Veterans recall 1944 uprising against Nazis

Updated: 2014-08-01 07:30

By Agence France-Presse in Warsaw (China Daily)

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As Poles mark 70 years since insurgents launched a valiant but bloody and doomed rebellion against the Nazis, the Warsaw Uprising is still very much alive in hearts and minds.

The Warsaw Uprising was launched on Aug 1, 1944, by Polish Home Army partisan commanders loyal to the Polish government-in-exile in Britain.

The strategy was to eject German forces from Warsaw in order for Polish insurgents to gain control as the Soviet Army swept in with help from the east.

It could not have been a more tragic failure, prompting sharp criticism among some Poles who see the uprising as a suicide mission, an act of utter desperation.

Around 50,000 insurgents, mostly young men and women in their late teens and early twenties, scouts and even children, took up arms against the Nazis in the occupied capital, as the Soviet Army was poised to liberate it.

Vastly better equipped, the Nazis slaughtered 200,000 Polish civilians, many in aerial bombardments. Sixty-three days of savage battles turned the capital into a smouldering pile of rubble.

What little was left standing was then razed to the ground on orders of Adolf Hitler as the Nazis fled Soviet troops streaming into the city center from the east bank of the Vistula River.

The battle is widely regarded as the most tragic in Poland's bloody and turbulent history.

"We were horribly short of weapons and ammunition. Every bullet had to hit its target; not one could go to waste," said Leszek Zukowski, 85, one of the few Polish insurgents to survive.

He was just 15 when he volunteered to fight with partisans in the Wola unit, named after a western district of the capital.

"We were waiting for weapons promised by the Allies. We scanned the sky for Allied supply planes, but in vain, they never came," Zukowski said

"I was a boy scout and I knew that district well. The (older insurgents) said: 'You can be a messenger for now - when you find a gun, you'll become a fighter'," he recalled.

"That was my greatest dream."

For the first six days of fighting Zukowski ferried messages from unit to unit and carried the injured to field hospitals. On the sixth day he found a weapon, a Berthier rifle, and became a fighter.

"In the beginning, spirits were high, people supported us and helped us. Then hope disappeared." he said.

"All these initiatives are fantastic," said Zukowski. "Anything that helps to keep the memory of the uprising alive is important, because soon we'll (veterans) all be gone."

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski kicked off ceremonies on Wednesday, decorating veterans.

Around 10,000 people flocked to the National Stadium in Warsaw on Wednesday for the premiere of Miasto44 (City 44), a new feature film chronicling the uprising.

 Veterans recall 1944 uprising against Nazis

German President Joachim Gauck (second left) and his Polish counterpart Bronislaw Komorowski (second right) pose with veterans of the Warsaw Uprising during the opening of a Berlin exhibition on Tuesday about the rebellion against Nazi occupiers. Reuters

(China Daily 08/01/2014 page10)