History of Warsaw
The history of Warsaw spans over 1400 years. In that time, the city evolved from a cluster of villages to the capital of a major European power, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth—and, under the patronage of its kings, a center of enlightenment and otherwise unknown tolerance. Fortified settlements founded in the 9th century form the core of the city, in today's Warsaw Old Town.
The city has had a particularly tumultuous history for a European city. It experienced numerous plagues, invasions, and devastating fires. The most destructive events include the Deluge, the Great Northern War (1702, 1704, 1705), War of the Polish Succession, Warsaw Uprising (1794), Battle of Praga and the Massacre of Praga inhabitants, November Uprising, January Uprising, World War I, Siege of Warsaw (1939) and aerial bombardment—and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Warsaw Uprising (after which the German occupiers razed the city).
The city has hosted many crucial events in the history of Poland. It was the site of election of Polish kings, meeting of Polish parliament (Sejm), and events such as the Polish victory over the Bolsheviks at the Vistula, during the Battle of Warsaw (1920), and today the frequently attacked city has grown to the multicultural capital of a modern European state and a major commercial and cultural centres of Central Europe.
The area covered by modern Warsaw had been inhabited for at least 1400 years. Several archaeological findings date back to the times of the Lusatian culture.
The first fortified settlements on the site of today's Warsaw were Bródno (9th or 10th century), Kamion (11th century) and Jazdów (12th or 13th century). Bródno was a small settlement in the north-eastern part of today’s Warsaw, buried about 1040 during the uprising of Miecław, one of the Mazovian local princes. Kamion was established about 1065 close to the today’s Warszawa Wschodnia station (today, Kamionek estate), Jazdów—before 1250 by the today’s Sejm. Jazdów was raided twice—in 1262 by Lithuanians, in 1281 by the Płock prince Bolesław II of Masovia. Then, a new similar settlement was established on the site of a small fishing village called Warszowa, c. 3.5 kilometres (2.2 mi) north of Jazdów—by the same prince Bolesław II. The Bolesław’s brother and successor, Konrad II, built a wooden castellan, which was buried—again by the Lithuanians. On this place, the prince ordered the building of a brick church, which obtained the name of St. John and became a cathedral.
The first historical document attesting to the existence of a Warsaw castellan dates to 1313. Fuller information about the age of the city is contained in the court case against the Teutonic Knights, which took place in Warsaw cathedral in 1339. In the beginning of the 14th century it became one of the seats of the Dukes of Masovia, becoming the capital of Masovia in 1413 (prince Janusz II). Warsaw's economy of the 14th century rested on crafts and trade. The townsmen, of uniform nationality at the time, were marked by a great disparity in their financial status. At the top were the rich patricians while the plebeians formed the lower strata.
In that time, Warsaw housed about 4500 people. In the 15th century, the town spread beyond the northern town wall, and a settlement, New Town, began. The existing settlement became known as Old Town. Each had its own town charter and government. The aim of establishing a new town was to regulate the settling of new people who weren’t allowed to settle in Old Town (mainly Jews) 
In 1515, during Muscovy-Lithuanian War fire incented probably by Russian agents burned great part of Old Warsaw. The differentiation and the growing social contrasts resulted in 1525 in the first revolt of the poor of Warsaw against the rich and the authority they exercised. As a result of this struggle the so-called third order was admitted to the city’s authorities and shared power with the bodies formed by the patricians: the council and the assessors. The story of Warsaw populace's struggle for social liberation dates from that first demonstration in 1525.
Upon the extinction of the local ducal line, the duchy was reincorporated into the Polish Crown in 1526 (according to the gossips, the last Mazovian prince Janusz III was poisoned on the orders of Polish Queen, Bona Sforza, King Sigismund I).
In 1529, Warsaw for the first time became the seat of the General Sejm, permanent since 1569. By this reason, an Italian architect, Giovanni di Quadro, rebuilt the King’s Castle in the Renaissance style. The incorporation of Mazovia into the Polish Crown spelt fast economic development, which is demonstrated by a population growth: in that time there lived 20,000 people, whereas 100 years earlier only c. 4500.
