The Witnesses' Uprising Reports

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


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

         The first day of our captivity, spent in a cable factory in Ozarow Mazowiecki, was over. The second day began. The weather was poor. It was drizzling. We had to forget about arranging for some food. Everyone was soiled with minium. There was nowhere to wash oneself. There were no toilets either. Men and women were relieving nature outside, along the walls. No one was embarrassed. We were forced by the circumstances to do that. Later on we found out that some freight cars had been placed on a side track of the cable works. Cauldrons filled with coffee had been put out of them; we could get something warm to drink at last. Some prisoners arranged for a bit of fresh bread and margarine and they shared it with us.
         In the morning there was a roll call and loading of prisoners began. We were loaded into cars the way one loads cattle, or even worse. Sixty people with their luggage were crammed into each cattle car. We were given food for travel- a loaf of bread and a little bit of margarine per person. During the loading screams "Banditen!" could be heard. We were trying to stick together, "Coin" and me. In the car we settled next to the window- it's not always advantageous, but at least we had access to the fresh air. We were all squashed, shifting positions was out of question. All we could do was bear with it. Lack of toilets was nagging. We found a solution to this- we cut out a hole in the floor. However, the hole was too small to satisfy all the bodily needs. Leszek Brzozowski let us use for sanitary purpose his one-liter beaker, content of which we were pouring out through a barred window. Not at all times were we successful at this - occasionally people closest to the window would end up with some of the beaker's content on their heads. We were traveling in these conditions three days and nights. During that time the car was opened briefly only two times. It was blowing a gale that night. Suddenly we were all woken up by a strike of cold bitter air mixed with sleet. It turned out that the wind had blown off the car's roof. Above us the beautiful, awe-inspiring sky. No roof. Our first idea was to flee, but then the thought struck us: 'We are in Germany, we would be caught in no time.' No one could hear our screams or banging on the walls. A long time had passed since the travel began and then the train stopped. We were soaked to the skin, chilled to the bone. We hadn't eaten for two days. The guards were enraged, they had to open the cars to load new prisoners. It was a tall order and it didn't go without abuse. Strong wind was blowing, it was pouring with rain. Finally the train set off again; everyone fell silent; we fell asleep standing up. The following day the cars were opened one more time. They counted us, afraid that some of us might have escaped. The canny ones pulled some swedes and cabbages growing on the field. I wasn't a good idea. All of them got sick. The stench in the car was difficult to stand. We wouldn't be able to make it with the sick any longer. We were out of food and water, our reserves from Warsaw dried up completely.
         When the third day was dawning, Germans opened the cars and ordered us to get off; guards with dogs were already awaiting us. Some of the prisoners did not have enough strength to get off unaided. There was a lot to the sick. We were taking them out of the cars and putting on the bare ground. They were to be transported to the camp. Lamsdorf station is situated several miles from the camp. We were lined up amongst total chaos and yells. Furious dogs kept barking and attacking us.
         While the morning was freezing, the rest of the day was bright and sunny. We were enjoying the fresh air, lack of which we had been suffering past the two recent months. Me and "Coin" were assigned to the group of officers, in which we would spent a few days. The line began to move on; we could hear yells of guards setting dogs on the more "indolent" prisoners.
         During the march Wehrmacht soldiers managed to wheedle valuables out of us by saying that everything would be confiscated anyway during the inspection. Some prisoners believed their words and I could see people giving away expensive personal belongings like watches or jewelry. Some bartered them for cigarettes or Deutchemarks. The elderly or the weak had to abandon their luggage. The march continued for a few hours. From afar I could see the watchtowers, security barbed wire fences, barracks and the empty spaces around. On the left there were a few houses and a small grove.
         Around noon a strange commotion could be heard, everyone was looking up. Two little spots far in the sky were moving fast in our direction. The spots were in fact planes flying in a strange way. That must have been a training. Even Germans calmed down and started observing them. The planes separated, then turned back, so that they faced each other and began to fly straight on .The pilots must have been staring at the huge column of prisoners beneath them, for they flew slap bang into each other. Seconds later there was a massive explosion and the flames rose in the air. That was amazing, such an accident in full view of the insurgents. Suddenly a loud outburst of joyful screams filled the air. Our enemies were brought to justice by the hand of fate. The guards, as if roused from a dream, started shouting again, dogs started barking. The line of prisoners was moving on again, the front of it almost reaching gates of the camp. We were all overjoyed; commenting on what had happened, we forgot where we are for a moment. Yells "Polnische Banditen" soon called us to order.
         We entered the camp through the main gate. Together with a group of officers we were directed to the right. The others - to the left. Women, who were in the minority, were directed to separate barracks , which were situated in between Slovaks' section and ours. There was a lot of elderly men among officers. Tired up, they needed our help. We still had to undergo an inspection and be quartered.
