The closer one looks at the history of the Warsaw Uprising, the more one realizes that the overwhelming majority of people involved can’t be unambiguously classified as either saintly heroes or monstrous villains. Again and again, we find stories of seemingly decent people doing horrible things, of bad people doing great things, and of ordinary people trying to do the right thing only to see their plans backfire catastrophically. The uprising itself is misunderstood when we try to turn it into a symbol for some greater cause, whether this is done to glorify or criticize the revolt. To understand the events of 1944 we need to focus on the complexity and nuance of every individual’s story, and avoid the over-generalizations and moralizing that squeeze the confusion and chaos of wartime into a straight-forward tale of collective heroism or collective martyrdom.
Brian Porter-Szűcs is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of History at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, where he has taught since 1994. He is the author of Poland and the Modern World: Beyond Martyrdom (Wiley Blackwell, 2014), Faith and Fatherland: Catholicism, Modernity, and Poland (Oxford University Press, 2010), and When Nationalism Began to Hate: Imagining Modern Politics in 19th Century Poland (Oxford University Press, 2000). Porter-Szucs blogs sporadically about Polish affairs at http://porterszucs.pl.