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Aired June 6, 2004 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AARON BROWN, CNN HOST: Making news on this Sunday, at D-Day commemorations in France, the 43rd president dedicated a portion of his remarks to the 40th president.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: 20 summers ago another American president came here to Normandy to pay tribute to the men of D-Day. He was a courageous man himself and a gallant leader in the cause of freedom, and today we honor the memory of Ronald Reagan.
BROWN (voice-over): Reaction as well from the man Mr. Reagan defeated. Jimmy Carter spoke today before giving his Sunday school class in his home town of Plains, Georgia.
JIMMY CARTER, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: I think throughout his term in office he was obviously very worthy of the moniker that was put on him, that is of a great communicator. He was always able to express his very clearly-held views in a concise and sometimes inspirational way.
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BROWN: And those are the headlines on this Sunday night.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For 63 days we saw the city blazes. We knew that we cannot possibly win.
ANNOUNCER: An Army of ordinary citizens fighting the Nazi's to save their city.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The battle went from street to street, from house to house, day and night.
ANNOUNCER: The Americans and the British left them on their own.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a sense of frustration and injustice that was quite strong.
ANNOUNCER: Their loss was catastrophic, but their story was never told.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somehow in history books there is very little of it. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thousands and thousands of people that died in the name of freedom, in vain.
BROWN: D-Day, the Normandy Invasion, the turning point in World War II, but all the sacrifice and promise of D-Day would only lead to bitter disappointment in one occupied country, in one war-torn city, a city caught between the Nazis and global politics and Allied tension.
Welcome again to CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown.
The 1944 Warsaw uprising. It was one of the most heroic and tragic battles of the Second World War, and yet it is among the least well-known.
In the summer of '44, the people of Warsaw, buoyed by the Allied invasion to the west and the Soviet advances from the east, took up what little arms they had and struck back, boldly, at the Nazis. The resistance fighters, men, women, even children, were virtually on their own, fighting impossible odds; fighting, dying and waiting for help that never arrived.
Their 63-day struggle, their doomed attempt to liberate Warsaw, that story now from CNN's David Ensor.
DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It looks today the way it did for centuries. But the old town of Warsaw, capital of Poland, had to be rebuilt, building by building, brick by brick.
60 years ago it was reduced to a smoking ruin, its people killed or banished, its buildings incinerated. In a rage, Hitler had ordered his troops to flatten the city. Over 80 percent of it was destroyed. Warsaw had dared to rebel against Nazi rule, its citizens fighting the vastly more powerful Germany Army.
They were ordinary people, volunteer soldiers, many of them merely teenagers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was leader of the youngest group, under 16, who were used actually for spying. For that, you could obviously go to a concentration camp and be shot on the spot.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were very young, we were optimistic. It didn't occur to me ever that I can get killed or -- the only thing I was afraid of was being tortured.
ENSOR: They fought against impossible odds but you couldn't tell them that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The passion with which we participated in all those things was probably difficult to understand to people who never lost freedom. We had this terrific faith that we are going to be free.
ANNOUNCER: The Germany-Pol begins its ruthless march of conquest and sets the stage for World War II.
ENSOR: Poland's ordeal began September 1, 1939.
ANNOUNCER: Poland then the world learn the meaning of a grim new word, "blitzkrieg."
ENSOR: Hitler's forces charged across Poland's borders in the infamous Blitzkrieg and World War II began.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw these huge planes, Germany planes, flying with these crosses on it, flying very, very low, I guess to escape the anti-aircraft, but the trees just started bending down. I was terrified.
ENSOR: Julian Kulski (ph) was just a boy when he saw German troops enter a town square where there was a synagogue.
JULIAN KULSKI (ph), RESISTANCE FIGHTER: They brought in the orchestra and started playing German tunes and hoisted the swastika and then they got the rabbi and tied him up to the synagogue and put the synagogue on fire. This is the sort of thing you don't forget, whether you are 10 years old or 100 years old. It was horrible.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They closed down the school. They closed down the newspaper. And no concerts. A city that was known for loving music suddenly went dead. No sound.
