Germans were surprised by the scale of Warsaw Rising: historian

The British historian Roger Moorhouse has stated that the German army was taken by surprise by the scale of the 1944 Warsaw Rising. According to him, the Nazi Germans wanted the Rising to be quelled as soon as possible, as they feared allied intervention.

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The British historian specialising in WWII was interviewed by the Polish Press Agency (PAP) in connection with the 77th anniversary of the outbreak of the largest urban revolt against Nazi Germany during the war.

Poles are preparing commemoration ceremonies across the country for the 77th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Rising. At 5 pm on Sunday, August 1, Warsaw will come to a standstill for a minute as sirens sound across the city to mark the anniversary of the start of the battle.

Speaking on the importance of the Rising, Roger Moorhouse stated that the German suspected that the Polish military underground would initiate some form of armed resistance as the Soviet Red Army neared the Polish capital, but that it completely underestimated the scale of resistance.

“The Germans were not completely surprised by the outbreak of the Warsaw Rising. They had been dealing with the military underground and the Home Army [AK] during the occupation and were well aware of the threat posed by the Polish resistance movement. But even if they were theoretically aware of this threat, what surprised them was the scale and ferocity of the Warsaw Rising”, Mr Moorhouse said.

He points out that Nazi German forces in Warsaw were significant at the outbreak of the fighting, but that they were preparing for a Soviet assault across the Vistula river, not for an insurrection in the heart of the city. Mr Moorhouse also points out that the Germans did not anticipate that the fighting would continue for more than two months.

“The reaction of the German occupiers was quick and brutal; they expected the Rising to be crushed within a few days, if only because quick suppression would reduce the chances of Soviet or Western troops intervening,” Mr Moorhouse explained.

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The British historian argues that there was a strong ideological component behind the German determination to punish the city and its inhabitants for their decision to take up arms.

“For the Nazi Germans, there was nothing worth saving in Polish or Soviet heritage and culture, both of which were considered fundamentally inferior because of their Slavic nature and the ‘polluting’ presence of large numbers of Jews. Kraków was preserved, primarily because the Nazi-German leadership saw the city as a model of German culture in the east, but Warsaw could not appeal to this and was simply redundant,” Mr Moorhouse says.

“Thus, when Warsaw rose against the Germans in 1944, the total destruction of the city was to be the Germans response,” he pointed out.

Roger Moorhouse has authored around a dozen books on WWII history. Many of the works deal with the war time realities in Poland, such as “The Devils’ Alliance: Hitler’s Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941 and Poland 1939: The Outbreak of World War II.”

In 2020, he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland for his contribution to disseminating knowledge about Polish history in the UK.