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1944

Hundreds of Jews are freed from forced labor in Warsaw

On this day in 1944, Polish insurgents liberate a German forced-labor camp in Warsaw, freeing 348 Jewish prisoners, who join in a general uprising against the German occupiers of the city.

As the Red Army advanced on Warsaw in July, Polish patriots, still loyal to their government-in-exile back in London, prepared to overthrow their German occupiers. On July 29, the Polish Home Army (underground), the People’s Army (a communist guerilla movement), and armed civilians took back two-thirds of Warsaw from the Germans. On August 4, the Germans counterattacked, mowing down Polish civilians with machine-gun fire. By August 5, more than 15,000 Poles were dead. The Polish command cried to the Allies for help. Churchill telegraphed Stalin, informing him that the British intended to drop ammunition and other supplies into the southwest quarter of Warsaw to aid the insurgents. The prime minister asked Stalin to aid in the insurgents’ cause. Stalin balked, claiming the insurgency was too insignificant to waste time with.

Britain succeeded to getting some aid to the Polish patriots, but the Germans also succeeded-in dropping incendiary bombs. The Poles fought on, and on August 5 they freed Jewish forced laborers who then joined in the battle, some of whom formed a special platoon dedicated solely to repairing captured German tanks for use in the struggle.

The Poles would battle on for weeks against German reinforcements, and without Soviet help, as Joseph Stalin had his own plans for Poland.

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