21st century Warsaw
The last decade of the 20th century brought dynamic changes to Warsaw. After joining the European Union in 2004, Warsaw has been enjoying the biggest economic boom it has ever experienced. The city is being fitted out with modern infrastructure, and in 1995 Warsaw metro started to operate. Word-class modern architecture has changed the view of the city center, with stunning buildings – such as Daniel Libeskind’s skyscraper (still under construction), Sir Norman Foster’s Metropolitan Building on Plac Pilsudskiego, Marek Budzynski’s and Zbigniew Badowski’s Warsaw University Library in the Powiśle district, the Rondo 1 office building by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the Złote Tarasy shopping centre, the Warsaw Trade Tower and the Marriott Hotel are other impressive examples of contemporary architecture in Warsaw. An important stimulus for the economy is the European football championship, scheduled for 2012. Without a doubt, next year Warsaw will be the hottest capital city in Europe.
The desperate efforts by Warsaw fighters to liberate the city on their own and to avoid liberation by the Red Army failed. As a result of international agreements between the USA, the UK and the Soviet Union, the post-war years in Warsaw were a gloomy period of socialism. Although Poland was officially an independent country, the Polish government relied on the Soviet Union heavily. In the late 1940s the rebuilding of the capital city began. Communist propaganda promoted it with the motto “The whole nation is building its capital”.
It took decades to reconstruct the city – district by district – although Warsaw never recreated its elegant pre-war sights. Many buildings created at that time conformed to the socialist realist canon – a dominant style in communist countries at that time. The iconic building of that era is the Palace of Culture and Science, located in the heart of the city. Built in 1955, it was “a gift from the Soviet nation to the Polish nation”.
In 1980, the carefully reconstructed Warsaw Old Town was added to the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. In the same year the Solidarity movement was born, and once again Polish society attempted to regain its independence, and inspired other communist countries to rebel against the Soviet Union. Within nine years, this movement led to the overthrow of Communism in Poland in June 1989.
Independence and the World Wars
The 20th century was the most turbulent period in the history of Poland. The country finally regained its independence on the day the First World War ended in 1918. Two years later the newly established Soviet regime tried to conquer Poland and the rest of Europe. However, Polish troops fought back the Red Army and managed to defend the country’s independence.
In the 1920s and the 1930s Warsaw was dubbed “Paris of the North”. The city was very beautiful and fashionable, and delighted visitors with its modern architecture. Among its many impressive facilities, the city had by far the most modern train station in Europe at the time. Pedestrians could walk down asphalt-covered streets, notables could arrive in the city by plane as an airport was built at Okęcie.
That period of dynamic development was stopped abruptly when the country was attacked by Germany on September 1, 1939. This day is officially considered the beginning of the Second World War. Warsaw managed to defend itself until September 28. German troops occupied Warsaw on October 1, and they held on to the city for more than five years. Organized Polish resistance came to an end on October 6, 1939. For the duration of the Nazi occupation, Warsaw residents suffered from many restrictions, they were treated as slave labor by the occupier. The country’s political, religious and intellectual leadership was destroyed. The intensive Germanization of Poland triggered deportations and the extermination of Jews. Polish people were deprived of their rights. A resistance movement formed, and grew rapidly from the very beginning of the war. Warsaw was the centre of the country’s underground cultural life, educational progress and military organizations.
Under Nazi occupation Jews were isolated from Polish society and were placed into ghettos. In Warsaw, the ghetto was created in 1940, and almost 500,000 people lived in the overcrowded district. In April of 1943, the Germans started the “final liquidation” of the Jewish ghetto. Many inhabitants were killed or transported to death camps. A few members of the Jewish resistance organization decided to revolt – this was the first urban uprising in occupied Europe. The ghetto fighters were poorly armed, a within a few weeks the Germans managed to completely to crush all resistance.
The second uprising in occupied Warsaw took place on August 1, 1944, and it was inspired by thePolish underground military organization, AK. Thousands of civilians, including women and teenagers supported the soldiers of AK (Armia Krajowa – Home Army) in the military actions against German troops. Nearly 200,000 Polish people died during the 63-day struggle to liberate the city. Great Britain and the United States granted Allied combatant rights to the Home Army. After a series of desperate and bloody battles, Home Army commander General ‘Bor’ Komorowskisigned the instrument of surrender. All fighting in Warsaw ceased on October 2, 1944. The Germans forced all civilians and insurgents to leave the city. The evacuation was followed by a mass-scale destruction campaign of Warsaw by the Germans and their Ukrainian collaborators. Entire blocks of buildings and the most significant monuments were set on fire or blown up. Abandoned Polish houses were plundered by German troops. By the end of 1944, the former “Paris of the North” was turned into a city of ruins. On January 17, 1945, the Red Army and General Berling’s Polish First Army liberated the deserted ruins.
Film about Warsaw by: Jacek Drofiak, Artur Gajdziński (http://produkcjafilmowa.eu/)