Uprising Witness Accounts
From Czerniakow to Mokotow in Warsaw on fire: Lidia Markiewicz-Ziental and Andrzej Borowciec uprising accounts
Editor's note: Although the co-authors started the uprising of 1944 in different areas of Warsaw, transfers and the amalgamation of units due to losses, eventually brought them together in the same combat company.
Lidia Markiewicz-Ziental, born in Warsaw 17 December 1929,
Lidia Markiewicz-Ziental, born in Warsaw 17 December 1929, pseudonym "Lidka." Following university studies in Poland she became a lawyer and now lives near Warsaw.
Lidka's version of the events in Czerniakow and Mokotow
Decimated by heavy fighting for every street and building of Warsaw's Old Town, the "Radoslaw" battle group which included the remnants of my "Zoska" battalion, withdrew through the sewers to the city's centre. After a few days' rest, we were ordered to deploy in the suburb of Czerniakow on the banks of the Vistula where, until then, fighting had been limited. Our task was to secure the river banks to facilitate help from the other side - at that stage the uprising's main hope.
I had joined the conspiratorial scout movement Szare Szeregi (Grey Ranks) at the beginning of 1942. Formed just after Warsaw surrendered in September 1939, by 1942 the movement had 840 scouts , most of them active in information gathering, anti-Nazi propaganda and small acts of sabotage. The growth of the movement, despite stringent measures by the occupation authorities, required a major re-organization according to age: those under 15 in "Zawisza," from 15 to 18 in "Battle Schools," and the older scouts, after preliminary training, formed "Attack Groups" (Grupy Szturmowe," (GS) credited with some of the most daring acts of sabotage and execution of Gestapo agents. The GS units were usually identified by the names of their founders or leaders. Thus my "Zoska" battalion carried the pseudonym of its founder, (real name Tadeusz Zawadzki,) killed in action.
I was trained in the basics of first aid duties and joined the battalion on the third day of the uprising, despite the initial opposition of lieutenant "Giewont" (Miroslaw Cieplak) because of my age.( I was not quite 15.) In the end he relented and accepted me in his 3rd company. I took part in heavy fighting in the suburb of Wola and in the ruins of the Ghetto, where we liberated about 350 Jews from different European countries. A number of them joined our battalion.
A historian of the uprising described "Zoska" as symbolizing "exceptional moral values and exceptionally high combat losses. Its atmosphere was highly idealistic." In the uprising "Zoska" lost about 300 members, killed or missing. Among the dead were the three company commanders and 48 scout masters.
In the Old Town, the battalion took part in the uprising's most deadly battles. The makeshift hospitals were crowded, and included German prisoners, whom we treated like our own. The bombing and shelling were uninterrupted. A large part of my company - 32 people including Giewont, the company commander - were crushed in the ruins. Toward the end of August we made our way through the sewers to the centre of the city. It was a different world after the ruins of the Old Town - the streets were clean, there was glass in the windows. Then we moved to Czerniakow, where I was assigned to the squad of Mietek (Tadeusz Stopczynski) , consisting of boys of 16 and 17 years of age. It was there that I met Zych (Andrzej Borowiec).
The units forming the Radoslaw group had become increasingly skeletal but kept their initial names: "Zoska," "Parasol," Czata," "Broda." After a few days peace, a veritable hell exploded. One after another the buildings we defended fell to the enemy. My unit defended one such building on Okrag Street (no. 2) which was supposed to be held as long as possible. On 16th September a "goliath" (small tank loaded with explosives) struck the front wall of the building. Amidst shouts, screams , calls for help and clouds of dust, Mietek, Zych and I tried in vain to rescue those buried in the ruins. The Germans barred access to the half-shattered building while their planes bombarded us constantly.
