The city must die

The razing of Warsaw by Nazi Germany in late 1944, following the 1944 Warsaw Uprising of the Polish resistance, was known as the Destruction of Warsaw.

The audacity and bravery of the Polish insurgents enraged the German leaders, who in retaliation, decided to destroy the city.

However, in actual fact, the Germans had long planned to raze the city. 

A German Armoured personnel carrier with dropping gear for launcher grenades: projectiles are being reloaded - August 1944. The Germans made full use of their military resources in bringing destruction to Warsaw.

Under the Nazi Generalplan Ost, Warsaw was chosen for destruction and major reconstruction as part of the Nazis' planned Germanization of Central Europe. And given their long-standing hostility and callous disregard for the Poles, it was little wonder they were happy to remove the Polish capital from the map.

However, with the war clearly lost by late 1944 and the Russians closing in from the East, the Germans abandoned their colonisation plans. As a result, the destruction of Warsaw served no strategic or ideological purpose; it was carried out solely as an act of retaliation.

Rare Agfacolor photo (invention from 1936) dated August 1944 taken in Warsaw, Poland in the Old Town Market Place (Zakrzewski's Side) during the Warsaw Uprising.

Photographer Ewa Faryaszewska was corporal in Polish Home Army and shot 31 color photos during the Warsaw Uprising. This photo was not colorized.

Ewa Faryaszewska (1920-1944) - Museum of Warsaw

The Pabst Plan

Warsaw was to be transformed into a provincial German city of 130,000 people under the Pabst Plan. Third Reich planners drew precise maps outlining a historic "Germanic" core in which only a few landmarks, such as the Royal Castle, which would serve as Hitler's state residence, would be preserved.

The Plan was named after German army architect Friedrich Pabst, who refined the concept of destroying a nation's morale and culture by destroying its physical and architectural manifestations.

Hubert Gross designed the actual new German city to be built on the site of Warsaw.  The failure of the Warsaw Uprising provided Hitler with an opportunity to begin realising his pre-war vision.

The Pabst Plan Warsaw: Neue deutsche Stadt Warschau ("New German city of Warsaw").

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Expelling the citizens

The Polish Home Army launched the Warsaw Uprising on 1st August 1944, as part of Operation Tempest. In response, under Heinrich Himmler's orders, Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski kept Warsaw under constant bombardment by Nazi artillery and air power for sixty-three days and nights until the Polish insurgents were forced to capitulate and the fighting came to end.

To house the evacuees expelled from Warsaw, a large transit camp (Durchgangslager) was built in Pruszków's Train Repair Shops (Zakady Naprawcze Taboru Kolejowego) in 1944. During the Warsaw Uprising and its suppression, the Germans deported approximately 550,000 residents of the city, as well as approximately 100,000 civilians from its outskirts, to Dulag 121 in Pruszków.

Polish civilians and insurgents at Pruszków Camp during the Uprising.

Polish Greatness (Blog): Warsaw Uprising 1944: August 6 - Warsaw Postal Service Continues Amid Bloodshed

The deportees were separated, and their fate was decided by the security police and the SS. In August, September, and October, approximately 650,000 people passed through the Pruszków camp. 55,000 people were sent to concentration camps, including 13,000 to Auschwitz.

They came from various social classes, occupations, physical conditions, and ages. Infants as young as a few weeks old were among the evacuees, as were the elderly. In a few cases, these were also people of different ethnic backgrounds, including Jews living on "Aryan papers" – fake paperwork designed to hide their Jewish ancestry.

The destruction begins

Marszalkowska street in 1935. It was almost entirely destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising.

Warszawa -Warsaw list (

After the remaining population was expelled, the Germans began destroying the city's ruins. German combat engineers were dispatched in special groups throughout the city to burn (Brandkommandos) and demolish (Sprengkommandos) the remaining buildings.

According to German plans, Warsaw would be reduced to the status of a military transit station after the war.

By January 1945, between 85% and 90% of the buildings had been completely destroyed, with up to 10% destroyed as a result of the September 1939 campaign and subsequent combat, up to 15% destroyed during the earlier Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, 25% destroyed during the Uprising, and 40% destroyed as a result of systematic German demolition of the city after the Uprising.

