Janina Maria Płoska – Resistance fighter, teacher, writer.

Nom de guerre – “Urszula“ “Rakieta“ Polish Home Army, Armia Krajowa, A.K. Warsaw Uprising.

Janina Płoska was a Captain in the Polish Home Army,  “Armia Krajowa” AK. – the Polish resistance fighting against the German occupation of Poland. She took part in the  Warsaw Uprising in 1944. She was Commander of the WSK – Military Women’s Service in District  1 “Radwan” (Śródmieście)  the City Centre District of Warsaw. Noms de guerre “Rakieta” (Rocket) “Urszula.” After the war she was a teacher in the UK.

Grave: Wrexham Cemetery Section New Lawn gr. 362

Janina Płoska (right) with her sister Irena- nom de guerre “Joanna Wrzeciono”. Photo Warsaw Uprising Museum.

In July 1944, as the Red Army approached Warsaw, Soviet authorities, promising aid, encouraged the Polish Resistance – The Home Army – Armia Krajowa – the AK,  to stage an uprising against the Germans. The AK, loyal to the Polish government-in-exile in  London, was concerned because the Soviet Union had already assumed direct control of eastern Poland and the Soviet backed Polish Committee of National Liberation began to administer the remainder of Soviet-occupied Polish territory. Hoping to gain control of Warsaw before the Red Army could “liberate” it, the AK decided to revolt. It was one of the most heroic, tragic and controversial events of the war.

 “To Arms in the ranks of the AK”.  Poster Warsaw Uprising Museum. 

Commanded by General Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski, 40,000 Polish soldiers of the AK, in uniforms and armbands, began their assault on German positions at 5pm.“W Hour” in the afternoon of 1 August 1944.  Within three days they had gained control of most of the city.

The Germans however, still held the main arteries; given time to regroup they sent in reinforcements and forced the Poles into a defensive position, bombarding them with air and artillery attacks. The Uprising was intended to last for only a few days until the Red Army arrived. For the next 63 days the AK battled the SS and Wehrmacht in the streets, cellars and sewers of Warsaw. German reprisals against the civilians were cruel, barbaric and brutal.

Resistance fighters at the junction of Świętokrzyska and Mazowiecka Streets Warsaw. Photo Warsaw Uprising Museum.

By mid-September, the Red Army, which had been delayed during the first days of the insurrection by a German assault, occupied a position at Praga, on the east bank, across the Vistula  river. 1st Polish  Army soldiers, fighting on the Eastern Front, under Soviet command made an unsuccessful attempt to help. They were unsupported and were not reinforced. The Red Army remained idle. The Soviet Air Force also remained passive, letting German aircraft bomb Warsaw and attack Allied aircraft.

In addition, the Soviet government refused to allow the western Allies to use Soviet air bases to airlift supplies to the beleaguered Poles. 11 missions by the western Allies battled the hazardous 1,800 miles there and back. Mostly flying from bases in Italy, the costs were high, 34 aircraft and 360 aircrew were lost. 45% of the airdrops reached the insurgents.

The Prudential Building Warsaw struck by a 2-ton mortar artillery shell during the Warsaw Uprising 28 August 1944.  Photo Museum of Warsaw.

During the Uprising the governments of Britain and the USA did take a step of immense importance; they declared combatants rights to the AK. This meant that if the AK surrendered, the western Allies would do their utmost to ensure that the AK soldiers would be treated as POWs and not be massacred.

Without Allied support the AK, reduced to small and disconnected units, running out of supplies, and hopelessly outgunned, was forced to surrender on October 2 1944.

The next day the Germans began to disarm the AK soldiers. Bór-Komorowski and his forces were taken prisoner. The Germans sent 15,000 of them to POW camps in various parts of Germany. Over 5,000 decided to blend into the civilian population hoping to continue the fight later. The entire civilian population of Warsaw was expelled from the city and sent to a transit camp. Out of 350,000–550,000 civilians who passed through the camp, 90,000 were sent to labour camps in the Third Reich, 60,000 were shipped to death and concentration camps. The remainder were dispersed throughout the German occupied territories.

Although the exact number of casualties is unknown, it is estimated that about 16,000 members of the Polish AK resistance were killed and about 6,000 badly wounded.  Between 150,000 and 200,000  civilians died.  Most had been killed in mass executions, died of disease, malnutrition or exhaustion. Or, during the fighting were buried in cellars, blown up by shell fire and bombs, or drowned in the sewers trying to escape. The 1st Polish Army fighting with the Red Army lost 5,000 killed, wounded or missing trying to reach the insurgents.

After the remaining population had been expelled, the Germans continued the destruction of the city. Special groups of German engineers were dispatched to burn and demolish the remaining buildings. 85% of Warsaw had been  destroyed- in the bombing of 1939, the 1943 Ghetto Uprising, the 1944 Uprising, or been deliberately demolished.

Ruins of Warsaw after the Uprising 1944. Photo in the public domain.

No other European Capital suffered such a fate during the course of the War : destroyed physically, about half of the inhabitants of the city, whose pre-war population was about 1.3 million, had perished since 1939.

