The Warsaw Uprising of 1944.
A few years ago, when Poland celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, many Poles were annoyed that so many foreigners confused that bloody struggle with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of the previous year. Wlodzimierz Borodziej's small book, first published in 2001 in German, gives a short overview of this important event. In just under 150 pages, the Polish historian sets down the background, circumstances, events, and importance of this struggle that is so important to Polish national memory and so neglected outside that country. The book has little by the way of new information or interpretations for specialists, but can serve as an excellent introduction to these events for non-Polonists.
Borodziej's book is divided into eleven short chapters and an epilogue. He first gives the reader an overall view of Polish resistance in the period from 1939, the difficulties of coordination of underground troops with the London exile government, and plans in Poland for demonstrative attacks on the German troops as they retreated from cities in erstwhile eastern Poland, especially Wilno (Vilnius) and Lwow (L'viv). By attacking the Germans in this way, the Poles of the underground Armia Krajowa (AK) hoped to gain respect, perhaps even cooperation, from the Red Army. Unfortunately, as Borodziej shows, the AK was too weak and too short on weapons to make much of an impression on Soviet leadership, and one may doubt whether Moscow had any interest in true cooperation with the Poles in any case.
Having set the stage (and this takes nearly the entire first half of the hook), Borodziej proceeds to analyze the discussions on the timing of uprisings against the now-retreating Nazi army. Despite the lack of sufficient weapons, the decision was reached--after much heartfelt and heated deliberation--to launch an uprising on 1 August. The rest of the book details the events of the uprising itself, the insurgents' initial successes at taking the central part of Warsaw, including the Old Town, then the tragic and inexorable retaking of the city by the German troops over the next two months, while the Red Army remained fairly immobile on the other side of the Vistula River and the USSR refused landing rights for allied aircraft that might have brought much-needed supplies and weapons to the Poles.
Borodziej points out that the Red Army's failure to advance in aid to the rebels was at least in part a military decision: the Soviet units were exhausted and overextended and had met unexpectedly strong German resistance in the eastern suburbs of the Polish capital. But, in the end, the Soviet decision not to help the Polish uprising must be seen as a mainly political decision, based on the cynical calculus that allowing Poles (even with Soviet help) to liberate their capital would only encourage the Polish patriotic forces that the USSR least trusted to run postwar Poland. Borodziej ends with an epilogue that discusses the postwar regime's interpretations of the uprising (remarkably, no memorial to this struggle was erected in People's Poland until the mid-1980s, when the communist regime was--although we did not know it at the time--on its way out).
This is an excellent short introduction to a crucial event in recent Polish history, despite some errors in transliteration and translation. The book is especially recommended for nonspecialists interested in World War II, Poland in the twentieth century, and Polish-Soviet relations.
Theodore R. Weeks
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale