The Witnesses' Uprising Reports
My stolen childhood - a story of a teenage Home Army soldier
"Stork", "Heads" and "Coin"
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 is mid-September 1944. The building in 108 Panska Street got severely destroyed be the recent attacks. The tanks from behind the barricade in Prosta Street destroyed the annexe of the building from the side of the yard almost entirely. The front of the building is less destroyed. The burnt building next to the barricade in Prosta Street disallowed the shooting at the front of the building from the side of Wronia Street. Only the incendiary bullets caused numerous fires, which were immediately put down by our whole crew and civilians that were hiding in the cellars. The grenades quite severely destroyed the rooms on the second floor, which housed our posts from the side of Panska, Prosta and Wronia Streets.
On the second floor level, from the side of Prosta Street, we knocked out a vantage point (60 x 60 cm) in the front wall. This place allowed us to watch the movements of the enemy along Prosta Street up to Grzybowska and further. We also watched the barricade in Prosta Street, which the enemy did not manage to win over till the end. A four storey housed, in which our friend from the group Zenek Sobota lived, stood next to the barricade. This building, alongside the others in Prosta Street was burned in the first days of the rising. From the first day of the rising our defence lines were along Towarowa Street. They were, however, difficult to keep as the other side of Towarowa was a non built-up area and the enemy shot from cannons and destroyed everything with impunity. It was so called Siberia. In such circumstances the defence line was created along Wronia Street - from Panska to Chlodna. Here it was easier to keep the posts and defend the sections in danger.
The vantage point despite the extensive destruction kept playing its role but one had to be extremely cautious. At all costs, Germans tried to destroy the vantage points.
It was from this point from where "Coin" and me managed to save the barricade by earlier warning about the tank attack and the attempt to dismantle a small barricade - doing so with the force of the civilians driven on the spot. The warning shots forced the civilians to withdraw towards the wall of the building. No shouting or orders of the SS-men could force them to continue the act of demolition. Germans had their task really made difficult, they had nowhere to hide. All civilians then fell on the ground and pretended to be dead. At first me and "Coin" were terrified - we thought we killed innocent Poles. Then German fusiliers hidden behind two tanks stepped into action. We managed to immobilize one of the tanks by destroying the caterpillar tread and setting the tank on fire. From the vantage point we succeeded to inform the headquarters about the danger of the enemy getting through.
At that time the attempt to destroy the vantage point did not succeed. Now after a few days of relative peace, all the hell broke out loose. A tank was situated in Wronia Street (from the side of Lucka Street) and shot at our posts on the eastern side. It was a long distance and the bullets did not have enough force to go through the thick wall. The shooting was systematic with small breaks, possibly for meals: breakfast, dinner. The whole wall had so many holes that it looked like a sieve. They decided to tackle it like the building in 108 Panska Street - push up the top and then the bottom so it would all collapse.
Fortunately the tank could not draw up closer, otherwise it would have immediately been destroyed by our friends. Sorties towards the tank happened quite often. A problem occurred in Lucka and Grzybowska Street. The ground was exposed, the wooden one-storey houses which stood there were burnt.
We are at the post all the time. We watch the tank. We see the moment of the firing from the cannon, we quickly withdraw to the nearby staircase. We exactly see in which way is the tank's barrel pointing, especially when they aim at one spot in the attempt to crush the thick wall. The situation is dangerous, we can perish any moment. We, however, do not give up, we continuously inform two liaisons on what is going on.
A moment of break. We watch the actions of the enemy through the binoculars. Second tank is drawing up. The first one is withdrawing - apparently the crew got tired or they run out of ammunition. The latter seems to be proven by a longer break in the shooting. Me and Tadeusz have no doubts that they now will knock down the weakened wall with one shot. We are wondering why they have still not managed to put a bullet in a vantage point. Probably they calculated the distance wrong at the beginning, did not bother to correct it and then they hit one spot time after time again.
