The Witnesses' Uprising Reports

The Uprising recollection of Barbara Bobrownicka-Fricze

Barbara Bobrownicka-Fricze,
b. 04.04.1922 Dębica
a company sergeant of the Home Army
a.k.a. "Oleńka", "Ba¶ka Wilta", "Wilia"
"Róg" union, battalion "Bończa"
a captive number 141503, a prison camp VI-C Oberlangen

Barbara Bobrownicka-Fricze a.k.a. "Wilia", a nurse, a "Róg" union from the Old Town: a recollection of the Old Town pigeons.

Our Maciek

         These were casual, summer days. The Sun was shining since the morning. There was no cloud in the sky. During such days people should be happy. Any problems should be postponed till rains and cloudy skies. It was many years ago and in Warsaw there had been the Uprising for two weeks. More and more houses were changing into ruins. These were increasing. During days and nights people's belongings were burning. We got used to this sight - this was war. We know well why the ruins were bigger and bigger all around us. We were at our post, and Old Town pigeons were there with us, during days and nights. They were walking slowly in the middle of brick heaps and their steps were tiny. They were shaking their little heads and widely opening amazed eyes, as if they wanted to ask, "What's going on here?"
         They had to totter from one stone to another for a long time, to find a little piece of food. At that time people started to feed on crumbs, as well. They were not dreaming of a boiled potato and they forgot a taste of bread. How is it possible to remember about pigeons in such circumstances? Many people regretted thin winged companions. Many wanted to stout towards them, fly, escape from here! Over these walls there were fields, from which harvest was gathered - it would be enough for pigeons. There are people who can find scraps of porridge or bread for you. The pigeons would not fly away. They were not looking for their nests. While hearing the sound of approaching planes, they would leap up and fly high, as high as their wings, weakened by the hunger, let them do.
         Bombs were falling down from the planes as well as bullets from deck weapons. And in a moment when there was becoming silent, the pigeons were coming back. Although, there were less of them, they still would tetter among the ruins, bend their little heads in a funny way and open their eyes widely. Probably they were not longer surprised that again there had been less houses and that people were hurrying, carrying the wounded, and that they were climbing the rubble heaps in order to reach a hospital as soon as possible. And that again, after one attack, the second, third and tenth would occur...
         Voices of different types of weapons, whizz of flying bullets, and bursting grenades, would make people stand up to fight and pigeons fly. When silence would start, yet, the pigeons would come back. We did not say about that, but what if they would not? Yes, it would be a bad omen, for sure. They were coming back, as it still wasn't any little cloud and days were passing by; the days in which all people should be happy, as well as all pigeons.
         Wojtek was the youngest in the unit. He would not admit his real age. His crop of hair was growing in all directions, freckles on his nose were doing what they just wanted, and his blue eyes truly wanted to be serious and adult, but they often did not manage to do so. Everything else on him was too long, too thin, too lively. He seemed to be everywhere, exactly as if we had few boys called Wojtek. Sometimes the boy would disappear, for a quarter, maybe half an hour, most often during meals. Why wasn't he eating in the company of his friends? Yet, it was his choice. Wasn't it an accident, I wouldn't have got to know why he behaved in such a way. There was silence. The Germans must have been eating dinner. I went to an old woman to change her bandage. She was staying in a destroyed cellar to which a narrow hatch in a ceiling led. To reach the ill woman one had to go down a ladder. All the other openings were covered with rubble. I changed the bandage quickly, arranged with her family a way of bringing out the hurt old woman and I went out upstairs on uncertain rungs.
         I put out my head at the cellar opening. I was blinded by the Sun and dazed by fresh air and only after a while I saw Wojtek. He was pitting by the only wall that was saved in a destroyed house. He was eating porridge, keeping his mess-tin between his knees and on its edge a pigeon was pitting. The boy was feeding it by means of a spoon. The bird was pecking greedily. They did not notice me. From time to time I was able to hear words, having uttered which the boy was stroking the bird's feathers.
         - You bad lot, the spiritual values are nothing for you.
         The pigeon kept pecking..
