The Witnesses' Uprising Reports
My war memoirs.
Zofia Jastrzębska - Kowalewska,
Polish September - beginning of Nazi/German occupation
Today when I try to recall my war time experience I only realize how my life was influenced by the patriotic attitudes of my family and colleagues. First of all, I would like to mention my father, Julian Jastrzębski 'Chuligan' (died in 1936) who as a youth member of the Polish Socialist Party (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna, PPS) fought against Tsarist Russia. In 1905 he took part in an assassination attempt against a Tsarist rule representative. He was arrested and imprisoned in Warsaw Citadel. When I was a child I listened to those stories with great interest. My father was a passionate supporter of Marshal Pilsudski and remained loyal to him until his death. During general elections, he ostentatiously voted for the Pilsudski list. He was walking to the ballot box with his voting card behind the ribbon of his bowler hat, his choice visible to all.
I was even more impressed by my uncle (who was also my godfather), Rotamaster (Rotmistrz) Karol Jastrzębski. He was a veteran of the World War I and the war against Bolshevik Army in 1920. As an Uhlan (cavalry soldier, Ułan in Polish) of the Pulawski Legion, he was injured three times, which left him with a paralysed arm. He received the Virtuti Militari medal for his bravery and valour. I still have a copy of the document authorizing him to wear this medal. My family keeps the original as well as the medal itself. I remember his visits to our family. He would come on horseback, accompanied by his orderly.
The third person who was a role model for me was Antonina Kon, head of the Military Education (Przysposobienie Wojskowe, PW) in our school. She was the one who taught us to serve our Homeland and defend our country when needed. We were certain, as every youth was, that we would defeat whatever enemy who would dare to invade Poland. None of us would then think that we might lose the war or that we were ahead of a long five - year underground fighting.
Młode ochotniczki niosą obiad rannym żołnierzom polskim
in Ujazdowski Hospital
(Zofia Jastrzębska 'Zosia' on the left)
As a girl, I dreamt of medical service in the army. The first step to this was my membership in the Polish Red Cross (Polski Czerwony Krzyż, PCK) unit in my school and later my presidency there. In view of growing danger from the Nazi Germany, defensive measures were designed. I volunteered to serve in the Air and Anti-Gas Defence League (Liga Obrony Powietrznej i Przeciwgazowej, LOPP) situated in the same building where we lived.
Soon, the expected war was a fact. And there were no more alarm drills but real bombs were dropped. Being on duty, we had to struggle with our fear for life and remain at our post. Yet this was only a prelude to what was to come.
After a long and heroic battle, Warsaw capitulated. We all went through a bitter sorrow of defeat. Some of us fell into apathy while others were even more motivated to fight on. One of those was Antonina Kon, who gave us the first order - to take care of the Polish Army soldiers in Warsaw hospitals. We were to obtain instructions from Ms Binzer, the owner of a house at 1 Flory Street. Ms Binzer convinced neighbours from Flora and Filtrowa Streets to give a part of their diner to hospitalised soldiers. First, we took the food from Filtrowa Street and brought it to a branch of Ujazdowski Hospital at 7 Sniadecki Street (school building). Later on, we took the meals from Filtrowa Street. We carried it in tins or other containers. Our task was to heat up the food, feed the soldiers, wash up the food containers and take them back.
What we did was only one example of the general social attitude of those times. Here I would like to mention Mr Michal Wisniowski, the owner of a bakery where I worked. It was by his order that at Christmas of 1939 we sent parcels of doughnuts to Polish soldiers in prisoner of war camps in Germany. This encouraged me to direct his attention also to the needs of soldiers in Ujazdowski Hospital. Since then, before each Christmas and Easter I was given parcels of sweets to be taken to the hospital patients.
While working with patients I could notice two categories of the sick. Some were cared for by their family or close friends or if they were not seriously ill they could cope themselves. Others, who were badly injured, for example, who lost their arms, were often deserted and left at the mercy of other people. And it was this group of the patients whom we decided to take a special care of. Each of us invited one of those lonely soldiers for the first Christmas Eve during war. In the next years, thanks to better organization, we could celebrate Christmas Eve diners with all patients in the hospital.
Before the W hour (W for wybuch, 'outbreak' )
In winter of 1939, Ewa Dąbrowska, our instructor, told us to collect military dressings (made in Britain) that were stored in the warehouses in Okopowa Street and to keep them at home. Two of my large drawers were filled with that. The dressings proved to be priceless during the Uprising.