The grinding of the caterpillar treads. We hear how they are readjusting the barrel. We are quickly withdrawing into a safe place. The explosion - but the bullet hits nearby, which we notice on the return to our post. Again a small adjustment of the cannon - it will undoubtedly hit us any minute. We are withdrawing. And it happened! The bullet went through the weakened wall and knocked down the front wall between the rooms. The room filled with dust and rubble. One cannot get in to estimate the scale of destruction. The new bullets are landing every minute. They knock down the further partitions, spreading destruction. "Coin" and me cannot however leave the post. It is a very important and extended vantage point. Despite the destruction this point (later moved to the ground floor) survived up until the capitulation of the rising. A lot of other adventures happened to us there.
After the front wall was knocked down, the bullets from the cannon continued to destroy the further rooms up to Panska Street. In the moments of quiet, when Germans had their dinner, we could estimate the destruction and strengthen the post, securing ourselves from the shrapnels with the help of oak wardrobe. We placed it slightly aside, next to the thick wall. Unfortunately, it made the observation a bit more difficult.
Now we could closely watch the bullets of the tank that flew through the knocked out opening. It was a very dangerous show, but at the same time interesting and fascinating. Only young boys could take the liberty of doing so. But it could not last long.
We were aware of the danger we were exposed to, because not every bullet flew past us not touching the walls of our room. When the slivers of bricks started to hurt us, we moved aside. We decided to hide in the huge oak wardrobe, which was supposed to protect us from slivers and at the same time allow the observation. When it got quiet for a while, we (with a huge effort) moved the wardrobe.
All our vantage points were under surveillance. Every now and then an officer from the headquarters was sent to control our point. That officer later reported on the usefulness of the point. This time, the person who came, was a controller of knowledge and experience. It was Second Lieutenant "Stork" (surname unknown). He stood at the threshold and carefully watched the post. Slowly we scrambled out of the wardrobe and reported on the condition of the post and scale of destruction. We explained why we sat in the wardrobe for fear of the slivers, flying through the whole room. He was not surprised.
At that moment we heard the grinding of the caterpillar treads and almost simultaneously we walked up to the knocked out opening to see what was happening with the tank. It was securing its position. "Coin" and me stood in such a way so that the enemy could not see us. It was a different matter with "Stork". He would not listen to our advice to move further away. He might have stood aside, but the enemy must have seen his shining jackboots. For a moment nothing was happening. From time to time one could hear only the individual shots. We were not aware that apart from the tank shooting, Germans would hunt for us with the use of rifles. As it turned out later, the shots we had heard were aimed at other posts. The enemy watched us carefully and must have noticed somebody moving in the opening knocked out by the bullets. They began to shoot in. The inspection officer was not behaving carefully despite our numerous warnings and he carefully watched the movements of the enemy and the changes in the position of the tank through the binoculars; briefly informing us on what was happening. We stated that he must know what he is doing and that we are simply over sensitive. After a while he decided that there was nothing happening on the enemy' s line and he withdrew from the position. We walked to the staircase and started to talk about the situation on our section, which was still being in danger. All the time, however, we took turns to watch the tank and its surroundings. It became quiet. After a short conversation with "Stork" I changed "Coin" on position and continued to watch the fore field. Suddenly I noticed a car, which was approaching the tank from the side of Grzybowska Street. It came to a halt; the crew of the tank came out and started to confer with the officer from the car. I kept informing "Stork" on the situation. The conversation of Germans did not last long, maybe 10 minutes and the car drove away. They, however, left a soldier behind who went into the building in 33 Wronia Street. He had binoculars with him; he was holding a rifle with one hand, and a case with the other. We knew that this building housed a German post so there was nothing extraordinary in that fact.
