Saturday, August 01, 2015

Warsaw - There is a City

On August 1st of each year, the people of Warsaw commemorate the 1944 Warsaw uprising:

by Paul Barford
Once a year on August 1st, the people of Warsaw pay homage to the fallen heroes that fought for freedom in 1944 during the Warsaw Uprising. The biggest rebellion against German Nazi occupation during WWII cost over 200 000 lives and destruction of the capital.

Both before and after the Uprising, the Nazis carried out in Warsaw (as well as many other cities of the occupied country) a deliberate policy of annihilating Polish culture. This included emptying museums, stealing or destroying the contents, burning libraries, blowing up landmark buildings and monuments, closing cultural institutions and imprisoning or executing their staff. By their brutal and barbarous acts, the occupiers wanted to wipe out the identity of the conquered nation by deleting its material and non-material. Poland and the Polish people resisted, and it seems to me still today place a higher value on cultural property than many other nations in the EU.

It is in this context that it is particularly disturbing to see the German signatures on the anti-best-practice petition premised on the notion of German superiority to the interests of the citizens of the source countries. Shame on you, have you not learnt any lessons?


The first two paragraphs of this post by Mr. Barford are commendable, and give insights into both the ordeal and the resurgence of the Polish people.

The last paragraph is a regurgitation of his extreme antipathy to collecting antiquities and the antiquities trade. It reveals nothing other than his well-known personal biases.

It is also noteworthy that Barford does not even mention two very important aspects of the Warsaw uprising which are a matter of historical record:
1) The Russian propagandists called for this uprising, and it was in response to this incitement and the expectation that the Red Army was about to attack, that the Polish patriots launched the uprising they had been secretly preparing.

"The Uprising was timed to coincide with the Soviet Union's Red Army approaching the eastern suburbs of the city and the retreat of German forces.  However, the Soviet advance stopped short, enabling the Germans to regroup and demolish the city while defeating the Polish resistance, which fought for 63 days with little outside support. The Uprising was the largest single military effort taken by any European resistance movement during World War II. ...

Winston Churchill pleaded with Stalin and Franklin D. Roosevelt to help Britain's Polish allies, to no avail. Then, without Soviet air clearance, Churchill sent over 200 low-level supply drops by the Royal Air Force, the South African Air Force and the Polish Air Force under British High Command. Later, after gaining Soviet air clearance, the US Army Air Force sent one high-level mass airdrop as part of Operation Frantic. The Soviet Union refused to allow American bombers from Western Europe to land on Soviet airfields after dropping supplies to the Poles."

"More recently, blame for the Rising’s failure has fallen squarely at the feet of the Soviets. Stalin was playing a double game that wasn’t apparent to the Americans at the time, in part because President Franklin D. Roosevelt tended to believe Stalin. The Poles were deceived as well; Komorowski and his fellow commanders made their decision to fight based on what seemed to be safe assumptions at the time. “Ever since the outbreak of the Rising, the people of Warsaw had been living by listening, listening to hear the Soviet guns,” underground commander Stefan Korbonski, who spent months in Soviet captivity before escaping to the West, wrote in his postwar memoirs. “It never even occurred to anyone that the Soviets might deliberately stop their offensive, so as to enable the Germans to destroy the City of Warsaw.”
Soviet troops didn’t enter Warsaw proper until January 17, 1945. Even then, members of the Home Army were imprisoned or executed by Communist officials. (Komorowski spent the remainder of the war in the notorious Colditz officer’s prison, and escaped to England after the German surrender.) For Poles, the Allied victory over Nazi Germany was bittersweet. As Pawel Ukielski, the deputy director of a new museum in Warsaw devoted to the Rising, explains: “One occupation was just exchanged for another.”
Despite the dramatic fighting and the tremendous losses, the Warsaw Rising is one of the lesser-known conflicts of the war. The reason is simple: publicizing the events of August and September 1944 was in nobody’s interest during the Communist era. For the ruling regime in Poland, it was a direct attack on their legitimacy. The struggle has been largely forgotten outside Poland as well. The Rising was an uncomfortable reminder that Poland and the nations of central Europe had been cynically abandoned to Stalin during and after the war. None of the German officers responsible for the brutal reprisals against civilians in the city were tried at Nuremberg. In fact, the events of August and September 1944 were barely mentioned, for fear of roiling the tense relationship with Moscow."

2) As is mentioned in the above but not discussed in depth, Stalin was pursuing a political strategy intended to destroy Polish nationalism in preparation for the Communist puppet government he intended to install after occupying Poland.  

