01 August 2011

Warsaw, Poland: The 67th Anniversary of the Warsaw Rising

Today was an absolutely amazing day.  By a happy accident, I happened to spend my day in Warsaw on the 67th anniversary of the Warsaw Rising.  For those of you who don't know what that is, I didn't either, which is why my first stop was the Warsaw Rising Museum.  In brief, here's what happened: Nazis occupied Warsaw on September 1, 1939 (the city had a population of 1.3 million at that time).  By 1944, the population had dropped to 900,000 (as a result of extermination of Jews and exportation of Poles to labor camps), and--facing Soviet occupation from the east--the Polish underground army organized an uprising.  Scheduled to begin at 17:00 on August 1, the uprising lasted for nearly two months, during which 15,000 Polish soldiers and 180,000 civilians were killed (including a hospital of 300 injured people that were shot by German troops).  Despite the fact that the Poles were fighting on the side of the Allies, no press coverage or aid was given by Britain, the US, or the Soviets.  The Rising was finally crushed when German troops air bombed the entire city, effectively razing it to the ground.  By January 1945, as a result of extermination by Germans, starvation, or exportation to labor camps in Germany or Russia, the population of Warsaw was reduced to a mere 1000.

As if the story above wasn't bad enough, once the Soviets gained control of eastern Poland, they made it illegal to teach about, talk about, or write about the Warsaw Rising, and spread propaganda that it was in fact the Soviets who had put up resistance in Warsaw.  It wasn't until Pope John Paul II's first papal visit to Poland, during which he discussed the Warsaw Rising in a homily, that the Poles began to investigate their lost history.  Today, on the main square in the Old Town of Warsaw, on the 67th anniversary of the Warsaw Rising, you can see the thousands of people assembled standing still and facing west for a minute of silence, commemorating the people who lost their lives in the Rising.  This minute of silence occurred exactly at 17:00--the same time the rising began 67 years ago.

After watching the assembly in the main square, I walked around the Old Town, and on street corners everywhere there were groups of people singing traditional Polish songs.  Sometimes there were instruments, sometimes not; sometimes song sheets, sometimes not; but always, always, people were full of joy and pride in their country--enough for men and women and young and old to gather together and sing on street corners.  It was a nationalistic pride unlike anything I have ever seen, bar none.

This is a bit out of order, but after the moment of silence at 17:00, there was a flyover by these jets, and there were positioned such that their exhaust painted the Polish flag across the sky.  It literally brought tears to people's eyes in the square.  Though the Warsaw Rising was a tragic chapter in Poland's history, I am so glad I got to be here for its commemoration.  I feel like I got a view of the Polish people and culture that I would be hard-pressed to get in any other way.  Definitely one of the best days yet!


linda feldt said...

Dear daughter, wow what a moving tribute to be part of Sister Marie Jude will be jealous. I emailed you her address did you get it??? Great shot of the planes. Miss you LOve & prayers mom

Danny Stern said...

That's amazing. Gave me goosebumps reading about it. You should keep making 'accidents' with your scheduling!