The Witnesses' Uprising Reports
Memoirs of the ”Dzik” (”Wild boar”) battalion’s nurse
Maria Szydluk (maiden name Basiewicz),
I was born on September 24, 1925 in Warsaw in a loving middle-class family. I was brought up with two older sisters and a younger, handicapped brother. My father, who had spent seven years in different front lines of the First Word War and fightings for the independence of Poland, administered a group of 20 garages and a petrol station. Since 1938 he had performer duties as a District Commander of Fire Protection. During the occupation he was an Underground soldier and he participated in the Warsaw Uprising. My mother took care of home. We were brought up very carefully. Each of us graduated from a secondary school. My oldest sister, having passed her Matura exam, in 1942 joined a convent. Our living conditions – supreme in pre-war period – got worse dramatically during the occupation.
Not being a writer, I was wondering what form of those memoirs I should use. Firstly, I used to write about pure facts. Yet, I realized that memoirs presented in such a way might be boring for readers, especially for young people. So I changed the form. Was I right? To tell the truth – I do not know… The readers should assess that.
The most important positive feature of my memoirs is the fact that they are based on my notes made in the forties of the twentieth century. At that time details and different unbelievably terrifying episodes were recent in my memory.
Soon after my come back from the camp to Warsaw, I was uneasy about the necessity of writing down my Uprising and camp experiences – as They were all in my memory then. Nevertheless, for a long time I could not mobilise myself to make my thoughts become a deed. The truth is, the conditions at the time were not favourable.
For instance, in a one-room place (including a kitchen that was discreted by a screen) of about 30 square meters two or three families were living together with two or three soldiers who were located there. In such conditions I used to live in the November 11 street in Praga for several first weeks after doming back from the camp. In subsequent places of living the conditions were not better. That is why, I limited myself to short notes. Longer memoirs were written not earlier than in the year 1961, but based on those notes made in the forties. They are true, based on my authentic experiences. Chile making those short notes, I did not expect that They would play such an important role in writing my memoirs.
The tragic occupation days
It was a late frosty winter evening. It was snowing. After finished lessons, together with many people, I was standing with my friends at a trolley stop in the Lublin Union Square.
Suddenly, a painful moan of people moving back from a kerbstone made us look towards the Puławska street. Silent crying was heard. We saw an amazingly tragic scene. A totally naked and barefooted tall man, being whipped with a switch by a German (wearing a SS uniform) was running on the road, near the kerbstone, on icy rubble covered by snow. We were petrified. Red (because of frost) cut flesh disappeared in the Szucha Avenue. We burst into tears and could not stop crying.
I was going to the Chłodna street, to my boss’ department to take warehouse keys that He had forgotten to take Chile going to the bookshop in the morning. In the middle of the Żelazna street, just behind the Sienna street wire fence separated the Jewish district. The Ghetto. By a house wall a hunched woman was sitting. Protruding cheek bones, sunken eyes. Just next to her two little children, equally wretched, wearing some rags. Almost skeletons. A few meters further on a pavement a skeleton of a man – maybe a boy – was lying. The testimony of a cruel villainy. I turned my eyes away. It was hard to look at that.
Some crash, as if something dropped on the Road. Instinctively I turned my eyes at that direction. An old Jew – cruelly thin, was pulling with difficulty a big wooden trolley. The one that was used by street salesmen. I was petrified. I could not believe my own eyes. On this trolley here were lot sof naked human skeletons. Suddenly he knocked against something. He lost two human skeletons. That was the reason of this crash. He stopped the trolley and was trying to raise what he had lost. I was standing for a while, motionless. Oh my God! Those skeletons on the trolley were moving, so here were people alive. I wanted to escape but my legs grew into the ground. I used my whole strength to move them. I came back to the bookshop, crushed, senseless – without the keys.
I experienced the shock after street execution twice. I was going by trolley to the Ujazdowski Hospital only a few minutes after an execution at the corner of the Nowy Świat street and the Świętokrzyska street. House walls splashed with blood and huge fresh blood spots on a pavement, not sprinkled with sand yet. Passers-by put some flowers by the wall. The trolley went by slowly. Everyone stood up, men took of their headgears.
This second time was even more tragic. It was dark. An early winter evening. I was going with two friends to school in the Piękna street. Not expecting anything, talkative, we turned from the Marszałkowska to the Piękna street. We were to cross the street when Lilka slipped. We burst into laughter and in a second we all became petrified. The pavement and the wall were splashed with fresh blood. Having had the sense of this tragedy, we crossed the street quickly, only now noticing complete emptiness. There was nobody on the street. The tragedy took place opposite the house we had clandestine lessons. That day we did not have any lessons. A few schoolgirls, the Principal Mrs. Maria Opalańska, Mrs. Maria Kikolska and three of us – Lilka, Merka and I – were sitting in silence for an hour, having neither strength nor courage to go on the street.
These are only shorts fragments of tragic experiences of the occupation days. I was one of many millions of the Polish people who, starting from September 1939, each occupation day experienced personal, family and national tragedies. My father was arrested as well and he was set in the Szucha Avenue by the Gestapo.
In my opinion, we – the Varsovians – belong to these Polish people who were witnesses of tragedies of the 6-year occupation every day. Raids, arrests, street execution, robbery and destroying of the national goods – all those were followed by revolt and inflexible wish for fight.
But what could we – young 14- and 15-year-old girls – do? We are still uneasy about that and this question is still present in our conversations. School and family home would make us realize that learning is our basic and most important patriotic duty and that post-war Poland would need educated people. So, we treated our study seriously. Some of us, apart from a legal vocational school, would participate in clandestine lessons.
To master a school syllabus meant to devote much time for learning at home. School, clandestine lessons and obligatory practice made us learn at home late at night. These hours were often disturbed by air-raid warnings. A sight of young people standing in a cellar during such warnings and handing a book was not a rarity. Yet, despite lots of duties, something urged us to other work, other - apart from learning – deed. A coming Independence Day made ust think about decorating soldier tombs in the Powązki Soldier Cemetery.
Maybe it was an insignificant deed. But for us, young girls, then it appeared to be not only honouring the memory of the ones who died fighting for their Homeland, but it was also an expression of our patriotism which we wanted to show somehow. In our friend’s Wanda Wysocka apartment in the Złota street we were weaving fir garlands and were preparing white and red candle covers during the whole night. In the early morning of November 11 we entered the Cemetery and quickly cleared up and decorated the soldier tombs. Such was the situation every year from now on.
Another permanent action was organizing school concerts, started by Professor Jadwiga Szmurło. Thanks to her contacts the performers were famous artists such as Mieczysław Fogg, Mieczysław Laguna, Mrs. Pellegrini and Prof. Szmurło herself, who was accompanying the singing people. It was in the first year.
In the following years we organized the concerts ourselves. These were paid musical performances, such ”medleys” which took place on the fifth floor of the Bagatela 15 street, in well prepared school rooms.
My schoolmates were the performers. Everyone was doing what they could do. Rehearsals took place during break between lessons. Henia and Lidka used to play the piano, Danusia would sing and dance; Krystyna, Wanda, Lidka, Merka and Teresa would recite patriotic poems. All of them would dance polonaises, mazurkas and traditional Polish dances called kujawiaki. A work by Ewa Gerson-Dąbrowska entitled "Święć się święć się .wieku młody" (”Let the youth be celebrated”) was also included in our repertoire. The repertoire was variable, we Gould perform ”Kopciuszek” (”Cinderella”) as well as the nativity play. Krystyna would paint beautiful program leaflets that brought us some profit, too. I was an organizer and co-ordinator of all the actions. Due to the fact that during the occupation the Polish people did not go to the cinema or to the theatre – entrance tickets used to be sold out very quickly.
The income was earmarked for packets for political prisoners. On Sunday there were usually two performances, and a week later we were preparing those packets. Since early mornings we were baking cakes in a school kitchen, and we wanted them to be not only delicious but also properly fatty, sweet and nutritious. Prof. Maria Kikolska helped us to get the groceries we needed, which was not easy. On Monday mornings, with the help of the Supervisor Leontyna Urbanowicz we used to carry ready packets to the Prison Patronage. Another financial source was money we got from the sale of garlands and candles by Warsaw cemeteries on November 1 and 2. These garlands were self-made.
It was May 1941, 15 minutes left to the last lesson end. I got up silently and left the classroom. I was going to the fifth floor– as every day during the whole May, with the Headmaster’s permission – in order to prepare a gym for so-called ”majowe” (Catholic prayers said in May – translator’s gloss). Everyone was to be there, including all the professors, in order to say our prayers (the Litany), to sing religious songs and ”Boże coś Polskę…” (“God, who would care for Poland…”).
But that day was special. While running to an elevator, I heard the Headmaster’s voice: "Baśka! Wait, I will go with you.” We entered an elevator. ”Wouldn’t you like to join the conspiracy?” Mrs. Urbanowicz asked. Voice stuck in my throat. ”If you think I am suitable, I will be happy to do it,” I answered, moved. ”I think you do. But do you realize there is a danger connected with it?” ”Yes, of course,” I answered quickly. ”Maybe you want to think it over?” ”I am sure I want to do it.” ”All Wright then. In a few days a young woman will Come to you to the bookshop and she will tell you what to do next. I will tell you about it a day before.” ”Thank you.” ”All Wright, but you know that you must not tell anyone about It. Neither your relatives at home, nor a friend. It’s very important! A major rule.” ”Yes, of course, I know, I understand It.” An elevator stopped. ”So go to your duties, people will start to Come soon. But be careful not to get into heresy,” she added jokingly.
And so it started. From now on I would collect different orders, packets, News bulletin, etc. in the bookshop. I would direct that where I had been informed before. I participated in sanitary courses twice. One in the Ujazdowski Hospital and another one lead by Janina Grzybowska a.k.a. ”Nita”, in her parents’, Mrs. and Mr. Baczyński, department, in the Krakowskie Przedmieście street. One had to enter a kitchen to get into a room in which the course was taken place. In order to divert people’s attention from what was happen in another part of the department, chickens were raised there. I went there often. This yellow flock of birds was also running on the white, just polished floor. It was an original idea, but I was always wondering how It was possible to keep the department clean, with such untypical in the city tenants. In this department, in the last room, behind the well hidden entrance, we concentrated lots of medicaments, first-aid-kits and stretchers.
All that was carried by us to our first Uprising outpost, to the city hall building on the Theatre Square on August 1. Military trainings were taken place in the Mostowa street and Tamka. Preparations to the ”little sabotage” action in the Nowy Zjazd street on the last floor, in a tenement house from the Vistula direction. Firstly, in a group of 4-5 girls, on sheets of paper I was practicing how to paint slogans and ”anchors” - signs of the Underground Polish State. A confirmation of experience was an ability to cutting out patterns. Then, we would come out for an action.
An oath, heard by Mrs. Urbanowicz, was uttered by me in a group of several unknown by me girls in the Mostowa street.
Before the ”W” hour
I have been not working for a few days. We have been on the alert. Every day at 9 a.m. we have been registered in a contact place in the Krakowskie Przedmieście, at ”Nita’s” place.
Sunday. Before the midday Alina Bagińska, my friend from the bookshop, called dropped in on me. Yesterday an alarm at her place was cancelled. Since Wednesday she Has been placed at the first waiting place. ”For the time being everything is cancelled,” she said.
