When the Rising broke out in Warsaw, the rule of the Polish Committee for National Liberation was established in Lublin. This Soviet-dependent, illegal Polish quasi-government operated from July to December 1944 in the territory of the Lublin, Białystok, Rzeszów and in parts of the Warsaw provinces. The stance of the usurper authorities on the fighting in the capital was clear. On 20 August they declared: "The Warsaw Rising, according to the real intentions of its authors, was supposed to be directed not against the Germans but against the Polish Committee for National Liberation (PKWN for short), against Polish Democracy, it was aimed at establishing in Warsaw a government of Polish reactionary forces and pronouncing it to be the government of the Nation".
This resolution was therefore not only a confirmation of all the PKWN activities so far, but it also clearly indicates the line that would betaken in the future by communists against the idea of the Warsaw Rising and against the Polish Underground State.
From the very first days of their rule, the PKWN authorities undertook actions against democratic Poland. Their chairman, Edward Osóbka-Morawski, followed Soviet instructions. Five days after the establishment of PKWN, 26 July, in Moscow, they signed an agreement which determined that Polish citizens who found themselves "in the combat zone" were subject to the jurisdiction of the Soviet military authorities!
The effects of this agreement were soon apparent – thousands of soldiers and activists of the Polish Underground State were arrested and deported to Ostaszków, Borowicze and Riazan. The Soviets used lists prepared in advance by their intelligence service.
The day after the agreement was signed, PKWN authorities drew up a secret agreement in Moscow with the government of the Soviet Union, relating to the new Polish-Soviet border, based on the so called Curzon Line. In this way a self-appointed government without any legitimacy, sanctioned the Ribbentrop-Mołotow Pact and gave to the Soviets half of Poland’s pre-war territory.
At the same time as directing these activities against the Polish Nation, the PKWN authorities, supported by NKVD and the SMIERSZ ("death to the spies") organisation, began to consolidate "people's rule" in the captured territories. After the arrival of the Red Army, a number of prisons, labour camps and concentration camps established under the German occupation retained similar functions. Lublin Castle provides a typical example. It housed a Nazi prison until July 1944. In August the identity of the jailers changed, but the Castle was still a prison – now a communist one. Before April 1945 over 100 Home Army officers and soldiers from the Lublin region would die there.
As well as implementing large-scale deportations and imprisonment, the usurpers were developing their own propaganda machine. The leading paper of PKWN was the "Rzeczpospolita" (in English “Republic”) daily, created by Jerzy Borejsza. Its main goal was to support the party and the new regime. At the same time, appeals to the people started to appear on the walls alongside posters. Such as the one with “the giant and the spit-drenched dwarf of reaction of the Home Army” where the giant was depicted as a soldier of the Communist Polish army or the “Home Army - Brother Killers" poster.
The communist renegades tried to keep up appearances that everything was returning to normal – they opened railway lines, celebrated a new school year, and they even let the Catholic University of Lublin reopen. They duly created another university in their temporary capital – the "loyal" Maria Curie-Skłodowska University.
Until 1989 the truth about PKWN activities was just as severely falsified as the truth of the Warsaw Rising and the fate of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Poles had been. One very effective piece of communist propaganda was the television series "Four Troopers and A Dog". Filmed in the 1960s, on the basis of a screenplay by a soldier, Col. Janusz Przymanowski, it shaped the historical awareness of the young for decades. It presented a selective, communist version of the history of the Second World War, limited to the struggle of the General Berling's army and the rule of the "people", at the side of the friendly soldats (soldat – is a scornful name for a Soviet soldier in Polish). The script never refers to the Polish Underground State, the Home Army, or the Polish Government in exile. The writer did not investigate why so many Poles ended up at the far corners of Russia, nor the essence of the tragedy that took place in Warsaw on the left bank of the Vistula.
29. Berling's Soldiers
In May 1943, on Stalin's initiative, the 1st Tadeusz Kościuszko Infantry Division was formed in the Soviet Union under the command of Colonel, soon to become Brigadier General, Zygmunt Berling. When the news of the formation of a Polish unit spread, volunteers came from near and far. Most of them were Poles, deported from the Eastern Borderlands in the years 1939-1941 and put in prisons and gulags in the far corners of the Soviet Union. The emerging army was for them practically the only chance to get out of the Soviet hell and to return to their homeland. In the Division, the soldiers wore Polish uniforms and eagle badges and there was even a Polish chaplain, Father Franciszek Kubsz, kidnapped from Polesie by Soviet guerrillas and brought to Sielce by a roundabout route. Unfortunately, all the officers were recruited from the Soviet ranks.
