First-hand accounts of the Warsaw Uprising
Memories of Janusz Hamerlinski - a soldier from "Kilinski" Battalion
Our section included:
Janusz Komorowski - "Wir"
Olgierd Michalowski - "Smuga"
Romuald Dobracki - "Szczerba"
Janusz Hamerlinski - "Morski"
Henryk Byga - "Sek" - from Lorentz too, "Zakrzewski" and "Marian" (not sure if the same section though). Later, during alerts we met other members of the squad: rifleman 1st class "Maszynka", warrant officers "Roj" and "Winnicjusz", riflemen "Spedytor", "Jaksa" and (to our surprise) "Sek".
Originally the Section Leader was "Wir"
Deputy Section Leader - "Morski"
Squad Leader - officer cadet "Czarny" (Great guy, he got reassigned though).
Later - officer cadet Roman Troszok alias alias "Trocki" - took care of his men exceptionally with his deputy WO "Czarny".
165 Platoon Leader - Military Police Sergeant "Abel",
Company CO - officer cadet "Frasza"
Battalion CO - Calvary Captain "Leliwa".
At the beginning we did a recruit course, then infantry squad commanding course, and even the rules of a platoon engagement. We were to start an officer course in August 1944.
Around mid 1943 finally "Mateusz" left us.
We had several "classrooms" - at my flat, no 2 on the ground floor the front of 26 Ho¿a Street, then on the west side of Jerozolimskie Avenue (between Ujazdowskie Avenue and Szucha Avenue, at the cross-road) and my favourite one - on the slope of Agrykola Street opposite the Botanic Garden.
I can remember we had several classes in a house at the side of Marszalkowska Street somewhere close to Nowogrodzka Street.
It was quite laughable to see groups of young (17-18 of age) boys on the slope or in the Avenue casually lying or sitting, under the supervision of somebody "older" (20 something) and quietly discussing something in rays of the sunset. You wouldn't guess they were just doing "intense" testing of tactics or weaponry knowledge. And not further then 12 -18 feet from Germans passing by.
One hundred percent safe: sometimes you could see a real grown up joining the meeting, perhaps an inspection from the platoon or even company CO. How people spent free time after school in those days! The lecturers were OC "Trocki" and quite often Capt. "Abel". One of the unforgettable (and often repeated) cautions was "what a military policeman should have in his bag". We liked it a lot.
Finally there was an unsuspected set-back:
Around 20 Jan.1944 in the morning we had a maths class in my flat. There were eight boys and a teacher - an older man with a white beard, from Rejtan High School. Janusz Komorowski "Wir" is here with me. I am not sure if Dobracki "Szczerba" was with us.
There was our section meeting planned for the afternoon - also at my home, OC "Trocki" was to bring two pistols: a parabellum and a Vis or Mauser to have a practical lesson.
During the lesson my Mother comes in and says: "Boys - police!"
I couldn't believe it, what police? Polish, German? Maybe I just misheard? Because Mother went out into the long hall I followed her to learn what's going on. An there is a little man in civilian clothes with a gun in his hand passing me and shouting: ""Hände hoch!"and pointing the gun at the boys. I am standing behind him and thinking: "I am going to hit you in your flipping head, buddy", but I don't know if there is anybody else in the flat nor if it is covered outside.
So I just watch what the dwarf is going to do. When he saw eight bulky men he got nervous, big time. His gun-hand got shaky, he jumped on the sofa, jumped off and back on. With a trembling hand he produced a second gun from his pocket. Then he calmed down a bit. Because I could hear other German voices somewhere in the flat I came back to the room. Passing the brave Gestapo agent at some distance I calmly raised my hands. Only now, after a while, more agents appeared, they frisked us, the guns disappeared and the initial interrogation started:
"You are all bandits!"
"No, we are not! We are just learning mathematics. Look - here are our exercise books!"
"What do you need mathematics for?"
"We are doing professional courses and want to improve our marks."
Honestly, we despised the German school and we all had the worst possible marks, but were straight A students in the underground Polish high school.
After an hour or two we were taken in Pawiak (a prison in Pawia St.) and Gestapo searched the flat thoroughly. They left the flat only about twenty minutes before planned meeting! OC "Trocki" with the guns came first. Fortunately, Mother told him everything.