ENSOR (on camera): The city of Warsaw was under German occupation for five long and brutal years. During that time an entire government operated underground with its own legal system, schools, even newspapers.
Its Underground Army trained battalions and gathered weapons preparing for the day when it would rise up against the Nazis.
NORMAN DAVIES, AUTHOR: The scale and the horror of those five years of German occupation was I think unparalleled.
ENSOR (voice-over): Norman Davies, an Oxford historian who has written a new book about the Warsaw uprising, says Hitler saw Poland as a laboratories for his racial theories. Jews were herded into a ghetto. Other Pols were rounded up in manhunts to be sent to Germany for slave labor.
Warsaw citizens responded by joining the Underground Army, known by Pols as the AK. Christine Yarshevic (ph), at 19, was an Underground courier.
CHRISTINE YARSHEVIC (ph), RESISTANCE FIGHTER: There was a code word that I used and people opened the door and grabbed the documents and I was gone, you know.
ENSOR: Underground operations ranged from killing German soldiers to blowing up trains to acts of rebellion that simply lifted the Polish spirit. Nazi punishment was swift and terrible. Public hangings, mass executions. For every Germany soldier shot by Pols, 100 civilians were killed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, for retaliation, the Nazis were executing, taking people, 100 people from the streetcar, stopping them, methodically counting, 98, 99, 100, and machine gun on the spot in front of the streetcar.
On one of those operations was 103rd.
ENSOR: Inside the ghetto conditions were worse. People starved in streets littered with corpses. SS soldiers shot Jews at random.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As bad as things were outside the wall, inside the wall was incredible.
ENSOR: Jews in the ghetto began to be sent to death camps. In 1943, they fought back. The ghetto uprising lasted a month and ended in tragedy, 40,000 either dead or deported to death camps. Nothing left but burnt hulks of buildings.
ANNOUNCER: Between (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Normandy, the Allied Lightening strikes.
ENSOR: By the summer of '44, the war had started to turn. The D-Day invasion of Normandy brought U.S. and British forces onto the continent. Stalin's Red Army, now Allied with the United States and Britain, was defeating the Germans in battle after battle, marching west towards Warsaw.
To the thousands in the Underground, waiting for five years to strike, the time seemed right.
The premiere of the Polish government in exile, Stanislaus Mikolajczyk, traveled to Washington to gain President Roosevelt's support for an uprising.
DAVIES: The president created the climate where the Pols and the Polish Underground felt that they had the full support of America and the British.
ENSOR: But it was also necessary to gain the support of the Soviet Union, Poland's neighbor and a long-time adversary. Roosevelt urged the premiere to fly to Moscow to work it out with Stalin.
DAVIES: "Stalin is a good friend of mine. He'll be quite reasonable and everything will be fine." Roosevelt actually said to the Polish prime minister, "Your country will emerge from this war undiminished."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Roosevelt told the head of the Polish government in exile that he needn't worry about the Russians, he was being disingenuous.
ENSOR: Unbeknownst to Poland, Roosevelt and Churchill had made a deal with Stalin. At the Tehran Conference the year before the Big 3 met for the first time. Eager to placate Stalin and keep him in the war, Roosevelt had agreed that more than 1/3 of Poland's territory would go to the Soviet Union.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's the occasion when he tells Stalin, in effect, "I know you're going to be in control in Poland and Eastern Europe after the war, and I will not disturb your sphere of influence there." So that bargain is struck.
ENSOR: In Warsaw, where they knew nothing of such a bargain, the Underground prepared to fight.
The Polish premiere had no firm commitment for help from Stalin, but Moscow radio broadcasts urged Warsaw citizens to rise up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Russian Army was exactly at the gatepost. We felt as soldiers in the Underground Movement that this was the time to strike.
ENSOR: The Allied victory in Normandy fueled their hopes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we believed so much in the West. We thought they are with us, we are going to win. The Allies are going to win this war.