The Division experienced a baptism of fire, and suffered heavy losses on 12 -13 October 1943 at the battle of Lenino. Less than a year later, as a part of the First Polish Army, it stood on the banks of the Vistula.
The outbreak of fighting in Warsaw in August 1944 made Stalin anxious. The Soviet dictator understood that the political goal of the Rising was not just to demonstrate the power of the Home Army, but to liberate the Polish capital and to assume authority in a country freed from the occupying forces. It is very likely that he made a decision not to let that happen. He stopped the offensive towards the West, and directed the assault towards the Balkans. On 8 August, he rejected the plan, presented by his military chiefs, to seize Warsaw, and for over 5 weeks waited for the collapse of the city. Contrary to earlier expectations of a quick defeat of the Rising, the fighting in Warsaw continued. At the beginning of September, in order to avoid accusations of inaction, Stalin gave the order to mount a limited assault on Warsaw. The attack was launched by a section of the First Belorussian Front forces.
Fighting for the right-bank district of Warsaw, Praga, began on 10 September. In spite of strong German resistance Praga was liberated on 15 September. Nothing stood in the way of giving direct help to the insurgent units.
Gen. Berling knew that his troops were unable to cross the Vistula on their own. And yet, he issued an order to rush to help Warsaw. He was quickly punished for that decision and removed from his post
During the few days it took Polish forces to cross the river they took three bridgeheads on the left bank: in Czerniaków, in Żoliborz and between the Poniatowski and Średnicowy bridges. The struggle lasted the longest at the Czerniakowski Bridgehead, where two battalions of the Third Infantry Division joined the insurgent forces. The Germans threw huge numbers of soldiers against them. The defeat of the Polish units, deprived of artillery support, was just a matter of time.
30. The 108 Blessed
For the Insurgents and the civilians, the days of struggle were days of a special trial –among outbursts of heroism, there were moments of doubt, terror and helplessness. The clergy, present among the fighters from the first days of the Rising, defied the brutality of war, spiritual helplessness and suffering. They were with the fighters as chaplains, showing unprecedented courage in defending civilians. In Powiśle, a Dominican Father Jan Czartoryski "Father Michael", the chaplain of the "Konrad" Grouping, stayed with the wounded until the very end. He died on 6 September, shot along with them, when the Germans forced their way into the hospital. The chaplain of the "Kryska" Grouping, a Pallotine, Father Józef Stanek "Rudy", died at German hands when he tried to negotiate to spare the lives of surviving civilians and Insurgents in Czerniaków. In 1999, these two men were among the 108 Polish clergymen-martyrs who were raised to the glory of the altars by the Pope John Paul II. Father Stanek has been patron of the chapel at the Museum of the Warsaw Rising since 2004.
31. Insurgent Armoured Fighting Vehicles
From the start of the Uprising the greatest problem of the Polish troops was the shortage of weapons. They captured them from the enemy and retrieved them from air-drops, but most of them were produced in their own underground workshops. The Insurgents weaponry was supplemented by captured Armoured Fighting Vehicles. In the courtyard of the Central Post Office, the Insurgents repaired an armoured vehicle, calling it "Chwat" (in English “Daredevil”). Two "Panther" type tanks, captured by the "Zośka" Batallion soldiers, took part in several combat operations. During both attacks on the University the Insurgents were protected by two armoured vehicles. The "Szary Wilk" (in English “Grey Wolf”), originally called "Jaś" (or in English “Johnny”) was an armoured carrier, captured by the soldiers of the "Krybar" Grouping. "Kubuś" (in English “Jake”) covered with steel plates, was constructed by technicians from the same Grouping, on a Chevrolet truck chassis. "Kubuś", which survived in Powiśle, is now kept at the Museum of the Polish Army, a replica has been made for this museum.
