Warsaw 1944: Hitler, Himmler, and the Warsaw Uprising

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9780374286552: Warsaw 1944: Hitler, Himmler, and the Warsaw Uprising

The full untold story of how one of history's bravest revolts ended in one of its greatest crimes

In 1943, the Nazis liquidated Warsaw's Jewish ghetto. A year later, they threatened to complete the city's destruction by deporting its remaining residents. A sophisticated and cosmopolitan community a thousand years old was facing its final days―and then opportunity struck. As Soviet soldiers turned back the Nazi invasion of Russia and began pressing west, the underground Polish Home Army decided to act. Taking advantage of German disarray and seeking to forestall the absorption of their country into the Soviet empire, they chose to liberate the city of Warsaw for themselves.
Warsaw 1944 tells the story of this brave, and errant, calculation. For more than sixty days, the Polish fighters took over large parts of the city and held off the SS's most brutal forces. But in the end, their efforts were doomed. Scorned by Stalin and unable to win significant support from the Western Allies, the Polish Home Army was left to face the full fury of Hitler, Himmler, and the SS. The crackdown that followed was among the most brutal episodes of history's most brutal war, and the celebrated historian Alexandra Richie depicts this tragedy in riveting detail. Using a rich trove of primary sources, Richie relates the terrible experiences of individuals who fought in the uprising and perished in it. Her clear-eyed narrative reveals the fraught choices and complex legacy of some of World War II's most unsung heroes.

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About the Author:

Alexandra Richie is the author of Faust's Metropolis, a comprehensive cultural and political history of Berlin that Publishers Weekly named one of the top ten books of 1999. She currently lives in Warsaw with her husband, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1
BYELORUSSIAN PRELUDE
 