Monday, July 31 I reported myself at 9 o’clock at ”Nita’s” place. There was nothing new. Previous orders were still in force. To be on the alert. Not to leave one’s home. Today I was to go to the bookshop and receive my back pay. I was in charge of a lending library A.J. Markiewicz in the Żelazna street 32. For a few days readers were giving back books, resigning from deposits. There was no sale in the bookshop. And my boss spent all the money to buy books three weeks ago and bought from Germans lots of books, in particular those published by the Ossolineum publishing house, including the Trilogy by Sienkiewicz. Not only that. Among those books here were many wonderful items of a famous Warsaw publishing house Trzaska, Evert and Michalski, encyclopaedias, the Great Geography, dictionaries, a set of ”Biblioteka Wiedzy” (”the Bookshop of Knowledge”), an unique set of the series ”Cuda Polski” (”The Miracles of Poland”) by Wagner, "Polska, jej dzieje i kultura" (”Poland, its history and culture”), encyclopaedia ”Świat i Życie” (”Word and Life”) and many Rother unique items that would be quickly sold a month ago. I went to the bookshop with my best friend Merka Andrzejewska, who was engaged in the conspiracy, as well. My boss, having seen me, looked as if he was a helpless man. I was given 200 zlotych, the rest, i.e. 800 zlotych (which was a big sum at that time) i was to receive the following day, in the afternoon. As I had serious doubts whether or not I would be able to come in person, I arranged with him that my sister would get the money. (Then I did not predict that I seriously endangered two persons). My sister Danka Basiewicz together with her friend Marysia Kosmowska, having received no money, were coming back home from the Żelazna street to the Dobra street for the whole 3 days. Thia was August 1. A strong firing did not allow to come back. To Cover a distance of last few hundred meters They were waiting for the whole day, till the evening, hungry and exhausted.
It was 5 p.m. on July 31, Together with Merka we were coming back quickly in the Złota street and our destination was the Marszałkowska street. The nearer the Centre, the bigger traffic. In the Sosnowa street there was a crowd. Unusual haste and excitement on people’s faces were visible. A lot of young people in a hurry, doming towards different directions, discussing intensely, wearing sports clothes; many young boys wearing top boots. In the evening I went to Fr. Józef Oleksy, to say goodbye. He was my prefect from the elementary school. A man „number 1” in my gallery of the most wonderful persons, whom I was happy to have met. I have always met hem in important moments of my life. Now, there was such a moment, too. I felt it was a last moment to say goodbye. He was looking at me, concentrated, and then he asked if I had everything that was needed. I lack a only a rucksack, I answered. Wanda, Merka and Mietka made their rucksacks by sewing. I was not so lucky. ”Wait,” he said, ”I’ve got something.” He came back after a while and took out a wonderful rucksack, hidden under a cassock. ”Various people hang around,” ”one needs to watch out,” he tried to justify an act of hiding the rucksack. After a mass arrest of priests a special caution was kept here. Fr. Oleksy was in prison, as well. He gave me several medallions with an image of Mary. ”Take them and give your friends. This one is for you. Think positively, believe that everything will be all right. Tomorrow at 8 a.m. I’m saying mass and praying for you and your friends. God lead you. Till now I remember every word said by him.
Moved, carrying my new rucksack, I went to the Lipowa street, Reading for home. The medallion accompanied me during all days I spent in the Old Town. It was the only thing I was able to smuggle to Ravensbrueck, I was wearing it in Heningsdorf, too. At the very end of my stay in the camp, when factories had been destroyed, we were lead to baths, the one and only time. I forgot I had it on my neck. A guard noticed it and took it away, certainly.
August 1. Tuesday. I registered myself at 9 a.m. in the Krakowskie Przedmieście street at ”Nita’s”. There was an order. A gathering at 3 p.m. with a whole outfit. I came back home and informed my Barents about that. Last preparations. I had dinner, said goodbye and left. My mother asked me to Come for a Chile the following day. She promised to roast a rabbit and bake a cake. She wanted me to take them as we would Reed them. A smile on my father’s face was quite strange. He patted me on the shoulder nd said, ”Take care!” I understood this strange smile not earlier than in 1945 after coming back to Warsaw. At the time I got to know that my father took part in the Resistance Movement, as well. He also participated and fought in the Uprising in the Powiśle area.
My aunt Kossakowska wanted to see me off. She wanted to take my rucksack near the Police headquarters in the Karowa street. She said she would give it back in the Krakowskie Przedmieście and would let me go alone then. She said this would be safer I didn’t want to agree, but she persisted in that. She had always been stubborn. At the korner of the Krakowskie Przedmieście she took my rucksack back quickly and shook hands with me, saying, ”God protect you.” This was her last handshake and last words. She got lost in the war storm.
There were some girls at ”Nita’s” already. I did not know all of them. There was a briefing ans transfer of medicaments, first-aid kits and stretchers gathered here to the City Hall. We went there twice. The stretchers caused most difficulties. We left our place in pairs every few minutes. I suppose we were all frightened. The router was short but very busy. At the corner of Krakowskie Przedmieście and the Trębacka street a lorry with Germans passed us. We were passing armed German soldiers.
We were not noticed. In the City Hall’s gate we met "Iza" Izabella Zajączkowska-Bombelska, a commander of a sanitary group of our 12th company. She directed us to the rooms, to general surprise of clerks who were still working. In a moment Mr. Dawidowski, a City Hall’s commissary, appeared. He ordered the clerks to take the papers from their desks quickly and go home. They were murmuring a bit but after several minutes we joined the desks. Iron beds with mattresses were brought. Everything was done so quickly and ably that in a half an hour we were quite arranged. Doctor Wierzbicki gave our commander his surgery at her disposal, the one situated on the left side of the hall, next to our place. Afterwards, he himself worked devotedly as a doctor, helping the wounded. Till now we recall him with great emotion and respekt, particularly Iza who knew him at the occupation Times. He was very dedicated, modest and tactful.
The sanitary group of the 12th company included 4 sections at August 1. In the City Hall the ones with the commander of the 12 company "Iza Podolska" were situated:
l. "Nita Leszczyńska" Janina Latałło Grzybowska
2. "Rysia - Ryszarda Drutowska" Maria Szydluk (maiden name Jasiewicz)
3. "Blanka" Krystyna Klonowska (maiden name Adamska)
4. "Jolanta", "Murzyn", "Maryńcia" Maria Truskolaska (maiden name Selwańska)
5. "Isia" Gabriela Górzyńska-Milachowska
6. "Gruszka" Katarzyna NN
1. "Halina Wolańska" Halina Szmakfeferowa (maiden name Bowbelska), second-in-command
2. "Wisia - Erazma Kilińska" Jadwiga Kowalik (maiden name Kałęcka)
3. "Stella" Krystyna Prekier-Kiełczyńska (maiden name Sypniewska)
4. "¦nieg Maria" Krystyna Łabinowicz (maiden name Pączkowska)
5. "Maria Błyskawica" Jadwiga Klichowska
6. "Rena Lipna" NN
Section III was situated at the Kanoniczki order’s place at the Theatre Square
1. "Barbara Szymanowska" Elżbieta Kowalczyk
2. "Joanna Prus" Maria PrzeĽdziecka
3. "Katarzyna Żeberko" NN
4. "Emilia" Romana Wanat
5. "Marta" Leopolda Wanat
6. "Danuta" NN
Section IV was situated in the basement of the Siessa shop, at the corner of the Bielańska street
l. "Elżbieta" Maria Zaunarówna
2. "Mariot" Aldona Brünner
3. "Grażyna" Halina Etminis
4. "Nina" Janina Chełmińska
5. "Anta" NN
6. "Gruszkówna" "Blandyna" NN
August 1 almost 5 p.m., sounds of single shots were heard but ”Nita” is absent. Having transferred the stretchers she came back home at the Krakowskie Przedmieście, to take her personal outfit. Two hours had past before she was able to join us. It was getting dark when "Barbara" and "Elżbietą" ran and informed the commander about the readiness in their sections. ”Barbara” told us about the first wounded woman. They brought her from the church of Kanoniczki order. We all were very moved, full of enthusiasm and Certain of a near day of freedom.
This first night was peaceful. The girls from the section of ”saints” – this was how we jokingly called a group of the Urszulanki nuns’ pupils – were singing silently but how beautifully: "Dziś do Ciebie przyjść nie mogę..." (”I can’t come to you today…”), "Deszcz jesienny deszcz, smutne pieśni gra ..." (”Rain, autumn rain is playing sad songs…”) and many others. Mr. Dawidowski brought the news. On the New Exit by the Kierbedzia bridge there were stiff fightings. Our units were trying to get the Poniatowskiego bridge under control. They had already brought the flyover under control. We were listening carefully, pricking up our ears. Everyone would whisper. The mood was unusual and solemn. Together with ”Blanka” I was lying on the same bed and we were dreaming about different post-war events. We saw a forthcoming wonderful sunny bright world. And again, Mr. Dawidowski, sad this time, had Bad news concerning the units fighting for the Kierbedzia bridge. According to him, the whole company, about 40 soldiers, died. It became quiet.
August 2. The women from neighbouring houses organised a nutritional station in the gate themselves. They laid a white sweet on a table, brought steaming cauldrons, cut bread and were feeding the insurgents, smiling. Their smile was full of friendliness and female care.
From the early morning there were fightings for the Blanka Palace. There were units from different companies there, not only our 12th company, whereas sanitary service was provided by the group of the 12th company exclusively. There was rumble of exploding grenades. Running soldiers were trying to capture the Palace from different directions. Among them a little boy wearing a fire helmet and keeping a little axe. This was a son of the City Hall’s caretaker. Acquainted with the surroundings, He was shooting, here, this door… Grenades were exploding… Rumble, shots… The Palace resembles a fortress. One flank was captured. A front side adjoining the City Hall was free. We went to bring the mattresses and pillows. Mr. Dawidowski was leading us.
Wide marble stairs, huge windows on the left side, a glass wall. We were passing beautiful rooms covered wuth carpets. We looked out of the Windows and saw the Theatre Square. It was empty. Only two trolleys turned upside down were scaring. We reached some attic and took mattresses and pillows . Our return was very difficult. The glass wall was devoid of glass. Under our feet a thick layer of glass rubble was crunching. We were coming down very leaning, taking the mattresses and pillows on our backs. Clink of glass, flying feathers. Well, we survived our first baptism of fire – Mr. Dawidowski said – without casualties luckily.
Further fightings for other Palace’s flanks continued. Together with Nita I was kneeling on the surgery’s floor and pleated by the handshake we were observing the action. Mayor Barry threw a long desk on the high of the second floor from one window to another at the corner of adjoining to Palace’s flanks. This huge man walked on a narrow plank f the desk having a rifle on his shoulder; followed by another soldiers, with rifles as well.
We were trembling with fear, putting nails into our hands. God, do not let them fall down, this is the second floor! They manager to do it. Rumble of exploding grenades, shouts, shots, unusual noise. The second flank was reached. There were wounded people. Among this noise Fribolin, an assistant of List, fell from the second floor on the ground. It was said that his soldiers threw him because of his decision to surrender. There was such gossip. He had a broken pelvis and a damaged spine. He was situated in a room close to the surgery, making ”Nita” be responsible for him. Armed boys were hardly stopped as they wanted to measure justice. The room was locked.
Our patient initially disagreed to take any meals and medicaments. I visited him together with Nita. She asked me to accompany her while she was changing his bandages or passing meals or medicaments. She did not like going there alone. When we brought a soup, very hungry probably, he asked Nita to taste it. There were several German captives. With great satisfaction we were observing first Germans leading under insurgents’ escort.
August 4, an early morning. Leading by the commander ”Iza Podolska” to the City Hall main gate, we were leaving with seriously wounded Jerzy Skalski, lying on the stretchers, towards the empty Theatre Square. We volunteered: "Blanka", "Nita", "Stella", "Isia", "Maryńcia" and me "Rysia". First salvos of machine guns from the Great Theatre appeared near a chapel of the Kanoniczki nuns – one, two, three. Going hurriedly, we were loudly wondering whether to take shelter in Kanoniczki nuns’ place or to go further. We quickened our pace. On the crossroads of the streets: Wierzbowa, Senatorska, Bielańska and the Theatre Square despite white gowns and bands with the red cross we came under fire from three directions: from the Theatre, a corner (Wierzbowa – Senatorska streets) tenement house’s roof and the Polish Bank. Near a street lamp situated in the middle of the crossroads I was wounded by a shot twice. In spite of that we were further running over the Senatorska street. Nita proposed to stop in a gate and to dress my wound. I disagreed. We were running further but we were leaving noticeable stains of blood from my leg. Blanka took the stretchers from me. On the other side of the road in a gate of a tenement house adjoining the St. Anthony church several men were standing, together with a priest who was appealing to these men to help us. The firing was so great that nobody would risk to cross the street. Firing was directed at us, from the direction of the Saski Garden. Swish and rumble of bullets. We felt their warmth near our ears. We could not stand It. We rushed into a gate just close to the hospital. A deep breath and a quick leap to the hospital hall. I lost my conscience there. I woke up on a table in treatment room and Got to know that I had to stay in hospital. Desperate Nita and Doctor Gieratowski (or Gierartowski) were beside me. The girls came back to the City Hall. I wanted to come back with Nita, too, but Doctor Gierartowski was implacable. Till the late evening I was sitting on a wheelchair in a treatment room and together with a nurse I was preparing cotton balls, gauze pads, etc. Around midnight I was transported to a female room situated on a ground floor.
