world war ii: polish home army

Elżbieta Zawacka (1909-2009), codename ‘Zo’, was a Polish university professor, scouting instructor, SOE agent and a freedom fighter during World War II. 

During the war she was the only woman in Cichociemni ('Dark and Silent’), elite special-operations paratroops of the Polish Army in Exile, and served as a courier for the Polish Home Army, carrying letters and other documents from the Nazi-occupied Poland to the Polish government in exile and back. In 1944 she fought in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and after its collapse moved to Kraków, where she continued her underground activities. In 1945 she shortly joined the anti-Communist organization Freedom and Independence (WiN).

Like numerous other Polish freedom fighters involved in anti-communist war organizations, after the war she was arrested and tortured by Ministerstwo Bezpieczeństwa Publicznego (Ministry of Public Security which was a communist secret police, intelligence and counter-espionage service in the Soviet-controlled postwar Poland). In 1951 she was sentenced to 10 years in prison for ‘treason and espionage’, but her sentence was shortened and she was released in 1955.

She was an active member of the World Union of Home Army Soldiers and cooperated with Solidarność in the 1980s.

Witold Pilecki  was a Polish soldier, a rittmeister of the Polish Cavalry during the Second Polish Republic, the founder of the Secret Polish Army (Tajna Armia Polska) resistance group in German-occupied Poland in November 1939, and a member of the underground Home Army (Armia Krajowa), which was formed in February 1942. He was the author of Witold’s Report, the first comprehensive Allied intelligence report on Auschwitz concentration camp and the Holocaust. 

During World War II, he volunteered for a Polish resistance operation to get imprisoned in the Auschwitz death camp in order to gather intelligence and escape. While in the camp, Pilecki organized a resistance movement and as early as 1941, informed the Western Allies of Nazi Germany’s Auschwitz atrocities. He escaped from the camp in 1943 after nearly two and a half years of imprisonment. Pilecki took part in the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944. He remained loyal to the London-based Polish government-in-exile after the Soviet-backed communist takeover of Poland and was arrested in 1947 by the Stalinist secret police (Urząd Bezpieczeństwa) on charges of working for “foreign imperialism”, thought to be a euphemism for MI6. He was executed after a show trial in 1948. Until 1989, information about his exploits and fate was suppressed by the Polish communist regime.

#7 World War II
Photo: Wojtek, the soldier bear playing with his brothers-in-arms, circa 1942

On the eve of World War II, Poland was far from ready to confront Nazi Germany, which had been preparing for war for years. Hitler’s invasion in September 1939, backed by Stalin’s army from the east, erased Poland from the map in 27 days. The government fled to Great Britain but continued working as a government-in-exile. Polish armies and units still fought alongside the troops of the Western allied forces, such as contributing considerably to victory in the Battle of Britain and breaking the Enigma code. Poles organised the biggest underground army in Europe’s history – the Home Army.

Even though Poland ended the war on the winning side and was re-established as a state, it fell under the influence of the Soviet Union and was forced to adopt communism as its political system and a satellite government, strongly dependant on its sponsors in Moscow.

Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła.

The Polish resistance movement in World War II, with the Home Army at its forefront, was the largest underground resistance in all of Nazi-occupied Europe, covering both German and Soviet zones of occupation.

The Polish defense against the Nazi occupation was an important part of the European anti-fascist resistance movement. It is most notable for disrupting German supply lines to the Eastern Front, providing military intelligence to the British, and for saving more Jewish lives in the Holocaust than any other Allied organization or government. It was a part of the Polish Underground State.

Wiesław Chrzanowski (20 Dec 1923 – 29 Apr 2012), of the Polish Home Army’s “Anna” Company of the “Gustaw” Battalion, photographed on the balcony of a townhouse in September 1944- and he somehow still managed to look hella handsome even in the midst of the Warsaw Uprising.

He was a part of not one, but two movements of immense historical importance in Poland:  During World War II he was a member of the Polish anti-Nazi resistance organization, the Home Army and he fought in the infamous Warsaw Uprising. He finished a law degree at a secret underground university in 1945. Later on in his life, during the second half of the 1970s, he became associated with the opposition to the Soviet communist government in Poland. He helped to draft the statues establishing the Solidarity trade union (Solidarity was a big fucking deal, man) and he was the lawyer which guided the legal registration process of the organization. So all in all, definitely a worthy history crush <3

The Warsaw Uprising (Polish: Powstanie Warszawskie) was a major World War II operation by the Polish resistance Home Army (Polish: Armia Krajowa) to liberate Warsaw from Nazi Germany. The rebellion was timed to coincide with the Soviet Union’s Red Army approaching the eastern suburbs of the city and the retreat of German forces. However, the Soviet advance stopped short, enabling the Germans to regroup and demolish the city while defeating the Polish resistance, which fought for 63 days with little outside support. The Uprising was the largest single military effort taken by any European resistance movement during World War II.

