August 31, 2012


Poland is the only country in the world which celebrates its independence with two national holidays. On November 11th, which commemorates the return of Polish sovereignty and independence in 1918, after 123 years of partition by Russia, Prussia and Austria. And on August 31st to commemorate the Gdansk Agreement of 1980, a ground-breaking milestone between the Polish people and the Communist dictatorship. The accord represented a formal recognition by the Communist government of the trade union Solidarity, and of its list of demands. It opened the way for the introduction of sweeping democratic reforms, beginning with the the freedom to organize trade unions unfettered by Communist control, and the right to strike.

This list, written on two wooden boards, were displayed at the Gdansk shipyards: Its demands were as follows:

Poland Solidarity 21 Demands Solidarnosc_Lech Wales
1. Acceptance of free trade unions independent of the Communist Party and of enterprises, in accordance with convention No. 87 of the International Labor Organization concerning the right to form free trade unions.
2. A guarantee of the right to strike and of the security of strikers.
3. Compliance with the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech, the press and publication, including freedom for independent publishers, and the availability of the mass media to representatives of all faiths.
4. A return of former rights to: 1) People dismissed from work after the 1970 and 1976 strikes. 2) Students expelled because of their views. The release of all political prisoners, among them Edward Zadrozynski, Jan Kozlowski, and Marek Kozlowski. A halt in repression of the individual because of personal conviction.
5. Availability to the mass media of information about the formation of the Inter-factory Strike Committee and publication of its demands.
6. Bringing the country out of its crisis situation by the following means: a) making public complete information about the social-economic situation. b) enabling all social classes to take part in discussion of the reform programme.
7. Compensation of all workers taking part in the strike for the period of the strike.
8. An increase in the pay of each worker by 2,000 złoty a month.
9. Guaranteed automatic increases in pay on the basis of increases in prices and the decline in real income.

Lech Walesa speaking before crowds - Solidarnosc 198010. A full supply of food products for the domestic market, with exports limited to surpluses.
11. The abolition of ‘commercial’ prices and of other sales for hard currency in special shops.
12. The selection of management personnel on the basis of qualifications, not party membership. Privileges of the secret police, regular police and party apparatus to be eliminated.
13. The introduction of food coupons for meat and meat products.
14. Reduction in the age for retirement for women to 50 and for men to 55.
15. Conformity of old-age pensions and annuities with what has actually been paid in.
16. Improvements in the working conditions of the health service.
17. Assurances of a reasonable number of places in day-care centers and kindergartens for the children of working mothers.
18. Paid maternity leave for three years.
19. A decrease in the waiting period for apartments.
20. An increase in the commuter’s allowance to 100 złoty.
21. A day of rest on Saturday. Workers in the brigade system or round-the-clock jobs are to be compensated for the loss of free Saturdays with increased leave or other paid time off.

Lech Walesa giving victory sign - Solidarnosc 1980

Lech Walesa, an electrician by trade, rose up against the Soviet monolith, and in 1970 instigated a series of illegal strikes at the Gdansk shipyards, protesting the governments increase of food prices. The strikes resulted in the deaths of 30 protestors. Walesa was fired from his job at the shipyard, was under constant surveillance by the secret police, and arrested numerous times. On August 14, 1980, after a decade of struggle, Walesa organized another strike against government hike of food prices. and became the chairman of the National Coordinating Committee, a legally recognized entity of the Solidarnosc Trade Union.

Time Magazine Cover Lech Walesa Solidarnosc SolidarityHowever by December 13, 1981, the momentum had drastically shifted when General Jaruzelski declared martial law, and had Walesa and many other Solidarity members arrested and imprisoned for almost a year. In October 1982, Solidarity was outlawed by the Communist government, amid a hurl of international condemnation. A year later Walesa returned to work at the Gdansk Shipyard, and it was at this time that he learned that he was to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Though he wished to accept the prize he was unwilling to leave Poland and risk the chance of not being able to return. Instead, his wife Danuta accepted the prize in his absence.

Despite government sanctions against Solidarity, Walesa continued his activism unabated, publishing his weekly underground newspaper, Tygodnik Mazowsze, and organizing work-stoppage strikes at the shipyards. In 1986 the government declared amnesty for the Solidarity activists.  Soon after Walesa co-founded the Provisional Council of NSZZ Solidarity, and a year later led the Provisional Executive Committee of the Solidarity Trade Union. By mid 1988, he began organizing more work-stoppage strikes at the Gdańsk Shipyard.

