With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Tragedy of Warsaw repeats itself in world’s current conflicts

Most Americans know the story of the “boys of Pointe du Hoc,” the brave Army Rangers who scaled the cliffs of Normandy and liberated France from Nazi occupation. But 70 years ago, the city of Warsaw was liberated by actual boys and girls — many of them teenagers and children armed with makeshift guns and molotov cocktails — who helped take back the Polish capital from its Nazi occupiers on Aug. 1, 1944, and held it for 63 bloody, courageous days.

My mother was one of those young insurgents. At an age when most kids are going to school and playing dodge ball, she was dodging German sniper fire, running orders across the city as a courier for the Polish Home Army. Today, seven decades on, she and her fellow veterans move more slowly, but at celebrations across this city this past week they have been lovingly embraced by the people of a free Poland.

On Friday at 5 p.m., sirens wailed across Warsaw, and every streetcar, bus and automobile in the city came to a halt, as people poured into the streets waving flags and lighting off flares to mark the “W” hour – the exact moment when the Warsaw Uprising began. Hundreds of thousands have come to concerts, memorials and open-air Masses to honor those who fought and died for freedom here. Their story is being told in a new feature film, “Warsaw 44,” and lines stretch around the block to enter the incredible museum documenting their heroic struggle.

The Uprising was supposed to last just three days, until the Red Army arrived from the east. But instead of helping the insurgents, the Soviets stopped and waited for the Germans to crush the Uprising and destroy the leadership of a free Poland for them.

The Warsaw Poles were abandoned by the West as well. Winston Churchill tried to enlist President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in pressing Joseph Stalin to allow Allied planes carrying arms for the insurgents to refuel on Soviet air bases. After Stalin rejected their first appeal, Churchill told Roosevelt that they should try again and send the planes anyway if Stalin refused and “see what happens.” But Roosevelt replied, “I do not consider it advantageous to the long-range general war prospect for me to join you in the proposed message to Uncle Joe.” ...

Read entire article at The Washington Post