Those were the words of leader of the British Labour Party in 1944, Clement Atlee, as Poles rose up against the Nazis during the Warsaw Rising, that began on August 1 and lasted 63 bloody days.
The answer to the question was: a lot more than the Britain did, along with many others. The imperative from the British foreign office’s point of view was – don’t upset Stalin.
Stalin, with forces on the bank of the River Vistula, was quite content to let the Nazis and Polish Home Army destroy each other – all the better for the Soviets when they did finally enter the city three months after the Uprising was defeated and the Nazis had retreated.
Many Russian historians claim that the Red Army was exhausted and had no supplies. But that doesn’t explain why Stalin had refused permission for the RAF to land anywhere near the city during the period when it was flying planes in from Italy to try and bring a few supplies to the insurgents.
But there was no real political will in Britain to do much more. Stalin had been promised by Churchill et al that Poland would be in his sphere of influence after the war ended. Warsaw was his.
Few in the British media seemed to have had problems with this. The lone voice, as Norman Davies points out in Rising 44 (see chapter here), was George Orwell. Writing in the leftwing Tribune on September 1:
I want to protest against the mean and cowardly attitude adopted by the British press towards the recent rising in Warsaw…..
...As soon as the news of the rising broke, the News Chronicle and kindred papers adopted a markedly disapproving attitude. One was left with the general impression that the Poles deserved to have their bottoms smacked for doing what all the Allied wirelesses had been urging them to do for years past, and that they would not be given and did not deserve to be given any help from outside.
...The enormous majority of left-wingers who swallow the policy put out by the News Chronicle, etc., know no more about Poland than I do. All they know is that the Russians object to the London Government and have set up a rival organization, and so far as they are concerned that settles the matter. If tomorrow Stalin were to drop the Committee of Liberation and recognize the London Government, the whole British intelligentsia would flock after him like a troop of parrots.
[A] message to English left-wing journalists and intellectuals generally: ‘Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Don’t imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet régime, or any other régime, and then suddenly return to mental decency. Once a whore, always a whore.’
Well, why don’t you speak your mind, George? Orwell was in the process of writing Animal Farm when he penned those words. It must be remembered that it was not just the leftwing press that was a ‘boot-licking propagandist’ – just about all the other journos joined the chorus of parrots.
But most of the left in Britain did remain a Stalinist ‘whore’ up until 1956. And it’s only comparatively recently that Stalin has become the moral equivalent of Hitler.
But as usual, even though he was a socialist writer, Orwell was nobody's whore.
Brilliant site on the Uprising here and the Warsaw Rising Museum site here.