 
Scipio finding no sort of discipline or order in the army, which Piso had habituated to idleness, avarice, and rapine, and a multitude of hucksters mingled with them, who followed the camp for the sake of booty, and accompanied the bolder ones when they made expeditions for plunder without permission. (Chapter XVII)
The Bandit Wars
‘Before battle,’ the Soviet journalist Ilya Ehrenburg wrote, ‘there is a period of great stillness – nowhere is there such a stillness as in war.’ In the spring of 1944 Germany waited, knowing that the Western Allies and the Soviet Union were both planning their summer offensives, but not knowing when or where they would come. The tension was palpable.
In Warsaw, too, people were waiting. Life under Nazi occupation, with the constant fear of an early-morning knock at the door by the Gestapo or the SD (the Sicherheitsdienst – the intelligence service), had led to the Armia Krajowa, the Polish Underground Army, becoming the largest of its kind in occupied Europe. Sheer Nazi brutality and racially motivated crimes – against the Polish Jews above all, but also the hated Slavs – had ruled out the kind of cooperation between occupier and occupied experienced by other peoples deemed ‘racially acceptable’ by the Germans. The AK had spent much of the war attacking and sabotaging the German war effort and planning for further action, and as the tide turned against the Germans after Stalingrad the number of assassinations of German officials on the streets of Warsaw rose steadily. One of the AK’s plans, the most ambitious of all, was code-named ‘Burza’, or Tempest. It called for an uprising to be held when the Red Army entered pre-war Polish territory. It was to be a military uprising, in that Polish soldiers would help the Soviets push the Nazi occupiers out of their country, but it was also to have a political element. By participating in the fight to liberate their own country, the insurgents hoped to establish the right to the restoration of a free independent state when the hostilities were over. The Poles watched and waited in the spring of 1944, ready to act as soon as the Red Army moved in.
Despite the impending downfall of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler was in a surprisingly buoyant mood that spring, not least because of the injections of glucose and, soon, cocaine administered by his trusted but utterly incompetent doctor, Theodor Morell. The Führer was increasingly losing touch with reality. When the Luftwaffe ace Günter Rall saw him in early 1944 he said, ‘This was a very different Hitler. He was no longer talking about tangible facts. He was talking about: “I see the deep valley. I see the strip on the horizon,” and it was all nonsense … It was clear to me that this man was a little out of his mind. He did not have a truly clear, serious concept of the situation.’1
Hitler was enjoying cosy domestic life ‘at home’ in the Berghof in the Bavarian mountains, far from the desperate privations of the Eastern Front, and his gloomy Prussian headquarters, the Wolfsschanze (Wolf’s Lair) at Rastenburg, where the forced labourers of Organization Todt were pouring seven metres of concrete as a protective layer against Soviet bombs. Bunkers had been dug on ‘The Mountain’ too, and camouflage netting shrouded the buildings, but Hitler lived as if the war was no more than a distant, irrelevant skirmish. He spent mornings in bed, rising late for his vegetarian Bircher-Benner breakfast prepared in the cavernous kitchen by his dietician Constanze Manziarly. Then he would relax in the company of the Berghof ‘regulars’ – SS General Sepp Dietrich, Armaments Minister Albert Speer, the grossly obese Dr Morell, his close friend Walther Hewel, and his personal secretary, Martin Bormann. Other guests came and went, joining in the customary afternoon stroll to the ‘little tea house’ on the Mooslahner Kopf, where Hitler had his customary cocoa and apple pie. Eva Braun and the other ‘girls’, Margaret Speer, Anni Brandt and Eva’s sisters Ilse and Gretl, would lounge on the terrace, play in the bowling alley or watch the latest films in the projection room, commenting on fashion trends and the hairstyles of the stars.
As the clouds of the Allied invasion of Europe loomed, Hitler, perversely, seemed to grow more confident. On 3 June he threw a lavish party to celebrate the wedding of Eva Braun’s sister Gretl. The groom was Hermann Fegelein, who would play a key role in the Warsaw Uprising.
Fegelein was a suave playboy, a charmer and a mass murderer rolled into one. He had risen to power thanks to Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, who treated the witty and sleek young man almost like a son. It was Himmler who had plucked the young Hermann out of obscurity to make him Commander of the new SS Main Riding School in Munich, before promoting him through the ranks to become SS Gruppenführer with the 8th SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer, a unit which was particularly ruthless in the fight against partisans in the east under Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski. When Fegelein was wounded on the Russian Front for the third time, Himmler brought his favourite home and appointed him Waffen SS Liaison Officer at Führer headquarters. This not only got Fegelein away from the front, but also gave Himmler even more access to and power over Hitler. It was an inspired choice.
Fegelein’s influence on the uprising came about in part because of his skill as a horseman. Before the war he had competed in a number of events on the international circuit, and had even created the equestrian facilities for the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. One of his long-time competitors, and a man he admired, was a Polish cavalry officer named Count Tadeusz Komorowski, who trained the Polish eventing team which won a silver medal at the Olympics. What Fegelein did not know was that Brigadier-General Bór-Komorowski, as he was now known (‘Bór’ being his wartime code-name), had, a few months before the lavish wedding party, been appointed commander of the Polish Home Army based in Warsaw. Even as the SS cavalry officer was quaffing champagne and flirting with Eva Braun, General Bór was planning the uprising that would link the two men once again.
The day after the wedding, on 4 June 1944, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, on his way to his holiday home, talked to Hitler about the expected Allied invasion of France. Rommel agreed with Hitler that the Allies were most likely to strike at the Pas de Calais, and reminded him that the most important thing was that they must not be allowed to establish a bridgehead on the coast. Hitler was confident that any invasion in the heavily fortified and well-defended area could be easily repulsed. Which is why, when German sentries looked out over the grey waters of the English Channel two days later, they could hardly believe their eyes. The first of 1,200 warships were slowly coming towards them, but they were not heading to the Pas de Calais. They were on their way to Normandy.
Hitler, as was his custom, had taken a cocktail of sleeping pills the previous night, and did not wake up until midday. ‘The Führer always gets the latest news after he has had his breakfast,’ the duty adjutant snapped at an impatient Albert Speer. When he finally emerged, Hitler, still in his dressing gown, listened calmly as Rear Admiral Karl-Jesco von Puttkamer told him that a number of major landings had taken place between Cherbourg and Le Havre; more were expected. Hitler sent for the head of the armed forces, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, and his deputy Colonel General Alfred Jodl, but all three agreed that this was a diversion, and nothing more than an Allied trick. Hitler opted to do nothing.
Colonel Hans von Luck, head of Kampfgruppe von Luck, was in the thick of the fighting on the coast, and desperately trying to inform his superiors that he was witnessing an invasion on an unimaginable scale. ‘We were dismayed and angry that we had not been believed by the highest authority. And even by evening the Panzer divisions and reserve units stationed in the Pas de Calais were not to be withdrawn, on express orders from Hitler.’ At 4.55 p.m. Hitler revealed his complete lack of understanding of the situation by giving the extraordinary order that the Allies’ bridgehead was ‘to be annihilated by the evening’. Perversely, he seemed almost relieved by the invasion: ‘When they were in Britain we could not get at them. Now we have them where we can destroy them.’ Later, Keitel admitted his mistake: ‘If we had fully believed our radio intelligence interception we would not only have had the date of the invasion, we would even have had the exact time.’ When Hitler and his generals finally realized their error it was, as von Luck put it, ‘too late, much too late!’2
A furious Rommel met Hitler on 17 June in the gigantic concrete bunker near Soissons, in northern France, that had been designated the Führer’s western HQ. By now over 600,000 Allied troops had landed in Normandy. Rommel was critical of Hitler’s tactics, complaining, ‘The battle is hopeless!’ ‘Just take care of your invasion front,’ Hitler snarled in reply. ‘I shall take care of the future of the war.’ Thereafter, Rommel began to criticize Hitler openly, and lent his support to the 20 July plotters who were planning to assassinate the Führer. When Hitler discovered his treachery, Rommel, who was idolized by the German people, was given the opportunity to commit suicide rather than face a public show trial that would have resulted not only in his own death but also in the persecution of his family. Rommel chose suicide. Keitel revealed the truth about Rommel’s supposed ‘heart attack’ only after the war.3
The Normandy landings shocked the Germans, but the news was received with jubilation in occupied Europe. Warsaw was abuzz with rumour and speculation. The success of the western attack meant, quite simply, that the war was coming to an end. The landings also came as a great relief to Stalin. Germany was now forced to fight on two fronts, and would have to divert resources away from the east. But, as ever, Stalin’s reasons were not purely military. The pathologically suspicious dictator had feared that, despite Roosevelt and Churchill’s assurances at the Tehran Conference in November 1943, they might actually invade Europe through the Balkans rather than France. Now he could remain true to the promise he had made to the British and American leaders: ‘The summer offensive of the Soviet troops to be launched in keeping with the agreement reached at the Tehran Conference will begin in mid-June in one of the vital sectors of the Front,’ he wrote. Stalin was careful not to mention exactly where the attack would take place, but he had already chosen his target. The Red Army was going to attack the German Army Group Centre, in Byelorussia.
Practising Murder
When Oskar Dirlewanger, the leader of one of the most notorious SS units in the war, was asked why he was behaving in such a brutal fashion in Warsaw in August 1944, he laughed. ‘This is nothing,’ he said proudly. ‘You should have seen what we did in Byelorussia!’4 He was right: the people of Byelorussia endured one of the most cruel and murderous occupations of the Second World War. The number of victims, particularly helpless civilians, is staggering. Nine million people lived in Soviet Byelorussia when the Germans invaded Russia in 1941, and two million of them, at the very least, were killed – by shooting, gassing, hanging, burning, drowning. A further two million were deported to the Reich as forced labour. Although there were exceptions, most were treated little better than livestock. On 21 August 1942 Hitler told the Nazi racial theorist Achim Gercke: ‘[Fritz] Sauckel [head of the deployment of forced and slave labour] told me a very curious fact. All the girls whom we bring back from the eastern territories are medically examined, and 25 per cent of them are found to be virgins.’5
The Germans killed civilians in 5,295 different locations in Soviet Byelorussia, with many villages being burned to the ground. The victims included around 700,000 prisoners of war, 500,000 Jews and 320,000 ‘partisans’ or ‘bandits’, the vast majority of whom were unarmed civilians. The Germans deliberately mixed these groups together, killing Jews under the guise of the ‘anti-bandit’ war, or murdering peasants accused of ‘helping Jews and partisans’. One German commander admitted that ‘the bandits and Jews burned in houses and bunkers were not counted’. The victims were slaughtered with pitiless cruelty, and those not murdered outright often died as the result of cold, disease or starvation brought about by the German scorched-earth policy and the creation of ‘dead zones’, in which all living things, including people, were to be destroyed on sight.
The men who directed and oversaw the mass murder in Byelorussia included Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, Oskar Dirlewanger and Bronislaw Kaminski. Although they subsequently became best-known for their roles in the Warsaw Uprising, they learned their skills long before the summer of 1944. Indeed, in order to understand what happened in Warsaw one has first to look at the history of the killing fields of Byelorussia. It was precisely because Operation ‘Bagration’, the Soviet invasion of Byelorussia, was so rapid and successful in the summer of 1944 that so many of these hardened murderers were uprooted and suddenly available when Hitler and Himmler decided to put down the ‘ Schweinerei’ in the Polish capital. In that sense the Warsaw Uprising became an extension of the policies that had been carried out in Byelorussia between 1941 and the summer of 1944. The personnel and the methods were the same; only the location had changed.
The sheer idiocy of German racial policy from a purely strategic point of view was never more clear than in Byelorussia and Ukraine. When they first arrived in the summer of 1941, the Germans were seen as liberators. Local people lined the dusty village tracks offering them bread and salt and boiled eggs, and winding flowers around the barrels of the advancing tanks. ‘Women often came out of their houses with an icon held before their breast, crying, “We are still Christians. Free us from Stalin who has destroyed our churches.”’ The inhabitants were relieved to be rid of Stalin, of the NKVD, of engineered famine and forced collectivization. Life under the Germans simply had to be better. Hans Fritzsche, who worked in Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry, was able to drive through villages near Kiev and Kharkov in German military uniform, ‘alone, unguarded … I slept peacefully in farmhouses and was fed by the population … Yet three-fourths of a year later, that whole country through which I had travelled was full of partisans – villages were burned, people shot, hostages taken, and general terror ensued.’6 Ukrainian Archbishop Count Andrij Scheptycky wrote to Pope Pius XII on 29 August 1942: ‘When the German army first appeared to liberate us from the Bolshevik yoke, we experienced at first a feeling of some relief. But that lasted no more than one or two months. Step by step, the Germans introduced their regime of terrible cruelty and corruption … It simply appears that a band of madmen, or of rabid dogs, have descended upon the poor population.’7 It is a testament to the brutality and barbarity of the Nazis’ policy that they were able to turn entire populations against them in such a short time. But this racial element could not be tempered; it was the very basis of the Nazi ideology.
Hitler was obsessed by the idea of ‘ Lebensraum’, and the need to conquer huge territories in the east for the resettlement of the German people. In ...

