Deb Amos: This is an American RadioWorks documentary, Red Runs the Vistula, the Warsaw uprising of 1944. I'm Deborah Amos

As France was being liberated by the Allies, the Polish resistance grew emboldened to fight off the Nazi occupation.

Taborski: We assembled on the first day of the uprising and we realized just how few arms we had.

Archive tape: The Germans meant business and even brought up their giant mortar 'Thor.'

Amos: The Poles hoped the Russians would come to their aid to fight a common enemy. They were wrong.

Krappe: Even we Germans said, "Why should the Russians help the Polish people?"

Amos: In the next hour, the tragic, and heroic, story of the Warsaw Uprising. First, this news.

Part 1

Amos: From American Public Media, this is a documentary from American RadioWorks and the British Broadcasting Corporation: Red Runs the Vistula, The Warsaw Uprising of 1944. I'm Deborah Amos.

Hanna Niedzielska-Kempinska: The Old Town was absolutely free, it was fantastic feeling because there were Polish flags everywhere, people were kissing each other and we are free.

Bokiewicz: We were exhilarated because at last we could fight the Germans openly.

Amos: In August 1944, armed with just a few guns and gasoline bombs, the people of Warsaw rose up against the German occupation of their city. The uprising was meant to last just 48 hours. Instead, it went on for two months. A quarter of a million people were killed, and the Polish capital was razed to the ground. It was one of the great tragedies of the Second World War, and yet it is rarely talked about outside Poland. 60 years later, the BBC's Maria Balinska tells the story of the Warsaw Uprising from the point of view of those who were there.

Balinska: Few people remember that it was on Polish soil that the first shots in the Second World War were fired. It was September 1939.

Radio: This is the National Programme from London. These are today's main events. Germany has invaded Poland and has bombed many towns. General mobilisation has been ordered in Britain and France. Parliament was summoned for 6 o'clock this evening.

Balinska: On September 3, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. The United States did not.

Roosevelt: My countrymen and my friends: Until 4:30 o'clock this morning, I had hoped against hope that some miracle would prevent a devastating war in Europe and bring to an end the invasion of Poland by Germany.

Balinska: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke to the American people in one of his famous fireside chats.

Roosevent: At this moment, there is being prepared a proclamation of American neutrality. This proclamation is in accordance with international law and in accordance with American policy.

Balinska: Within a month, Poland had been brutally occupied, not just by Hitler's Germany, but also by its neighbour to the East: Stalin's Soviet Union. The Polish government re-assembled in London to be joined by more than 200,000 pilots and soldiers who were to serve under Allied command. Its aim, to defeat the Nazis and return to Poland as its legitimate rulers. Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill was full of praise for the Polish troops.

Curchill: I've seen your pilots, who have by their prowess, played a glorious part in the repulse of the German air hordes.

Balinska: In Poland itself, Europe's largest resistance movement was being formed. At its peak, the so-called 'Home Army' had some 10,000 trained soldiers, an intelligence network, and other clandestine organisations - some 350,000 members in all. Public support for the underground was overwhelming as the inhuman behaviour of the German occupiers grew bolder by the day.

Churchill: The atrocities committed by Hitler upon the Poles - the ravaging of their country, the scattering of their homes, the affronts to their religion, the enslavement of their manpower - exceed in severity and in scale the villainies perpetrated by Hitler in any other conquered land.

Balinska: The Nazis turned Poland into a racial killing ground. Hitler chose Poland for extermination camps like Auschwitz and Treblinka. In Warsaw, nearly 400,000 of the city's Jews were first herded into a ghetto, and then sent to death camps. In April 1943, the 70,000 that remained in the ghetto decided to die fighting and launched an uprising.

Few survived.

As for the Poles, Hitler described them as, "More like animals than human beings," but by summer 1944, the fortunes of war had changed.

Film Archive: Deliverance has come so suddenly to Normandy after so long a wait that the people are realising only slowly that the nightmare years of occupation are over.

Balinska: As the Allies landed in France on D-Day, every bit of news was music to the ears of the Poles. Poland too, dreamed of liberation, but unlike the people of Normandy and later Paris, the Poles had to rely entirely on their former enemy, the Soviet Union, who just five years earlier had carved up their country with the Nazis. It was a huge gamble, but there was nothing they could do. Hitler's surprise attack on the USSR in 1941 had transformed Europe's military alignments overnight.