In spring of 1940, I swore the Home Army soldier's oath before Antonina Kon 'Jadwiga', our commander. I got the war-time pseudonym 'Zosia'. I was delegated to medical service in WSK and made responsible for a unit there. We began our training courses on first aid. Some of them were held at my house at 3 Starościńska Street and military training courses were held at Krystyna Księżarczyk's flat (our instructor) situated at the Mokotowski Prison's premises in Rakowiecka Street. Krystyna's father was working there. We had our practical courses on first aid in the Holy Spirit's hospital in Krakowskie Przedmieście Street. We assisted with operations and helped in the admission room. We also learnt how to care for hospital patients.
In addition to this, we were given tasks which were not directly related to our training, for example, we were to distribute the underground press. One of the papers was the Information Bulletin (Biuletyn Informacyjny). The most terrifying experience I had while doing this job was in 1942 when I was carrying Action 'N' (Akcja 'N') materials. These were German language bulletins printed by the Polish underground which were targeted at undermining the Germans' morale. The materials had to be placed in only for Germans tram departments or put into the post boxes where they lived. We had to do it in such a way so that the bulletins would reach the addressee, and that was the most difficult thing to do.
It was a great honour and a sign of trust to me to be given this kind of job. I had to prepare the action plan, that is to choose the place and time of the action, myself. This kind of 'exercise' hardened and shaped our characters. It also prepared us for much more difficult tasks, which were still ahead of us. The defeat of German army at the Eastern and Western fronts meant it would be quite soon.
This required not only physical but also spiritual preparation. On July 28th, 1944, at nuns' chapel in Kazimierzowska Street, we began our Lent prayers. They were led by Father Tomasz Rostworowski. On Sunday, July 30th, 1944 I attended a mass during which Father Rostworowski told us "Christ is Your Commander and in His Name you shall save the lives of injured soldiers". At end of the mass we were given a special blessing for our mission. After that, we went to a room near the chapel where we were singing military and patriotic songs. Father Rostworowski was also singing and accompanying us on the piano.
The Uprising - August fighting
August 1st, W hour. My patrol was delegated to platoon 537 commanded by Second Lieutenant 'Wojtek Mały' (I do not remember his real name). The concentration point was at 50 Słoneczna Street. The place to be attacked was the Soldier's House (Dom Żolnierza) in Klonowa Street. The offensive started but unfortunately none of our local units succeeded. It was due to the enemy' s advantage and also the fact that we had hardly any weapons. Late in the evening, after checking the situation, the Commander of our region (Region 5), Second Lieutenant Aleksander Hrynkiewicz 'Przegonia' ordered the units to retreat to Kabacki Forest (Lasy Kabackie) to get more ammunition. It was agreed that a nurse and a courier from my patrol would join them. The rest of my patrol and I decided to look for other units as we could hear shooting in the distance.
The next day, after the insurgents' retreat, the Ukrainian patrols arrived. They were searching every single house for soldiers. Those who had not gone to Kabacki Forest fell victim to them, just like the six boys from platoon 537, who had been denounced by a caretaker of our house, did. The Ukrainians were very cruel and full of hate against Poles. They looted houses and raped women.
The best thing to do then was to reach the Mokotów District as we knew that they were still fighting there. Two girls of my patrol were delegated to the hospital in Chocimska Street. Another girl decided to stop fighting and come back home. Janina Kusior 'Lilka' stayed with me. We were soon joined by Irena Pęczerska 'Iśka', Janina Bogusz 'Janka', Jadwiga Mańkowska 'Wińcia' and 'Krystyna' (I do not remember her real name). On August 13th, Grażyna Karlikowska 'Grażyna', a courier from WSK Command came to guide us to Mokotów. We set out early in the morning on the next day. Despite the shooting around, we managed to get to Sielce and along Chełmska and Piaseczyńska Streets finally to Królikarnia. Once we got there, we gave a report to Lieutenant Anna Kon in WSK Command. We were very moved by her warm welcome. Meanwhile, our army units were moving to Sadyba and Sielce. They recruited people. I volunteered and was directed to the medical service at Battalion 'Rys' commanded by Andrzej Czykowski 'Garda'. The medical service was under the command of Doctor Zdobysław Czerwiński 'Sławek'. He created three line patrols. In my patrol, there were Janina Kusior (already mentioned here), Maria Sawicz 'Sawa', Maria Baczkowska 'Storczyk' and 'Mały' (twelve- or fourteen- year -old scout who served as a stretcher bearer. I do not remember his real name). The patrols were assigned to individual units of the battalion. Our patrol was directed to the unit 'Krawiec', commanded by Second Lieutenant Stanisław Milczyński 'Gryf'.