         - What is the most important is a full stomach. You are right. During the war this is supreme...
I did not want to eavesdrop. I had nowhere to retreat, so I was staying in one place. Wojtek raised his head.
         - Are you spy upon me?
         - What are you suggesting? I went to change the bandage.
         - If you tell anyone, I won't forgive you.
         - Don't be a fool, I won't tell anybody.
         - So, remember. I will let you feed him sometimes. Not too often; otherwise he can get used to you.
         So in such an unpredictable way we became the owners of a common mistery. Obviously, the pigeon was Wojtek's, but a little bit mine, as well. He would recognize me and would fly to me whenever I clanged a spoon by a miss-tin's edge. We were calling him Maciek. Our friendship did not require any words but, my dear, you have to pay for friendship. And we were in the middle of the fight all the time. Our Maciek, together with other pigeons, would fly away hearing the sound of approaching planes. We were waiting for his coming back and were asking ourselves few times a day: will he come back or not? He was coming back, sitting by a still standing wall of the destroyed house and was clearing his feathers. While doing this, he was turning his head in a funny way, he was looking at all directions and opening widely his black eyes, although he must have not been surprised by anything now. One day, I don't remember the exact date, of course, but these were still days full of sun, in which people should be happy, and pigeons as well, suddenly everything seemed to go mad. There was only smoke, rumble and zip of exploding bullets. They would grudge us neither fire nor iron. We were more thrifty. We could not afford such extravagance. We had little ammunition and weapons and there were not many of us, too, compared with the Germans. During an offensive our wall crashed. It was this last one, from the non-existing house. It was an only shelter from the enemy, during our meetings with Maciek. What a view it was! Instead of a wall we always used to sit by, there was a heap of rubble. Ahead of us, on a heap of bricks, Maciek was sitting, exposed from each side, and clearing his feathers.
         - They will shoot him, Wojtek almost stammered out.
         I could not emit any sound. From some area in the ruins some guffaw was heard. It was not a laugh but a gurgle of a man. This man could shoot our pigeon in a moment. I closed my eyes. Nevertheless, I still saw in my imagination our bird's feathers going to pieces all around. Wojtek was the one who composed himself first. He silently clanged a spoon by a miss-tin's edge. It was a signal that meant dinner, by which we would call him only. While clanging, Wojtek was moving his mouth from which no voice was getting out. And only I could hear his calling. The pigeon started to fly and gently sat on the miss-tin's edge. Some stray bullet from the ruins crashed the bricks. Maciek was no longer at the place. He was eating porridge from a spoon that was shaking a bit.
         - What shall we do now? - my voice seemed to return at last - He would certainly be coming back for that old place.
         I was sure Wojtek was thinking about the same thing. The pigeon did not understand anything. And then the boy stood up.
         Keep feeding him - He said to me.
         He himself started to build some structure by means of bricks in a wall's well hidden curve. When it was ready, he put the bird inside and poured the whole contents of his miss-tin, into a prepared hollow.
         If he knows this is his pantry, he will not fly to the old place.
         Wojtek was right and we all liked this hiding-place. Only I was ashamed. I had eaten my porridge before. I left only some for the pigeon. I could not share it with the boy who must have been hungry.
         - Don't worry, I will have light dreams - he was comforting me.
         Meanwhile our favourite, dizzy by such an amount of food, was eating it in an incredible pace, as if he was afraid that we would changed our mind and would take this generous present away. At last, heavy and sleepy, he flew away, in the direction that was known to him only. We had to come back. The Germans, having eaten a good dinner, would brace their energies and it was likely to hear a call: nurses! It was a voice calling for help. And it started to seethe. Grenades were exploding on a market. People had no time to hide. We could hear groans of the wounded. Our hands were aching but they were carrying stretchers; our legs, that had got used to going in the rubble, were skillfully looking for a safe place. We had to watch out not to slip, or lower down with a wounded, often unconscious, person on the stretchers. Quickly, quickly, as a man's life often depended of that. Tired doctors were working by casual candles on operation tables standing