Suddenly we heard the grinding of caterpillar treads. The tank was moving in one place, it was slowly reversing and after a while it turned in Grzybowska Street in the direction of Towarowa Street and we lost it from our sight. "Stork"(after he got the news from me) came up to the position again and he watched the fore field carefully from the side. He stated that the quiet reigned. He decided that he would go to confer with the commandant and return to us. We were supposed to continue the observation. Using the moment of peace we were moving the heavy oak wardrobe in the direction of the entrance door. On the side we knocked out a small opening in it exactly opposite the opening in the wall. We placed the wardrobe in such a way so that it would not obscure the wall, knocked down with the bullets - that meant slightly on the side. To continue the observation we had to lean out to the left. One could also walk around the wardrobe and watch as earlier but then one's legs could be seen through the hole created by the bullet. In the meantime they brought us dinner. After a while "Stork" returned from the headquarters. We surprised him with the change; it was obvious he did not like what he saw. We explained the reasons of the changes and showed that despite more difficult conditions it was possible to keep this post.
We discussed various options. Nothing was happening; that is why we felt secure and started to disregard the safety rules. We walked across the whole room, forgetting that we may be carefully watched. When we were just walking across the room to the side of the windows from Wronia Street, lieutenant "Stork" stood slightly aside but exactly opposite the knocked out opening. There was only one shot then, "Coin" and me hardly heard it. We saw lieutenant "Stork" slowly slumping against the wall and saying that he lost his leg. We run quickly to him, we saw that he is lying on his side; he is fully conscious and is saying that his leg was torn off. We did not believe it; his shoes were intact, only when we raised him, he awkwardly dragged his left leg.
He was entirely conscious, gritted his teeth with pain. Slowly we turned in direction of the staircase. We had to descend from the second floor. We carried him slowly and carefully. One could see pain on his face. He did not complain, but he kept repeating that he lost his leg. The shoe was intact; one could not see any damage. We got to the ground floor. There was a case on which we seated lieutenant "Stork". At this stage he took out a knife from his pocket and told me to cut the leg of the boot. I cut the leather of the boot and then the foot with a piece of calf fell on the floor. It was a frightful sight. We were terrified. It was a dum-dum type of bullet. It tore the leg inside the boot apart and did not get out.
In the meantime "Coin" informed the nurses, who immediately came running with the stretchers. Weird, but almost no blood could be seen. Already upstairs "Stork" told us to tie his leg above the knee. We found a piece of cloth and tied a strong knot. Maybe that was a reason why the torn leg did not bleed. Lieutenant " Stork" was a hero for me, who at the moment of such a tragedy was conscious, did not despair did not scream and even lead us as if not all about him. We helped to put a lieutenant "Stork" on the stretcher. It was difficult, because the stretcher was at the ground floor of the staircase, which was so filled with rubble that it was difficult to squeeze past. It was impossible to take the stretcher outside, because the shooting at our annexe started again. Apparently the tank drove up again and continued its deed of destruction. We said warm farewell to "Stork". He thanked us for our help and warned us to be careful and not repeat his mistake.
We took the stretcher and helped to run carrying it with the wounded across the yard full of rubble. It was only by second staircase that the nurses took the stretcher and through the cellar hallways carried second lieutenant to hospital. We put the leg with the boot, next to the wounded who was watching the bleeding foot with half of a calf with interest. We said, that he was hit with a dum-dum type of bullet, which crushed the bone in the calf. I have never met another person with such a clear mind in such a dramatic circumstances, although I had a lot of occasions. When I related it straight after the accident to second lieutenant "Blackbird" Lech Kobylinski, he simply did not believe that "Stork" reacted in such a heroic way. "Coin" and me run back to the post. We found huge destruction there. The bullets widely upset the walls and the ceiling, which partially collapsed. The wardrobe, however, was untouched - through the collapsed ceiling one could see the floor above. We decided to continue the observation duty. We had to move the wardrobe carefully, which was slightly protruding from behind the knocked down wall. The tank was in Wronia Street again; we could see German soldiers preparing for attack. After a long watch we stated that Germans only gathered in front of the building. However, possibly for other reason, because earlier they had always set in direction of Grzybowska Street. The tank was just a shield from the shooting of insurgents in Lucka Street. The purpose of the tank did not change however. It was supposed to destroy the building, which housed our vantage point. Germans felt insolent, nobody was shooting at them. As from the side of barricade in Lucka Street there was a vast space. The wooden houses there were long burned down and there was no possibility of day attack on the enemy without own casualties and losses.
