Victory of the defeated

Andrzej Tarwid

The insurgents fought for independent Poland. Those who cared for the remembrance of the Warsaw Uprising for dozens of years understood that very well although the significance and sense of the Warsaw Uprising were undermined by the communist propaganda. Now the situation is different. Nevertheless, the experience of the spurt that happened 65 years ago should be also reflected on by the generations born in independent Poland since the question concerning the independence of our Homeland is eternal.

Juliusz Kulesza arrived at the Powazki Cemetery on 1 August, a few hours before the main celebrations. His purpose was the same as last year, two years ago and several years ago: to light candles on the graves of his colleagues. ‘With time the number of the graves I visit is growing. Today, only two people have survived from the unit that defended the State Security Printing Works (PWPW) in Warsaw’, the author of books about the Warsaw Uprising tells ‘Niedziela’ and he stresses, ‘For us it was always very important to light candles on the grave of our colleagues on the anniversary of the outbreak of the Uprising.’ This year Juliusz Kulesza has visited 17 insurgents’ burial plots. It is a big effort for the 82-year old man, the more that the graves are scattered in various parts of the Powazki Military Cemetery. The other living insurgents experience similar difficulties. But as they say it is nothing to compare with the troubles they faced mainly in the first years of the Polish People’s Republic. ‘Now our problems result from our old age, so they are natural. Some of us were imprisoned during the previous system. And the media accused us of rowdiness and called us fire-raisers of Warsaw’, they remind us.

Truth erased from memory

From the very beginning the authorities, imposed by Moscow, attempted to tell lies concerning the Warsaw Uprising. They used various ways, sparing no efforts and means. It was already in 1954 that they gave a highly overestimated number of victims (250-270,000) to multiply the trauma of the society. The constant refrain of the official press was to emphasise the irresponsibility of the commanders who made the decision to begin military attacks in the capital. At the same time the press did not mention that in the summer of 1944 the Soviet radio encouraged the Varsavians to begin fighting with the Germans several times. One could hardly find any articles about the man who ordered the Red Army to base on the right bank of the Vistula. One could not read why Stalin did not want to allow the allied planes to land at the Soviet airports after the airdrops for the fighting forces in the capital. And those decisions were crucial for the insurgents and the civilians in the city. ‘The communist government did a lot to limit the anniversaries to meetings in cemeteries’, says Dr. Jacek Sawicki, the author of the book entitled ‘Bitwa o prawde. Historia zmagan o pamiec Powstania Warszawskiego 1944-1989’ [Fight for the Truth. A history of the Efforts to Remember the Warsaw Uprising 1944-1989]. When homage to the fallen was paid in other cities the local press did not mention the celebrations. What’s more, in the 1960s the insurgents’ environments were under strong surveillance. The flats of the former Home Army soldiers were bugged and their mails were controlled. An important task of the secret agents acting in various environments was to wedge among the insurgents. Furthermore, after the war the insurgents could not publish their memoirs, presenting the course of events in the city. Roman Marchel, the commander of Juliusz Kulesza, knowing that he had no chance to publish his books about the defence of the PWPW he commanded his soldier to write his story down in an exercise-book. Only towards the late 1950s the memoirs entitled ‘Druzyna «Roma»’ [Team «Roma»] began being published in ‘Wroclawski Tygodnik Katolicki [Wroclaw Catholic Weekly]. Kulesza’s first book ‘Z «Tasiemka» na czolgi’ [With «Tasiemka» Against the Tanks] was published in the late 1970s. Although it was quickly sold out – under the counter as people used to say – the publishing house did not decide to print more copies within the next five years. But the authors who were critical towards the Uprising did not have any problems with publishing their books. They put forward that the Warsaw Uprising was a catastrophe in every way. And the blame was to be put on those who decided to confront the occupant. Their consciences were to be burdened with mass murders committed by the German oppressors. Such logics showing the ‘bankruptcy’ of the Warsaw Uprising had a political aim. ‘The communists wanted to show Poles as people who should be cared for (someone should put them in straight jacket)…’, wrote Jaroslaw Marek Rymkiewicz in his book entitled ‘Kinderszenen’ that was published last year. In spite of the black legend about the Warsaw Uprising the memory about this event and its victims have always been preserved by Poles. And when some political thaw came crowds turned up at Powazki. ‘For the first time it happened in 1956. And in the first year after the marshal law had been suspended (in 1983) over 130,000 people came to Powazki’, says Dr. Sawicki. And Dr. Dariusz Gawin, specialising in history of ideas, says that even during the periods of crisis the authorities did not allow discussions about the political dimension of the Warsaw Uprising. ‘Why? – the Polish People’s Republic had two fundamental lies. The first one concerned Katyn and the second one concerned the Warsaw Uprising’, he says. ‘It was after the outbreak of the uprising that the legal Polish state in Warsaw was revealed. Here there was the Government Delegate at Home and the inhabitants of Warsaw strongly supported the fighters. And let me remind you that these events happened several days after a branch of the alien power was created in Lublin’, Gawin stresses.
Kulesza remembers the enthusiasm of the inhabitants very well. By the way, his behaviour showed best what attitude towards what happened in Warsaw he had. ‘I was not involved in the underground and the outbreak of the Uprising took me by surprise on 1 August. But on 2 August I joined the Uprising’, he says.

