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Authors: Norman Davies

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Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw

BOOK: Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw
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Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw
Norman Davies
Penguin Books (2004)
Non-Fiction, War, History

One of the most dramatic and shameful episodes in World War II was the doomed Warsaw uprising of 1944—an uprising that failed because the Allies betrayed it. Now that story comes to its full terrible life in this gripping account by the bestselling historian Norman Davies.

In August 1944, encouraged by the advance of the Red Army, the Polish Resistance poured forty thousand fighters into the streets of Warsaw to reclaim the city from the hated Germans. But Stalin condemned the uprising as a criminal venture. For sixty-three days the Wehrmacht methodically set about crushing the rebellion and destroying the city. Following the battle’s desperate progress through the cellars and sewers of Warsaw,
Rising ’44
retrieves its subject from the shadows of history, revealing its pivotal importance to the outcome of World War II and the Cold War that followed.

From Publishers Weekly

The Warsaw rising of 1944—not to be confused with the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943—pitted Polish insurgents of the Home Army against the Germans in a two-month battle that left the city in ruins. Almost as bitter are the historiographical controversies over the failure of the Allies, particularly the Soviets, whose army was idling nearby, to rescue the city. Davies (Europe: A History) offers an enthralling, impressionistic account of the uprising, highlighted by vivid reminiscences from Polish and German participants, but the bulk of this sprawling book is concerned with the political background and aftermath. Delving into the diplomatic wranglings between the exiled Polish government in London, the Western Allies and Stalin, Davies sides with the anti-Communist interpretation of the episode as the opening chapter in the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe. He denounces Stalin for deliberately allowing the non-Communist Home Army to be crushed, the Western Allies for acquiescing and British intellectuals for toeing the Communist line on Poland, and includes a pointed litany of Stalinist crimes in post-war Poland. Davies is correspondingly enthusiastic about the insurgents. He exonerates them of charges of anti-Semitism, reprints poems and songs about them and, working from iffy figures on German casualties, extols their combat prowess. Davies is persuasive on many points, and his somewhat romantic defense of the rising—which failed in its objectives and triggered the German massacre of tens of thousands of civilians—amply conveys its heroism, but may not convince readers of its wisdom. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

It has been the Poles' sad historical fate to be caught between two voracious powers, Germany on the west and Russia on the east. This was most tragically evident during the 1944 uprising against the Nazi occupiers in Warsaw. Professor Davies tells that story with passion, compassion, and a justifiable sense of outrage. By the summer of 1944, the Wehrmacht was a spent force in the east and had been pushed to the Vistula River by the Soviets. The Polish resistance, essentially loyal to the Polish government in exile, began a massive rebellion in the streets of Warsaw. Stalin's army, only a few miles away, refused to provide help. Given Stalin's cynicism and distrust of the exile government, that was not surprising, but the Americans and British, through a combination of indifference and incompetence, also failed the Poles. Davies uses many newly available sources, and the result is a stirring, emotionally draining saga of heroism, betrayal, and tragedy as the Nazis slowly squeezed the life out of the rebellion while reducing Warsaw to rubble.
Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


‘It is an extraordinary story, and it is fairly and honestly told here. Davies is an intelligent and balanced guide through its intricacies, and he is always entertaining . . . Its real merit is that it lifts the question of the Warsaw Rising out of the parochial Polish conundrum of whether it was justified or not and places it firmly at the centre of Allied policy and planning, where it belongs . . . As one delves deeper into it, one comes to realise that this powerful book is not so much about the Warsaw uprising as about the defeat of liberal democracy in the Second World War’

Adam Zamoyski,

‘As veterans and heads of the wartime alliance commemorate the D-Day landings, Poles will remember, at sombre ceremonies in Warsaw, those same allies’ betrayal of their heroic role in the liberation of Europe. Despite the efforts of Whitehall and Washington at the time to portray the Poles’ uprising against the Nazis as a romantic gesture, it has long been accepted that Stalin was the real villain of the piece. The Russians’ rapid advance to the outskirts of Warsaw had unaccountably stalled. They remained passive while the rising ran its bloody course. So much for the traditional version. Now Norman Davies has delved into newly opened western and Polish archives to reveal a scenario that shames the western alliance leadership. [A] passionate and impressive indictment’