We send the report to the headquarters that the enemy was preparing to destroy our post. We were told to stay as long as possible and report on all movements of the enemy. It did not last long. The tank found its position and started to shoot in a way similar to the one in Prosta Street, when they were destroying the annexe of redoubt in 108 Panska Street.
The situation started to repeat itself. The bullets started to land even higher. We could hear as they walls collapsed. We however felt safe in our oak wardrobe, at least for the moment. After a while we noticed that the bullets hit beneath us, on the level of the first floor. The temporary break in shooting happened. Again we heard the grinding of front caterpillar treads tearing the stone paving of the street.
We thought that they gave up on further shooting, but we were ignominiously wrong. The tank leapt forward and behind it we saw the silhouettes of the fusiliers in their helmets. The tank went for a few meters, passed Lucka Street and stopped around the corner, so it was not well seen from the Polish barricade - it was hidden with the burnt walls of the tenement in 21 Lucka Street. German fusiliers hid behind the tank and shot at the Polish barricade. The tank lowered its barrel and began to shoot, destroying the front wall of our tenement.
The situation started to be dangerous, everything was shaking, the wardrobe with us in it moved, the ceiling in our room started to collapse. We stayed at our post. In short periods without shooting one of us jumped out of the wardrobe and assessed the situation. We did not send more reports, the headquarters knew that the final attack started and felt in danger themselves. Any minute the defenders of the barricade could have been shot at. We could hear the explosions and increasing tremors. The wardrobe started to move dangerously. We decided to persist to the end. We were only afraid that the wardrobe would become too visible and one accurate shot would finish our duty. Platoon leader "Wildcat" run up to us and made us immediately leave the post. He knew that our sacrifice would have come to nothing. Germans would not have stopped the shooting before the building collapsed - and it turned out to be that way.
We asked to be allowed to stay a bit longer, that the walls would survive, but we miscalculated. The walls survived but the ceilings did not. The rest of the third floor ceiling collapsed, the wardrobe got buried under rubble, and we could not open the door. When we eventually managed to open them a crack everything was white and red from the dust, floating thick in the air. We decided to wait for the dust to settle but the bullets shook the walls with increasing strength and the dust got even thicker. We could not see anything - waiting too long lost us.
Suddenly the bullet hit just next to us and the wardrobe started to slide down. It was the last moment to jump out but we did not do it. One more bullet and the whole ceiling together with the wardrobe and us inside crushed on a floor below. It was a safe landing, however. The wardrobe was safe. Only one side fell off, so we could get outside.
At first we did not know what had happened and when we found ourselves two meters lower on the pile of planks and rubble. The bullets landed again. We could not see anything. We could only hear the flying shrapnels. We asked one another if were alive. We were and we were not even hurt, no shrapnel had found us. Blindfold, on all fours, disorientated we were escaping from the endangered place. When we got out to the staircase we heard a massive rumour behind us. It was the ceiling of the first floor that did not survive and together with the wardrobe collapsed on the ground floor. When we later saw it, our hair stood on end. The wardrobe perforated with bullets lay there crushed in the pile of rubble and planks. We were extraordinarily lucky concerning our youthful stupidity - any minute we could have died earlier. It was known for a while already that nothing would save our post.
After we reached the staircase and recovered, we decided it was destiny. Friends and "Wildcat" run up to us. They could not recognize us, faces and bodies white from dust, dry throats but safe and sound.
It was a huge adventure; we looked death straight in the eye. We saw the bullets from the cannon fly from the barrel and missing our heads by only a few centimetres they explode in nearby rooms. We felt their gust. We persisted at our post, being aware that we can die any minute. We were only afraid of a severe wound, similar to the one lieutenant's "Stork". And even this warning was not enough.