Those were the blackest days of the Zoska battalion. Among the members of the Giewont company who reached Czerniakow, only three survived. There were three survivors of the battle for the bridgehead, including Mietek and Zych. Also taking part in the hopeless struggle were soldiers from the "Berling Army", formed by the Soviet Union in eastern Poland in villages recently freed from German occupation. They died massively, untrained and unprepared for urban combat.
I was in despair, despite Zych's efforts to console me. All around us were the corpses of our colleagues and of Berling soldiers. I have no idea how I survived those hours and days. I was wounded in my hand and abdomen, and one by one boys from my squad were falling. Our chaplain, Father Pawel, was with us, praying and trying to comfort us. The Germans started dropping phosphorous bombs, causing painful burns, singed hair and eyebrows . It became impossible to help the wounded. There were no medicines, no bandages, no water or food. The stench in the cellar turned into a hospital became impossible. Faced with such a situation, Colonel "Radoslaw" (Jan Mazurkiewicz) ordered us to carry the wounded to the river and load them onto boats that would take them to the other side of the Vistula. We were unable to find any officers. "Kajtus," a colleague suggested that I go with him and try to swim across. I declined, because I didn't know how to swim!
Colonel "Radoslaw" ordered "Mietek," "Zych" and "Wacek" (Waclaw Tarlowski) to join his protective unit and prepare to withdraw through the sewers to Mokotow. He also promised to send a courier for the rest of us but she never turned up. I was left alone with the wounded in the stifling, smelly cellar. When, the following morning I went to the courtyard in search of water, I was stunned by the strange, almost eerie silence. I was literally at the end of my tether when an officer, Lieutenant "Maly,"(Janusz Stolarski) who had joined us from one of the partisan units in eastern Poland (27thDivision), ordered me to leave the wounded and follow him to the wreck of the river boat Bajka in the Vistula, thus saving my life. Only a narrow strip of Czerniakow was still in our hands. After nightfall, "Maly" took me to the sewer manhole where a courier from Radoslaw waited to lead us in small groups to Mokotow,. There I joined "Mietek, "Zych" and "Wacek." After several days of quiet, new fighting swept Mokotow.
The remnants of the "Zoska" and "Parasol" battalions took part in an attack by Mokotow units to recapture an area seized by the Germans the day before and known as Krolikarnia. We fought there and later around what looked like a chemical factory, under constant mortar fire. Some of us sought shelter in the murky nooks filled with machines, where "Mietek" was wounded in the hand. Minutes later another mortar shell burst, wounding "Zych."
I rushed to help him and saw that the red stain on his German army grey-green trousers growing . He did not want to take his trousers off or allow me to cut through them. Then, a shower of grenades exploded over us. I was hit in the face, in the right cheek and one side of my nose. I washed the blood off my face and remember asking if someone had a mirror. I then saw that I had a hole in my cheek but my nose was in one piece. I put on a dressing by myself and later Dr. "Brom" (Zygmunt Kujawski) promised plastic surgery "after the war." (There was no need for it.) I did not ask for any help and saw that girl medics took care of "Zych."
We remained until the end in Mokotow, I was suffering from a high fever as well as was "Zych." "Mietek" had his arm in a sling and looked very weak. We received an order to move to the sewers - my third such experience. But the first sewer trip from the Old Town had been different: I was surrounded by many colleagues and friends , the evacuation was well organized. This time it was chaos, crowds of civilians were trying to enter the manhole with fur coats, suitcases and bundles. It was hard to describe or imagine the hell we suffered. For hours we erred in the pitch black sewers tripping over suitcases and bodies. We lost our guide, people were trying to get out at all costs, mumbling curses and prayers. Smeared with the stinking grease we finally found an exit but it was barred. Then someone shouted "we have found the guide!"
We left the sewers after 14 hours, many others did not succeed because the Germans dumped carbide through manholes. Many participants in the uprising were left to die in those sewers. When, finally, we emerged in the wide Aleje Ujazdowskie, teams of medics took us to hospitals, Later, Colonel "Radoslaw" assembled the survivors of his battle group for a briefing but firing erupted in the area. One bullet struck Lieutenant "Maly" who died instantly.
