Warsaw Rising anniversary

Slawomir Blaut

Lat year we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Rising in an extremely solemn way. The celebration was successful in the common people's opinion. After many years of endeavour the Warsaw Rising Museum was opened. In the media there was a shower of programmes, documentaries and publications about the Rising of August 1944. A lasting fruit of this anniversary is the monumental work 'Rising '44: the Battle for Warsaw' by Norman Davies, Welshman living in Poland. Another proposal is the book entitled 'Ani tryumf, ani zgon... Szkice o Powstaniu Warszawskim' (Neither triumph nor death... Sketches of the Warsaw Rising) by Tomasz Lubienski, the well-known essayist, who partly polemicizes with the thesis of Davies' bestseller.
Despite differences of opinions both authors make a valuable contribution to the discussion about the Warsaw Rising and in its background - to the dispute concerning modern history of Poland. Both Norman Davies and Tomasz Lubienski demand that the history of the World War II should be written anew. Davies, as a man of the West, is more interested in the allies' sins, including the sins against Poland. He wants to remind Europe that the Polish people were also allies and that they were betrayed and a betrayal of a loyal ally can be in no way justified. This is the main message of 'Rising '44'. Its author calls Poland the first ally so that nobody doubted what role our country played in the second World War and what a different position the governments of the victorious powers attributed to Poland. The evidence that his mission has concrete results is the fact that nowadays Great Britain is more and more aware of Poland's contribution in the anti-Nazi coalition. Recently the British government has officially admitted that the contribution of the Polish intelligence service to crushing the Third Reich is undeniable! Almost at the time of the publication of Davies' dissertation another book appeared on the British market, namely 'A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten heroes of World War II'. This book is also thick like 'Rising'44' and very absorbing. The work of the American authors shows a glorious charter of the Polish pilots' contribution in the Battle of Britain. Another book, which appreciates our heroic soldiers, is 'Monte Cassino' by Matthew Parker, a British author.
'Rising '44' is a book written from a foreigner's point of view, the foreigner who understands the history of Poland. It does matter to Davies that during World War II Poles sacrificed their lives for the cause (including the Warsaw Rising). Churchill and Roosevelt thought otherwise when they sold Eastern Europe at the Yalta conference. For them Poland did not have to exist as an independent country. Davies tries to justify the attitude of the leaders of the West by turning our attention to the fact that their 'imperial mentality' must have influenced their decisions (how much this mentality differed from ours!). The logics of their thinking made them act on behalf of those whom they should take into account. In his work Davies went as far as to assert that the Warsaw Rising had considerable chances of success. It was Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill that doomed it to defeat. A victorious rising would have been a problem for the coalition, bigger than a lost rising; it would have been a danger to the zones and spheres that were indispensable for war co-operation. However, as the British historian proves, the defeat of the Rising was the allies' defeat.
In his book Tomasz Lubienski looks at the Warsaw Rising from a slightly different angle. What is important to him is the mistakes of the Polish commanders. Among other things he rejects the argument that the rising had to break out because that was the will of the inhabitants of Warsaw who were spoiling for a fight. He asks, 'Since when have commanders listened to their subordinates?' In Lubienski's opinion, 'the mythology of the rising', referring to the romantic gesture of the Polish people - the great national uprisings of the 19th century, which always ended in defeat - is fading in the face of the victims of the Warsaw Rising (200,000 people). Thus the author did not only polemicize with Davies' book but also fights with the Polish historical awareness that is burdened with myths. He turns our attention to the stereotypes, which were formed in the period of the Second Polish Republic, adhering to the Romantic tradition and promoting an idealised vision of the Polish history (it fulfilled essential didactic and civic tasks). The author stresses that it was the heirs of that ideology that argue that Poland could have been a Soviet republic if the Rising had not taken place and that there was no Poland's independence without national mass uprisings. For them the Warsaw Rising was most of all a symbol of Poles' heroism and of inhuman cruelty of our enemies. One should add that the common awareness of the Polish people was also formed under the influence of the communist propaganda, which claimed that the Warsaw Rising was evoked by 'the troublemakers', who acted against the nation's interest and historical reasons.
Listening to these arguments one should know that the complete destruction of the occupied Warsaw, the city regarded as 'criminal' by the Germans, was an act that was planned long before the outbreak of the Rising. Maria Trzcinska, author of the book 'Concentration Camp at Warsaw Centre - KL Warschau' writes that at the very beginning of the war the Germans worked out a murderous plan in which the population of Warsaw was to 'decrease' to several hundred thousand. In order to fulfil that plan a concentration camp was set in Kolo and then other camps were formed in the area of the West Station where there were gas chambers in the tunnel under the viaduct (after the war the camp was used by the NKWD and the communists tried to hide the fact of its existence). The remaining concentration camps III, IV, V, VI and VII were in the area of the ghetto and in Bonifraterska Street.
Coming back to the main theme I would like to add that 'Rising '44' and Lubienski's book are pioneering to some extent. Davies is the first Western scholar who openly wrote that the World War II leaders of Great Britain and the USA bear the co-responsibility for the defeat of the Rising, death of thousands of Varsavians and destruction of the city. In the West, after the publication of 'Rising '44', our national uprising is not any longer identified with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Poles are not 'unknown allies'. Whereas Lubienski, although enumerates known arguments against the Rising, pays attention to the fact that the historical truth must be separated from mythology, even that one which refers to noble ideals.

"Niedziela" 31/2005

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl