The Witnesses Uprising Reports
Days and Nights – September Episode
It is evening. A dark August night is approaching; if not for the rockets and luminous shells it would be so black that you could break your arms and legs going along even the best road through the ruins. Today I have my night shift. I need to be on duty, because last night “Hanka” was on duty, and “Reduta” always rushes around and both must rest a little. After all, they’re still kids. We are barely 16 years old, and yet work as three adults. All three of us have gone through a lot and we would literally leap into fire for each other.
I went out in front of the gate to check who was on duty. The boys jumped, hearing a sound. There were three of them: “Pestka” (seed), the youngest 14-year-old soldier, “Skowron” (lark), barely 2 years older than “Pestka” and “Wilk” (wolf), a very brave boy because he was all of 18 years old. Having heard steps “Pestka” called: “Auntie, auntie, if you please, we want to have a little talk” (my younger colleagues always referred to female couriers and nuns in this way). But I didn’t have time for chit-chat. I said that I would come later – I returned to the officers’ room and reported that all was in order, that I had night duty and that all couriers should be directed to me in case of emergency (the telephone didn’t work, there were no telegraphists, even though this was the first line of defense, and the Germans were at a distance of about 30 meters – in other words on the other side of Grzybowska Street). Our group had only one safe house. I stood in the foyer, on the staircase leading from the backyard (we were stationed in the Jamuszkiewicz metal-bed factory). I listened – all was quiet. In the small room of the female couriers it had just struck 10 PM. In an hour the boys would come in from duty. The kitchen had to be told to have hot coffee at hand.
Next I sit on the edge of a deck-chair and reflect that everything seems to be in order: the replacements are sleeping upstairs, the on-duty nurse and supply officer sit in the kitchen and keep vigil. Leader Second Lieutenant “Jeremy”, the commandant and the doctor have gone to HQ in Srodmiescie (the city center). The replacement officer is on duty – the light of his carbide lamp is visible.
I close my eyes and think… “Tomorrow school should start – the beginning of the school year. How different it will be! Surely there will be a mass in the chapel on the first floor chapel facing the courtyard, and then hard work among the ruins and rubble.” I open my eyes and see some kind of strange light; the church of All Saints at Grzybowski Place is burning. Some kind of battle is heard very close to us; the shells from grenade launchers tear through the air by the dozen. At that moment a breathless “Pestka” appears. He shouts to the nurse to run quickly, for “Skowron” is wounded. The boy needs to be put on a stretcher and brought here. “Berta” (a heavy howitzer) showers missiles from the Okecie district – what a terrible shrieking sound. Individual KB (rifles) are heard from afar; somewhere fighting surges. CKMs (heavy machine guns), RKMs (hand machine guns), p.panc (anti-tank rifles), piaty (anti-tank projectile launchers), grenades – the ground shakes. The missiles from “Berta” are unbearable. The “cows” (rockets) howl without pause. It has struck 11 PM. I listen to what’s happening.
The boys come in from duty – I hear “Zan”’s voice. They guarded as many as five houses, now the boys arrange themselves in a row and “Zan” calls out their pseudonyms: “Hefi”, “Slaz”, “Madej”, Sergeant “Mirek” – they are all here. I ask Andrzej “Zan” where the battle is raging…”Oh, not far – our boys are capturing houses on Mirowski Place.”
Andrzej “Zan” said that the Germans attacked with “Goliaths”(remote-control tanks with explosives), which were immediately shot at by our men with a piat (anti-tank grenade launcher). I called for “Amazon”, who gave the boys hot coffee, and returned to the deck-chair. I could not fall asleep, although I wanted to. I heard how everyone besides the watch was sleeping. If not for the red clock with phosphorescent numbers, I surely would have fallen asleep, but I couldn’t stop staring at it. When I closed my eyes for a moment I heard someone in conversation, then he approached me on tiptoe and suddenly I was warm and comfortable.