         We were lined up in endless ranks on the so called Szaberplac and ordered to put all our belongings in front of us. The inspection began. It lasted almost till the midnight. Later on, some of us were directed to the barracks. We were called "Polish bandits" by Germans and they kept saying we should all be slaughtered. All day without food again. I was so hungry I started to chew my pants belt. Chewing is better that nothing. I was given a small portion of lukewarm "coffee". I drank it greedily.
         In the huge barrack there were triple decker bunks. Because we were the youngest, we got the upper bunks. This appeared to be unfavorable, due to the fact that all the insects settled on the ceiling would fall on our faces at nights. Dotted with squashed bedbugs blood, we looked terrible in the morning. Mattresses were made of paper, filled with some moulded chaff. Some remains of blankets was what we covered ourselves with.
         The morning number one spent in the camp was cold, but bright. We had spent the night in more humane conditions than the cars. There was no roll call. We had to put everything in order. We were dirty, lice-ridden and we didn't want to admit it. In the first place I washed myself as thoroughly as possible. It was not easy, for there was a lot of other men waiting to do the same. Then I asked "Coin" to shave off my hair. After this procedure my head resembled a big bleeding wound. Having washed my head and refreshed myself I felt much better. Only my looks changed. "Coin", who had thicker hair than me, also decided to undergo the same procedure. As he admitted later, he felt relieved afterwards. Mornings were chilly, but we succeeded in getting something to cover our heads with.
         After all these experiences, we enjoyed hot "coffee" and a hunk of bread. This was a daily ration; I ate it at once. We were very hungry, and all we could do was to wait for dinner. Dinner was eaten only by the strong and the canny. There was not enough potatoes and we had to make do with they called "soup", and what in fact resembled dishwater.
         That was the beginning of a "normal" camp life. Some of us were able to get bits of straw, but the vast majority was sleeping on bare planks. The officers wanted to make real soldiers out of us and they kept order in the barracks. That was a difficult task in such a multifarious group of people. They made sure that our clothes and shoes were always clean, so that they could prove Germans we were soldiers, not bandits. Not all of us were so lucky as to be quartered in the barracks. A lot of prisoners were sleeping in the open air. Germans were removing Russian prisoners from the barracks in haste, so that they could allocate there the insurgents. We could often hear shots in the woods on the left.
         After a few days "Coin" and me were relocated to the opposite site of the camp. The conditions there were definitely worse. There were no straw mattresses or pieces of blankets. There were no bunks but three-leveled plank beds, so called nary. Windows had no panes. Again we got the upper beds. Only there did the heaps of huge lice become unbearable. Our barrack was situated next to the Szaberplac, fenced off by barbed wire. Two barracks further, closer to the female insurgents, there were barbers' quarter and the sickbay.
         On the right, there was a giant roll call square (apel-plac), which one had to pass through to reach the latrine. The latrine was close to barbed wire and a watchtower. That was where we bartered with Slovaks, who could receive parcels. Not all of the guards objected to this. Some of them were turning a blind eye to this; we could bribe them with cigarettes. They were Silesians mostly.
         A few days had passed and we were driven to the baths, where our civvies were taken from us. I had to part with my beautiful breeches, that I got from my brother on the last day of the uprising. The way washing took place was similar to that in Pawiak prison, were I had once landed up. The only difference was that they hadn't taken away my clothes there. They had been returned to me after steam cleaning. In Lamsdorf I was given dyed green army rags. They didn't fit me at all. Next, we were shaved with a bland razor that lacerated our faces. Because we were applied a disgusting, gray, stinky substance as a kind of aftershave, our skin was burning. Then we had a shower. A guard was controlling the temperature of water at will : at times it was boiling-hot, at times ice cold. Only after the vast majority of naked guys had objected to this did he agree to our demands. People who were lice-ridden had their heads shaved by force.
         Afterwards, the photographer took mug shots of us. They would put a huge plate with number on one's necks and photograph them -en face, our left profile, and right profile. Some of us were unable to recognize themselves in the photographs. We looked like criminals, not like prisoners of war.
         Nights at Lamsdorf were most unpleasant. We never got any mattresses or blankets. We would use folded trousers as a mattress, shoes as a pillow and jacket or coat as a duvet. In wooden barracks there was no heating and no panes in windows. The autumn of 1994 wasn't mild. Lack of water niggled us. One well for hundreds of people was not enough. We used breakfast "coffee" to wash ourselves with; but how can one possibly wash themselves with a few drops of water? That was the level of personal hygiene in a German POW camp. We could count only on visits in the baths.
         Dining was no better. Not everything was eatable. There wasn't enough potatoes. Dried swedes were the worst, they were unfit for human consumption even when cooked.
         Everyday roll calls were nightmarish and entertaining at the same time. They would take hours, regardless the weather conditions. We were counted a few times. I remember that one day a German newsreel crew visited us and the Nazi propaganda unit showed interest in one of our youngest colleagues, ten-year-old Kajtek. Although he was a little boy, he was wearing these huge boots. They could not believe such small boys had fought so bravely. I think they wanted to set him as an example for Hitler Youth Boys.
         We often did business with Soviet prisoners, whose duty among others was to remove the feces from the latrine. They had the access to all the minor camps in the vicinity, the kitchen, the baths. They could obtain information about our officers, we could barter via them with other prisoners.
