[August 5, 2020] Labeled as “one of the most significant occurrences in the history of the Jewish people,” the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in the Spring of 1943 was doomed to failure. This was the largest single revolt by Jews during World War II and is a symbol of freedom that we closely review for the lessons that can be learned. But it was on this date, August 5, 1944 that saw a successful liberation of a German forced-labor camp in Warsaw, Poland.
Often, I write about courage in the face of certain death. That was the case in Warsaw during WWII. Polish insurgents liberated a German labor camp, freeing 348 Jewish prisoners, who joined in a general uprising.
What made this smaller revolt against the German occupiers different and more successful?
- The Soviet Red Army was advancing on Warsaw by July of 1944. The uprising had begun days earlier in late July and relief by the Red Army was a realistic possibility. British PM Churchill appealed to Joseph Stalin to aid the insurgents’ cause. Stalin, however, balked and claimed the insurgency was too insignificant to waste time with supporting. This would not be the last time the Soviets would let down an ally or friendly fighting force.
- Polish patriots were still loyal to their government-in-exile back in London and were ready this time compared to a year earlier. Arms and explosives had been stockpiled. Materials to block select roads to inhibit German reinforcements were staged in strategic locations. But they knew that they had to rely upon the Brits and Soviets if they were to succeed.
- There was a coalition of three strong guerrilla groups that had worked out a strategy and a method of working together. The Polish Home Army (underground), the People’s Army (a communist guerrilla movement), and armed civilians took back two-thirds of Warsaw. On August 4th, the Germans counterattacked and killed more than 15,000 Poles.
- The British provided assistance that the Soviets failed to do. The British dropped ammunition and supplies into the southwest quarter of Warsaw to aid the insurgents. This small relief was sufficient to at least keep the Germans at bay. On August 5, the freed Jewish forced labors, who had joined the battle, formed a special platoon dedicated solely to repairing captured German tanks for use in the struggle.
The Poles would battle for weeks against German reinforcements and without Soviet help. Joseph Stalin has his own plans for Poland after the war. Because the Polish Home Army was loyal to the Polish Government, the Soviet Union saw it as an obstacle to Communism in Poland. During the Soviet occupation of Poland thousands of the Home Army operatives were deported to Gulags and Soviet prisons, while others like their senior commanders were executed.