The History Club Talks to a Warsaw Uprising Survivor

by Liliana Stansberry

Sitting in the building that defended itself from German invaders the longest, hearing Warsaw Uprising Participant Daniela Oginska speak, was an experience not to be forgotten. Oginska spoke repeatedly about the patriotism that drove the Uprising, which led me to question: Why would something so doomed from the onset even begin? And why does pride in the Uprising continue?  

Daniela Oginska. Photo Courtesy of the Warsaw Uprising Museum.

To explore these questions it’s worth noting the Polish political and social climate post WW1. Before WW1 Poland was solely a memory, the Polish lacked a home that they so longed. As a result of the cruel restrictions, the Polish felt misplaced and ached for a place where they could freely express their native culture. This displacement lasted for 123 years. Thus, when after WW1 Poland regained its independence on November 11th, 1918 Polish patriotism began to rise. Poles were excited that they were once again an independent nation that was able to develop and become a relevant power. Culture flourished as poetry and theatre became very popular, along with new legislation enforced education. This made the new generation of children far more educated and interested in the history and future of its country. During this period of independence Poles finally regained confidence and pride in their land and were not planning to give it up. Patriotism was embedded in young children through different scout groups from a young age. 

Daniela Oginska, pseudonym “Pszczola,” stated that many parents sent their children to scout groups, which greatly enforced patriotism onto these children. Which I began to form as the reason why the younger generation was so eager to participate in the Warsaw Uprising. Not only did scout groups encourage patriotism within the groups but it was also spread through society through a variety of means. Ms. Oginska mentioned that “newspapers were produced which awakened patriotism, the scouts were in charge of passing these magazines out, each said read and pass it on.” This showed how, despite being under occupation, the extensive Polish nationalism spread and was a leading factor in the Warsaw uprising. 

With this new generation of educated, young and patriotic Poles there was bound to be some form of resistance. Historian Alexandra Richie claims “The young longed to act because they wanted to show the world that they deserved a free and democratic country,”(192) in her book Warsaw 1944: Hitler, Himmler, and the Warsaw Uprising. Claiming that the patriotism the young felt immensely encouraged them to resist against Germany as they didn’t want to lose the country they just regained. 

The mission was doomed from the onset, yet it provided some kind of purpose for the Poles and hope that their independence could somehow be regained. Logistically and strategically it was a nightmare and little more than a suicide mission. However, its significance was far more than just the logistical aspect. It was the emotional importance which counted for the poles. Many Polish people aren’t ashamed that they lost. They are proud that they fought despite it all. It was the fueling patriotism and strength that made the uprising such as the prideful moment in Polish history. 

Many uprising survivors look back upon the days nostalgically, proving the emotional successes of the Uprising. Daniela Oginska recalls her days during the uprising as “time of great euphoria because we all had been long awaiting the moment when we could fight back.” Showing that for some participants the battle provided strength and pride, and hope to escape the helplessness. While for Krystyna Sierpniska it was the best years of her life and she “would return to the uprising once more if I could. Without the slightest doubt in my mind.” “This was our purpose,” she says.

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