August 5. There were more and more wounded people. I left my bed and moved to an armchair. Rumble and shots were never-ending. In the early afternoon an unconscious woman found in the rubble of a house in the Waliców street that fell down because of a bomb, was brought. The woman, while regaining consciousness, fell into great despair. She begged us to find Her 8-month-old daughter.
According to her report, the child was sleeping. When she heard a plane rattle, she was able only to rush into the room and grab a cot’s arm. She did not know anything more than that. She woke up in hospital. People were sent there immediately. After several hours a crying infant, wearing scraps of clothes and wrapped in some blanket was brought. A paediatrician, who was called from a neighbouring house, stated only a serious shock and superficial scratches. It was a beautiful girl with swarthy skin and blue eyes. The following day, all ill women sitting on beds were sewing the layette for the child from different white cloths.
A hospital hall was filling up with civilians, particularly from the following streets: Żabia, Elektoralna and Chłodna. These people, leasing their houses, would find shelter there, as tenement houses situated on the both sides of the hospital could not hold the coming crowds of people. The refugees were talking about the massacres and barbarism of the Germans with reference to the civilians. There was the atmosphere of terror.
There were seriously ill people in the hospital exclusively. Those slightly wounded were taken home by their families. There was more and more crowded. More and more wounded people. The hospital personnel appealed to the people to try to look for the shelter outsider the hospital. We were informed that the Saski Garden was controlled by the insurgents. Shots were still being heard. Nurse Krystyna (I don’t remember her surname) would drive by a jeep the wounded from the neighbourhood. A pregnant woman was brought along to the next room. Rumble and shots stunned moans of the woman in labour. After several minutes a boy was born. The boys from the City Hall visited me. Nita sent them in. They were good-humoured, but very serious at the same time. They were talking about stiff fightings on the Castle Square and in the following streets: Krakowskie Przedmieście, Miodowa and Bielańska. They were proud of the Bank capture.
August 6. Sunday. The religious holiday of the Transfiguration.. A beautiful sunny day. Some strange silenie. An unusual cheerful mood. In the morning there was a solemn Mass in a hospital Chanel. Then there was baptism of the saved infant. As the mother wanted, Doctor Gierartowski, a main doctor became a godfather whereas the main nurse Barbara Glińska became a godmother. The child was given the name Ewa Maria (she was baptized by her mother with water on the first day of the Uprising), and the main nurse added a name Mścisława. So now she was called Ewa Maria Mścisława. I said the novena prayer with Rother patients, as every day. Generally it was a festive mood. The patients would sigh, ”My God, such a holiday, maybe something would change.”
In the afternoon ”Nita” visited me. She brought sad news. Yesterday in the Polish Bank 4 nurses of our company, i.e. "EIżbieta, "Grażyna, "Nina" and "Mariot died as a result of bombing. Nita brought ”Joanna” along, who was under the ruins of the Polish Bank. She looked awfully. The whole face from the forehead to the Chin was violet. We moved to the room from the direction of a garden. About 5 p.m. a nurse rushed in and shouted, ”Germans are in the hospital hall.” Nita leapt up and jumped out of the window to the garden. I was quickly helped and changed my clothes and now worn a hospital pyjamas and I was situated on the mattresses by a fireplace in a front room, together with ”Joanna”.
There was a real terror now. Germans rushed in with rifles and threatened to burn the hospital. They shouted and looked in under the beds. Fortunately, They didn’t shoot. After a while they took a heavy cannon on the room and were trying to put it in the hospital room’s window. Thick iron grating in the window was an obstacle. They were trying hard and resigned at last. They put the cannon outside, under our room’s window. Great shooting from the direction of the Saski Garden was heard. Bullets broke through iron shutters and fell in the room. Some patients crawled under their beds. There was a lot of smoke and dust in the air. A terrible yell of a wounded German by the cannon was heard. Nobody would help him. Furious Germans threw the people out of their homes, together with children and old people and situated them in front of the hospital. They used them as a living barrier. Now only Germans would shoot in the direction of the Saski Garden. Moans of terrified people, link of glass and crying of children were all heard. Some calls: "Jezus Maria", "Jezu", "Boże" (”Jesus”, ”God”). This massacre lasted about an hour. Then it became gloomy and silent. There were no shooting anymore. The Germans took Doctor Gierartowski, the main nurse and a jeep driver with a nurse Krystyna. They chose one nurse, a tall thin blonde girl (I don’t remember her name, I think it was nurse Barbara) who had a right to move in the hospital as the only one person.
No doctor was given such a right. The patients were not allowed to leave their rooms. Biological needs could be fulfilled only in buckets set in the rooms. The Germans said that they would not burn the hospital only due to the fact that 7 wounded Germans lying on the first floor had stated that they were treated in the same way as the Polish people. Yet, they set fire to tenement houses situated on both sides of the hospital.
August 7 and 8. During the day and night 2 or 3 Germans Gould rush in the rooms with rifles directed at the patients. Fortunately, they did not shoot. Terrible horror and depression among the patients..
August 9. In the morning, about 6 a.m. Doctor Lewandowski came, approached me and said silently that during the night the Germans had left the hospital, taking those 7 wounded soldiers with them by a tank. Immediately Joanna and I leapt up and while getting dressed quickly we left the hospital through the back exit and moved towards the Old Town to find our unit.
We passed "Gruba Kaśka". It was windy and cloudy. In the Długa street there were lot sof flying black burnt papers. And terrifying emptiness and silence all-round. Sunbeams tried to break through shyly. Streets of the New Town were sunny.
We were passing smiling people who looked as if they were carefree. We heard music coming out of windows. That was strange. A totally different world. I met my cousin. A moment of conversation. We were going through the whole Old Town probably. At last we fund our people in the Zapiecek street and the corner of the Piwna street. Joy of greeting. In the quarters on the first floor (dentist’s surgery) there was rush. We heard shots from the direction of the Castle Square. Some noise. We looked out of the window and saw the Piwna street. A big group of people, civilians in particular, were building a barricade hastily.
About midday that day I was taken by the commander ”Iza” and I met the commander-in-chief of the battalion WSOP "Dzik" (”Wild boar”) Tadeusz Okoiski and I gave an account of these days spent outside our unit, including two days spent, one can say, in the German captivity.
August 10. I have the rights of a convalescent. In the early morning we went to the mass in the cathedral. It was so near and so difficult to reach. Coming back along the Świętojańska street was impossible. Going through the side door we found a tiny internal yard, so called ”well”. Dead bodies were lying there, waiting for a burial. Among of them there was a woman. Her protruding hair, straight as wire, was a terrifying sight. I turned away, thrilled. Still all of us reacted strongly at such sights. On my way I met Basia Zaborska a.k.a. ”Róża”, a sister of my schoolmate. I stopped to talk for a while but time was pressing, she was in a hurry to get to her outpost. Later she died in Czerniaków. A quick chain of events and a constant movement of replacing units and patrols obliterate exact days and dates.
A bullet swish or an air bomb and a boom of collapsing houses. The whole corner of an opposite tenement house collapsed. Clouds of dust were raising. Men were running to help the ones who were under the ruins. Rumble and clink of glass again. Serious firing from the direction of the Vistula river. People started to build a barricade at the corner of the Piwna street and the Zapiecek street. The civilians helped with great devotion, not saving their belongings. They were giving wardrobes, stools and other household equipment. Some man pulled out flag-stones with great stubbornness. In less than one hour the barricade was ready
Swish, rumble, clink of glass again, extracted Windows and some part of a Wall. Dentist’s tools fell to pieces. A tremendous blowing moved us and the equipment. In one second the whole well-equipped dentist’s surgery was destroyed. We lost our quarters. Fortunately there were no casualties. Bruising and superficial injuries were nothing.
Constant air-raids and very serious bombardment made a contact between units very difficult. It became gloomy, we stayed in a gate with our group. I was on night duty, other people were waiting for ”Iza” in a destroyed burgery. ”Iza” went out to look for a new place for our quarters. During the night we moved to the Kilińskiego street number 1. The girls, dead-tired, suddenly woken up after a many-hour duty, were gliding in the darkness. We promoted to the third floor. It was a department of Mr. and Mrs. Rogalski who gave it at our disposal. Generosity of the civilians, which we experienced at every step, was touching. Great joy – there was a bathroom, we would be able to wash ourselves. We also had a big, yet filled with coal, cellar at our disposal. Here, ordered by our commander, we left our rucksacks and very slender reserves of medicaments and first-aid-kits, which Gould be given for patrols coming to their outposts. I was not on further part of my night duty. I was allowed to sleep. We went to the cellar and slept on coal piles for the sake of air-raids.
There was probably August 12. For me each day resembles the preceding one. I was at our place. I was not doming to patrols yet. I was performing different duties ordered by my commander. Suddenly I heard ”Nita”: ”Ryśka, come quickly, quickly! Przemysław is on the barricade.” Running, I saw very excited Nita, looking out of the window. ”Look, here stands Przemysław, can you see?” ”So run to him!” I said. She rushed out. Przemysław is Nita’s husband. I had never seen him before. As a Professional air force lieutenant he hid. During 5 years of the occupation they met only twice. And now here, during the Uprising, on a barricade. I understood her great joy and emotion. He was a ”Wigry” battalion soldier. His unit was deployed at the time opposite us on the ground floor of the Ministry of Justice, Długa street number 7, where a big insurgent hospital was situated, as well.
August 13. . Late afternoon. the commander-in-chief of the battalion WSOP "Dzik" (”Wild boar”), Captain ”Dzik”, was inspecting us, accompanied by lieutenant Oppenheim, the commander of our 12th company. They were debating with Iza in the next room. after 48-hour-duty the girls came back from ”Gunpowder works”.
They were washing themselves in the bathroom. I was given an order from the commander Iza to organise the Rest for them somewhere at the bottom. Here on the third floor there was not safe, there was rumble and they deserved real rest, said Iza.
Lured by the street noise, we looked out of the window. On the barricade from the direction of Podwale we saw a huge crowd of people including insurgents. While cheering, They were pushing a German tank through the Kilińskiego street. Joy that was impossible to describe. Windows and balconies filled up with people. Everyone was cheering. But I had a task to fulfil. So, I went downstairs and went to a hairdresser’s apartment. A big group of women and children stayed there. I asked for the apartment for nurses to take Rest. They opposed me. I had to explain for a long time that the girls were dead-tired after a 48-hour-duty and that They needed several hours of peaceful sleep. At last, I asked them firmly to move to girls in 10 minutes.
Keeping in hand some washed clothes taken from the bathroom, I directed my steps towards the cellar in order to leave them there. I did not reach it. Rumble impossible to describe. Cellar walls were shaking awfully. Light went out. Cloud of dust and soot. Crown of people was running to a hole in a wall leading to cellars in the building in the Kilińskiego street number 3. At once I turned on a torch hanging on my Neck, trying to stout louder than those people and pushing my way, I covered the hole. Stop, please, quiet! Do not crown! I shouted with hoarse voice. ”We don’t know whether It was the next house that collapsed. Stop! Quiet!” I shouted several Times. It was effective. Standing in that hole, only now I noticed several men standing behind me. They helped me to stop this shouting terrified crown. People calmed down. It became silent.