The Polish government in exile in London had learned through their agents that the Russians had massacred a large number of Polish officers at Katyn and elsewhere after occupying eastern Poland:

Disregarding Churchill's advice that it was politically very unwise to make any public announcement of this horrifying atrocity, the Polish government in exile publicly rejected the Soviet lie that the massacre had been carried out by the Germans:
"In April 1943, the Germans announced that they had discovered at Katyn Wood, near SmolenskRussia, mass graves of 10,000 Polish officers (the German investigation later found 4,443 bodies) who had been taken prisoner in 1939 and murdered by the Soviets. The Soviet government said that the Germans had fabricated the discovery. The other Allied governments, for diplomatic reasons, formally accepted this; the Polish Government in Exile refused to do so.
Stalin then severed relations with the Polish Government in Exile. Since it was clear that it would be the Soviet Union, not the western Allies, who would liberate Poland from the Germans, this breach had fateful consequences for Poland. ...
During 1943 and 1944, the Allied leaders, particularly Winston Churchill, tried to bring about a resumption of talks between Stalin and the Polish Government in Exile. But these efforts broke down over several matters. One was the Katyń massacre (and others at Kalinin and Kharkiv). Another was Poland's postwar borders. Stalin insisted that the territories annexed by the Soviets in 1939, which had millions of Poles in addition to Ukrainian and Belarusian populations, should remain in Soviet hands, and that Poland should be compensated with lands to be annexed from Germany. Mikołajczyk, however, refused to compromise on the question of Poland's sovereignty over her prewar eastern territories. A third matter was Mikołajczyk's insistence that Stalin not set up a Communist government in postwar Poland."

Mr. Barford fails to mention the suppression of any discussion of the Katyn Massacre in Poland until the fall of the Communist government, whose loyal and enthusiastic employee he had been:
Mr. Barford also fails to mention the suppression of any objective discussion of the Warsaw Uprising by the People's Republic of Poland:


It appears to this observer that the above should give an objective reader some chilling insights into Mr. Barford's far-left-wing mentality, his distortion of the record by suppression of that which does not suit his purposes, and his well-known propensity for advocating measures "in the defense of cultural heritage and the archaeological record" which impress many of us as being Marxist in concept, and totalitarian in their scope and probable consequences.


Blogger Duncan Finch said...

I was directed to your posting about the Polish uprising in Warsaw in 1944 by comments made by Paul Barford, who castigated you for making all manner of calumnies against the Polish people. I am very sorry but I cannot for the life of me find any such calumnies in your post. In fact, all the vicious remarks attributed to you by Barford are absolute misrepresentations - if not outright lies - on his part. How he can write such things is both shocking and unacceptable in any form of civilized discourse.

1:01 AM  
Blogger John H said...

I never ceased to be amazed at the humbug Barford peddles. He wrote: -

"By their brutal and barbarous acts, [the Nazis] the occupiers wanted to wipe out the identity of the conquered nation by deleting its material and non-material."

How he imagines the Communist puppet regime that held Poland in chains - of which he scrambled for the crumbs from its High Table - differs, reveals how, like his former Communist employers he is both selective and propagandist. He is to my mind the perfect example for all historians of how not to do it. Any noise you hear will be him scraping the barrel for something insulting to say about you in that laughable Update.

What Poles today think of his enthusiastic support for the regime that kept them on their knees, while he junketed and hob-nobbed with a regime that murdered and beat up Catholic priests, as examples of the vile regime, is anyone's guess. He reminds me of something one sometimes steps in on the sidewalk.

Best wishes

John Howland

2:14 AM  
Blogger Dave Welsh said...


Mr. Barford is habitually shocking and unacceptable in any reasonable form of civilized discourse.

That is exactly why he was ejected from Moneta-L and from Ancientartifacts-L by the listowners, and driven out of Unidroit-l by a coalition of listmembers outraged by his attempt to hijack that group for his propaganda purposes.

When Mr. Barford is "cornered" by facts he cannot credibly contest, this is what he does to try to take control of the agenda. It is in my opinion, the "Big Lie" strategy.

He really resented my once describing him as "Barford the Liar." I will let the readers judge that for themselves.

2:35 AM  
Blogger Dave Welsh said...


As bad as the Polish Communist government was, it could hardly be thought of as being as infamous as that of the Nazis. It was repressive and hostile to any expression of Polish Nationalism, but did attempt to provide a reasonable standard of living for Poles, and full employment. Poles lived better than most Russians.

I once employed two former residents of Communist Poland as engineering drafters - and as much as they hated the repression of the Communist government, they would have been shocked to have it compared to the Nazis. The Communists actually did many good things for the Polish people. The problem was the bad things that they also did, and the complete absence of freedom.

What the Nazis did to Poland could be described as at first bad, and then worse, then much worse, and finally incredibly barbaric and indescribably horrible.

I think Mr. Barford's actions and statements speak for themselves, and give the lie to his pretensions of being a trustworthy commentator upon cultural heritage issues. He is in my opinion a far left-wing Socialist extremist, who obviously believes in State control of all antiquities and other "archaeological objects."

Of course if Mr. Barford really is not what I have portrayed him to be, and if I have inadvertently done him an injustice by reciting what appeared to me to be incontestable and very well documented facts, he can always publicly disclose what he actually is.