In 1572 died the last king from the Jagiellon dynasty, Sigismund II Augustus. On the Sejm’s seat in 1573, there was passed that from this moment on Polish kings would be elected by gentry. On the same seat, there was also passed so-called Warsaw Confederation, which formally established religious freedom in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The first “free election” (in Polish: wolna elekcja) was held in April and May 1573 in Kamień (today’s Kamionek estate, close to the Wschodnia Station). The next elections, however (already in 1575, when Stephen Báthory became a Polish king), were held in another Warsovian suburb at Wielka Wola (now that city's western, Wola district). The stormiest elections were those of 1575 and 1587, when matters came to blows among the divided nobles. Following an election, the king-elect was obliged to sign pacta conventa (Latin: "agreed-upon agreements") - laundry lists of campaign promises, seldom fulfilled - with his noble electors. The agreements included "King Henry's Articles" (artykuły henrykowskie), first imposed on Prince Henri de Valois (in Polish, Henryk Walezy) at the outset of his brief reign (upon the death of his brother, French King Charles IX, Henri de Valois fled Poland by night to claim the French throne).
Due to its central location between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth's capitals of Kraków and Vilnius, as well as relatively closely to Gdańsk, from where Sweden was always threatening, Warsaw became the capital of the Commonwealth and at the same time of the Polish Crown in 1596, when King Sigismund III Vasa moved the court from Kraków. The King’s decision had been brought forward by the fire of Cracovian Wawel Castle. The royal architect, Santa Gucci, started to rebuild the Warsovian Castle in the Baroque style, therefore the King live there only temporarily, but in 1611 moved here for good. At the time of the transformation of Warsaw from one of the main Polish towns into the country's capital, it already numbered some 14,000 inhabitants. The old walled city had 169 houses; the new Warsaw outside the walls numbered 204 houses, while the suburbs had as many as 320. In 1576, the first permanent bridge was built on Vistula; it was destroyed in 1603 by an ice floe and until 1775 did not exist any permanent connection between Warsaw and Praga on the Vistula’s right bank.
In the following years, the town expanded towards the suburbs. Several private independent districts were established, the property of aristocrats and the gentry, which were ruled by their own laws. Such districts were called jurydyka. They were settled by craftsmen and tradesmen. One of these “jurydykas” was Praga, which granted a city charter in 1648. The peak of their development came in the wake of Warsaw's revival after the Swedish invasion, which had seriously ravaged the city. Three times between 1655-1658 the city was under siege and three times it was taken and pillaged by the Swedish, Brandenburgian and Transylvanian forces. They stole many valuable books, pictures, sculptures and other works of art - mainly, the Swedish troops. The mid-17th-century architecture of the Old and New Towns survived until Nazi invasion. The style was late Renaissance with Gothic ground floors preserved from the fire of 1607. In the 17th and early part of the 18th century, during the rule of the great nobles oligarchy, magnificent Baroque residences rose all around Warsaw. In 1677, King John III Sobieski started to build his Baroque residence in Wilanów, a village c. 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) south of Old Town.
A number of political circumstances ensured that after the death of King John III’s, the Polish Kingdom entered into a period of decline relative to the other powers of Europe. A new king, the Saxon Prince-Elector Frederic Augustus was elected in 1697, who took the name Augustus II. The new monarch was more concerned with the fortunes of his mother country, Saxony, than of Poland. At the same time, the Polish gentry began to intensively fight for their own rights against the Crown with less thought for maintaining the kingdom’s position obtained in the 17th century. Moreover, the rulers of the neighboring Russia (Peter I the Great) and Sweden (Charles XII) were gradually extending the territories of their states and strengthening their power. In 1700, the Great Northern War broke out between these two states; Augustus II recklessly joined it at the Peter I’s side. The decentralized Polish Crown lacked sufficient power to assert itself in the Northern War, which led Poland to becoming a battlefield between the two kings. Warsaw was besieged several times—for the first time, in 1702, by the Swedish troops. The city suffered severely from the Swedish occupation. Under the Swedish influence, in June 1704 the Polish gentry dethroned Augustus II and at Wielka Wola elected a new king - the pro-Swedish Poznań Voivod Stanisław Leszczyński. Shortly afterwards, the tides of war changed and on September 1, 1704 Warsaw was retaken by Saxon Army of Augustus II after five days of a severe artillery bombardment. Augustus in turn lost Warsaw after being defeated in a battle fought on 31 July 1705. In this action, which took place between today's Warszawa Zachodnia Station and Wielka Wola, 2,000 Swedish troops defeated 10,000 soldiers of the Polish-Lithuanian-Saxon army Only now Stanisław Leszczyński could be officially crowned, which took place in October of that year. In 1707, by virtue of the peace treaty between Augustus II and Charles XII, Russian troops entered Warsaw. After two months, Russian forces were removed from Warsaw. Several times during the Northern war the city was obliged to pay heavy contributions. Leszczyński reigned until 1709, when Russia defeated Sweden in the battle of Poltava, forcing the Swedish army to leave Poland. Following the Swedish defeat, Augustus II once again the King of Poland. From 1713 onwards, the Russian and Saxon troops were permanently stationed in Warsaw, which led to an oppressive occupation. Besides for the tribulations of war, Warsaw was hit by pest (1708), flood (1713) and poor crops.