32. Stalin, Wasilewska, Mikołajczyk
On 30 July 1944, the Prime Minister of the Polish Government in Exile, Stanisław Mikołajczyk, came to Moscow. On 3 August he had talks with Stalin at the Kremlin. He informed Stalin about the outbreak of the Warsaw Rising and asked for assistance. Stalin avoided making an unequivocal statement. He accused the Home Army of not fighting the Germans actively up to that point. At their second meeting on, 9 August, the Polish Prime Minister requested an immediate supply of weapons for the Insurgents. Stalin declared that assistance would be provided. It soon turned out that this was an empty promise. Stalin's stance was applauded by Polish communists, who were preparing themselves to take power in Polish territories captured by the Red Army. Wanda Wasilewska, who represented the Polish communists claimed, in conversation with Mikołajczyk, that nobody was fighting in Warsaw. It was 6 August 1944 – for a few days now, a significant part of the city had been controlled by the Insurgents, including the tallest building in Warsaw - the Prudential building, the Power Station and the Central Post Office. The Polish radio station "Lightning" was broadcasting daily news bulletins and the Scouts' Postal Service was already operational.
During preparations for the Rising, special attention was paid to the organisation of an efficient communications service. The "wires" (telegraph operators) were trained, equipment was gathered, and detailed plans were put together. However, the first days of the fighting revealed that in spite of all these preparations, there were some serious communication problems. Some of the equipment failed and a lot of dispatch units and relay stations were destroyed by German troops. As a result, communications in Warsaw could only be maintained thanks to the devoted service of young messengers and women liaison officers, slipping under the protection of barricades and struggling through the sewers to reach districts cut off by the front line.
In some combat areas contact was maintained through a constantly repaired telephone network, radio stations, messengers and sometimes special officer patrols. However radio was the most reliable communication method, maintained through a relay station in the United Kingdom. In the busiest period, over 100 dispatches were sent each day.
34. Radio Station
The radio station of the Information and Propaganda Bureau, called "Lightning", was supposed to be operational from the first hours of fighting. Unfortunately, during transport, the boxes with the radio equipment got soaked, which delayed the launch of the transmitter. The communications people did not think that “Lightning” could be repaired quickly and rushed to launch a replacement radio station. After the Central Post Office building was captured on 3 August, an 18-Watt sound radio station "Tempest" began transmission. It was constructed over 24 hours, by an avid short-wave radio operator, Włodzimierz Markowski. During the first 18-minute session, it transmitted information about the outbreak of fighting in the Polish capital to London, and appealed for assistance. Clips from the Information and Propaganda Bureau’s "Information Bulletin" were also broadcast. After many years "Tempest" has been rebuilt for the Rising Museum by its original engineer and his team.
Entering the communications room you can see the "Tempest" radio station – protected by a display case, and on the table, you can see "Lightning" the most famous insurgent radio station of all.
After nearly sixty years, one of its engineers, Antoni Zębik codename „Biegły" (in English “proficient”), undertook the task of reconstructing the radio station. Work on the replica started in February 2004. On the 60th anniversary of the original launch, "Lightning" began once again to transmit messages.
During the Rising, the radio station began operating on 8 August, in the Śródmieście building of PKO bank. The transmitter was placed in one of the rooms, together with the amplifiers, and in another room, lined with carpet, was a studio. Broadcasting conditions were good as echoes were almost non-existent and there was good isolation from external sounds. Programmes were broadcast every day, from 8 August to 4 October. The length of broadcasts varied, depending on the material available. The longest programmes were produced in August. Every broadcast consisted of a news bulletin presenting world news, information from the rest of the country and from the fighting city, a press review and an artistic programme with music and insurgent poetry. From 9 August, Polish Radio also used the "Lightning" radio station. "Lightning" changed its broadcasting location several times. You can follow the changes on a map near the entrance.
The final broadcast of the Warsaw Rising was made by the chief technician, Jan Georgica known as „Grzegorzewicz", on 4 October at 19:20. In a ten-minute programme "Grzegorzewicz" gave, among other items, information about the operation of the radio station. At the end, he played the "Warszawianka" (The Warsaw March), and then destroyed the transmitter.
35. Field Postal Service
You are now in a room devoted to a very important institution in the Warsaw Rising - the Postal Service. The exhibits include original postal stamps, date stamps and armbands from the Scouts' Field Postal Service as well as one of the two surviving insurgent pillar-boxes, donated to the Museum by one of the combatants. Even today you can see a bullet mark on it.
In the first days of August, the Insurgents failed to recapture a number of strongholds. The enemy disrupted communication between the insurgent enclaves, and also between families dispersed all over the city. Soon communications were restored thanks to an army of messengers and liaison officers, recruited mainly from the Grey Ranks of scouts and girl scouts from the "Scouts' Emergency Service".