After months of strikes and deliberations the Communist leadership finally agreed to meet for round-table discussions with Solidarnosc, which convened from February to April 1989. During these meetings, Walesa travelled extensively throughout Poland giving speeches and garnering public support. By the conclusion of the conference, the Communists finally conceded and signed an agreement to re-instate Solidarnosc and permit the organization of "semi-free" elections to the Sejm ( Polish Parliament.) At that time only members of the Communist party could hold 65% of the seats in the Sejm.

In June 1989, the Solidarity Citizens Committee (that had been established only six months earlier) won parliamentary elections in a landslide taking all seats in the Sejm, and all seats, except one in the new Senate. Walesa ran for the office of the President and on December 9, 1990 won his bid, becoming the first democratically elected President in Poland. using the slogan " I don't want to, but I've got no choice" (Nie chcem, ale muszem.) President Walesa was instrumental in the negotiating numerous changes for Poland, foremost the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Polish soil, and a substantial reduction of Poland's foreign debt.

Solidarnosc Logo Solidarity Solidarnosc was a Revolution long in the making and had a monumental impact. They garnered over 10 million members in Poland, constituting a fourth of Poland's population. Walesa's courageous struggle won him international attention, and instigated similar movements in other satellite states of the Eastern Bloc, that would challenge and topple Communist control, like dominoes.

Solidarnosc was the instrument which fought for Poland's freedom. But the instigator, the spiritual spark, was delivered by a son of Poland, Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II. His visit to Poland in 1979 instilled new found hope among the Polish people that liberation was within reach. He energized, nay, electrified a nation to ready themselves for change, by using subtle words of goodness. Be Not Afraid.

Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa_Solidarnosc-Solidarity Union

August 29, 2012



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These urgent pleas were broadcast on Radio Blyskawica during the maelstrom of the Warsaw Uprising. For sixty three days from August 1 to October 6, 1944, the Polish people valiantly fought against the Nazi Dragon in a desperate attempt to free their homeland - forgotten and abandoned by Britain and the United States.

The English voice of these broadcasts was that of John Ward, a British citizen who originated from Birmingham, a suburb of Ward End. He was only eighteen years of age when he enlisted in the RAF in 1937, and started as a wireless operator, rising the ranks to Flight Lieutenant. He survived after his plane was shot down by enemy fire in 1940, was captured and spent the better part of a year in a POW camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. In April 1941 he managed a daring escape and through the help of a Polish priest was put in touch with the Armia Krajowa.

From 1941 to 1945 John Ward was the communications liaison between the British government and the Armia Krajowa (Polish Home Army) and became war correspondent for the London Times. He joined the Polish Resistance just days after the Uprising broke out and was recruited by Stefan and Zofia Korbonski to prepare English dispatches that were transmitted to London via Morse Code.

Warsaw Uprising Armia Krajowa Armband 1944

John Ward was involved in clandestine operations - transmitting English-language broadcasts from Radio Blyskawica (Radio Lightning). (For facts about the radio station, please see end of blog post.) According to Jan Nowak, Lieutenant Ward spoke Polish fluently, albeit with a thick accent. Nowak was quite impressed that Ward elected to wear the red and white armband of the Armia Krajowa, and a cap emblazoned with the Polish eagle. Ward proved himself to be as much a loyal Polish patriot as he was a British subject. He had great admiration and respect for the Polish people and was fiercely committed to his mission in helping the Polish Underground, making urgent appeals to Sir Archibald Sinclair and Colonel Perkins. John Ward was wounded in the leg during the Uprising, but within two days was already working back at his post.

Despite John Ward's persistence, London authorities remained aloof as ever. Nevertheless he reported continuously on the daily events, submitting a total of sixty four reports providing descriptions of the Nazi siege on Warsaw, and the terrible toll upon the lives of Polish insurgents and civilians. According to Zofia Korbanska, there was a pervasive fear that messages from the Polish Underground were being dispatched "in vain" since British authorities were quite skeptical about the reliability of reports from Polish sources. But even John Wards' reports failed to make significant headway and were given the official brushoff. (Editors note:the so-called British skepticism had more to do with the exigencies of political pressures rather than outright disbelief in reports about the Warsaw Uprising. Tragically, Churchill and Roosevelts' loyalty was placed squarely with Moscow, and not with Warsaw.)

John Ward was an outspoken and fervent advocate on behalf of the Polish Resistance, and made constant demands for British military equipment, supplies, assistance and intervention. In a macabre chain of events, British and American help did finally come, but it was all too little and too late.

After 63 days of desperate battles, the Warsaw Uprising came to an end. On October 2, 1944, the Polish Home Army capitulated. John Ward received orders to return to England, but instead escaped Warsaw and made his way to the British embassy in Moscow, where he was subjected to a 12 hour interrogation by Soviet agents.

