Seventy years ago, this week, between 20,000 and 50,000 Polish soldiers took to the streets of Warsaw to drive out the Nazis who were occupying their country and butchering their countrymen.
With a lack of outside support, either from the Russians or the Americans, the Nazis crushed the rebellion, known as the Warsaw Uprising.
Between 150,000 and 200,000 Poles died in the Uprising, and another 700,000 were forced out of the city.
This Friday marks the 70th anniversary of the Uprising, an event largely overlooked in WWII history.
But one artist is working to make that change, and that the valiant efforts of the citizens of Warsaw continue to be remembered.
Rafal Pisarczyk, who for several years worked and lived in Bushwick, and moved to the States from Poland when he was 12, is completing a mural along a wall at the Warsaw on Eckford Street, to commemorate the Uprising.
“The topic is close to my heart and I wanted to pay respect to the people who bravely stood up to the Nazi occupation,” said Pisarczyk. “This serves as a way for more people to know about it.”
Pisarczyk comes from a family of artists. Growing up, he was exposed to his dad’s work as a painter, and his older brother continues to work as a painter today.
Pisarczyk studied fine arts in college, but it wasn’t until two years ago that he became interested in painting murals.
It was at the same time that he began reading extensively about WWII history and Poland’s role in it. He was particularly inspired by Witold Pilecki, a Polish soldier who volunteered to get imprisoned at the concentration camp in Auschwitz to collect information and escape. Surviving beatings and torture, he escaped the camp three years later, and took part in the Warsaw Uprising.
Pisarczyk paid tribute to his efforts in a mural painted on a rooftop in Bushwick, part of a series of local artists’ mural works, which also happened to be one of his first forays into mural paintings.
He hasn’t looked back since.
In the mural commemorating the Warsaw Uprising, the painting is divided into two parts both depicting Warsaw residents, key figures, and symbols associated with the Uprising.
“There’s a tremendous sense of pride in conveying an important part of the history,” said Mark Chrosolewski, the owner of the Warsaw. “It’s not that it’s a forgotten part of history, but one that hasn’t been properly recorded or given the prominence it should have been.”
Among the symbols and people depicted include the “little mermaid,” a fresh-water, silver-sword wielding mermaid who is depicted on the Warsaw Coat of Arms; three Polish soldiers seated atop a Nazi tanker that they captured – and one of the soldiers, Odon Wos, was known to Pisarczyk, before the former died two years ago; an image of a 12-year-old boy who died fighting in the Uprising and who received Poland’s highest civilian honor for bravery; Julian E. Kulski, the son of the president of Warsaw at the time, who was a member of the Polish Underground – part of the resistance movement, and who today runs a successful architectural practice in New York; and Richard Cosby, whose efforts in the Uprising are detailed in the best-selling book by his award-winning journalist daughter, Rita Cosby.
It’s all set against the backdrop of the crumbling ruins of the city, 85 percent of which was destroyed as a result of the Uprising.
The mural will be unveiled on Sunday at 5 p.m. as part of the 70th anniversary celebrations to be organized by the Warsaw, the time marks the hour at which the uprising was thought to have begun.
“It was a great show of the feats of courage of regular human beings,” said Pisarczyk. “It showed true humanity.”
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