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Last Updated: Sunday, 1 August, 2004, 21:50 GMT 22:50 UK
Warsaw stops to remember
By Adam Easton
BBC correspondent in Warsaw

At 1700 local time [1500 GMT] Warsaw came to a standstill. Trams and cars stopped in the streets.

Some 200,000 Poles died during and after the uprising

Some of the drivers even got out and stood stock still beside their vehicles. Strolling pedestrians stopped walking.

Then, an air raid siren sounded out over the city. Warsaw was remembering its fallen.

Exactly 60 years ago, it was W-hour, the moment Warsaw's underground Home Army launched their rebellion in an attempt to liberate the Polish capital from the city's brutal Nazi occupation.

'Grey Ranks' scouts

Many of the fighters then were 14, 15 and 16-year-olds.

Polish Home Army

Many were scouts, known as the "Grey Ranks", secretly trained to fight.

In tribute to their bravery, today's young scouts also took part in all of the ceremonies.

Some 3,000 veterans were in Warsaw for the three-day commemorations.

At numerous memorial services across the city, they proudly wore their medals and distinctive red and white armbands - the same they had first put on 1 August 1944 to identify themselves as combatants.

'The real story'

As military bands played rousing period music, they sung patriotic songs.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (right) shakes hands with Warsaw Uprising veteran Tadeusz Pospiech
Schroeder (right) became the first German chancellor to attend the ceremonies

For many - some who had come from as far away as Australia and South Africa - the world was finally learning the real story of the Warsaw Rising.

"For the first time in the history the ceremonies were as they ought to be," said Halina Donath, who was an 18-year-old medical orderly during the Rising.

For decades after World War II, Poland's communist authorities banned Rising commemorations and even put its leaders on trial as criminals.

For that reason many people still confuse the Rising with Warsaw's Ghetto uprising, which took place a year earlier in 1943.

'Making peace' with Germany

The Soviet army sat encamped on the opposite bank of Warsaw's Vistula River for much of the Rising.

They did not enter the city until January 1945, after Warsaw had been almost completely levelled under Hitler's orders.

Not surprising then that no senior Russian official attended the anniversary.

Instead, Poland chose the moment to make peace with its old enemy Germany.

Gerhard Schroeder became the first German chancellor to attend.

As he laid a wreath of flowers at Warsaw's main cemetery for the Rising's victims, there were shouts of "Bravo" from the crowd.

But not all have forgotten the atrocities carried out by German soldiers.

There were also a few jeers when Mr Schroeder was awarded a "Fighting Poland - Warsaw Rising 1944" honorary medal.

As representatives of Warsaw's wartime western allies, US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Britain's Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott also received medals.

The BBC's Juliet Dunlop
"An estimated 200,000 people died during Warsaw's failed uprising"

In pictures: Warsaw remembers
30 Jul 04  |  In Pictures
Warsaw Jews mark uprising
20 Apr 03  |  Europe
Timeline: Poland
24 Jun 04  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Poland
28 Jun 04  |  Country profiles

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