The Scouts' Field Postal Service began its operation on 4 August. The Central Post Office was located at 28 Świętokrzyska Street, near the Principal Headquarters of the Grey Ranks - „Pasieka" (in English "The Apiary"). With time, the postal service covered almost the entire city. Eight more post offices were established, with over 40 post boxes. Letters delivered by the scouts were limited to 25 words. All of them were censored to prevent leaks of military information in case correspondence were captured by the enemy. The messages were delivered free of any postage charge, but voluntary donations in the form of books, dressings or food for the wounded Insurgents were welcomed. They delivered 3 to 6 thousand items a day. Every day the young postmen, risking their lives, carried tens of letters. Even though their superiors did their best to protect them from the worst, sometimes they died. A sixteen-year-old scout Zbigniew Banaś codename "Banan" (in English “banana”), who died from a bullet on 17 August while carrying letters in Powiśle, stands as a symbol of devotion of the youngest soldiers.
The Field Postal Service played a vital social role – it enabled people cut off from their loved ones to communicate, to pass information about themselves, to reassure each other. Letters delivered by the young postmen raised people's spirits, and helped them to survive the most difficult moments of the war.
36. Fighting in September
After the collapse of the Old Town and the evacuation of the "North" Group units, the Insurgents held their positions in Śródmieście, Powiśle, Czerniaków, Mokotów, Żoliborz and in the Kampinos Forest. Their priority was to defend strategic areas on the banks of the Vistula. The control over those areas gave hope for a successful landing from the Praga side of the river. The Germans also feared the Soviet offensive from the other side of the river. That is why they directed their main assault towards the districts situated on the Vistula - Powiśle and Czerniaków. The Poles were still counting on support from the East, and, in spite of extremely inferior weaponry, they tried to hold on to their positions at all costs.
One potent symbols of the post was the so-called "hard front". It was a line of Polish defences in Northern Śródmieście, running from the Postal Railway Station at Żelazna Street, over the cross-town railway line, and through the following streets: Towarowa, Grzybowska and Królewska. On 9 September, the Information Bulletin, one of the Insurgent newspapers, announced that: "The soldiers fighting at that section, with their heroic stance, are rendering an important service to the rest of the fighting capital: by attracting the heaviest attacks of the enemy, they act as a shield protecting other districts, even those quite distant from their positions".
In spite of the great determination of the Insurgents, the Germans, with their overwhelming advantage, systematically destroyed the Insurgents’ strongholds. In the evening of 5 September, having run out of ammunition, the Insurgents left the Power Station building, which, as a result of heavy bombings, had stopped working the day before. In a city without electricity, conditions for the inhabitants and the Home Army soldiers became more and more severe. On 6 September the whole of Powiśle collapsed, and the enemy troops begin to capture the northern part of Śródmieście. Facing a catastrophic situation and with only a small chance of outside assistance, the Insurgent authorities authorised the Polish Red Cross to negotiate partial evacuation of civilians from Śródmieście. As a result, on 8 and 9 September, during a ceasefire, about 8 thousand people left the city. At the same time – on 9 September – contact was established between the High Command envoys and the Germans who proposed talks about the capitulation of the Rising. In view of the developments on the rightbank of the Vistula – the troops of the First Belorussian Front having launched the Praga operation – the Home Army Command kept stalling for time and finally, on 11 September, broke off the negotiations. The Germans focussed on organising the front on the western bank of the Vistula. On 21 September a German assault put an end to the landing of the First Polish Army troops at Kępa Potocka. On 23 September the Czerniaków Bridgehead collapsed. The enemy tightened the ring around the remaining three centres of resistance: Żoliborz from the north, Śródmieście and Mokotów from the south. After the collapse of Czerniaków, Mokotów became the main target. The area defended by the Insurgents dwindled every day. On 26 September, the dramatic evacuation of Insurgent troops from Mokotów began. Mokotów finally surrendered on 27 September around noon. On the same day, the enemy launched operation "Falling Star" which they had been preparing for a week. The aim of the operation was to liquidate the "Kampinos" Group. Two days later, the Kampinos units were crushed by the German troops in the battle of Jaktorów. On 30 September Żoliborz surrendered. Śródmieście was still fighting.
