Seventy years ago today, Polish resistance fighters attempted to seize Warsaw from the hands of the Nazis. They hoped to drive out the fascists and also to reclaim their capital before the Soviets arrived. Theirs was a heroic but futile endeavour. The Nazis attacked them with the full force of their death throes and Stalin, for whom the deaths of gallant young Poles were to be welcomed, banned American and British assistance.
The Nazis somehow managed to exceed their typical standards of depravity. The division of the paedophilic sadist Oskar Dirlewanger was dispatched to slaughter, rape and rob their way through Warsaw. The anti-partisan troops of Bronislav Kaminski arrived to loot and kill. “They raped nuns and plundered everything they could get their hands on,” one of his own troops said. The Germans proceeded to destroy over 80% of the city.
Whether or not the Uprising was advisable is beyond my judgement. What is beyond dispute, though, is the bravery of the Poles – fighting to rid their nation of the “black death” of Nazism and also to protect it from the “red plague” of the Stalinists. The young Poles who lived between the reclamation of independence and its loss at the hands of Molotov and Ribbentrop became known as the Generation of Columbuses. Among them was the 23-year-old Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, whose poems groped through the darkness of occupation towards the light of the human spirit. This is Elegy on a Young Pole…
They kept you, little son, from dreams like trembling butterflies,
they wove you, little son, in dark red blood two mournful eyes,
they painted landscapes with the yellow stitch of conflagrations,
they decorated all with hangmen’s trees the flowing oceans.
They taught you, little son, to know by heart your land of birth
as you were carving out with tears of iron its many paths.
They reared you in the darkness and fed you on terror’s bread;
you traveled gropingly that shamefulest of human roads.
And then you left, my lovely son, with your black gun at midnight,
and felt the evil prickling in the sound of each new minute.
Before you fell, over the land you raised your hand in blessing.
Was it a bullet killed you, son, or was it your heart bursting?
Baczyński was killed in Warsaw by a sniper’s bullet.