Film Archive: Once again, Britain's prime minister poses for a photograph with Joseph Stalin in Moscow.

Balinska: Churchill and Roosevelt now needed Stalin to win the war. This was a distressing turn of events for the Poles. Stalin was the man they blamed, and rightly as it turned out, for the murder of thousands of Polish officers in the Katyn forest of Ukraine. But their constant warnings that the Soviets couldn't be trusted had transformed the Poles from what Western leaders had once described as 'the inspiration of the world,' to a thorn in the side of the Allied camp.

Film Archive: The United States, Russia, and Great Britain must become cornerstones for a world structure for peace. Yet to secure that peace, decisive victory must be achieved.

Balinska: Most Poles believed that the Allies would help them. After all, Poles had played an important part in the Battle of Britain, the battle of Monte Cassino in Italy as well as other campaigns in Western Europe.

Buoyed by German losses in the East, the Polish government in exile in London was planning an uprising. It was to be a historic gesture, a demonstration that would last a few days if not hours, and re-establish Polish sovereignty over its capital before anyone else did. By mid-July 1944, events seemed to be moving in the right direction for the Poles as the documentary film Battle for Warsaw explained.

Battle for Warsaw: The Russians having cleared the Germans from their zone of Poland looked poised to take Warsaw. On July 23 the routed German Ninth Army streamed through Warsaw blowing up strategic installations as they went. By the last week of July only a garrison of some two thousand German soldiers remained. To the Poles of Warsaw, their liberation seemed at hand.

"You, you needed only to go out in one of the east/west territories of Warsaw to see the German's troops in full retreat. We also have seen a lot of lorries taking the furniture and belongings of the German officials who were evacuating Warsaw. I believe two days before the uprising started, even the Gestapo left."

On July the 27th the Russians reached the Vistula River, sixty-five miles south of Warsaw, and the next day pushed to within ten miles of the city. On July the 29th, the Russians broadcast in Polish to Warsaw: "The hour of action has arrived."

Bokiewicz: We were exhilarated because at, at last we could fight the Germans openly.

Slawinski: Teenagers and young people were, you know, definitely trying to get at the Germans for, for the atrocities they committed.

Szejbal: At the beginning, was very exciting. We were talking about three days, five days. The uprising would be over and we shall be free.

Slawinski: We heard the Russian cannons across the Vistula River and we thought that it was a question of hours, rather than days, that they will come to Warsaw, and we wanted to establish our state and institutions before they came.

Balinska: But at the same time, alarming news was reaching Warsaw that the Red Army had brutally put down a similar uprising in the city of Vilnius or Wilno, and that the Soviet secret police were executing members of the Polish underground army.

Martinowa: I was against taking to arms because I was perfectly sure that the Russian army, they never come to help uprising. They were waiting 'til the German will finish the population of Warsaw.

Slawinski: We thought that they couldn't do it in an important place like Warsaw, they just couldn't. We thought that our allies, Western allies, would put pressure on them.

Balinska: It was precisely this debate, just how much the British and the Americans would lean on Stalin, that was dividing the Polish government back in London. While the Prime Minister was frantically pressing for the rising, the Polish Commander-in-Chief, while not expressly forbidding it, sent a warning to Warsaw. "An armed rising," he wrote, "would be devoid of political sense, causing needless victims." It was an ambiguous message. The Warsaw Poles had effectively been left to decide for themselves.

Nowak-Jezioranski: Because of all these quarrels and conflicts in London, the centre of decision was shifted from London to Warsaw, and frankly, the people in Warsaw were not well informed about international political situation. They still believed that the West when faced with reality will definitely resist any attempt by the Soviets to dominate Poland and other countries of Eastern Europe, and it was a completely false premise."

Balinska: The first of August dawned a beautiful sunny day. The message had gone out that the rising would start in the afternoon at five. Groups of 'fighters' - young men and women, 46,000 in all - made their way across the city to designated meeting points.

Taborski: It's 5 o'clock. Well, every day at 5pm, which is the time of the zero hour when the uprising broke, this recording of the Mokotov march is played in the clock tower.

This is the Park Dreszera where we assembled on the first day of the uprising and we realized just how few arms we had. For a squad of 14 people, we got one pistol, two grenades and two Molotov cocktails each. The feeling of great elation gave way to disappointment and unease.