The estimated material losses were 10,455 buildings, 923 historical buildings (94%), 25 churches, 14 libraries, including the National Library, 81 primary schools, 64 high schools, the University of Warsaw, the Warsaw University of Technology, and the majority of the city's historical monuments.

Almost a million people were displaced and lost everything. The precise amount of private and public property lost, including works of art, other cultural artefacts, and scientific artefacts, is unknown, but it must be considered significant given that Warsaw and its inhabitants were the richest and wealthiest Poles in pre-war Poland.

Warsaw Uprising, 8th September 1944. German demolition unit (Sprengkommando) is preparing to blow up the Royal Castle in Warsaw.

This photo was taken by Alfred Mensebach – German architect and volksdeutsch from Leszno who documented the planed destruction of Warsaw.

His album with the photos from Warsaw Uprising was discovered in Leszno after the war by Polish authorities. Original description of the photo: “Blowing up of former Royal Castle on the Vistula river”.

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The Saski Palace Warsaw and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, destroyed by Germans in 1944.

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The destroyed Royal Castle Square, Warsaw - pictured in 1945.

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Burning the books

Libraries became a special focus for Nazi attention – unsurprising given their hostile attitude towards Poles whom they considered educated. The Brandkommandos (burning detachments) whose mission it was to burn Warsaw carefully burned 70 to 80% of the libraries.

The Zauski Library, Poland's oldest public library and one of the oldest and most important libraries in Europe (founded in 1747), was burned down in October 1944. Only about 1,800 manuscripts and 30,000 printed materials survived out of approximately 400,000 printed items, maps, and manuscripts.

Interior of the Zamoyski Estate Library in a building at Żabia Street in Warsaw. Burned down in September, 1939 as a result of severe aerial bombardment by the Germans (incendiary bombing). The surviving collection was later deliberately burned by the Germans in September 1944.

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The three major private libraries in Warsaw (Krasiski Library, Przedziecki Library, and the Libraty of Zamoyski Family Entail) ceased to exist in September and October 1944, during the final phase of the Warsaw Uprising and after its collapse, including collections of priceless value to Polish culture.

These libraries had already suffered when they were bombed and burned in September 1939 during the German Invasion of Poland.

The Krasiski Library's important collection of books, founded in 1844, was largely destroyed in 1944. The collection originally held 250,000 items. On September 5, 1944, during the Uprising, the library's warehouses were shelled by German artillery and burned almost completely. Some of the books were saved after being thrown through windows by library staff. Following the failure of the Uprising in October 1944, the Germans deliberately burned the surviving collection.

Following the German invasion of Poland on 1st September 1939, Warsaw suffered heavy air attacks and artillery bombardment. German troops entered the city on September 29, shortly after its surrender. This photograph was taken by Julien Bryan, an American documentary filmmaker who captured the German bombardment and its impact on the Polish citizenry in Warsaw, 

Bombing of Warsaw | Holocaust Encyclopedia (

There were approximately 26,000 manuscripts, 2,500 incunables, 80,000 early printed books, 100,000 drawings and prints, 50,000 note and theatre manuscripts, and a large collection of maps and atlases lost.

The Przedziecki Estate Library at 6 Foksal Street housed 60,000 volumes and 500 manuscripts, as well as an extensive archive of 800 parchment and paper documents and a cartographic collection of 350 maps, atlases, and plans.

Aside from 10,000 prints and drawings, there was a large art gallery (Portrait of Casimir Jagiellon from the 15th century, Portrait of John III Sobieski from the Schleissheim Palace, the House altar of Sophia Jagiellon, 1456), a valuable collection of miniatures and decorative art: textiles, porcelain, faience, glass, gold objects, military, and so on.

The 12th-century Meuse School Bible, one of the books burned by the Germans in October 1944.

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It was destroyed by fire on 25th September, 1939, as a result of heavy aerial bombardment by the Germans (incendiary bombing). In October 1944, the surviving items sheltered in the neighbouring tenement house on Szczygla Street were burned.

The Library of the Zamoyski Family Entail acquired collections of 70,000 works (97,000 volumes), more than 2,000 manuscripts, 624 parchment diplomas, several thousand manuscripts, engravings, coins, and 315 maps and atlases. The library also housed numerous art collections, including a large collection of militaria, miniatures, porcelain, faience and glass, natural collections, research tools, and so on, which were mostly amassed during the Zamoyski Academy's existence.

