The Warsaw Rising Museum: Polish Identity and Memory of World War II
Marta Kurkowska-Budzan
 

Political situation however changed dramatically after 2005 parliamentary and presidential elections and brought important changes in public discourse about national memory and identity. One of the most powerful statements was made by a right-wing politician, Lech Kaczynski as early as in 2003. At that time as Mayor of Warsaw, he decided to build and open a museum dedicated to the Warsaw Rising of 1944 in time for the 60th anniversary of the event.  After Kacynski?s Law and Justice Party?s victory in the 2005 elections, the Museum has gained even more significance. Its director, Jan Ołdakowski became a member of the Polish Parliament from the Law and Justice party. The Minister of Education, a leading politician in the nationalist League of Polish Families party, Roman Giertych and the President of the Polish Republic, Lech Kaczynski, are frequent guests of the Museum and advocates of the Warsaw Rising memory as represented there. Today?s political and intellectual establishments of Poland, both of conservative origins, are strongly engaged in efforts to set up the Warsaw Rising as a core of contemporary Polish identity, built up on mythical icons of the Polish past epitomized by such themes as "Polish heroism and patriotism," "unpunished communist crimes against the Nation," "opposition to Communism? and the equation linking Polish identity and Roman Catholicism.

 The Warsaw Rising against Nazis was the final attempt to win full independence for Poland. The uprising broke out on August l, 1944, and lasted until October 2. The losses of the insurgents amounted to some 17,000 killed and 6,000 wounded, with about 180,000 civilians dead. After the uprising, the entire population, nearly one million people, was expelled from the city. The Nazis started destroying what was left of Warsaw.

The big questions always asked about the event have to do with political and rational reasons for the Rising?s outbreak andStalin's refusal to intervene. The official Soviet explanation was that Soviet troops were exhausted from their long advance west, and they needed time for rest and re-supply. In Norman Davies's complex account, the big three World War II leaders - Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin - were locked in an embrace of necessity that essentially served Stalin's deep interest in squeezing the life out of Poland's aspirations for independence (Davies: 2004).Stalin's refusal to come to Poland's aid made the uprising a sort of official nonevent in the decades of Soviet domination.

Immediately after the war, Warsaw insurgents, along with other Armia Krajowa (A.K., Home Army) soldiers, were accused of collaboration with the Germans and called fascists. The mere fact of having taken part in the Rising might have become a reason for arrest by the Security Office.

Propaganda attacks from the first years after the war changed in Stalinist times into attempts to erase the Rising from social memory. It was forbidden to pay homage to the Rising. Anniversaries were not to be celebrated nor monuments erected. 

After 1956, Communist authorities changed their attitude towards Home Army soldiers. Their war activity was no longer an excuse for direct persecution. However, the press, history textbooks, novels and films were still full of concealments concerning the Rising. It remained prohibited to erect statues of the Rising or commemorate its commanders. Until 1989 the state propaganda strategy was based on a distinction between heroic, ordinary soldiers and their cynical, irresponsible and clumsy commanders, who had ignited the Rising only to defend the interests of the ?London Government?[9] and the ?proprietary classes?.

[9]Polish government in exile during WWII.

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