Polish losses were enormous. Casualties to Polish fighters were 10,000 KIA, about 6,000 MIA, 5,000 WIA, 15,000 POWs and over 200,000 Polish civilians had perished. The remaining civilian population of about 700,000 were rounded up and deported. Nazi bomb squads went to work razing Warsaw to the ground, building by building, block by block. By January 1945, when the Soviets army finally entered the city, Warsaw was nothing more than a spectre of itself - about 85% of the buildings were utterly destroyed.

In recognition of John Ward's heroism, the Polish government decorated him with the Polish Cross of Valour. He was one of a handful of British subjects who remained in Warsaw during the Uprising, but he was the only one known to have made such enormous efforts to help the cause for Polish freedom and liberty.

Polish Medal - Cross of Valour - a sample of various types awarded by Polish Government
Sample of type of Medal
Sadly, very little is known about John Ward. He was a very private man and not inclined to disclose anything about his personal experiences and thoughts.  Even Korbonska could only speculate.  She believed that his determination to help the Polish Resistance had as much to do with personal as well as political motives. During his stay in Warsaw, John Ward was residing with a Polish family. a widow and her daughter, and two dogs which he absolutely adored.  The daughter was in love with him, and according to hearsay, they were to be married.

John Ward passed away on August 29, 1995.  After the war he never spoke about his experiences but his legacy will live on in hearts and minds of freedom-loving nations for all time.

Lieutenant John Ward (1922-1995)

RAF Lieutenant John Ward


Blyskawica ("Lightning") was only one of a few Polish Underground radio stations operating during the Warsaw Uprising. (The other was named Burza "Storm".) The "Lightning"transmitter was built by Antoni Zebik (Biegly) and played its signal melody of the Warszawianka (The Song of Warsaw or Varsovienne) It was a revolutionary hymn originally composed in 1831 to support and encourage the Polish patriots during the November Uprising (1830-31). The lyrics (see end of blog) were written by Casimir Francois Delavigne and music by Karol Kurpinski.

The Blyskawica team was headed by Stanislaw Zadrozny (code named "Pawlicz")who also managed propaganda; Zofia Rutkowska (code-named "Ewa") who was in charge of programming; and Jacek Wolowski, in charge of news and reportages. Polish language broadcasts were conducted by Zbigniew Swietochowski (code-named "Krzysztof", Stefan Sojecki, Zbigniew Jasinksi, Mieczyslaw Ubysz, and Jeremi Przybora (a popular Polish poet, actor and singer).The English-language broadcasts were conducted by Jan Nowak-Jezioranski and the Times of London war correspondent, RAF Lieutenant John Ward.

Postal Savings Bank 9 Jasna Street Warsaw-site of Blyskawica Radio in 1944
PKO (domed building)
Blyskawica was originally located in the PKO building - Pocztowa Kasa Oszczędności (Postal Savings Bank) on 9 Jasna Street, Warsaw. However as the Uprising continued, they had to move location several times in order to evade detection by Nazi reconnaissance planes. On August 25th, 1944 they moved the station to the "Adria" cafe on 10 Moniuszki Street. Then on September 4 relocated again to the former Soviet Embassy on 15 Poznanska Street, then to the Public Library on 26 Koszykowa Street. Blyskawica transmitted three or four times a day, and among its program included reports on the uprising, official notices of the AK, patriotic poems, and music. It broadcast messages in Polish, English, German, and French. They even sent an enthusiastic congratulatory message to the French Resistance on the event of their Liberation. Blyskawica was the only radio station of its kind in all of Nazi-occupied Europe!

During the Uprising Blyskawica Radio transmitted on the shortwave frequency of 32.8 and 52.1 meters and medium-wavelength of 224 or 251 meters. A replica of the transmitter was built after the war in minute detail even to the use of original dials. However by necessity it was adjusted to operate on a different waveband at 7.043 MHz. The reason was that the original meter bands used by the Armia Krajowa during the Uprising became the official waveband of NATO.