Augustus II died in February 1733. In September, the Polish gentry again elected as king Stanisław Leszczyński, but it did not matched the political interests of Austria and Russia, which, one month later, forced the Sejm to elect the Augustus II’s son, Augustus III. Conflicts of interests between the Leszczyński camp and its patrons Sweden and France and the followers of Augustus III and his patrons Russia and Austria led to the War of the Polish Succession, where Poland again was not more than a battlefield; Warsaw again suffered marches and occupations. As a result of the war, Augustus III remained king and Leszczyński fled to France. Despite the political weakness of the state, the Saxon period was the time of development for Warsaw. The Saxon kings brought many German architects, who rebuilt Warsaw in the style similar to Dresden. In 1747 the Załuski Library was established in Warsaw by Józef Andrzej Załuski and his brother, Andrzej Stanisław Załuski. It was considered to be the first Polish public library and one of the largest libraries in the contemporary world. In all of Europe there were only two or three libraries, which could pride themselves on having such a vast book collection. The library initially had about 200,000 items, which grew to about 400,000 printed items, maps and manuscripts by the end of the 1780s. It also accumulated a collection of art, scientific instruments, and plant and animal specimens.
In 1740 Stanisław Konarski, a Catholic priest, founded Collegium Nobilium, a university for noblemen’s sons, which is the predecessor of the University of Warsaw. In 1742, the City Committee was established, which was responsible for building of pavements and sewage system. But large parts of the greater Warsaw urban area remained out of control of the municipal authorities. Only in 1760’s did the entire Warsaw urban area come under one administration, thanks to efforts of the future President Jan Dekert (in Poland, the mayors of bigger cities are called Presidents). Before, the greater Warsaw urban area was divided into 7 districts.
In 1764, a new Polish king was elected, the pro-Russian Stanisław August Poniatowski. Poland became practically a Russian protectorate after his election. In 1772, the first partition of Poland took place. Polish historians state that the partition was the necessary shock for the Polish gentry to “weak up” and start to think about the future of the country. Owing to the reforming mood, the Enlightenment excised massive influence in Poland and along with it, new ideas of the improvement of Poland. In 1765, the King established Korpus Kadetów,the first secular school in Warsaw. Despite its name, it was not a military school. In 1773, the first ministry of education in the world came into existence: the Commission of National Education (Komisja Edukacji Narodowej). In 1775, a new bridge on the Vistula was built, which lasted until 1794.
This time marked a new and characteristic stage in the development of Warsaw. It turned into an early-capitalistic principal city. The growth of political activity, development of progressive ideas, political and economic changes – all this exercised an impact on the formation of the city whose architecture began to reflect the contemporary aspirations and trends. Factories developed, the number of workers increased, the class of merchants, industrialists and financiers expanded. At the same time there was a large-scale migration of peasants to Warsaw. In 1792, Warsaw had 115,000 inhabitants as compared with 24,000 in 1754. These changes brought about the development of the building trade. Noblemen put up new residences, and the middle class built houses that showed a marked social differentiation. The residences of the representatives of the wealthiest stratum – the big merchants and bankers – matched those of the magnates. A new type of city dwellings developed, catering to the needs and tastes of the bourgeoisie. The artistic medium for all these buildings was that of antiquity, which, although its different social origin was not analyzed at the time, expressed the progressive ideas of the Enlightenment.
In 1788, the Sejm gathered to discuss the ways to improve the political situation and to regain the full independence. As Poland was more or less a de facto Russian protectorate, the Empress Catherine II had to give permission for session. Catherine had no objection because she did not foresee any danger, and besides she needed a Polish help in the war against Turkey. But as the result the Sejm in Warsaw (called Great because of the duration of the session) passed the Constitution of May 3, 1791, which the British historian Norman Davies calls "the first constitution of its kind in Europe". It was adopted as a "Government Act" (Polish: Ustawa rządowa) on that date by the Sejm (parliament) of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. It was in effect for only a year. The Russian-Turkish war had finished and Empress Catherine could turn her attention to Polish affairs. The result was the Second Partition of Poland of 1793, which in turn led to the 1794 Warsaw Uprising. It was an insurrection by the city's populace early in the Kościuszko Uprising. Supported by the Polish Army, it aimed to throw off Russian control of the Polish capital. The uprising began on April 17, 1794, soon after Tadeusz Kościuszko's victory at Racławice.