         When in the camp, I was a smoker- not a wise behavior when your stomach is empty. We would divide a cigarette in four and smoke it in a cigarette holder. Colleagues would gather around the smoking one to inhale the exhaling smoke. When we were short of cigarettes, we would pick knots out of planks or pluck leaves from the only tree to roll a joint. We used newspapers for this purpose.
         Then we left for Mühlberg. After the szaberplac inspection, to be precise. We bid our friends staying in Lamsdorf farewell: "See you in free, independent Poland." This time we took different road, the one through the center of the camp. On both sides we could see camp buildings, warehouses, laundries and Soviet subcamps. We could see the emaciated bodies of Soviet prisoners, who were doing all the strenuous work. They were even harnessed to the carts instead of horses. We felt sorry for them, they were forgotten by everyone. We shared cigarettes and everything we could with these prisoners. It was prohibited, but where is a will, there is a way.
         When we reached Lamsdorf station we were loaded into freight cars, fifty people per car. After two days of tiresome travel we arrived at Muhlberg. We had been treated slightly better than the last time. Having entered the camp, we were quartered in two barracks, separated with a barbed wire fence from the rest of the enormous camp. Our girls were placed in that section as well. In comparison with Lamsdorf, this camp seemed to be a paradise. We had seen prisoners of different nationalities playing football at ease, we had seen clean barracks, blankets, straw mattresses and, most importantly, clean uniforms.
         Prisoners of war were receiving parcels from the Red Cross. They were not hungry, which wasn't the case with us. After a few days we received half a parcel per person as well. Many of us got sick, because our stomachs couldn't deal with so many delicacies. Even before we received the parcels, some of us were invited (by assent of Germans) by Englishmen and Americans. They were warmly welcomed and presented with cigarettes, chocolate and luncheon meat. Those who did not obtain such honors met with many other warm gestures. Cigarettes and other stuff were being thrown over the barbed wire for us. On the 6th of December, St. Nicolas Day, all of us received gifts from the Englishmen. A mass with Holy Communion was held on that day.
         In the middle of December 1944 we were transported by a passenger train to Brockwitz, Fabrikstrasse 1- supposedly to a glass works. In reality that was a fuselage works. Our small group was escorted by German civilians, who worked in the factory. We were not hungry, we had cigarettes and chocolate. Germans were polite and that was beneficial for them - Poles were easy to get along with. We were quartered in a big, old factory hall. The floor was brick. There were only two skylights in the ceiling, which did not allow much light. There were fifty of us in that hall; thank God we had the ventilation on. Living conditions were poor again. There were no bunks. We got some wood shavings and used it as bedding. Our guard was an old, lame German officer; a cadet corporal was in charge of the hall.
         We were riveting and assembling fuselages in a gigantic factory hall. Later it turned out, that none of those planes ever got off the ground. People say their inventor was executed. We were 10 miles from Dresden and survived all of its bombings. We saw the city sky illuminated by missiles and floodlights. Fire was pouring out of the sky- the city was dying. The front line was getting closer. We could hear cannons rumble. We hoped something was about to happen. We received parcels from Americans again. They were full of cigarettes- we could buy with them anything we wanted. We also got English uniforms, unfortunately without shoes. However, we got chaps to wear with breeches. We looked like human beings at last, we looked like soldiers. The word "Kriegsgefangenen"(POW) was painted in white on the back of our coats. We rubbed it off and put a small red triangle in its place -just like prisoners of war in 1939.
         Christmas of 1944 was full of food and full of hope. We were given parcels again. The other hall was occupied by the youngest, their age ranging from ten to fifteen. They were treated badly. They worked as shoemakers and tailors, though they had no idea about either profession.
         Rumbling of the cannons was getting louder, Allied air-raids were getting more and more frequent. At nights we were directed to bomb shelters outside. Germans would hide; we would go out and observe Dresden engulfed in flames. At that time the discipline was lax.
         In the middle of April 1945 we were evacuated. With some personal belongings we were rushed towards the Czech border. We would walk in the daytime and rest at nights. On the 8th of October, in the mountains near the border, Germans used us as a human shield for their retreating army. We could see Soviet cannons up on the hills. They were targeted at us. And it started. Bang, dust, smoke- lots of dead people and horses. But the biggest amount of casualties was among us, young Home Army soldiers, prisoners of war. How could the Soviets overlook big white words "Kriegsgefangenen" on our coats? Not all of us managed to rub them off.
         Everybody hurried into the woods at once; it was safer there. In the woods even SS soldiers were polite, they would smile at us. This is how we were liberated by the Red Army. There were a lot of Americans around, but me and "Coin" decided to go back to Warsaw. The city was dear to us. We left there our families. We left there our youth. This was where we had fought for freedom of Poland.
         Having suffered hardships of travel, I was back in Warsaw on 22nd of May, 1945. My six- year war odyssey was over.

         Show me another city that wholeheartedly
         Runs to arms to fight unbeatable foe.
         Show me a city by grief and glory deadly
         Overwhelmed, the capital of ages, woe.

Henryk Stanisław Łagodzki
translated by Anna Miłkowska

      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.