Home > Polish history > 65th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising

65th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising

OK, back from a short vacation and I’ll resume the “recent CDs” series shortly (they grow less and less recent as time goes by… :roll: ).

But an entry is in order to honor today’s anniversary: the Warsaw Uprising began 65 years ago today.

Contrary to the expectations of both the Germans and the Russians, the isolated insurgents kept up their fight for quite a while: not for a week, not for a month, but for a full 63 days! One could go on and on about this – it’s an epitome of the Poles’ historical (political) situation at that time: the insurgents abandoned by the West, the Soviet army stopping short of entering the city and calmly waiting for the Polish forces to bleed to death, the Nazis systematically razing the city, demolishing everything, building by building, pedantically burning down the remains, the Wola massacre (the largest battlefield atrocity committed in Europe during the Second World War). Etc., etc., etc.

The subject is far too wide to cover in a hurried anniversary post so let me just refer you to the very good Wikipedia article linked to above, at least as a starting point. Otherwise, English literature on the subject is rather scant, I’m afraid (or maybe I’m missing something). I know there exists an out of print book by George Bruce, containing a good overall account of the history of the uprising, but I’ve never read it. There’s also the fat Norman Davies monograph, with lots of fascinating material inside, especially pertaining to the political and diplomatic background of the uprising, and this is on the whole an extremely engrossing book:

 

However, while it’s a comparatively light read (for a book of such length especially!), it does not cover the military actions in much detail and therefore might not work very well for people who have little knowledge of the events (at least to the extent that they do want to learn those details and don’t care for the international background). Also, for some obscure and undoubtedly absurd reason Davies has decided to drop all Polish surnames and replace them with initials! This might not make the book unreadable (or even, as I just mentioned, unenjoyable) but it does render it quite “unusable” (e.g. how is one to guess that “Anthony S.” is the great Polish poet Antoni Słonimski?). Also, Davies tends to hammer the “woe betrayed Poland” idea a bit. He’s right, of course, but does he have to repeat it quite so many times? ;-) It sort of takes away from the final effect… Still, there’s lots to appreciate in the book and lots to recommend it for (not least valuable are the riveting “capsules”/”captions”/”sidebars”/”vignettes” – or whatever – included every couple of pages or so – just like in the same author’s earlier monumental Europe: A History).

Finally, a GMG thread on the Warsaw Uprising from 2 years ago makes for an exciting read – even if it isn’t the most authoritative source you will find. ;-) In it you will encounter some first rate recommendations of Polish World War II literature, including a book on the Warsaw Uprising: Miron Białoszewski’s A Memoir of the Warsaw Uprising, which gives a civilian’s point of view on the events. I haven’t read the English translation, can’t say if it does the book justice, but the original is considered to be not just an important testimonial, but one of the masterpieces of Polish 20th century literature.

Another recommendation from that thread would be Andrzej Wajda’s early film Kanał. It happens to be my favorite Wajda film, in fact the only Wajda film I actually admire. It certainly cannot be recommended for historical accuracy (in that respect it is practically a propaganda flick) but if you watch it as simply “a movie”, and not as “a movie about the Warsaw Uprising“, it is bound to turn into a wonderful, shattering experience. Too bad about the factual side (no mention of the Red Army and a typically communist portrayal of the uprising as doomed from the very beginning). The soundtrack is by Jan Krenz, master conductor, excellent composer and one of the founders of the Warsaw Autumn festival!

The uprising took many lives and a terrifying number of manuscripts perished in all the fires (including countless music scores, some of them dating back to the middle ages!). A number of poets and writers died during military action, most of them as soldiers. I cannot fail to mention here Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, one of the greatest Polish poets of the 20th century, who died a soldier’s death on the fourth day of the uprising. I see there’s a volume of his poems translated into English but, again, have never read the translations and can’t vouch for their quality (all I can say is that it would certainly take a real lot of translating genius to do those poems justice in another language)…

For trivial reasons (same city, same period) the Warsaw Uprising is sometimes confused with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (though this does not happen as often as it used to). There are of course connections between the two but these are completely different, distinct historical events, more than a year apart.

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