08 February 2017

Warsaw Uprising Memorial

The Warsaw Uprising was an attempt by the Polish resistance, commencing 1 August 1944 after nearly five years of German occupation, to liberate the Polish capital. It was timed to coincide with the approach to the city of the Soviet Army. The Uprising was supported by the Royal, South African, Polish and (for just one day) US Army air forces, and by the Polish First Army.

The resistance forces had control of much of the city centre by 4 August. Circa 1,200 Polish Army soldiers managed to cross the River Vistula, but the Soviet Army deliberately stopped short of the city and sat out events, as the USSR wanted to weaken Polish resistance to its intention to annex the country for itself. The Soviets had an air base just five minutes flying time from Warsaw, but their air force failed to back the Poles. They even refused to allow Allied air forces to land.

The Uprising was utterly crushed. About 8,000 of the German and about 16,000 of the Polish combatants were killed. Between 150,000 and 200,000 civilians were executed by the Germans. A further 700,000 civilians were expelled from the city. When the Poles surrendered on 2 October 1944 the Germans systematically levelled more than a third of Warsaw, which was 85% destroyed by the end of the war. The Soviets waited until the Germans had left before entering the city.

Communist control of Poland post-WWII meant that the Uprising went without a memorial for over four decades. On 1 August 1989, the 45th anniversary of the Uprising, the hundreds of thousands of people immolated by totalitarianism were finally granted an official memorial. Designed by the sculptor Wincenty Kućma and the architect Jacek Budyn, the memorial is in two parts: a resistance group running from a collapsing building, and another entering the sewers via a manhole cover. May all rest in peace.