It happened today - August 1, 2015

Resistance fighter armed with flamethrowerOn August 1 of 1944 one of history’s most heartbreaking battles and revolting crimes began: The Warsaw Uprising was launched, and Stalin deliberately let Hitler crush it.

Poor brave Poland had been cleaved in twain by Hitler and Stalin to kick off World War II. The Poles had fought valiantly but against impossible odds and, in defeat, managed to smuggle out an Enigma machine. Polish flyers took part in the Battle of Britain. There was a Polish division fighting in Normandy in 1944. And then, as Stalin’s tanks closed in on Warsaw, its inhabitants rose up to throw off Nazi tyranny and defy the Bolshevik version, liberating themselves to help give their nation a place in the post-war settlement.

It didn’t work. With cold brutality chilling even in the murderer of tens of millions of his own people, Stalin halted the Red Army’s advance for 63 days while the Nazis overcame the largest resistance action anywhere in the entire Second World War. Not only did he deny the uprising air support, he did everything in his power short of opening fire on the RAF to prevent Churchill even from airlifting in supplies. And of course after the war Moscow subjected the Poles to Bolshevik tyranny instead of allowing them self-government.

I’ve always been puzzled by Poland’s history. Generally speaking it seems to me not to fit the political culture of Eastern Europe at all. It often feels as though it was somehow misplaced by fate between Germany and Russia on a flat plain instead of being located between, say, France and Spain, free to develop into a flourishing dynamic democracy. Be that as it may, in all the annals of its unfortunate history I think there is no episode quite as gruesome as this one.

For that reason, it strikes me as both weird and appalling that this action alone of Stalin’s did not turn Western opinion and Western leaders irrevocably against him. Churchill of course saw through Stalin early. But even if we pardon enormous naiveté among those who had already lived through the rise of Hitler, which is already hard, and ignorance or blindness to so much of the conspicuous evil of the Bolshevik regime, Stalin’s icy indifference to human suffering and the nauseating lies of his propaganda in this episode ought surely to have alerted everyone else to what they were dealing with in Moscow.

If it had, the hundreds of thousands dead, mostly civilians, would be too high a price to pay. I admire the Polish Home Army for undertaking this desperate venture, despite the horrendous odds that it would fail bloodily. But for Stalin to stand by and watch Hitler slaughter the inhabitants of Warsaw, and for Roosevelt and others to watch him and not learn, mocks their heroism and sacrifice.