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H. Kaja Ploss 'We, Warsaw Children...'

Reprinted from The Quarterly Review, July-Sept., 1974. Vol. XXVI, No. 3.


warsaw uprising songsWe, Warsaw Children

We, Warsaw children will fight for you
for every stone of yours
our City, we'll shed blood

We, Warsaw children will fight for you
at each command of yours
the foe will get his due.

Every war produces its own literature and its own songs and music. Some are written an the spur of the moment, others are composed more thoughtfully, inspired by the heroics of the fighting men. A few become classics and most are soon forgotten.

Here in the United States, a Civil War song, ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again", is sung till today and is just as stirring as when first heard over 100 years ago.

In faraway France, a poet and dramatist wrote a poem "La Varsovienne" when the news of the Polish Uprising of November 1830 reached him. The verses were translated into Polish by Karol Sienkiewicz and music for it was composed by Karol Kurpinski. It was first sung in Poland by soldiers of the Uprising on May 26, 1831:

Oto dziś dzien krwi i chwały
Oby dniem wskrzeszenia był.
(Here's the day of blood and glory,
let it Poland's resurrection be.)

This song is known not only in Poland but also here in the Polish communities, 144 years after it was written.

A simple Ukrainian tune "Where Have All the Soldiers Gone?", written during the tragic retreat of Napoleon from Moscow, became known to the rest of the world only 19 years ago, when Peter Seeger translated it into English and Marlene Dietrich introduced it on a European tour. In England a prominent composer, Richard Addinsell, wrote the world famous "Warsaw Concerto", inspired by the bitter fighting over Warsaw in September 1939.

There are many songs from the First and Second World Wars, yet no war produced such an abundance of songs as the 63-day-long Warsaw Uprising in 1944.

Sixty-three days and almost as many songs. They were not sad or melancholy, but full of spirit, patriotism, hope and defiance. It was almost as if the five years of German oppression burst forth in those flaming freedom songs. At every barricade and every fighting point they knew and sang ‘We, Warsaw Children Will Fight for You!" (Warszawskie Dzieci Pójdziemy w Bój). Words by a son of Warsaw, the poet Stanisław R. Dobrowolski, music by Andrzej Panufnik, today a symphony orchestra conductor in England. [Andrzej Panufik died in 1991. Ed.]

Among the soldiers fighting in the Uprising was a young writer Krystyna KraheLska. Her face was known to many as she served as the model for the beloved statue of the ‘Warszawska Syrena" (Warsaw Mermaid) which had been placed before the war an the banks of the Vistula. It was Krysryna Krahelska who wrote "Hej Chłopcy, bagnet na broń!" (Hey Boys, Fix Bayonets!), a song especially popular with the youngest freedom fighters.

Yet, the most prolific composers were the brothers Markawski, in particular the older one, Jan. A recognized songwriter before the war, young Markowski's talent burst into fall bloom during the Uprising. His "Mokotow March" was perhaps the most widely sung, known, and popular song during and after the Uprising.

Women, together with men, were fighting at every street corner. Some with grenades and rifles, but mostly as couriers and nurses. Markowski expressed his gratitude and admiration, along with that of all the soldiers, to the women combatants in the song "Sanitariuszka Małgorzatka" (Army Nurse Malgorzatka).

Three popular tunes composed by partisans hiding in woods were written before the Uprising. Street musicians with accordions and mandolins were stealthily walking from yard to yard and singing those outlawed songs. But only during the 63 days of the Warsaw Uprising did those songs become really popular. A haunting melody, "Rozśpiewały się Wierzby Płaczące" (Weeping Willows are singing their Songs), became a classic. Another was a gay little tune with words to match by Michał Zieliński, "Serce w Plecaku" (Heart in a Knapsack). A third, written by a lonely 18-year-old partisan soldier during a rainy autumn night,

Deszcz, jesienny deszcz
smutne pieśni gra ...
(Rain, the autumn rain
sings a song of tears ...)

Sixty-three days, and the fighting was over. It was autumn, October 4, when the survivors of the Uprising were marched out by the Germans into prison camps. Behind them was an empty and smoldering city, before them an unknown fate. That simple autumn song accompanied them often ...

Idziesz sobie źołnierzyku
gdzieś w nieznaną dal.
(You keep marching, little soldier
into unknown fates)

Warsaw was rebuilt. Those 63 days will be written up not only in history books, but much deeper – in our hearts. They will live in us through literature, poetry and song. Sometimes a sharp little pain will pierce through us as we think of those glorious yet so tragic days. Sometimes an unanswered question will fleetingly pass through our mind ...

Where have all the young men gone ...?

Heart in a Knapsack

From a youthful breast it scampered
full of loving and elation,
ran after the soldiers crying
a lost heart full of frustration.
Met a soldier marching gaily
who took pity on its troubles
stuck the lost heart in his knapsack
and his marching speed redoubled.

This one song, this one and only
I will sing for you, my lonely.
Maybe your heart too is crying
full of longing and of sighing.
Maybe secretly you're loving
and your nights are spent in sobbing.

This one song, this one and only
I will sing for you, my lonely.

Songs translated by Irene P. Coulter