the Warsaw Rising broke at 5.00 pm on 1 August 1944, the German
response was grimly predictable. It was summed up by Heinrich
Himmler, who wrote to Hitler informing him of events and stating
that "the action of the Poles is a blessing. We shall
finish them off…Warsaw will be liquidated, and this city…capital
of a nation… that has blocked our path to the east for 700
years…will cease to exist."
1944, Poland had earned itself a special place in the Nazi ‘World
View’ or Weltanschauung. Heir to a long tradition of
rivalry with its western neighbour, it had resisted German
pressure in 1939, forcing Hitler into the general conflict that
he had hoped to avoid. And, as if to compound the negative image
held in Berlin, it was also home to Europe’s largest
concentration of Jews.
the occupation regime in Poland was especially savage. Poland
was to be wiped from the map. Its territory was to be divided
up. Its population sorted and sifted along crude racial lines
and shunted into the rump ‘General Government’ centred in
the ‘ancient German city of Krakau’. Some would be slated
for annihilation, those that survived would be turned into a
semi-educated caste of slaves to serve their new German masters.
In contrast to almost every other occupied nation, the Poles
attracted no overtures for collaboration from Berlin. Even as
the Germans cast around for the last crop of ‘volunteers’
for their ‘anti-Bolshevik crusade’ they refused to consider
the creation of a Polish Waffen-SS division. They had few such
too, aroused German ire. As the capital of the Second Republic,
it was symbolic of the proud defiance of 1939. As one of the
main centres of Polish Jewry, it was symbolic of a rich Jewish
tradition. Accordingly, it too was also earmarked for radical
reorganisation. In plans devised in 1940, Warsaw’s
geographical area was to be reduced by one tenth, whilst its
population was to fall by a quarter, with the shortfall to be
made up by an influx of German settlers. At the same time it was
to be systematically reduced to the status of a secondary
provincial city. Capital status, along with resistance to
Germany, would be consigned to memory.
by their propaganda and their twisted worldview, therefore, the
Nazis were unable to see the Polish nation as anything other
than a collection of recalcitrants, recidivists and bandits. And
they viewed the events unfolding in Warsaw in August 1944 as
vivid proof of that fact. Thus, it came as no surprise when the
forces initially called in to quell the Rising were those
renowned for their expertise in so-called ‘anti-partisan’
warfare. At their head was SS-General Erich von dem Bach, a
veteran of SS dirty work, who had previously been commander of
anti-partisan warfare on the eastern front. Under his charge
were two units that had achieved notoriety even amongst their
Nazi contemporaries: the Dirlewanger Brigade, which was drawn
from convicted criminals and led by a pederast, and the Kaminski
Brigade, a motley group of ex-Soviet citizens and deserters.
These two brigades already had some of the most bestial
operations of the war to their name. They would cover themselves
in further ignominy in Warsaw.
German military campaign in Warsaw can initially be
characterised, from the Nazi point of view at least, as the
extermination of so many ‘vermin’. This was most literally
the case in the example of the ‘anti-partisan’ units, which
began to move through the western suburbs of Wola and Ochota in
early August. Utilising the skills that they had learned in
numerous "anti-partisan" sweeps on the Eastern Front,
they set fire to buildings and massacred every man, woman and
child they encountered.
in the city, German forces initially displayed a complacency in
their dealing with the Poles, which bordered on arrogance. The
policy adopted was twofold. The artillery and Luftwaffe
would pound insurgent positions, after which a frontal ground
assault would be launched. It was intended as a demonstration of
overwhelming firepower and superior military hardware that would
cow the lightly-armed insurgents and force a submission with
minimum loss of (German) life. In the event, it did neither.
insurgents were not cowed. They did not surrender, and, what is
more, their positions often withstood German attack, whilst the
aerial bombardments merely created the ideal environment for
urban guerrilla warfare. Insurgent units would melt away in the
face of superior force and regroup to attack elsewhere.
Positions lost in the day would be retaken by stealth at night.
Snipers lurked unseen in the shadows, picking off the unwary.
Barricades would be boobytrapped; petrol bombs would rain down
from upper storeys. German forces on the ground, if not their
superiors, soon realised that they were facing an enemy that was
as inventive as it was deadly. A campaign that had been billed
as a simple mopping-up of ill-armed and ill-trained ‘bandits’
was growing (in the German mind) into something far more
substantial. A modicum of respect for the Polish fighters began
to creep into official and unofficial correspondence.
Comparisons were even made with Stalingrad.
end of the first month of the Rising, therefore, the Germans
realised that their previous tactic was not bearing fruit. The
policy of the ‘anti-partisan’ style extermination was only
swelling the insurgent forces and stiffening their resolve. Von
dem Bach decided that he would have to resort to negotiation,
and, with that, came a necessity to acknowledge that his enemy
was deserving of some respect. After lengthy talks, the Polish
‘bandits’ would be accorded every dignity. They would be
recognised as Allied combatants, entitled to the same treatment
on surrender as western POWs. There were to be no reprisals
against civilians and no ill-treatment of captives. On the
whole, these conditions would be kept.
the negotiations continued, however, the fighting dragged on for
almost another month. For some German soldiers, it brought with
it uncomfortable truths. One noted that "it is sad but
true, but they have fought better than us." Another was
profoundly disillusioned: "it has become clear to me",
he wrote, "that we are not the nation that embodies
strength, nationalism and a sense of sacrifice." He added:
"The Poles have shown qualities that we cannot."
Rising finally drew to a close in early October, and the
exhausted and half-starved insurgents gathered to surrender
their weapons and march into captivity, many German soldiers saw
their opponents face to face for the first time. They could not
but be impressed. Some wrote home detailing the "noble
bearing" of the Polish fighters, and contrasting the image
of men marching smartly in close order with the propaganda
stereotype of the rabble of ‘bandits’ and ‘partisans’.
Others wrote with admiration of their "exemplary" and
"unbowed patriotism." Those that witnessed the Polish
surrender would scarcely be able to forget it.
the greatest compliment, perhaps, came from the General Reinhard
Gehlen, head of the office Fremde Heere Ost (Foreign
Armies East), which supplied intelligence information on Germany’s
eastern enemies. Gehlen had made numerous studies of the Polish
Home Army and would have been well aware of the course of the
Rising in Warsaw. In the early spring of 1945, he was called to
Berlin to brief those responsible for creating Werwolf: a
German underground organisation to carry on the fight following
the expected Allied occupation of Germany. He was asked what
form he thought Werwolf should take. He replied that it
would do very well to copy the Polish Home Army.
months after the end of the Rising, a campaign arm-shield was
instituted for those German troops who had fought in its
suppression. It was to be awarded to all those who had spent at
least seven days of combat in the city, sustained a wound or
served 28 days in a supply capacity. The shield was put into
production, but an Allied air raid destroyed all the machinery
and finished examples, and it was never presented. Its design,
however, was telling. Bearing the legend "Warschau
1944", it featured a German eagle, with a swastika across
its chest, choking a coiled snake in its talons. The Poles had
earned much admiration in Warsaw, but, officially at least, they
were still a nation of vipers.
 Quoted in Noakes
& Pridham (Eds.), Nazism 1919-45, Vol. III, Exeter, 1988,
 Heinrich Stechbarth, diary
entry, 4th October, 1944.
 Peter Stolten, letter from
Warsaw, 5th October, 1944.
 Peter Stolten, letter from
Warsaw, 6th October, 1944.
 The Service: The Memoirs of
General Reinhard Gehlen, New York, 1972.