Battle for Warsaw: The first day didn't go at all well for the Warsaw Poles. The German garrison commander had known the timing of the uprising before most of the participants.

Slawinski: The artillery which was heard more so at the beginning of the uprising, the German/Soviet front, was very very loud, and Soviet aircraft was very active against the Germans. When the uprising started, all aerial activity somehow ceased. We were really puzzled by it and then the artillery fire - you could hear it less and less and less until it disappeared altogether and we were a bit shocked by it because we were banking on the Soviet army to enter Warsaw in the first or second day of the uprising. It appeared that they withdrew. We couldn't hear them at all. So what are we going to do? We haven't got enough arms and ammunition, and nobody's coming to help us. We are left on our own.

Balinska: Nevertheless, the insurgents did capture three major positions including Warsaw's historic Old Town district, 50 square miles in all, and for a few days, until the Germans launched their offensive, these districts became oases of freedom.

Amos: I'm Deborah Amos. You're listening to Red Runs the Vistula, the story of the Warsaw Uprising. Just ahead, the first exciting victories give way to a Nazi onslaught.

Zofia Nowiak: There was a dead silence for a while, and then suddenly they started to cry and scream. And that was the beginning of the hell.

Amos: Our program continues in just a moment, from American Public Media.

Part 2

Amos: You're listening to Red Runs the Vistula, a documentary from American RadioWorks and the BBC. I'm Deborah Amos. In 1944, the citizens of the Polish capital, Warsaw, rose up against the Nazi soldiers occupying their city. And they succeeded for a time. Maria Balinska continues our story.

Balinska: Exhilaration was the main emotion in the early days of the uprising. After almost five years of Nazi oppression, the citizens of Warsaw revelled in their new freedoms.

Battle for Warsaw: And we even had one or two concerts organised by private citizens. One particular one I remember was in a private, beautiful sitting room, typical before the war type thing still somehow survived, and the elderly lady was playing a lot of Chopin music.

Niedzielska-Kepinska: The old town was absolutely free. It was a, it was a fantastic feeling because there were Polish flags everywhere, people were on the street. Everybody was kissing each other and we are free. There were, there were no Germans there.

Nowak-Jezioranski: People were spontaneously building barricades, throwing all the beautiful furniture, beautiful antiques, pianos, completely crazed. And that was very infectious.

Balinska: Average age 19, the young men and women preparing to fight had graduated through the ranks of the Scout movement, which from 1939 onwards, had become a clandestine battle school for patriotic young saboteurs and artillery officers. Youth, and a na´ve belief in their leaders, gave the insurgents confidence and bravado.

Bokiewicz: I saw a young man in front of me, and in front of him there was, there was a German soldier who was armed and that young man produced a bottle of beer, and stuck the bottle of beer in the German's back and demanded him to surrender his gun, and he did. When I saw that, of course I ran in the opposite direction very quickly.

Slawinski: My father and my mother, they knew that I'm involved in something, but they didn't treat it like it was anything very serious. You know, after all, I was only 15, nearly 16, but I had to tell my father that I'm going to fight. And in a sort of roundabout way, I, I disclosed this as far as I could to my father and he laughed at me and said, 'What do you mean? You're so young, you cannot get involved in anything serious.' I got a bit, you know, agitated about it so I opened a small packet, which I opened and inside there were six white and red arm bands with WP which means Polish Army, the Polish eagle and the number 101. That was the allocated number of our home army platoon. My father just couldn't believe his eyes. 'You're really in it?'

Balinska: As for the Germans, to begin with, they were taken aback by the strength of the resistance. Hasso Krappe, an officer with the 19th Panzer division, was sent into Warsaw at the beginning of the Uprising.

Krappe: As we arrived, a motorcycle messenger came and requested that an officer from our division reports to headquarters. That was me. By telephone I was a connected to the 9th regiment. And I heard rifle fire from outside. Bullets were flying through the window and I had to hide with the phone under the table. Later, a Polish newspaper wrote, 'German officer hiding under the table.'

Balinska: Poles communicated to the outside world by radio. Each broadcast began with a Chopin piano concerto followed by news from Warsaw, which was often read by John Ward, a British pilot who had escaped from a German prisoner of war camp. In those early days, "Radio Lightening" or in Polish, "Blyskawica" was able to report some notable successes.

