Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Remembering 1st September 1939 in Warsaw

Much has been written about today's ceremony at Westerplatte. The commemoration of the outbreak of WWII in Warsaw was a simpler affair. Held by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Płac Piłsudskiego, it was addressed by the mayor, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, and the marszałek (speaker) of the Polish parliament, Bronisław Komorowski. As well as the representative companies of the armed forces and police, there was also a fair number of veterans present, a goodly number of them over from Britain. Shortly after 12:00 there was a 12-gun salute. Above: Two of the guns from the representative battery. In the distance, the tomb. It is situated in all that remains of the Pałac Saski (Saxon Palace).

Having lived in Poland for both the 60th and 65th anniversaries of the outbreaks of WWII and of the Warsaw Uprising, I must say that the 70th anniversaries resonated far more here and around the world. Perhaps its because so few of the veterans will be around for the next one. But also because Poland is becoming better at getting its point of view about its own history across. Above all, bear in mind that for Poland, closure came but 20 years ago. It was only then that the Soviet Union finally relinquished its hold over the countries it ruled over since replacing Nazi occupation with its own control.

Above: An exhibition was erected on the square; simple stories of lives cut short, and figures. So as they will not be overlooked: Polish population in 1939: 35 million. Polish population in 1946: 28 million. Six million killed (half of whom were Jewish). A million ending up after the war in exile. And another six million wounded, imprisoned in concentration camps or Gulags, or persecuted in other ways. Of those 12 million, 11 million were victims of the Nazis, another million were victims of the Soviet Union. The break-up of Poland resulting from the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact saw 48% of Poland's territory under Nazi occupation and 52% under Soviet occupation. Population-wise, 22m Poles found themselves in Nazi-occupied Poland, 13m in the less-densely populated east occupied by the Soviet Union.

Above: A gate of the University of Warsaw. On this day in 1939, German bombs rained down upon this city. 25,800 civilians died in Warsaw in September 1939; the city held out until 27 September. A further 200,000 civilians would die during the Warsaw Uprising in August - October 1944.


adthelad said...

"A further 200,000 civilians would die during the Warsaw Uprising in August - October 1944."

One should add ..'most of whom were killed by the Germans in reprisals after the uprising had been suppressed.'

Michael Dembinski said...

Not so - the biggest part of civilian deaths was the Wola Massacre, which happened on the first week of the Uprising. And the Ochota Massacre, By the end, the Germans were much more cautious, as both the British and US governments had granted the AK the status of Allied forces. That would mean dangling at the end of a rope in Nuremburg. According to Zdzisław Zaborski's book about the fate of Warsaw's civilians after the Uprising, 60,000 were sent to concentration camps or death camps. It is unknown how many of those survived (my aunt Ciocia Jadzia did).

adthelad said...

Maybe the figures are disputed but the Wola and Ocgota massacres took approx 65,000 lives. The 200,000 civilian deaths is an estimation, and although i understand the Germanms discovered that mas killing only strengthened the reslove of the Poles, I understand (and can't find the source unfortunately) that many were killed during but also after the uprising. Perhaps the source I read was wrong. Thanks for the info.
Below some figures I believe are accepted as veritable

Poles: 15,200 insurgents killed and missing, 5,000 wounded, 15,000 sent to POW camps. Among civilians 200,000 were dead, and approximately 700,000 expelled from the city. Approximately 55,000 civilians were sent to concentration camps, including 13,000 to Auschwitz. Berling's Polish Army losses were 5,660 killed, missing or wounded. Material losses were estimated at 10,455 buildings, 923 historical buildings (94 percent), 25 churches, 14 libraries including the National Library, 81 elementary schools, 64 high schools, Warsaw University and Polytechnic buildings, and most of the monuments. Almost a million inhabitants lost all of their possessions.