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

An entry in the ?Encyclopedia of the Second World War? published in 1975 followed the guidelines of communist propaganda:

?The Home Army was an organization with a structure inappropriate for the needs of the ongoing fight against the German occupant, but instead intended to ensure that Gouvernment-in-Exile could take over power in the country through a popular rising [?] Its command [?] gathered a significant part of the patriotic forces and especially youngsters unaware of this organization?s political aims.?[10]

Despite extensive propaganda, private memory of the Rising was alive and natural. Focused not on a political rationale but on transmitted to younger generations eye-witnesses? testimonies, family memorabilia, graves, places in the city marked by tragic events, all what we name ?hi (story) from below?.  As early as in 1981 people of the ?Solidarity? movement launched the idea of a museum dedicated to the Rising. Though the movement was broken by Marshal Law, the idea remained.  Insurgent memorabiliahave been collected since then and since 2003 many exhibits have been gathered for the forthcoming Museum of the Warsaw Rising.

Opened on the 60th Anniversary of the Rising in August 2004, it has been called  the finest of Polish museums. Funded by the City of Warsaw in a building that was a former power station - rebuilt and redecorated - the Museum draws the attention of visitors with its outstanding modern vision of narrating and commemorating the past.

The Museum follows in many details the pattern of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C and House of Terror in Budapest.

Visitors find three floors of exhibition to work their way round showing not only the military history of the 63-day battle, but also the life of civilians in a city under siege. More than 500 exhibit items, plus about 1,000 photographs, films and sound recordings, depict the days leading up to the outbreak of the rising, its day-by-day development, the forced evacuation of the fighters from Warsaw, and their ordeal after their fight was over.  Photographs provide the main body of the exhibit, some jubilant and upbeat, others terrifying. Amongst the smiling soldiers are pictures of boys and girls as young as 12 years old, who were enlisted as messengers and couriers.

Since former regime propaganda showed the same pictures of young insurgents to depict human tragedy behind the Rising?,the Museum?s team declares:  ?By presenting all aspects of the Rising in this way, we hope to convey the rationale behind one of Poland?s greatest historical moments.?[11] Up-to-date technologies serve to recreate the atmosphere of the period to young people, who are the Museum?s chief audience. 

The Museum?s narrative about the Rising tends to underline the romanticism of young insurgents on the one hand, and the Allies? and Soviets? responsibility for the Rising?s failure, on the other:

?It is a fascinating and disturbing story [the Rising], partly because of the Polish Home Army, which, despite being small and woefully ill-equipped, resisted the Germans for 63 days; and partly because of the complicated issues surrounding the event: the Rising?s ultimate futility, the severe consequences of its failure, the inaction of the Russians, and what many Poles still perceive as the betrayal of Poland by its Western Allies, Great Britain and America.?[12]

[10]Encyklopedia II Wojny Światowej, PWN: Warszawa, 1975.


[12]The Warsaw Rising Museum leaflet.

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