First-hand accounts of the Warsaw Uprising
War reminiscences of Zbigniew Galperyn - a soldier from "Chrobry I" Battalion
I was born on May 18th, 1929, in Warsaw. During the Uprising I was a young boy and I do not have much to say. I've never written my reminiscences, because neither there was time nor mood to write. There were other things I was occupied with and I did not want to relive it.
Now, after sixty-something years I still wonder whether it is worth it. Curiously enough, with the course of time some moments of those times have been preserved in the memory. I still see them before my eyes.
Anyway, the whole Warsaw, the population living within it was prepared to start the Uprising. It was not any special doing, as we all lived battling against the invader. We were prepared for that since 1939.
If someone remembers the pre-war period, then he also remembers the recommendation of 1939 about the pales in fences so that they would not be installed too densely, but rather leaving gaps to provide visibility. Back then it seemed to lack sense, but during the Uprising it did have some. Or fastening paper onto windows in the form of the cross. Owing to it, during explosions glass shards were big and did not harm people during bombings.
I perfectly remember 1939 and the first bombing. We lived then in a typical pre-war house: with walls from all sides and a internal yard in the middle. It was the house of Jablkowscy brothers at 21 Chmielna Street. In the back part of the yard there were garages. Apart from that, there were two large four-storied annexes and four-storied facade on the Chmielna Street side.
It seemed to everyone that this facade is the firmest. And that's why during bombings everyone gathered in the ground floor, partly in the flat, partly in the staircase. The vaulting there appeared to be the most solid. What's curious is that the bomb which hit an annex did not destroyed it. It reached the ground floor and did not explode, but three floors had collapsed. The entire building felt the powerful shock.
When I returned to my flat after the bombing, I saw fish floating upside down in an aquarium. It came as a great shock to me and this was when I decided I would never again breed any animals. The fish did not endure the pressure caused by an explosion, although people somehow managed to.
I remember the beginning of the occupation: Wawer District, deaths from firing squads, and later ghetto. Everyone would walk to the Leszno Street to see what was happening there. There were hanging people on a balcony. From the Leszno Street the ghetto was on the other side of the wall,. this balcony was perfectly visible. In the atmosphere of round-ups and street executions in Warsaw young people were growing up fast.
I used to go to Osuchowski Primary School on 9 Zurawia Street back then. It was one of the better schools, it had radio reception and transmission already before war. There were loudspeakers in the classes and the headmaster would give information and various instructions. The school was situated in an apartment building. The two first floors were occupied by tenants, and the two latter floors suited as a school. There were a gym, a room for practicals, etc.
Not every school before war had had its own building and sports field, as it used to be later. We would go to sports field to the Rau Park, where Plac na Rozdrozu is situated nowadays, and we used to play football in the Ujazdow Park. In winter ice-rinks were built everywhere. Next to the schools water was poured out on the sports fields, if there was one, and the ice-rink would be created. One could also go skating to the Ujazdow Park.
The best ice-rink was located in the corner of Aleje Ujazdowskie and the Chopin Street. It was Dolina Szwajcarska. One could skate there elegantly, accompanied by music. Due to the fact that it was a considerable expense for my pocket, I would not go there very often.
Almost all the boys in the pre-war period played dodge ball games. I was one of the better players, I was very fast and agile. Usually the team I was in would win.
In the time of the occupation young people did all the more often other activities. In September 1939 I was one of those on the duty with the older on the roof during the air raids. With the boat-hooks in our hands, we were on the watch there. The airplanes often dropped incendiary bombs on houses. And we tried to knock them off the roof in order to protect a house from fire. The young boys did that faster and more dexterously than the adults. We did not fear to move about the sloping roof, we were young and athletic and it was much easier for us than for the adults. Moreover, it impressed us that together with the adult men we protected our home with the boat-hooks.
During the 1940-41 school year I attended 6th grade. In those days primary school lasted 7 years. After the 6th grade one could go to gymnasium. If someone chose not to go there, he/she attended the 7th grade, which was actually the repetition of the six previous years and did not teach much. It was treated as some kind of playing the waiting game until the war ended.
As it turned out, my father had been caught during the round-up and taken on the Skaryszewska Street in Praga District. There was a school, a large building. The people caught in the round-ups were kept there, and then transported to camps or sent to work in Germany. I would visit my father on this Skaryszewska Street. It is difficult to imagine now, but then by the fence stood the crowd of people shouting to the interned standing by the windows. I was young and had a good eyesight, so after some time I managed to see my father standing by a window on the 1st floor. However, because all the people were shouting something, it was difficult to communicate.
It was possible to get those interned on the Skaryszewska Street released, but it cost a lot of money. I know that my mother had been selling various things and bailed the father out. He was not sent to work in Germany. It seriously affected the financial situation of our family.
My brother, two years older than me, was already attending the Roesler School. It was the school of the Association of Merchants of Warsaw, a very good male school that prepared students to the profession of merchant. He also received an underground education. Naturally, the school was private, so one had to pay for it, as well as for the secret learning.