Blyskawica: This is Warsaw calling, Warsaw calling, Warsaw calling all the free nations. Of all our achievements -

Balinska: (translates) This is Warsaw calling. Of our achievements in the past day the most important has been the taking of the building occupied by the police headquarters.

Balinska: And on day two of the uprising, the Poles captured the power station and the main post office.

Bokiewicz: Our task was to cover the attack on the post office with our machine gun against the German bunker which was at the corner of the post office. Our Polish units made a frontal attack from, I think, two or three sides. The battle raged through the night and the post office was taken. Maybe I shouldn't say that, but I was a philatelist at the time, so it was very - I had a private interest in the matter as well. The next day, I went to the post office because I was looking for the stamps, and I found quite a lot of sheets of German occupation stamps, and I hid them in the cellar, but it was of no use because I had to leave them in Warsaw.

Balinska: On the same day, a group of Poles in the so-called Zoska battalion captured two German tanks and drove them into action against their former owners. Their target was 'Gesiowka' or the Goose Farm, a transit camp for European Jews on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto. On August 5, Waclaw Micuta, a Polish tank commander, charged the wall of the camp.

Micuta: Well, we got in front of us the wall with pieces of metals to reinforce you know the wall and he gave the full speed and our tank started to climb up, climbed up, climbed up, get to the top and whoomph, fell on the other side. It was 40 tons of metal. It was an exceedingly emotional thing because a few hundred of Jews, when they realised that this is not the death but the liberation, you can imagine, you know, emotion of those people. And my God, you know, they came to the tank, and they embrace us, and some of them kneel you know. And I saw a group of Jews, prisoners, you know, funny dressers, you know, and there was one of these men and there was one with perfect Polish and a perfect Polish military language. He said [Polish] he said attention, [Polish] and then, you know, he said, "Lieutenant, I present you Jewish battalion ready to fight."

Battle for Warsaw: The German garrison seemed content merely to contain the Poles. No counter-offensive was begun to dislodge them, though when news of the uprising reached Hitler, he ordered that the Warsaw Poles be wiped out and their city razed to the ground as an example to the rest of occupied Europe. Heinrich Himmler, his SS Chief, was given the task, but all this was unknown to the Warsaw defenders as they enjoyed a respite in the warm August sunshine. Equally unknown to them, days before the uprising began, Hitler had decided definitely to defend Warsaw and was rushing there some of his best remaining units. After waiting so long, the die was being cast for the Poles.

Balinska: The head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, had ordered the mobilisation of a special division under the command of the notorious Erich von den Bach. So at the same time as the Zoska battalion were liberating the Jews, Von den Bach's men were launching a full scale attack on the Vola district in the western suburbs.

Jaszczol: Germans ask all the civilians from all the block of flats to come down to the street, and it didn't matter whether it was small children or grown-up parents or old people, they all had to come down. They heard machine guns' shots. When those machine guns were getting nearer and nearer, my younger brother sort of tried to shield my father. Well, the German took him by the back of his neck and throw him to the ground and shot my father. Not only him, all the other people as well. Thousands of people were killed, more than 20, if not more in that one day, in those few hours. We did not realise that they are not only shooting the people, that they not only burned the houses, but also the human bodies. Even if some of them were still alive, they just burned everything. Next day, so that was the 6th of August, we couldn't breathe because although it was a beautiful sunny day, it was complete darkness. The smoke was so dense.

Balinska: An estimated 35,000 people were shot by the SS in Warsaw that day. But in other parts of the city, in the Old Town for instance, people were unaware of the massacre. Each district of Warsaw had become a fortress almost totally separated from its neighbour by barricades and enemy lines.

Jaszczol: At one stage I went to the Old Town. They were celebrating because they already managed to liberate this Old Town, so they were singing and dancing. They didn't know what went on in Vola. They didn't. We were young, we were very young, between the age of 16 and 20, 22 and we were full of life and full of energy and we were uplifted by the fact that we are doing something, that we are fighting for our freedom. There were times when we were dancing if we get the chance or singing, or joking with each other. I think that, that was the part of us which wanted to live.

Balinska: On day 13, the fighters in the Old Town captured yet another tank, but this time it was not accompanied by singing and dancing.

