Warsaw is a warrior city. Life here constantly revolves around the idea of heroism and dying for freedom.
After poisoning myself (I suspect I had ice cubes made from tap water. If you stop in Poland, beware of the tap water.), I’ve decided to accompany my father and go to an air show in the Mazuria, approximately 5 hours away from Warsaw. Tough luck the car didn’t start up. Apparentaly, the alternator is broken, so we had to stay in the city.
Which, as it turned out, wasn’t no bad, since August 1st is W-day (with „W“ standing for Warsaw“, obviously). The whole city was on its feet, celebrating the 65th anniversary of the warsawian uprising („Powstanie Warszawskie“).
If you’re into history, you probably know that Warsaw was completely destroyed in WWII. Their so-called old town is about 50 years old, everything was rebuilt after the war. After being reduced to rubble, Warsaw was invaded by the Germans.
Now what you might not know (especially if you’re not from Poland or a neighbouring contry), Poland’s history isn’t continuos in that there were times during which there was no Poland at all. Austrians, Germans (Prussian), Russian and many more all had their part of Poland. The longest period of polish non-existance lasted for 120 years. During that time, the only thing left of Poland was the kingdom of Warsaw. During that time, the poles have developed alarmingly strong national and patriotic feelings. This can still clearly be felt today.
When the germans invaded Warsaw, the warsawians were robbed of their freedom and identity once more. In 1944, when the russians advanced towards Warsaw, the warsawians saw fit to take their fate into their own hands and rise up against the invaders, thus making it easier for the red army to actually liberate Warsaw. Mind you, there was no actual „army“ in Warsaw. The army – or what was left of it – was scattered around the country, fighting from the underground.
We’re talking about the year 1944 here, Poland was occupied at the very beginning of WWII, back in 1939.
Anyhow, just about all of the warsawian youth banded together to take back their city. They were joined by various army fractions hiding out in the warsaw area. Wounded soldiers and veterans made their way to the insurgents‘ ranks as well as little girls and boys serving as medics to the combatants.
However romantic this sounds (we’ve all seen Mel Gibson band together farmers and crush the British royal army in „the Patriot“), one has to remember that most of those guys had no military training whatsoever. They didn’t even have weapons to fight, so the plan was something like: „Go out on the street, fight. If you survive, take a weapon away from a german corpse and continue fighting“.
The warsawians actually fought like this for 63 days, fighting one of the largest armies of that time with stones and clubs, trying to capture weapons. They fought to the last drop of blood, holding their ground against the germans. All of this made sense to them, since the red army was just about to reach Warsaw. The uprising was never meant to actually liberate Warsaw, but to welcome the red army and make their job easier.
Only the red army didn’t come. They stopped at the other side of the Wisla, the river that goes through Warsaw, and watched as thousands of warsawians were slaughtered by the germans. They never had a chance on their own. Almost all the warsawian youth was wiped out on that day, while the russians observed from a save distance. Only after the uprising was knocked down and the rebels killed did the red army see fit to attack.
To this day, the whole city speaks of this event. As you can see on the pictures, the topic of „Powstanie Warszawskie“ (and its official logo, the letter „P“ , as in „Powstanie“, with the attached anchor) is omnipresent.
On a side note: going through the city, just in front of the „Palace of culture and science“, a huge complex demonstrating soviet power, there’s the statue of Janusz Korczak. Janusz Korczak was a jewish doctor who deliberately chose to go the the Auschwitz/Oswienczim concentration camp to take care of the children there. When the children were taken to the gas chamber, Korczak accompanied them to comfort them to the end, fully aware of the consequence, namely death.
Now what does this have to do with martial arts? In my opinion, everything. Those are the purest examples of the virtues as promoted by Bushido, Hwarangdo and other warrior philosophies. Compassion, loyalty, honor, bravery, … those are the traits of a true warrior. Since we – thank godness – live in different times than the warsawian insurgents or Janusz Korczak, we need to keep in mind those examples and try to live up to them in a way that todays society permits.
I once read a book – I believe it was „Samurai Spirit“ – whose author claimed that having a role model is a dangerous thing, since people tend to adopt a persons negative sides and not live up to their positive ones. Thus, since everyone is but human, we need to construct our own, imaginary role model by taking the positive sides and ignoring the negative ones. This idea makes sense to me, so I’ll add the warsawian insurgents‘ bravery and determination as well as Janusz Korczaks compassion to my personal, imaginatory role model.
Of course, having a role model is one thing, living up to it a completely other thing. But isn’t that what the martial arts are all about? Becoming a better person through hardship and confrontation?
Well, maybe some of you like the idea as much as I do, in any case you saw some pictures of Warsaw.