When at last the war you’re in becomes too much to take and you’d rather be right than alive, comes the uprising. All of us have been occupied by forces that are hostile to what we believe in. Or maybe to situations that are untenable. Be it a relationship, a job, a place… we all know what it feels like to be trapped in a hell of sorts. But the real hell of watching your city and people see what is wrought by an enemy among you and then understanding that the world will stand by and let it happen… what else can you do but rise up and fight to the death, even when death is certain as a result.
After the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, only 1,000 people inhabited the city that once held 1.3 million. Rubble and ruin prevailed. After a horrible war that included the decimation of millions of Jews, millions of Poles also perished. It’s easy to think of the World War II theatre in Europe as the battle between two forces — the Allies and the Axis. But visiting the Warsaw Uprising museum reminds you that it’s not that simple. While the rest of Europe sorted its rubble and made plans to rebuild, Poland became entwined with Soviet Russia. The war that ended for most in the mid-1940s, effectively ended for Poland in 1989 with the success of the long-fought Solidarity movement. And ever since, Poland has been on the upswing.
Imagine if the uprising had succeeded. What would Poles have done with those 50 years? What would their world be like today? I think about this in relation to my current city, Detroit, where the last 40 years have witnessed a slow (and sometimes rapid) descent into ruin. Sometime in the mid-2000s, however, there was an uprising of belief that Detroit can come back. It’s our motto at any rate, that the city will rise from the ashes. So many interesting and positive developments are happening here. But like those in Warsaw whose parents and grandparents remember the days when hope was less a thing with feathers than a dream, any progress feels fragile and precious. May we remember what brought us here.