Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at the Children's Memorial in Warsaw

July 07, 1994

The President. Thank you very much, Ryszard Paclawski, Adam Bielaczki. And to Magda Kierszniewska, didn't she do a good job? Let's give her another hand. [Applause]

We are gathered at the wall of an old city to honor a people whose love of freedom is forever young. Fifty years ago a heroic chapter of history was written here, a chapter stained with the blood of war but brightened by the enduring power of the human spirit. Next month you will honor that spirit by marking the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. And I am pleased to say that the Vice President of the United States, Al Gore, will be here with you in August, just as I am today.

The seeds of rebirth that are now flowering across this wonderful country were planted a half-century ago. When the brave Poles took up arms against Hitler's tyranny in the summer of 1944, Warsaw was on the verge of total destruction. For 63 days, Polish men, women, and children struggled against the Nazis. For 63 days they faced the tanks, machine guns, and bombers with courage and faith and solidarity. Two hundred thousand of them died. And this beloved city seemed beyond salvation.

I have seen photographs of Warsaw at the end of the war. An exquisite city that took six centuries to build was razed to the ground in 2 monstrous months. The statue of King Zigmund was toppled from its base, an elegant column literally blown to bits. The majestic arches of St. John's Cathedral were battered until only a skeleton remained. The Old City marketplace was obliterated.

No one sacrificed more than the children. The statue behind me honors the children of the Warsaw Uprising. The terror of war took their innocence. Their childhoods were buried in the rubble. Young girls braved sniper fire to deliver messages for the Resistance, and the Szare Szeregi, the Young Scouts, faced the frontlines of battle.

Thousands of children witnessed the unimaginable. One boy was 8 years old when the bombs began raining down, when the Nazi planes destroyed the building where he lived, when his family courtyard was turned into a graveyard for his neighbors. But that little boy survived.

He never forgot Warsaw, and he never gave up trying to give meaning to the tragedy. Today, that little boy is the highest ranking military officer in the United States of America, General John Shalikashvili, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has dedicated his life to the fight for peace and freedom.

His life, like the lives of so many other children of Warsaw, teaches us what Poland taught the world: Out of the wreckage of oppression can grow the redeeming spirit of freedom. Some of those other children, now grown, are with us today. Let us thank them all for that profound lesson. [Applause]

Sometimes in life, we do not realize the good we have done. Fifty years ago, the heroes of Warsaw seemed defeated. Fifty years later, we know the Polish spirit did not die in the ruins. Sometimes what seems to be the final chapter in history is but one sad page of an unfinished and triumphant story.

The Polish people never gave in to the shadow of despair. They found strength through the light cast by the uprising, and after the war, the survivors returned to the ruins. Brick by brick, with cold and tired hands, they rebuilt this city. Day by day, they revived a nation, even as new invader overwhelmed the homeland they loved. For five more decades, as Poles had done for centuries in the face of attack and invasion, they held fast to their dreams; they endured the darkness of domination; they prepared and fought for a new day to come.

Just as the men, women, and children of the uprising won their fight, so you in this generation have won yours. Warsaw is not a city under siege but a city in peace. Poland is not a nation consigned to the darkness of tyranny but a nation inspiring the entire world in a season of renewal.

This moment reminds all of us that darkness could always enshroud us again, that fear and intolerance do find new lives of their own. But let us remember the words of the Polish philosopher Joachim Lelewel, a great Polish thinker, who said, "The last bastion of our nation is our people's heart, and that bastion will never be conquered."

That is the lesson of the Warsaw Uprising. That is the lesson of democracy's triumph in Poland today. And that is the lesson that we as free peoples, Polish and American, must embrace.

Today we have no doubt that the children of the Warsaw Uprising won their larger war, for the hearts of the free can never be conquered.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 3:25 p.m. In his remarks, he referred to Ryszard Paclawski, Adam Bielaczki, and Magda Kierszniewska, children who participated in the ceremony.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the Children's Memorial in Warsaw Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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