The Battle for Warsaw
In 1994, I had watched in amazement how the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Rising passed without the publication of a single new work on modern Poland's most tragic and controversial event. It gradually dawned on me that if no-one else would fill the gap, I would have to do it myself.
Research on "Rising '44" took me far and wide. For the first time in my career, I travelled to Moscow in search of documents; Stalin's conduct on the Eastern Front was crucial, yet prior to the 1990s the closure of the Soviet archives prevented historians from examining key issues. I gained access to some fascinating NKVD papers, that suggested Moscow was not so well informed, but I failed to penetrate the "holy of holies” where I had hoped to solve the mystery of why, contrary to the plans of its commanders, the Red Army was halted within view of the Rising. (We know that Stalin did order it to halt, but not what his motives were.) I was also keen to dip into American sources. Polish historians attempt to explain everything in terms of the policies of the Polish Government of its military arm, the Home Army. For my part, I was convinced that the Leaders of the Allied Coalition, especially Roosevelt, played a decisive role and made decisive mistakes.
One of the great joys was making the acquaintance of veterans in Warsaw. They had been persecuted by the Communist regime, and suffered greatly from the Communists’ denunciation of their leaders. After many fruitful meetings, I was eventually made a proud and honorary member both of the Szare Szeregi and of the ZPW.
The launch of the "Powstanie '44" (the Polish edition,) was organized in conjunction with the opening on I August 2004 of the Muzeum Powstania. Tens of thousands of enthusiasts turned up; the queues waiting for my signature were impossibly long; and my English publisher wept when she heard the "Warszawianka" (That she had tried to cut out to save space.) At least, the men and women of the Home Army finally gained recognition.
The Warsaw uprising of August 1944 was one of the most tragic episodes of the second world war, resulting in the destruction of the city and some 200,000 of its inhabitants. It is also one of the least well known.
Davies has been widely recognised as the historian of that benighted country. Now he has used the forthcoming 60th anniversary of the uprising not only to provide a comprehensive account but to make us rethink the central trauma of the 20th century - the conflict between democracies and the totalitarian fantasies of fascism and communism.
The romantic freedom of expression that has marked Poland’s history inspires British historician Norman Davies’s telling of the suffering its people endured during a heroic struggle against hopeless odds in the World War II. "Rising ’44" describes the efforts, 60 years ago this summer, of the Polish underground Home Army to wrest the capital city from German occupation. The book is a labor of love and an elegy for their tragic sacrifices.