After the Battle of Maciejowice General Tadeusz Kościuszko was captured by the Russians. The internal struggle for power in Warsaw and the demoralisation of the city's population prevented General Józef Zajączek from finishing the fortifications surrounding the city both from the east and from the west. At the same time the Russians were making their way towards the city. The Russian forces reached the east outskirts of Warsaw on November 3, 1794. The heavy fighting lasted for four hours and resulted in a complete defeat of the Polish forces. Only a small part managed to evade encirclement and retreated to the other side of the river across a bridge; hundreds of soldiers and civilians fell from a bridge and drowned in the process. After the battle ended, the Russian troops, against the orders given by General Alexander Suvorov before the battle, started to loot and burn the entire borough of Warsaw (allegedly in revenge for the slaughter or capture of over half the Russian Garrison in Warsaw during the Warsaw Uprising in April 1794, when about 2,000 Russian soldiers died). Almost all of the area was pillaged, burnt to the ground and many inhabitants of the Praga district were murdered. The exact death toll of that day remains unknown, yet it is estimated up to 20,000 men, women and children were killed. In Polish history and tradition, these events are called “slaughter of Praga”. A British envoy, William Gardiner, wrote to the British Prime Minister that “the attack on the Praga’s lines of defense was accompanied by the most gruesome and totally unnecessary barbarousness”.
After the fall of Kościuszko Uprising, The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was finally divided between the three neighbors (the 3rd partition, 1795): Russia, Prussia and Austria. Warsaw found itself in the Prussian part and became the capital of the province South Prussia (Südpreussen).
Another result of the Great Sejm works directly concerned Warsaw: on 21 April 1791 it passed the City Act, which cancelled jurydykas. Since that time, Warsaw and its former jurydykas have constituted a homogeneous urban organism under one administration. As a memento of this event, April 21 is celebrated as the Warsaw Day.
Warsaw remained the capital of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1795, when it was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia to become the capital of the province of South Prussia. Liberated by Napoleon's army in 1806, Warsaw was made the capital of the newly created Duchy of Warsaw. Following the Congress of Vienna of 1815, Warsaw became the center of the Congress Poland, a constitutional monarchy under a personal union with Imperial Russia. During this period under the rule of the relatively liberal Russian Emperor Alexander I, Warsaw experienced much growth such as the founding of the Royal University of Warsaw was established (1816) and what is today’s main street of the city—Aleje Jerozolimskie—was marked out. In 1818, the Town Hall on the Old Town Market was pulled down because it had become too small for the city, which had expanded after it incorporated the jurydykas. The city’s authorities moved to Jabłonowski’s Palace (by the Great Theater), where it stayed until World War II.
Following the repeated violations of the Polish constitution by the Russians (especially after the Alexander I’s death, when the reactionary Nicholas I assumed power), the 1830 November Uprising broke out. It started with the assault on Belvedere - the residence of Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich, the commander-in-chief of Polish army and de facto viceroy of the Congress Poland, as well as at the Arsenal. The 1830 uprising led to the Polish-Russian war (1831), the greatest battle of which took place on 25 February 1831 in Grochów—a village in the modern northern part of the district, Praga Południe. Because the Polish commanders were stalled, the war ended in defeat, and curtailment of the Kingdom's autonomy. The Emperor established a military administration in Warsaw. An estate of pretty manors on the north of New Town was eradicated and on this place the Citadel was built, where was a fortress and prison. The Sejm was suspended, the Polish army dissolved, and the University closed.
Growth of railways turned Warsaw into an important railways hub, as lines were opened to Vienna (1848), Saint Petersburg (1862), Bydgoszcz (1862), Terespol (1867), Kovel (1873), Mlava (1877), Kalisz (1902), along with several shorter lines. In 1875 and 1908, two railway bridges were built. In 1864, the first iron road bridge on stone supports, Most Kierbedzia, opened. It was one of the most modern bridges in Europe at the time. Today, the Śląsko-Dąbrowski bridge lies at the same supports. Only then the city’s authorities started to rebuilt Praga, which was heavily damaged during the Kościuszko’s and November Uprisings, as well as by Napoleon’s war. In 1862, the University was opened again, in 1898 the Nicholas II Technical Institute (the Warsaw Technical University’s predecessor) was established.