Niedzielska-Kepinska: I was in the gatekeeper's flat and in his kitchen, and I was preparing soup for the boys which were fighting on the barricades and suddenly my colleague came to me and said Hanna, come, come because our boys brought the tank. It's outside our gate, so I said alright I will come, I will come, I have to finish the soup.

Nowaik: We were standing on the balcony. I have seen the little tank coming towards us, and on this tank there was a little boy with a little Polish flag on the top. There were quite a lot of people around him and everybody was singing and shouting because this tank was moving and the Polish crew was in it.

Niedzielska-Kepinska: The tank was packed with explosives and they were timed.

Nowiak: There was such a terrible explosion and when we looked down, all the square was littered with the bodies.

Niedzielska-Kepinska: On the street, when I went out finally from the house, it was so slippery because it was the remnants, blood, everything mixed together. It was a carnage.

Nowiak: There was dead silence for a while, and then suddenly they started to cry and scream. And that was the beginning of the hell.

Battle for Warsaw: The fight was going from one house to another. At one point, in Cathedral of St. John, Germans were at the great altar and our troops were at the choir. Literally, we were fighting from one room to another.

Balinska: For the German officer Hasso Krappe, this was a new type of warfare.

Krappe: My division moved on, constantly under the fire coming from houses. We couldn't see people shooting at us. As we found out, the Polish resistance movement were civilians with red and white armbands. Some had uniforms, some even had German uniforms and German steel helmets. Imagine how it feels if somebody shoots at you from a window, and you know this person stands inside the room, but you can't see anything. It was a very uncomfortable situation.

Balinska: Hitler's response to the Warsaw uprising was unequivocal. Every inhabitant of the city was to be killed, and every house blown up or burned down.

Battle for Warsaw: Cellars were turned into hospitals and the resources of doctors and nurses were soon being stretched to the limit. Drugs and dressings were in short supply, and linen bandages quickly gave way to paper ones.

Niedzielska-Kepinska: They were lying on the floors, they were lying on the steps, they were mostly burnt from the tank and they really, there was nothing we could do. There was absolutely nothing we could do. When you entered the hospital, the stench was terrible of rotting flesh, so they were just dying like, like flies. And, and this is where the Germans shot them all when they entered.

Zanussi: I was five years old and we got to the hospital, and it is very close to the centre of Warsaw, and we didn't know that this hospital was under control of the Ukrainian forces, of General Vlasov. They were allies of Hitler's and they were extremely cruel and they were killing people, and I have seen it as a child many times. They were killing patients, they were killing wounded people, and I remember them cutting women's stomachs on the maternity ward, and my mother was trying to prevent me from seeing children who were taken from - but I have seen the dead bodies of infants thrown on the floor.

Balinska: And then the Nazis began to attack from the skies, pounding Warsaw mercilessly with their most modern and most deadly weapons.

Slawinski: One of the worst really frightening were the use of rockets. Germans had a multiple eight rocket launcher. First of all, you heard a dreadful noise, this oolh-wuhrr wuhrr a few seconds afterwards there was an explosion. You were hit by a rocket which contained an early version of napalm. That means everything burned, even the asphalt in the road burned.

Archive tape: The Germans meant business, and even brought up their giant mortar 'Thor' to add its pennyworth against the hapless defenders of the Old Town. Used previously only in the siege of Sebastopol, it had to be fired from one and a half miles away. Each of its shells weighed more than two tons. And they could penetrate a hundred inches of concrete.

Amos: This is Red Runs the Vistula, a documentary from American RadioWorks and the BBC. I'm Deborah Amos. Coming up, the Warsaw insurgents grow increasingly desperate.

Battle for Warsaw:Those who could escaped through the sewers to Polish positions elsewhere in the capital, despite the Germans harassing them en route by dropping hand grenades down manholes, and even injecting explosive gas.

To see pictures of the men, women and children who fought in the Polish Home Army visit our Web site at You can also find a complete archive of our documentaries and sign up for an email newsletter. That's at

Major funding for American RadioWorks comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Our program continues in just a moment, from American Public Media.

Part 3

Amos: We continue now with Red Runs the Vistula, the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, a documentary from American RadioWorks and the BBC. I'm Deborah Amos. In the final part of our program, Maria Balinska explains that by September of 1944, the radio messages from Warsaw to the West were becoming desperate. The Polish resistance was begging the Allies for food and ammunition.

