- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 25, 2001

Author gives his personal account

The systematic destruction of Warsaw by German units near the close of World War II demonstrated Adolf Hitler's intent to exterminate the largest resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Europe. As a teen-ager, Andrew Borowiec, a veteran Washington Times correspondent, participated in the ill-fated Warsaw Uprising that led to the eradication of Poland's capital and the slaughter of nearly a quarter of a million of its inhabitants.

Warsaw has a long history of resistance to tyranny, whether under German or Russian occupation. Indeed, one of the heroes of the American Revolution, Gen. Tadeusz Kosciuszko, led a valiant but ultimately doomed insurrection in 1794 to throw off the Muscovite yoke. When, in the summer of 1944, the Home Army resistance movement decided that five years of Nazi terror was enough, they followed in their ancestor's footsteps.

Mr. Borowiec's long-overdue account of the Warsaw Uprising skillfully blends personal experiences with valuable details about the growth of armed resistance in Nazi-occupied Poland. He describes how the Home Army, by far the largest organization in the country, grew from a handful of military officers in September 1939 to an underground army of some 350,000 men and women by the summer of 1944, of which about 50,000 were based in Warsaw.

The resistance forces incorporated units of virtually every political persuasion, as well as Jewish fighters, scouts, women and youths. Thousands more acted as couriers, medical workers, and support staff and they faced uncompromising Nazi terror. Mr. Borowiec provides a chilling chronicle of German repression throughout the occupation, including the extermination of Warsaw's huge Jewish population, the frequent roundups of civilians destined for slave labor, and the daily public executions.

When the uprising began on Aug. 1, 1944, Hitler ordered his subordinates to wipe Warsaw off the face of the earth and to kill all the inhabitants. However, the determination and resilience of the insurgents was such that even German generals commanding the operation reported that the Poles were “seized by fury” and refused to surrender against overwhelming military forces.

The Warsaw Uprising lasted for 63 days, despite the fact that German tanks, planes and artillery systematically pounded and leveled the city. When the battles on the streets and barricades became hopeless, the Home Army moved into cellars and sewer systems to attack German positions. Indeed, a virtual underground city was constructed by the insurgents.

But as ammunition, weapons, water and food supplies dwindled, the only choice for the survivors was capitulation. And despite Hitler's orders for instant liquidation, many senior German officers treated Home Army leaders as combatants and even expressed admiration for their courage and fighting spirit.

Mr. Borowiec also tackles three persistent points of contention about the Warsaw Uprising: the timing and advisability of a mass insurrection, the Soviet role in its suppression and the unhelpful reaction of Poland's Western allies.

Some historians claim that the uprising was premature and poorly planned. Although there is an element of truth in these observations, other facts were more salient in occupied Poland. The Home Army was loyal to the exiled Polish government, and refused to countenance Poland's absorption by the Soviet Union. The liberation of Warsaw while the Red Army advanced to the gates of the city was viewed as a legitimate act of a sovereign state asserting its independence from Moscow's rule. Moreover, while Soviet forces approached Warsaw, their propaganda organs openly encouraged the population to rise up against the Nazis.

But Joseph Stalin's strategy was duplicitous. In sum, he expected the Germans to destroy the Home Army insurgents and allow Soviet forces to capture Warsaw as the capital of a new communist Poland. The evidence for Moscow's connivance in the destruction of the Polish resistance is overwhelming. Soviet forces disarmed or liquidated Home Army units; they prevented Allied planes from using airstrips in Russian-controlled territory from supplying vital assistance to the insurgents; and they halted their offensive on the outskirts of the city for three months during the uprising.

The third controversy surrounds the limited help supplied by Britain and the United States to the partisan units. While tens of thousands of Poles were fighting alongside their allies in the Battle of Britain, in Italy, France, Holland, North Africa, and elsewhere, London and Washington claimed that technical reasons prevented any significant aid to the Home Army. In reality, it was the pact with Stalin that tied their hands and sealed the fate of Eastern Europe for the next half century. In this context, NATO membership and permanent security for Poland and all the other former Soviet satellites is above all a means for rectifying an injustice of historic proportions.


Janusz Bugajski is director of East European Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

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