On August 1, 1944 more than forty thousand resistance fighters, who answered to the Polish government-in-exile in London, rose up against Warsaw’s German occupiers. By taking on the Germans before the Soviets arrived they hoped to show their independence to the world.
Soviet propaganda had encouraged the citizens of Warsaw to believe they were about to be liberated by the Red Army . But the Poles had not consulted Stalin before launching their attack, and he had no intention of committing the Red Army to the struggle. He even refused to assist Allied planes that were trying to supply the uprising by air.
“We realized that they [the Soviets] were not going to allow either us or the Americans to land on Soviet territory. And this seemed to us a most terrible betrayal, not only of the Poles but of the Allies.”– Hugh Lunghi, British Military Mission, Moscow
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wanted to help Warsaw’s resistance fighters. Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots made more than three hundred supply flights to the city, most flying a tortuous journey from bases in southern Italy. Many of the missions were flown by Poles serving in the RAF, one hundred of whom were shot down.
But the situation in Warsaw remained grim. German forces committed numerous atrocities, openly targeting Polish civilians as well as members of the Home Army. In the first two weeks of the uprising, the Germans killed more than forty thousand civilians in just one district of the city. In total, more than two hundred thousand Polish civilians died.
“Just imagine, it was sixty something days in conditions that weren’t even fit for animals. We were hounded. Imagine if your closest friends are killed, if the city and the churches are burnt down, and all life is collapsing. And everything you live for has disappeared.”– Zbigniew Wolak, Polish Home Army
A few weeks before the Poles in Warsaw surrendered in early October, Stalin relented and offered some help. Soviet planes dropped some supplies. But many believed he deliberately did too little, too late. The fighting in Warsaw lasted more than sixty days, and when it was over, the Germans began destroying the city brick by brick.
“All autumn there was an aura over Warsaw in the evening. A red aura, a pink aura. Warsaw was burning. The people of Warsaw are dying. Warsaw is dying. The national culture of Poland is dying.”– Jan Karniewicz, 1st Polish Army