It’s the 1st of August and I’m standing by Nowy Swiat, one of the central streets in Warsaw. I glance at my watch – it’s almost 5 p.m. I watch hundreds of people hurrying past and wait for the magic to begin.

Buses, trams and cars all come to a haul, regardless of where they are or where they are going, as if paralyzed by the blasting sounds of the sirens. Millions of people stand still on the streets – praying, thinking, remembering… I watch the helium balloons and lanterns flying up to the air, punctually at five I watch the chaos of a busy capital pause, as though it were that simple to stop time.

Every year, on this exact day and at this precise hour, the city holds its breath for a minute to commemorate the thousands of people who died, fighting for the Polish capital in the Warsaw Uprising (1944). And I mean it literally – the city just stops. I think there is no other place in the world where you can feel such patriotism rushing through the air. The time symbolizes the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising at 5 p.m on the 1st of August 1944 – in Polish, it’s known as the ‘W-hour’ (where ‘w’ stands for the Polish equivalent of the word explosion – ‘wybuch’).

I watch this magical moment every year and I can’t help but to think how far Warsaw (and Poland) has come since that day. The Uprising was, according to many historians, one of the biggest mistakes of the Polish army during the Second World War. After all, they lacked the necessary military equipment and their opponent was much stronger. As a result, the bombings that took place during that month literally crumbled the city to ruins. The beautiful architecture was shattered and the pretty streets practically seized to exist – about 85 percent of the city lay in wrecks, punished for the bravery to stand up to Nazi oppression.

There is no doubt that the consequences of the Uprising were an immense tragedy, in every possible sense of the word. But then I remember that we managed to build that city up again. Bit by bit, the buildings were reconstructed and the monuments that once dressed the capital’s streets and squares were brought to life all over again. Can you imagine how much effort, perseverance and patriotism that took? And can you imagine how that spirit passed on from generation to generation?

So many Poles complain about Poland and the way it is now. Personally, when I remember the wreckage that Warsaw faced during the war, I realise that the ones who died fighting for our freedom would be proud to see the capital now – international, booming with business, attracting tourists… We are now a successful country, whose voice and opinions matter. We are an increasingly prosperous EU member, we have the largest economy in central Europe and we were ranked as the best place for business in East Europe and Central Asia by Bloomberg this year. Since 2007, we also managed to triple our network of highways. Look at our most recent success too – Donald Tusk’s election as the European Council President. Does that not show we should stop complaining and open our eyes to all the things we have done?

Watching the ceremonies, that is how I feel – I am grateful that there were people prepared to sacrifice their lives for Poland and I am grateful that there were people prepared to rebuild the breathtaking city I now live in. Perhaps we would be a more prosperous nation if it were not for the Uprising’s losses, with many theories stating that it meant a loss of hundreds of people that could have helped to defend the Poles against the communism that followed the war. But where would we be without that one minute to remind us all of the human potential, dedication and love that can exist for one’s country?

 

References:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-21/poland-ranked-best-for-business-in-east-europe-and-central-asia.html

Warsaw Uprising Museum