Everything lasted for only several moments. Dust and soot were falling slowly. ”Please stay where you are. I will try to go out and see what happened.” They let mi go. I went towards the exit and saw light. ”That’s good,” I thought. At that moment I heard clatter of legs running down the stairs to the cellar and shouting – nurse, nurse, please come quickly. There are wounded people. This was a voice of Mr. and Mrs. Rogalski’s son. He saw me while going down to the cellar. He participated in the action, as well.
So I went upstairs and met Maryńcia on my way. Having eyes closed, she was trying to go down, alone, holding the Wall. I helped her and donated her to somebody. I rushed back, helped Halina and u pagin. There was ”Ika”, unhurt. She helped Iza to go downstairs. I came back upstairs, helped Barbara and Joanna, who were bruised, and then Katarzyna. I do not remember which girls were present at that moment on our quarters. Dzik and Oppenheim were lucky to leave the place, just several minutes before the explosion. Maryńcia could not open her eyes. Tears were running down her cheeks. I lead her to the hospital situated just nearby, in the Kilińskiego street 3/5. I was keeping her with two hands. I had difficulties to reach the destination.
After an explosion of a tank there was a deep crater along the whole street. With difficulties we were going by the wall of the late building of the Minister of Justice. Removing from her eyes gave Maryńcia visible relief. Rother wounded girls were bandaged by Ika and me. Only we two were not wounded today. We put the girls in the cellar on coal piles and went out to the yard. The sight was terrifying. On iron wheelbarrows different parts of human bodies were gathered: hands, legs, etc. A female head and again, this protruding hair. Everywhere there were lots of dead bodies. Human mass was knocked in the walls. People picked all the bodies. Men who were in charge of this action assessed the casualties as more than 200 people. We felt sick. We went on the third floor once again. Now we saw the damaged balcony. It disappeared with its hosts. Despite the efforts made by their son, They were not found. How many similar people were at the time? In a living room under the piano there was a head. I don’t know whether it was male or female. I escaped. ”Those cut heads are persecuting me,” I said loudly. No, those were not hallucinations… Was It a head or a leg on the desk? ”Let’s go,” said Ika. ”I won’t stand it anymore.” ”Nor will I.”
The whole following day there was the action of taking the dead bodies from walls and roofs of neighbouring houses, situated several hundred meters away. Our hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Rogalski disappeared. At the moment of this explosion They were standing on the balcony. The explosion happened outside the house in the Kilińskiego 1 street, outside the hairdresser’s saloon. Everyone who was there died. Only a huge crater remained. I was there only a few minutes before the explosion! Destiny? Iza - always so cheerful, calm, relaxed and running whole days to all outposts, she who takes care of her girls like mother – now was sitting in the cellar petrified, shocked and thinking about our two nurses who were not there with us. Anta and Wisia are absent. Both left the third floor just before the explosion, going to the hospital. Despite serious wounds, Iza leapt up and went to find them. Wisia was found in the hospital; by Krzywa Latarnia (the Bent Lantern). At the moment of the explosion she was in the gate of the Mouse in the Kilińskiego 1 street – Her head and face were seriously wounded. Bandages covered the whole face. Her eyes were sad and full of pain, below a narrow gap exposing her mouth. But she was alive. Anta was remaining.
According to gathered messages she was to be placed in the hospital in the Długa street number 7. Iza herself checked the lists of patients and was looping for Anta everywhere, in each corner. Iza visited all hospitals in the neighbourhood. Unsuccessfully.
In the early morning a field mass was offered and we prayed for the people who died in the explosion in the yard between streets: Kilińskiego number 1 and number 3. Then we changed the cellar for the ground floor. The hosts, elder people, greeted us kindly and gave the whole department at our disposal. Their son participated in the action, too. Tall, thin, wearing a navy blue beret – I remember neither his name nor his surname. Paweł probably. There was a young woman with a few-month-old daughter, a wife of their son’s friend, who accidentally appeared in the Old Town and found shelter here.
There was a constant noise of ”wardrobes” (specific German weapon, translator’s gloss) and subsequent explosions. They would explode and what was left was huge breaches and human mass in the walls of neighbouring houses. Those people were burnt with some caustic-blister substance that would splash in the moment of such explosion. a lot of dead bodies were lying on the floor of the insurgent hospital in the Długa street number 7. This was such a human flesh, red and devoid of skin and hair, wide-eyed, suffering, thirsty and calling for help. Petrifying enormity of human suffering and tragedies. It is impossible to fully present. Together with Blanka and Maryńcia, I would go there in spare time and distribute water for those poor people. Each time we were shocked and deeply moved. It was awful. Just incredible.
News about the collection o fair drops turned out to be true. Boys gave us a huge piece of beautiful creamy silk. We divided it among ourselves and hid sedulously. There will be nice blouses for the first post-war parade!
August 16 or 17. I do not remember where and what we were eating so far. Blanka and I were sent to our company’s kitchen situated in the Świętojerska street to bring some soup. Great shooting forced us many times to running sneakingly. Despite our attention, some portion of soup fell on the ground. Content of a bucket was much depleted.
Communication difficulties made us receive packet lunch. Today we got noodles and Cannes meat. Our host gave us onions. We called ourselves for dinner. Suddenly we heard some grate. One, two, three and we escaped, hiding beside a trick Wall of the next room. We had to manager to hide before the last sixth grate. Crack, rumble and fire column from the kitchen. Cloud of dust, soot and ash. We lost our dinner. The blowing blew up pots and They were on the ground. There wasn’t any silent moment. Flying ”wardrobes” and constant air-drops caused the atmosphere of terror. Fires all round. It was difficult to stand that. Patrols had difficulties to reach the outposts situated along the Vistula slope.
August 21. We changed our quarters and moved to the Podwale street. There was great heat caused by fires and many sparks. Clothes would burn on us. We extinguish fire on our commander’s back with difficulty. We reached Krzywe Koło.
Our new place was situated in the interior building number 9; the front building looked onto the Old Town marketplace. Everything around was burnt or destroyed. We found a saved place on the ground floor, from the yard.
We removed rubble and threw it by the window. On the cement floor along the wall we placed door found by us. During the night the boys fetched several fur coats, brought from the military storehouses situated in a school on Rybaki. The fur coats lying on the door were wonderful places to sleep and take rest on. The girls came back from the outpost on Rybaki, dead tired. They were dead on their feet. Baśka, always full of energy, good humoured and carefree, now was visibly woeful. She even did not react on jokes said by Katarzyna who tried to change the mood. When Andrzej came, everything became clear. The last night a bullet hit ”Pekin” and caused many casualties. 2 nurses "Emilia" and "Marta", 2 female liaison officers and several soldiers died. Many were wounded. The whole platoon disappeared in one moment.
August 22, probably. Together with Nita, Blanka and Maryńcia I was on the outpost in the old Gunpowder Works, the commander of which was “Nałęcz” Marceli Ciechanowicz. In the area of the streets: Boleść and Rybaki there were serious fightings in order to keep the defended objectives. In the tannery there was a very difficult situation. Rumble and shots did not make any impression on us anymore. There were lots of wounded people. We had lots work to do. We went in the next room for a short break. Hanka Michalska, who lived next to our place, brought tea and a saved jar of self-made jam. ”The only one that was saved,” she said.
Many delicious things that she gave our girls was swept from the pantry’s shelves. The department was destroyed, as well. We did not drink tea from the time we left our homes. The next room was occupied by an AL (Armia Ludowa) unit. We heard moans and tough men’s curses from that room. ”Damn! Do something because we can’t stand it!” We entered the room with Nita. There were several wounded people lying in the floor. They were moaning, not able to stand the pain. They had temporary bandages, certainly made hastily. "Girls, do something because we will die due to this pain.” Not thinking too long, we started to do our job. We tore the bandages off, cleaned the wounds carefully, made new bandages and gave them painkillers. Our patients, dead tired, fell asleep after only several minutes. In the evening their commander went to us and, thanking for our help, he handed us a bottle of French perfumes "Soir de Paris", a figurine of a beautiful setter made of china and two half-litre- bottles of spirit.
Embarrassed, we tried to disagree to keep the presents and we were explaining that this was only our soldier duty. The figurine of a beautiful setter made of china, which was named Akuś by us, was saved, hid in the Old Town rubble and ”Nita” has it. I do not remember the fate of the bottle of perfumes.
As for spirit, it was useful after the Old Town fall. It was of use for ”bribes.” For one of the bottles a German guard released Przemysław, Nita’s husband, from the camp in Pruszków, together with two other soldiers from ”Wigry” battalion. The second bottle helped us to bribe a Wehrmacht soldier who escorted a railway carriage transporting us from Pruszków to the camp in Gross-Rosen. For this half-litre bottle he agreed to set ajar the door, thanks to that we had some light and fresh air as well as a possibility to get fruit and bread thrown for us by Polish people passed by us in railway stations.
The following day, in the very morning, some civilian came to the sanitary place and begged for help for his wounded little son. We went with Ika. It was a building situated two or three houses beside the tannery.
In the interior there was a dug-out and the whole family was pitting inside. Three little children, their mother, grandmother and one more woman. On the bed a boy about 5-year-old one, with seriously wounded leg and heap. ”It was calm when he went out in the morning,” the mother said. The father added his version about that shooting. The boy was crying enormously, asking whether it would be hurt very much.
With difficulty we dressed the wounds of the boy who was straining. Then, by the entrance to this dug-out an old man appeared and he begged for help for his seriously ill wife. We could not refuse. He was trembling. We followed him. A little room on the ground floor. An iron bed by the window and on the bed an old woman was lying.
She suffered a lot. They both were not able to state the reasons of her state. We made beds, washed her face and hands, gave her some painkiller and that was all we could do. A doctor was needed there. In spite of the fact that we could help so little, their thanksgiving seemed to be never-ending. The old woman said goodbye with a wan smile. Just after our coming back, we got an order to move to the school in the Rybaki street number 32.
August 23, probably. Ika, Blanka, I and one more nurse, those name I don’t remember, had just passed some houses and saw open space , on both right and left side. We could see the Vistula river. Everything was destroyed. There were neither houses nor streets. Only a huge pile of rubble of some smashed house. This glowing debris would burn our feet. Planes above us. We fell and burnt hands and feet. We saw bundles of grenade launchers being thrown from a plane and now falling somewhere on the New Town. Sneakingly, we reached a burnt mouse, just next to a school. At last we reached our destination. We reported ourselves and started to do our Job. Firstly, we had to get to know all the nooks and crannies of this objective. One of our friends accompanied us.
On the floor we found a huge German storehouse with reaching the ceiling piles of uniforms, donkey jackets, fur coats, camouflage suits and other accessories. We made use of such an occasion and changed our shirts that served as blouses. Ika changed her very dirty stained camouflage suit and so much refreshed, we ran towards a sanitary place situated on the ground floor.
Suddenly we heard rumble, we saw clouds of dust and felt chips of plaster in our eyes. Great noise. The boys were running in all directions. Among rumble and rifle shooting we heard orders addressed for soldiers who tried to repulse this German attack from the side of the Vistula river. Germans were beside the building wall. This defence action lasted about 1,5 hours and finished luckily. Only ”Świt” and ”Grom” were wounded.
In the morning a mass was said by chaplain in a room on the ground floor. A superficial altar and a big group of soldiers steeped in their prayers. I think that everybody took communion. In the end somebody stroke up a song ”Boże coś Polskę ...” (”God, you who took care of Poland…”) The mood was full of dignity and emotion. The morning was quite peaceful. About the midday we were called to the next Mouse to help a wounded woman. I went with Ika.
In the cellar of a burnt house a woman was lying and calling, ”Do I have my leg?” Her foot, very dirty and stuck with mud, was cut and it was hanging on a tiny part of flesh. We did not know how to start. It was very difficult then to get any medicals. We asked just for water which was worth its weight in gold, as well. We washed the foot with water and then with hydrogen peroxide, we set the foot and bandaged it using laths prepared by men, we immobilized the leg and put a tourniquet in order to stop loss of blood. The woman would call permanently, ”Do I have my leg?” ”Certainly you do,” we assured her, ”but the wound is serious and you must be transported to hospital, where they will do the rest. Men, who wants to volunteer? Two men are needed.” – silence. Shooting all round was so great that there were no volunteers for a long while at last two, not so young, men put the woman on a blanket and took her to hospital. We came back to the school.
