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Haunting memories 70 years after Warsaw Uprising


WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- Kazimierz Mikos ran down a Warsaw street, zig-zagging to avoid the bullets that whizzed past him. As the 14-year-old ran for his life, he was struck with terror at the sight of a dead body in the street. Even after the scrape with death, the teen volunteered for a heroic Polish struggle against the Nazis - becoming a messenger and a guard.

On Friday, Mikos will be among a shrinking group of insurgents to be honored in state ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the start of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. In this uneven struggle, poorly armed young city residents rose up against the German forces that had brutally occupied Poland for five years, battling them in the streets of the capital for over two months.

Mikos, now 84, still vividly recalls the white-and-red Polish flags that appeared in windows on the day the revolt began, a patriotic sign of support for the fighters that inspired him to join them.

"People waited for this moment for five long years," Mikos said, tears welling as he shared his story with The Associated Press. "They believed they would be free now, they were enthusiastic."

The hopes ended tragically.

The insurgents were no match for the Nazis, who turned their professional army and superior weaponry on the Poles, killing 200,000 fighters and civilians and razing the city in revenge. The revolt also failed in its goal of reversing Allied political calculations that put Poland under Soviet domination for decades after World War II.

Today the uprising is remembered by Poles as one of the most important moments in a long history of independence struggles, often against Russia. The courage of the fighters remains a defining memory in the Polish image of itself as a nation willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. It is also a reminder of Poland's sense of a precarious security, sandwiched between Germany and Russia - a vulnerability revived now by the armed conflict nearby in Ukraine.

Warsaw's revolt began Aug.1, 1944, by the clandestine Home Army, which acted on orders from Poland's government-in-exile in London.

The aim was to free the capital from German occupiers and take control of the country ahead of the advancing Soviet army. Moscow, intending to rule postwar Poland, withheld help and kept its Red Army positioned on the other side of the Vistula River as the capital bled and burned.

Thousands of poorly armed insurgents, mostly with little military training, held on for 63 days in the cut-off city, inflicting heavy losses on the well-armed and trained German troops before being forced to surrender.

The Nazis expelled the survivors from Warsaw and set the remaining buildings ablaze.

For over four decades, communist authorities discredited Warsaw's struggle, mainly because of its anti-Soviet motivation. The communists jailed many of the fighters and sentenced their commanders to death on fabricated charges, dumping their bodies unceremoniously in unmarked mass graves. Only now are some of these bodies finally being recovered.

Mikos feels lucky he avoided that fate. But like most young people who fought in the revolt, he encountered obstacles in his studies. He had to settle for a career as a high school math teacher in Warsaw, his higher ambitions blocked by the authorities.

Until the fall of communism in 1989 there was also censorship surrounding the subject, which led the Poles to mythologize it more. But 25 years into democracy some people are now questioning the wisdom of the revolt. Ahead of the 2011 anniversary, Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski called it a "national catastrophe," an unusual public statement that angered many, including former insurgents.

Mikos said he sometimes also thinks that Warsaw's ruin was an excessive price to pay. He remembers the suffering of the people and he bemoans the ruin of a city of classical beauty, with Parisian-styled buildings and charming star-shaped squares. After the war, the city was rebuilt in a heavy, communist architectural style, with recent additions of Western-style glass-and-metal skyscrapers.

"No, it was not worth it," he said. "Warsaw was the jewel of the North. It was a city with character, with style. It was an exceptional place. Today, it is just like any other city in the world."

Still, he feels the rebellion was unavoidable. The people of Warsaw were ready for sacrifice after years of brutal subjugation and mass killings. Hitler wanted Warsaw destroyed anyway, he says. The city would have eventually suffered in battles between the Germans and the Soviets.

Mikos recently walked with an AP reporter down Sienna Street, in the city center where insurgents had their headquarters and where some of the gray buildings survived the war. He pointed to gateways where he stood guard and took cover during bombings, and to an iron-barred balcony where a caged parrot once shrieked "Alarm, Alarm," giving a scare to everyone in the street.

He believes his level-headedness saved some lives. On one occasion, a younger boy reached out to take Mikos' hand grenade. In the scuffle, the securing pin came loose and fell. Everyone panicked, but Mikos said: "Find the pin, I'm holding the lever." The pin was put back in place, preventing an explosion.

The worst part was that there was no water, which the Germans had cut off. Wells were dug and the fighters had priority of access. But regular hygiene was impossible.

The insurgents mainly ate soup made of beans or barley found in German storage, won in house-to-house battles. The residents soon stopped offering the fighters their own supplies, too hungry themselves to spare anything.

The brutality and the devastating power of that struggle, he said, "surpassed the imagination of ... anyone who knows about armies and fighting."

"It was decided that the city must be defended. It was unavoidable."

Join the discussion

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Debra July 31 2014 at 10:03 AM

Awesome celebration of courage and strength long overdue!!!
Thank you Mr. Willenberg.
God bless you.

