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THE RISING

The grainy black and white film runs incessantly like a recurring nightmare: there are half-starving Varsovians fighting with all means at their disposal, children running the gauntlet to supply the soldiers, women frenetically tending to the wounded and the dying. The faces look gaunt yet determined, hunger has not quelled the human spirit's thirst for freedom; fathers fight for their sons, mothers for their daughters. They know that their own life has come to naught, trampled under the jackboots of Nazi Germany, ripped asunder by fire bombs raining down from the skies; their homes and neighbourhoods are a heap of ruins. But they need to fight one last time before they die, before the Red Army parked across the Vistula River to the east cross over to liberate them from the Nazis only to tie them up in the bondage of Soviet Communism.

The Museum dedicated to the Warsaw Uprising is a poignant reminder of human cruelty; the various -isms that have brought such devastation to the "civilized" world of the 20th Century. It is also a monument to the irrepressible human spirit that rises from hopelessness to hope, from fear to courage and from bondage to liberation! The museum tells the story of the Warsaw Uprising that started on 1st August 1944 in sights and sounds that thunderstruck me. Amidst the screeching fury of Stukas dive bombing on their targets, there is the martial music of the Third Reich drowning out the cries of anguish and the incessant, almost hypnotic, synchronized thuds of the Wehrmacht jackboots on Warsaw's cobbled streets. There are pictures of the dead and dying, makeshift anonymous graves, firing squads firing without respite.

I peek and crawl into a manhole the insurgents were using as the mode of transport and communication albeit without the darkness, the stink and the grime floating. I view the city skyline from the roof of the museum to find a few war time buildings standing here and there to remind and to warn future generations. Earlier I have seen a 3D documentary of the devastated Warsaw shot from a low flying aircraft immediately after the war. I can see one church spire standing tall like a beacon of hope amongst the debris. This was the Warsaw Ghetto area where we live today, I am told.

I see a kaleidoscope of personalities, heroes and villains. The Hall of Infamy showcases Hans Frank the Nazi Governor General of Poland posing with his happy family. There is Eichmann here and Himmler there. There is Hitler taking the first salute from his conquering troops in Warsaw. Names and faces etched in my mind from reading countless books on the subject, watching countless movies too. My first introduction to the Uprising and the Warsaw Ghetto was the book Mila 18 by Leon Uris I read at school. Then there are the Allies - Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt - sealing the fate of the erstwhile independent Poland at Yalta. The West had enough of fighting to fight Stalin. It would take a Polish Pope, Solidarity and Gorbachev to undo this terrible injustice nearly 50 years later.

The Uprising ends in capitulation two devastating months later. General Bor, the Commander of the Home Army signs the treaty suspending warfare in Warsaw. Under its terms both the insurgents and the civilian population is mandated to leave the city. More than 18 thousand insurgents and 180 thousand civilians die. Only 64 out of 987 historical buildings remain standing. Just a handful of Poles and Jews remain when the Red Army enters the city on January 17, 1945. These are the so-called "Robinsons".

Monument to Warsaw Uprising in Warsaw
I mentally note that just like rebuilt Warsaw's skyline reaching for the skies, the hopes and aspirations of a nation is soaring high too. The museum reminds Poles how easy it is to lose one's nationhood lest the new generation forgets. Somewhere there is a lesson for an -ism afflicted Nepal. Will there be a rising there too?

Comments

  1. I consider this your "magnus opus", rather than the one you had mentioned earlier. Stirring stuff indeed! Also learnt a new word - varsovians.

    This piece drips with lessons for Nepal. It needs a rising direly and not of the maoist variety. Poland and Nepal became democratic around the same time, circa 1990. Look where Poland is today and where Nepal is stuck. Lots and lots of lessons!

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  2. I remember reading the book Poland by James Michner some years back.History has given the country and its people a rough deal.Being close geographically to the Russians and the Germans meant they bore the worst atrocities of the Nazis and the Russian communists-too many and too painful to recall here. Yet their resilience and courage saw them through and are now one of the most progressive and advanced East European country.

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  3. Interesting, but what lesson for Nepal- to go for sure disaster? This Nepal doesn't have to learn. BTW, Poles are known for their love to celebrate their defeats and lack of appreciation for those who rather than fighting with arms wanted people to be educated and self-sufficient (from 18th century onwards).
    Dear Horatio, FYI, the first election of the head of state by the parliment took place in Poland in 1386. In 1573 the first free election took place and each nobleman (not only members of parliment) had one eqal vote. The elected head of the state was called 'king' till the end of the institution in 1795. Drawing any analogy between history of Poland and Nepal (also modern history) is out of question.

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  4. Dear Anamika, Thank you for your lesson on 14th to 18th century Poland. I was merely referring to the end of communism in Poland, in 1990, which coincided with the end of the one-party Panchayat system in Nepal. So drawing an analogy, post-1990, is very much not out of the question.

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  5. I think the real lesson for Nepal and our politicos is not to be too devisive or else we stand to lose our sovereignty like Poland did and how hard it was for Poland to regain it in 1918. Just before the end of World War II Polish nationalists fought the Nazis to the last so that they would not be "liberated" by Soviet forces. They lost and again it took another 45 years to get back their independence.

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