Some destinations or attractions can invoke great emotion; sometimes the intensity is so great it’s almost stifling. Auschwitz can create feelings of sadness or revulsion, mountains are often awe-inspiring, deserts or oceans romanticism, cities excitement, the outback possibly insignificance, the pyramids or Manchu Picchu a sense of wonder.
The Warsaw Uprising Museum may instil any number of emotions but after spending an all too short hour there, my feelings were of intense pride. This may seem a little strange however the Polish nation had officially been beaten by the German army but the people’s determination to fight on almost alone says a great deal about the spirit of humanity.
“fought an intense street battle”
In 1944 as the Red Army closed in on the city the Polish resistance organised a countrywide rebellion against the occupying forces. The Soviet forces however stopped short of entering the city, this enabled the Germans to retake the city and the Polish resistance fought an intense street by street battle unaided for 63 days.
Despite nearby airfields the Soviets never provided any air support and fewer than 1500 troops entered the city. Allegations of a deliberate attempt to halt the operation were levelled at Stalin, forcing Churchill to arrange air drops without Soviet clearance. Eventually Stalin conceded and the United States provided one large air drop which along with a Soviet advance tipped the balance in allied forces favour.
“nearly 85 percent of the city was rubble”
It’s estimated that nearly 16,000 Polish resistance members died and a further 6,000 injured. There were an additional 200,000 murdered civilians during the occupation. By the time Soviet tanks rolled into the city in January 1945 nearly 85 percent of Warsaw was rubble.
The museum is a former tram power station and is split into several levels. The sponsors thoroughly researched the history of the Uprising and it’s packed with interactive exhibits, photographs, video, memorabilia, weapons and other miscellaneous displays.
Dedicated totally to the Uprising it’s hailed as one of Warsaw’s best museums, the people of Poland consider it integral to the city and are extremely proud of it. This is not difficult to understand as it is likely to leave an indelible mark on any visitor.
The museum follows a logical historical path but needs care, it is easy to get side tracked and go ‘off route’.
“the thumping heartbeat of the 1944 city is unmistakable”
Visitors are provided an insight into life under Nazi occupation, alongside a constant soundtrack of machine gun fire and dive bombing, but listen more carefully and the thumping heartbeat of the 1944 city is unmistakable.
Appropriately running through the heart of the museum is a steel monument engraved with a calendar of the main events of the Uprising. All this is very cool, but also providing a great deal to consider.
In my opinion one of the most poignant displays was a series of images taken by a former teacher, Olympic athlete and army officer Eugeniusz Lokajski. Captured by the Soviet army he escaped to occupied Warsaw opening a photography studio and remaining in the city throughout the occupation. He died commanding a small force during the Uprising but his lasting legacy is over 1,000 images portraying life before and during the rebellion.
There is a replica radio station similar to the one which broadcast throughout the Uprising, a press for printing propaganda leaflets and even a mock sewer system similar to the one used by escapees from the city.
One of the main attractions is the tower which provides a view over the city and Freedom Park which is home to the Memorial Wall, inscribed with the names of the fallen insurgents. An exact replica of a Liberator B24 airplane used during the supply drops to relieve the besieged resistance hangs from the ceiling and dominates the main room.
“It must have seemed like the ultimate heart-breaking irony”
During my visit unfortunately it was not possible to see the apparently shocking “City in Ruins” film which depicts an aerial view of the desolated city after liberation. It was possible to see the “Death of a City” display however with images of city landmarks systematically destroyed by the Nazis in retribution.
One of the saddest exhibits of all however tells the story after the German occupation, subsequent liberation and Poland becoming a Soviet state. The government controlled from Moscow. It must have seemed like the ultimate heart-breaking irony, all that fighting, all those deaths, so many sacrifices only to become ‘occupied’ communist controlled state.
Thankfully of course Poland and Warsaw are now free from Soviet rule and are self-governing. This is an inspiring museum is ultimately an uplifting experience, a memorial to the indomitable spirit of humanity in a modern, vibrant European city.
The Uprising Museum is an inspiring and ultimately uplifting experience, a testament to the dogged determination of a nation and it’s people under the tyranny of an occupying force. It is not to be missed if visiting Warsaw, it may leave you in contemplative silence at times but whatever emotions it evokes, you will not regret the visit.
It is apparently free to enter on Sundays, but get there early as it gets busy and there is a great deal to stand and stare at.
Although I was a grateful guest of the Poland Tourism Board all opinions are my own, formed over a glass of wine.