It was 5 p.m. on Aug. 1, 1944, when the people of Warsaw rose up after five years of brutal German occupation.

The previous year, the uprising in the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw had been crushed. But this time, with Soviet forces massing on the edge of the capital, liberation seemed near. Early victories gave hope to the Home Army of rebels and the huge numbers of civilians who transported messages, procured food and water and even joined in the fighting.

Yet in four days, the insurgents had achieved all they ever would.

Large German reinforcements soon moved in, under orders from SS leader Heinrich Himmler to kill everyone, raze Warsaw and set "a terrifying example" to all of Europe.

Paul Peczynski, 17 when the uprising began, remembers how poorly armed the insurgents were.

"I only had a hand grenade. After throwing it, I helped build barricades to help defend our units from Germans," said Peczynski, who lives in Naples, Fla., and will join about 3,000 veterans at Sunday's 60th anniversary commemoration in Warsaw. "After we stormed the YMCA building, which was occupied by Germans, I got my first rifle."

After 63 days, the Home Army capitulated.

Beyond the sheer savagery of the German response, what still embitters Poles is the failure of the Soviet army, deployed on the east bank of the Vistula River, to intervene. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin maintained that the uprising was an irresponsible act that would set back the war effort. But it is widely believed that his real motive was fear that the rebels would become Poland's future leadership and resist his scheme of bringing eastern Europe under communist domination.

Oxford University's Norman Davies, a scholar of the uprising and author of "Rising '44," said the rebels could have won had the Allies supported them. Even today, he said, it remains "a topic of acute embarrassment for the Western powers."

"We did have a couple of airdrops with supplies," Peczynski recalled in an interview, "but the majority fell into the German sector."