Tag Archives: Stalin

REMEMBERING HISTORY: END OF WARSAW UPRISING

On 2 October 1944 the Warsaw Uprising came to an end with the surrender of surviving Polish rebels to German forces. The uprising began two months earlier when the Red Army was approaching Warsaw. The rebels supported the Polish government-in-exile and hoped to gain control of the city before the Soviets arrived. They did not want the Russians to gain the city and establish a communist regime in Poland.

While the rebels had initial gains, they were poorly supplied. Hitler sent reinforcements and the rebels and German soldiers engaged in brutal street fights. The Red Army did take a suburb of Warsaw but proceeded no further. Stalin ordered the Red Army not to assist the rebels and denied a request to use their airbases to supply the rebels. This would be remembered down the road by the Polish people. Both Churchill and Roosevelt asked for his assistance. Churchill, without Soviet approval, had supplies dropped by the RAF, the South African Air Force, and the Polish Air Force. Stalin finally relented and gave air clearance for the U.S. Army Air Force to make supply drops. However, it was too late by the time the supplies came.

Warsaw, the capital of Poland, destroyed by German Nazis, January 1945.
Public Domain (Wikipedia)

Out of arms, supplies and food, there was no choice.  After 63 days, they had no choice but to surrender. In retaliation for this uprising, the remaining population of Warsaw was deported. The Polish people were always meant to be eradicated as were the Jews. Plans had been drawn up before the war to turn Poland into a German colony. Warsaw was to be Germanized. Once the remaining population was deported, German destruction of Warsaw was sped up. They had started after the earlier Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Using flamethrowers and explosives, special teams went to work destroying whole neighborhoods, historical monuments, archives, and any place of interest.

By January 1945, 85% of the buildings in Warsaw were gone. Approximately 25% was done during the Warsaw Uprising. The losses are staggering to consider:

  • 10,455 buildings
  • 923 historical buildings (94% of these were destroyed)
  • 25 churches
  • 14 libraries which includes the National Library
  • 81 schools
  • 64 high schools
  • The University of Warsaw and Warsaw University of Technology

Of course, prior to this all Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues were seized, looted and destroyed as well.

Aftermath

The Soviets took the position that the rebels did not coordinate their plans with them. Of course, the chief reason they did not aid them is that they supported the democratic Polish government-in-exile in London. And Stalin was not interested in supporting them. His goal had been before the war to allow the west to fight themselves to exhaustion allowing for the Soviet Union to expand in their direction. Those that led the uprising and members of the Home Army were persecuted by the Soviets after the war. They were arrested, tried, and deported to Soviet gulags. They had a show trial, not unlike ones during the Great Purge, where confessions were introduced to show they were actually in league with the Germans!

Warsaw Uprising Monument
Source: Dhirad 2004

Fortunately, those captured by the Germans and freed by American-British forces were spared this. Stalin and his propaganda machine twisted the facts to show the failings of the Home Army and the Polish government-in-exile. All criticism of the Red Army and Soviet Union by Polish people were forbidden. All references to the Home Army were censored, all books and movies on the Warsaw Uprising were either banned or edited out the Home Army. When that did not work, they made the Home Army soldiers into heroes that were betrayed by their corrupt officers. This would remain in effect until the 1980’s with the rise of Solidarity that challenged the Soviet backed regime. It was not until 1989 that a monument was built in Poland.

In the West, stories of the heroism of the Home Army were told. They were valiant heroes fighting against the Germans. The Soviets were criticized for their non-involvement and that it helped them get rid of partisans that would have opposed them. Despite all the official censorship that existed, many Poles knew what happened and led to growing anti-Soviet sentiment that manifested into the Polish labor movement Solidarity. This peaceful movement in the 1980’s would effect change in Poland and later, as the days of the Soviet Union waned, Poland would gain back the freedom it had lost in 1939.

Sources:

Remembering the Past: Hitler and Stalin Neutrality Pact (1939)

Stalin and Ribbentrop shaking hands over the newly signed pact between Germany and Soviet Union. August 23,1939
Source: German Federal Archive

On August 23, 1939 it was announced that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union had signed a non-aggression treaty. The pact has various names but was commonly known as the Nazi–Soviet Pact or the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Both countries had suffered in World War I. Both ended with their monarchies toppled and both started as nascent democracies. Neither survived and both countries became ruled by authoritarian states. In Russia, the Communists seized power and for a while sought to bring about promised world-wide revolution that never happened thanks to British efforts to expose their purposes in neighboring countries. Germany fell into NAZI power because Hitler promised to end the chaos, bring order, and restore German power in Europe.

By 1939 though, it was evident Germany was on a collision course in Europe. The winds of war were certainly blowing with the French and British appeasing Germany. The view in Moscow was simple: they did not want war with Germany but saw Hitler as the means to weaken and divide Europe to their advantage. The view there was that an all out war in the West would so weaken them that they would be able to infiltrate and take over (either by stealth or force). Stalin too wanted territory and the Nazi-Soviet Pact gave his country much of what it needed: spheres of influence. Poland and Romania were divided between the two in secret protocols to the pact. And the countries of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland were similarly divided as well. It gave them access to raw materials (iron, coal etc) and oil. All needed to build up the Soviet Union. For Hitler it was strategy. He wanted to invade Poland but did not want to risk war with the Soviets at that time. Although the officer corps had been severely depleted during the Great Purge of 1936-1938 (aided in part by the German Gestapo who created documents that implicated military officers or party officials of spying for Germany or others),the Soviet Union was not underestimated either.

The announcement of the pact was sensational. Many were aghast and surprised the two would sign such a pact. And when Hitler invaded Poland in September, Stalin invaded a few days later to claim the territory ceded to him in the secret parts of the pact.

Aftermath
Stalin unfortunately believed Hitler would hold up his end of the bargain. He thought Hitler would be more interested in subduing the West rather than heading East. And he also believed Hitler would not want a two front war. He was wrong. Despite getting warnings from the British and his own intelligence services, Hitler invaded on Sunday, June 22, 1941. Operation Barbarossa had as its goal to completely defeat the Soviet Union, kill its leadership, and reduce its population so that German settlers would occupy the land. The Germans had initial successes but after the failure of Battle of Moscow in 1942, the German army would be held back and a vicious war between the two countries along what was called the Eastern Front would emerge. It ended up demanding more resources and manpower that caused severe problems for Hitler. The Soviet Union was being supplied by the Allies (at great cost to those doing the dangerous supply missions from the North Atlantic to Murmansk). Ultimately as Germany became weaker after Allied forces invaded Europe and the Soviet Union pushed through towards Berlin, Hitler was forced to commit suicide rather than be captured by the Russians.

Stalin though came out ahead in the end. After expanding westward to push back the German army, the Soviet Union would hold on to the territory it gained. Communist parties would gain control in everyone of those countries creating, as Winston Churchill would say later, an Iron Curtain. East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Romania, and Bulgaria were all part of that curtain with the Soviet Union. Only Czechoslovakia would stay out of the Warsaw Pact but only because Tito had an independent streak but otherwise was a dedicated Communist. Only after the fall of Communism in Russia in 1992 would many of these states finally be liberated from the Soviet Union.