On August 27th at 1 a.m., our units attacked barracks in Podchorążych Street. It was a part of a larger Polish offensive aimed at connecting our district to Powiśle. 'Sawa' and I were going together with the offensive unit, the rest of the patrol carrying the stretchers were to follow us. After two hours of fighting, we took control of one of the buildings in Sielecka Street. In the cellars of the building, we found dressings and surgical instruments left by the Germans. The priceless equipment was later given to the hospital in Chełmska Street. The cellars were turned into first aid points. There were a lot of the injured: Lieutenant 'Rok', Corporal 'Lech' and many others whose war-time pseudonyms I cannot recall now. After being provided with the first aid, those who were badly injured were moved to the hospital in Chełmska Street. Those who were luckier and had light wounds stayed with us or came back to join their units.
I remember Zofia Kłos 'Proch', a courier. She was trying to bring us a pot of soup and while she was carrying it, she was hit by a shrapnel. When I was dressing her wounds she was crying "I do not want to die! I am only 22! I want to be alive!" The picture is so vivid to me, I can hear her cry even today. The brave 'Mały' had a light wound on his leg. He was crying and much worried. "What will my mother say to this?" he asked.
On August 29th, by the order of Doctor 'Slawek', I was called to the Command of the battalion. There was an air raid in Sielce on that evening. One of the targets was the hospital in Chełmska Street, marked with a big red cross on its roof. The building was hit by a bomb, which cut it across and destroyed the staircase. There was no way out for the people on the upper floors. During the next wave of bombings, it turned out that the attack had not been a mistake. The bombs were dropped on the hospital again. These were fire bombs and soon the rest of the building burst into flames. The injured trapped in the building burned to death. Some people jumped out of windows. Alarmed by this, we rushed to rescue them. At that time I did not know that 'Sawa' (she had gone to see the patients) and 'Proch' died in flames there.
Days of defeat
September 2nd, 1944 was a turning point in my life. This date is a symbol of the change when I stepped from the world of the able-bodied, who could provide help, into the world of the disabled, who needed this help. On that day, during a massive attack on the Sadyba district, Doctor 'Slawek' noticed there was a shortage of dressings and medicine. Since our district was under heavy shooting, he did not give an order but asked for volunteers who would bring medical supplies from Górny Mokotów. 'Lilka' and I volunteered to go there. It was fairly easy to get from Chełmska Street to Higiena Building (the corner of Dolna and Puławska Streets). Yet the return was much more difficult. The German offensive focused on Czerniaków and Sielce. Their artillery and aircraft were shooting at people who were evacuating from Sadyba. We were in Chełmska Street, close to a church. We were looking for a shelter from the fire. We went to the church where we learnt that there were some injured people in the nearby garden. We rushed there. I saw some people and a heater, the so-called 'koza' with a pot of potatoes on it, and suddenly there was a blast. The heater was smashed and we were thrown to the ground. In a split second I crossed the threshold between two worlds
I did not lose consciousness. First, I noticed that my left arm was in an unusual position. I grabbed it with my right hand and I felt it was stiff. Keeping the left arm pressed against my chest, I managed to stand up. I went to a nearby church room, which was filled with praying people. I saw terror in their eyes when they looked at me. I asked for help. A moment later, 'Lilka' was carried into the room. She had a deep wound in her calf and could not walk. I asked a girl standing nearby to help us and dress the wounds. I instructed her how to do this. As I was slowly becoming weaker and the pain was becoming more severe I asked her to give us a few drops of opium which I happened to have with me. I also asked her to notify our commanders. At dusk, Doctor 'Sławek' and stretcher bearers came to take us to hospital. We got morphine injections. On our way to the hospital I had a blissful feeling and it was only the next day that it turned out my wounds had not been dressed properly. I lost a lot of blood. Doctor Michał Zawadzki carefully dressed my wounds. My arm bones were crashed and bone particles were sticking out. Since I had been given some painkillers the previous day and I could not overdose them, I had to have the bone splinters removed with no pain relief. They also found a big debris piece in my thigh. Any other pieces were not even located. As it turned out after the war, I had the debris all over my body, which I was to discover while being x-rayed. I walked to the operation point myself, though with great difficulty. I had to be carried on my way back as I lost consciousness when I tried to walk. And it was then that my condition started to deteriorate.
