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Why were the soldiers of Armia Krajowa (AK, i.e. Home Army) so young?

Poland made the fourth largest contribution to WWII in Europe, after the US, UK and USSR. Greater than the much larger France for example. And yet Poland was only a 35 million nation. That is to say, the number of Polish soldiers, just like the number of Poles, was limited. Only ca 65% of Polish citizens considered themselves Poles, and some of them, like the large (15%) Ukrainian and (5%) German minorities, were more likely to join the Nazis than the Poles. Jews (10%) were cut off early in the war when the Nazis closed them in the ghettoes, and they were killed in the Holocaust by the time of the uprising (although there were Jews in the Polish Army, and those Jews who hid on the “Aryan” side in Warsaw joined the uprising). The ethnic division already shrinks the number of Poles to 23 million or so.

After the ill fated September Campaign 1939 the Polish Army fought all over the world, but not in Poland. When the Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union attacked Poland in 1939 both took POWs, but also both took as many civilians at the fighting age as they could. The Nazis organized łapanki (street roundups) targeted first of all (though not exclusively) at males aged 16-40 who were sent to the concentration camps or the slave labour in the Reich. And the Soviets targeted soldiers’ families. A great number of Poles living in the Eastern Poland were soldiers to begin with. They received land as a form of payment for their fighting in the Polish-Bolshevik War 1920 (the newly created Polish State was too poor to pay them salary). Now, Soviets arrested their families as the most likely to put resistance. They sent them to Gulags, the concentration camps in Siberia.

Łapanka (roundup)

Łapanka (roundup)

In other words, from the beginning of the war, Soviets and Nazis joined their forces to exile or kill millions of Poles in the fighting age. If you were 15 in 1939 (too young to be taken seriously by the Nazis) you were the eldest boy in your neighbourhood. By 1944 you were 20, old enough to become a Home Army officer.

Early in the war the Polish Government in Exile sent 300 well trained and trusted soldiers to organize resistance. Those were the adults.

The Warsaw Uprising generation were kids of the war. The youngest of them hardly remembered what the world before the war looked like. They wanted to fight. Like all kids all over the world they wanted to become free and make a difference.

Soldiers, Warsaw Uprising 1944

Soldiers, Warsaw Uprising 1944

The young age of the soldiers is one of the reasons why the uprising remains a hotly disputed event in Poland. It’s difficult to compromise the need to put resistance with the evil of sending children (boys and girls) to death.

Come back on Monday to read about the Flying University in WWII.