The heroic and tragic story of the Warsaw Uprising.
Updated: Aug 1, 2022
On 1st of August, 1944, the Polish underground ("Armia Krajowa" or "AK") launched the Warsaw uprising against the German occupation forces in Warsaw, a rising that would become one of the most heroic and tragic events of WW2. The rising which was initially planned to last for two to three days, lasted 63 days and saw the German army suffer heavy casualties as it fought with Panzers and Stuka dive bombers against a largely unprofessional volunteer force which was mostly comprised of poorly armed, dedicated and heroic young Polish men and women. The Uprising was part of a nationwide plan, "Operation Tempest", which saw a national Polish uprising in eastern Poland as the Soviet Army crossed over Poland's eastern1939 borders and entered Polish territory. The uprising was the largest military operation by any resistance movement in Europe against the continent's Nazi German occupiers during World War II.
A short video showing Germans surrendering during the Warsaw uprising.
The main Polish objectives of the Warsaw rising were to drive the German occupiers from the capital city of Warsaw and help the allies with the larger fight against Germany and the Axis powers. The secondary political objective was to liberate Warsaw before the Soviets, to underscore Polish sovereignty by empowering the Polish Underground State before the Soviet-backed puppets the "Polish Committee of National Liberation" could assume control. The Polish undergorund launched the rising in an effort to coincide with the Soviet Union's Red Army approach to the eastern suburbs of the city and the retreat of German forces west of the Vistula river. Indeed the Russians have been calling, on the radio and with pamphlets, for the Polish people to rise up and fight the German army garrisoned in Warsaw, promising the Red Army's help and support in such an event. However once the uprising started, the Russian advance stopped short, and Stalin even interfered with the western allies efforts to aid and resupply the Polish AK fighters, thus enabling the Germans to regroup and demolish the city while defeating the Polish resistance.
Colorised footage showing the Polish underground during the Warsaw uprising. On the first days of the rising, the Poles managed to overwhelm many German army units and take control over large parts of Warsaw, but at a heavy cost. The Polish losses on the first day of the rising alone were around 2,500 people, this was equal to the losses the Americans suffered when they landed in Normandy's beaches on D-Day. The Poles managed to inflict heavy losses on the German forces during the uprising. They were resposible for tens of thousands of military casualties on the German side, and destroyed hundreds of German tanks and armored vehicles, all while being extremly poorly armed and equipped and with no air, armored or artillery support.
Angry and humiliated at the Polish underground's military achievements and at their own failure to end the uprising, the Germans and their allies turned on Warsaw's civilian population and brutally massacred up to 200,000 of them in unspeakable monstrous acts of cruelty and barbarity.
The most notorious of these massacres was the Wola massacre where 50,000 Polish people in the Wola district of Warsaw were brutally murdered by German troops and their allies during the early phase of the Warsaw uprising. The man in charge of the German forces massacering innocent Polish citizens was SS Gruppenführer Heinz Reinefarth. After the war Reinefarth became the mayor of the town of Westerland in wetern Germany and member of the Schleswig-Holstein Landtag (the state's parliament) and a very well respected public figure in Germany, despite multiple extradition requests from Poland which were brushed aside by the West German government. This was not an isolated case. Not a single former Nazi who participated in the genocide of Poles during the war years was ever extradited by the German governement - which always sought to protect them - to stand trial for his crimes in Poland.
SS Gruppenführer Heinz Reinefarth and victims of the Wola massacre.
The rising which was orignialy was planned to last for two to three days, or a week at the most, ended up lasting for 63 days. However, as it progressed, The Poles, alone and unaided, were pushed back from their initial success by the German overwhelming military might, cruelty and inhumane brutality. The western allies tried to help the rising with air drops, however Stalin's refusal to let western planes land in Russia to refuel severly limited their ability to help Warsaw and made these supply drops runs almost suicidal, causing many planes to be shot down en route to Warsaw. The Soviets even went one step further and actually shot down allied planes trying to supply the insurgents with badly needed air drops of weapons and supplies. Shortly after the end of Warsaw uprising, in order to make and exmaple of Warsaw and at Hiler's specific command, the German army leveled the whole city and reduced Warsaw, one of Europe's most ancient and oldest capitals and the city where over one million people lived, to rubble.
A digital reconstruction of how Warsaw looked like in 1945. As a consequence of the five year German occupation of Poland, much of Poland was subjected to enormous destruction of its industry (62% of which was destroyed), its infrastructure (84%) and loss of civilian life (16.7% of its citizens during the war). The Germans also sent three million Polish people back to the reich to be used as slaves. Around six million Polish people died during the five year German occupation, three million Polish Jews and three million Catholic Poles. One in every five Poles was murdered by the Germans during WW2. For all of this unimaginable suffering and destruction, Germany has never compensated Poland or the Polish people for their suffering and losses in any way beyond a few pathetic symbolic gestures. There was never any commemorations of the Warsaw Uprising, the single biggest massacre of civilians in WW2, anywhere in Germany.
Also there is not a single monument to commemorate the Warsaw Uprising in Germany, nor a single monument that commemorates the six million Polish citizens who were murdered during the five year German occupation of Poland.
The people of Warsaw commemorated the Warsaw Uprising.
Bibliography: "Rising '44: The battle for Warsaw." Norman Davies. "The Secret Army: The Memoirs of General Bór-Komorowski.", Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski. "Forgotten Holocaust." Richard Lucas.