The Witnesses' Uprising Reports

Kanałami w Powstaniu Warszawskim

Andrzej (Andrew) BOROWIEC, born 1928, ,
pseudonym "Zych",
lance-corporal in the Home Army,
prisoner-of-war in Germany (number 47489).

         Biographical note.
         Andrzej (Andrew) BOROWIEC, born 1928, lance-corporal in the Home Army,. prisoner-of-war in Germany (number 47489).
         Member of the conspiratorial "Battle Schools" (Bojowe Szkoly- BS) pseudonym "Zych". Participated in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising (Platoon 101), at first in the city center, subsequently with the remnants of the Radoslaw Battle group (battalion Zoska ) in the suburb of Czerniakow by the Vistula river. Evacuated with his unit through the sewers to the southern suburb of Mokotow, wounded twice during one of the area's last combat engagements. Taken prisoner- by the Germans on 27th September 1944, held six months in the prisoner-of-war camp Stalag XIA, Altengrabow.
         After the liberation served in the Polish Amy under British Command, Second Corps of General Anders in Italy, then in Great Britain. Finished secondary education in Great Britain, continued studies as a scholarship student in the United States, obtaining a Master's degree from Columbia University, New York.
         Work as a journalist included 13 years with the Associated Press (New York, western Europe, North and sub-Saharan Africa, Viet Nam, ending as chief of bureau in Geneva); roving correspondent for the Washington Star nine years (Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Vietnam); Chicago Sun-Times in the Mediterranean region. Writing for The Washington Times since 1984.
         Author of six books , including one on the Warsaw Uprising (Destroy Warsaw!, Hitler's Punishment, Stalin's Revenge.) Others are Yugoslavia After Tito; The Mediterranean Feud; Modern Tunisia; Cyprus: A Troubled Island; and Taming the Sahara.
         A resident of Cyprus, Borowiec spends part of the year in France.

In the sewers during the Warsaw Uprising.