37. A Place of Remembrance
Within days, Warsaw turned into a city of graves. At first, the dead were buried ceremonially in small squares, courtyards, home backyards, under wayside shrines. As fighting developed, memorial crosses covered the streets, squares, pavements, even the rubble left after bombing raids. More and more often death became anonymous. Bodies were buried in a hurry to avoid epidemics. The dead were only registered in cemeteries adjacent to hospitals. Corpses were wrapped up in sheets, and a tightly-closed bottle with personal data was attached to a hand or a leg. Historians estimate that during the two months of fighting the Poles sustained losses of about 18 thousand killed and missing and about 25 thousand wounded soldiers. The number of civilian casualties is estimated at approximately 180 thousand fallen and murdered.
In this symbolic Place of Remembrance a hundred Insurgents, killed during the fighting for Warsaw, are looking out at you. They are smiling, full of life – one of the finest generations in the history of Poland. The war claimed thousands of them forever...
The memory of those who died in fighting in the streets of Warsaw is still alive. In a number of Warsaw courtyards you can find shrines at which Holy Mass was celebrated during the Rising, where people gather to pray together. Memorial plaques commemorate nearly 400 sites of execution. Numerous plaques and monuments commemorate the areas where Insurgent units and groups fought. All these sites are cared for with great respect. Each year, on the anniversary of the outbreak of the Uprising, people lay flowers, light candles, and soldiers and scouts keep guards of honour.
38. The Germans
The outbreak of fighting in the capital of Poland in August 1944 posed a great threat not only to the German 9th Army fighting the Red Army for the middle part of the Vistula to open the shortest route to Berlin. It was also a threat to the stability of the whole Eastern Front. At that time, Warsaw was the most important transport junction, through which tons of supplies and replacements of different kinds constantly flowed to the Eastern Front. The forces of the Warsaw garrison amounted to no more than 20 thousand soldiers, which was too few to successfully put down the Rising. The Germans badly needed outside support in order to "win the race for Warsaw with the Bolsheviks ".
The first German troops started to flow into the city as early as 3 and 4 August. The units gathered in Gen. Erich von dem Bach's Korpsgruppe were successively reinforced and at their peak numbered 50 thousand soldiers. The Wehrmacht was supported by police forces, SS and collaborationist units, consisting of Russians, Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians and Azeris, as well as Hungarians, who were sympathetic towards the Insurgents. German commanders mustered all available technical resources, including modern 380mm calibre rocket mortars, rocket launchers with incendiary shells and high explosives, nicknamed "Cows" or "Cupboards" because of the noise they made. During the two months of struggle the German air force played an important role, both fighting the Insurgents and destroying the city, making nearly 1400 sorties over Warsaw. However, the most powerful weapon used to quash Polish resistance was a self-propelled siege mortar, the Karl-Morser Gerät 040 - „Ziu" caliber 600 mm: its shells could easily destroy a tall building. Insurgents and civilians alike were harassed by German snipers, nicknamed "the pigeon fanciers". With their sniper rifles, such as the one displayed here, they sewed death in the streets of Warsaw.
In spite of the enemy’s greater manpower and superior resources, the Insurgents mounted a heroic resistance for 63 days, inflicting heavy losses on the other side. If you compare the fighting in Warsaw to other battles of the Second World War it is clear that the poorly armed Insurgents fought almost twice as long as the very well armed French army in the 1940 campaign. Military historians compare the Warsaw Rising to the struggle for Stalingrad or Berlin, as the German losses sustained in the Polish capital in 1944, according to von dem Bach's report, amounted to 10 thousand killed, 7 thousand missing and 15 thousand wounded. Only on the Eastern Front did the German army sustain greater losses...
In the centre of the room we have placed an unusual record that time – a diary written during the Rising by 8-year-old Jerzy Arct. The pages of the diary describe the everyday life of a child in the middle of the fighting. The last words: "But we must never forget the German barbarity. Never! Never!", written just after the war, leave a moving souvenir for the generations to come...
Before you move on to the next part of our exhibition, have a look at the German medal on display in this room. It was awarded to the Germans for special merit in the invasion on Poland in September 1939. A Bronze Cross with Swords, shot through by a bullet, a gift for the Museum from one of Insurgents, is proudly displayed by an SS man. A few years later, the same man died from a bulletwound during the fight for the PAST State Telephone Company building. History had come full circle...