The Witnesses' Uprising Reports

My experiences in the cruelty of war

Genowefa Makowiecka,
a.k.a. "Barbara"
soldier of the Home Army, medical orderly of the 11th company,
battalion "Dzik" ["Wild Boar"].
awarded the Cross of Valor

Before the conflagration

         Before World War II, in the years 1918-1928 my parents ran an ironworker's and blacksmith's shop in Ratoszyn, in which they employed four people. Next, they moved to Warsaw, but they continued to run their shop until the war broke out. In Warsaw, since the beginning of 1929 to September 1939, my father hired from seven to nine employees in different periods of time.

         My parents' earnings ranged from 600 to 900 Polish zlotys per month, so they were doing great. In a short time they purchased a large parcel of land near Warka, but they had to sell it for little money during the occupation (in 1941) in order to make a living. During the war, my parents lost all their possessions, including a three-room apartment on Panska Street - it all burned down.
         In 1939 I graduated from a public primary school no. 127 located at 31 Wilenska Street. I was a swift learner - I received the best grades, had a gift for pure science, helped others a lot, was athletic. I also organized sports camps.

         Since September 1, 1939 I was to continue my studies in a business junior high school on Zurawia Street. Unfortunately, at the time of the occupation all higher schools, colleges and universities were closed.

Occupation and detention by the Gestapo

         The Nazi occupation made life unbearable for all Poles. The curfew, roundups, tortures, executions, public hanging of Poles, as well as hunger and continuous fear of the occupant made me rebel inside, and that mobilized me to join the underground ranks of the ZWZ-AK [the Union of Armed Struggle - the Home Army].

         In January 1942 I was sworn by Lt. "Sokol" ["Falcon"] and received a military and medical training. I served as a medical orderly and a messenger in the WSOP (the Military Service for the Protection of the Uprising) of the Home Army Srodmiescie Sub-district under the commandment of the then lieutenant and later captain Tadeusz Okolski, a.k.a. "Dzik" ["Wild Boar"]. Within my duties I carried a weapon, distributed the underground press and participated in the actions of my unit in Warsaw and its surroundings - sometimes with a weapon in my hands. I did it all to give voice to my outrage and stand up to the Nazi slaughterers. With all my heart I wished that Poland would finally be free.
         Let me explain the way I was arrested by the Gestapo police. In August 1943 I was coming home from a walk I took together with my friend. We were just approaching the gate (I lived at 37 Panska Street) when we noticed a "suka" ["bitch"] - in our slang a German police car. There were three Germans and my father standing next to the car. I felt dizzy and had shivers running up and down my spine. I did not know if they had been looking for me or my friend. Instantly, all three of them sprang to me and forced me to get into the "suka". I saw terror, despair and total helplessness on the faces of my father and friend. I did not know where they were taking me.
         During the drive they screamed at me, using vulgar and obscene language: "you so and so, you will tell us all about your collaborators in the underground, otherwise we will finish you off, you will not get out alive from this... ." They slapped my face a few times. I was terrified because it was true that I belonged to the underground organization, but I controlled my fear and decided that I would not tell a word about my friends from the underground movement. I prayed that God would help me, and I deeply believed that.
         Finally, we reached Szucha Alley and the interrogations started. They beat me unconscious and never stopped screaming vulgar words into my face. Sometimes I lost my consciousness. I did not know where my strength had come from that enabled me to remain so adamant. I was lucky that they put me in a "higher class" cell, without prostitutes and murderers. One time my parents sent me a package with food, inside of which I found a note explaining why I had been taken by the Gestapo. There had been a raid on my neighbors' apartment from Panska Street - the L. family at the service of the Nazi occupants. Their 14-year-old daughter had testified that the woman participating in this assault had been visiting me. As a result, many of my friends had been summoned by the Gestapo to show themselves to that girl to determine whether they had participated in the raid. The answer must have been negative, of course. When I was confronted with my neighbors' daughter, I looked daggers at her - if looks could kill, she would have dropped dead instantly. She burst into tears and I was beaten the living daylights out of me. One day the Gestapo arrested my sister too, and my father got so angry that he burst into my neighbors' apartment and threatened to kill them all if his daughters did not return from the prison. Fortunately, my brothers stopped him from doing something stupid, and my sister was released after one day of detention.
         After two weeks of doing time on Szucha Alley, I was allowed to leave the prison. The Gestapo officers behaved in a strange manner - they were very polite to me. I was astonished, even shocked, I did not know what would happen to me. My cellmates claimed that they were letting me go, which I did not believe for all the China in the world. Oh, how astounded I was to see my father waiting for me outside with a horse-driven cab! He had been waiting since 5 o'clock - he knew they were releasing me. He was so anxious, wondering whether my liberation was really true. We both burst into tears. After my return home, I was severely sick for 3 weeks. When I recovered, I was still involved in the underground activity and carried out the tasks I had been assigned.
It was not until the Warsaw Uprising that I learnt that it was my friends, and especially the director of the Asko-Opus company on Chlodna Street, where I worked, who had helped me to regain my freedom. The director surrounded himself with German associates and spoke German only. He introduced harsh discipline into the company, but also assigned numerous allowances to workers, mainly foodstuffs. As it turned out later, in reality he served in the Home Army and pretended to be a German. I worked as an accountant in Asko-Opus (laundry, dye-works), and at the same time I attended school - allegedly it was a vocational school, but in truth it was a business one. I was relieved from work to attend classes.