"Wildcat" with the help of friends helped us to go to the safe place. We were weakened but safe and sound. The nurses looked after us and walked us to the lodgings in 104 Panska Street that had water. We could wash and put ourselves in order. After a short rest we had sumptuous meal. The commander "Blackbird" came to see us. He listened to our report and warmly thanked us for courage and sacrifice for responsible duty.
He informed us that the vantage point was now moved to the ground floor and that it is well secured and camouflaged. As we later learned the tank that caused so much destruction was captured by insurgents and burnt. When the emotions quietened, "Coin" and me thought about the seriously second lieutenant "Stork" and decided to visit him. Second lieutenant "Stork" was transported to hospital in 51 Sliska Street where he underwent the operation of clearing the wound and securing the crushed bones. He was happy to see us. One could not see the tragedy that affected him in his behaviour. He warned us to be careful and watch out for ourselves. When all the emotions quietened and there was some time, I started to wonder why we kept persisting on our post. It was indeed lieutenant "Blackbird" who said that the vantage point should be eliminated. Germans knew all about it and shoot at it, trying to destroy it. We asked to keep this point for a bit longer and that is why it dragged that way. Any following passing bullet could have been the last one. Only the young ones like us could afford to disregard life in such a way. We were not afraid of death; we worried only about the permanent disability.
Fate had made our life miserable already. On the third day of the rising I was wounded twice, then buried while rescuing friends in the bombarded lodgings in 50 Sliska Street. Two weeks later (in the same building) I was shot in the left leg - I carry the bullets from that wound in my body until present day. It did not teach neither my friend nor me any lesson and we continued to act with bravado and disregard life.
The abode of our quartermasters after the bombing by the rail cannons ("cows", "wardrobes") was moved from 50 Sliska Street to 61 Sienna Street. After the duty we could relatively relax there - wash ourselves and visit friends.
62 Sliska Street used to house the synagogue earlier. Now a hospital was organised here, a branch of a hospital from 51 Sliska Street. My friend Kazik Szerwinski "Heads" was a patient of this hospital as he got severely wounded in his stomach during the attack on the barracks in Ciepla Street in middle August 1944. The three of us found new pseudonyms on the first day of the rising. My pseudonym in conspiracy was "Count". Together with Tadeusz and Kazik decided to establish a common pseudonym. We tossed a coin. Depending on how it falls will determine my pseudonym. It was tails and I became "Tails", Kazik - "Heads" and Tadeusz - "Coin". The first one to be wounded (not seriously) was me and now "Tails" wit a serious wound in his stomach. We visited him with "Coin" and we comforted him that he would be fine and we would be back again. Now it was "Stork" who was also seriously wounded and we indeed felt guilty.
All the free time we had, we spend visiting the wounded friends and only from time to time I could visit my beloved parents in the cellar of the building in 14 Lucka Street. The occupants dug up a well in the yard, so they were not short of water. The building in which we lived was almost on the front line. It was not safe there. The buildings no 22, 20 and 18 were systematically destroyed.
The building no 14 was also severely damaged, but "Coin" and me (despite the huge danger) twice slept in our flat on the fourth floor - the parents did not know about it. "Stork" was not in hospital for long. He discharged himself. As me and "Heads" later learned after the capitulation he was evacuated from Warsaw with the whole hospital. Unfortunately I do not remember the name of that heroic officer, whom I kept in my memory.
After the capitulation of our squad on 5th October 1944 in Zelazna Street, we went to captivity with the whole headquarters. On Kerceli Square we gave up our weapons. It was here where I last saw my brother Kazimierz "Salamander", who was executed by Germans.
I came back to Warsaw in January 1945 through Ozarow, prison camps of Lamsdorf, Muehlberb and Brockwitz.
Henryk Stanisław Łagodzki
translated by Zofia Kozłowska-Sobczyk
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
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