This is a remarkably fine example of an issue of Warszawa Walczy [Warsaw Fights], a large illustrated broadside ‘wall newspaper’ that was perhaps the most widely read and visually impressive periodical produced by the Armia Krajowa (AK) [Polish Home Army] resistance fighters during the Warsaw Uprising, one of the most dramatic and tragic events of World War II. It was issued within the barricaded city by the 6th Division Staff of the Department of Propaganda of the AK. Warszawa Walczy was published in 56 issues from August 2 to September 9, 1944, on some dates appearing in both morning and evening editions.
While the earliest issues of Warszawa Walczy were crudely lithographed on A4-sized sheets, most of the issues (such as the present example) were large, illustrated broadsides, published on a modern industrial printing press. The ‘wall newspapers’ were posted on billboards in AK-held areas of the city, and would have had a much larger and diverse readership that most other periodicals. Issues featured stories of a general interest, not only of events in and around Warsaw, but of war news from across Europe. While the reporting of events was factual, an emphasis was placed upon ‘encouraging’ stories, such as AK advances in Poland and Allied victories on both the Eastern and Western Fronts – the message being that it was worth fighting for Warsaw, as the Nazis’ days were numbered.
The present issue was published on August 19, 1944, just shy of three weeks into the Uprising. It showcases stories on specific events within Warsaw itself, illustrated by three photographic images, plus updates from foreign fronts, such as the Allied invasion of France.
A Note on Rarity
Despite the Warszawa Walczy’s popularity during the Uprising, its large size and ephemeral nature ensured that very few examples survive today. Indeed, the clear majority of examples would have been destroyed during the rebellion itself, while others would have perished in the years following the war, especially during certain periods, when Communist censors looked unfavourably upon Armia Krajowa publications. The present example is in remarkably fine condition.
The Warsaw Uprising
The Warsaw Uprising (August 1 to October 2, 1944), represented both the climax and the downfall of the independent Polish resistance to the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II. The war commenced with Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, followed a little over a fortnight later, by the Soviet invasion of the county, from the east. Poland was totally overwhelmed with all its conventional military resistance being quickly crushed. Pursuant to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Act (1939), Germany annexed western and central Poland, while the USSR absorbed the Kresy Wschodnie, or eastern parts of the country.
Immediately in the wake of the occupation, Polish resistance movements were formed, with the objective of opposing the occupation through acts of guerrilla warfare. The most prominent resistance movement, commanding the support of the mainstream elements of Polish society, backed the Polish Underground State (Polskie Państwo Podziemne), which by the summer of 1940 had set up a government-in-exile in London. Within Poland, the Underground State was represented by its military wing, the Związek Walki Zbrojnej(Union of Armed Struggle).
In June 1941, Nazi Germany turned on the USSR, quickly overrunning the rest of Poland, on its way to invading Russia. This placed the entire country under Nazi occupation, and subject to its devious Generalplan Ost, its design to eliminate Polish society and to resettle the territory with ethnic Germans. Poland was subjected to an occupation of imaginable brutality directed towards its civilian pupation. The Nazis would kill almost one-fifth of the Polish population, including almost its entire Jewish community.
Meanwhile, despite their traditional animosities, the Polish Underground government and the Soviets signed the Polish-Russian Military Agreement (August 14, 1941), whereby the Soviets agreed to release the thousands of Polish soldiers imprisoned in their gulags, while both parties outwardly agreed to bury their differences to form a united front against Germany. However, the mainstream Polish resistance (rightly) viewed Soviets as an enduring threat, as Stalin plotted against the Polish Underground State, even as he was supposedly cooperating with them.
In 1942, the Związek Walki Zbrojnej was transformed into the Armia Krajowa (Home Army, AK), and was formally joined by most Polish resistance groups. By the summer of that year it counted 200,000 formally registered fighters, plus millions of active civilian supporters.
In 1943, the Soviet Union broke off diplomatic relations with the London Polish government-in-exile. Stalin revived the KPP (Polish Communist Part) and formed the Krajowa Rada Narodowa (KRN, Homeland National Council), a Communist government-in-waiting, supported its own army, the Gwardia Ludowa (GL, People’s Guard). To be clear, the KRN reported directly to Moscow, and was not even semi-autonomous. As such, many consider the organization to be an organ of the USSR, as opposed to part of the Polish resistance.
The GL was much smaller and less active that the AK, having only about 5% of the manpower of its rival, although it was very well armed, courtesy of Moscow. While the GL participated in many low-grade actions against the Nazis, it avoided serious direct confrontation with the Germans. Its main purpose seemed to be to spy upon and limit the effectiveness of the AK, and there are many recorded instances of the GL and its successors passing information to the Gestapo, which was used against the AK.