Balinska: Throughout much of August and September, allied pilots flew the precarious journey from Brindisi in southern Italy to Warsaw to drop supplies. Losses were heavy and many planes were shot down before even reaching the capital. There were 19 airdrops throughout August, but to many Poles, it felt like a meagre reward for their war efforts on the Western Front. William Fairly, a South African pilot, spoke to Radio New Zealand in 1982.

William Fairly: There was no difficulty in finding Warsaw, it was visible was from 100 kilometres away. The city was in flames and with so many huge fires burning it was almost impossible to pick up the target marker flares.

Balinska: American Air Force pilot Ian Miller described the operation in a 1944 recording.

Ian Miller: Flak over Warsaw itself was heavy. We dropped canisters containing guns, ammunition, and medical supplies by parachute.

Fairly: Permission was sought from the Russians to run a form of aerial shuttle service. That is, our aircraft could fly to Warsaw, drop their supplies, and carry on the short distance to a Russian airfield. Had this permission been granted, the assistance to Warsaw would have been much easier and greater. Some Allied pilots with damaged planes and malfunctioning instruments strayed over Russian-held territory and were fired on by our so-called allies, the Soviets.

Balinska: Stalin was up to no good. In the eastern city of Lublin the Soviets had set up an acting administration consisting of Poles loyal to Moscow. Back in London, Churchill was putting pressure on Stalin for permission to use Russian airfields. But he was also having to push Roosevelt to cooperate. The American president didn't want to upset Stalin. Nevertheless, on August 20, they made a joint appeal, recreated here by a BBC announcer.

Churchill (read by John Tusa): We are thinking of world opinion if anti-Nazis in Warsaw are in effect abandoned. We hope that you will drop immediate supplies and ammunitions to the patriot Poles of Warsaw, or will you agree to help our planes in doing it very quickly? The time element is of extreme importance.

Balinska: But the appeal was brushed aside by Stalin two days later. On the 25th of August, Churchill proposed to Roosevelt that they would send a toughly worded message to Stalin that would put him on the spot. "We propose to send aircraft unless you directly forbid it." At this, Roosevelt gave up.

Roosevelt: I do not consider it would prove advantageous to the long-range general war prospect for me to join with you in another proposed message to Stalin. But I have no objection to your sending such a message if you consider it advisable to do so.

Balinska: Most of the airdrops that did make it were falling outside Warsaw into the Kampinos forest. By the end of August, people in the Old Town were starving.

Slawinski: We ate all the horses, then all the dogs and cats, pigeons of course. And then there was nothing left. We were eating dogs, very nice meat, dog, you know. And it was becoming sort of more and more hopeless. It was. We knew that nobody will come to our rescue.

Martinowa: The main problem was water. Being just a few steps from the, from the river, we couldn't get it because it was under such a terrific fire, so every bucket of water it was at least one or two lives. Can you imagine the wounded who are dreaming about a cup of water?

Balinska: There was to be one more glimmer of hope. Finally, Churchill's pressure on Stalin bore fruit. On September 10, the Soviets launched an assault on Warsaw and offered help to the Poles. They flew airdrops and even took on the German dive-bombers, suffering huge losses in the process. The Soviet gesture had come too late and amounted to too little. But eight days later, Stalin did decide to allow allied planes to land on his airfields and refuel.

And so, on September 18, the sky above Warsaw was filled with American Flying Fortresses. For a brief moment the Poles thought salvation was at hand. The leader of the uprising, Boor Komorowski recalled it in his memoirs, read here by the BBC.

The day was sunny and fine with a cloudless sky. It was the sound of cheering and shouts of joy on all sides which told me that the aircraft were coming over. The whole sky was filled with planes flying in at a great height from the west. They left behind long trails of white dots. It took a long moment to realise that the dots were parachutes.

Balinska: Parachutes of food and ammunition and not, as fervently hoped for, parachutes carrying the soldiers of the Polish 5th Airborne Division. One by one, the insurgent strongholds were collapsing.

Battle for Warsaw: Those who could, escaped through the sewers to Polish positions elsewhere in the capital despite the Germans harassing them en route by dropping hand grenades down manholes, and even injecting explosive gas.

