CNN Presents Classroom Edition

Warsaw Rising: The Forgotten Soldiers of World War II

Educator Guide

Set your VCR to record CNN Presents Classroom Edition: Warsaw Rising: The Forgotten Soldiers of World War II when it airs commercial-free on Monday, July 25, 2005 from 4:00-5:00 a.m. on CNN.


Program Overview

On the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landing, CNN premieres a groundbreaking documentary on a little-known chapter in the war. CNN Presents Classroom Edition: Warsaw Rising: The Forgotten Soldiers of World War II tells the story of the Polish resistance and its 63-day battle against the Nazis, a battle fought while the Western world celebrated the successful Allied landings at Normandy. Through interviews with survivors and use of rarely seen footage filmed by the Underground Army, CNN Presents offers an unflinching look at how a country known as the "first ally" was abandoned in its hour of need.

Teachers: This program contains scenes and accounts of war that some students may find disturbing. Please preview the program to make sure it is appropriate for your students.

Grade Levels: 7-12

Subject Areas: Social Studies, World History, U.S. History, Civics

Objectives: This CNN Presents Classroom Edition: Warsaw Rising: The Forgotten Soldiers of World War II and its corresponding discussion questions and activities challenge students to:

  • Examine from multiple perspectives the 1944 Polish resistance movement and its 63-day battle against the Nazis;
  • Discuss the significance of the Warsaw uprising in the context of other WWII political and military events;
  • Evaluate the legacy of the Polish resistance movement;
  • Debate the responsibilities of individuals, nations and international communities when faced with cases of oppression and persecution.


Curriculum Connections

Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

Standard II: Time, Continuity and Change: Students will learn about the ways human beings view themselves in and over time.

Standard VI: Power, Authority and Governance: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people create and change structures of power, authority, and governance.

The Curriculum Standards for Social Studiesexternal link ( are published by the National Council for Social Studiesexternal link (

United States History Standards

STANDARD 3: The causes and course of World War II, the character of the war at home and abroad, and its reshaping of the U.S. role in world affairs. Standard 3B: The student understands World War II and how the Allies prevailed. Explain the financial, material, and human costs of the war and analyze its economic consequences for the Allies and the Axis powers.

World History Standards

STANDARD 4: The causes and global consequences of World War II. Standard 4B: The student understands the global scope, outcome, and human costs of the war. Assess how the political and diplomatic leadership of such individuals as Churchill, Roosevelt, Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin affected the outcome of the war.

The National Standards for Historyexternal link ( ) are published by the National Center for History in the Schoolsexternal link (


Discussion Questions

1. Where is the city of Warsaw located? How would you describe conditions in Warsaw from the German invasion of Poland in September of 1939 through August of 1944? What was the Polish Underground? Who comprised this group? What happened in the Warsaw uprising? When did it occur? For how long did the uprising last? What methods did the Poles use in their fight against the German occupiers? Approximately how many Polish people died during the Warsaw uprising? What happened to the survivors of the uprising?

2. What assumptions did the Polish fighters have about support from the Allied forces? What information, if any, did the program offer about why the Polish resisters never received the support they had expected? What were some reasons given in the program for why the U.S., Great Britain and the Soviet Union did not offer support to the Poles? How do you think the decisions reached at the Tehran Conference impacted the fate of the Poles?

3. How do you think the story of the Warsaw uprising was recounted in U.S. newspapers and radio broadcasts 60 years ago? What do you think were some of the key questions at the time the events occurred? How do you think time has affected how the story of the uprising is told? How can time and perspective alter how we view historical events such as the Warsaw uprising?

4. What is a resistance movement? What are some tools that resistance movements might use to accomplish their goals? What are some other examples of resistance movements in recent history? How do the goals, methods and outcomes of the Polish Home Army in WWII compare with these other recent examples of resistance?

5. Why do you think that, in the United States, so little is known or has been written about this act of resistance against Nazi Germany? What reasons are suggested in the program for why this story remains untold? Why do you think CNN Presents has chosen to air this story on the 60th anniversary of the Allied landing at Normandy, France, on D-Day? Do you think the timing of the airing of Warsaw Rising: The Forgotten Soldiers of World War II is significant? Why or why not?

6. Why do you think some historical events are recorded and remembered while others are not? Do your U.S. or World History textbooks describe the events of the Warsaw Rising? If so, how do they describe them? How does the coverage of these events compare with the coverage of better-known events like D-Day? How do you think the story of the Warsaw Rising should be documented in textbooks and history classes?

7. What perspectives on the Warsaw uprising are told in this program? What are your reactions to the eyewitness accounts of the survivors? What odds did they overcome to survive? Would you describe their actions as heroic? Why or why not? What are some other ways a producer could have told this story? How do you think other ways of telling this story might compare with the story being told through eyewitness accounts?