The uprising began on 1 August 1944, as part of a nationwide plan, Operation Tempest, when the Soviet Army approached Warsaw. The main Polish objectives were to drive the German occupiers from the city and help with the larger fight against Germany and the Axis powers. Secondary political objectives were to liberate Warsaw before the Soviets, to underscore Polish sovereignty by empowering the Polish Underground State before the Soviet-backed Polish Committee of National Liberation could assume control. Also, short-term causes included the threat of a German round-up of able-bodied Poles, and Moscow radio calling for the Uprising to begin.

Initially, the Poles established control over most of central Warsaw, but the Soviets ignored Polish attempts to establish radio contact and did not advance beyond the city limits. Intense street fighting between the Germans and Poles continued. By 14 September, Polish forces under Soviet high command occupied the east bank of the Vistula river opposite the insurgents’ positions; but only 1,200 men made it across to the west bank, and they were not reinforced by the bulk of the Red Army. This, and the lack of Soviet air support from a base 5 minutes flying time away, led to allegations that Joseph Stalin tactically halted his forces to let the operation fail and allow the Polish insurrectionists to be crushed. Arthur Koestler called the Soviet attitude “one of the major infamies of this war which will rank for the future historian on the same ethical level with Lidice.”

Winston Churchill pleaded with Stalin and Franklin D. Roosevelt to help Britain’s Polish allies, to no avail. Then, without Soviet air clearance, Churchill sent over 200 low-level supply drops by the Royal Air Force, the South African Air Force and the Polish Air Force under British High Command. Later, after gaining Soviet air clearance, the US Army Air Force sent one high-level mass airdrop as part of Operation Frantic. The Soviet Union refused to allow American bombers from Western Europe to land on Soviet airfields after dropping supplies to the Poles.

Although the exact number of casualties remains unknown, it is estimated that about 16,000 members of the Polish resistance were killed and about 6,000 badly wounded. In addition, between 150,000 and 200,000 Polish civilians died, mostly from mass executions. Jews being harboured by Poles were exposed by German house-to-house clearances and mass evictions of entire neighbourhoods. German casualties totalled over 8,000 soldiers killed and missing, and 9,000 wounded. During the urban combat approximately 25% of Warsaw’s buildings were destroyed. Following the surrender of Polish forces, German troops systematically leveled another 35% of the city block by block. Together with earlier damage suffered in the 1939 invasion of Poland and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, over 85% of the city was destroyed by January 1945, when the course of the events in the Eastern Front forced the Germans to abandon the city. (x)


Miasto ‘44 (City '44) by Jan Komasa, 2014

Photos: Ola Grochowska (AKSON STUDIO)

A beautiful story about youth, love, friendship and the pursuit of adventure during the bloody and brutal reality of the Warsaw Uprising.

The Warsaw Uprising  was a major World War II operation by the Polish resistance Home Army to liberate Warsaw from Nazi Germany. The Uprising was timed to coincide with the Soviet Union’s Red Army approaching the eastern suburbs of the city and the retreat of German forces. However, the Soviet advance stopped short, enabling the Germans to regroup and demolish the city while defeating the Polish resistance, which fought for 63 days with little outside support. The Uprising was the largest single military effort taken by any European resistance movement during World War II.


Lidia Daniszewska ps. “Lidka” (31.05.1923 – 16.09.1944) – a liaison and nurse of the “Zośka” Battalion of the scout unit “Szare Szeregi” (which was a part of the Polish Home Army during World War II). She participated in the Warsaw Uprising, in which she was killed. Earlier she had attended underground classes in medicine. She was twice awarded the Cross of Valour.

The Little Pole: The Vis wz. 35 Pistol - 9mm Parabellum

The Vis 35, the Radom, the wz. 35, whatever you want to call it, this pistol has quite an interesting history despite being a gun not many people know of, but this story begins in Poland.

(yes I used Polandball, deal with it)

Poland was in an interesting state following World War 1. For the most part, Poland was always someone’s territory, usually either Germany or Russia and saw their chance after World War 1. With one in shambles, the other stabbing itself, it fought a war of independence and won, and with the 1920′s began work on modernizing it’s military.

The standard rifle was based off the German Kar98AZ, the wz. 30 HMG that was effectively the M1917 machine gun in 8mm Mauser. The big pain however was the wz 28, their version of the BAR.