Balinska: The city's sewers provided an escape route for thousands, fighters and civilians alike.

Taborski: This is the street where I went into the sewers from. This is a manhole. This is a manhole which when taken off, leads you right down to it. I get the real feeling now, the stench, the, the dirt. It takes me back. Crowds of people were pushing in all directions. The place was full of noises. It was very strange, very dark and felt like a road to hell.

Balinska: Often the Poles got lost and emerged from the sewers thinking they were beyond the battle zone, only to be shot by waiting Germans.

Taborski: They put us against the wall. SS man with a machine gun was lying, lying down waiting to give us shots against that wall until something happened like in an old play where the hero is to be executed but an officer cames on a foaming horse waving a piece of paper with the pardon. This time it was, it was an SS man on a motorcycle, but also waving a piece of paper that a surrender has been signed and that they were to take us prisoner.

Battle for Warsaw: The end came on October the 4th. First, the Germans allowed the civilians to leave. Their bewildered faces told the story.

Bokiewicz: When we went out of Warsaw, all those ruins, I felt like being born again because I was still alive.

Taborski: I just couldn't believe my eyes, that after two months in hell, we are now walking through green fields where cows are grazing, quite a different world to one where we had been playing at war, I must say. And then, two SS men watched us, not with hatred but with interest, and then I saw a German soldier standing there looking at us, weeping.

Krappe: Thousands walked out of the cellars, women, children, carrying a backpack or a little case. They had nothing left and they all had to leave the city. The Polish resistance fighters were totally depressed because they lost. For myself, I have to say, I could not understand that this uprising was happening. How could they possibly think that the Russians would have helped them? Even we Germans said, "Why should the Russians help the Polish people?"

Battle for Warsaw: The Polish commander, General Boor Komorowski, came to his German opposite number's headquarters to complete the surrender formalities. He was offered a meal, which he clearly needed, but which he refused. Surprisingly the Germans allowed the Poles to surrender honourably. 9,000 Polish soldiers surrendered. Another 3,500 preferred to escape Warsaw to continue the struggle elsewhere. The hopeless fight had lasted ten long weeks. It had cost the lives though of nearly a quarter of a million Poles. Once the remaining citizens had been driven from the city, Warsaw was systematically destroyed. Hitler was determined it should never rise again.

Balinska: On Hitler's express orders, Warsaw was razed to the ground. Its work done, the German army withdrew. By now, the city was empty of people, empty of life. Warsaw was a pile of rubble. It was a monumental tragedy, but was it a tragedy that could have been avoided?

This is a question that has haunted one man for years. In July, one month before the rising, a handsome young courier, Jan Nowak-Jezioranski, left Warsaw for London to find out exactly what help the Poles could expect from the Allies. In 1984, he told BBC Radio what he heard from the British, and how he reacted.

Nowak-Jezioranski: The Polish, request of the Polish government to send a British mission to Poland, was rejected and it was rejected only for one reason: this is not our area. We cannot operate our British military mission behind the German front in the East.

Balinska: The British said no to Nowak because of a tacit agreement Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin had signed up to a year earlier, in Teheran, that Poland would be in the Soviet Union's sphere of influence.

Nowak-Jezioranski: I did come absolutely convinced that Poland is lost. I had access to classified documents and I knew that whatever the final outcome of war, in other words wherever Russians will be on the last day of war, Poland will be occupied only by the Soviet troops and Stalin will be able to do whatever he likes.

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

Nowak-Jezioranski: 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 unity 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.

Balinska: 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, 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.

Slawinski: I think that the decision to go against all odds, 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.

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

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

Balinska: 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 had lost their capital and their country. For American RadioWorks, I'm Maria Balinska.

Amos: 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 their fraternal ally, the Soviet Union, had stood by as the city was destroyed.

Red Runs the Vistula was produced by Julia Rooke and Maria Balinska for BBC Radio. The editor was Stephen Smith. Production help from Sasha Aslanian, Misha Quill, and Ellen Guettler. Web producer Ochen Kaylan. The executive producer for American RadioWorks is Bill Buzenberg. I'm Deborah Amos.

Archival material came from The Imperial War Museum Sound and Film Archive, the Polish Underground Study Trust, the Radio Free Europe Archive, and Peter Batty Productions.

Major funding for American RadioWorks is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. You can find out more about this and other programs at our web site,

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