The Warsaw Uprising

         The day of August 1, 1994 in Warsaw was beautiful, sunny and windless. I informed my parents that I was going to my friend, but in fact it was the first call to the fight, not an underground one but already in the open. Throughout the whole August I fought in the Old Town in the WSOP battalion "Dzik" of the Home Army group "Rog" ["Horn"]. I served as a messenger and a medical orderly (a.k.a. "Barbara") in the Old Gunpowder Works, in the factory of Quebracho, in the houses of Madryt and Pekin, in the school at 32 Rybaki, in the Polish Security Printing Works, on the streets of Bolesc, Bugaj, Mostowa, Brzozowa, Krzywe Kolo, at the Castle Square, on various streets and in various houses, in different combat zones and on barricades. The commander of the battalion was Cpt. Tadeusz Okolski "Dzik", and the person in command of the group was Maj. "Rog" - Stanislaw Blaszczak.
         We were running out of medicines, dressing materials, food, and we lacked hospitals. Often we had to evacuate the injured. Every day was like the day before: the rumble of the bursting bombs, shells, "wardrobes", the collapsing walls of the houses, transportation of the wounded from one place to another - from cellars and ditches through holes punched in the walls. In the eyes of others I saw terror, fear bordering upon insanity, total physical emaciation. I heard moans, pleadings for help, I saw many people killed and wounded.
         Let me describe a few events that will illustrate my experiences.
         On this day we were in our quarters on Mostowa St. Suddenly someone shouted: "Barbara! The house is burning!" We left the quarters in a hurry, on my way I adjusted my bag with medicines, a bandage and a syringe. We trudged along ditches, hiding from the German fire. On site, on Brzozowa St. I hastily started to rescue the survivors. I jumped into the burning house and after a while I carried out a small girl, leaving her under protection of a civilian. Then I entered the burning house again, but at this moment the door collapsed, effectively sealing off the exit. With difficulty I threw over my shoulder a man lying on the floor. I could not see much, the smoke was stinging my eyes, I choked, but the time was running fast, and the only means of getting out of the house was its window. Paying attention to the wounded man, I jumped out of the window on the first floor of the building with little what was left of my strength, and fell down on the lawn. I managed to rescue two people in time. I went back to my quarters exhausted, soiled with ash and smoke; my legs were trembling and I was barely alive. Several times I arrived at the quarters in such a shagged state, returning from actions, very often without food. I wandered through the streets of the city, accompanied with the explosions of bombs and ripping shells, to save people, conveying an urgent message, not thinking about myself or that it might be my last hour.
         We received an order to get through to the Polish Security Printing Works. I was hungry, tired and sleepy, but without a word of complaint I began to wander through alleys, sometimes finding myself under fire from every window, every house or corner of the street - at every step death was lurking in the shadow. With great difficulty, sweated and covered with soil, we reached the building near the Polish Security Printing Works. There were four colleagues there, who took the positions on the roof of that building. Among them was Lt. "Sokol" ["Falcon"]. Their task was to observe the battleground. And at the very moment, when Lt. "Sokol" gave the signal to the colleagues that they were clear to go, the roar of the "wardrobe" ripped the air and stunned us. I was ordered to quickly go to the roof. The task was very difficult. The way was obstructed by collapsed walls; sometimes I had doubts: Can I reach them? Maybe it is better to give up? But momentarily I was ashamed of my own thoughts: there were wounded soldiers waiting for me there, at my mercy, my friends! I noticed "Sokol" on the roof, under the debris and all in blood. I could not see the other two partisans, and the fourth soldier was lying in the other part of the roof. I quickly approached "Sokol" (I had