As we learned later, Germans were looking for members of the Polish Underground Government. Because Komorowski's father was hiding and he was not at home, the Gestapo asked about his son. Somebody at the house said stupidly "He is at Hamerlinski's"
So it resulted with our arrest. But it could have been much worse.
We spent six weeks at Pawiak, later at Arbeitsamt and Skaryszewska Street before we were allowed back home. Surprisingly Germans were honest enough not to take any bribe and during the interrogation in Szucha Avenue they never asked the same question to more than two boys.
During our "compulsory visiting public objects under German management" our parents (mine and "Wir"s) were frequently visited by OC "Trocki" asking about us and offering financial help from AK funds for "feeding the prisoners".
Our release from Pawiak was quite an experience itself. The timetable in Pawiak worked according to German "ordnung" - specific times to go to toilet, tidy our cells, have a small meal and...
about 9.00 - being taken to Gestapo Headquarters in Szucha Aveue, for an interrogation;
about 11.00 - being taken to be shot;
at night - being taken to "Lagers" - concentration camps.
So every time we could hear the sound of a key in the lock, it meant a very specific purpose of the visit. No surprises.
I forgot to say just after being arrested, almost all of us were in one cell in the basement with the maths teacher. It was in the basement and before the war it had been a cell designed to hold just one person The Germans would often squeeze in up to eight people. Only one of us was put elsewhere for the lack of room, that was Kazimierz Kielpinski (a soldier of "Parasol" - who was killed in the Uprising).
Therefore within first seven days we could easily agree to what we should say to match each others "testimonies" - because the first interrogation in Szucha Avenue. took place only on the eighth day after the arrest. After next seven days we were "promoted" to the first floor cells. Then they put us into crowded cells but only two of us in each of them. Then I got separated from "Wir".
The new cell was bright and quite big, out looking to the back yard. The windows were high under the ceiling and they would shoot with no warning if anybody tried to look out. Quite a spacious cell, built for 10 people was inhabited by 35 prisoners.
We killed time in many ways - playing bridge: playing cards were forbidden so we used cards made from cardboard boxes. We played chess using pieces made from soap, we spent time talking and most often making little things.
I, for instance, observed and learned the art of making ...slippers out of several items:
the sole was made from a rationed blanket,
the top was made out of a hat belonging to a prisoner, a Ukrainian soldier,
decoration came from a tie belonging to professor Bryla (killed in Pawiak).
leather stitch cover- out of a belt from a Jewish confidant shot by Germans.
I also learned how to light a cigarette without any matches. That's the way to do it - you need two stools - one on the floor the other upside-down on top of the first. You put a piece of wool (the best was from an insulated coat) between the seats and pushing down hard you would rub one stool against the other just like in a mangle. After a short while the wool would glow red. Then you would have to blow onto it and try to get a dry piece of linen rag to catch fire from the sparks. Results guaranteed! We always had a stock of those rags kept in sealed empty shoe polish tins.
Apart from specific times when people were taken from the cells, there were times when prisoners were called to the register office to be let out. It didn't happen very often though. During my four week stay in the cell people were taken to be shot three times and only one person was released.
Once, shortly after Kutschera's death (SS General and Gestapo Leader in Warsaw - assassinated by Polish Resistance in Feb. 1944), Pawiak witnessed a time of mass executions (regardless of many gallows in the city). I can remember I was playing cards with excellent players, and all I was thinking of was the game, I was trying to get rid of the cards as quick as possible, the game was very fast!
A creak of a key in the door lock. The cards under the blankets momentarily, a double row perfectly set.
"Achtung! Zelle nr ... belegt mit 35 Häftlinge - Alle anwesend!"
The prisoner on duty reports everybody present. Then our best player was taken. But there is still a commotion in the hall. After a while the sound of the key again. Who this time? Two were taken. They called out "Goodbye lads, take our stuff".
And they are gone. After half an hour we can hear carbine salvoes. Farewell boys! Grave silence at the cell. Suddenly the key turns in the lock a third time. Such a thing had never happened before! Our nerves are wracked to the extreme, the suspense is unendurable. Is it me this time? No, somebody else... The salvoes again. We called them "dropping tin". When we would arrange to see each other on the third shelf from the top at Schicht (funeral services) it sounded like a good joke at the time. Now, up close, this all looks different; it is not funny anymore.