On January 1, 1944, the GL became the Armia Ludowa (AL, People’s Army) and that year possessed a strength of 30,000 active fighters, although authoritative information on the AL is very hard come by, as Soviet records remain sealed.
Returning to the Armia Krajowa, much controversy and misinformation still surrounds the nature and effectiveness of the movement, causing heated disagreements up to the represent day. That all being considered, most historians agree that the AK was the legitimate mainstream Polish resistance movement and that, while ultimately unsuccessful in its mandate to liberate Poland, had a major effect upon the course of the war. Historian Ben Macintyre claimed that “The Polish contribution to allied victory in the Second World War was extraordinary, perhaps even decisive, but for many years it was disgracefully played down, obscured by the politics of the Cold War.”
Prior to the major uprisings of 1944, the AK concentrated its energies on self-defence, mainly the freeing of prisoners, defending civilians from Nazi genocide programmes, as well as mounting acts of sabotage against the Wehrmacht. Evidence shows that during the period, while far from toppling the German occupation, the AK managed to severely disrupt Nazi plans, tying down additional enemy resources. The AK also had a crucial role in Western Allied intelligence operations, in that it is estimated that 43% of all the intelligence received by London from Continental Europe came from the AK.
The efforts of the Polish underground state and the AK came to ahead in the summer of 1944. By that time, the AK numbered over 400,000 troops, making it the largest resistance force in Europe. In many respects, things were looking up. Germany was facing defeat everywhere, in France, Italy, Russia, as well as Eastern Poland, where the Soviets were driving the Wehrmacht westwards day by day. By late July 1944, the Red Army had driven the Germans almost to the edges of Warsaw.
However, the predicament of the Polish resistance was more complicated. Their support was imminently slated to face a crushing blow, as the Nazis planned to press all able-bodied Poles into slavery in service of the occupation, thus robbing the AK of their back-up manpower. Moreover, it was recognized that if the Soviets liberated Warsaw, then they would be able to claim control over Poland following the war, placing their Polish Communist comrades in charge of the country at the expense of the Polish Underground State.
Thus, it was at this juncture that the AK’s commander-in-chief, General Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski, decided to mount Operation Tempest, an all-out attempt to throw off the German occupation, to be staged in multiple rebellions across the country. The Soviets publicly supported the operation, although their subsequent actions would prove their assurances to be insincere.
The greatest aspect of the operation was Bór-Komorowski’s design to seize control of Warsaw, in what was to be known as the Warsaw Uprising. Beginning on August 1, 1944, the AK seized control of much of central Warsaw from the beleaguered, but still formidable German forces. Ferocious, street by street fighting ensued, as the AK tried to dislodge the Wehrmacht from their urban bases. However, they were never able to completely dislodge the German positions, setting the scene for a protracted struggle that was to be the largest single resistance military effort of the entire war.
It soon became clear that the AK had fallen into a Soviet trap, which Arthur Koestler called “one of the major infamies of this war”. Stalin knew that he would defeat Germany sooner or later, and had already turned his attention to the post-war situation.
Despite his assurances of assistance to the AK, Stalin ordered Soviet forces, which were on the eastern gates of Warsaw, to do absolutely nothing, to simply wait and watch while the AK and the Germans attacked each other. Without Soviet back-up, the AK army in Warsaw, which numbered at most 49,000 troops, would undoubtedly be defeated by the Germans. According to Stalin’s Machiavellian master plan, this would eliminate the pro-Western Polish leadership, leaving the country ripe for a post-war Communist takeover. At the same time, the AK would seriously maul the Germans, leaving them weakened in advance of the intended Soviet drive westwards.
The Armia Ludowa’s role in the Warsaw Uprising remains a topic of fierce debate. There is a paucity of reliable information on the operations of Soviet-allied troops within Warsaw, and much of the written history is often warped by Cold War propaganda. As best as can be discerned, it seems that during the Uprising only about 500 AL troops were allowed by Stalin to cross the Vistula River into central Warsaw. Officially, the AL fighters were supposed to be part of the resistance, battling the Germans in alliance with the AK, although it is unclear as to whether they were ever engaged in serious anti-Nazi combat. Probably their true objective was to keep an eye on the AK as they fought their valiant, but doomed, struggle against the Wehrmacht. Stalin needed eyes and ears within Central Warsaw, so that he could perfectly calibrate his response. It seems that Stalin wanted the AK to be given just enough support (via Western Allied air drops) that they could fight long enough to seriously weaken the Nazis, but not support sufficient to sustain their effort, such that they would ultimately be defeated.