to avoid the space under fire) and dragged him to the safe place, where I could dress his wounds: his was heavily wounded in his head, neck and right hand. After taking care of him, I helped the colleague called "Ciapek" - his wounds were light. I started looking for the other two wounded soldiers. I found them after a while - unfortunately they were both dead, their bodies ragged and buried under the debris. A shrapnel swept my beret off my head, I felt dizzy. I was haunted by heavy and tiring thoughts. I tried to overcome the exhaustion but it was my colleague who pulled me out of my numbness. For a second I thought that I had woken up from a terrible nightmare - alas, it was all real.
         Some other time I had to return to a makeshift hospital located in Fukier's winery. The whole trick was to get to the Market Square of the Old Town from Zakroczymska St. And again, I had to muster the greatest power of the young girl's spirit in order to do this. The sense of duty overcame the feelings of terror. I thought about those who had died, about who would be next... Would it be me? When I finally reached that place, I flopped onto the chair in the duty-room of the hospital without uttering a single word. I did not feel like eating anything (herrings with marmalade). When I was taking care of the wounded, I had to be cheerful and smile to offer comfort, the comfort I needed so much. After 24 hours deprived of sleep, I was informed that St. Hyacinth's Church had been bombed and that there were a lot of injured people waiting for help. Without further thought, I went to render assistance to them. I dressed the wounds of those with light injuries and asked them to help and transport the heavily wounded ones. We tore our shirts off and used them as bandages. It is impossible to describe all those moans, pleadings for help, all this fright present in the eyes of those people and the enormity of harm done to them. I did not have time to think about myself, with all my heart I doubled and tripled my efforts to bring relief to the injured and not forget about anyone. The elderly thanked me and wanted to kiss my hands, which was very embarrassing for me. I did not know how much time had passed, but I almost missed my second duty - a very difficult one, with more and more wounded and killed, while I almost lost all my strength. After many days of this exhaustion, I slept 3 hours in a coffin behind the altar at St. Hyacinth's Church. I would fall asleep even on a stone. Many times I was buried under the rubble, injured in my knee. I ran away from Krzywe Kolo on impulse of my inner voice - just after my escape a bomb fell down on this place. Other times I thought I was already dead, covered with other people's blood, buried, unconscious. After I regained my consciousness I managed to come out of the debris. Warsaw was turning into the city of ruins, ashes and corpses. During the Warsaw Uprising I was put forward for a decoration with the Cross of Valor and was promoted to the rank of Corporal. After many exhausting days and nights the command assigned me to get through the canals to Srodmiescie. Unfortunately, we learned that the canals had collapsed in some places. The fights for the Old Town lasted till September 2, 1944. I buried my certificate, as we had to leave our hiding places and go out into the streets. The Germans started to throw grenades into the cellars, so whoever had not left them on time died. Those still alive were rounded up on the banks of the Vistula River. On the same day we were hurried on foot under the escort of Germans and Kalmyks to a transfer camp in Pruszkow, from where the prisoners were sent further to the camps or as forced labor to Nazi Germany.
         Initially, on my way to the camp I walked proudly and held my head up, but when a Kalmyk slapped me in my face a few times, I tied a white scarf round my head and began to draw my legs in fear of a rape (sometimes such incidents happened). On our way to Pruszkow we were led through Warsaw, where I passed by my home - my heart was breaking and I thought I would not stand this any longer and run away, but what would be the result of my escape? - for sure death or disability. So, sick at heart, I continued my trudge.

