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Commemoration of the Anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising

  • Hon. Christopher H. Smith
    US












House of Representative

112th Congress, First Session

Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission and Co-Chairman of the Poland Caucus, I have long been struck by the way in which history casts both long shadows and rays of light in Poland. I have had the privilege of traveling to Poland, one of America’s closest allies, and was overwhelmed by the weight of history when I met with those who are building the Museum of the History of Poland’s Jews. Institutions like this are not only critical for Poland’s future generations, but for what all of us, around the world, can learn from Poland.

Today, I rise today to commemorate the 67th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, a courageous act of defiance by the people of Poland against the brutal Nazi occupation during the Second World War.

On August 1, 1944, the Polish Underground began its struggle to liberate Warsaw, to further weaken the collapsing German eastern front and to establish Polish sovereignty in response to the Red Army’s advance to the city’s outskirts. Despite the courage and fortitude of the Polish people, the Underground could not overcome the Nazis’ determination to oversee the complete destruction of the Home Army and the city, bolstered by official orders and a directive that the massacre was to serve as a “terrifying example” to Europe.

More than 200,000 civilians and members of the Home Army were killed in Warsaw over a 63-day period. Between August 5 and August 8, the Nazis murdered more than 40,000 people–overwhelmingly civilians–in the Wola district of Warsaw alone. Survivors, describing the horror of the executions, told of the indiscriminate slaughter of thousands of women and children. Approximately 700,000 Warsaw residents were expelled from their homes and forced out of the city–many sent to death, labor, or POW camps.

Hitler ordered that Warsaw should be razed to the ground; Heinrich Himmler declaring in the most chilling terms that Warsaw “must completely disappear from the surface of the earth.” To that end, the Nazis systematically targeted buildings filled with deep meaning for the Poles, including cultural treasures, monuments, palaces, libraries, churches, and the Old Town. By the beginning of October, the Polish capitol was reduced to rubble–85 percent of the buildings in Warsaw had been destroyed.

But from ashes come diamonds and, despite this barbaric campaign, the Polish desire for freedom and liberty could not be extinguished–not even by the decades of communist oppression which followed the end of the war. Such courage and resilience continues to define the Polish people.

Today, Poland is a successful democracy and one of our strongest military allies. More to the point, Poland’s leadership on issues related to democracy and human rights gives true meaning to the alliance concept of “shared values.” Poland has tirelessly support democratic movements in Northern Africa and Eastern Europe, particularly in Tunisia, through democracy activists and transition experts, and Belarus. Poland has served as a regional force in the effort to encourage human rights and democracy in Belarus in the wake of the December 2010 post-election political crackdown, maintaining free media outlets that operate in Belarus and opening Polish universities to students expelled for pro-democracy activities.

On July 1, Poland assumed the six-months rotating Presidency of the European Union. It can only strengthen our transatlantic alliance to have the EU led by a country that has accomplished so much over the past 20 years both political and economically. As it happens, Poland has one of the fastest growing economies in Europe and is the only EU country not faced with a recession amidst the global financial crisis.

As chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and co-chairman of the Congressional Poland Caucus, I commend Poland’s leadership on democracy and human rights throughout the OSCE region and globally. Polish-American ties remain strong and steadfast because of such dedication to these common values. More than that, however, I have unwavering respect and admiration for the people of Poland, whose courage and determination in the face of so many historic tragedies–of which the Warsaw Massacre is only one example–is a source of continued inspiration.

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