War­saw 1944: Hitler, Himm­ler and the War­saw Uprising

Alexan­dra Richie
  • Review
By – May 16, 2014

Alexan­dra Richie, the author of this riv­et­ing account of the Pol­ish upris­ing against the Nazis in War­saw in August 1944, also wrote the crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed Faust’s Metrop­o­lis, a polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al his­to­ry of Berlin. Turn­ing her atten­tion to wartime Poland, she pro­vides not only descrip­tions of the mur­der­ous onslaught by Himmler’s SS against the Poles but also of Allied treach­ery, result­ing in the Sovi­et Union impos­ing a com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment in Poland fol­low­ing the war. Richie states that com­par­isons between the War­saw ghet­to upris­ing of 1943 with that of the War­saw Upris­ing in 1944 are inevitable, but there is absolute­ly no equiv­a­lence between the trag­ic fight­ers of 1943 and those who…took up arms in 1944.” The Jews in the War­saw ghet­to had no choice because they had been con­demned to death. They had only two choic­es: to be mur­dered in Tre­blin­ka or to be killed fight­ing in the tiny area remain­ing to them.” The Pol­ish upris­ing, how­ev­er, occurred for polit­i­cal rea­sons, to demon­strate to the world that the Poles had helped lib­er­ate their cap­i­tal and to prove that they deserved an inde­pen­dent state, free from Ger­man or Sovi­et control.

Richie notes that approx­i­mate­ly one thou­sand Jews escaped from the ghet­to and fought in the Pol­ish Home Army (AK) dur­ing the War­saw Up­rising. The AK was osten­si­bly under the com­mand of the Lon­don-based Pol­ish Gov­ern­ment in Exile, which was com­mit­ted to a demo­c­ra­t­ic repub­lic in Poland fol­low­ing the defeat of Nazi Ger­many. Stal­in, allied with the U.S. and Great Britain, had dif­fer­ent plans for Poland, how­ev­er, name­ly the estab­lish­ment of a com­mu­nist state under the direct con­trol of the Sovi­et Union. Richie describes how the 1944 Sovi­et defeat of the Nazis at Bagra­tion in Byelorus­sia led the AK to con­clude that Ger­many was on the verge of defeat, thus pre­cip­i­tat­ing the upris­ing against their Nazi cap­tors. The AK lead­er­ship count­ed on the Sovi­et Union to move swift­ly into War­saw and con­clu­sive­ly defeat the ene­my. This did not hap­pen; Richie bril­liant­ly explains how Hitler — fanat­i­cal­ly com­mit­ted to the destruc­tion of War­saw, mur­der­ing the AK Ban­dits” and killing much of the Pol­ish pop­u­la­tion — sent fresh reserves into War­saw to put down the upris­ing as well as mak­ing a stand against the Sovi­ets along the Vis­tu­la riv­er. Stal­in saw in Hitler’s action an oppor­tu­ni­ty to refrain from help­ing the AK, thus allow­ing their ulti­mate defeat and pro­mot­ing its own Pol­ish allies in Lublin as the legit­i­mate gov­ern­ment in Poland fol­low­ing the war. The U.S. and Great Britain, fear­ful of alien­at­ing Stal­in, went along with this betray­al of Poland.

Much of Richie’s work graph­i­cal­ly describes the bru­tal­i­ty of Him­mler’s SS toward the Poles — the indis­crim­i­nate mur­der of civil­ians, rapes, loot­ing, the destruc­tion of War­saw, as well as the mur­der of the rem­nant of the Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion of War­saw who were hid­den in parts of the city.

Relat­ed Content:

Pol­ish Radio Broad­cast in English

A news pro­gram on the dai­ly fights in War­saw in 1944

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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