Concentration camps

         Pruszkow was swarming with people and children, frightened, crying, exhausted, not knowing what would happen to them. At the night of September 2, 1944 the Germans deported me and other people to Auschwitz-Birkenau, using for this purpose cattle-trucks. I arrived at Auschwitz on September 4, 1944. The Germans took away our clothes and everything we had - in my case my golden neck chain and a ring. I received the number 88156. Tall women received short dresses, and the short ones - long robes: they were making fun of us. Every other day they hurried us to have a shower and after we got soaked we had to stand in front of SS men in the nude. We slept on plank-beds, devoid of any bedding or night-clothes. While in sleep, we all had to turn around at the same time, because there was not enough space for all of us.
         On September 18, 1944 we were transported in cattle-trucks (they loaded as many of us as there were standing places in the carriage) to the concentration camp in Ravensbrück. I got the number 71726. We were harassed in this camp in a variety of ways, especially by means of gynecological examinations, allegedly in search of gold. Once a day we received soup with peelings and a hard kohlrabi and a chunk of brown bread. They beat us for anything.
         On October 4, 1944 we were transported (in cattle-trucks of course, and as many as they could hold) to the Buchenwald - Kommando Meuselwitz, were I was numbered with 35320. We wore striped garment, on our left sleeve we had a red triangle with a letter "P" (Pole), on our feet - clogs, and on our back - a large X painted with oil paint (so that we could not run away). Each of us was equipped with a bowl and a blanket - and that was all we had. We slept in camp barracks near the "Hasag" factory. For sleep we had bunk-beds, chips and a blanket. In our block there were over 60 of us of different ages and from different countries. In my group there was Leopold Staff's (the Polish poet) sister-in-law, a former nun. It was difficult to enumerate all female prisoners - many of us had come from Warsaw.
         We had to work in the "Hasag" factory at the anti-aircraft ammunition, 12 hours a day with a 15-minute break in two shifts: a day and a night shift. When we departed for the factory, we had to stand in a row of five. We were guarded by the prisoner's female overseers called Aufseherinen. One of them hit me in my face a few times because of a woman who stood on the other side of my row as the sixth one. We never had any holidays or earned any salary for the heavy work we did. We could never leave the camp and could not move freely on its premises. We were treated in a very cruel manner. There were times when a soldier beat me with the butt of his rifle until I passed out for not doing the standard rate of work, but this rate was far above human capabilities. You had to skillfully take out one missile and simultaneously insert the next shell, using both your hands. Apart from this, we had to clean the toilets and rubbish bins and stand for a long time in the assemblies, during which our tormenters used to "decimate" or beat us. Two of them battered us with horse-whips with lead inside. They beat us in turns - first one of them, and then the second - on our head and back. They did not look where they hit us. After such an abuse, a woman usually died the following day or the day after. The prisoner had to fetch a stool herself and then lie on it. To give an example, let me tell you about an abused daughter, whose mother was present during the beating and subsequently lost consciousness. After they beat the daughter, they took her mother. She died from wounds the following day, while the girl went crazy.
         We received a hunk of bread per day, but we had to cut small loaves of bread into four chunks. Many fervent quarrels broke out over a single centimeter or even a few millimeters of bread. To solve that problem, I prepared a knife with which I cut 16 loaves of bread into the quarters. Then I went away from the table, while the rest of the girls took the chunks and left the last quarter of bread for me. In this way the quarrels over the food stopped. Then I would take this last quarter of bread and cut it into thin slices, which I would gradually eat in small portions. I kept my bread in a little bag hanging on my neck. If I had not cut the bread into even quarters, the other prisoners would have taken the bread from my bag. Hunger is a bad advisor, so such unjustness might have even led to brawls. As we had to work very intensely, we were all the time hungry, exhausted and emaciated. I used to steal peelings, although such a crime was threatened with death penalty. I would boil them secretly in a tin that I had found in a rubbish bin. Although they often made me nauseous, I kept stealing them. If they had executed me, it would have been better than constant hunger.
         At the end of October 1944 I found a pale blue cover from a notebook in the factory. The cover was partly destroyed; there was a German inscription on one side of it. My happiness could not have been greater: it occurred to me that I could draw Holy Mother with Child Jesus on it. The idea was not easy to put into practice in the camp conditions, but I could not stop thinking about it. After a few days since finding the cover, and after a few conversations with a worker from outside the camp, I received from him a pencil and began to think how to do the drawing. Finally, there came inspiration and I produced the drawing from memory. I could not make even one mistake in drawing lines, because I had no possibility of finding another sheet of paper and I did not have any rubber for corrections. I think that the result was satisfactory. In addition, I prepared a rug out of gray paper, which I had got from Aufseherinen. The paper was about 1,3 m long and 1 m wide. I hanged my precious drawing on this rug, and we began to pray to the picture - altogether over 60 women from my block. Then I prepared a half-wreath from white paper that I had found in a dust-bin and hanged it under the picture.