ANNOUNCER: We now return to "Warsaw Rising: The Forgotten Soldiers of World War II."
ENSOR (voice-over): August 1, 1944, 5:00 p.m. The hour set for the rising to begin. The citizen soldiers of Warsaw couldn't wait.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As you arrive in this fantastic big square, and there are thousands of Polish soldiers, you know, and our flags all around. It was incredibly happy thing.
ENSOR: As dusk fell, the Underground fighters took to the street. To their leaders, the timing was critical. The Russians were close enough to help, but it would be Pols who would liberate Warsaw.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We wanted to free Warsaw ourselves. This was our city, our capital, our country.
ENSOR: These images of the fight in Warsaw, rarely seen outside Poland, were filmed by the Underground. The Underground Army had about 40,000 fighters. Barely 1/4 of them went into the battle with a weapon in their hands.
DAVIES: They had no heavy artillery, no armor, nothing to compare with the huge range of things the Germans had. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you had the striking force, and then there were followers who were waiting for you to be shot, wounded or killed so they could pick up your weapon and go ahead.
Some of the insurgents were armed with stones.
ENSOR: Many of the weapons they did have were homemade. Flamethrowers fashioned from garden hoses, grenades made from German bombs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got a gun which was buried in 1939 by the Polish Army. It was full of rust and the first time I fired the damned gun it almost killed me because it fired back into my eye. I almost lost an eye. But after that, it worked fine.
ENSOR: Civilians joined in, building barricades. Even children helped, small enough to run below the guns on German tanks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 10, 12-year-olds would crawl up and blow up a tank or set it on fire with a gasoline bottle.
ENSOR: Two tanks were actually captured by the insurgents, the only two tanks they were to have.
Vatsvov Mitsuta (ph), a veteran of the Polish cavalry, took command of the captured tanks.
VATSVOV MITSUTA (ph), RESISTANCE FIGHTER: I trained at least two teams and in two days we were ready to fight.
ENSOR (on camera): Mitsuta (ph) would stage one of the most daring and memorable attacks of the entire uprising. His target, a concentration camp that existed in the remnants of the Jewish ghetto.
MITSUTA (ph): It was thousands and thousands of Jews which were either killed there or sent to be killed elsewhere. It was a death camp.
ENSOR (voice-over): Mitsuta (ph) asked his commander for permission to attack and was told the camp was too well-fortified and they would all be killed.
MITSUTA (ph): And our fellows, they were young fellows, and girls too, girls and men, they were -- this was in their blood. And they said, "No, we want to attack."
ENSOR: Mitsuta (ph) asked if he could take a band of volunteers and one tank. Granted permission, they took the Germans by surprise, storming a 10-foot tall wall that surrounded the camp. Mitsuta (ph) and his soldiers let loose with the tanks gun.
MITSUTA (ph): Boom! Finished. Another one? Boom! Finished. And the boys were running like mad.
ENSOR: Mitsuta (ph) and his soldiers liberated the camp. Inside were several hundred Jews, emaciated, expecting death at any moment. MITSUTA (ph): They found out that this is liberation and, my God, it was very emotional, very emotional. There was an old Jew who came and he put on his knees and he cried and he thanked us. What do you do? They were brothers. They were sisters. For me, I never thought that they are Jews. I thought that they are poor people who are in tremendous, tremendous emotional situation.
ENSOR: Moving into an inner courtyard of the camp, Mitsuta (ph) saw a remarkable sight.
MITSUTA (ph): But at the end, there were a group of prisoners, my God, my God, I approached them and there was one with military training because in a good Polish language he said, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And they (UNINTELLIGIBLE) "I give you the Jewish battalion, ready to fight."
ENSOR: Mitsuta (ph) became their commander, the first Jewish unit of the Underground Army, a unit he says was always at the forefront of the battle.
MITSUTA (ph): And they were fighting like mad. I think three of them survived.
ENSOR: The first days of the uprising cost the Pols dearly. Thousands died. And the Germans held on to most of their strongholds.
