The story of the Warsaw uprising in the summer of 1944 is fascinating, horrifying, and moving – but I cannot do the story justice re-telling it here (though I will give you a quick summary). Instead, I want to share photos of the museum exhibits because I feel that it really does do the story justice. The design of the museum was thoughtful, evocative, and even at times immersive, and it employed a diverse range of exhibition techniques in sensitive and tactile ways.
A short history of the Warsaw Uprising
In 2004, on the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw uprising, a museum dedicated to researching, documenting and disseminating knowledge about this historical event opened to the public. Sixty years might seem like a long time to wait for such a museum, but while Poland was under Communist rule up to 1989, the story of the insurgency was suppressed.
Poland was invaded by the Nazis in 1939 and subsequently became occupied territory. Warsaw was the main focus of the German attack, with arrests, executions and mass murders increasing as the years went by, not to mention the ghetto-isation and persecution of the Jews. After 3 years of living under German occupation, the Polish resistance planned an uprising to commence in August 1944.
After nearly 2 months of fighting with limited success (and many thousands of casualities) they surrendered at the end of September. They ultimately felt they had been let down by a lack of food and support from Allied forces, and broken promises of assistance from the Soviet Red Army.
More than 18 thousand insurgents and 180 thousand civilians died in the Uprising (many in mass murders conducted by German troops both during the occupation and as they retreated). The Nazis were finally forced out of Warsaw by the Red Army in January 1945, and the long period of communist rule began.
During communist rule, those individuals who were known to have taken part in the insurgency were persecuted for having shown a patriotism to the country of Poland which was incommensurate with the surrender of sovereignty to the Soviets. Not only did the communists suppress and even rewrite history to effectively hide the story of this patriotic act, but they even blacklisted any known participants – which meant they were unable to hold positions of influence or power. So it was not until the fall of communism that the story could be told from the point of view of the insurgents themselves.
If you go to Warsaw you must not miss visiting this excellent museum
Warsaw Rising Museum