         In a ringing "order of the day" after the first shots were fired in the ill-fated 1944 Warsaw Uprising, Gen. Bor, commander of the underground Home Army, told the insurgents that the days of conspiracy were over. "You are now fighting openly, weapons in hand, to restore freedom to our country", he said. "However, after some initial successes which allowed the liberation of parts of Poland's capital, the shattering German military superiority soon dominated the combat of 63 days during which most of the city of over one million was virtually pulverized.
         Unable to obtain effective aid from the Western Allies, the Polish insurgents were also abandoned by the Soviet Union, which halted its victorious armies just before the gates of the city. The initial euphoria of some 50,000 members of the Polish Underground in Warsaw soon turned into a grim determination to continue resistance by all available means. And this included a literal "descent under the ground" - this time into the maze of Warsaw's sewers which became the latest battlefield of the uprising.
         According to a postwar analysis by the General Staff of the Polish Forces Under British Command of which the underground Home Army was, at least nominally, a component, the multi-faceted role of the sewer network included communication between liberated sectors separated by the German rings of steel, replacement of decimated fighting units, transport of ammunition and other supplies and evacuation of the wounded.
         It was only in the second month of the uprising that the enemy correctly assessed the role of the sewers and reacted by building obstacles to raise the level of the noxious water, dropping hand grenades into manholes or even using gas. in several parts of the network.
         It was about the 27th of August (the uprising started on August 1st) that I volunteered to carry mail through the sewer linking the city center with the Old Town, known popularly as Starowka, by then virtually a heap of ruins defended by diminishing ranks of insurgents. At that time the unit in which I began the uprising was positioned in the northern part of the city center. The action was limited to manning several barricades and periodic exchanges of gunfire with German sentries. The German plan to destroy the Polish resistance consisted of concentrated attacks with a maximum of heavy weapons against one Polish-held area at a time and the main fighting in the second part of August was in and aroundthe Old Town.
         The commander of my unit, consisting of boys between 15 and 17, appointed ten of us at the disposal of the Pasieka or bee hive, the highest authority of the scout movement in Warsaw which organized "auxiliary action" consisting mainly of courier service, fighting increasing fires and rescuing survivors trapped in houses shattered by Stuka attacks or artillery fire. Only volunteers were used in sewer missions.
         The construction of Warsaw's sewer network began in the middle of the 19th century. By the start of the war in 1939 it consisted of two types of sewers: the so called "storm sewers" (burzowce), carrying the overflow after heavy rains or storms, and small sewers reaching almost every corner of Warsaw. The storm sewers were relatively lofty, and some were equipped with wooden sidewalks to facilitate maintenance work. Because of lack of rain in the summer of 1944, most storm sewers were relatively dry. The city center was connected with the Old Town by one of the main storm sewers but the headquarters delayed its use before the expected evacuation of the remnants of fighters from the embattled area. Consequently, those carrying mail or other supplies were forced to use the smaller sewers, something requiring considerable stamina and effort.
         There were five of us who volunteered for such a trip on a glorious summer morning in the dying city. The guide was a stocky girl of about 19 who wore a German camouflage jacket reaching the middle of her thighs, and old rubber boots. She had pinned her hair up under a dirty beret. She showed us how to strap packages wrapped in waterproof cloth not to our backs, like rucksacks, but in the front. Each of us received a sturdy stick, perhaps 50 centimeters long.
         The sewer, the guide explained, was a meter high and about 60 centimeters wide. We will be going under German positions, and, she said, "occasionally they watch through manholes and throw hand grenades inside. A peep from any of you could mean death".
         We had to wait for a brief mortar barrage on Swietokrzyska street and Napoleon square to finish before reaching the open manhole and descend the small iron ladder, leaving behind the bright August sun. The contrast, the stench, total silence and the feeling of isolation were overpowering. The guide counted us with the aid of her flashlight and then pointed with it at a black hole. It was the entrance to the sewer.
         She led us inside and handed the flashlight to one of the boys, telling him to point it at her. Holding her stick in front of her, she leaned on it until it stopped at the lower part of the egg-shaped sewer, thus supporting her. She extricated it, moved forward, her back touching the top of the sewer, and continued the movements resembling those of a rabbit. We followed her in the same manner and eventually each of us developed a certain rhythm. We advanced slowly in the slime and after a while the smell did not seem to be so overwhelming. We crossed several intersections where the sewage fluid moved swiftly and light penetrated from open manholes. At one such "crossing" we noticed a dark-clad corpse lying face down. We paid no attention as we moved along the sewer leading north. Our hands, our shoes and the backs of our jackets were covered with slime. Periodically we rested . The trip seemed to go on forever although It didn't last more than two, at the most three hours.
         "Old Town", finally announced the girl when a small light ahead of us started growing brighter. We climbed to the surface by another ladder. The light blinded us for a few seconds. Then we were in a narrow street lined with gutted buildings, piles of bricks and crushed masonry. Pieces of broken furniture were scattered here and there, next to graves marked by crosses. The air was heavy with dust and artillery salvoes exploded with almost monotonous regularity.