Still, the Polish flag flew in the City Center for the first time in five years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Polish National Anthem, which had not been heard for five years, now was being played. The Polish flags were flying from every house.
ENSOR: The "Times of London" would write: "The first of the martyred cities of Europe to suffer the horrors of German air bombardment and of national Socialist rule is also the first to see deliverance at hand."
ANNOUNCER: We now return to CNN PRESENTS "Warsaw Rising."
ENSOR (voice-over): By August 3, the Citizen Army of Warsaw had actually gained ground against the Nazi war machine for almost three days.
The Germans counterattacked in force, unleashing planes, tanks, artillery. In a fury, Reich Furor Heinrich Himmler ordered that Warsaw be made an example for all of Europe, every inhabitant, man, woman and child, should be killed.
DAVIES: People were massacred in cold blood. The SS simply stormed into the hospitals, turned all the patients onto the street and machine gunned them.
ENSOR: Defenseless civilians were herded in front of Nazi tanks as human shields.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you had to fire. When we started firing at the tanks, they would run over the civilians in front of them.
DAVIES: Americans should realize, we're talking about a tragedy where the same number of civilians were killed every day for 60 days that were killed in the World Trade Center.
ENSOR (on camera): The Pols hoped that they would only have to hold out for a few days, that their Soviet allies just across the Vistula River, would come to their aid. But the guns of the Red Army had fallen silent.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of the sudden, dead silence. It was like, what happened? Where are they? Why aren't they fighting?
ENSOR (on camera): At this point, the Germans took back the initiative. Their goal: to cut an artery through the center of Warsaw to the river, the fiercest battle raged in the Old Town.
DAVIES: Medieval streets, narrow corners, ideal cover for snipers and the Underground fighters. Took the Germans a month to capture.
ENSOR: 600 Underground companies, 50 to 100 soldiers each, fanned out. Each with a street or building to defend. When they lacked weapons, they fought with stones or bricks. And through it all, a remarkable Underground support system. Bakeries in basements, factories turning out grenades, even Underground newspapers. Hospitals were setup in cellars and moved from building to building to escape the German bombs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this is all your neighborhood, image that. Your neighborhood turning to rubble, and you still refuse to give up. And you look at the sky and you say to yourself, "Oh, the Americans are coming. The Americans are coming, because they're fighting for the same thing."
ENSOR: But among the Allies, a different kind of battle was going on. The RAF had flown some airdrops to aid Warsaw, but too many planes were shot down. The United States wanted to send high-flying heavy bombers, flying fortresses, that could evade German anti- aircraft fire. But the planes would have to land in Soviet-controlled territory to refuel.
In a series of historic telegrams, the U.S. asked Stalin for permission to land. Stalin refused.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They not only watched the Nazis massacre the insurgents and kill a lot of the civilian population, but they prevented for many weeks us, the Americans and the Brits, from delivering help to the insurgents.
ENSOR: Stalin had his own plans for Central Europe when the war was over, and an independent Polish government wasn't part of them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fact of the matter is that Stalin did not want to see Warsaw liberated by the Pols. He would prefer to see it smashed.
ENSOR: The Soviet refusal launched a crescendo of telegrams between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin.
August 20, Churchill and Roosevelt send a joint message to Stalin, urging him to let their planes land. August 22, Stalin responds with a denunciation of the "handful of criminals in Warsaw."
August 25, Churchill asks Roosevelt to join him in another impassioned plea to Stalin. To Roosevelt he proposed to "send the planes and see what happens."
It is at this moment that Roosevelt makes a fateful decision. August 26, Roosevelt to Churchill, "I do not consider it advantageous to the long-range general war prospect for me to join you in the proposed message to Uncle Joe."
DAVIES: Roosevelt's refusal to act is probably the key political moment in the rising. The Western allies had a lot of cards they could have played. They were supplying the Soviet Union with a colossal amount of transport ammunition, military supplies, and if the president had intervened, he may well have had a response. They never even tried it.