It had to be decided whether I should receive an underground education, for which we did not have money, or attend "play-for-time" 7th grade. As there was not actually any choice, I continued my education in primary school.
Almost everyone from the class was joining the Scouting Association, the underground "Szare Szeregi" (Grey Ranks) I took the oath in December, 1942. I was 13. It took place in the building at 23 Bracka Street. Now only an annex stands there. There is no facade, Back then there was one next to the Jablkowscy brothers' building, which has survived. In the right annex of this building I took the oath, becoming a member of the "Szare Szeregi".
We carried out different kinds of assignments. We painted "Polska Walczaca" anchors (anchors made of letters P and W, which stood for "Polska Walczaca - translator´s note), we spread leaflets. We searched for the passages that were always accessible and made escaping round-ups easier. When the Germans closed the streets and started catching people, such passages were priceless. For instance, in the Zgoda Street one came in a gate, then a yard, from which, after climbing stairs, one entered the ground floor flat, then the staircase and went out on the Szpitalna Street. Or a passage to the Nowy Swiat Street. There was a shopping precinct on the Chmielna Street from the Nowy Swiat Street. There were two cinemas, a lot of boutiques, and even large stores in that shopping precinct. It was a wealthy center. Using this passage one could get across from the Nowy Swiat Street on the Chmielna Street and the other way round.
Another passage led through the Blikle Café which is now situated in the same place on the Nowy Swiat Street. There was a café on the Nowy Swiat Street side, and a café-garden behind it. It was the outdoor part of the Blikle Café. In case of need one could jump over the small fence and get to the Gorski Street.
Various passages existed also in the Aleje Jerozolimskie. It was a densely built-up area, sometimes even with three internal yards. One could leave the first yard, which was surrounded by high buildings, through a gate and enter the second one, and then the third one, get on a clothes-horse, jump over a wall to reach a completely different place - the Poznanska Street or another. We searched for this kind of passages, described it, and often drew the additional sketch maps. This sort of knowledge was frequently useful in the moments of threat.
I perfectly remember that I also took part in securing a piano concert on the Jasna Street, next to the contemporary Philharmonic. There were tall houses. In a large flat in one of them a piano had been placed. A lot of eager people came to the concert. They were standing in the flat and on the stairs. A group of young people, including me, was secured the concert. We were standing guard nearby the building and watched whether a German patrol was coming. Then one passed the message to another and a performing artist stopped playing. When the threat disappeared, the music resounded again.
We were dealing with such things in those days. It could be interesting for young people, but it was not sufficient enough for me. I wanted to fight and I wanted to learn. In 1943 I graduated, but the war still lasted. I took a job in a craft workshop, in which 12 people worked. It was a shoe workshop, and I was learning for a job of shoe upper maker, which was a profitable profession in those times. The workshop had to make a quota of boots for the German soldiers. Because of this we all had good papers, which came in handy frequently.
Ausweis (identity card)
In the second part of 1943 I and my friends joined the Home Army (Armia Krajowa - AK). In the beginning of 1944 I received military training. We gathered in private flats, not more than 10 people at a time. We had lectures of Topography, Geographical Knowledge, Map Reading, and sketching. This was the most important - the ability to move about in the field. No one imagined fighting in the city, but solely in the open field. We were taught the ability to judge a distance with the help of trees and buildings. It made it possible to set the rifle's sight properly. It was very important.
All of my mates attended schools, those official, of economics or mechanics, or they worked. These squads were not like "Parasol" or "Zoska", which grouped the youth from the families of intellectuals, receiving an underground education. After those secret learning classes they would go to training. This is how the training of young people looked like.
Later came the fights in the ghetto, the ghetto fall and the transformation of this area into a debris pile. The terror of the situation prompted us all to dream about participating in the fight against the occupant. Anyway, this is what we were trained to do. Already in June, 1944 the atmosphere in Warsaw became more and more dense.
From Praga District, that is from the east, German troops were heading through Aleje Jerozolimskie to Dworzec Zachodni (the Warsaw West train station - translator's note). For the first time we saw Germans being fatigued and disheartened as they were being transported in cars, motorcycles, but mainly in carts dragged by horses. Back then the army used horse-carts a lot. Those Germans were completely different than the ones we had known. It was noticeable that it was a defeated army, retreating, in a planned manner, but retreating. Everyone was waiting for the moment when the uprising would begin.
The last straw that broke the camel's back was the German request calling on 100 000 men to dig ditches. I think it happened on July 27th. Of course, no one, or almost no one, responded to this request. Those who had come also ran away when they saw only the handful of people. Everyone feared that there would be a revenge. Just like when after the killing of Kutschera the citizens of Warsaw were laid under the contribution in the amount of PLN 100 million. The atmosphere before the uprising was very distinct. It seemed to everyone that we would defeat Germans easily and that we would be free, liberated.
translation: Pawe³ Boruciak
born: 1929.05.18, Warsaw
rifleman, a soldier of Armia Krajowa (Home Army)
battalion "Chrobry I"
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