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But when Nowak-Jezioranski returned to Warsaw in the summer of 1944, he realised that the military leaders there had a disaster on their hands whatever they did.

"They were in a no-win position. If they would simply issue orders - don't fight, be passive, allow the Germans to retreat peacefully - the orders will be disobeyed and there will be a spontaneous outburst of fighting, chaotic, with the leadership later accused by the Soviets of betrayal. The consequence would be that this great unit that was forged in the underground movement, and Poland never had such a tremendous unity of people, would be destroyed and that the morale of people would be undermined, and they would be facing this new bad period of our history, disunited and the government which would be imposed on us would be in some way legitimised."

Many Poles believe it was this unity, a unity that survived the Warsaw uprising and the subsequent decades of communist rule, that strengthened Poland's spirit of independence and gave inspiration to Solidarity, the 1980s independent trade union movement, the movement which would play a crucial role in shattering the Soviet bloc.

But there are also many who now question the decision of Warsaw's generals.

"I think that the decision to go against all odds," says Slawinski, "maybe it wasn't the right one from the point of view that you had to make that sacrifice which was far too big, but this is in the nature of the Poles. Then they keep fighting losing battles. That was one of them."

Boleslaw Taborski theorizes, "They had all been pumped by romantic poets who said that you can win by the sheer weight of your spirit."

"So many of my friends, so many of young people died," says Hanna Niedzielska-Kepinska. "The best, the most patriotic, the most courageous, the most selfless - they died. Who will replace them?"

On October 2, the surviving members of the Home Army became prisoners of war and were taken to camps in Germany. In January 1945, the Soviet armies marched into Warsaw and three years later, a fully-fledged Stalinist regime was installed.

The insurgents lost their capital and their country.

For the next 45 years, until Communism fell in 1989, the commemorations of these extraordinary 63 days were strained. No one denied that there had been a heroic uprising of the people of Warsaw against the Nazis, but there was never any official mention of the fact that the fraternal ally, the Soviet Union, had stood by as the city was destroyed.

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