         A bored looking man in a German army overcoat with a Home Army armband sat on a chair near the manhole., a submachine gun on his lap. "What's new in the center?" he asked. There has been more and more artillery fire", someone answered him. The man grinned "More and more", he repeated. "Poor center!"
         We spent a day at the unit headquarters where we delivered our packages - and collected new ones for deliveries on our return. We rested in a long barrack while fragments of exploding mortar shells rattled on the corrugated iron roof. The men lying on the floor in rows played cards and ate chocolate of which there appeared to be an inexhaustible supply. From time to time we heard the whine of the sirens which the pilots of German dive bombers activated before hitting their targets. No one paid much attention to them.
         Our return to the center of the city was set for late afternoon. Again we walked through streets littered with the debris of war, past half-ruined houses with empty window sockets , past graves with makeshift plaques bearing the pseudonyms of the fallen. There was a group of people, men and women, already waiting at the manhole. Armed Home Army military policemen checked everybody's passes. (We wondered how it was that fighting units suffered from a permanent shortage of weapons but the MPs were always armed to the teeth.) Besides our guide from the morning, two more young women in German camouflage jackets jointed us, one of them a stunning brunette who was the first to enter the manhole. We walked slowly in what seemed a long procession, most people without the helpful sticks, stooped in the small sewer. This sewer seemed to be going east, we felt, toward the Vistula river rather than south toward the center. Alarmingly, it was being filled with more and more smoke from burning buildings. The cortege was halted and the pretty brunette pushed her way toward the rear, whispering "I made a mistake". After a while, word was passed along to turn back. The sewer seemed endless but we recognized the place were we saw a corpse. in the morning. It was night when we emerged in the town center. There was no artillery fire but somewhere in the distance, a machinegun fired long volleys - apparently German because our units , always short of ammunition, were under orders to fire only short bursts . "Look", said one of he new arrivals pointing at a building, "there is still glass in the windows!"
         Three weeks later I found myself in Czerniakow, an embattled area near the river bank, bolstered during the previous days by heavily armed, recently conscripted units of the communist Polish People's Army. Unfamiliar with the requirements or conditions of urban fighting, they were quickly pushed back toward the river, forced with us to defend a handful of remaining buildings. In a situation becoming more and more desperate, Lieutenant Colonel. "Radoslaw" (Jan Mazurkiewicz), Home Army commander in that sector, decided to take the remnants of his units through the sewer south to the suburb of Mokotow which was still in insurgent hands. With few exceptions, the People's Army troops who remained in the sector were captured and taken to Germany as prisoners of war.
         We were told that the sewer route south had been carefully reconnoitered. Near midnight on September 19th we approached the entrance near the river embankment in a long line. When I reached the manhole I saw below a fairly large cavern and Radoslaw standing in the muck with a torch, his rolled trousers showing a bandaged leg. "Go back", he shouted. "The next convoy at 1 a.m." We turned back. I remember waiting in a house filled with men, many wounded, while outside the artillery fire seemed to become more and more intense. After an hour someone shouted "out to the sewer", but as soon as we formed a line, artillery shells exploded in the river and on its banks. The line turned into a disorderly crowd, swearing and pushing toward the sewer entrance. I don't remember how I managed to find myself at the manhole with my rifle and sack filled with ammunition and grenades.
         It was a storm sewer. One could walk in it comfortably, without bending, and parts of it were illuminated by electric light - where was the power from? At points where the main sewer connected with small ones, girls warned us that the level of water in the next "lap" was higher because of sandbags piled up by Germans. It was never too high and rarely reached my thighs. (During the long and relatively easy passage I had a problem with "Blondyn", a colleague who accused me of stepping on his feet and once threatened to hit me with the sackful of machinegun ammunition he was carrying. The threat was not carried out.) The final part of the march was through a small sewer, partly delayed by a woman who had to be helped - and apparently pushed some of the way.
         We emerged after four hours into a bright early morning in a sleepy, suburban area. An insurgent in grey overalls watched us emptying the muck from our boots, smiling. Girls with clean hair distributed tea - or coffee - it didn't matter. It was warm and sweet. We sat on logs stacked nearby and looked at the sky no longer obscured by the smoke. of burning houses.
         Four days later a shattering German attack on the Mokotow area. began , during which I was wounded twice. The remnants of the Radoslaw group received orders to withdraw through the sewers to the center of Warsaw which was still resisting. I was limping heavily and two young nurses helped me to Szustra street where the sewer entrance was protected by a barricade. When I saw the gaping hole I realized that my wounds could become infected by the noxious water. Besides, I had given my Soviet rifle and grenades to weapons hungry Mokotow insurgents and no longer felt useful. I asked for permission to remain behind and find a hospital, regardless of the fact that until then all captured members of the Home Army were usually executed as "bandits".
         "Take care", said the unit commander patting me on the back as he entered the sewer. "Take care", repeated my colleagues who followed him The following day, in a cellar converted into a field hospital, I became a prisoner on the basis of the international Geneva conventions - until then an unprecedented act by the enemy. The last sewer passage of my unit to the city center lasted 16 hours and many people lost their senses erring through the underground labyrinth without guides.

Andrew Borowiec


Andrew Borowiec while working
(an interview with the minister of foreign affairs of Tunisia)
- a contemporary photograph

Copyright © 2008 SPPW1944. All rights reserved.