Warsaw Uprising Museum

I’m not completely ignorant of the Warsaw Uprising – I’d heard mention of it in WWII histories – but admittedly don’t know much about what went down. This museum should hopefully do the trick.

The place is sprawling and Murphy and I are separated almost immediately. There’s a short background on the lead up to the uprising – the rebirth of independent Poland after the Great War, the Nazi invasion in 1939 and subsequent divvy-up under Molotov-Ribbentrop, the betrayal of the USSR by Hitler and the day-to-day lives of oppressed Varsovians under the Third Reich. The uprising had been planned for some time but timing was crucial – it had to occur when the Germans were on the ropes but before the Soviet armies had arrived. That time was August 1944.

A large collection of weapons was displayed – mostly captured German weapons, but a large number of underground-manufactured weapons and some German weapons that’d been heavily modified – like a flare pistol that’d been modified to fire grenades. The homemade 9mm machine gun was particularly impressive.

Next to it was a zip gun:

There were homemade grenades as well:

After the uprising began the Germans had a reprieve in the east as the Red Army stalled, so retribution was swift and brutal. Aside from ground troops they employed bombers to decimate the city indiscriminately. A series of graphic images showed bodies retrieved from rubble and how doctors and nurses had to cope during a time when even water, let alone medical supplies, had been cut off from the city.

Simultaneously, the Brits, Americans and others were air dropping supplies to the resistance. From the numbers displayed it sounds like most were off target, and what was dropped by the Soviets was typically done “without parachutes”. Some planes were shot down – the display included parts of a British engine that was only recovered in 2006.

As with the Museum of Communism in Prague, the museum was so full of text that it was difficult to read it all (and while much of it was translated to English, a great deal more was only in Polish). A lot of it concerned the differences between the Polish Home Army and other factions within the resistance, like the underground communist party (who apparently didn’t support the uprising). Very complicated stuff that I don’t feel I can even take a shot at explaining, but makes me want to pick up a book on it all.

It also included a number of individual stories that don’t lend themselves to photos – for example, stories of how children as young as ten acted as couriers for tactical information by navigating the city’s sewer system.

The uprising only lasted a couple of months before it was obvious there was no chance of victory and the Home Army surrendered. Reprisals were savage – thousands sent to POW and labour camps and the city ordered destroyed to rubble by Hitler, to later be reconstructed as a train hub for the Reich. Memorials and personal letters (all in Polish, obviously) lined multiple rooms.

There is a 3D fly over screening every ten minutes that flies up the Vistula River over damaged bridges and then into the city. It’s a reconstruction of the extensive devastation of the city. It reminded me of similar images at the Hiroshima Peace Park.

I stumble across Murphy here next to a film playing to a large number of empty seats and beside the screen is a curtain with some light peeking out… Not sure if this is a staff-only thing but let’s see here… And it’s like a hidden section of the museum! There are anti-Nazi propaganda pieces from the time following the occupation:

There’s a recreation of the sewer tunnels used by the uprising, I find it claustrophobic at 5’8″ but Murphy tries running the circuit as fast as possible, undaunted:

The secret section also had some tangentially related content like bios of major Nazi leaders and this early unmanned, tracked, petrol-powered drive-by-wire mine named Goliath. Really badass. I had no idea there was anything like this at the time:

If we’re going to make the train to West Warsaw and catch the bus to Kaunas we have to skip a few things, although it’s too bad cause this place is great, definitely something to read up on more in the future. We step outside and it’s pissing down rain and within minutes we’re totally drenched. Wet boots on an overnight bus? Wicked.

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