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Descripción Farrar Straus Giroux, United States, 2013. Hardback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The full untold story of how one of history s bravest revolts ended in one of its greatest crimes In 1943, the Nazis liquidated Warsaw s Jewish ghetto. A year later, they threatened to complete the city s destruction by deporting its remaining residents. A sophisticated and cosmopolitan community a thousand years old was facing its final days--and then opportunity struck. As Soviet soldiers turned back the Nazi invasion of Russia and began pressing west, the underground Polish Home Army decided to act. Taking advantage of German disarray and seeking to forestall the absorption of their country into the Soviet empire, they chose to liberate the city of Warsaw for themselves. Warsaw 1944 tells the story of this brave, and errant, calculation. For more than sixty days, the Polish fighters took over large parts of the city and held off the SS s most brutal forces. But in the end, their efforts were doomed. Scorned by Stalin and unable to win significant support from the Western Allies, the Polish Home Army was left to face the full fury of Hitler, Himmler, and the SS. The crackdown that followed was among the most brutal episodes of history s most brutal war, and the celebrated historian Alexandra Richie depicts this tragedy in riveting detail. Using a rich trove of primary sources, Richie relates the terrible experiences of individuals who fought in the uprising and perished in it. Her clear-eyed narrative reveals the fraught choices and complex legacy of some of World War II s most unsung heroes. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780374286552