         The next thing I produced were "zazdrostki" ["short lace curtains"], which I cut out of paper without sketching them earlier. We fastened them to each of the bunk beds. For a long time I worked over "zazdrostki" in secret. However, the Aufseherinen noticed what I had been doing and ordered me to cut out the curtains also for them. I did what they had asked for, and in return I received various materials useful for embellishing our block. The camp commandant (one-eyed) asked: "Who decorated the block?" A woman from Lodz, who could speak German fluently, said it was me. I was afraid that I would be punished for those decorations, but the commandant praised us settling so well in such conditions.
         Christmas Eve of 1944 was approaching. Some time earlier I had talked to the laborer working outside the camp, asking him to provide me with a small young fir or at least some of its branches. To my astonishment, he brought to the factory a small Christmas tree and a piece of wafer sent to him from home. I was moved to tears. On the Christmas tree I hanged an inscription saying "Warsaw", which I had made of wire. We dressed the tree with clippings and scraps of metal. We thought of it as a great event - to have a Christmas tree in the concentration camp! The prison mates regarded me as a godsend that lifts everybody's spirit, brings a good mood and gives hope. I was embarrassed to be held in such high regard. But indeed, I did everything to endure this hell, this torment, this ordeal. I helped a few people at work washing the bowls, e.g. Leopold Staff's sister-in-law, a woman from Lodz, who was very petite and about 60 years old. I did it hoping that somebody would help my parents too.
         When it comes to the commemoration of some anniversaries, I would like to mention that at Easter of 1945 we cut so called richelieu (an embroidery pattern) out of table cloths made from white paper. And again I had to prepare a countless amount of "zazdrostki" for the Aufseherinen, from whom we received paper. We set the tables in the open and covered them with the clothes - the drawing of the Holy Mother served as a substitute of an altar. The nun celebrated the "Holy Mass". We prayed from the bottom of our hearts. Among us was Countess Zamojska, a lot of women from Warsaw and other women of different nationalities. The Mass was celebrated for all blocks in the camp, for the whole female commando of the concentration camp.
         One day we saw a "lagrowa" (a female Pole supervising the prisoners) hurrying breathlessly in our direction. She started screaming: "Quick, get up! All prisoners, blankets on heads and run to the forest! Bombardment is incoming!" Immediately we took flight, obeying her orders. Nearby the camp there was a little forest. For the first time since our arriving at the camp we could approach it. We could hear the incoming bombers. We deluded ourselves that may be we would not be the target of their bombardments. Nevertheless, every now and then a bomb fell on the forest and not on the camp. The place where we lived remained intact. We did not know what was happening with other prisoners. We heard terrible screams and moans interrupted by prayers and exploding bombs. There were three of us altogether: me, Wanda and Zosia. Suddenly, I heard a muffled swish and lost my consciousness. I do not know how long it was before I regained my consciousness and started to check whether I was still alive. My head was splitting and I could not move. Slowly, I scrambled out of piles of soil and wood and pinched myself to see if I still felt anything. All in blood, I carefully worked my way towards the surface. Suddenly, I heard a horrible groan just nearby - it was Wanda calling for help and gasping heavily. Her abdomen was torn open and her leg was stubbed. The second girl who was with us was already dead. I could not believe that I did not suffer any serious injure in the attack. We were carrying the injured back to the camp until late at night. Each of us who could move helped with this painful work. We laid the wounded prisoners on the ground. After dressing their wounds with paper bandages, they were to be deported by the Germans, allegedly to a hospital.
         That night the Nazis did not rush us to the factory. They ordered us to gather at the assembly as they wanted to find out how many prisoners survived and how many of them were missing. Those female prisoners who were still alive felt that the raid was organized on purpose by the Germans. There were and still are doubts about why the camp buildings remained completely intact? Why was the forest bombarded - the exact place they forced us to take shelter in? How was it possible that not even one of Boches lost his life in the raid? I broke down completely. I could not look at SS men and Aufseherinen at all. I understood that we were merely numbers for them and nothing else.
