Warsaw is a city full of history. For me, it is impossible to walk down the street without thinking of what may have occurred in the very place I’m standing. The Polish people are survivors. Warsaw is a city that epitomizes that.
On August 1st, 1944 at 5:00 in the afternoon, the Warsaw Uprising began. When we planned our trip here, we were unaware of this. Our friend from Warsaw posted this video yesterday: Polish Youth Association Video which beautifully and simply captures the importance of today.
Knowing it was such an important day in the history of this city, Michal and I visited the Warsaw Uprising Museum. This is an impressive and overwhelming compilation of the uprising movement. 200,000 Polish people died in about two months time. In one weekend alone, 40,000 Polish people were murdered by the Germans.
It is important to remember. It is important to be thankful for freedom. The museum was packed full of information, movies, artifacts, etc. At one point I was seated next to a man who was seven years old when the uprising began. Watching a 3D recreation of what Warsaw looked like after the Uprising, I couldn’t even begin to imagine what he was thinking. He lived through that. I was just watching it on a screen.
Thinking of all those lives lost and everything the Polish people went through during this time is laden with emotions. A small section of the museum highlights what it was like for Germans in Warsaw leading up to the uprising (the Germans were here for 5 years prior to that) and a glimpse into what it was like for German soldiers.
In a small room in a back corner there was a movie playing. This movie was an interview that was conducted with Mathias Schenk, a Belgian man who was tricked into serving in the Werhrmact. He was 18 years old when he was forced to join. His kind eyes and the stories he told showed that he was a traumatized man who has been forever haunted by the things he saw and had to do. He recalled stories of dead bodies being piled up two stories high then set on fire, of 500 school children being murdered just because. With the SS soldiers shouting not to use bullets because it was a waste of ammunition and instead to beat the children to death. 500 innocent children with their blood flowing down the stairwells. He told of discovering a basement with a priest and nuns. He took communion with the priest and attempted to save him after he was captured by the SS. He shared of saving a Polish nurse when the rest of her team were murdered. These were just a few of his stories.
My heart was broken watching this. I was already emotionally overwhelmed and this was the final straw. After seeing this, I needed to take a break before I could take in anything else. I was thinking of the kids in the school I work in being murdered for no reason. I thought of the 11 and 12 year olds on my caseload joining the uprising and risking their lives in the name of their country. In my opinion, so much senseless murder took places at the hands of German people here in Poland. What for? Please tell me how the lives of all those murdered in the uprising and the holocaust make sense?
The Uprising began at 5:00 on the afternoon of August 1st, 1944. Every year in Warsaw, W-hour (named for the Polish word wybuch which translates to explosion) is remembered. The bells toll at 5 followed by the sounds of sirens and the explosion of flares. The entire city stops for one minute to remember the lives of all those lost.
Throughout the city there were memorial events all day. Michal and I went to Old Town Warsaw to be there at 5:00. We happened to join a crowd of people forming a human uprising symbol. The picture above and the video below were taken where we were stood at W hour today. Standing still listening to the sounds, watching the smoke from the flares weave between the crowds, seeing people from all over the world paused to remember, I was overcome with emotion. I cried thinking of how brave people were, for the devastation they were faced with, for the strength of humanity and for the beauty that people still remember today. Let this post be a small tribute in dedication to all of that.
My heart is full. My head is tired. We live in a world where we often forget the sacrifices that were made that allow us to live our comfortable lives. As I get ready to fall asleep tonight in Warsaw, I remember.