The Warsaw Uprising began August 1, 1944 as a heroic, catastrophic last stand against the Germans, and ended 63 days later with the death of more than 200,000 Poles, the majority civilians. After nearly five years of German occupation, the Russians were advancing from the east, sending German troops into retreat. The Germans had begun evacuating Warsaw. In July 20, a failed assassination attempt on Hitler revealed a huge coalition of top German officials complicit in their perceived need to murder Hitler. And, Soviet aircraft even dropped leaflets in Warsaw exhorting people to rise up in armed action. On the surface, it sounded like a good time to revolt. History played out differently.
One of the best museums I have ever been in is the Warsaw Uprising Museum, and I’ve been to most of the Smithsonian branches in Washington, D.C. As a history geek with a special interest, I had a hard time leaving after four hours, but we had something else on the agenda that day.
Poland had the largest underground army of any occupied country. When fighting began in Warsaw, as Germans won back one part of the city at a time, Polish fighters and citizens began to suffer from famine, communication lines weren’t working, water lines weren’t all working, and many took to the sewers to move around the town unseen.