Warsaw flourished in the late 19th century under Mayor Sokrates Starynkiewicz (1875–92), a Russian-born general appointed by Tsar Alexander III. Under Starynkiewicz Warsaw saw its first water and sewer systems designed and built by the English engineer William Lindley and his son, William Heerlein Lindley, as well as the expansion and modernization of horsecars, street lighting and gas works. Starynkiewicz also founded the Bródno Cemetery (1884), still one of the biggest European cemeteries. As a remembrance of the President, one of the Warsovian squares bears the name of Starynkiewicz, even though he represented the Russian authorities.
In 1904, the first power plant was built. The city installed electric street lamps and, in 1908, opened the first electric tram route. In 1914, a third bridge opened—Most Józefa Poniatowskiego.
Warsaw's development, however, was accompanied by an intensive assault on Polish national identity. Russian authorities closed Polish schools and built more and more Orthodox churches. These acts were strongly opposed. On 27 February 1861, Russian troops fired on a Warsaw crowd that was protesting Russian rule. Five people were killed. On 22 January 1863 a new uprising broke out. The Underground Polish National Government resided in Warsaw during January Uprising in 1863–4. However, this uprising was mainly in the character of guerilla, therefore Warsaw did not distinguish itself in it. But, as a penalty, President Kalikst Witkowski, the Russian general and predecessor of Sokrates Starynkiewicz, constantly imposed tributes on Warsaw. The last serious riots took place in 1905 (after the St. Petersburg’s “bloody Sunday”), when the Cossacks and police fired to the people demonstrating in Warsaw. In 1897 Warsaw was 56.5% Polish, 35.8% Jewish and 4.9% Russian.
World War I
On 1 August 1915 the German army entered Warsaw. The Russians, while retreating, demolished all the Warsovian bridges—and the Poniatowski Bridge that had opened 18 months earlier—and took the equipment from the factories, which made the situation in Warsaw much more difficult.
The German authorities, headed by gen. Hans von Beseler, needed Polish support in the war against Russia, so they tried to appear friendly to the Poles. For example, they reintroduced the right to teach in Polish, and in 1915 they opened the Technical University, Warsaw School of Economics, and Warsaw University of Life Sciences.
However, the most important decision for a city development was to incorporate the suburbs. The Russian authority hadn't allowed to extend the Warsaw’s area, because it was forbidden to cross the double line of forts, surrounding the city. By this reason, at the beginning of World War I on the area of today's Śródmieście and the old part of Praga (c. 33 square kilometres (13 sq mi) 750,000 people lived. In April 1916, the Warsaw territory extended to 115 square kilometres (44 sq mi).
In autumn of 1918, the revolution broke up in Germany. On 8 November, German authorities left Warsaw. On 10 November Józef Piłsudski came at the Warsaw-Vienna Station. On 11 November the Regency Council gave him all military authority—and on 14 November, all civil authority. For this reason, the 11 November 1918 is celebrated as the beginning of the Poland’s independence. Warsaw became the capital of the Poland.
The first years of independence were very difficult: war havoc, hyperinflation and the Polish-Bolshevik War of 1920. In the course of this war, the Battle of Warsaw was fought on the Eastern outskirts of the city, and the capital was successfully defended and the Red Army defeated. Poland stopped on itself the full brunt of the Red Army and defeated an idea of the "export of the revolution." Communist time table was slowed 24 years and countries of the Central Europe were spared from communist rule for a quarter of a century. Western Europe, where revolutionary fever was boiling over on the streets, was spared a bloody fight for survival. Unfortunately, political and military significance of this victory was never fully appreciated by Europeans. According Lord d’Abernon: The history of contemporary civilization knows no event of greater importance than the Battle of Warsaw, 1920, and none of which the significance is less appreciated. To commemorate these events, the 15 August is celebrated in Poland as the Day of Polish Army.
On 16 December 1922, in the gallery Zachęta, Eligiusz Niewiadomski, a painter with mental disorder, who belonged to the right-wing National Democracy, assassinated the first President of Poland, Gabriel Narutowicz, who had been elected five days earlier by Sejm.
