67 years ago the Warsaw Uprising ended.
From the start of WWII (and even earlier in the case of the Soviets) both the Nazis and Communists had a joint objective: to murder the Polish intelligentsia. Due to Poland’s troubled history only educated people felt Poles. It means that a peasant living near Białystok didn’t necessarily have any national identity. Such people were seen as fair game by both the Soviets and the Nazis to either enslave or brainwash (and both regimes wanted to steal the peasants’ land and use them as cheap source of work). However, a Polish intelligent posed the threat of “infecting” the peasant and his family with “Polish ideas” which could cause all kinds of troubles, like building up a strong resistance movement. Therefore, the intelligentsia had to die, and it was the first priority of both regimes.
Naturally, I know that Jews were the greatest victims of the Nazis, but it’s what we know because we know the history. From 1939 to 1941 the Nazis weren’t yet decided about the fate of Jews. They knew though, that they didn’t want the Polish intelligentsia around. In a short time thousands of teachers and university professors were either killed or thrown to concentration camps. Measures were taken to prevent people from learning. One could die for carrying Polish textbooks. In the Soviet Union, the “Polish action” began yet in 1937 on the territories with a significant Polish minority. The Soviets killed about 200 thousand of Poles yet before WWII had began.
In the meantime, the remnants of the Polish intelligentsia who evaded deportation did exactly what the regimes feared: educated another generation of Poles. All the kids who fought in the Warsaw Rising 1944 were students of the Flying University.
The idea of the Flying University goes back to the 19th century when Poland was partitioned. Back then the university provided the only forum for scholarly exchange of ideas that were banned under the official regime of the tsarist Russia. It was also the only place where women could study (thousands of them graduated from the Flying University). When WWII broke out the Flying University returned, clandestinely educating tens of thousands of young people.
Come back on Thursday for a post about the Government in Exile.
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.
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.
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.
At 5 o’Clock, 67 years from today, the Warsaw Rising 1944 broke out. It was the single largest civilian struggle against the Nazi Germany in occupied Europe.
Among the most striking aspects of the event there are the young soldiers (mostly teenagers) and their great organizational skills. For 63 days kids, many aged roughly 10-20, took over the capital of Poland. They had to defend the town against the Nazis, but also provide food and water to the civilians, and organize hospitals and fire fighting squads. Likewise, the entire war propaganda and various channels of communication were in their hands.
I decided to write a short series, starting today, that will highlight those of their achievements that weren’t directly linked to combat. This blog is meant to demonstrate the importance of open society, freedom of speech and information (including internet platforms such as WordPress, YouTube or Twitter) to democracy and individual freedoms.
Many, many people all over the world still may want to learn from the insurgents to establish free channels providing information and support to people in their regions.
I also hope to help empower all those people who feel powerless in the face of oppression. The example of so young people being able to do so much may bring hope and strength to many others. I know it helped Poles, in many ways, to struggle through the era of Communism.
Look out for the next post on Thursday.