In the evening there was a big feast. The boys caught somewhere a little pig, somebody roasted it and our outpost’s commander cut it in little parts and he shared it among all the people. In the morning there became hot. Germans were attacking again. The situation was very difficult. Great anxiety was visible on boys’ faces. Rumble and shots from all the directions. ”Girls, follow me!” – ”Iza” shouted. God, dear ”Iza”, she had always, in the most difficult situation, been with us. Like the most tender mother she would save us from all troubles and now, in the last moment, she ran to us. Again we found ourselves on the quarters on Krzywe Koło. Here we felt the safest. I was on night duty. I was pitting in the hall on some broken armchair but I felt very sleepy so I Got u pand was walking along the hall. For the first time I was afraid. Should I wake up the sleeping ones? I was hesitating. Everything around was blazing. I went to the yard. In the air part sof black burnt paper were drifting. Some brightness caught my eye. I started to go in this direction. An iron gate in the Old Town marketplace was red and orange due to this heat. I saw flames of fire, too. I heard some murmurs coming from the direction of the yard. Probably somebody was coming here, I though and started to run in this direction, petrified. It turned out that it was only a black cat that scared me out of my wits.
I sat in my armchair again and rubbed my eyes. They would close persistently. It was very hot. This time I heard plain steps. By the entrance to our place I saw outlines of two men. ”Halt!”, I shouted and I heard a calm voice. It was a night patrol. ”What should I do? – I asked – everything around was blazing, I think I should wake up the sleeping ones.” ”It is needless, calm down, for the time being you are not in any danger, we are watchful, as you see. Bye, you can have a nap at Rest.” But I experienced long hours of terror that night.
August 28. In the evening several girls and boys, having Come back from the outpost, got tragic news. Leszek Orlikowski was dead. He died in a trench in the Rybaki street. This news shocked us a lot. Corporal Cadet Leszek Orlikowski was adored by everyone. Brave, combative and at the same time subtle and good mannered. He would often call in, always smiling and showed his helmet that was full of holes, like a sieve. ”Look – he said – there are more and more holes but they will not get me.” Yet, he was killed with a bullet, hit in the head. The funeral took place on August 29 at 7 a.m. He was buried in a garden by the St. Jack church, in the Freta street, by St. Mary figure, from the Vistula direction. Everyone who just was able to, participated in this sad ceremony.
August 29 or 30. We got an order to find seriously wounded Werne in the hospital in the Długa 7 street. Nita, Blanka and I went there. We found him, lying in a hall by the surgery. He suffered a lot but was very happy to see us. Nita, having talked with a doctor, came back to the quarters. I stayed together with Blanka. We knew that Werne’s condition was helpless. The doctor said that his death would come very soon.
He certainly realised that He was dying. He grabbed my hand, putting his nasil in It. I knelt down and tried to wipe sweat out of his forehead. This brave, wonderful, well-built man was now lying and suffered despite the injection. It was terrible that we could not help him anyhow. ”Give me some vodka, maybe it will relieve my pain. I won’t stand it” – he shouted several times.
Blanka got some water and wet his lips by means of cotton wool. The doctor heard his begging and gave us a little in a glass. ”Give him some, carefully, we should not begrudge him it. Nothing can do him harm a maybe it can help him a little.”
We were standing there, petrified. I knelt down. Blanka, leasing, Gould wet his lips. We had an impression that he was falling asleep. but he was dying, keeping my hand. I felt loose handshake. Blanka ran for the doctor.
To leave the hospital was difficult due to an air raid. We stood by a trick wall in a main stairway. A pile of papers lying there started to move in a strange way. Instinctively, we moved back. ”What’s that? Blanka, those papers are moving.” ”Rats or cats, certainly,” she answered. In a moment a human foot surfaced. We shoved the papers away and we saw a scared little boy. It turned out that he had escaped and hidden there, afraid of the air-raid.
Having come back to the quarters, we got to know that we would go to the Centre during the night. We set off about the midnight. In the dark we reached the Długa street, filled with the army. It was very crowded. We moved very slowly. Time passed slowly. After two or three hours we reached the cinema. Tired, we sat in the chairs, waiting for next orders. Even Baśka and Katarzyna, always talkative, were now silent. All the time we heard that we were going further in a moment. Unfortunately.
At dawn we heard a decision to withdraw and come back to the quarters. Some girls went on the outposts that had been left in the evening. Assault troops suffered great loss. The moods were very nervous. We knew that there was no possibility to remain the Old Town. There came a decision to come to the Centre in the sewers.
I was assigned to the first group, under the commands of Colonel Marian Zaremba. In this gropu there were, among the others, Halina, Maryńcia, Katarzyna, Wisia, Blanka, Ika and Hanka, I do not remember the rest. We were to comr in the sewers the following day in the morning. All the time we were going by the cellars, from one tenement house to another, till the Miodowa street. During this hike, while jumping from a hole in some wall I hurt tendons of both legs. I stopped the whole long procession made up of different units soldiers, also those outside our battalion.
The boys made a stool out of their hands and transported me to the yard in the Miodowa street, by the Krasiński square and they put me on concrete in some car garage. It turned out that, before we would go on the other side of the Miodowa street and further, to the sewers, we had to wait there. Halina started to massage my feet at once and then she put some compress and used an elastic bandage. I cried of pain and was biting my lips till blond appeared. This procedure, I must admit, was so effective that – when after an hour we were withdrew to the quarters again, not knowing the reasons – I could, supported by my friends, go on my own legs.
Halina patiently repeated those massages few Times a day. In the evening we went trust next to the sewers again. After a whole-night unsuccessful waiting, according to Colonel Zaremba’s decision, we went to the Podwale street, to the place of stay of the “Dzik” and ”Róg” battalions commanders, in order to explain everything. We had formal documents allowing us to go in the sewers at particular time. Why then were we sent back? There was great fuss. From Iza we Got ot know that Nita, who was on the last outpost in the Mostowa 9 street, was seriously wounded after a Mouse collapsed due to an air-raid and now she was in the hospital in the Długa 7 street. Untiring Nita, an example of great diligence and devotion. I wanted to go to Her necessarily. But Iza did not allow for any move. In a moment we were to move to the Centre. And again we went to a place just next to the sewers.
September 1, late afternoon. We were staying in the gate in the Miodowa street. Colonel Zaremba went to a manhole. It was getting dark. Night. We went in the Rother direction and stood by ropes in the queue to this manhole. After several minutes three soldiers with rifles came with an order to move us again in the other direction of the Miodowa street. Everything around was burning.
Window-frames fell down, by our legs. A barricade set crosswise the Miodowa street was half-destroyed. Germans were forcing their way from the Krasiński square. Real hell. Maryńcia Got a shock in the middle of the street. We dragged Her to the gate, the same from which we were going to the sewers three times. We calmed Maryńcia down, despite the fact that we all were at the end of our tether.
Zaremba made a decision to take us to a manhole situated in a yard of a prison in the Daniłowiczowska street. We set off, passed the cinema in the Hipoteczna street and met its caretaker. ”Where are you going?” He asked. Zaremba answered. ”It’s out of question – replied the caretaker – this mandole is discovered by the Germans, covered with grenades and fire. I am sure. It is out of order since yesterday. You can find only death there.
We turned back and went to the battalion’s commander once again. Unfortunately, nobody was there, either from ”Dzik” or from ”Róg.” Somebody informed us that They had gone to the sewers. So we came back to the place by the sewers. It was the fourth time. This time we went on the right side of the Miodowa street with ease. We were standing in the last gate outside the manhole. There was after the midnight, so September 2. . Lieutenant Zaremba reached the manhole and got to know that our people together with Captain Dzik had gone into the sewer half an hour ago.
Lieutenant Zaremba lost his head cool. The Miodowa street became full of soldiers very quickly. The crowd was bigger and bigger every minute. We did not know what to do. Somebody informed us that the Róg Staff was in the yard of a neighbouring tenement Mouse. I went there accompanied by Hanka Michalska. Unfortunately, just a while ago they had gone to the sewers. It was true news. We started to explain in which situation we were and said that our whole group was standing in a gate. We asked for help and a decision to let us go and join our battalion. ”Such a decision can be made only by Colonel Wachnowski. Please, address him.” ”Where can we find him now?” ”He is somewhere here, look for him, our discussion is over.” We were looking for him here and there and at last we found him.
We reported ourselves, informed him about our situation and asked for help. ”Look, all the people in these crowds must go to the sewers, like you. Join some unit and you will go one by one. I can’t give you other advice. You can see what the situation is. I understand you – He said with a weak voice, but I can’t help you. I am sure you will go in the sewers. Be patient.”
Woeful, we came back to the gate. We understood Colonel Wachnowski, but wanted to join our people as soon as possible. We were standing in some gate and trying to see some known unit and we heard that the manhole’s commander was Mayor Barry. Barry - Włodzimierz Kozakiewicz – was my relative. I tried to make use of that. I was not sure if He Gould Come as we had had weak contact so I pretended to be my aunt. I was sure he would go , called by her. I asked somebody to find Barry and tell him that in this gate Maria Cytowska was waiting for him. In few minutes Barry came. I greeted him and said sorry for pretending to be my aunt, I explained the reasons of my behaviour, asked him to forgive me, told him about our situation and asked for help. “Of course I will help you. Stay in this gate, don’t move. In about 15 minutes I will be going with my unit, I will send somebody to take you and you will go with us. Calm down. 15 or 20 minutes and you will go.” We were happy. But 15 minutes, and another 15 minutes passed and nothing happened. Somebody went to the manhole to check what happened. It turned out that Mayor Barry fooled me and my companions. He had gone with his unit. I was sad and disappointed. We were deliberating what to do next.
It started to turn grey. It was almost dawn. Among the people standing by a robe I noticed Przemysław, our Nita’s husband. This meant that soldiers form Wigry” were preparing to go in the sewers. I approached him and said about our situation. He replied not to worry and said we could go with them. They let us go among them. So we were standing by the rope again. We were calm. Yet, this peace lasted only a while.
A real hell on earth started. Several German planes were throwing bombs all round.
Machine-guns were clattering. We had to hide in the gate or yards. It was noise impossible to describe. Rough and tumble in each direction. Keep the hands and we are escaping! – I shouted – and I started to push my way through this crowd and we were running towards the Kilińskiego street number 3, to the place from which we set off the last night. On the quarters there were our several soldiers. Among the others Tadeusz a.k.a. ”Tryton”, Hanka Michalska’s husband.
The boys gave us coffee, ship’s biscuits and pork fat. Przemysław was with us. We decided to find Nita in the hospital. I went with Maryńcia, Blanka and Przemysław. We found her in the cellar. She was lying with some Rother woman. She was shocked still. But she recognized us. We changed her bandages. Przemysław started to cry, hiding his face in his hands. ”Ryśka, take him away so as he doesn’t cry.” – Nita shouted. I came back to the quarters with Blanka in order to take some biscuits, pork fat and hot coffee for Nita. Asked for our friends, we stayed as they wanted to see Nita, as well. We were standing in the yard, wondering what to do next. We decided to go to the manhole once again. If only it was silent.
A man who was standing with us and who told he was a worker of water supply system, proposed to go with him. He offered a safe hiding place in the defence walls of the Old Town. He had – as he assured us – some food and water gathered there. This would we enough for a week. It won’t last longer – he assured us. Nobody will find us there. Only Blanka and Colonel Zaremba wanted to make use of jis proposal. Suddenly someone rushed in the yard and shouted that the Germans are on the barricade at the corner of Podwale. Very quickly we took off our camouflage jackets and hid our Home Army IDs inside. "Tryton" gave the boys his suits, the full suitcase of which he had. He took it in the last moment from his apartment in the Rybaki street. A little boy caught a sack with our camouflage jackets and offeree to throw It to the Sewer by the gate in the Długa street.