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Descripción Farrar Straus Giroux, United States, 2013. Hardback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The full untold story of how one of history s bravest revolts ended in one of its greatest crimes In 1943, the Nazis liquidated Warsaw s Jewish ghetto. A year later, they threatened to complete the city s destruction by deporting its remaining residents. A sophisticated and cosmopolitan community a thousand years old was facing its final days--and then opportunity struck. As Soviet soldiers turned back the Nazi invasion of Russia and began pressing west, the underground Polish Home Army decided to act. Taking advantage of German disarray and seeking to forestall the absorption of their country into the Soviet empire, they chose to liberate the city of Warsaw for themselves. Warsaw 1944 tells the story of this brave, and errant, calculation. For more than sixty days, the Polish fighters took over large parts of the city and held off the SS s most brutal forces. But in the end, their efforts were doomed. Scorned by Stalin and unable to win significant support from the Western Allies, the Polish Home Army was left to face the full fury of Hitler, Himmler, and the SS. The crackdown that followed was among the most brutal episodes of history s most brutal war, and the celebrated historian Alexandra Richie depicts this tragedy in riveting detail. Using a rich trove of primary sources, Richie relates the terrible experiences of individuals who fought in the uprising and perished in it. Her clear-eyed narrative reveals the fraught choices and complex legacy of some of World War II s most unsung heroes. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780374286552

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Descripción Farrar Straus Giroux, United States, 2013. Hardback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. The full untold story of how one of history s bravest revolts ended in one of its greatest crimes In 1943, the Nazis liquidated Warsaw s Jewish ghetto. A year later, they threatened to complete the city s destruction by deporting its remaining residents. A sophisticated and cosmopolitan community a thousand years old was facing its final days--and then opportunity struck. As Soviet soldiers turned back the Nazi invasion of Russia and began pressing west, the underground Polish Home Army decided to act. Taking advantage of German disarray and seeking to forestall the absorption of their country into the Soviet empire, they chose to liberate the city of Warsaw for themselves. Warsaw 1944 tells the story of this brave, and errant, calculation. For more than sixty days, the Polish fighters took over large parts of the city and held off the SS s most brutal forces. But in the end, their efforts were doomed. Scorned by Stalin and unable to win significant support from the Western Allies, the Polish Home Army was left to face the full fury of Hitler, Himmler, and the SS. The crackdown that followed was among the most brutal episodes of history s most brutal war, and the celebrated historian Alexandra Richie depicts this tragedy in riveting detail. Using a rich trove of primary sources, Richie relates the terrible experiences of individuals who fought in the uprising and perished in it. Her clear-eyed narrative reveals the fraught choices and complex legacy of some of World War II s most unsung heroes. Nº de ref. de la librería BTE9780374286552

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