by the "Twisted Lantern." There had been no other light for a long time. I don't remember how long it lasted. Nobody counted time in such moments. Not because the fact that the days were full of Sun in which every creature living In the world should be happy and people should put their problems aside for another, rainy time. I came back to the quarters, dead tired. I was bringing a few lumps of sugar that were given for me by some woman with minor wounds, whom I put a bandage. This will be for Wojtek - he is so hungry. But he was not there. I forgot about my tiredness immediately. I knew where to look for him. He was pitting by the new built hiding-place and was looking at the porridge that was poured at the midday. Nobody tried it since then.
         - Don't worry. He did not manage to come back - I stood next to the boy.
         - I had had foreboding as early as in the morning.
         I instinctively took out the lumps of sugar and gave them to Wojtek. He started to break them into pieces, without saying anything. Then he sprinkled small amounts of sugar on a trick next to porridge. At that moment I was completely certain that the pigeon was his, only his. Two days passed by and the bird did not come back. The worst thing came true. We were not talking about him. Poured porridge drew up. Wojtek, our thin Wojtek, became even thinner. A Uprising blouse was hanging loose on him, as if he was a scarecrow. I was worried about him. Days were passing by. There was no time for meditation. One was living from one attack to another. It occurred four days after our friend's disappearance, I think. It was getting dark, a thick dusk was hiding the ruins and buildings that were still there. Only buildings that were not burnt yet, were burning. From time to time, single fire tongues were coming out the dark nooks and corners. I went out the quarters to inhale some fresh air. Silence. Somewhere from afar single shots were heard, as if coming form sleepy weapons. I sat on a heap of some planks. Everything around was not what it should have been. Everything was lying in a horrible mess and, in spite of that, I felt like home - all of that happened besides me, it was well known, close and because of that even safe. A barricade, beside which one was not allowed to go, separated me from the market, where everyone was in danger of shooting. The Germans had so-called marksmen who were called by us "gołębiarze" ("snipers"). These would hurt and kill many incautious people. The moon came on the sky. Silence. Unexpectedly, some stone fell in. I strained my eyes and ears. I could not hear anything. After a while there was another murmur. There were no doubts - somebody was crawling. I thought it was one of the boys who decided to gain some weapon. One could get it in the neck for such disobedience. The person was crawling clumsily, while clearly hiding something in his breast-pocket. The Germans heard it, as well and single shots followed. Bullets were dashing aside the rubble. The crawling man hurried up. He was making a noise clearly now. Tense, I was observing him. Few more metres, just few more.
         After a while he stood by me.
         - Jurek- I almost shouted.
         - Be silent and let's run away from here as they will be here soon. After a while there was nobody in a place of crime.
         - Don't you know where Wojtek is? - he asked when we felt safe.
         Come on.
         When there were all three of us, Jurek uncovered his blouse. We saw our Maciu¶. We pulled our hands up. The pigeon's wing was wounded. We went together to our hiding-place. Wojtek started to scrape dried porridge from the bricks. We had nothing more at that time. We did not have to welcome the bird. He was eating greedily, despite the dusk. He must have been hungry, our poor one.
         - How did you know about him? - Wojtek asked at last.
         - It was a stupid coincidence. I was feeding him, too. Didn't you see how fat he was?
         - You are chatting and I have work to do. I have to dress a wound on his wing.
         - Be careful so he is not hurt much.
         Wojtek was keeping Maciu¶ and I, full of fear, started to do my duty.
         Today, when so many years passed by, whenever I feed pigeons on the Old Town Market, I have an impression that these are great-great-great ...grandsons of our Maciu¶. My word! - they are so similar.

While writing this report, I kept the promise
given to the Old Town pigeons
in those difficult days,
grateful for their
not leaving us.

Barbara Bobrownicka-Fricze
translated by Monika Ałasa

      Barbara Bobrownicka-Fricze,
b. 04.04.1922 Dębica
a company sergeant of the Home Army
a.k.a. "Oleńka", "Ba¶ka Wilta", "Wilia
"Róg" union, battalion "Bończa"
a captive number 141503, a prison camp VI-C Oberlangen

Copyright © 2007 SPPW1944. All rights reserved.