Shouting of the Germans were heard. All this lasted only few minutes. From all directions we heard Raus, raus. Whoever is left, will be shot – we heard the warnings. And so mixed with the crown of civilians we left the Old Town on September 2, before the midday.
In the Podwale street a German soldier standing in a gate called me out of the crowd. I was going resting on two walking sticks. My both legs were bandaged. Halina was following me. ”Where is your husband?” she asked in German. ”She has no husband.” Halina answered as she knew German fluently. ”She is still a child.” ”How come she has no husband, I can see she is wearing her husband’s shirt.” ”Her house was destroyed. When she was taken out of the rubble, her all clothes were torn. People would give her whatever they could.” “Are there any bandits there?” – He showed the Kilińskiego street. ”We don’t know, we were thrown out of cellars, we could not see anyone” – Halina answered in German. ”You can go but if I meet bandits there, I will find you.” I don’t know whether I was afraid or no. I suppose I was. But I was going, not knowing in what direction. I roused myself on the Castle Square when I saw the destroyed Siegmund Column.
Experience of last days and hours made my consciousness so disturbed, that –as Halina was telling me afterwards – I was talking rubbish while going along the Mariensztat street. I was saying that the Germans were taking us upon the Vistula river in order to make a living barrier out of us as the Russians were on the Praga district, but – I continued – there was such a slope of big stones and I would hide beside such a stone and I would be safe, really, and you have to hide yourself as well, I was saying, remember, necessarily beside this stone. I regained consciousness in the Bednarska street, while we were urged uphill on the Krakowskie Przedmieście again. In some gates nurses from PCK (Polski Czerwony Krzyż – the Polish Red Cross organisation), wearing white gowns with red crosses on their shoulders were giving us water from buckets. In the crowd kałmucy were raving and they would tear matches and whatever they could.
We were walking along deserted streets, passing frameworks of burnt or destroyed houses – till the St. Wojciech church on the Wola district. A short stop-off and further on to the West Railway Station. At dusk we were standing at the railway station platform for a longer time and, petrified, we were looping at the burning city, all covered with flames. A sight of fire columns and black smoke made our hearts break and we were all in tears. We were standing cuddled to ourselves in a big group, not being able to overcome trembling and tears. Neither of us would think then about the fate that would be ours from now on. Our worry was the fate of those who had remained there. Such names as: Iza, Isia, Baśka, Joanna and still Nita who had stayed in the hospital in the Długa street. We were transported to Pruszków by train and were driven into an area of railway workshops. Huge halls, thousands of tired people camping on wet concrete and stained ground. Whole families, old people, children, even infants. A sight of a huge human tragedy, difficult to describe. We started to look for a fragment of space.
It was dark. Coldness and dampness Gould Steffen our limbs. Sitting on concrete, cuddled to ourselves, we were trying to sleep. Every now and then children’s cry heard from each direction would wake us up. In such a way we were napping till dawn. In the morning some of us dispersed in order to find their bearings. There were crowds of people everywhere. We heard news that ill people were ordered to go to PCK area as there was a possibility for them to avoid transport to the camp. Transports were leaving permanently. Somewhere on the square They would give hot soup for children. I met Professor Maria Tyszkiewicz and after a while of conversation I came back to my friends.
Wisia was in the worst condition . Lots of wounds on her face, that appeared after the tank explosion, had not healed yet. I changed her bandages. Generally, she was the weakest among us all. We were worried about Her a lot. Przemysław was found. He wanted to take us. His friend from ”Wigry” was with him. They talked with some German by the gate and He promised them to lead them out of the camp for half liter of spirit. I gave him one half litre bottle and stayed with my friends.
We stayed in a small group - Halina, Wisia, Maryńcia, Hanka with her husband, Jurek, I and one more friend from the 12th company, together with his son and wife; I remember neither his name nor pseudonym. The rest of us did not come back since the morning. We had neither food nor anything to drink. We were pitting in silence. In the late afternoon we were made go outsider. Segregation took place. They separated women with small children. The Rest was treated like swines and made go in the direction of railway tracks. Barbed wire on both sides. Goods vans were visible. Suddenly, a PCK nurse, who was standing next to me, started to run towards us and grabbed Maryńcia’s hand. – ”Come with me, I can save you, I know you, I was living next to your mother’s.” ”So take my friend, she will not survived the camp,” told Maryńcia and showed Wisia. All that lasted only few seconds. The nurse grabbed Wisia’s hand and went away. What an excellent behaviour of Maryńcia! Conscious of the camp fate, she did not make use of such an occasion and saved her friend.
Thrown into a cattle-truck, moved by Maryńcia’s behaviour, we were hugging and kissing her, in recognition of her so noble deed. Surely, not many people would do the same in such situation. It was pure heroism. Today, after tragic camp experiences one can certainly state that Wisia owes her life to Maryńcia only.
Crowded in closed trucks we started our Calvary road from and to the camp. After several minutes only air in the truck was hard to stand. About a hundred of not washed from weeks human bodies. Just stinking stuffy air. Weaker people started to faint. Outsider, on a truck’s stair an escorting German with rifle was sitting. We started to knock on the door. “Ruhe!" (”Silence!”) – the German shouted. Halina asked him in German to open the door a little and showed him a half litre bottle and said that we wanted to treat him to that, adding that we asked him to open the door a little as people were painting. He took out his paw, looked at the bottle and open the door, smiling.
We were passing towns situated near Warsaw. People standing on platforms were throwing bread and fruit for us, by open truck door. After two days and nights of nightmare journey we found ourselves in the Gross-Rosen camp. Here we were separated from men. I will never forget those plaintive farewells.
Maryńcia begged "Tryton" – as he was much older than we were – to take care of Jurek. ”He is so sensitive, so young, He is a child yet, please, take care of him.” Women were driver to a barrack and the following day They were driver into trucks again. In the evenings we found ourselves in the concentration camp Ravensbriick. We spent the night close to an entrance gate, near a high embankment by which there was a bunker to which dead bodies of prisoners were taken at nights. During the first night, in the limelight, registration took place. From now on we were just numbers. I was number 65502. There were only four of us who were together in the Uprising: Halina, Maryńcia, Hanka and I. There was also Wala, a wife of a 12th company soldier; she did not participate in the action.
The next twenty-four hours we spent in a huge tent that was situated in the square by the administration buildings and a camp bath house, so called ”mykwa.” On the ground under the tent there was a thick layer of straw that was really moving because of bugs. We placed ourselves near the entrance, we shoved the straw away and we were lying on the ground. In the morning we were driven to the square. The weather was beautiful and sunny. A huge pile of suitcases, bundles, fur coats, carpets and different human goods became even bigger: belongings of several-hundred group of women from the Old Town who were carrying them from Warsaw while not foreseeing such an end. Only we five did not make this variety increase. We had nothing. Registration again. Our jewellery, matches and other trinkets were taken on deposit.
In the next room we had to undress and go one after another to a narrow room. In the corner there was a gynaecological table. Two German women stood there. One would cut our hair to bald head and the Rother would pour some stinking liquid on our heads. Then we had to go to the baths. I can’t describe the feeling of great humiliation. This can’t be express in any words.
Pseudo – gynaecological examination. In reality they were looping for gold, in public. Many tens of women would see that. A sight of naked and lean people, much spoiled by bare heads. Those older ones looked the worst. Their bare heads made an impression of skulls.
Leaving the baths, we got famous camp clogs, often too big, and some rugs that were simply thrown by the entrance. It was some skirt or a night-gown, either very long or very short. We looked like poor clowns. I still have in my deep memory a sight of a thin old woman wearing a very short night-gown with short sleeves, who had very thin shoulders and legs, protruding knee bones and skull covered with almost transparent skin and protruding eyes. A macabre sight.
We could hardy recognize ourselves. Standing in a column we marched to the camp end to so-called quarantine. On the way we were passing a big column of women, mentally ill, I suppose. Twisted faces, bared heads, strange gestures and sounds dissimilar to human voice. They made an impression of wild people or animals. This was my second macabre experience in Ravensbrück.
We were thrown to the barrack’s interior. It was an area of about 100 square meters, thickly filled with dirty bunks. It was to hold about one thousand women. A narrow way in the middle and by three walls. We had to place ourselves in a following way: seven women in two bunks. Certainly, there were no blankets.
Dirty straw mattresses filled with wooden, similarly dirty shavings. Horror. Luckily, we were able to occupy two bunks by the windows. We were lying squeezed to each other. We were waiting for everyone to find a place and were afraid to move in order not to lose such a good place by the window. When everyone found their place, we went with Halina to look for a toilet. It was a little room on the right side of the barrack entrance. Inside there were four cabins, a long channel and taps above. I don’t have to describe what happened there. Four cabins for almost one thousand women. The worst situation was in the morning, before an assembly.
During the very first day Halina contacted her aunt who was staying thre for 5 years. All prisoners who were there before knew her. She was an underground and educational activist and was called ‘babunia Świętorzecka’ (‘Świętorzecka granny’). So, it was easy to find her. The first prisoner asked by Halina directed us to her. FIrst of all, we were given pants that had to be given back by us if there was an exportation. These were rotational pants. There were a great treasure for us, as well
The woman would tell us about the life in the camp, about the educational organisation and about the underground work. The women had their own radio monitoring, They Got everyday newspapers via underground way and knew much about the situation on all Second World War fronts. With amazement, we were listening, with admiration, how this all could be possible in these camp conditions. We had to tell her about the Warsaw Uprising. We paid her a visit three times. Then it was impossible. We were going to work. We were busy and guarded from dawn till dusk. There was an assembly at 5 a.m. Then very hard work lasting 12 to 14 hours. Most often we were working in so-called sand, which means that we would raise a very high embankment along a road. We had to throw sand uphill using heavy shovels. We were guarded and they would check if the shovels were full. We would sweat our guts out. Hands’ and legs’ muscles would ache a lot. Sometimes we were lead to vegetable fields in order to water them. We would weigh down the buckets’ weight, after 12 hours of carrying them. Sometimes we were lucky to steal some carrot or onion. But sometimes there were inspections by the entrance to the camp. If a culprit was found, she was beaten and the whole column had to penally stand several hours in the assembly.
Everyday one-hour standing at attention in a morning assembly in a cold and wet air, and we were almost naked, was a great torment. After coming back we would get a bowl of a disgusting swede soup. Despite our hunger, such a soup was impossible to eat. By the entrance an iron barrel for waste stood. If there was too much waste, we were punished and had to stand in a several-hour assembly. Not everyone was lucky to pour It out to the toilets because They were permanently taken.
After two months a group of 600 women was appointed to be transported. We five were also among these women. Before there was ”medical examination”. Naked, we were guided to a small, isolated yard and were ordered to march around, slowly, many times. In the middle of beautifully cut lawn, in comfortable armchairs eight lustful Germans were sitting and enjoying themselves, observing us. This 15-minute-long performance was eternity for us.
We were transported to the Heningsdorf camp. On the railway station we were placed in a line. Several fat scamps, walking along the platform, would choose their slaves. We were simply living goods. We were standing in groups. One of those Germans said to us, in quite good Polish, that we would have much better conditions, good food, light work in factories here and they would take care of ur food as we would have to have strength to work.
The camp consisted of five blocks with kitchen and bath. Everything was enclosed with a very high fence and double wire entanglements. Between the fence and wire entanglements armed guards were walking around. Halina, Hanka and I were living in a block number 1, in the same room. Marysia and Wala were situated in a block number 5. Each block was divided into rooms of about 30 square meters each. In such a room there was a box room with a shelf on which bowls and mugs, a stool, a basin and a bucket stood. 21 two-storey bunks with straw mattresses filled with shavings and similar pillows, certainly with no covering.
In the middle there was a long table and desks. Two little windows on another two walls. Clean wooden floors. Each of us had her own bunk, own blanket, own bowl, own mug and own spoon. We got new camp numbers. I was number 7183.
