Warsaw 1944: Hitler, Himmler and the Warsaw Uprising

Farrar, Straus and Giroux  2013


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.

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