Replica of Blyskawica Radio Transmitter - Warsaw Uprising Museum

Replica of Microphone of Blyskawica Radio

Radiostacja "Błyskawica" - radio transmission

 Video duration: (00:02:31m) 

Recommended Books (in English)

Nowak, Jan "I, Jan Nowak, Courier from Warsaw"
Wayne State University Press, Detroit Michigan, 1982

Korbonski, Stefan and Zofia; Czarnomski, F.B.
"Fighting Warsaw: The Story of the Polish Underground State 1939-1945"
Columbia University Press, 1983

Recommended On-line Resources:

John Ward - Dispatches in August 1944
John Ward - Dispatches in September 1944

Stefan Korbonski Website 
Warsaw Uprising Museum - Radio Blyskawica 
Witness Jan Nowak Remembers
The Warsaw Uprising
Books, Videos, Documents, Photos and more
The Uprising's phonic radio stations and technical resources 
Article: "Post Office Savings Bank Building" (in Polish) 

N.B. Click on this link "Warsaw Uprising 1944: Complete Index of Blog Posts August 1 to October 6, 2011" for a Special series on the Warsaw Uprising, day by day. Includes informative daily "news reports" on important events of the Uprising, including fascinating facts, archival photographs and videos.   Please note that each of Lieutenant John Wards dispatches have been integrated into this Special series and presents his eye-witness accounts of one of the greatest urban battles of modern warfare.

Thank you for visiting Polish Greatness (Blog).

August 15, 2012


Polish Armed Forces Day is celebrated on August 15th in tribute to all Polish armed forces, of land, sea and air, and the Polish men and women who have made great contributions and sacrifices in the service of Poland, and the world.

Jozef Pilsudski - Polish Russian War - Miracle on the Vistula
Jozef Pilsudski
It also commemorates the Polish victory during the Battle of Warsaw, or what is has often been referred to as the "Miracle on the Vistula".   That few westerners even know about this Battle is rather disturbing since it marked a crucial point in world history.  It was more than a Polish victory in defense of her national sovereignty.  Poland was the bulwark standing between the Soviet Union and the spread of global communism. 

Poland's thousand-year history has been a long and bloody saga of countless invasions by neighbouring enemy states who sought to destroy the very existence of the Polish nation, its culture, and its people.  From 1795 to 1918, Poland was partitioned for the third time in its history, by Russia, Prussia and Austria.  It had virtually ceased to exist as a nation and was virtually obliterated from the map.  After 123 years of oblivion the Polish state came into existence once again, the result of terms set out in the Versailles Treaty.

But no sooner had World War One ended that the Polish-Soviet war had commenced. While Poland was struggling to solidify its new-found sovereignty and re-establish its borders, the Russian Civil War was in full swing. Bolshevik propaganda boasted that Warsaw would quickly fall, and thus signal the beginning of communist revolutions that would sweep throughout Poland, Germany and other western European nations.

The Russian commander Mikhail Tukhachevsky planned to cross the Vistula River and surround Warsaw to the north and south, thereby cutting of Polish access to the port of Gdansk, and its vital supplies of materiel.  The Russians expected the maneuver to result in a swift and massive victory, much like that of 1831 during the November Uprising.  What transpired shocked and humiliated the Russians.

The Battle of Warsaw began on August 12th, 1920 and in two days the Red Army conquered the city of Radzymin.  Sikorski's 5th Army courageously fought against three Russian armies, the 3rd, 4th and 15th Soviet armies simultaneously.  They were able to hold out until dawn until the Polish 18th Infantry Division was dispatched to relieve them.  By midnight the 203rd Polish Uhlan Regiment broke through Russian lines and successfully attacked the enemy command post, destroying its radio station.  

The battle ensued until, on August 15, the town of Nasielsk was almost completely destroyed. Polish troops then recaptured Radzymin which was a military and a moral victory.  The Soviet advance towards Warsaw had all come to standstill.

Sikorski's 5th army, in liaison with a few, but no less potent, number of mechanized units of tanks and armoured cars, launched what can only be described as a "blitzkrieg-type" of maneuver, which successfully scattered Russian troops away from Warsaw environs. In addition, Polish troops had the support of two armoured trains which were used to disrupt Soviet maneuvers.

Despite these Polish victories, the Russian commander was convinced that everything was going according to his plan.  He knew that there were just a few Polish troops in their path and that the south of Warsaw would be vulnerable to attack.   However, the commander of the 1st Cavalry Army, Semyon Budyonny, disobeyed orders to march on Warsaw, and instead marched on the city of Lwow.

On August 16 the Polish Reserve Army, under the command of Marshal Jozef Pilsudski, marched north from the Wieprz River and coming face to face with the Mazyr Group, quickly retreated. But - as the Soviets pursued them, they lost many of their own troops, and were left with only one or active divisions.  Polish divisions launched a fierce counter-offensive and succeeded in pushing north 45 kilometers without any opposition. By evening the Poles liberated the town of Wladawa, and succeeded in cutting communication and supply routes of the Soviet 16th army.  They successfully outmaneuvered the Soviet troops, leaving them surprised and confused in their wake.  It was a stunning Polish victory!

