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"The Warsaw Uprising of 1944"

Book Essay on:
Wlodzimierz Borodziej,
The Warsaw Uprising of 1944

(University of Wisconsin Press, 2005), 196 pages

by Josh Hadley
March 19, 2007

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Germany, 1900-1945
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2007

About the Author
Plagiarism Warning
$40 at amazon

About Josh Hadley

Josh Hadley is a fourth year history major who is interested in German history of the World Wars I & II era. He speaks German conversationally.

Essay (back to top)

When foreign forces invade and occupy a territory there is little doubt some form of resistance will ensue. Opposition of this nature is often told in a David and Goliath fashion: the secretive defiance often being outnumbered and the occupiers frequently seen as the giant. During World War II spectacular forms of resistance in the face of Nazi occupation were displayed. In Poland, perhaps the most powerful, dangerous and organized insurgency took place. In the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 by Wlodzimierz Borodziej a comprehensive history of this incident is unearthed. Borodziej discusses the political moves and sanctions that perpetuated the suppression of the uprising. Expansionist and Imperialist motives of Germany and the Soviet Union sentenced the potentially successful uprising to failure through various diplomatic maneuvers or, by particular nations, brute force. The means by which this was accomplished are made clear through the extremely intricate account provided by Borodziej.

The work first outlines the 1939 invasion of Poland and the nature of its occupation. By defining the condition of the Polish populace and its government in exile during this time, Borodziej presents the reader with a foundation capable of displaying the ambassadorial frustrations soon to come. From the start of the war Poland was torn between the USSR and the Third Reich, both oppressive in their own nature. Borodziej compares, in depth, the oppressive rule of both massive powers over the population that was imposed through the Polish territorial division and reallocation according to the Ribbentrop-Molotov nonaggression pact. As both countries simultaneously entrenched themselves upon Polish territory, the USSR and the Third Reich brought their own forms of tyrannical domination. Throughout Soviet controlled eastern Poland, forced “legal, cultural and socio-political conformity was accompanied by massive terror. Shootings, convictions, and—from early 1940—deportations to the east and south of the USSR became an everyday experience for the population” (Borodziej, 15-16).

While Soviet cruel and brutal domestic policy reigned supreme in eastern Poland, Borodziej portrays a similar depiction in the west. “Special courts and special criminal law, the principle of collective imprisonment and whippings, deportations to concentration camps, and mass shootings of members of the Polish intelligentsia…characterized the German exercise of power” (Borodziej, 17). In illustrating the harsh treatment Poles received under Nazi and Soviet rule, accompanied by a description of Poland’s military struggle to resist both invaders, Borodziej conveys the sense of a Polish loathing of both nations. The author demonstrates the importance of Polish sentiment towards these countries as a facet of future developments that arouse during the 1944 Polish uprising against Nazi Germany in Warsaw.

Borodziej continues to discuss the significance of the Polish to Nazi-Soviet relationship on the international level, foreshadowing the character that the 1944 rebellion would manifest. Borodziej discusses the diplomatic posturing relating to the Polish government in exile, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. Following the Nazi invasion of the USSR the Polish exile government and the Soviet Union agreed to sign a peace treaty on July 30, 1941. However, discrepancies over what the eastern Polish borders were to look like, in the advent of a German defeat, and the bartering over the release of Polish prisoners from Soviet gulags led to diplomatic friction between the two:

By the autumn of 1941, there were increasing indications that the treaty of July 30 offered no practicable basis for Polish-Soviet relations even within the war coalition…The road that the starving—and often sick—released prisoners took to Buzuluk, where the staff of the emerging Polish army was functioning, was full of obstacles that could not all be explained by the war and the deplorable condition of the railroads. (Borodziej, 27)

Here the reader is able to observe the hostile nature of oppression inflicted upon the Poles by the Soviets. Although continual efforts were made on the behalf of the exiled Polish government to gain British support, the U.K. found the Soviets to be far too powerful of a military ally. Subsequently, the “Polish question” lost a considerable standing in the British government’s agenda as the war continued into its first stages.

The immense magnitude of the Polish attack is reflected throughout the work. Borodziej wonderfully conveys the passion with which the Warsaw troops fought against the Nazis. Although they were tremendously outnumbered and poorly supplied on the first day of battle, “the rebels confronted 13,000 to 20,00 German troops…the German soldiers and police fought from the protection of fortifications, walls, armor plate, barbed wire, and sandbags; the rebels had to attack and could only dream of support by artillery, tanks or planes” (Borodziej, 75). Despite the clear dominance of the German war machine the rebel troops of Warsaw waged a war of extreme passion.