         At the end of our stay in the camp (April 1945), the Germans clearly had no idea what to do with us next. They put us in cattle-trucks and transported to Graslitz (Kraslice), where they kept us without any food or water. They simply wanted to finish us off. At last, they let us leave the trucks. We saw grass and immediately started to devour it, not paying heed to the fact that grass might be harmful to us. I felt dizzy and my throat was dry. I was barely able to move my legs. We all felt like that. We found bread impregnated with kerosene, and of course we ate it greedily. We did not want to remember that the results of eating such poison mingled with grass might be disastrous. Soon we began to suffer from such terrible nausea and we felt so sick that some of us lost their consciousness.
         Later the Germans wanted to get rid of us by bombarding the trucks packed with people. This was a massacre, a welter of bodies. It is impossible to describe it - I am still shivering when I think about it. Fortunately, no bomb fell on our truck. I was smeared with blood and a bit bruised, but otherwise I was not seriously wounded. After this bombardment, the SS men and Aufseherinen disappeared into thin air. The cattle-trucks were standing in the field. It was hard to get any help.
         Then the SS men arrived again. They began to drive the rest of the survivals away several dozens of kilometers each day, without any food, water or sleep and without any goal in mind. During our arduous journey we tried to pick up potatoes that were growing near the road and to eat them raw. Hunger can be a terrible human oppressor, especially when it lasts so long, accompanying such strenuous, forced labor. We were worn out, emaciated and barely alive - and we had to put up with so much cruelty and humiliation, violence, fright, terror. Our legs were bleeding. It was only thanks to God's help that I survived this ordeal. Unfortunately, the Nazi tormenters irreversibly have taken away my health.
         In this way we were evacuated to Czechoslovakia, to the villages of Ujezd and Domazlice. Here, on May 9, 1945, our camp was liquidated and soon we were liberated by Americans. There were no SS men nearby - it was so strange... I was so moved that I cried and prayed. It was a great joy, the experience grand and unforgettable. The Americans treated us to chewing gum, chocolate and other delicacies. The Czech people burned our striped garment and gave us clean clothes - they were very nice to us. We had to return to Poland and Warsaw on our own. I covered many kilometers on foot (the rails were broken). I was satisfied whenever I managed to hitchhike.
         On May 26, 1945, after many troubles, difficulties and experiences I arrived in Warsaw. From my aunt, who lived in Saska Kepa, I learnt that my parents were still alive. My aunt did not recognize me - I was so skinny. We talked all night, we had so much to discuss. My aunt gave me some money and saw me off to the Vistula and the boat, as this was the only means of transport to get to the left bank of Warsaw. Having disembarked I started to run, because I could not wait to find my family. When I reached Koszykowa St., for the first time in a long time I saw the yard and noticed my brother standing at the window on the first floor. I knocked at the window and my brother hurried to me, as did my mother and sister. They could not believe it was me. My sister ran to notify my father about my return. All my unforgettable experiences, nightmares, ordeal and gehenna - finally, it all came to an end.
         However, in the following years I was often hospitalized. In spite of systematic treatment, my health was deteriorating and I was successively granted the 3rd group of war invalids, than the 2nd, and in the end the 1st group. I can only add that I could not live without the help of other people. Only human wrecks received the 1st group of war invalids, and I have become one of them.
         I would not like such terrible experiences to fall into oblivion. I would never wish anyone to experience even partly what I went through. My account does not do justice to my experiences, maybe only to the smallest extent.

Genowefa Makowiecka

edition: Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz

translation: Beata Murzyn


Genowefa Makowiecka,
a.k.a. "Barbara"
soldier of the Home Army, medical orderly of the 11th company,
battalion "Dzik" ["Wild Boar"].
awarded the Cross of Valor

Copyright © 2010 Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz. All rights reserved.