Look at that photograph. If you are Polish or of Polish descent, you have probably seen it before because it is one of the most iconic photographs from the Warsaw Uprising, which began on August 1st, 1944—exactly 72 years ago.
This photograph has become symbolic not only of the Warsaw Uprising in Poland, during which the Polish resistance bravely fought the Nazis for 63 days until their city was in complete ruin, but also of war’s devastation in any age.
Depicted are young boys, probably no older than 14, forced to fight and die for their homeland because most of the grown men have already been killed. In this photograph, they are probably starved, sleep deprived, psychologically drained, and physically pained. Yet, they still strive to smile and stay confident as Warsaw burns. Their resolve is so strong that even the surrounding bombs, bullets and mass butchery does not break them.
Looking at this photograph and reflecting on the Warsaw Uprising really puts things into perspective for me. Today, few problems that we have even come close to what these children and their compatriots had to face seven decades ago. Maybe traffic increased your commute to work today by an hour. Maybe you are agonizing over how and when to ask someone out on a date. Heck, maybe you even got robbed. At least the city you were born in is not a pile of dust and half your family wasn’t just executed by the Gestapo.
Anniversaries like this are meant to make us think about what we have and how we got here. As an American, my connection to the Warsaw Uprising may not be as direct as a Pole, but if it wasn’t for people like my grandma who survived through hell in Poland during their youth, I wouldn’t be here. This photograph is especially a message to younger people. There’s no law that says your childhood, teenage years and twenties has to be full of lollipops, rainbows and ponies. Things could have been different, and for young people growing up in Poland during the war, they were.
So take a moment to reflect on your blessings and remember that the kids in this photograph would probably have given anything to have your problems instead of theirs.