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Town Hall
En Espanol

Remarks By Al Gore
Commemoration of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944
Warsaw, Poland

August 1, 1994

Commemorations of violent battles come wrapped in strangeness. We gather here today in peace and harmony a half century after "General Bor", Tadeusz Komorovski, led the valiant people of Warsaw in revolt against Nazi tyranny, a revolt that began on August 1, 1944.

For over two months in the broiling summer heat, Warsaw was swept by the sound and fury of battle. Heroic Polish freedom fighters faced virtually alone the fierce might of the Nazi Wehrmacht. In the end a quarter million of them died.

Potential help was nearby in the mighty Soviet army that had beaten the Nazis into retreat across the vast plains of Russia and the Ukraine. But Joseph Stalin commanded his troops to stand still across the Vistula until the Polish democratic forces were almost annihilated by the Nazis.

Against hopeless odds, the Polish people dared to hope. Polish women fought in the barricades beside Polish men, using molotov cocktails and antiquated rifles and pistols against the tanks and artillery of the Wehrmacht. Children carried messages through sewers to different parts of the city and sometimes took up arms alongside their older brother and sisters. The dusty air stank with the reek of death and swarmed with billions of flies that fed on unburied corpses. Water was short. Disease and starvation fell with impersonal ferocity on the Polish community. And still the Poles fought on beneath their red and white flag, valiant to the end.

Heinrich Himmler, in charge of the German forces in Warsaw, used the uprising as an excuse to vent his hatred the city that had refused to cower before the criminal brutality of Waffen S.S. He ordered the city to be demolished, and so it nearly was. Thousands of Polish non-combatants—old men, women, little children—were herded into parks and shot down without mercy.

When the uprising was finally crushed, Himmler's methodical agents of death went through Warsaw blowing up buildings that remained standing, seeking to make a desert that they could call peace. For a time it seemed that this magnificent old city had become a graveyard of martyrs, an uncarved tombstone of rubble and ruins marking the end of a history that had lasted a thousand years.

Today we meet here, in a thriving city in a free land, a Poland and a Warsaw that never died. We try after half a century, to find words that may evoke for another generation the haunting glory shining like the stars over the sacrifice of the silent dead who here gave their lives for Poland and for liberty.

The strangeness of this moment is that no words we can frame are adequate to that task. If you would see the monument for these noble martyrs, look around you. Look at Warsaw; look at Poland; look at this international assembly that gathers to do them honor. Real peace has come after wars that were first hot and then cold; liberty has burst the chains of slavery and buried them in the earth.

Some would say that the strangeness is deepened by the presence here of representatives from the nations that contended on all sides of that fiery conflict.

Perhaps such a gathering is strange, given the terrible propensity of human kind to pass hatreds from generation to generation and to heap on the heads of children in the present the blood guilt of the past.

But is our sons and daughters are to dwell together in peace in the world, the cycle of hatred and vengeance must be broken. Those who have been at sword point must cry, "Hold! Enough!" and together take hands to the forge to shape the weapons of war into instruments of peace.

The living and the dead from the Warsaw Uprising deserve more than vengeance against those innocent of their blood. We honor them best by our unbending will, five decades after their gallant sacrifice, to build a Europe where past hatreds will dissolve in the warmth of new understanding, tolerance, mutual forgiveness and common hope.

No one can escape the past. We can, however, choose those parts of the past that we will use in constructing the future. We must not choose to enslave the present and to bind the future in the shackles of ancient hatreds.

The Polish fighters of 1944 died for liberty and for human dignity. Their example and their sacrifice were for all people and all times. Recent history has proven that their sacrifice helped sanctify liberty for the children of their oppressors.

The most precious monument for those we honor today will be a Europe where all children in every land can waken without fear, live their days without hatred, dine together in plenty, and lie down to sleep in peace.



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