Whether the effort would have succeeded, whether Stalin would have backed down, we'll never know. What we do know is that Roosevelt wouldn't even support Churchill in some half-hearted efforts to put pressure on Stalin.
ENSOR: But Roosevelt was preoccupied with beating the Nazis on the western front and he knew that the Soviets had so far borne the brunt of the battle against the Germans. He did not want to risk losing them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is very much on Roosevelt's mind, that he cannot really afford to antagonize the Soviet Union in any way. The basic strategy of the United States was to fight a war of attrition where most of the attriting (ph) would be done by the Soviets, and indeed the Second World War took over 20 million Soviet lives. It took fewer than 1/2-million American lives.
ENSOR: Later, historians would call Stalin's refusal to help the Pols a gauntlet thrown down before the West.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When Stalin sensed that there wasn't really too much pressure from Roosevelt, from Churchill, I suspect he simply became more brazen.
ENSOR: In late August, news of the Allied liberation of Paris reached Warsaw to the desperate Pols, it was bittersweet.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were very happy on the one hand and feeling alone on the other and we were really beginning to understand that we are left alone and that we are not going to win.
ANNOUNCER: We now return to "Warsaw Rising: The Forgotten Soldiers of World War II."
ENSOR (voice-over): The battle for the Old Town took 33 days. One building changed hands seven times.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The battle went from street to street, from house to house, from floor to floor, day and night.
ENSOR: At the peak of the battle, German bombers arrived every 40 minutes. Casualties were enormous. Many Polish units lost 80 percent of their soldiers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was no way of surrendering. They were murdering. They would not take prisoners.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There wasn't much sleep. There wasn't much food. And slowly there was not much hope.
ENSOR: Facing obliteration, Underground commanders decided to evacuate the Old Town, to get to the City Center for a last stand.
Their only method of escape was sewers.
DAVIES: The sewers was an extraordinary story. It became an everyday occurrence, thousands of people moving under German positions very often.
ENSOR (on camera): For five days, Underground units stages diversionary attacks to distract the enemy. Meanwhile, directly underneath them thousands of unseen men and women were escaping through the sewers, the last group just 50 yards ahead of the on- coming Germans.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I saw in front of me for six hours was the behind of the man in front of me. We had constantly moved. If somebody would fail to move or pass out or die of exhaustion, we would be there, bottled up, for the rest of our life.
DAVIES: The Germans tried to stop it by dropping grenades and gas canisters and quite a lot of people were killed in the sewers.
ENSOR (voice-over): Several thousand made it through to the City Center.
Throughout the slaughter, the Soviets remained on the sidelines, except for an attempt in mid-September to cross the Vistula River by a Polish unit under Soviet command. It was brief, unsuccessful and never repeated. What's more, the Underground was receiving disturbing reports that outside Warsaw, the Soviet Secret Police, the NKBD, were actually arresting their soldiers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of them shot, others shipped to the Gulag. The NKBD was staging Nazi-like hunts, chasing the underground in all the provinces the Soviets were taking over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From the Soviet point of view, they were not just anti-Nazi fighters, which they were. They were people who wanted an independent Poland. That made them objectively in Soviet eyes anti-Soviet, so they would destroy them, and they did.
ENSOR (on camera): And those reports were getting back to London and Washington, were they not?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, and they were disregarded.
ENSOR: Because they were?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Politically inconvenient.
ENSOR (voice-over): And the Underground was having difficulty getting London to believe their desperate situation.
Sophia Garbonski (ph) was a decoder for the Underground radio.
ENSOR (on camera): You were giving them reports?
SOPHIA GARBONSKI (ph), RESISTANCE FIGHTER: Every day.
ENSOR: You were telling them the fight was still going on?
GARBONSKI (ph): Everywhere, every day, 18 hours a day.
ENSOR (voice-over): On September 1, the fifth anniversary of the German invasion of Poland, with thousands of his people dying in the streets of Warsaw, the exiled Polish commander-in-chief abandoned diplomacy, writing an open letter in London newspapers.