By allowing the Germans to suppress the Warsaw Uprising, the Soviet authorities also allowed them to eliminate the main body of the military organisation that supported the Polish government-in-exile in London. Consequently, when the Soviet army occupied all of Poland, there was little effective organised resistance to it establishing Soviet political domination over the country and imposing the communist-led Provisional Government of Poland in 1945. A generation of the  best educated, the best motivated and the most dedicated, in the population of the Country’s capital city was lost in the Uprising.

In the aftermath of the war AK members were hunted down, tried, imprisoned and in some case executed by the communists. Most of the AK leaders liberated from German captivity preferred exile in the West.

“I have seen many towns destroyed, but never have I been faced with such destruction” General Dwight Eisenhower, on a visit to Warsaw in September 1945. Photo Library of Congress.

Janina Płoska was born on 9th April 1905  in Płock, in partitioned Poland, then part of the Russian Empire,  to Eugeniusz Płoski, lawyer, Catholic activist and great social activist,  and to Janina Aniela Płoska nee Betley, an acclaimed Polish artist.

She attended the  Gymnasium (Grammar School) and Secondary School of Hetmanowa Regina, Żółkiewska in Płock Poland. She then studied at the University of Warsaw, where she graduated with a Master’s Degree in Philosophy.

After graduation she worked in the Krasinski Library, Warsaw 1928-33, then as a teacher and Deputy Director at the School of Commerce, Warsaw.

With the outbreak of the War she was involved in the first underground organisation – the Union of Armed Struggle 1939-40, She took part in clandestine education, then in the Home Army, AK . She was a Captain and the Commander of the Military Women’s Service, Warsaw District 1 “Radwan”  Śródmieście (City Centre).

After the failure of the Uprising she was taken  prisoner by the German Wehrmacht. In October 5, 1944 she was a prisoner of the Germans at  the Home Army transit camp in Ożarów, then until mid-November in Stalag XI B Fallingbostel;  she was then sent to the KL.Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Pressure was put on the women AK soldiers to renounce their POW status and to become civilian workers. 1,721 of the 3000 refused to do so, as a result, on December 22, she was transferred with a group of female prisoners of war to a penal camp at  Stalag VI C Oberlangen. This had been a POW camp until October 1944 when the International Red Cross had been informed that it was now disused, so the IRC did not know of the presence of the women POWs there. The women received no aid and lived in appalling conditions, until they were liberated on April 12, 1945 by a reconnaissance patrol of the Polish 1st Armoured Division, fighting under General Stanisław Maczek in north west Europe.

The first roll call after liberation by the Polish First Armoured division of the women’s prison camp StalagVI C Oberlangen. Polish Camp Commandant Maria Irena Mileska “Jaga” (on the right), Lt Col. Stanisław Koszutski. Commander 2nd Armoured Regiment taking the salute.  Janina Płoska “Urszula Rakieta”(first left with glasses) and the Deputy Polish Camp Commandant Captain Halina Ter-Oganian “Danuta”(third from left with the Polish armband). Photo IPN.


After the War she lived in Great Britain. She was the headmistress of the last Polish schools in Great Britain: Dunalastair House in Scotland, then Grendon Hall, Buckinghamshire. When the schools closed, she worked in English schools as a teacher of mathematics and geography. 

She published several books for young people. She worked part-time at Polish cultural and historical organisations in London.

She died on 1 April 1990, aged 85, at the Polish Hospital, Penley, Wrexham, Wales. 

Decorations:  Cross of Merit with Swords , Home Army Cross.

Her sister Irena, nom de guerre “Joanna Wrzeciono” also took part in the Warsaw Uprising. She too was imprisoned by the Germans in Oberlangen. After the War she  emigrated with her Polish husband to Brazil where they had 4 children.

Her father Eugeniusz was seized by the Germans from a house at Trebecka St. Warsaw and was murdered by German forces in a mass execution at the Grand Theatre on August 7 or 8 1944. Her mother died in Trzepowo, near Płock on  20 May 1945.

Of the participants in the Uprising, Norman Davies, the English Historian said that they set a worthy example of the old-fashioned values of patriotism, altruism, steadfastness, self-sacrifice and duty. He said they deserve the epithet, based on the Epitath of Simonides at Thermopylae and the epitath on the Polish War Memorial at Monte Cassino –

Go, passer-by, and tell the world

That we perished in the cause,

Faithful to our orders.

Janina Maria Płoska.  Resistance fighter, teacher, writer. Born 9 April 1905. Died 16 April 1990.    

Cześc Jej pamięci.

Sources:

WCBC. Some Distinguished Poles in Wrexham Cemetery . Grodziska 2003.

Muzeum Powstanja Warszawskiego.   Warsaw Uprising Museum – Insurgent biographies.

Instytiut Pamięci Narodowej. Institute of National Remembrance Poland.

The Eagle Unbowed.  Poland and the Poles in the Second World War. Halik Kochanski

Rising ‘44 The Battle for Warsaw . Norman Davies.

Bloodlands. Europe between Hitler and Stalin. Timothy Snyder.

Warsaw Uprising. Britannica.com

Grave ref: Wrexham Cemetery Section New Lawn gr 362. Research and grave photo Fred Czulowski. March 2021.

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