In September 1939, the Nazi’s invaded Poland. The occupation was swift and brutal and made all the more severe by the surprise of the attack. The Polish army held strong against the Germans initially, but once the Soviets attacked from the eastern front, the Polish army surrendered – the civilian casualties became too severe – but the worst atrocities of world war two were still to come.
Polish Army on Parade
FIVE YEARS LATER
In 1944, Poland had been occupied by Nazi Germany for almost five years. The Polish Home Army planned some form of rebellion against German forces. Germany was fighting a coalition of Allied powers, led by the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. The initial plan of the Home Army was to link up with the invading forces of the Western Allies as they liberated Europe from the Nazis. However, when the Soviet Army began its offensive in 1943, it became clear that Poland would be liberated by it instead of the Western Allies.
In 13 July 1944 as the Soviet offensive crossed the old Polish border. At this point the Poles had to make a decision: either initiate the uprising in the current difficult political situation and risk a lack of Soviet support, or fail to rebel and face Soviet propaganda describing the Home Army as impotent or worse, Nazi collaborators.
They feared that if Poland was liberated by the Red Army, then the Allies would ignore the London-based Polish government in the aftermath of the war. The urgency for a final decision on strategy increased as it became clear that, after successful Polish-Soviet co-operation in the liberation of Polish territory (for example, in Operation Ostra Brama, Soviet security forces behind the front line shot or arrested Polish officers and forcibly conscripted lower ranks into the Soviet-controlled forces.
The fighting begins
On the 31st July, the Polish headquarters scheduled ‘W-hour', the moment of the start of the uprising for 17:00 on the following day. In addition, although many units were already mobilized and waiting at assembly points throughout the city, the mobilization of thousands of young men and women was hard to conceal. Fighting started in advance of ‘W-hour', notably in Żoliborz. That evening the resistance captured a major German arsenal, the main post office and power station and the Prudential building.
However, Castle Square, the police district, and the airport remained in German hands. The fighting was fierce and unforgiving.
DESTRUCTION OF THE CITY
On 20 June 1939, while Adolf Hitler was visiting an architectural bureau in Würzburg am Main, his attention was captured by a project of a future German town – ‘Neue deutsche Stadt Warschau’. According to the Pabst Plan, Warsaw was to be turned into a provincial German city. It was soon included as a part of the great Germanization plan of the East; the genocidal General plan Ost. The failure of the Warsaw Uprising provided an opportunity for Hitler to begin the transformation.
By January 1945, 85% of the buildings were destroyed: 25% as a result of the Uprising, 35% as a result of systematic German actions after the uprising, and the rest as a result of the earlier Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and the September 1939 campaign. Material losses are estimated at 10,455 buildings including 923 historical buildings - 94% of overall buildings in the city.
The destruction of Warsaw
The fighting in Poland’s capital city was devastating and the conflict didn’t resolve until the Soviets pushed the Nazis out during their liberation (or occupation) of Poland.