3:17 AM  
Blogger Daniel F. said...

Wow! A whole page on the Warsaw uprising that does not mention the Jews even once. They make it sound like the Nazi's came in to ruin Polish culture when in fact the Poles were quite happy to join in the extermination of the Jews. I have no mercy for the Poles during WWII.

3:22 AM  
Blogger John H said...

I have many Polish friends who were members of the Polish Government in Exile during the Cold War and who were ready to step in when called upon. I am certain they would view your assumption that, "The Communists actually did many good things for the Polish people," with more than a measure of incredulity. The imposition of Martial Law to subdue the progress towards Democracy is not one of the high points of Polish Communism, I suggest.

As an example of Barford's ever-present political myopia is his railing against collectors signing a Petition opposed to a political move. Unsurprisingly he conveniently forgets that under Communism, even Polish Communism, such a Petition would not only be outlawed, but anyone connected with proposing such a thing could soon expect a knock on the door at 4.00am.

I view him as an undistinguished individual who failed to make his mark and turned East for fame and fortune. I doubt he got the latter but the former certainly, featuring on my blogs and dare I say, yours, and elsewhere.


John Howland

3:49 AM  
Blogger Paul Barford said...

"Wow! A whole page on the Warsaw uprising that does not mention the Jews even once. They make it sound like the Nazi's came in to ruin Polish culture when in fact the Poles were quite happy to join in the extermination of the Jews. I have no mercy for the Poles during WWII."

Mr Friedman (for it is you, isn't it) very few Jews of Warsaw took part in the Warsaw Uprising for the simple fact that the Ghetto built by the Nazis (no apostrophe) in 1940 - so a full year after the Occupation began, had been cleared by mid-May 1943. Those Jews who survived mostly had been taken by their Polish protectors (both private initiatives and those belonging to the Żegota movement which you gracelessly forget) well away from Warsaw and few returned to help fight for the city.

Let us remember the penalty for helping a Jew escape the Nazis was often death not only for them but their family. You of course may not wish to believe it, but statistics of several hundred thousand Poles believed to have helped Jews in the Occupation are quoted by reliable sources, I know some of these people. Some fifty thousand were executed. Only 700 of them are commemorated by your "Righteous Among the Nations".

I also know from autopsy from the old lady living there, the story of a German soldier who defied orders and saved a Jew hiding in the garden of a house I visit regularly. There are more.

Although the comments thread above is full of unreflexive generalisations, you cannot just generalise and say "the Poles" as a whole did this or that seventy three years ago, and therefore you condemn "the Poles" on that basis.

The Warsaw ghetto was built where it was because this was the site of the central part of the Jewish quarter of Warsaw. Although Jews had lived in Warsaw since the Middle Ages, from the 1880s this quarter (Mokotów, Nalewski) was settled by thousands of Jews driven out from other parts of Russia. While I am sure there were the usual conflicts one would get when a group of newcomers arrive in town, trade directories, newspapers, court documents and all the other documentary evidence shows peaceful coexistence here but also in the fashionable areas on the east and south of the city - where the 'assimilated' Jews tended to live which were excluded from the Ghetto.

Despite what you apparently think, the Nazis did not invade Poland "just" to destroy the Jews (dont confuse Poland with Operation Barbarossa and the invasion of Lithuania, and do not confuse Poles with Ukrainians in the case of the Lviv massacre). The Endlosung did not begin in the General Gouvernement until the events of the last weeks of June 1941, with Einsatz Reinhard only getting underway in October 1941. All of this is well after the September 1939 invasion of Poland.

The invasion of Poland was precisely that. And the museums and libraries of Warsaw and other big cities were emptied by the Nazi invader before the Ghetto.

Having seen your Facebook page and showing it to my appalled students this morning, I think it is not just your stereotype of "the Poles" you have problems with. It is they that urged me to write and set straight the damaging slurs you published here.

As somebody who has for a number of years now worked hard to promote the preservation of Poland's Jewish heritage and has benefited from close collaboration with a number of Jewish organizations to that end in the past, I must say I find your negativity extremely frustrating, but put it down to ignorance and stereotypes. Fortunately, through our museums and outreach more and more people in Poland are learning to overcome their ignorance, stereotypes and prejudices. Can you say the same about your country?

2:51 AM  
Blogger Dave Welsh said...

Mr. Barford,

I thank you for your comment answering Mr. Friedman.

Polish society prior to the Nazi invasion was, of course, far from being monolithic and there were Poles who were sympathetic toward Jews just as there were Poles who were antisemitic. Probably most Poles may have been neither, just ordinary decent people.

I mention this not to address your knowledge of this topic, but to highlight it for other readers.

The preservation and appreciation of antique Jewish heritage in Western Russia and Poland, much of which during their settlement there was part of Russia, is of special interest to my wife, who is of Russian Jewish heritage and a student of family genealogy. She has worked assiduously to trace her family's complex genealogical roots in Russia and Poland.

11:38 AM  

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