The other event was the May Coup d’Etat (1926). On 12 May, Marshall Józef Piłsudski, displeased with the situation in Poland, and in particular with the appointment of a new government, arrived in Warsaw from his residence in Sulejówek (a small town east of Warsaw) at the head of the faithful troops. On the Poniatowski Bridge, he talked with the President Stanisław Wojciechowski, who tried unsuccessfully to convince him to give up the action. The next day, the Piłsudski’s troops forcibly conquered Warsaw and forced the government and Wojciechowski to resign. During the coup, street fighting killed almost 400 people—mostly civilians who wanted to watch the fighting. The May Coup started the 13-year period of sanation - the authoritarian rules of Piłsudski’s camp. Although Piłsudski himself never accepted the office of President (but twice was Prime Minister), always played a preponderant role in Polish political life.
In 1925, there lived 1,000,000 people in Warsaw. In the next 5 years, the city’s wealth doubled thanks to a good economic situation on the world. It enabled to build new, broad streets as well as a new airport. The first airport, a temporary one, opened in 1921 in the park Pole Mokotowskie. The second, permanent, airport opened in Okęcie, where it remains. The city government worked out plans for a metro, but construction was hampered by the outbreak of World War II. they opened the first radio station, which had a range that covered almost all the Polish territory.
In 1934, the sanation camp suspended the Warsaw’s government and appointed Stefan Starzyński President of Warsaw. He was a faithful supporter of sanation—so, at the beginning of his presidency, he expelled all officials attached to his predecessor. He was also an efficient official, however. He stabilized the city budget, fought corruption and bureaucracy, smartened up the city. However, the Poles remember him mainly due to his heroic behavior during the September Campaign.
World War II
The first bombs felt on Warsaw already on 1 September 1939. Unfortunately, the most important representatives of civil and military administration (along with the Army’s Commander-in-Chief, Marshall Edward Rydz-Śmigły) escaped to Romania, taking with themselves much of the equipment and ammunition intended for the defense of the city. To stop the chaos, President Starzyński seized full civil power, although he had no entitlement to do this. To prevent public order, he appointed the Citizen Guard. All time he supported the people’s spirit in radio speeches. On 9 September, the German tank divisions attacked Warsaw from south-west, but the defenders (with a lot of civil volunteers) managed to stop them in the Ochota district. The situation was hopeless. The Germans advanced so many divisions that sooner or later they would conquer the city, all the more so because on 17 September the Soviets invaded east Poland. Three days later the German encirclement around Warsaw closed. On 17 September, the Royal Castle burnt down, then, on 23, the power plant. On 27 September Warsaw surrendered and on 1 October the Germans entered the city. In September 1939, around 31,000 people died, (including 25,000 civilians) and 46,000 were injured (including 20,000 civilians). 10% of the buildings were destroyed. On 27 October, the Germans arrested President Starzyński and deported him to the Dachau concentration camp, where he died in 1943 or 1944 (exact date still unknown).
During the Second World War, central Poland, including Warsaw, came under the rule of the General Government, a Nazi colonial administration. Germans planned destruction of the Polish capital before the start of war. On 20 June 1939 while Adolf Hitler was visiting an architectural bureau in Würzburg am Main, his attention was captured by a project of a future German town, Neue deutsche Stadt Warschau. As early as 1939 Hitler approved of a plan known as the Pabst Plan, which envisaged changing Warsaw into a provincial German city. The Germans immediately closed all higher education institutions. Since the first days, the German authorities arrested and executed Poles or took them to the concentration camps. The executions were carried out mainly in the forests around Warsaw (e.g., in Kampinos Forest or Kabaty Woods). Many small monuments on Warsaw streets today commemorate those crimes. Since the beginning of the occupation, the Nazis had organized so-called łapankas. These consisted of the sudden and accurate surrounding of a chosen place (for example, a railway station) and arresting every resident or passerby who happened to be there. in Polish “łapać” means to catch. Such actions were carried out in other occupied European countries, but not on the same scale as in Poland. Arrested people were deported either to concentration camps or forced labor camps in Germany. From 1943, a concentration camp existed also in Warsaw: KL Warschau. Until August 1944, about 200,000 Poles died in gas chambers.
Since October 1940, the Germans had been deported Warsaw's entire Jewish population (several hundred thousand, some 30% of the city) to the Warsaw Ghetto. They herded c. 500,000 people on the area of c. 2.6 square kilometres (1.0 sq mi). The Jews were dying not only because of executions but also hunger (the daily food ration for one Jew was only 183 kcal). Since October 1941, every Jew who had left the Ghetto as well as the Pole who had been helping in any way the Jews (e.g. threw food over the Ghetto wall), had been punished with death.