The capitulation of the city centre was announced on 2nd October. I left with the civilian population in a transport of sick, wounded and old people. "Zych," who remained in Mokotow , was taken prisoner there and "Mietek" went to the camp with the units from the city centre. After their liberation, the two met in 1946 when they served in the army of General Wladyslaw Anders in Italy.
translated by Andrew Borowiec
Andrzej (Andrew) Borowiec, born in Lodz 24 September 1928
Andrzej (Andrew) Borowiec, born in Lodz 24 September 1928. University studies in the United States (master's degree from Columbia University), worked for U.S. media as a foreign correspondent, covering conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Viet Nam. Lives in Cyprus and France. Borowiec (from Czerniakow to Mokotow in Warsaw on fire
The Warsaw suburb of Czerniakow stretches for over a kilometre along the western bank of the Vistula below the main road and railway bridges. Normally sleepy and seemingly distant from the bustle which characterizes big cities, in September 1944 Czerniakow was burning. Smoke from burning buildings and from artillery explosions shrouded the autumnal sky. Small boats from the eastern suburb of Praga, recently seized by the Soviet army, were still making their way hesitantly toward burning Czerniakow , hoping to bring help to the dying anti-Nazi uprising. Andrew Borowiec
elaborated: Wojciech Włodarczyk
In the boats soldiers in long khaki overcoats were from eastern Poland , recently conscripted peasants who had rarely - if ever - seen a big city and now were staring at ruins which would soon become the graves of many of them. Their "people's army," under Soviet command, had come too late, and without adequate means to be of effective succour to the Poles fighting since the 1st of August, while the capital crumbled around them. Besides, for political reasons of which they were not aware at the time, the Soviet Union defiantly procrastinated with the rescue operation, thus condemning Warsaw and its anti-communist Polish fighters to death-and also helping the Nazis.
September 19, 1944. Several images of the last days of the struggle for control of the bridgehead: an anti-tank gun abandoned by its crew near the shore; long machinegun volleys from the German positions sweeping the grey surface of the river; near the shack that had once served as a garage, the body of Romek, the latest victim of my tattered squad, unburied; in the cellar of a half-ruined building , Polish Home Army lieutenant colonel Radoslaw, commander of the diminishing sector, shouted into the telephone "and how am I going to feed my 200 men?" That was all remaining in action from the three thousand young men and women whom Radoslaw had led through one doomed sector of Warsaw to another. Except that the initial élan and patriotic euphoria had given way to robot-like efforts to survive - with diminishing hope.
In the falling dusk we managed to repel a German attack on Radoslaw's headquarters. I fired my Soviet rifle a number of times and threw one hand grenade. There were three wounded prisoners in Luftwaffe uniforms (also worn by the anti-aircraft artillery). We gave them water from a field flask and together we cursed Hitler.
It was close to midnight when one of the officers announced that we were to withdraw through the sewers, to Mokotow, a residential suburb in the southern part of Warsaw which was still in the hands of the insurgents. There was no sign that the Russians on the other side of the river were either prepared to evacuate us across or to increase pressure on the Germans in order to hold the crucial bridgehead.
During those last hours of the battle for the bridgehead, massacred units were amalgamated, their leaders were dead or wounded, and different officers were constantly taking over. The remaining few boys from the squad of ten at the start of September, were our leader, 17-year old "Mietek" (Tadeusz Stopczynski) who inducted me to the conspiratorial "Battle Schools" six months before the uprising: "Wacek" (Waclaw Tarlowski) with whom I participated in a number of assignments including carrying messages through the sewers; and 15-year-old "Lidka," (Lidia Markiewicz) an intrepid para-medic who took part in some of the uprising's bloodiest battles . As we prepared to move toward the sewer entrance, I noticed that Lidka was not in our group. In fact, as it transpired, at that moment she was on the half-submerged river ferry "Bajka" hoping to cross to the other side.