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JOE July 31 2014 at 10:33 AM

The Russians told them to rise up, then watched from across the river as they were butchered..

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1 reply
dwtomczyk JOE July 31 2014 at 11:52 AM

Those who rose up were behind the government in exile in Britian. Stalin ordered the Russian army to stand down.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
almazstmp July 31 2014 at 6:33 PM

Patton was a moron. Soviets had enough military power to push us back into Atlantic with one hand tied behind their back. McArthur was a coward who abandoned his troops in the Philippines and ran away. Unprecedented for a high ranking general in any military. Most of the fighting in WWII European theater fell on the shoulders of the Soviet Union. The troops we faced in Normandy were second rate and most of them weren't even German. Hate to rain on your parade people, but let the truth be known. Next time you wave your Dicks in front of the Russians remember that.

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3 replies
richsglobal July 31 2014 at 10:43 AM

As In All Wars, There Is Good And Bad, In Outcomes , Motivations And Reason. We Do Salute However, The Bravery Of These People. May You Look Ahead Knowing The Future Of Your Grandchildren Will Be Better!

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
mlock2354 richsglobal July 31 2014 at 11:17 AM

The Allies forgot about these people, Patton was right we should have finishe the USSR off while we could.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
vladswim mlock2354 August 01 2014 at 3:42 AM

Go fuc* yourself Yankee.

Flag +1 rate up
LL July 31 2014 at 12:28 PM

Now there's a nation the rest of us can be proud of, for not losing their will to be OUTRAGED, unlike us Americans, (for being subjected to Communist Terror, in the hands of the Liberal Administration), or the Palestinians, (for being subjected to brutal terror, in the hands of the Hamas), or any other nation that continues to tolerate tyranny, for that matter !

Flag Reply +3 rate up
2 replies
belldon10 LL July 31 2014 at 1:43 PM

Look up the meaning of liberal. It means freedom. the founding fathers were liberal, else we would be singing God Save the Queen, rather than the Stars Spangle Banner.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
stevenjonessales LL July 31 2014 at 1:56 PM


WTF are you trying to say? You go in one direction, then do a 180. Finish your point then move on.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Mike July 31 2014 at 1:35 PM

These are the same fools who think JPII is a saint.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
2 replies
Hi Ed Mike July 31 2014 at 2:47 PM

YOU are a Sick Bastard. I'd love to meet you. That would be the last time you would John Pau lI You must be a liberal Communest.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
1 reply
doonooch Hi Ed August 01 2014 at 2:35 AM

I dont think JP2 would approve of what your intentions. a bit hyporcitical. Sadly that's the problem with religion today. No one adheres to it's teachings. something to ponder.

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dsujet Mike July 31 2014 at 3:40 PM

Quite ignorant of you.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
mgt0331 July 31 2014 at 3:34 PM

Did you hear about the Polish man who locked his keys in the car and needed a coat hanger to get his family out?

Flag Reply +3 rate up
2 replies
dsujet mgt0331 July 31 2014 at 4:39 PM

No, how does it go? lol

Flag Reply 0 rate up
1 reply
mgt0331 dsujet July 31 2014 at 5:43 PM

Good one! Cleaver.

Flag 0 rate up
yayabeanes mgt0331 July 31 2014 at 8:52 PM

So what was it like for you locked inside that car.

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jmg62 July 31 2014 at 4:11 PM

Mikos seems to have forgotten the radio announcement from Moscow Radio that Stalin called for the uprising - that the Red Army was near and the time was now! My great grandmother was just over the border in Czechoslovakia and heard it. Then the Soviets stopped to the east of the Vistula to "replenish" for the assault - Stalin denied he made the announcement and refused to allow British or American planes to drop supplies into Warsaw flying onto Soviet territory since "they would merely fall into the hands of our common enemy". Indeed he did want Warsaw purged of their Home Army wanting a nation "friendly" to the Soviets after the War. The Nazi military couldn't believe Hitler wanted Warsaw annihilated when many areas of the E.Front could've used the assets Hitler poured in. He couldn't punish Bucharest or Belgrade since the Soviets took them quickly w/o internal assistance as Warsaw would've helped them - doubtful the Germans desired getting bogged down so close to it's borders. Sad.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
almazstmp jmg62 July 31 2014 at 6:45 PM

We were kind of late to a party as well. Second front was opened only when the outcome of the war was already decided. Russians stood alone for the most of it.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Daddy O July 31 2014 at 2:41 PM

Why do Americans want to give away their rights and have a King instead of a president. I'll bet the Polish people would not go for what is going on here. The president is the one that needs to get along the people voted for republican representatives now allow them to represent.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
dwtomczyk July 31 2014 at 11:39 AM

Russia did not help & they saw the whole thing because their army was resting about 1/4 mile away.

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3 replies
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