On 1 September 1939 Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany. Two weeks later the Soviet Union attacked Poland from the east. The two belligerents partitioned Poland between them.
Tadeusz Bor-Komorowski was a Colonel in the Polish Army. He and the men of his unit tried to escape to Hungary. Attacks from German armed forces caused them to scatter. Bor-Komorowski and a companion reached Cracow. They found refuge in a hotel for the night. The next day Bor-Komorowski saw:
...the swastika flying from the Wawel, for centuries the residence of Polish kings. The walls of the houses were covered with German notices and orders...[saying] "strictly forbidden" and ..."penalty of death"... (p.15)
The Germans were in control of Cracow.
A Polish government-in-exile was formed in France under the leadership of General Sikorski. The Polish Armed Forces were also re-established in France. Colonel Bor-Komorowski was determined to escape to France to continue the fight. He was however persuaded to remain in Cracow and lead an underground resistance to the Germans.
The movement became known as the Union of Armed Warfare - later the Home Army. Members had to take an oath which had been sent by the Polish government in France.
Before God the Almighty, before the Holy Virgin Mary, Queen of the Crown of Poland, I put my hand on this Holy Cross, the symbol of martyrdom and salvation, and I swear that I will defend the honour of Poland with all my might, that I will fight with arms in hand to liberate her from slavery, notwithstanding the sacrifice of my own life, that I will be absolutely obedient to my superiors, that I will keep the secret whatever the cost may be. (pp. 28-29)
The resistance communicated with the Polish government in France by courier. One of the first couriers was Jan Karski - code name Witold. He left Cracow for Paris but fell into the hands of the Gestapo.
...news arrived that Jan Karski had been arrested...If he gave way under examination, the consequences might well be catastrophic. He knew far too many names and people. (p. 43)
Karski was tortured by the Gestapo but the underground was able to affect Jan Karski's escape from a prison hospital before the Gestapo could get any information from him.
Attack on Russia
In the summer of 1940 France fell to the Germans. The Polish government and armed forces fled to Great Britain. New courier routes now had to be established to Britain.
The Polish resistance reported to London that they believed that Hitler intended to attack Russia on 15 April 1941. However, since the autumn of 1940 Greece had been fighting heroically against a number of Italian divisions. Hitler changed his plans and decided to subjugate Greece, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria first. Germany was victorious but the attack on Russia was delayed for two months.
I feel not the slightest doubt that the resistance of these two small countries, Greece and Yugoslavia, contributed in a decisive manner to the salvation of the Russian capital and so perhaps of Russia herself. (p. 63)
On 22 June 1941 Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union.
In July 1941 Bor-Komorowski left Cracow for Warsaw to take up the position of Deputy Commander of the Home Army. The underground had almost 100,000 soldiers, was organised into platoons and was intended to emerge only at the time of a general uprising.
The Home Army's main activity at this time was diversion and sabotage. They also took part in psychological warfare. A group, mainly boy scouts, code name Wawer, specialised in this.
Wawer specialised in inscriptions on walls. A monogram like an anchor formed by the letters p and w made the initials of Polska Walczaca (Fighting Poland)...The symbol appeared everywhere. It was a point of honour with the Boy Scouts that the sign be chalked up under the very noses of the Germans. (p. 84)
The "Black Week"
Two terrible blows.
(1) On 30 June 1943 the Gestapo captured General Rowecki - code name Grot - commander of the Home Army. At 10am sixty Gestapo cars arrived on Spiska Street in Warsaw. They surrounded the houses and within an hour had arrested Grot.
Knowing Grot, I was quite certain that the most excruciating torture would not succeed in breaking him. In his possession were secrets on which depended our own fate and the very existence of our whole organisation. I was convinced that he would carry these secrets to his grave, and I was right. (p. 141)
(2) Three days after the arrest of Grot General Sikorski was killed when his aircraft crashed at Gibraltar.
The Germans announced it triumphantly through loud-speakers posted at various points in the city. The population was in despair. Crowds gathered around the loud-speakers weeping. (p. 142)
Poland had lost two outstanding leaders.
In July 1943 Bor-Komorowski replaced Rowecki as Commander of the Home Army.
At 5pm on 1 August 1944 the Polish Home Army in Warsaw attacked the Germans. The Warsaw Uprising had begun. Soldiers of the Home Army put on white and red armbands. A Polish Army was visible again on Polish soil.
At 8pm a soldier informed Bor-Komorowski that Polish flags were flying over Warsaw.
From the tower of the highest building in Warsaw, the sixteen-story Prudential Building...flew a large flag...After five years, the Polish colours were once more floating defiantly over the city. (p. 221)
The Home Army quickly captured:
The Old Town
The fight for German Police HQ was fierce. The battle took place in the neighbouring Church of the Holy Cross.
Inside this house of prayer a fierce struggle raged in which both sides fired and threw grenades at 10 yards range. The heart of Frederick Chopin, walled up in one of the pillars, was witness of the battle...the Germans set fire to the church. Roof and towers were burned through, but the heart of Chopin was untouched. (p. 278)
On 19 August the Germans began their concentrated attack on the Old Town. The district was about a half-mile square. It contained 5,000 Home Army soldiers and about 200,000 civilians.
...shells of heavy siege artillery, The old buildings collapsed like houses of cards, burying those who had sought shelter in their cellars. They soon became the communal graves of thousands of people who were buried alive. (p. 286)
At the beginning of September the remaining Home Army soldiers evacuated the Old Town by travelling through the underground sewers to the City Centre.
At 8pm on 2 October 1944 the Home Army surrendered to the Germans. The fighting had lasted 63 days. Warsaw lay in ruins. The march out of the city by the Poles was arranged for 9.45am on 5 October. The soldiers carried their weapons. They had already surrendered their ammunition.
Bor-Komorowski was taken by the Germans to a train which headed west. He was kept captive in a prison camp in Germany. After transfers to various camps Bor-Komorowski was released into the custody of the Swiss on 4 May 1945. He lived in exile in Great Britain until his death in 1966.
To the memory of the Home Army who gave their lives for the liberty of Poland.
The Secret Army
Author - Tadeusz Bor-Komorowski
ISBN - 0-89839-082-6
Publisher - Published by Battery Press, USA, in 1984. First published in 1950. Republished by Frontline Books in 2010 (ISBN 1848325959).
Book Availability - Amazon (UK) - Amazon (US) - BookFinder
This page was added on 31 October 2011.