"Warsaw is not waiting for empty words of praise, not for assurances of sympathy. Warsaw is waiting. Warsaw is waiting for weapons and ammunition."
ANNOUNCER: We now return to CNN PRESENTS "Warsaw Rising."
ENSOR (voice-over): September 18, 1944 was a beautiful day in Warsaw. The sun was shining. Suddenly in the sky, a miracle.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was the most wonderful picture, when the American planes came. They were very, very high, so you didn't see anything. You just had this sound of heavy bombers. And then all of the sudden, they were like flowers. The parachutes were multicolored.
ENSOR: The Soviets had finally relented. U.S. flying fortresses had been granted clearance for a mission to aid Warsaw.
It was a spark of hope but a false one. It was the one and only American mission the Soviets would clear.
By now, the Polish resistance had been reduced to three shrinking pockets. In one of them, Muchatav (ph), the insurgents under a torrent of artillery and bombardment, were driven into a block with barricaded streets.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were totally exhausted. We were starving. We had no ammunition.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were going to go to the center of the city, which was still in Polish hands, and the only way we could do it was to go through the sewers.
ENSOR: So began a trek that was truly a descent into hell. Civilians and soldiers alike crowded into the sewers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many of them became psychotic, paranoid, they were screaming. There were dead bodies of people who were exhausted and give up or died or even committed suicide because they could not carry on.
ENSOR: For 20 hours, men and women walked in a river of human waste, sometimes up to their chest.
CHRISTINE YARSHEVIC (ph), RESISTANCE FIGHTER: I think that I sort of imposed upon myself not to think, don't think, don't think, because you will not make it, you know.
I think the one thing that saved me from losing my mind was that I had an illusion of a light at the end. And then suddenly I realized there is a stream of light coming down through the manhole and suddenly I was the next one. Somebody grabbed me under my arms and put me down, you know, put me on my feet.
ENSOR: Christine Yarshevic (ph) made it but went blind for three days from the fumes of the sewers. Danish Balsa (ph) also survived after watching many others die.
DANISH BALSA (ph), RESISTANCE FIGHTER: After all these hours and feeling that you arrived into kind of a safe area and helping hands getting you out.
ENSOR (on camera): While the remaining insurgents converged on the City Center, to the west the Germans were arresting and shooting Underground survivors. Shockingly, to the east the Soviets, supposed allies of the Pols, were doing the same thing. Reports of Soviet behavior were finally getting out. (voice-over): In London, the British Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden faced outraged members of Parliament.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the right honorable gentleman think that there is anything to be gained by covering up the fact that an ally of ours is both deporting and shooting Nationalists and Socialists in Poland?
ENSOR: By late September, the Underground could no longer go on. Starvation was setting in. People were drinking from puddles. Every dog and horse in the city had been eaten.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was nothing to eat. I was hunting cats.
ENSOR: After 63 days of fighting, on October 2, it was over.
Realizing that help from the Soviets was a lost cause, Underground leaders surrendered and agreed to evacuate Warsaw. Nearly 3/4 of the Underground Army had perished. Those who survived remember the surrender well.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was the worst moment of my life, to be surrounded by Germans and taken back into captivity after two months of freedom.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Despair. Despair. But we knew that the road ahead of us is not easy, so you did not allow yourself to sit down and cry, which was considered unpatriotic and weaklings were doing that, but not us, you know.
ENSOR: As the surviving soldiers of the Underground Army marched out of Warsaw to be deported to POW camps, even the Germans admired their courage.
One German officer wrote home, "In truth, they fought better than we did."
ANNOUNCER: We now return to "Warsaw Rising: The Forgotten Soldiers of World War II."
ENSOR (voice-over): By the end, well over 200,000 people died in the Warsaw Uprising, most of them civilians. 1/2-million others were driven out as refugees. On Hitler's orders, the city that had defied the Nazis was reduced to rubble.
The Soviet generals across the river watched.
