“Text and Photos by Joshua Murdock”
By August 1, 1944, Poles in the city of Warsaw had seen more than enough. They’d lived through nearly five years of Nazi occupation, and collective outrage toward the invasive forces reached a flash point with the carefully organized Warsaw Uprising. Scouting had long been established in Poland, but the Polish Scouting Organization (ZHP) transformed into the paramilitary “Grey Ranks” upon the outbreak of war. Since the invasion of Poland by Nazi forces in 1939, Boy Scouts (among many other groups of citizens), were subject to imprisonment and mass executions. Because most of the adult men were either fighting abroad or had been killed, it was up to the remaining Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of Warsaw to become the resistance. Older Boy Scouts demolished bridges, carried out attacks against Nazi forces, and assassinated Nazi commanders, while younger Boy Scouts acted as messengers and stealthily painted the Kotwica, the symbol of the Polish Resistance, on buildings and Nazi equipment.
Polish Girl Scouts acted as baby sitters for mothers working in hospitals, helped collect medical supplies, and worked in hospitals themselves. The Warsaw Uprising was strategically timed to coincide with the retreat of Nazi forces from the Soviet Union through Poland, which would theoretically bring liberation in the form of Soviet troops. But the Soviets stopped short, creating a stalemate between the Polish Resistance and the Nazi forces, and the western Allies never launched a fully coordinated effort to assist the Polish Resistance. And so, on October 2, 1944, the Polish Resistance formally surrendered to Nazi forces, thus ending the largest resistance movement of any nation during World War Two. Following the liberation of Poland by the Soviet Union’s Red Army on January 17, 1945, the country became a part of the Eastern Bloc of the U.S.S.R. The Polish Scouting Organization fled to England along with what remained of the pre-war government. With Polish refuges scattered across the globe, the ZHP became the world’s first and only national scouting organization to exist exclusively outside of its home country. Today the ZHP consists of hundreds of troops across the world, each full of boys and girls with direct Polish heritage, and often with ancestral ties to the Warsaw Uprising itself. Totally separate from Boy Scouts of America, Polish Scouts master the Polish language, learn about the history of their organization and its wide intersection with that of Poland, and practice the original (non-violent) scout skills used by the ZHP during the uprising. While there is a major focus on heritage, one of the main goals of the ZHP in the U.S. is to mold youth into outstanding American citizens. “The country you live in and your fatherland – those are the two most important places,” said Zbigiew Pisanski, President of the Boy’s Division of the Polish Scouting Organization in the U.S. He explained that moral values are the “spine” of the ZHP. The organization teaches that “others have the right to think different ways,” and encourages scouts to “not only see the differences [in others], but to understand them.” From July 26 to August 8, the Polish Scouting Organization in the U.S. held a National Jamboree at Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch. More than 300 scouts 100 adults were present for the nearly two week encampment. “A big part [of the jamboree] is to keep heritage alive…” said Pisanski, “They feel pretty connected, especially to the experience.” Nearly all activities and interactions during the jamboree were conducted in Polish.
While the weekdays were filled with regular activities of the ZHP and new experiences provided by the camp’s BSA staff, Saturday, August 1, the 71st anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, was a day of contrast and conflicting emotion. The early part of the day was filled with cultural celebration, family and public visitation, and a parade for guests. But at 5 p.m., the camp sirens blared and everyone stood at attention, in solemn silence, for one minute to commemorate the beginning of the Warsaw Uprising. The same moment of silence is observed annually in Warsaw. At exactly 5:01 p.m., war games commenced around the camp, with groups of scouts playing the roles of the Nazi occupiers, citizens of Warsaw, and members of the Polish Resistance. Such games are a yearly tradition for many ZHP troops. “Putting your life not only in danger, but sometimes in sure death [sic], is the ultimate sacrifice to others,” Pisanski said, regarding the importance of instilling in Polish scouts an understanding of their past. “Giving is more than taking,” he said, “It’s a good example. We are Poles, tell us where to fight and we’ll go fight, as long as it’s [for] the right reasons.” Following the war games, scouts, leaders, and visitors assembled on the shores of Silver Lake for a ceremonial campfire. Polish Scouting Organization campfires differ from typical BSA camp fires in that there is no clapping, no eating, and no drinking – only traditional songs, unity, heritage, and somber remembrance of the past that molded the organization into what it is today. But the past is not remembered without a hint of pride, because the Polish Scouting Organization did what no scouts had done before and what none have done since, and their bravery and thirst for justice is splashed across the pages of history.