John Crossland,
Sunday Times

‘To this day, most foreign visitors to Warsaw mix up the Warsaw uprising of 1944 with the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943. But even in Poland, the uprising became part of underground history, or rather legend . . . it is particularly compelling to Norman Davies, who has long been obsessed with the forgotten history of Poland and eastern Europe . . . Davies is at his best when he focuses on issues such as everyday life during the uprising and the terrible deprivations of life in a city that was slowly being turned to rubble’

Anne Applebaum,
Evening Standard

‘Davies’ book offers readers the rare experience of discovering a forgotten, controversial chapter of history. The breadth of his writing is conveyed in attention to detail and a descriptive chronicle of events, including battles. As a person whose interest goes beyond exploring the historical events, who seeks to create a kind of memorial to the forgotten heroes, Davies weaves in memoirs, diary entries, letters, even philosophical passages and poetry, which diversify the reading and learning experience . . . Davies’ book is a profound and meaningful contribution to an old historical debate, possibly signalling a new and fascinating direction in the study of World War II and the roots of the Cold War’

Eli Shaltiel,

‘Norman Davies’s masterful account of the Battle for Warsaw . . . is a work of superlative narrative history, and, moreover, commendably honest . . .
Rising ’44
has the feel of an authoritative study and provides an exceptionally detailed picture of guerrilla combat in the Polish capital . . . an important book, which raises awkward questions about the Allies’ cynical acquiescence in a totalitarian ideology’

Ian Thomson,
Irish Times

‘This well-argued book is the first in any language to put the Warsaw Rising in its full historical context. In its range and depth it is a fine contribution not just to Polish history but to the history of Europe’

Stefan Wagstyl,
Financial Times

Norman Davies
is the bestselling author
of Europe: A History
The Isles: A History.
He is also the author of the definitive history of Poland,
God’s Playground
, and several books on European history. Born in Bolton, Lancashire in 1939, Davies is a graduate of Magdalen College, Oxford and the University of Sussex. He is a Supernumerary Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford and is a Fellow of the British Academy, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and Professor Emeritus of London University.

Also by Norman Davies
and published by Pan Macmillan

A History

‘The Battle for Warsaw’


First published 2003 by Macmillan

This corrected and expanded edition published 2004 by Pan Books

This electronic edition published 2008 by Pan Books
an imprint of Pan Macmillan Ltd
Pan Macmillan, 20 New Wharf Rd, London N1 9RR
Basingstoke and Oxford
Associated companies throughout the world

ISBN 978-0-330-47575-4 in Adobe Reader format
ISBN 978-0-330-47574-7 in Adobe Digital Editions format
ISBN 978-0-330-47576-1 in Mobipocket format

Copyright © Norman Davies 2003, 2004

Map artwork by Martin Lubikowski

The right of Norman Davies to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Three cartoons by David Low copyright © Atlantic Syndication.

AS I PLEASE by George Orwell (Copyright © George Orwell, 1944) by permission of Bill Hamilton as the Literary Executor of the Estate of the Late Sonia Brownell Orwell and Secker & Warburg Ltd.

‘Compo di Fiori’ (16 lines) from THE COLLECTED POEMS 1931-1987 by Czeslaw Milosz (Viking, 1988)

Copyright © Czeslaw Milosz 1988. Reproduced by permission of Penguin Books Ltd.

The cover of Poland by W.J. Rose (Penguin Books, 1939) Copyright © W.J.Rose, 1939.

Every effort has been made to contact other copyright holders of material reproduced in this book. If any have been inadvertently overlooked, the publishers will be pleased to make restitution at the earliest opportunity.

You may not copy, store, distribute, transmit, reproduce or otherwise make available this publication (or any part of it) in any form, or by any means (electronic, digital, optical, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

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And to all who
fight tyranny


My aim in writing
Rising ’44
was nothing more complicated than to tell the story of one of the great tragedies of the twentieth century. It is a story that has never been properly told, even though it reveals some fundamental truths about the Second World War and challenges many conventional assumptions. For half a century and more, it was the subject of severe censorship by post-war authorities who did not wish to see the historical realities publicized; and, as a topic of acute embarrassment for the Western Powers, it has not been given prominence in Western interpretations. Although it resulted in the near-total destruction of one of Europe’s ancient capitals, and in enormous loss of life, it was never brought for examination before the Nuremberg Tribunal. Equally, since it was not seen as one of the critical ‘turning points’, on which the fortunes of the war depended, it has rarely attracted the close scrutiny of British or American historians. The historiography of the subject, in consequence, tends to be somewhat parochial.

BOOK: Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw
2.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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