8. How do you think the Warsaw uprising should be remembered? What do you think is the legacy of those who fought in this resistance movement? What lessons do you think could be learned from the actions of the resisters and the lack of action by the Allied powers?

9. Whom do you think should be held responsible for the massacre of the Poles in the fall of 1944? Explain. Do you think if you had lived in Poland at the time of German occupation you would have participated in the Polish Underground Army? Why or why not? How much responsibility do you feel for what takes place around you, in your family, your school, your city, your country and the world? Support your answer with examples. Do you think the United States is responsible for addressing injustices taking place in other parts of the world? Why or why not?


Suggested Activities

1. Discuss with students the events of the Warsaw Rising as they happened 60 years ago. Then, have students imagine that they are historians who are investigating the story of the Warsaw Rising for a chapter in a textbook on WWII. Ask students: What questions do you think would guide your investigation? Student answers might include questions like: Did the Polish resistance have any guarantees of help? Did the Underground Army act alone? Why didn't the Allied forces provide more assistance? Organize students into small groups and refer them to the primary documents listed in the Suggested Online Resources section of this guide. The documents include New York Times articles, telegrams among the Big Three leaders (Churchill, FDR and Stalin), propaganda leaflets and the transcript of the Tehran Conference in 1943. Assign one question to each group and have them analyze the primary documents in their investigation. Then, as groups report their findings, discuss how the information provided in the program either supports or refutes what was reported or known at the time. Have students consider whether or not they think the Warsaw Rising would have occurred if all of the facts they discovered in their research had been known at the time. As a class, create an outline for the chapter on the Warsaw Rising.

2. Share with students the following comment from Kathy Slobogin, managing editor of CNN Presents: "The story of the Warsaw Rising was largely forgotten. For the Allies it was an embarrassment, and for the Soviets it was inconvenient. The Allies didn't even invite Underground soldiers to the post-war victory parades. There was no official monument to the fighters in Warsaw until 1989. Through 'Warsaw Rising,' we are hopeful the world will start to remember." Ask students to consider what Slobogin means when she says this event was an "embarrassment" for the Allies and an "inconvenience" for the Soviets. Then, challenge students to create a memorial for the Polish resistance fighters. The memorial can be in the form of a physical structure, such as a monument or exhibit, a written work, such as a poem or an essay, or a work of art, such as a painting or piece of music. As they present their memorials, have students explain the rationale for their works and what lessons they think the international community might learn from them.

3. Share the following famous quotation by Pastor Martin Niemöller in 1945: "In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up." Have students discuss the meaning and significance of this quotation, both as it relates to the Warsaw Rising and to other historical or recent cases of oppression or injustice. Debate the responsibilities of nations, communities and individuals when facing oppression and persecution. Then, have students think about an injustice they have witnessed or an issue that they care about. Challenge students to re-write the quote above to depict their understanding of personal or governmental responsibility in the face of injustice.

4. Have student groups research recent underground resistance movements. Direct each group to select one movement and identify its motives or goals, the methods used, the strength or number of members in the movement, the effectiveness of the movement and the reaction of the international community to the movement. Remind students that resistance methods can include political (lawyers, elections, lobbyists), psychological (protests, pamphlets, radio broadcasts, spying, sabotage, etc.), economic (aiding refugees, withholding supplies, etc.) and military elements. Resistance movements can also be individuals as well as organized groups. Have each group of students report its findings. Remind students that several current conflicts revolve around the War on Terror. In class discussion, have students compare what they know about the factions in World War II to those involved in the War on Terror. Ask: What differentiates resistance movements from terrorists? Why do some argue that "one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter"? Do students agree or disagree with this assertion? Discuss.


Suggested Online Resources

The Warsaw Uprisingexternal link (

The Warsaw Risingexternal link (

1944 New York Times articles on uprisingexternal link (

The Warsaw Rising: Its Causes, Course, and Capitulationexternal link (

Polish and German leaflets published and distributed during the Warsaw Uprisingexternal link (

Telegram correspondence among the Big Three regarding Soviet assistanceexternal link (

World War II Historyexternal link (

Warsaw Uprising FAQexternal link (

Wikipedia: Resistance Movementsexternal link (

Resistance Movements and Solidarity Groupsexternal link (

Museum of Tolerance: Resistance and Rescueexternal link (

Polish American Congressexternal link (



World War II, Warsaw Rising, resistance, Polish Underground Army, Nazis, occupation, liberation, "Big Three," Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Allies, D-Day, Ghetto, SS, RAF, NKVD, Gulag, Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, concentration camps, Vistula River, Flying Fortresses, POW camps, "Uncle Joe," solidarity trade union, nationalist, socialist

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