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Poles question Warsaw legend

The Warsaw uprising, popularized in the post-communist era, is again a subject of controversy.

Souvenir stands sell plastic German helmets for children adorned with red-and-white bands, similar to the captured helmets worn by the partisans. Despite protests from the director of the museum, Jan Oldakowski, war re-enactors have taken to staging public battles, often using enthusiastic children as soldiers, something that was a rarity during the actual uprising. Sabaton, a Swedish power metal band, recently released a song “Uprising” extolling the bravery of the revolt.

On Aug. 1, sirens and church bells rang out across the capital to remember the hour the uprising began and the city came to a halt for one minute of silence.

Grzegorz Schetyna, the speaker of parliament, said: “Today, historians often ask the question of whether this offering of Warsaw, of the best sons and daughters of this city, was a waste ... We have to answer that it was not a waste. The offering of 63 days, the offering of the night of occupation, the uprising, they are all symbols which have been an inspiration to subsequent generations.”

But as the uprising has become ingrained in Polish national life, questions over whether it should have ever happened — something that had once been seen as the preserve of the old communist government — are becoming increasingly accepted.

“Almost every Pole is captivated and impressed by the rare courage of the partisans and the civilian population of the city, which for 63 days fought a lonely and unequal battle with the Germans, while also being terrified by the enormity of the human and material costs that resulted from the uprising,” writes Jan Ciechanowski, a historian and a fighter in the uprising, in the Przeglad magazine.

In a survey conducted last year, almost 90 percent of Poles felt that the uprising was important, 68 percent of all Poles felt that the uprising was justified, but only 48 percent of Varsovians, who live in a city where the scars of the uprising are still visible, agree with that sentiment.

“I can see why the uprising took place, but I wish it had never happened,” said Tadeusz Danielewski, buying fruit in a south Warsaw market just a couple of blocks away from an apartment building still bearing unrepaired bullet holes from the fighting in 1944.