After the two-month ordeal in Ravensbriick the conditions here appeared to be a paradise. This feeling disappeared very quickly and changed into a nightmare. The discipline was strictly a camp one. Assemblies in the mornings and at nights. A 12-hour-day of hard two-shift-work – one week during days and another one at nights. The camp was situated 5 kilometres from a place of our work. We had to march 10 kilometres each day, under escort of armed soldiers and our guardians. We were constantly dead tired and hungry.
Good nutrition turned out to be only a promise. It was better only because once a week we would get a slice of bread, i.e. one eighth of bread and a part of margarine of about 1 dkg. Every day we would get black bitter coffee and a bowl of not much better soup at noon. A bit of a potato appeared once in several weeks. We could find some swedes and beets inside.
During Christmas and Easter we got two tomatoes and a spoon of small fish that was similar to herrings but its size was rather like fish from home aquariums.
For winter we got additional blankets. In each room there was an iron heater but it was very cold in the rooms. Gaps in planks were so big that we could look at the camp yard. We tried to warm the water to wash and launder our rags but it was punishable. Water that was left in buckets – as the bath drain was far away – was poured in the middle of a particular room and then there was a penal assembly.
We were punished for everything. One day during a night shift a steel slat hit Halina’s nose and she was all in blond and she fell, unconscious. One of our guardians noticed that, ran towards Halina and by kicking her and pouring cold water, made her regain consciousness. After coming back to the camp, as a punishment Halina did not get anything to eat and –instead of taking rest - she had to sweet the whole area of the camp, using a very short broom, till the evening and coming to a night shift.
An attempt to escape from the camp was punished with sitting without any food in a dark wet bunker and serious Betting before, of course. One day a French woman was sitting at that bunker for the whole week. Then she was driven away. We were working in a factory of airplane elements. Among the other activities, we would assemble airplane cockpits. These planes were heavy steel ”stalls.” A special mechanical gantry was used to move them. Some guardians made women move them by hand. Not many of them were able to do so. They were then kicked and beaten with sticks.
One day a master stood up for them and explained that a gantry was used for that. The guardian shouted at him and threw him out. We did not see him many times again. But among the Germans one could meet people sometimes. For example Maryńcia used to get an apple or a slice of bread from her old master etery day for a long time. He would put them in an agreed place. Our master (women used to work in such a role for some time) got us one white Littre roll and she would explain that she could not give us more because they, the Germans, would get one roll per one person once a week only. Encouraged, we asked her for a needle and threads. She gave us even more: socks and something more.
When bigger frosts started they addend some clothes. We could change a light skirt for something warmer with sleeves, but this was one thing only. A skirt and a blouse or a dress. We had neither underwear nor stockings all the time. We would steal paper from factory wrappers and we would line our dresses with them to make them warmer. Each of us got a square bright-coloured rug that was to be sewn at a dress’ or a blouse’s back. The same square had to be cut in a dress or a blouse. Making such cutting out was under control. When It became frosty and it was snowing and the women started to get ill, they were allowed to bring one blanket from the camp. From now on we were going to work wrapped in blankets.
In the spring air-raids appeared. In the beginning of April they were more and more often. Our factories were bombed. In the beginning, we had to clear of Derbis and classify bricks, sort screws and Rother small things. Afterwards, we had to dig 10 kilometres of wide and deep anti-tank ditches.
In the middle of April, at night the camp was evacuated. We were urged on under escort of armed soldiers several days and nights without any rest or meal. We were sleeping during our march, keeping our hands. At the time I reminded of my father’s stories coming from the First World War. I used to disbelieve him when he talked about sleeping while marching. Now I could experience that myself.
At last, totally exhausted, we were thrown to some huge granary filled with dry beetroots. We were clambering in those heaps, not knowing what it was. After having a nap, hungry, we started to chew this something, we tasted the sweetness and solved this riddle. This was simply fuddle for cattle. Most women would bring those beetroots in whatever was possible. Yet, this was a burden while marching. What was so greedily lacked, now was slowly emptied in order to get rid of that soon. A road looked as if it was sprinkled with gravel.
We were made go in forests all the time. In other circumstances we would admire the beauty and charm of forests. Now they filled us with threat. High trees made the semidarkness dominate on this narrow road. Every several meters in a ditch we were passing dead bodies wearing striped garments or other rugs. Our people started to decrease, as well. Every hour our hope to survive was weaker and weaker. We were floating in silence. We were exhausted, weak and mentally woeful. During this more than two-week-long trip we got 2 or 3 potatoes only twice. Three times we could sleep under a roof and twice in wet ditches. The rest days we spent marching. A small scintilla of hope appeared in us when we noticed increasing chaos and confusion.
While passing villages we could meet groups of German people escaping westwards with whole belongings on loaded carts, with a cow, a dog or a goat. There were big hold-ups on roads, as well. The Germans treated us with contempt and hatred. A Hitlerjugend unit passing us spitted on us and threw stones at us shooting, "polnische Schweine, polnische Bandit (”Polish swines, Polish bandits”).
We were particularly cheered up by joyful and smiling groups of people of different nationalities that we met at the end of our trip. They would greet us with raised hands and would shout, "Hitler kaput, Berlin kaput" (”Hitler lost, Berlin lost”) and so on. Our guardians became furious then. Groups of the Polish people would appear more and more often, particularly those withdrawing forced labour. Joyful and enthusiastic, yet being forced back by the guardians, would shout, ”Take care! It won’t last long, Berlin is captured, the front is very near” and so on. Theu would come running and asking which camp we were coming from. The news we received from three Poles and one Frenchman (Halina had a good command of French, too) about an action of seeking us by the International Red Cross was confirmed in the evening.
We were thrown to a huge barn in the area of a big farm that made an impression to be very well-off. We heard a car’s throb for the first time since leaving the camp and we looked out of gaps into the yard. A car drove and stopped by a well-off house that stood near. Three men Got off. It was an officer wearing a German uniform and two soldiers wearing American uniforms. Our camp commander greeted the men and, standing at attention, He invited them to come inside.
A moment after that we could easily hear loud accusations on a charge of our commander and then orders concerning our fate. How needed was Halina’s very good command of German. Thanks to It we knew the situation. The German officer abused our commander for leading people from the camp in forest meandering Road and for the fact that He had to look for us for several days, etc. At last he showed a place where we would have to be lead the following day and He emphasized twice that It was an order. It was a short but very stormy visit. The car drove off and we felt great joy. And our ordeal was to be finished.
The next day in the morning we set off. God, forests again. We almost lost our hope. Darkness on a narrow road, dead bodies on the edges of a forest – all that intensified our depression. At last at the end of the road we could see clearance. We passed a little wooden bridge. A village emerged ahead of us. We turned into a gate of some household. They threw us into some barn. It was dusk.
After a longer while a man wearing an American uniform appeared and lead us to a glade surrounded by an orchard. A military car standing near would lit us the area by means of its headlights. A spokesman for the International Red Cross began to speak in broken Polish. ”Welcome! From now on you are in the custody of the International Red Cross. You are not longer threatened. Tomorrow you will go not far from here, about 2 hours” – he mentioned a town’s name which I do not remember – ”from that place you will be driver by cars to Frankfurt, from which you will sail to Sweden. You wll take a rest and get proper treatment and food there. Because it is night now and you are very tired and exhausted, in a moment you will receive nutritional packets” – he enumerated their content. ”Please, make use of them very carefully. You are starving and your stomachs gpt out of the habit of ”work” can react in different ways. You ought to eat in small parts. This is an appeal concerning your health.
In packets there are matches – in a room where you will spend this night it’s dark but there is much straw there and it is easy to cause a fire, so I’m asking you, thinking of your safety – do not use them, do not light them. There are cigarettes as well, restrain from lighting them. You are so exhausted. And one more thing – in the morning before your departure you will get hot soup. Now, I’m saying goodbye and I wish you calm rest. Your packets will be taken in a moment.” Chile waiting for the promised packets we were crying and this was cry of emotion and Happiness – our tragedy had already finished.
Despite many hearty warnings many women could not keep from milk, chocolate, Cannes ford, etc. They were eating all that intemperate. An effect was evident. Stomach-aches, diarrhoea, vomiting since early morning. Some women stated in the morning that they had eaten soap, the whole of it or its part. It was very delicate, white in a blue package with a white swan on it.
The same man who gave us a speech yesterday appeared, ”My dear! Yesterday I promised you hot soup. A while ago a big group of exhausted men from the camp came. We do not have more packets here. Do you agree to feed them with soup prepared for you?” We answered all together, ”yes.” ”Thank you for your behaviour. You will get hot jacket potatoes in 15-20 minutes.” There were a lot of potatoes. One could take as many as one wanted.
How disappointed and desperate we were when we noticed that our commander was realising his plan and made us go in forests again. We knew that Sweden was not real anymore. Our ordeal lasted two days longer. We were thrown into a barn again. This time the door was closed on both sides. It was dark. Cannons were heard. We clearly saw flames of cannons’ fire. Despite great rumble we fell asleep. In the morning there was surprising silence. Guards’ steps were not heard. We were looping out of the gaps in all directions. Emptiness and silence all-round. We rushed towards the closed door. We were free.
Two-wheeled trolley with packed lunch for our few dozen guardians, that was being pulled by the women along the whole way, stood empty. All-round there were piles of German uniforms. The situation was clear. Our guardians escaped wearing civilian clothes. Halina, Hanka, Maryńcia, Wala and I decided to tear ourselves away from the group as soon as possible. We did not feel tiredness. We had to find our way. While marching along the road, we reached a huge railway station, almost running. We penetrated railway carriages that were undoubtedly left by the army in a hurry. In an iron heater we could see glowing coal. There were dishes, a bowl, buks and stools. We collected some packed lunch.
Dried ‘bigos’ (dish made from sausage, mushrooms and sauerkraut) and tomatoes flakes were being prepared for dinner. In a neighbouring carriage we were warming water to wash ourselves. What a joy it was! Hot dinner and the ability to wash ourselves in warm water. It was happiness impossible to describe. Hanka and Maryńcia went to reconnoitre more. They returned, laughing and taking 3 meters of grey military cloth for each of us. ”We were allowed to take the whole bale,” said Hanka, ”there are whole carriages of them here and people take 2 or 3 bales, but we could not lift so much. And these parts will be useful. In villages, on our way we will Exchange them for food.”
All girls satisfied their hunger and washed themselves and I, the last one, was pitting with my feet in a bowl and was finishing eating delicious dinner. Suddenly we heard unusual rumble of cannons. Shrapnels hit the carriage’s walls. Dust, smoke, flames of fire. We left all richness gathered here and escaped under the carriages, scared a lot. We were running, leasing, in a ditch along the road on which there was that richness. Fur coats were flying, prams were lying scattered there and left bales created grey and blue carpets. At the edge of the road, just before the forest we saw some household. Among unusual rumble we dashed there and ran inside a building. Th ehouse was filled with German women and children. An old farmer was trying to throw us into a cellar. ”You bastard, don’t you have enough yet?” - Halina shouted in German – ”stop it or you will be there yourself in a moment.” Cocky and firm behaviour of Halina mush have frightened the old man. He moved back into a room and, mumbling something, he closed the door.
We stayed alone in the entrance-hall. Halina could not overcome her agitation and shouted, ”You bastard, now, in the last moment of your existence you dare to defy!” The old man was cursing. ”Silence!” – Halina shouted – ”or it will be your end soon!” Halina, always calm and well-mannered Halina, surprised us. Maryńcia Got lost in all this chaos. We could not understand how it was possible. She ran on the yard together with us.
As soon as it became calmer, we checked the neighbourhood several times, calling Maryńcia. We also ran to the neighbouring forest and started to call her again, It was futile. She disappeared. without trace. Sad and worried, we went further along the forest and after few meters we were on a front line again. About 200 meters away there were heavy cannons. We squatter down, thinking what to do. We were afraid to encounter the forest. The cannons were banging in this direction. After a long while we noticed some regularity of these cannons. We started to count them in order to count time between particular cannons.