I open my eyes and see “Zan” smiling at me, and I am covered with Andrzej’s white fur coat, in which he goes on duty. It’s his favorite fur. He got it from his friends as the leader of the “Baska” section. He became a section leader when “Bronek” died. I thank Andrzej, but how can I take his coat away from him when he is going to sleep for the next three hours and doesn’t have anything to cover himself with? He was angry, even furious: “How can you say such a thing? I’ll be sleeping with “Slaz” and you’ll freeze. You’re very lightly dressed, besides we’ll drink something and warm ourselves up.”
They set up a small table, “Madej” brought some herring, “Zan” some kind of alcohol, “Slaz” the leftovers of the bread, and I went to get coffee. We all warmed ourselves up. Then Andrzej “Zan” put his coat, which was too big for me, around my shoulders. The boys left to sleep, and I stayed in the foyer, where I was already warm. “Dal” gave me his field cap; I also got socks and some boots.
“Zan” and “Mirek” went on duty to the gate. “Niszczyciel” (Destroyer) and “Wieniawa” were standing there. Andrzej “Zan” went onto the barricade and listened, and I have got to admit, that he has a good sense of hearing. Suddenly he runs like a shot to the second in command, “Wawer”, a 28-year-old second lieutenant, and calls: “Lieutenant, the Germans are preparing to attack, you can hear the clash of their weapons.” We don’t have extra ammunition; we need to run for help to Grand Street (ul. Wielka). “Klara,” Zan says to me, “run to HQ with all your strength, our position, our lives depend on you.” I make the sign of the cross on my forehead, tie my kerchief tightly around my head and I run carefully and quietly (I often avoid sleeping guards – thankfully, I am among my own, in Srodmiescie, bent under fire, just to get further. Something black and shining stands in my path, moves. I am close to this thing. What to do? Surely I’ve been found out. I didn’t take a weapon. I only have a small police nightstick. I stretch out my hand holding the stick and get closer… if that’s a German… I strike out, but I hear the clang of a collision with metal. I stand, take a deep breath and run further.
The houses on both sides of The Lord’s Street (ul. Panska) are burning. It’s now as visible as in daylight. I have to jump through the fire and run further. Along the way I avoid warm “cows,” still unexploded, and finally I make it to the gate of our station number 1. I wake up sleeping “Jeremy” and call to the sleeping orderly officer to rush with aid to the “Jamuszkiewicz” factory. We all run together to Grzybowska Street. The commandant runs to Captain “Jura” on Marszalkowska Street. At HQ I get a helmet and return to my station with my nightstick.
Over the mountains of ruins, through the fire of burning houses and biting smoke, we reach our comrades. Our people welcome us. I see that “Zan” is unpacking ammunition and medicine that we brought, but he is not in a good mood. I ask what has happened. It seems it was a false alarm. Only one “Goliath” approached us, which ran over our mine in the middle of the street and exploded. “Slaz” sympathized with me that I hurried unnecessarily. The boys brought me wine (from All Saints’ Church) because I looked awful, frozen, tired and a little hungry. Andrzej “Zan” ordered breakfast to be given to me so that I wouldn’t continue work feeling cold.
The division was specially dressed in new denim blouses from the fire guards, and we had our checkered silk scarves, obtained somewhere by “Jeremy.“
After the breakfast there was a mass – everyone attended except those on duty. We sang the national anthem and then uprising songs. The day was gloomy, the beginning of the school year, but how different – grenades were exploding, and shells shrieked like crazy. After the nearby explosion of a “Cow,” smoke rose and fell again – our yard was black. All the chimneys were swept clean from the rush of air. Fortunately, this was the first line, the Germans could not shoot so close, because they would hit their own.
Our division resisted the advance of the Germans to the city center till the end of the Uprising.
(written during the Warsaw Uprising)
Translation: Claire and Sebastian Bartos
Copyright © 2007 SPPW1944. All rights reserved.