The Witnesses' Uprising Reports

My stolen childhood - a story of a teenage Home Army soldier

The barricade on Wronia Street

Henryk Stanisław Łagodzki,
born on July 15th, 1927 in Warsaw
Home Army soldier
wartime names: 'Hrabia', 'Orzeł'
Chrobry II Grouping , Battalion 1, Company 2, Platoon 1
Stalag IV b, prisoner of war no. 305785

         It was in the first half of September 1944. I was standing guard in a large room on the third floor of a building on Wronia Street. The windows came out on Wronia Street, which narrowed in this place.
         The building on the corner of Prosta and Wronia Street was placed closer to the roadway. It caused a problem to the Germans, who systematically tried to destroy it. By destroying it they would reveal the front of the building on 108 Pańska Street, looking from Wronia Street.
         The view on Łucka and Towarowa Street from the side of Wronia Street was hindered, so Command decided to knock out a 60 by 60 cm observational-defensive slot in the wall, from Prosta Street.
         On Prosta Street near Wronia Street a barricade had been built in the first days of the Uprising. It consisted of huge wooden beams, pavement, flagstones and other materials. The barricade was impossible to pass for tanks and infantry alike. The Germans had tried pouring it with petrol and setting alight, but this hadn't helped. The barricade as well as the building on the corner of Prosta and Wronia Street were still standing, practically unchanged. However, the Germans hadn't resigned from trying to destroy them.
         It was a nice, calm day. It was peaceful on both sides of the barricade. No one suspected the enemy to attack. Then, suddenly, I heard the droan of a tank engine coming towards us, some people's voices as well as orders being given in German. I carefully looked out through the observation slot and was terrified of what i saw. I had seen a large group of civilians with white armbands, men and women, who were pulling down the barricade, throwing down flagstones and rocks and pulling away wooden beams. Inside the houses armed SS-men were shouting at the civilians that they were working too slowly. Some distance behind them was a tank and behind it fusiliers were hiding- beasts in human bodies.
         It was silent for some time, there was no shouting on either side, even i held my breath for a moment.
         Then the concealed SS-men started yelling at the slowly working civilians to hurry up and put more effort into their work. 'What to do...? What to do...?' I was absolutely terrified of what was happening. I had to decide what to do, there wasn't a second to lose. I had no one to consult with, I was on my own. To shoot or not to shoot... to our countrymen.
         The silence was suddenly interrupted by gunfire from our side, we had been indecisive only for a moment. Of all of my comrades, I had the best line of fire and line of sight. I was a bit to the side and well conceiled, thanks to this I could strike the enemy unharmed. During the fight, as it turned out later, my companions from the billet were everywhere. On the rooftop of the building, in the windows overlooking the street, in the recesses of the walls.
         At first I didn't know what to do, whether to shoot or not. They were Poles after all, and many of them could be killed. On the other side we couldn't allow for the barricade to be taken apart. It had faced off so many attacks and stopped the tanks from getting to Śródmieście.
         I made up my mind. I started shooting from my rifle, a trophy from the Uprising. I aimed before or behind people, but they were falling and not moving. I was horrified. Suddenly I saw an SS-man terrorizing a woman, who was barely standing on her two feet because of fear and fatigue. I levelled my rifle on him.... he got hit, shouted from pain and fell to the ground, dead. The civilian hostages seeing what was happening started hiding under the wall and in the basement windows, despite the danger from the Germans. They were between two lines of fire.
         Gunfire was getting heavier from both sides. The German's started shooting from a heavy machine gun placed on the pavement, under the cover of the tank. The tank's own heavy machine guns started firing at our gunpoints. Bullets were hitting the wall next to me, taking parts of it out. But there was nothing they could do to me, I was to the side and had a good field of vision.
         Suddenly the gunfire stopped, the silence was uncomfortable. There were a few dead on the road. The heavy machine gun retreated out of my range of view, the tank started pulling back and the fusiliers hid in the gateways of some buildings along the road. We had repelled the attack. In many places we could see the faces of the very happy defenders.
         Then, we saw how civilians, who we had thought were dead, got up and ran into the building on the corner of Prosta and Wronia Street. I sighed from relief, it was miraculous. Only the dead SS-man lay where I had shot him.
         After a moment the Germans started fire again, but it was disorderly and unorganised. They were too far away. I was observing the foreground, we were rarely shooting. The tank began to withdraw to a safe distance. The fusiliers were retreating under it's cover. They had a few dead and injured. Unfortunately, the Poles couldn't run up to us. I could see them being forced by some SS-men to move to Towarowa Street. The barricade had been saved. We were extremely joyous.My friends ran up to me to see if i was alive, if everything was OK. There were no casualties on our side, no one hadn't been even injured. However, my observation of Prosta Street told me that it wasn't over yet. Although the attempt to take the barricade down and the attack had failed, the Germans hadn't given up.
         As it turned out later, they knew exactly about our observation point, that gave us a view and possibility of shooting alongside Wronia Street (in the direction of Łucka and Grzybowska Street). It was from this direction that enemy tanks would appear and fire at our positions.