DAVIES: Nobody had dreamed that the Red Army would be stopped in the suburbs of an Allied capital and they'd watch that capital being destroyed.
ENSOR: But worse was to come.
ANNOUNCER: Prime Minister Churchill confers with Premiere Stalin in Moscow.
ENSOR: Barely 10 days after the Underground surrender, Churchill traveled to Moscow to meet with Stalin. He brought along Poland's premiere in exile, supposedly to negotiate Poland's post-war boundaries with the Soviets.
DAVIES: When the Polish premiere began to negotiate, as he thought he'd been encouraged to do, Molotov interrupted him and said what's all this? Mr. Churchill settled all these matters at Tehran a year ago. What are you wasting our time trying to negotiate some stupid compromise?
And the Polish prime minister was absolutely thunderstruck. And he turned to Churchill and said, "Is that true"? And Churchill, according to the minute, hung his head and after a brief silence said, "Yes, it's true." And that was the time that the Pols realized they really had been sold down the river.
ENSOR: Days before, in Washington, President Roosevelt getting ready for an election just weeks away, posed in front of a map of pre- war Poland with Polish-American leaders. The implication, he would be the protector of Poland's pre-war boundaries. Unbeknownst to them, he had already agreed to cede 1/3 of Poland's territory to the Soviets.
ANNOUNCER: Victory in Europe brought wild rejoicing throughout the Allied world as Big 3 announce the downfall of Nazi Germany.
ENSOR: The Allied victory in Europe came in May 1945, in the Pacific a few months later. But Poland remained occupied by Soviet troops and the Underground soldiers who made it to the West were in for a shock.
In the victory parades, there was no place for them. The Allies had recognized the Warsaw pro-Communist regime installed by Stalin, the official government of Poland.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We fought for five years in the underground, but the only ones allowed in the victory parade in London were the Moscow Pols.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember I was crying in 1946 in London. Units of Fiji were parading, and Pols were not allowed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We knew that the whole effort, thousands and thousands of people had died in the name of freedom, in vain. You cannot help but feel bitter. Our story was forgotten.
ENSOR: Forgotten for many reasons. For the Western Allies, the story of the Underground fighting for Warsaw alone was an embarrassment. For the Soviets, it was inconvenient. In Warsaw, there would be no official monument erected to the Underground fighters until 1989.
The end of World War II marked the beginning of 44 long years of Soviet repression in Poland.
(on camera): For many of those who survived it, the story of the Warsaw Uprising is one of betrayal, great powers abandoning a staunch ally.
Historians, however, disagree about its legacy.
(voice-over): Some say Roosevelt and Churchill went as far as they could, pressing Stalin, given that they counted on his Red Army to keep doing the lion's share of the fighting and the dying.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you ask who won the war, if you mean who paid the greatest price in blood and treasure to defeat Nazi Germany, the answer is the Soviet Union.
ENSOR: Others say Roosevelt in particular was short-sighted, that the loss of Warsaw paved the way for the tragedy of the Cold War.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I don't think Roosevelt went beyond the notion let's defeat the Nazis, and that's it. To defeat Nazism while with considerable indifference handing over half of Europe to Stalin was a major compromise of principle which proved historically costly.
ENSOR: There are monuments now in Warsaw as the last generation of those who fought is dying out. To some, the Uprising was about courage in the face of terrible odds. To others, it was naive, even folly. But to those who were there, it was simply inevitable.
(on camera): When you look back on it now, with the advantage of history, was it worth it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Always. You know, it was, you know, in accordance with Polish history. It was in accordance with Polish attitudes. It was according with Polish soul and heart.
ENSOR: The Warsaw Uprising, though unsuccessful, set a powerful example for future generations.
Back in the 1980's, I watched young Pols paint this symbol of the Uprising as graffiti during the rise of the Solidarity Trade Union. Their peaceful protests led to the end of Communism and a free Polish nation, the one their grandparents fought for back in 1944.
For CNN PRESENTS, I'm David Ensor, in Warsaw. Good night.
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