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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » December 30, 2014
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Unanswered Questions About Warsaw Uprising
December 30, 2014   
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Seventy years on, there are still many unanswered questions about the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the bloody armed struggle against the Polish capital’s German occupiers during World War II.

Did the uprising have to happen? Could the total destruction of Warsaw by the German army have been avoided? How could it happen that nearly around 200,000 people were slaughtered by the Germans in 63 days? These and many other questions continue to be asked in Poland to this day. Dr. Alexandra Richie, a Canadian historian, has written a book entitled Warsaw 1944: Hitler, Himmler, and the Warsaw Uprising that attempts to answer some of these.

Richie draws heavily on the private archives and library of her father-in-law, Prof. Władysław Bartoszewski, a hero of the Polish WW II resistance movement and a participant of the Warsaw Uprising. In the postwar years Bartoszewski became a leading dissident and, after the collapse of communism, was appointed foreign minister in 1995.

Richie also draws on German archival material, providing descriptions of the murderous onslaught by Heinrich Himmler’s elite SS units against the Poles.

The author relates the struggle waged by Polish insurgents and civilians, the terrible experiences of individuals who fought in the uprising and perished in it. Around 200,000 people died in the uprising, mostly civilians. The narrative reveals the fraught choices and complex legacy of some of World War II’s most unsung heroes.

Last August, Warsaw 1944 became the best-selling book in Poland and in November it won the Teresa Torańska Prize from the Polish-language edition of Newsweek magazine for best non-fiction book of the year. On accepting the prize, Richie said she had written the book primarily for English-speaking readers and was pleasantly surprised how well the book had been received in Poland. “I do not know whether the Warsaw Uprising made sense or not,” Richie said. “It is not for me to judge. I am a historian and I wrote a book about how it came about that there was a huge slaughter of Warsaw inhabitants and a total destruction of the city.”

Richie’s first book, Faust’s Metropolis: A History of Berlin, a political and cultural history of the German capital, was named one of the top 10 books of the year by the American Publishers Weekly in 1999.

The Polish version of Warsaw 1944: Hitler, Himmler, and the Warsaw Uprising, translated by Zofia Kunert, is entitled Warszawa 1944. Tragiczne powstanie.

Jolanta Wolska
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