Anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising
Observances on Sunday, August 1, 2004
Photo credits: Rzeczpospolita
|At noon, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Pilsudski
Square was the site of a ceremonial changing of the guard, with laying of
wreaths from various Polish and foreign organizations. A wreath from the
Polish American Congress was laid by Les Kuczynski, National Executive
Director. The only representative of a foreign government was the British
At 2:00 PM, wreath-laying ceremonies at the monument of the Polish Underground State next to the Sejm (Parliament) building. This was the most politicized of the observances -- whereas the others honored the fighting men and women of the Uprising, this related to the government-in-exile which made the decision to launch the Uprising. Significantly, there were no representatives of the Polish government at this event.
5:00 PM was "W" hour, the time when the Uprising began. The city stopped in its tracks for a minute, with sirens blaring. Scouts held hands to encircle Warsaw's largest traffic circle, Roman Dmowski Rondo. We were traveling by taxi to Powazki Cemetery for another wreath-laying, but at the top of the hour we asked the driver to pull over. We got out and stood at attention, while he leaned on the horn to add to the wail of sirens.
At the cemetery, more wreaths were laid by official delegations at the “Gloria Victis” monument (Glory to the Defeated). In addition, throngs of people laid wreaths, flowers and votive candles at the individual graves of AK soldiers (photo).
(An aside: At the entrance to the military cemetery lies the grave of Col. Ryszard Kuklinski, who was buried there on June 19, 2004. His grave was surrounded by a wide sea of votives and flowers. Although he was not honored by government representatives at his funeral, the people of Warsaw continue to pay their respects to him.)
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder laid a wreath at the Uprising Monument in Krasinski Square (left), then joined President Kwasniewski in wreath-laying at the Wolski Cemetery.
At 8:30, closing ceremonies were held at the Plaza of the Warsaw Insurgents, next to Hotel Warszawa (the former Prudential). Here, there were speeches by Lech Kaczynski, President Kwasniewski, British Deputy Prime Minister Prescott, Gerhard Schroeder, US Secretary of State Colin Powell, with final comments by Wladyslaw Bartoszewski.
Schroeder's was the most significant. (full text) Speaking after a harrowing film depiction of death and destruction in the Uprising, he started by saying how difficult it was to say anything. He did not apologize (as some had expected), but that had been done ten years ago, at the 50th anniversary, when then President of Germany Roman Herzog apologized and asked for Polish forgiveness. Schroeder did talk about "this place of Polish pride and German shame." More significantly, he stated that Germans realize very well who started the war, who were its first victims, that German claims of restitution are unfounded, and such claims brought before international tribunals will be opposed by the German government. This was the only meaningful statement of the evening.
Prescott and Powell were lavish in their praise of the bravery, sacrifice and contributions of Poles to the war effort -- Prescott mentioned Enigma, the Battle of Britain, other actions, and the cemeteries in Britain, Italy and elsewhere in Europe where Polish combatants are buried. Powell, speaking not as a diplomat but as a soldier who had seen combat and lost close friends in war, said he does not use the word "hero" lightly -- but he saluted the insurgents as heroes. He also used the words "Poland will never be alone again," but could not bring himself to say when and by whom Poland had been left alone. (Powell’s text) Both Prescott and Powell were preaching to the choir -- their words need to be said in Britain and the US, not in Warsaw. France sent a low-level embassy diplomat (who did not speak); Russia was not invited.
Bartoszewski wrapped up by noting the significance of Schroeder's disavowal of German claims of restitution. (Full text)
Musical numbers throughout the evening included excerpts from Kilar's "Missa Pro Pace," Verdi's "Requiem," followed by a concert of songs performed by popular artists.