When the order came to annihilate the Ghetto as part of Hitler's "Final Solution" on April 19, 1943, Jewish fighters launched the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Despite being heavily outgunned and outnumbered, the Ghetto held out for almost a month. When the fighting ended, almost all survivors were massacred, only few managed to escape or hide. Almost all the leaders of the uprising committed suicide, including the principal, Mordechaj Anielewicz. Only one survived, Marek Edelman. The commander of Verbrennungs und Vernichtungskommando ("Burning and Destruction Detachments"), Jürgen Stroop, destroyed the Ghetto so completely that even house walls did not remain. After the war, Poles did not remove the ruins, but filled them with soil and smoothed them over. This created small mounds, on which they built houses.
By July 1944, the Red Army was deep into Polish territory and pursuing the Germans toward Warsaw. Knowing that Stalin was hostile to the idea of an independent Poland, the Polish government-in-exile in London gave orders to the underground Home Army (AK) to try to seize the control of Warsaw from the Germans before the Red Army arrived. Thus, on 1 August 1944, as the Red Army was nearing the city, the Warsaw Uprising began.
Poles believed Stalin would help them in a common struggle against Nazism, but it did not happen. The Red Army approached the right bank of Vistula, and on 14 August, conquered Praga. On news of the uprising, however, it stopped. Stalin did send two tank divisions, which established a bridgehead on the left bank, but the soldiers had no experience in street fights and failed to hold the positions. Stalin intentionally sent inexperienced troops, so his efforts would fail—but he could later refute charges that he did not help the uprising.
The armed struggle, planned to last 48 hours, continued for 63 days, until 2 October. Eventually, the Home Army fighters and civilians assisting them were forced to capitulate. They were transported to PoW camps in Germany, while the entire civilian population was expelled.
The Nazis then essentially demolished Warsaw. Hitler, ignoring the agreed terms of the capitulation, ordered the entire city razed to the ground and the library and museum collections taken to Germany or burned. Monuments and government buildings were blown up by special German troops known as Verbrennungs und Vernichtungskommando ("Burning and Destruction Detachments"). About 85% of the city was destroyed, including the historic Old Town and the Royal Castle. In the uprising, c. 170,000 people died, of which only 16,000 were insurgents. The civilians (c. 650,000) were deported to the transit camp in Pruszków (Durchgangslager Pruszków).
On January 17, 1945, after the beginning of the Red Army's Vistula–Oder Offensive, Soviet troops entered the Warsaw ruins, and liberated the suburbs from German occupation. The Soviet Army swiftly took the city and rapidly advanced towards Łódź, as German forces regrouped at a more westward position. During the German occupation (1939–45) c. 700,000 people died in Warsaw, more than all Americans and British. The material losses were about 45 billion dollars.
Those soldiers of the Home Army, who had survived the war, were arrested by the Soviet secret police (NKVD), then either executed or deported to Siberia.
In 1945, after the bombing, the revolts, the fighting, and the demolition had ended, most of Warsaw lay in ruins. Next to the remnants of Gothic architecture the ruins of splendid edifices from the time of Congress Poland and ferroconcrete relics of prewar building jutted out of the rubble.
On 17 January 1945, the Soviet troops entered the left part of Warsaw and on 1 February 1945 proclaimed the People’s Republic of Poland (de facto proclamation had taken place in Lublin, on 22 July 1944. At once, the Bureau of Capital’s Rebuilding was established. Unfortunately, the architects who worked for the Bureau, blinded by the ideas of functionalism and supported by the Soviet puppet Communist regime, decided to renew Warsaw in modern style, with large free areas. They demolished many existing buildings and buildings that could have been rebuilt. Not all their ideas came off, however. In 1953, the Old Town and the Royal Route were reconstructed to look like they had before the war (aided by numerous pictures by many artists, including Canaletto). On the other hand, due to the absence of the “original” residents, the houses were settled by “common people” who often did not behave well or maintain the houses properly. The government did not undertake the complicated and expensive rebuilding of the Royal Castle.
The symbols of the new Warsaw were:
- East-West Route Tunnel ("Trasa W-Z") under the Old Town (1949)
- MDM estate (1952) (typical socialist realism architecture)
- Palace of Culture and Science (PKiN, 1955) a symbol of Soviet rule, and at that time the second tallest building in Europe
- 10th-Anniversary Stadium (1955).
Construction of the MDM estate and PKiN especially required demolishing existing buildings. Demolition, however, made it possible to create one of the street plans in Europe, aside from poor road conditions and badly planned crossroads.