The manhole was close to the river and we formed a reasonably orderly line outside it. Somehow, the artillery fire subsided. When I reached the gaping hole of the sewer and peered inside, I saw our colonel ankle-deep in the smelly mud, holding up a lantern and shouting "Get back! Next convoy at 1 a.m." I withdrew and the others followed me. About an hour later, spent in a damaged building filled with wounded and healthy insurgents, someone shouted "advance to the sewer." Unexpectedly, shortly after we emerged into the humid, smoke permeated, night, artillery shells began to explode ahead and behind us. The intensity of fire was unusual for the middle of the night because the Germans preferred to fight in daytime, apparently to give their troops rest.
This time there was no question of an orderly approach to the sewer entrance ,with , what had become a virtually unruly crowd clawing its way to the hole which loomed almost as the gate to paradise. I don't remember how I managed to reach it and then climb down on an iron ladder with my unwieldy rifle and a sack full of ammunition and grenades. (The rucksack with my meagre personal belongings was left in one of the ruined buildings.)
We found ourselves in what was known as a "storm sewer" - a large sewer intended to gather the overflow of water after rain. Parts of it were lined with boards to facilitate walking and, here and there ,were electric lights - although by then most of Warsaw's power supply was paralysed. Girls posted at intersections with other sewers warned us of areas where the Germans had raised the water level by dropping sandbags. This filthy "water" never reached my thighs.
After the slow, five-hour advance through Warsaw's underground labyrinth we emerged into the bucolic, sun-lit suburban atmosphere of Mokotow. An insurgent in grey overalls and armed only with a pistol, smiled. Girls with clean hair distributed cups of warm liquid - tea or soup, it didn't matter. The distant rattle of a machine gun seemed almost irrelevant. We sat on piles of logs, virtually dazed. A post-war author described us as "so exhausted that for the time being they were incapable of combat duty." In the evening of that untroubled day, lieutenant colonel Karol reported to the AK command in the city centre the "withdrawal, through the sewers to me, of Radoslaw with some 200 men, half of them wounded. I recommended that he should organize them into two companies."
A group of about 30 of us was given a billet in an empty two-story apartment building near a park. Shortly after our arrival, our medic Lidka turned up smiling, with Mietek, twice -wounded leader of our squad massacred in Czerniakow . They had left Czerniakow in another "sewer convoy." We spent a quiet afternoon and night in what seemed an unreal world.
Until then, Mokotow was comparatively untouched by the fighting which had devastated other parts of Warsaw. Home Army (AK) members there wore grey overalls from a captured Luftwaffe depot while most of my unit had German camouflage jackets from another military store. Food was becoming scarce but we soon discovered nearby "allotments" which the local population avoided, claiming they were "under enemy fire." Ignoring such warnings, we raided them, securing potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes. We cleaned our weapons (unlike many AK units our group was completely armed, including two light machine guns) quarrelled with civilians about the priority at water wells (regular water supply stopped several days before) and I nursed a sore throat, residue of tonsillitis a month before the uprising. A doctor's prescription proved useless - medicines were lacking and only paper bandages were available.
On the 24th September (my 16th birthday), the precarious peace of Mokotow came to an abrupt end. Artillery shells exploded practically everywhere, Stuka dive bombers dominated the sky, the local population rushed to the cellars. Groups of Mokotow defenders in their grey overalls raced in the direction of reported enemy breakthroughs. It looked like a decisive attack, in keeping with the enemy's strategy of seizing one sector of the city after another rather than all at the same time. Thus it was clear that Mokotow's turn had come after that of Czerniakow.
We were soon near the sensitive "front line," in a massive school building (Woronicza street) used as German barracks during the occupation. While waiting for orders, a "goliath" rammed the building, causing deaths and serious damage. (Goliaths were small tanks loaded with explosives directed by cable from "mother tanks.") A brick from the ceiling fell straight on my head, fortunately protected by a German helmet. I remember helping carry a stretcher with a moaning wounded who had lost a leg.
