
Don’t get me wrong: the Museum is fantastic and an absolute must-see, but possibly not a mentally healthy excursion for the solitary traveller. Go with a guide or a Polish friend and be prepared to say “Gracious, how sad!” or “Goodness, how brave!” every five minutes. No Pole would resent a foreigner being there because one of their national missions is informing foreigners just how awful the Second World War was for all the Poles, not just the Jews.
Here’s a little video put out by the Museum to make everyone cry:
The one with the nurse makes me cry, too.