In 1951, Warsaw was significantly enlarged again to address the housing shortage: from 118 square kilometres (46 sq mi) to 411 square kilometres (159 sq mi). In 1957, the town Rembertów was incorporated. On the incorporated areas, the city’s government ordered the building of mainly large prefabricated housing projects, typical for Eastern Bloc cities.
The Soviet presence, symbolized by the Palace of Culture and Science, turned out to be very acute. The Stalinism lasted in Poland until 1956—like in USSR. The leader (First Secretary) of the Polish Communist party, (PZPR), Bolesław Bierut, suddenly died in Moscow during the 20th Congress of CPSU in March, probably from a hearth attack. Already in October, the new First Secretary, Władysław Gomułka, in a speech during a rally on the square in front of the PKiN supported the regime liberalization (so-called "thaw"). At first, Gomułka was very popular, because he also had been imprisoned in Stalinist prisons and as he had taken up the office of PZPR’s leader, he promised a lot, but the popularity passed pretty fast. Gomułka was gradually tightening the regime. In January 1968, he forbade to put on Dziady, a classical drama by Mickiewicz, full of anti-Russian allusions. That was "the last drop of bitterness": then students went out on the Warsaw streets and gathered by the monument to Mickiewicz to protest against censorship. The demonstrations spread throughout all the country, the protesting people were arrested by police. This time, the students were not supported by workers, but two years later, when in December 1970 the army fired at the protesting people in Gdańsk, Gdynia and Szczecin, those two social groups cooperated—and that helped end Gomułka.
Gomułka was succeeded by Edward Gierek. Compared to the grey Gomułka time, Gierek ruled with a lighter hand. Once in office, Gierek agreed to rebuild the Royal Castle. Gomułka was against this idea until the end of his life, because he was convinced that the Castle was a symbol of the bourgeoisie and feudalism. Rebuilding started in 1971, and finished in 1974—the same year the Trasa Łazienkowska (Łazienkowska Route) was completed. The route and bridge that connect the Warszawa Zachodnia Station area and the Grochów estate—the broad street on the right bank (Praga)—has been named Aleja Stanów Zjednoczonych (The United States Avenue). The next important investments from the Gierek-times are: the Warszawa Centralna Station (1975, now the biggest station in Warsaw) and the broad, dual carriageway Warsaw-Katowice, which even now is called "Gierkówka" (in a choice of the destination point, pretty significant was the fact that Gierek himself was born in Silesia, in Sosnowiec). But the prosperity of the Gierek-times was grounded on a very fragile foundation: Gierek took out lot of loans from abroad and did not know how to manage them efficiently, hence from time to time crises and workers' riots kept recurring. The first more serious was in 1976, when the workers from Radom and Ursus were striking; that latter city bordered on Warsaw from west, there has been a big tractor factory. As a penalty, Ursus was incorporated into Warsaw as a part of the district Ochota; Warsaw expanded by 10 square kilometres (3.9 sq mi).
In the crisis of the 1980s and hard time of martial law, John Paul II's visits to his native country in 1979 and 1983 brought support to the budding Solidarity movement and encouraged the growing anti-communist fervor there. In 1979, less than a year after becoming pope, John Paul celebrated Mass in Victory Square in Warsaw and ended his sermon with a call to "renew the face" of Poland: Let Thy Spirit descend! Let Thy Spirit descend and renew the face of the land! This land! These words were very meaningful for the Polish citizens who understood them as the incentive for the democratic changes.
From February to April 1989, the representatives of the Polish government and "Solidarity" were carried on the negotiations at the Round Table in the Namiestnikowski Palace in Warsaw. The result was an agreement of the government to the participation of "Solidarity" in the Sejm elections, which were appointed at 4 June. "Solidarity" won all seats for which it could compete according to the Round Table Agreement. It was the beginning of big changes for all Europe.
After the political transformation, the Sejm passed an act, which reinstated the Warsaw city government (18 May 1990).
In 1995, the Warsaw Metro opened. It had been built since 1983. In 2002, city Wesoła was incorporated into Warsaw and capital of Poland expanded again by another 22.6 square kilometres (8.7 sq mi).
With the entry of Poland into the European Union in 2004, Warsaw is currently experiencing the biggest economic boom of its history. Another important stimulator of the economy was the European football championship in Poland and Ukraine in 2012. 5 matches, including the opening match, took place in Warsaw.
View of Warsaw from Praga in 1770
View of Warsaw from the Royal Castle in 1773
Marszałkowska Street in 1912
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- Siege of Warsaw (1939)
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- List of presidents of Warsaw
- Warsaw pogrom (1881)
- Timeline of Warsaw
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