At dusk, in the macabre atmosphere of yet another cellar, we were addressed by "lieutenant Maly," one of the most respected officers, who spoke of the need for "a last effort" to regain the lost position which apparently represented the key to Mokotow's defense. We received vodka (which I, as a scout, did not drink) and pieces of bacon before deploying in open terrain beyond the line of suburban houses. I found myself in a large bomb crater with Maly, Lidka and one or two others, when a flare knifed across the sky. Cupping his hands, Maly shouted "attack" and almost immediately we heard the "hurrahs" of the first line and grenade explosions. Minutes later, as we advanced, a forest of German flares illuminated the battlefield while heavy machinegun fire swept the area, paralyzing all movement. Yet some boys continued to move forward while the wounded crawled toward the rear. Once more we became aware of the weakness of poorly armed insurgents against a powerful enemy in open terrain. Gradually, the attack ceased, leaving its objective in enemy hands.
Soon a dense fog shrouded the area. I remember manning a machinegun with two others in the doorway of an apartment building and hearing shouts in German and Polish "don't shoot" while the two sides picked up their wounded and dead. We then moved toward the north of the embattled suburb, taking position outside a factory filled with dust-covered machinery (on Wiktorska street) - just as the Germans approached, firing and throwing hand-grenades. I stared with disbelief at the blood on my right hand and felt blood trickling into one of my boots. My first thoughts were "they finally got me" and surprise that it didn't hurt much. But within minutes the courtyard outside the factory was showered by mortar shells and I felt strong, almost unbearable, pain under my right knee, forcing me to virtually roll on the ground. Lidka rushed to me and as she tried to pull off my right boot, another shell burst nearby. I saw Lidka's face covered with blood and watched as she fell backwards.
A para-medic from another unit bandaged our wounds and both of us declined to go to a "hospital," usually a very primitive installation in a cellar. Instead we were shown the new billet of our unit (to which I managed to limp) and we lay down on the only bed available. I had a fever and felt like hell and watched when Lidka, from time to time, lifted the corner of the bandage on her face and studied her wound in a pocket mirror.
The following day we learned of another sewer retreat, this time to the city centre - one of the last bastions of the dying Polish capital. I reached the manhole (Szustra street) limping and leaning on two young girls, watching a growing crowd, including secretaries with files and portable typewriters as well as civilians with suitcases. I realized that my leg wound would make any sewer trip impossible and asked a lieutenant for permission to remain in Mokotow, regardless of the situation. I watched the remnants of my unit disappear one by one into the sewer, warning me "the Germans will get you." It was almost night when I saw a red cross flag on one building which turned out to be "a hospital." It was filled with bandaged young men waiting their turn to go into the sewer. Nurses stripped me of all my German equipment, including boots and camouflage jacket as well as my Home Army identity card.
In the morning, after incessant all-night shelling, we learned that "Major Zryw," Mokotow's last commander, had surrendered ,having obtained a guarantee from a German general (Rohr) to treat the prisoners on the basis of the Geneva convention - not as "bandits."
We were the first significant group of resistance fighters in occupied Europe to be granted such a concessions by the Nazis.
Borowiec (from Czerniakow to Mokotow in Warsaw on fire
The Warsaw suburb of Czerniakow stretches for over a kilometre along the western bank of the Vistula below the main road and railway bridges. Normally sleepy and seemingly distant from the bustle which characterizes big cities, in September 1944 Czerniakow was burning. Smoke from burning buildings and from artillery explosions shrouded the autumnal sky. Small boats from the eastern suburb of Praga, recently seized by the Soviet army, were still making their way hesitantly toward burning Czerniakow , hoping to bring help to the dying anti-Nazi uprising.
elaborated: Wojciech Włodarczyk
Copyright © 2010 SPPW1944. All rights reserved.