This month marks the 60th anniversary of the other Warsaw uprising. Though it
is little remembered outside of Poland, the lessons of this terrible battle
are worth remembering for a number of reasons in a world where collective
action against evil still seems to be a difficult.
I am not referring to the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
|The Warsaw 1944 Uprising monument on the day of its unveiling|
That battle, which began on Passover in 1943, was long over when 16 months
later their Polish neighbors rose against the German occupiers on Aug. 1, 1944.
In 1943, after a month of hopeless and honorable heroism, the last stand of
the doomed and pitifully outnumbered and outgunned Jewish fighters had ended in
the complete destruction of the ghetto. Other than a precious few who escaped
to safety, all of the fighters and the Jews they sought in vain to protect
were either killed or transported to the death camps.
Over a year later, it was the Poles turn to fight a valiant, but ultimately
doomed battle. In August 1944, with the tide of the Second World War already
turned decisively against Adolf Hitler, the Soviet Union's Red Army had expelled
the Germans from their own borders and were advancing from the East on the
With the Germans seemingly on their heels, the Polish government in exile in
London ordered the Polish resistance, called the Home Army, to rise and expel
their German occupiers, much as the French did that same month when U.S.
troops neared Paris.
But unlike the French whose August uprising was facilitated by an American
offensive designed to save them from a German counterattack and the planned
destruction of the City of Lights the Poles waited for help in vain.
A NATION IS SACRIFICED AGAIN
Soviet dictator Josef Stalin had already won the tacit agreement of the
British and the Americans to communist hegemony over Eastern Europe, and had no
interest in letting the Poles have a hand in their own liberation as the
Americans generously allowed the French. Not for the first time, Poland was being
sacrificed by great power politics.
So instead of continuing the Red Army's offensive in Poland, he ordered his
troops to halt, and literally watch from the eastern bank of the Vistula River
as the Germans regrouped and exacted their revenge on the Poles. Stalin also
refused the British and Americans, who belatedly thought to aid the doomed
Poles, the use of his airbases for supply drops.
Despite a heroic resistance that lasted 63 days, the Poles, joined by Jews
who came out of hiding, were overwhelmed by the German forces that, like the
Nazi attack on the Jews a year earlier, included many non-German collaborators.
More than 100,000 Poles died, many of whom were, like so many of their Jewish
neighbors, murdered by the Nazis in cold blood.
After the last Polish patriots were killed or forced to surrender, the
Germans forced all the remaining inhabitants to leave and then leveled the city.
The following January, the Soviets finally moved forward and "liberated"
Warsaw. Stalin installed a compliant government of Polish Communists. True Polish
independence would have to wait until the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly
half a century later.
In the years since, as the Jewish world honored the memory of the ghetto
fighters and their struggle, Poles nursed their grudges in bitter silence. Under
Communist rule, the memory of the August uprising was ignored. It is only now,
as a truly independent Poland honors the heroes of 1944, that the story is
being told elsewhere.
For Jews, this other Warsaw uprising has always been remembered with bitter
Though many non-Jewish Poles and some in the Home Army sought to assist the
doomed Jewish revolt in 1943, the Jewish fighters and the tens of thousands of
helpless civilians they sought to protect ultimately were left to fight and
die alone, without aid from the Allies or local partisans.
Polish Jews had suffered official anti-Semitism before 1939 during the
country's brief period of independence. They would encounter it again after the war,
when some Poles viewed the pitiful few Jews who were able to return to their
homes with hate.
But as much as it is necessary for the Poles to come to terms with their own
record of anti-Semitism, the story of the events of August 1944 should not be
told with anything but respect for the Poles who fought and died with honor
for their country.
Yet there is more to be gleaned from this sad tale than adding another chapter
to the volumes of Nazi atrocity and Soviet perfidy. The history of the
martyrdom of Poland bears special significance for the world today.
Today, the Jews are again under attack, both by a Palestinian war of
terrorism and a propaganda war of anti-Semitism, whereby the State of Israel the
place where the survivors of the Shoah found refuge in their ancient homeland
LESSONS FOR TODAY
At the same time, the rest of the civilized world is also involved in a war,
one against fundamentalist Islamic terrorists who seek to destroy Western
But like some in the Europe of the 1930s and 1940s, there are many in the
West who would like to pretend that the struggle of the Jews for survival is not
one related to their own. Though the terrorists have killed thousands in New
York and Madrid and plot who-knows-what sort of mayhem for the future
many, especially in Europe, think the Jews of Israel are expendable.
So rather than join with the Israelis in a common fight against an Islamic
movement that has taken up the cudgels that the Nazis laid down in 1945, they
stand aside and seek to hamstring the Jews' efforts to defend themselves. They
even condemn a defensive fence that seeks to deter suicide bombers, and have
the gall to compare it to the ghetto walls that once encircled Jews. They forget
that the same killers who today seek the death of the Jews will someday, if
they get the chance, come for them, too.
The memory of both the Jewish and the non-Jewish victims of 1943 and 1944
should serve as a reminder that there is no substitute for collective action
against a collective threat.
The war on Islamic terror, like the war against Nazism, cannot be divided
between a Jewish war and a non-Jewish conflict.
As Europe learned 60 years ago, the monster will not be satisfied with only