A well-done lesson

The Generation of Columbuses and their successors did not only preserve memory of the Warsaw Uprising but thoroughly reflected on the political lesson it had. Dr. Gawin says, ‘From the 19th century there was a dispute between the realists and romanticists in the Polish tradition and the dispute concerned political activities. The Warsaw Uprising changed Polish identity to the extent that it fused together these two attitudes. For the first time it was well visible in 1956. As Jan Nowak-Jezioranski noticed Poland experienced a situation of uprising then. But the uprising was not initiated by the Polish people but by the Hungarians. But the Polish people achieved their political aims’, he says. Realism and romanticism was stopped in the 1980s as well. The creation of ‘Solidarity’, its mottos and methods are described as bloodless or self-limiting revolution. All people share this opinion. And almost all people think that ‘Solidarity’ would not have been possible without John Paul II and his papal pilgrimages.
However, those who reflect deeply on the whole contents of the homily delivered in the capital 30 years ago will find a fragment in which the Holy Father referred to the Warsaw Uprising. ‘In this great homily there were words that history was a big drama in which the forces of evil and good clashed. And that we should support these values that are endangered and we should persistently defend them in all conditions. But we should choose proper means to these conditions. And that happened with ‘Solidarity’, Dr. Gawin says. On the anniversaries of the Warsaw Uprising the same set of questions appear and usually the same answers are given. The most important question is, ‘was the Warsaw Uprising a mistake?’ And the most frequent statement: the Warsaw Uprising fell. However, according to the already mentioned Rymkiewicz that was not the case. The Uprising won. ‘Its evidence is well visible, completely sufficient, at hand, around us – and all of us who live here are the evidence, too. The evidence is independent Poland. The Headquarters and the Government Delegate took the decision to begin the uprising to achieve this particular effect. They wanted only that, nothing else’ writes the poet and essayist in ‘Kinderszenen.’ And he explains that those who speak about the failure of the Warsaw Uprising look at history as single, separate parts. But the parts have their continuation. Sometimes, the continuation is direct and sometimes we should wait for years to see it. In this perspective the Warsaw Uprising brought about independent Poland and eventually the defeated won.

A question for today

According to Dr. Gawin, the key to understand the Warsaw Uprising as a historical event is the idea of freedom. ‘Let us recollect the words that were broadcast from fighting Warsaw on the fifth anniversary of the outbreak of World War II. Then the Delegate said, ‘We wanted to be free and owe our freedom to ourselves’, says the historian of idea and he emphasises, ‘This is the sentence that next generations of Poles should repeat and reflect on.’ Kulesza’s books have no general syntheses concerning the Warsaw Uprising. But they have descriptions of fights as precise as possible. Do they teach us some lesson? ‘When meeting young people I have never said, ‘See the way we were. See what wonderful generation we were’, the author of ten books about the Warsaw Uprising makes it clear. ‘However, I think that getting to know the history of the Warsaw Uprising young people should pay attention to the examples of unselfishness, bringing help or sharing with other people’, Kulesza advices finally.

It is impossible to understand this city, Warsaw, the capital of Poland, that undertook in 1944 an unequal battle against the aggressor, a battle in which it was abandoned by the allied powers, a battle in which it was buried under its own ruins—if it is not remembered that under those same ruins there was also the statue of Christ the Saviour with his cross that is in front of the church at Krakowskie Przedmiescie.
John Paul II
Warsaw 1979, Victory Square

"Niedziela" 31/2009

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