In 1939, when I was taking care of the injured soldiers in Ujazdowski Hospital, I thought the conditions there were very poor. Now I had to face the reality of the Uprising-time hospitals, which were much worse. The hospitals were organized in cellars, there were hardly any medical supplies and the hygiene standards were also very poor. Yet the beginning was not so bad. The conditions in the hospital in Dolna Street were quite decent. I lay in a bright classroom, on a clean linen bed. But it did not last long. On the third of my stay there, the hospital was attacked with rocket missiles known as 'cows' (krowy). We knew the missiles well. There was a characteristic sound the moment they were launched and a few seconds later there was a blast. And those few seconds was the time we had to find a shelter. So when we heard the 'cows mooing' we dashed to cellars. Someone took 'Lilka', who was small and light, in his arms. I was trying to rescue myself. I instinctively grabbed someone's arm with my fit hand. I do not know when I reached the cellar as I lost consciousness after a few steps.
At night, we were evacuated to the cellars at 3 Racławicka Street. At that time, cellars of adjacent houses were connected by holes in the walls so that they formed a long corridor through which the street traffic could move safely.
I was lying close to such a passage which meant I was constantly knocked in my wounded leg by those passing by. The following night, we were moved to a pool hospital in Misyjna Street. Doctor Tadeusz Bloch 'Mikrob' and Doctor Kazimiera Komuniecka took care of us there. My condition began to deteriorate again and my wounds filled with pus. There was no possibility of having an operation. The situation at the front was deteriorating as well. We heard that German forces concentrated nearby were preparing to take control of our area. After days full of enthusiasm and optimism, we were now to face moments of doubt and uncertainty. We found support in Father Jan Zieja who gave us the sacrament of the sick. On September 26th, we got the news that our army would go down to sewers to get through them to Śródmieście. We would stay defenseless. We were left to our own fate. We could hear the shooting till late at night. It stopped in the morning. Someone told us Mokotow had capitulated. It was the end of all hope and dreams of freedom.
We were very anxious and uncertain of what the next day would bring. Would they shoot or burn us? I was praying for an accurate shot so that I was not injured again.
The moments of waiting were unbearable. Suddenly, we heard some heavy steps and shouts in German "Raus! Austreten! Schneller!", their guns pointed at us. My comrades rose up and I could not. I just waited. The Germans took Father Zieja, Doctor Bloch and the hospital staff. They were driven in an unknown direction. Doctor Komuniecka managed to hide. We still did not know what they would do to us. In the afternoon, a German high rank officer came to see us and told us we would be evacuated. On the next day, we were transported to a railway siding at the horse race course in Służewiec. We were placed in sheds there. The Social Care Council (Rada Główna Opiekuńcza, RGO) gave us bed linen, fruit and onions. After a few hours, goods wagons arrived and the injured were moved in there. It lasted until dusk. Suddenly, 'Dolores', who was also injured, and I realized that we were left alone in the far end of the shed. No one was apparently coming to take us. Then we saw a light of a lantern and a man emerged. It was a German airman. He asked his fellows to take us outside and pass us to peasants carrying the injured. As I was being carried along the row of wagons, I was calling Doctor Komuniecka's name in the hope that she could hear me. A moment later I heard Lilka's voice "Here, here!".
The wagon was overloaded when I was carried into it. It was so full that I had to bend my legs to make the wagon door close. It was very painful because of the wounded thigh. I had to stand this for a few hours until we reached Milanówek. There were a lot of men and women from the old people's homes among the passengers. Those lying on the stretchers or mattresses were placed into a performance room and put on the floor there. The room was crowded with old people brought here by various transports. Doctor Komuniecka told me that they would be looking for another place to stay and that I should have an operation as soon as possible. I was very thirsty and hungry. I asked some boys, who carried me from the railway station, to buy something to eat and drink. I gave them the money I got from the army. They came back with a half-litre bottle of milk and two buttered rolls. Never before and never after this, was the flavour of milk and rolls so wonderful. I asked the same boys to come the next day and carry me to the closest hospital. They came in the morning and took me there. I was put on the ground in front of the building where the hospital was situated. The boys hided behind the shrubs and waited. Someone in the hospital must have noticed me as a doctor came out after a moment (it was Doctor Krotowski). I showed him my wounds without saying a word. I was instantly taken to the dressing room. When I was inside, I heard someone calling my name. It was 'Storczyk' (already mentioned here), who was a nurse in my patrol. She told me that the doctor who was dressing her wounds turned out to be Doctor Sawicz, Sawa's father. Indeed, by some coincidence, the place where I found myself was the evacuation spot of the Ujazdowski Hospital! Doctor Sawicz and his wife looked after me with great care. They were so good and nice to me. Soon, I had my first operation. I got a bed and clean linen for it. After four days I had my second operation because the first one did not help. Father Zieja came to see me as well. I got a picture of Jesus' Heart from him which became an altar for me. I prayed before it then and I do it now.