At the end of the war, Red Army casualties were about 15,000 KIA, 500 MIA, 10,000 WIA, and 65,000 captured.  Conversely, Polish losses were about 4,500 KIA, 22,000 WIA, and 10,000 missing.  Polish troops captured about 231 pieces of Soviet artillery and 1,023 machine guns.


August 1, 2012


On August 1st 1944 the Polish Underground launched an Uprising in a desperate attempt to liberate Warsaw, and Poland from the Nazi occupiers.  For 63 days the Polish Home Army and Polish civilians fought against overwhelming odds, outnumbered and outgunned by the German wehrmacht.  Despite continuous promises of allied support, Britain and the US left the Poles to fight alone, abandoned and subsequently betrayed.

The Warsaw Uprising was a tragedy of epic proportions: 10,000 Polish insurgents were killed in action;  6,000 missing in action;  5,000 wounded in action;  200,000 Polish civilians killed;  700,000 Polish people were expelled from Warsaw and about 85% of the city was razed to the ground.    It was followed by yet another no less catastrophic event - the brutal occupation of Polish territory and suppression of its sovereignty and independence by the Soviet regime.  Former members of the Polish Home Army were arrested and subjected to mock trials, convicted and imprisoned. Many of them died under so-called "mysterious circumstances."  

For over forty years the history of the Warsaw Uprising was heavily censored and maligned by the Soviet regime, and ignored by the West.  Only with the end of the Cold War has Poland been able to speak openly about the realities of the Warsaw Uprising.  

Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, a research professor of history at the Institute of World Politics, wrote in May 2004, an article entitled, The Warsaw Uprising 1944: Perceptions and Reality "..finally, we are at last free to study the tragedy and triumph of Warsaw in all its complexity.  Let us not be crippled by any censorship.  All is fair game. May perceptions be replaced with reality."  

The disturbing reality is that Western perceptions of the Uprising are still tainted by anti-Polish propaganda and revisionism, which is aided and abetted by the media around the world.  With few exceptions, newspapers persistently print inaccurate articles that verge on libelous comments about Polish history of WW2.  Apparently few journalists today are concerned with investigative reporting, and prefer to take the easy route by relying on hearsay.  Truth continues to be a casualty.

There is a chasm between Western and Eastern perspectives: the West has already relegated WW2 to that of ancient history, dismissing it as irrelevant.  But the past is still very much alive in the hearts and minds of Eastern Europeans, particularly the Poles.  According to Piotr Wrobel, author of the book, "The Devil's Playground: Poland in World War II",  "the war is a vivid memory, the emotional wounds are still fresh".  Unlike many other European nations, Poland has been suffered from centuries of invasion, brutal occupation and repression, and the danger of annihilation at the hands of the German and the Soviet invaders.

One cannot discuss World War II without mentioning Poland, however there are countless number of Western publications that have virtually eliminated any reference to Poland.  Churchill set this precedent at the end of WW2.  He stated that "history will be kind to me for I intend to write it."  Indeed.  He published a ten-volume treatise about World War II history, in which hardly any mention was made about Poland.  It was only a matter of time before the truth would come out. But public reaction was not quite as expected.

Andrzej Wajda  director of Kanal _ Warsaw Uprising
Andrzej Wajda
In 1957, the Polish film "Kanal" directed by Andrzej Wajda was the recipient of the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.  The screenwriter of the film, Jerzy Stefan Stawinski was showered with praise for having come up with such a "magnificent story"!  Apparently, the press thought this was a fictional story.  Upon hearing about this, Wajda told him, "Listen,  tell these gentlemen that you didn't make this up, you lived through it."

Jerzy Stefan Stawinski screenwriter of Kanal _ Warsaw Uprising
Jerzy Stefan Stawinski

A Polish public opinion research center CBOS (Centrum Badania Opinii Spolecznej) conducted a poll in July 2009, marking the 65th Anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. They asked Polish citizens, "Do you consider the Warsaw Uprising important to you personally?"   The answer was a resounding yes.  Forty-one percent said that it was "Very Important", followed closely by 46% which said it was "Rather Important".  Only 8% claimed that it was "not very important", while 3% reported that it was "not at all important".  There does not seem to be an equivalent poll from Western sources, but it is safe to say that the Western mentality continues to be mired in apathy.

There are many lessons to be learned by studying the history of the Warsaw Uprising. It is surprising that even among people who are very intelligent and well educated, there is a lack of sufficient understanding and knowledge.  This refusal to face the past seems almost tantamount to self-censorship.  What would our forefathers say?

August 1, 1944 to October 6, 1944