WARSAW, Poland — Sirens let out a long and mournful wail and people and traffic stood still on the streets of Warsaw on Friday as Poland commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, a revolt against Nazi Germany that ended tragically for the Poles.
On Aug. 1, 1944, thousands of poorly-armed young city residents rose up against the German forces to try to take control of Warsaw ahead of the advancing Soviet army. They held on for 63 days in the cut-off city before being forced to surrender. Almost 200,000 fighters and civilians were killed in street fights and in German bombings. The Nazis expelled the survivors and set the city ablaze.
President Bronislaw Komorowski joined hundreds of the surviving insurgents for a series of ceremonies that honored the heroic struggle that remains a source of pride for the Poles.
Komorowski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk laid wreaths at a black stone obelisk in a military cemetery in the day's main observance. Thousands of people of all ages also turned out for the ceremony held on the exact hour — 5 p.m. local time (1500GMT) — when the uprising began. Many placed candles or flowers in the national colors of white and red on graves of the fighters or at the obelisk in Powazki cemetery in memory of the struggle.
In a long-standing tradition, people in Warsaw and many other cities stood still for a moment of homage when sirens sounded at the hour.
Earlier Friday, Komorowski laid flowers on the graves of the revolt's commanders, and in another observance residents sang songs written by the insurgents.
The Warsaw Uprising was a taboo subject until the fall of communism in 1989. It has been honored ever since as a symbol of Poland's readiness to pay the ultimate price for freedom.