While lying there, I was found by Wanda Siemińska 'Wanda', a nurse from Doctor Slawek's group. She told me that Rotamaster 'Garda' was injured and after the end of fighting Sielce he handed over his command to Captain Janusz Wyszogrodzki 'Janusz'. 'Wanda' drew up lists of those to be promoted or given a medal. he included me for the Cross of the Brave (Krzyż Walecznych).
I was much pleased by this. She also promised to inform my family about my presence there. One day, unexpectedly, I saw my mother in the doorway. I was so surprised and overwhelmed with joy. So was she. When I called "Mother!", she fell down. She had talked to Doctor Sawicz before she came there, and he convinced her, there was an urgent need to have my arm amputated. First, my mother would not accept it. Trying to persuade her, Doctor Sawicz told her that he himself would even carry only the torso of his child if he could only stay alive. My mother was convinced by this.
When I learnt what had been decided I begged them to wait a little. I told them I had no father and I had to work. I also told them that I was praying and God would hopefully answer my prayers. And the miracle did happen. I woke up at night with a terrible pain in my arm. I was terrified and called for help. When Doctor Krotowski looked at my arm he saw it was all covered in larvae. These were larvae of horse fly. " Angel, this is really a miracle, those bugs will save your life", said the doctor. I can not describe the suffering I had to endure. I bit my lips and bed linen with pain. I suffered in the hope of recovery. After two weeks, the wounds were cleansed and began to heal.
My family wanted to take me to the hospital in Żyrardów. The Ujazdowski Hospital was to be evacuated from Milanówek to Kraków (Cracow). I needed permission to be admitted to the hospital in Żyrardów. Second Lieutenant Magdalena Grzybowska 'Growska' helped me to obtain this. On November 1st, my mother, my brother-in-law and Stanislaw Ołdakowski 'Okoń', commander of sabotage and diversion unit in this area, accompanied me on my way to hospital. We did not have the permission to go from Milanówek to Żyrardów but despite this, they managed to get me there. At the end of November I had the splinter eventually removed from my thigh. The wound started to heal and I could begin my walking lessons. On December 16th, two SS soldiers and a translator came to the hospital. I was lucky to be in bed on that day. I saw them talking to Doctor Grabowski in a room nearby. My mother was with me at that time. She was sitting next to me on a revolving chair. When I saw the Germans coming in our direction I told my mother to turn to my neighbour and to talk to her. What the soldiers saw was a pale girl with her hand in a sling. I pretended to be seriously ill. They were interested in how I got injured and I had to make up a story. Doctor Grabowski witnessed the conversation and confirmed that my condition was very serious and that I was not fit enough to be transported. My mother could also hear the conversation. She avoided being questioned as she was sitting with her back to me. When the Germans left, she tried to hide her terror so that I would not be troubled any more. All these emotions became evident only later when, after walking six kilometers' in deep snow, she fainted on the doorstep of our house.
In the middle of January, the Germans began to leave the city. Their defensive against the Russians had been very weak. The Soviet Army entered Żyrardów. My brother- in -law knew, that the Home Army soldiers were being arrested by them so he took me to the village of Wiskitki near Żyrardów. While we were going there, we saw people celebrating in the streets. The Red Army soldiers were shooting in the air with joy. For those people, it was a day of victory and freedom. For me, it was only a change of the occupying forces. I was deeply sad and disappointed. The Home Army soldiers were not welcomed. They had to wait to be respected for 45 years.
Zofia Jastrzębska - Kowalewska
P.S. Zofia Jastrzębska-Kowalewska took down her war time memories many years after the end of the war. And it was only thanks to her husband, Aleksander Kowalewski, who urged her to do so. For a long time, it was simply too painful to touch the memories of those tragic events, lost friends and comrades.
translated by Gabriela Sudacka
Zofia Jastrzębska - Kowalewska,
Copyright © 2005 SPPW1944. Wszelkie prawa zastrzeżone.