Soon an order came down through the German ranks summarizing the brutality of the enduring conflict. A directive from German top brass stated, “1) All rebels were to be shot after capture…2) The nonfighting part of the population would be massacred indiscriminately…3) The entire city would be razed, meaning all houses, streets and everything in the city should be destroyed” (Borodziej, 80). The fight between the Warsaw insurgents and the German occupiers was fierce. According to Borodziej, German viciousness in putting down the uprising knew no boundaries. “In many cases, civilians were driven out as living shields by the attacking [German] soldiers or tanks” (Borodziej, 80). However, perhaps one of the most horrifying incidents of the German suppression of the uprising came on August 5, 1944 in Wola with the mass killings of civilians. “According to Polish estimates, which also included the victims from the following day, 30,000 to 40,000 civilians died in Wola; along Wolska Street and the surrounding area alone, forty-one sites of mass execution were later reconstructed” (Borodziej, 81). From the horrors inflicted upon the Warsaw population in the summer of 1944, Borodziej is able to make a substantial conclusion. In the final page of the chapter describing the early stage of the uprising, Borodziej ends with a quote of a German historian Hanns von Krannhals, “’The tablets, small wooden crosses, and memorial stones on both sides of Wolska Street in Warsaw are the Calvary of Passion, from which there is no acquittal before history.” Borodziej depicts the Polish “passion” and sentiment toward their occupiers and the continuing drive to fight, knowing that if they do not, they will likely die anyway. The nature in which the Warsaw rebels fought partially laid the groundwork for their treatment by other entities involved in the war, namely the Soviet Union.

The most prominent aspect contributing to the demise of the uprising and many unaffiliated Warsaw civilians was the diplomatic posturing of the Soviet Union. To some it may seem logical that the USSR would come to the aid of the Warsaw insurgency, considering both the Poles and the Soviets shared a common enemy: the Third Reich. However, as Borodziej spent much of the book demonstrating, relations between the Soviet Union and the Poles were bitter to say the least. The western forces of the Allies were ready and willing to launch a relief mission of any sorts to aid in the Warsaw rebellion; however, it was the Soviet Union that prevented any such mission. Due to range limitations of bomber and fighter planes, it would have been necessary for western aircraft to use landing facilities within the USSR and areas under Soviet control. So, after extreme pressure from the exiled government of Poland, the United States concocted plans for a relief Operation known as Frantic 6 and pitched the idea to Moscow. “The issue was so important that it needed to be presented to Stalin in person” (Borodziej, 95). If the United States could convince Stalin to open landing strips in the Ukraine, a substantial effort could have been made to provide rescuing efforts to the Warsaw partisans.

A quote summarizing the meeting between Stalin, Molotov and U.S. officials by George Kennan, the Moscow Embassy counselor at the time, is presented by Borodziej and adequately contextualizes the quality of Polish-Soviet relations. “’There was no doubt in any of our minds as to the implications of the position of the Soviet leaders had taken. This was a gauntlet thrown down in a spirit of malicious glee, before the Western powers.’” He continued, “’what it was meant to imply was ‘we [Soviet Union] intend to have Poland…we don’t care a fig for those Polish underground fighters who have not accepted Communist authority. To us, they are no better than the Germans; and if they and the Germans slaughter each other off, so much the better’’” (Borodziej, 95). Clearly a soured relationship persisted between the two. Stalin knew that as soon as the USSR attempted to regain control of Poland the same resistance that the Germans were then facing would simply be transferred to the Soviet occupation. What better way to destroy this uprising then by have the insurgency fight a major battle against the USSR’s enemy? The combination could not have been sweeter for Stalin and as his troops lay poised across the Vistula River the uprising was crushed by brutal German force and Stalin had sentenced hundreds of thousands to their deaths.

Perhaps the phrase “hung out to dry” does not do the Polish-Soviet situation justice. In the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 Borodziej portrays the legacy of the atrocious suppression of the Warsaw populace by the Nazi army and the blatant abandonment by the Soviet Union. After Poland finally gained independence from the USSR, it was only in 1994 that the anniversary celebration of the uprising made international headlines. The President of the United States and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom were present. However, of the two historically victimizing countries, only the PM of Germany was present (no delegate from the USSR attended despite receiving a formal invitation). “Moscow’s rejection was generally felt as an expression of refusal to bear the burden of the Polish-Russian past” (Borodziej, 147). With or without Russia’s presence the ceremony provided the final, and long overdue, chapter of the Warsaw uprising. At last, following years of Soviet censorship, all was out in the open and the world seemed to be paying attention. The anniversary provided what had been longed for by many, “the address of August 1, 1994 spoke of building bridges and friendship with Russia, and of friendship and good neighborliness with Germany” (Borodziej, 148).

Throughout the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 the author unearths many misconceptions of the progression of events. Borodziej offers an adequate and comprehensive history of this colossal event of World War II. For so long many of the accounts and data surrounding the incident of the uprising had been lost and suppressed, and Borodziej’s work attempts to give those lost to censorship a voice. He shows the reader a righteous rebellion and cry of humanity in the face of mass subjugation. Finally, Borodziej’s impressive work attempts to honor those who lost their lives and make their sacrifice not one that was in vain.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 3/22/07)

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 3/22/07; last updated: 3/27/07
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