As the battle raged, the AK forces were soon trapped in their urban enclaves, suffering massive casualties, while running short of ammunition and food. The fighting was so intense that over 25% of the city’s buildings were destroyed. While, the Soviets begrudgingly allowed the British to drop supplies into Warsaw, these operations only delayed the inevitable. The AK fought valiantly, holding out for 63 days against far superior German forces. However, on October 2, 1944, Bór-Komorowski was forced to surrender to the Wehrmacht. While he and his troops were accorded the status of prisoners of war, Warsaw’s long suffering civilian population was not so fortunate. The Nazis proceeded to wreck horrendous vengeance upon the city, killing 200,000 civilians, while expelling another 700,000 from their homes. They then proceeded to level entire districts of Warsaw, block-by-block, annihilating another 35% of the city.
The Soviets would not manage to take Warsaw until January 1945, although by then the city was virtually depopulated, with over 85% of its buildings in ruins. That same month, the AK was disbanded, as the failure of the Warsaw Uprising had decapitated the movement. The following month, at the Yalta Conference, the Polish Underground State would be rendered meaningless, as the Western Allies essentially abandoned Poland to the Soviets. Following the war, far from being honoured for their valour and patriotism, the remaining members of the AK in Poland were persecuted, with some of their leaders executed on the orders of Stalin.
While the AL was a bit-player in the resistance, it nevertheless emerged after the war as the victorious domestic faction, whereupon many of its members became part of the Communist elite that would rule Poland for over four decades. It was only after the fall of Communism that historians have found the freedom to properly asses the Armia Krajowa’s courageous role in attempting to liberate Poland during World War II, including its activities during the Warsaw Uprising.
Polish Underground Printing during the Warsaw Uprising
Throughout the war, the Polish resistance issued thousands of different prints from clandestine workshops within Poland. This genre of prints is known as the prasa konspiracyjna ii wojna światowa (Polish Underground Press of World War II). Most of these titles were of an ephemeral nature, hastily printed, and are today very rare. Many issues were printed by ‘homemade’, improvised methods, such a mimeography, while some titles were issued by modern, professional presses.
As the dominant resistance movement, the AK, and its various affiliates, was the preeminent publisher of drukuje konspiracyjnych (underground prints), although hundreds of other titles were issued by the other resistance factions. The AK had organized its publishing operations across the country under the auspices of its Biura Informacji i Propagandy (BIP / Bureau of Information and Propaganda), a specialist unit headed by experienced authors and publishers, which reported to the Section V of the AK. The BIP was a highly sophisticated operation that carefully organized the content of its publications. War news was censored to focus on the positive, while morale-boosting stories, songs and humour were carefully chosen to appeal to the troops. The BIP also created anti-German propaganda, as well as psy-ops material to demoralize the enemy.
The present publication, Warszawa Walczy, belongs to a highly important subgenre within Polish underground printing, Prasa Konspiracyjna Powstania Warszawskiego (Warsaw Uprising Underground Press), which specifically includes works issued by the resistance within the Polish capital during the Warsaw uprising itself. Historians especially prize these works, as they give authentic insights into the thoughts and aspirations of the Polish resistance fighters during the fateful climax of their struggle. The resistance issued over 100 different publications, most in several serial editions, produced under incredibly difficult circumstances. That they dedicated such considerable energy to producing and disseminating the publications is a testament to the great importance that the AK placed on the press to both inform and to boost the morale of their followers. As time and resources (notably paper) were in short supply, most of the publications were brief, being either broadsides or small pamphlets of few pages. Many were issued by improvised (mimeograph) presses, and have a crude appearance, while some had the benefit of having been published on modern professional presses. Most of the works were issued by organs of the AK, although some were produced by other anti-Nazi groups, such as the AL.
The works of the Warsaw Uprising Underground Press can generally be classified into 3 categories: 1) daily newspapers, issued for the general public in Warsaw, such as the Warszawa Walczy, issued mainly to inform them of the accomplishments of the resistance, as well as the progress of the war outside of Poland; 2) magazines, often geared specifically towards the resistance fighters, featuring morale-boosting articles, including patriotic declarations, songs and humorous stories; 3) information bulletins, being broadsides geared towards combat-ready troops, delivering factual information in a concise manner.
References: Archiwum Akt Nowych (AAN) [National Archives of Poland]: P. 928 cim; Jadwiga Czachowska, Maria Krystyna Maciejewska and Teresa Tyszkiewicz, Literatura polska i teatr w latach II wojny światowej: bibliografia (Warsaw: Polskiej Akaemii Nauk, 1983-4-6), vol. I, p. xxxix; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Archive, Prasa Konspiracyjna Powstania Warszawskiego, RG‐15.091M [Finding Aid for Microfilm Copies of Warsaw Uprising Underground Press Publications in the Archiwum Akt Nowych, Warsaw], (2002), no. 83.