We made a quick decision and, making use of a break, we ran. Then we rested in a ditch and now could march further, calmly.
On the horizon we saw a village. On the left side of the road there was a huge brickyard surrounded by thousands of people, nomadizing there. There were people of different nationalities – prisoners of different camps. The atmosphere of great joy and friendliness was noticeable around the brickyard.
On the horizon we saw a village. On the left side of the road there was a huge brickyard surrounded by thousands of people, nomadizing there. There were people of different nationalities – prisoners of different camps. The atmosphere of great joy and friendliness was noticeable around the brickyard..
In the late evening the bonfires started to fade. We were preparing to sleep. There was no spare place further. Woken up during the night we heard horse rattle. In a second a group of men leaped up and they tossed the rider and the horse in a joyful noise. The rider brought us the news of desired freedom. A huge bonfire was lit. After long-lasting ovation a Russian officer was able to tell us about the situation on the front. We spent the night by the bonfire, singing jolly and showing spontaneous joy.
In the distance of 8 kilometres westwards ally armies stayed. We had to make a decision what to do next. We decided unanimously to march eastwards to Warsaw. Two men from the group next to us, prisoners of Dachau, proposed to return together with them. I was with Halina only. The rest of us dispersed in the chaos. Krystyna and Lilka who wanted to join her littl daughter left in Włochy as soon as possible joined us. The boys found a light carriage with two horses very quickly. Tens of hands that were attached to the carriage made it impossible to set off. Janek and Paweł promised to bring the second cart. A moment later they brought another cart with two horses and gave it the waiting women. We set off. The homecoming would last a month.
It was May 3, 1945. The way to the homeland was not easy. We did not have problems with ford, fortunately. We could always find something in left households. We did not have big requirements.
Nights were the worst. We had to hide all the time and were afraid not to be found. Shouting, moaning of women that were being raped – it was real nightmare that would disturb the joy of freedom. While passing villages we met a big group of Polish officers doming back from an oflag. It was a nice surprise. The only one woman in this group of officers was my schoolmate, arrested by the Germans about 1,5 years before the Uprising. From that time I did not know anything about her. We were very glad about this meeting. Cut off from the rest of the world, we did not know anything about what was happening in the world. With great attention we were listening to the news concerning the political situation of Europe and the world, particularly the political situation in Poland. They were the first people who informed us of the new Polish authorities’ attitude towards the Home Army and its soldiers. This was sad news, but very important one.
After a two-week wandering, it turned out that our cart is too delicate means of transport. It broke down in the field. Janek and Paweł went to a neighbouring village to bring some Rother cart. We were pitting alone, four young women. Suddenly a Russian soldier appeared and we did not know from where. We were petrified. Luckily, he only robbed us. He took our bundles and disappeared as quickly as He appeared. We were too afraid to intervene. It could have ended much worse. Again we did not have anything. One pillow and one duvet was everything left. We regretted our camp souvenirs, particularly Hanka’s drawings and a small Christmas tree made out of cable. Almost three weeks later we reached Szczecin.
Before the town entrance we saw a long procession of carts waiting for driver along the bridge. We could not guess why we were not allowed to drive in. We were ordered to take a very old woman on our cart. As turned out later on, the woman was great nuisance for us. We could not contact with her in either language known by us. She did not react hearing German, English, French, Czech or Ukrainian. She only mumble something, using a jargon unknown for us.
The town looked as if it was totally destroyed. A complete emptiness. We were passing stumps of destroyed or burnt houses. We registered in some office that was being formed. They advised not to leave the town till the morning. Robberies, thefts and rapes, great danger. They advised to hide in some house before the dusk. They showed us a direction in which we could find a Mouse that was not burnt. They warned us not to meander in the town, to leave the town quickly in the morning as there were many Germans who were hiding there.
It was dangerous. Certainly we made use of advice. We drove into some yard. There was a garage and many barrels filled with herrings and a tenement house. We grabbed mattresses and bedclothes from a nearest house and we placed them on concrete in the garage. We brought a basket, too. The boys closed the door and barricaded it by means of barrels. They stayed on our cart in the yard. A drama with the old woman started now. She started to moan and stout. We did not know what she wanted. We begged her to calm down, asking whether something hurt her, we showed her drops, gave her something to eat and drink and asked if she wanted to do a wee.
No, she rejected everything and was shooting. Frightened, alone and afraid if the noise would be heard outside, we showed by means of gestures that if she did not calm down we would strangle her. It did not work. We covered her with a duvet, holding on all sides. It was effective. We were watchful all night. In the morning the boys moved barrels away. We left the old woman and set off.
The Oder, bunkers, entanglements and ditches. Silence and emptiness. It was really a sight after a battle. Ot seemed as if it had been just finished. We were waiting for a passage to the other side. We lit a bonfire and were preparing food. A little boy wearing a military uniform was going on the riverside. It was 11-year-old Wania. He was reserved, careful, but well oriented. He informed us that the passage was to take place in the afternoon. We invited him for a meal and asked what he was doing there. He told us his history. His mother and siblings were killed by the Germans and Wania saw that. He was left alone. His father was on the front so Wania decided to find him. He joined the Russian Army. He was trained and given an uniform and a military coat there.
He was a paratrooper. He told us about Cracow and its neighbourhood. He was placed there as a scout. It was not his only jump. We were listening to him and could not believe that. His father died and Wania went through the whole fighting route, to the Oder. Now he wanted to come back to Moscow. He was dreaming about graduating from the High War School. Having heard that we were coming back to Warsaw, he asked if he could join us. He made friends with us quickly. We said goodbye to him on the Western railway station in Warsaw, wishing him fulfilment of his dreams. Absorbed with Wania’s stories, we noticed that the Oder riverside had filled with many carts and people coming to their homeland, similarly to us. In the late evening we were on the other side. A few minutes later, despite general protests, all carts were ordered to move on the left side, to a wide meadow. Four Russian officers came. ”Unharness horses and let them go to the meadow” – it was a n order. People started to explain that we were coming from the camps and were ill. We wanted to come back to our families as soon as possible. ”Do not discuss with us! Do it!” The horses were let to the meadow.
The officers went to a neighbouring Mouse. Crushed, we sat by our cart, foreseeing the worst. After several minutes, the officers with a company of soldiers came again and started to give orders. Each man was to catch four horses, go with them to a near railway station and put them on carriages. Women had to stay. Men were to come back after doing this task. On the meadow a big herd of horses was running.
Most men came from cities and could not catch the horses. We stayed, terrified, in despair, only women and several children. At dusk Janek appeared. He could not catch the horses. They ordered him to come back. It was dark when Paweł came together with one elder man. We spent the night petrified, in a group, sitting under the cart. In the morning there was reveille. It turned out that apart from Janek and Paweł there was no other man. Very surprised officers went to the building, having ordered us to wait for next orders. Not waiting for the progress of events, we decided to escape. Running, we reached the road. After a short rest, we started to march.
We were trying to stop military cars that were passing us. Drivers did not react. At last one stopped. We asked him where He was going and if he could bring us. Eagerly, but he was to go to a base. It was a pity. We had to wait for another one. One stopped. We asked him the same question. He let us get in. Wania jumper in first. Janek and Paweł helped us to get in. Janek jumped in at the last moment. Paweł did not. We shouted at the driver to stop the truck but He speeded up, laughing. We were very sad. Paweł stayed on the road alone. He accompanied us for such a long way.
We noticed a big city approaching. We started to knock at the cab window, showing the driver that we wanted to get off the car. He laughed and speeded up. We were passing empty streets. We started to shout loudly. A policeman who was regulating the traffic, wearing civilian clothes, stopped the car. We got off, thanking the policeman.
We were in Starogród (now Stargard Szczeciński). We registered in the Town Council. They proposed us job and accommodation. They encouraged us very much and were nice, even hearty. We thanked them as we wanted to come back to Warsaw. We got a permit allowing us to go by train to Warsaw for free. The permit included a stamp and a signature of the representative of the Starogród district, with the date of May 29, 1945. We got bread for our way. We took it eagerly as we had not seen bread for two months.
It was late afternoon. We asked a railwayman to show us the way to the railway station. Showing us the way, he told us that nobody knew when the train would come. There were no timetables. The train comes every few days. He cordially invited us to his home.
”I live with my wife, there is enough space” –he said - ”my wife will be happy and she will give you enough ford. You will take a rest. There is no need to hurry. The crown of people stays at the station few days and nights. During nights it is cold. Come with me,” He invited us cordially. But we wanted to be in Warsaw as soon as possible. We thanked him cordially. The older, amiable man, disappointed, advised us not to leave the railway station. In the evenings it was very dangerous.
One should not go on the streets. ”I am very sorry about the fact that you do not want to go to my Mouse. I wish you a good way home,” he addend at parting.
On the railway station there were really several thousand people sitting not only on pavements but also on a roadway. All the people were laden with bundles. We asked them how long they were waiting there.
About 3-4 days, but some people were waiting there for seven days. They were not lucky enough to get in the latest train. ”I suppose we will have to wait , too – Halina said – ”but we are in a better situation as we have no luggage. It is near the end. Do not give up.” ”We are not crushed. It is really the end of our tragedy” – Janek said and He proposed to have supper. We had bread. This night we spent in a destroyed house opposite the railway station. Train whistle made us jumped in several times but these were only cruising trains. At dawn we prepared coffee, had breakfast and went on the railway station. We stood by a gate.
By the entrance to a small railway building two young men stood. We asked them when we could expect the next train to Warsaw. ”Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, or in a week,” one of them replied.
After a long conversation, asked from where we were coming back, laughed at that we had nothing , we hardly spitted up our fear that we could not get in the train. To our great joy, our interlocutor said that – as we were coming from the camp and had no luggage, opposed to the rest people – he would make us easier to get in. When the train comes, he will let us get in, and only then he will open the gate again and let other people come. ”You May be calm, I promise.”
We thanked him as cordially as we could and calm and happy we were waiting for the train to Come. Several hours passed by. It was almost 8 o’clock and our benefactor was to finish his duty. We expressed our sadness. ”Do not worry,” He comforted us, ”I will tell my friend about you, He is a good guy and He will take care of you.” So it happened. About the midday the train came.
The crown leaped up. The young man placed us on the train and went to open the gate. But it was not an end. The train was totally full. Our benefactor was running nervously on the platform. We were waving him to say goodbye. He noticed us and shouted, ”Come! I am looking for you.” He Got to know that this carriage and the next ones were to be detached on the way. It meant to wait in the fields not knowing how long, even for a week. As there was no possibility to enter any carriage, he opened a military carriage. ”Boys, let the women come in, they are coming from the camp, take care of them.”
So thanks to a young unknown man, actually two men, the last part of our journey to Warsaw started. We were very lucky. In Poznań we said goodbye to Janek who was going to his mother to Bydgoszcz. We often wrote letters to each other later on. His letters were sad. He was seriously ill. After several months I received a Lester from his mother with an information about Janek’s Heath. He died because of tuberculosis. Krystyna and Lilka Got off in Włochy. I stayed with Halina and Wania only. The train would stop every few minutes. We were worried.
We were afraid of evening darkness. We knew that Warsaw was ruined. We wanted to find some close people. But who and where? Halina proposed to go to the Grójecka street, near the Narutowicza Square, where her relatives used to live. Maybe their house was saved? Maybe they were alive? We stopped again. Supposedly we were approaching the Western station. Yes, we recognized the station’s neighbourhood. We said goodbye to Wania, wishing him a safe journey to Moscow and fulfilment of dreams. We opened the door. The train stood on a high embankment. Not thinking much, we jumped out. We ran down from a sand embankment, fading through sand.
”Kot”, (this is how Halina called me in the Old Town), we are in Warsaw.” We hugged and tears of happiness were running down our cheeks.
There was nobody in the streets. We heard singing from a church. The Narutowicza Square welcomed us with the Corpus Christi procession. It was an evening of June 1, 1945.
translated by Monika Ałasa
Maria Szydluk (maiden name Basiewicz)
Copyright © 2004 SPPW1944. Wszelkie prawa zastrzeżone.