Reflections about the Warsaw Uprising of 1944: An Intergenerational Dialogue


The 60th anniversary of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising invites dialog between the Bridge Generation (to which I belong), the Fathers’ Generation and the Columbus’ Generation on the logic of the outbreak of the Uprising. The Fathers’ Generation are those born at the turn of the 20th Century. In Warsaw, these Poles made the fateful decision to rise against their Nazi occupiers. However, it was the Columbuses Generation, born in the 1920s, who fought and suffered the highest casualties.

For obvious reasons, these generations defend their own stance on the Uprising. As a child of the War, and on behalf of all victims of this Uprising, I would like to offer my own opinion that the Uprising was unnecessary. During the 50th anniversary of the 1944 Uprising, I provoked a discussion on this issue in the Polish-American press. I was told then that until the participants of the Uprising are no longer alive, there can be no rational discussion on this topic.Perhaps this anniversary is the last chance for a dialog with the living participants of the Uprising, who as a result of learning the views of successive Poles, may change their own opinions regarding the validity of their actions.

The purpose of this dialog is twofold: a search for truth, as well as formulating first principles that may act as precedent for similar crises in the future. The goals of this dialogue do not extend to the condemnation of Uprising participants, who martyred themselves for the good of Poland.

As a scholar, I am interested in finding and teaching the truth, and against the manipulation of history to serve competing agendas. Just as the Americans set up a Commission to investigate the facts and decisions which led up to the attacks on September 11, and just  as South Africa set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine the crimes of Apartheid, Poland should analyze the decisions and facts regarding the Uprising in the same light. The search for truth in these cases was not always so easy. The communist Poland PRL: (1952-1989), in an effort to move forward from a sad past, overtly censored the facts and decisions of the Uprising. As well, self-censorship among Polish Émigrés was encouraged, so as not to provide ammunition to the ruling Communists.

Table 1. Polish Uprisings


The fallout of the Uprising can be felt today by observing the low quality of political discourse among current Polish decision-makers. There is simply a lack of older intellectuals, who were direct casualties of the Uprising. The 1944 Uprising was not the first uprising to decapitate the intellectual capacity of Poland. Table 1 illustrates the syndrome of Polish uprisings.

One can estimate that in various Polish uprisings about half a million citizens were killed and 2-3 million persons were wounded. Nowadays, about 15 million people of Polish origin live outside of Poland in addition to the 38 million who reside within Poland’s borders. Therefore, 28% of the estimated 53 million Poles worldwide live outside of Poland. In this balance, one must include losses in the two world wars of the 20th century, where 8 to 10 million Poles lost their lives. The impact of such enormous losses during the war generations is impossible to determine, and this fact should be taken into account in the course of any eventual future uprising.

There exists a theory that the syndrome of Polish Uprisings contributes strongly to the level of Polish patriotism throughout history. Patriotism fueled the Polish drive for independence in 1918 (after 123 years of being in captivity), and in 1989 when communism collapsed in Poland. The Solidarity Movement was heavily influenced by the lessons of the Uprising, as the 1989 leaders toppled Communism nonviolently, specifically avoiding violent confrontation with the ancient regime.

It is worth mentioning that Polish history examined from abroad evaluates Poland’s partition as a positive solution to regional chaos, where Poland’s neighbors solved their differences by splitting Poland. However, the Poles themselves look at these historical partitions as resulting from foreign aggression and not internal instability.

History forgets that 16th century Poland was the largest state in Europe, but could not govern itself effectively due to the liberum veto, and the election of foreign kings that promised low taxes and privileges to fellow nobles. Because of this instability, Poland’s neighbors developed absolute monarchies to prevent Polish mistakes with “premature democracy.” Later these neighbors instilled so-called “law and order” in Poland.