Bombing destroyed approximately 50,000 items (roughly 30%) in 1939. The Germans set fire to both the Zamoyski Palace (Blue Palace) and the library building on 8th September, 1944.

The red-bordered outlines spread out across the city centre, and down dozens of streets with the only interruptions coming from the outlines of buildings marked as “burnt” or “burnt to a significant degree”.

Fascinating new map graphically illustrates devastation Warsaw suffered in WWII – The First News

The Central Military Library, which housed 350,000 books on Polish history, was destroyed, as was the Library of the Polish Museum in Rapperswil, which had been deposited there for safekeeping. In 1927, the Rapperswil Library's collection was transported to Poland.

In 1870, the library and museum were established in Rapperswil, Switzerland, as "a refuge for [Poland's] historic memorabilia dishonoured and plundered in the [occupied Polish] homeland," as well as to promote Polish interests. In 1944, the Germans deliberately destroyed the majority of the library's collections, which included 20,000 engravings, 92,000 books, and 27,000 manuscripts.

A German Stuka over Warsaw during the Uprising, August 1944.. German aerial bombing contributed to the destruction of Warsaw, 

[Photo] Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber over Warsaw, Poland during the Warsaw Uprising, Aug 1944 | World War II Database (

Unlike previous Nazi book burnings, which targeted specific books, the burning of those libraries was part of the general burning of a large portion of Warsaw. This resulted in the disappearance of many valuable old books and scrolls among the approximately sixteen million volumes burned indiscriminately by Germans in Poland during World War II.


Between the 1950s and 1970s, the Polish people rebuilt Warsaw. The Soviet Union "gifted" the Palace of Culture and Science (completed in 1955). Some landmarks were rebuilt as recently as the 1980s. While the Old Town has been completely rebuilt, the New Town has only been partially restored to its former glory.

The surviving collections from the Krasiński Library (the largest of which were those on the Napoleonic Wars and the November Uprising) were transferred to the National Library of Poland after the war.

The cartographers’ attempt to record the state of every building floundered on the area that was once the Jewish Ghetto.

Fascinating new map graphically illustrates devastation Warsaw suffered in WWII – The First News

North-west view of Warsaw after the destruction in 1950, left - the Krasinski`s Garden and Swietojerska street. Also shown is the remains of the Warsaw Ghetto, smashed into the ground by German forces, according to Adolf Hitler`s order, after suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943.  

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Standing for “completely destroyed” most of the Old Town’s buildings and the Royal Castle are outlined in black.

Fascinating new map graphically illustrates devastation Warsaw suffered in WWII – The First News

In 2004, the President of Warsaw, Lech Kaczyski (later President of Poland), established a historical commission to estimate the city's losses to public property alone inflicted by German authorities. The losses were estimated by the commission to be at least $31.5 billion. These estimates were later raised to $45 billion, and then to $54.6 billion in 2005. (all equated to 2004 dollars).

The official estimates exclude massive losses of private property, which are of unknown value because almost all pre-war documents (such as insurance values of private collections) were also destroyed, but are considered between double and triple the official estimates (which are based on documented losses only, while the National Library's list of pre-war property lost estimated to be 1% of its collection since Germans destroyed all archives).

A "destruction inventory" map of Warsaw detailing each individual building has been made available online, graphically illustrating the city's extensive damage during WWII.

The map, created by city officials in 1945-46 with meticulous attention to detail, includes the outline of each individual building, colour coded according to the level of destruction it endured.

Along Krakowskie Przedmieście and Nowy Świat most of the buildings, except those marked in black, have a red border for “building completely burnt out”.

Fascinating new map graphically illustrates devastation Warsaw suffered in WWII – The First News

As a result, it provides viewers with an intriguing and disturbing record of what Warsaw looked like when the guns fell silent in 1945. Many of the building sites, for example, are denoted by an ominous black border. The majority of the Old Town's buildings, as well as the Royal Castle, are outlined in black.

In complete contrast Warsaw’s right-bank of the Wisła shows little sign of war damage.

Further reading