Monday, 1 August 2011

'W'-Hour, 67 years on

For my father, Bohdan Dembiński, 88, and mother-in- law, Wanda Lesisz, 86, veterans of the Warsaw Uprising.

Since the 65th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising (post here), the commemorations have become increasingly well-participated. This year, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of flags on display - not just the official ones on public buildings, buses and trams - but on private flats, on t-shirts, and held in children's hands.

The city and its people are taking increasing pride in the Uprising. The old communist line - that it was a provocation needlessly brought about by the Polish Government in Exile in London - is not something most Varsovians would accept today.

It was the product of anger - four years of the most brutal occupation (and don't let's forget the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April 1943) - and the result was to hold back Stalin's steamroller advance towards Western Europe by at least three months.

Ten minutes or so before the sirens sounded for 'W'-Hour, a Polish Air Force C-130E Hercules flew the length of ul. Marszałkowska dropping leaflets, urging citizens to oddaj hołd ('pay homage', 'pay tribute') to those who gave their lives fighting to free Warsaw.

Above: the side doors are opening; the first batch of leaflets are just coming out. Like the B-24 Liberator that flew supply missions over Warsaw, the C-130 Hercules has four propeller-driven engines and is US-built (its first flight was just ten years after the Uprising started!)

Below: The leaflets filled the sky directly over our heads, but sadly the westerly wind blew them away from Marszałkowska, towards the Vistula. The air drop was a tribute to the Polish, British, South African and American aircrews who gave their lives flying over the burning city dropping supplies to the Home Army insurgents.

Below: At exactly 17:00, the time the Uprising started, all the city's air raid sirens sounded. Traffic came to a halt. People stood at attention. Quite something. And the weather. This morning started wet and dull - like most of July. By the early afternoon, the clouds had parted, the sun shone in a bright blue sky.

At 17:05, seven PZL TS-11 Iskra trainers of the Polish Air Force's Biało-Czerwone Iskry aerobatic team flew overhead, trailing red and white smoke. The Iskra, a purely Polish design, first flew in 1960 and was introduced to the Polish Air Force in 1964 and is still in service today.

Below: around the city, the numerous plaques and monuments to the Uprising were decorated with flowers, garlands and votive candles. At the power station in Powiśle, a plaque explains how 107 Home Army soldiers, employees at the power station, fought a battle lasting several hours to wrest control of the building. They held on to it from 1 August until 7 September, providing electricity to the insurgent-held parts of the city. 25 of their number died in the fighting. (Polish readers can click to enlarge photo to read text of the plaque.)

Was it all worth it? Bear this in mind. In the two months between 22 June and 19 August 1944, the Soviet Army advanced more than 300 miles between Vitebsk and the Vistula, taking Minsk, Vilnius, Lviv, Grodno, Białystok, Brest, Lublin and Przemyśl from the Germans. Between 19 August 1944 and 17 January 1945, when the Red Army captured Warsaw from the Germans, Stalin's tanks hardly budged.

Stalin let Hitler sort out the belligerent Poles, but Stalin did so at the expense of his westward expansion. Maybe the good citizens of West Germany, who lived so much better than their eastern neighbours, should give thanks every year on 1 August that they did not have to suffer 45 years of communism - because of the valiant fighters of the Warsaw Uprising.

This time two years ago:
'W'-Hour - five pm


jel said...

Bardzo piękny wpis. Bardzo za niego dziękuję.
Cześć Ich pamięci!

Paddy said...

Very nice pictures and description. I'm in the UK at the minute but saw that many of my young Polish friends had posted Facebook statuses, pictures and videos marking the event - it's good to see young people remembering their history.


Anonymous said...

I'm not really emotional, but yeach year on August 1st when the sirens go on at 5pm, I feel like crying.
It's not really because I'm touched by the heroism of the uprising. The feeling has more to do with being again and again shocked by the sheer stupidity of the Home Army leaders.
Take a look at the map showing the scale of the damage done to the city of Warsaw (red areas are pre-1939 houses that were struck down, click on map sections to enlarge)

And do take a look at the famous "City of Ruins".

250 000 people were killed in the massacre - it's like 9/11 taking place everyday for 50 days.

Kolin said...

Canada too . . . both as the RCAF and with members of the RCAF intermixed with the RAF at the time:

For example:

Halifax Bomber JP276

Sigismundo said...

An often overlooked fact: More people died in the Warsaw Uprising than in the immediate aftermath of both atom bombs at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Indeed, after Hitler's artillery, bombers and demolition squads raised 88% of the city's buildings to the ground the effect was much the same.

Sigismundo said...

Sorry, that should of course be 'razed' not 'raised'. My knowledge of English is gradually being nuked and e-razed by Polish vodka.

Anonymous said...

Ah, so Poles died in the uprising to protect the Germans from the Russians. Michael, I would really advise you to think twice before your write another "well thought" post like that. Did you mention this concept to your parents?

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Anon: it did not occur to them. But yes, western Europe has a lot to thank the Poles for. 1920 and 1683 all over again.

We currently live in a democracy, thanks in no small measure to the bravery of the Home Army insurgents, so I'll write what I bloody well think.

student SGH said...

Well, much has changed, but I still wonder whether we haven't shifted from one distortion to another. In PRL picture of the Uprising was painted by the official propaganda, but now you should the line you take on the Uprising should not differ from the official one. The recent example of Radosław Sikorski's slated twit is the best example. He dared to express opinion different than the one officially approved and came in for harsh criticism. I slightly missed mention of this in your post. I know why it didn't fit, so you're forgiven.

Plus an accolade for you for delinaeting the causation between the Uprising and spreading communism into Europe. I've never heard such interpretation from any of historians and I truly doubt Germans realise who saved them from communism.

The issue of Uprising is so complex that it strikes me how simplified the picture of it we get...

adthelad said...

Thank you Michał for this posting. I agree with the concept that it served the Western forces and the countries occupied by them that Stalin was held up at Warsaw. There is much truth in this as attested to by history. And every time that siren sounds at 5pm on August the 1st I'm chilled to the bone. I can't help but be moved to tears. Tears of sadness and tears of pride in my fellow country men, women and children.