So the basics of the wz 28 was a Polish version of the FN BAR. So Poland was impressed by the BAR that FN brought to the testing in the 1920′s and went t order about 10,000 plus the technical package to make them. They got the 10,000 guns, but no technical package. The Polish kept asking where it was, FN kept stalling, and here’s why.

They didn’t have a technical package.

You see, FN and Colt had signed a deal allowing the two to make a number of guns, so long as they stayed in their respective countries. So Colt got the Americas, FN got Europe. The thing was, FN didn’t make most of the guns they shipped, Colt made them while FN restamped them. So there was no technical package. This event led to the Poles reverse engineering the guns they had and souring relations between the two.

Now your thinking why I’m bringing this up, because it’s why the Radom exists.

So in the 1930′s, Poland was eyeing to replace it’s long series of Nagant revolvers, and tested a number of semi-automatic designs, including the FN 1903, 1922 and the CZ24. The CZ24 won, but FN brought a prototype of the Browning Hi-Power and many officers liked it. A later test done had the Hi-Power win, but due to the incident with the BAR, they decided to just copy it’s lockwork and make it themselves.

So the basic idea was drawn up and ready to rumble, at least until the Cavalry started whining. The decocking mechanism required one to lock the slide open then pull the trigger, which is pretty elaborate. Turns out it was from the designer wanting to reap more royalties. Throw that out and the Vis 35 enters production.

Radom pistols were and are very high quality guns, probably one of the best World War II pistols depending on ones opinion and served the Polish very well and was made by the Nazis under the designation Pistole P35(p).

During the War, the plant was run by Steyr who made both original style guns off the remaining parts as well as newer ones with the safety/decocker removed. During the war, a scheme arose in Radom’s factory, where workers were smuggling parts out, marked with a duplicate serial number, assembling guns and shipping them to the Polish Home Army. This ended up badly for those involved, with the workers caught and hung and barrel production moving to Steyr for the rest of the war.

In the end, around 450,000 Radom pistols were made by both the Polish and the Nazis and now float across the gun markets. They’re accurate, reliable and very high quality including some of the other late-war made guns and serve as one of the more forgotten pistols of World War III


Eight Nights of Jewish Women in Comics #7: Miriam Katin

Miriam Katin was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1942– right in the middle of World War II. Her father was off fighting in the Hungarian Army when the Nazis invaded Budapest in 1944. Rather than allow themselves to be evicted from their home and be rounded up into a ghetto, Miriam’s mother bought new identities from the black market and disguised herself and her daughter as a village girl with an illegitimate child.

In We Are On Our Own, Katin shows her mother’s courage and fortitude as they trekked across the Hungarian and Polish countryside through her own two-year-old eyes. The stark contrast of her childhood innocence to what her mother did what to survive is heartbreaking and sometimes poignant. Before they fled their home, her mother burned anything that could betray their identities, including the family Bible– about which young Miriam exclaims, “You burned God!” Later on, she wonders why her mother always cries when a Nazi officer who discovered them and “visits” her regularly leaves, and reassures her that “he’ll be back soon.” Though they stay out of the camps, survive the war, and are reunited with her father (a stranger to her at the time), the experience still resonates with her over six decades later.

In Letting It Go, Katin, now an American citizen and resident of Brooklyn, contends with her adult son’s intention to move permanently to Berlin. She struggles with whether to help him get EU citizenship with her Hungarian nativity. When she and her husband go over to visit, she approaches even the memorials to Holocaust victims and Jewish museums with skepticism. It is not until she returns home and tells her son that, for the memoir, she plans to exaggerate an event where her husband lost his wedding ring at a security checkpoint (it was in his pocket the whole time) to evoke the confiscation of millions of Jewish rings during the Holocaust, her son scolds her for holding on to her prejudices based on history despite present experiences to the contrary. When she returns to Berlin another time for an exhibit of her work, she learns that the Germans have a word for the process she has shown herself going through: vergangenheitsbewältigung, which means “coming to terms with the past”.

Both books are done in a loose style with soft pencils, We Are On Our Own mostly in black and white and Letting It Go in vibrant colors. In addition, We Are On Our Own uses traditional panel delineations, which contribute to an oppressive, suffocating atmosphere, while the ‘panels’ of Letting It Go are free and unbound. While Katin’s honesty about her mother’s tribulations during the war could be seen purely as the laying out of uncomfortable truths for posterity to learn from, her frankness and sense of humor about herself as an old woman is funny and refreshing, underlining the reality of both works.

Unlike the combatants on the Eastern Front, armored trains saw minimal usage with the Western Allies. Perhaps the most notable use by the British were the 13 trains which patrolled the British coast as part of the defense scheme against the German invasion that never came. Many of them, including the example here, were armed by Free Polish Forces.

(Imperial War Museum)