Warsaw: Visions of the Past

Much like Berlin in Germany, by the end of World War Two the city of Warsaw, Poland lay in ruins. While Berlin was turned to rubble from round the clock Allied bombing and fighting, much of the damage in Warsaw was done by the Germans themselves. Firstly during the invasion of Poland in September 1939 that started the war, then during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943 and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. They inflicted terrible punishment on the inhabitants of Warsaw, especially the once strong Jewish community that made up 30% of the city’s population.

Warsaw in ruins January 1945

Warsaw in ruins January 1945

Upon the defeat of Poland, the Germans isolated the Jewish population of Warsaw behind walls that were over 10 feet high and topped with barbed wire within the Warsaw Ghetto (established in October 12th, 1940). With the relocation of Jewish people from Warsaw and other cities over 400,000 people were crammed into an area of just 3.4 square kilometres (1.3 square miles) which equated to 7.2 people per room!

Warsaw Ghetto 1941

Warsaw Ghetto 1941 (Photo Source: German Federal Archives)

The Warsaw Ghetto was a place of starvation, disease and atrocity. Apart from death caused by disease and hunger; from 1942 onwards mass deportations to concentration camps and executions within the ghetto were a regular occurrence. By January 1943 only approximately 80,000 residents remained within the ghetto and this was halved again in May 1943 following the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising!

Warsaw Ghetto 2010

Warsaw Ghetto 2010 – This line marks where a wall was once placed around the Ghetto from 1940-1943

Warsaw Uprising 1944

Warsaw Uprising 1944

On April 19th, 1943 Jewish resistance forces commenced the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This was the largest act by the Jewish resistance in World War Two. They were poorly armed and ill-equipped though to take on the German forces in Warsaw and by May 16th, 1943 the uprising was officially crushed when the Great Synagogue of Warsaw was destroyed. The suppression of the uprising effectively left the ghetto in total ruins.

On August 1st, 1944 the Polish resistance movement started the Warsaw Uprising which culminated into a major battle lasting 63 days. The uprising was inspired by the appearance of Soviet troops across the Vistula River, but the Soviets failed to intervene. It is said Stalin wanted the Polish resistance to be crushed, plus the battle tied up German resources. We all know he had much grander plans for Eastern Europe following the defeat of the Nazi’s and any local resistance would be a future problem to the Soviets.

The uprising involved savage street fighting, which the German army ultimately won and resulted in the area being raised to the ground and the death of 166,000 people. This also triggered the order from Hitler and senior Nazi commanders to pacify the city by razing Warsaw to the ground in punishment for the uprising.

Warsaw The Prudential Building is hit by a 2 tonne German mortar shell during the uprising on August 28th, 1944

The Prudential Building is hit by a 2 tonne German mortar shell during the uprising on August 28th, 1944

Warsaw Uprising 1944 Monument

Warsaw Uprising 1944 Monument

By early 1945 some 85% of Warsaw was in ruins (around 60% of this occurred during and following the Warsaw Uprising). The city was saved from further destruction when the Soviet push resumed on January 17th, 1945 finally forcing the German army back towards Berlin. According to Polish information only about 6% of the prewar population of Warsaw remained in the city (less than 12,000 of them were Jewish)!

A lonely church on the horizon of rubble in Warsaw 1945

A lonely church on the horizon of rubble in Warsaw 1945

Warsaw in ruins 1945

Warsaw in ruins 1945

Polish troops under Soviet command parade through the streets of Warsaw in January 1945

Polish troops under Soviet command parade through the streets of Warsaw in January 1945

This is what makes Warsaw and amazing place to visit today. Rebuilding of the old town returned it to its former glory and apart from some communist era buildings much of the city has a mix of old style and modern buildings.

Old Town square 1945

Old Town square 1945

Old town square 2010 Warsaw

The same Old Town square in 2010 – Amazing!

Warsaw Old Town

Warsaw Old Town 2010

The Mermaid of Warsaws Old Town

The Mermaid of Warsaw’s Old Town

Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw (a Stalin tower of the Communist era)

Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw (a Stalin tower of the Communist era)

Warsaw today is a bustling city. A centre for commerce and tourism alike. Yes, a city with a horrifying modern history (during the reign of the Nazi’s and the Communists). A city that again, will never truly heal from its scars, but it is one that is moving on to a better and more prosperous place.

Warsaw Poland

Warsaw in 2010

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5 thoughts on “Warsaw: Visions of the Past

  1. Please note that Warsaw Uprising which started on Aug. 1, 1944 was not the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – this one started on Apr. 19, 1943. Warsaw was the city with 2 Uprisings against the German occupiers. The Warsaw Uprising did not take place in the former Ghetto area (which was already leveled to the ground).
    The Ghetto Uprising was undertaken by the Jewish Underground (The Jewish Fighting Organization and The Jewish Military Union); the Warsaw Uprising by the Polish Underground, mostly “Home Army” and others.
    More:
    The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (1943): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warsaw_Ghetto_Uprising
    The Warsaw Uprising (1944): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warsaw_Uprising
    The destruction of Warsaw started in Sep. 1939 defending battle (ca 15 %), then the Ghetto Uprising 1943, Warsaw Uprising 1944, and also after all fighting was over between Oct. 2, 1944 and Jan. 17, 1945, when Warsaw was liberated.
    Regards,
    Ewa

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