         The Germans were planning something. I could see a tank, far away, driving up. Were they going to repeat the attack, only more strengthened? The German infantry, or the accompanying Kalmuks (even worse than the Germans) were not to be seen.
         The tanks began moving slowly towards the barricade. Everyone went back to their positions, liaison officers had complemented our ammunition. We were preparing for battle with the feeling that the German's were trying to trick us. I was still at my position, no one had changed me.
         While we were preparing to turn off the next attack, one by one the tanks were approaching the barricade, at the same time being able to shoot in our direction. Were they attempting to breach the barricade?
         No, we could hear the turret turning in our direction. Then slowly, with maximum precision they started shooting at the out house on 108 Pańska Street.
         They started from the upper floors. They started cutting and crushing the bearing walls. It was a masterpiece. They knew exactly what they were doing, it was obvious that it wasn't the first building they had destroyed in this way.
         When the upper walls had been precisely destroyed, they aimed just above the first floor. They began crushing the thick bearing walls, to make the whole building collapse with just one shot.
         Our whole garrison was helplessly observing this situation, but I was in the worst place. I was almost in the line of fire of the tanks. Shells were flying around me. I could grab them if I wanted to.
         But our lads weren't about to surrender. Every once in a while I could see small figures running with petrol bombs. They were trying to set the tanks on fire from close range, but they were too far away and had no cover. Some bombs, however, reached their aim, grenades were blowing up near the tanks.
         Suddenly I heard an outcry of joy. One of the tanks was burning. It began retreating. The Germans tried to extinguish the flames, with success. But it's turret was damaged and it had to get out of battle.
         Now I saw even more boys with petrol bombs. They set the barricade on fire. The smoke was hanging just above the ground, so our lads weren't visible to the enemy.
         The second tank began to retreat, still shooting. I was observing all of this. It moved back just a few meters, to get away from the burning barricade and to get out of the range of the petrol bombs. The tank started shooting from it's machineguns to our lads, invisible to it in the smoke.
         I wanted to throw myself into battle, but I couldn't leave my position. I was waiting for someone to change me, someone should have been come. Our lads were occupied and I had to wait their idley.
         Every once in a while a liaison officer would come up to me, to find out what was happening on the foreground. The platoon commander was leading our defence through his liaison officers.
         The courageous conduct of the defenders of the barricade and the whole garrison kept the enemy tanks from breaking into Śródmieście (Warsaw's central suburb and the Uprising's heart).
         Suddenly the wall of the outhouse crashed down. Clouds of white dust blocked my view. The outhouse had collapsed.
         "Moneta" (Coin) changed me at my post. He hadn't come earlier, because he had been extinguishing the fire that had broken out in the shops on the first floor. We talked on the matter for a while and I ran down the stairs.
         Everything had changed. Heaps of rubble were blocking the way to the courtyard. The dust hadn't fallen yet, and it was everywhere, even in my eyes, which started tearing profusely.
         We could hear a voice crying for help in Polish and Jewish from the outhouse. On the second floor a Jewish insurgent had been on his post in the quartermaster's department. He hadn't left it, even during the cannonade of the tanks and the ceiling of the third floor had crushed his feet.
         Everyone was running to the outhouse to save him. I ran with the others to save him too, when the dust settled. We were in the courtyard, digging through the bricks, wooden beams and boards that were blocking the way to the staircase. It turned out that the staircase was still in one piece, but the first, second, third and fourth floors had all collapsed.
         Meanwhile, the Germans were still shooting. Nurses with stretches and dressings arrived. The Jewish Upriser was still screaming. His legs had been crushed above the ankles by a huge wooden slab from the ceiling. Carefully, with the help of some beams, we lifted the stab up and pulled out the man's legs. We were successful!
         The nurses gently put him on the stretcher and gave him a painkilling injection. Our quick help had saved him from being handicapped.
         During the rescue mission I had been running up and down the staircase a few times. When the dust settled and visibility got better, the Germans started shooting at the outhouse again, trying to make our rescue mission impossible. Running up the staircase, I suddenly felt great pain in my left leg, just above the ankle. It was the third time I had been injured during the Uprising. A fraction is still in my leg to this day.
         The nurses stopped the bleeding and dressed my wound and I was able to continue the rescue mission.
         The battle was drawing to a close. The enemy had suffered a few dead and wounded. We could see the casualties being taken off the battle field under heavy fire. We had no casualties on our side, not counting one seriously wounded and me.
         The barricade had been saved.

Henryk Stanisław Łagodzki
translated by Daniel Mierzwicki

      Henryk Stanisław Łagodzki,
born on July 15th, 1927 in Warsaw
Home Army soldier
wartime names: 'Hrabia', 'Orzeł'
Chrobry II Grouping , Battalion 1, Company 2, Platoon 1
Stalag IV b, prisoner of war no. 305785

Copyright © 2005 Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz. All rights reserved.