The only moment we could relax was when we were going to sleep. We would arrange hay sacks on the floor (less than prisoners - about twenty) after lights out, one of us would tell stories from movies. There was a Jew among us who had excellent memory for movies and novels. I could verify it because once he told us an adventure story which I had read very shortly before getting arrested. The dialogues were almost exactly word for word!
Our release was a total surprise because we were called out at 16.30, a very unusual time. This wasn't in step with the regular German timetable. We were almost out of our minds with fear, but the guard was smiling, something was different. Our cell mates quickly whispered their addresses so we could notify their families, a traditional kick ... in the butt (not to come back) and again we all found ourselves in a prison truck. Germans (SD) furious, because somebody had forgotten to release us in the morning and now, poor things, they had to work overtime! Barking the same way as their German shepherd dogs they brought us to the Arbeitsamt (German office for sending slave workers off to Germany) in Kredytowa Street. We are standing nicely facing the wall, hands up. For an attempt to turn your head you usually would get hit at the back of your head. Suddenly, we heard "Sit down gentlemen."
What's this? Provocation? Nobody moves until again: "Sit down, why are you standing?"
Cautiously we turn our heads - they are our guys! Polish Police. No green uniforms (SD), not a single one. What a relief! So we sat down, and the policemen knowing where we came from immediately offered their services in shopping! Two of them left at once to buy some cigarettes. Apart from our group of nine, which included the professor, there were a few more ex-prisoners. Just about a dozen people. Checking the paperwork and vacancies took about two hours, and they finished at about 19.00.
These who had "strong" documents were released to go home and the rest who had only their school IDs - no Arbetsscheins - were listed to go to Germany to work in the camps. There were ten of us.
Because it was late in the evening and the temporary camp offices in Skaryszewska St. were already closed, the Polish Police was to take care of us. The policemen were undecided about what to do with us. OK, there is a decision - they are taking us to the precinct in Szpitalna Street (on the corner of Przeskok Street and Buduena Street.)
To make sure we wouldn't try to escape they handcuffed us in pairs and off we went. Along Szpitalna Street and Napoleona Square. It was a weird and unforgettable sight, one of a kind. Just imagine - ten cuffed prisoners in clothes and hats horribly crumpled after too many steam cleanings, marching briskly and smiling widely, escorted by several policemen!
We attracted obvious interest, so in Napoleona Square which was a centre of illegal gold, gems and foreign currency trade, two thugs who seemed to come from the lowest kind of scum approached us and asked: "Where are you from, boys?"
"And where to?"
"To the precinct"
And they were gone.
In the precinct we were asked nicely to move behind the barrier (from the side of the cells) and the registration procedure started (as we were to stay overnight). Suddenly the door bursts open and four trouble makers get in and... one carries rings of sausage, two - a basket of bread rolls and the next - 2 litres of vodka!
"Eat and drink, boys and tell us addresses, phone numbers and who to notify!"
In the morning all our families waited for us outside, to join us - a cuffed convoy in one tram (sic!) to the camp in Skaryszewska St. The policemen didn't try to interfere, on the contrary, we had spent the night in an open cell, and we could do whatever we wanted. They had asked us only not to cross the barrier in case they had an inspection; we could easily get them in trouble if we did.
In Skaryszewska we created a small sensation as they didn't see "guests" from Pawiak very often. So the call "The Ten From Pawiak" sounded in all corridors and we were treated as aristocrats from then on. For us clean blankets (a real rarity in the camp), for us extra portions of nutritious soup, for us an offer to be cell leaders (we refused politely).
We had to have obligatory chest x-rays and our families paid a small sum of money to have them "fixed" so that we looked unfit to work. Subsequently, after a few days we were released to go home having been classified unsuitable to work for the Great German Reich. It was the beginning of March 1944.
After a fortnight of rest we restarted the military training in our section. First, drill alerts for our squad took place. Then we met our boys from other sections. We made new friends. We soon finished the squad leadership course and started a platoon tactical fight course. We found a new place for meetings as our headquarters believed that in spite of our release from Pawiak, my flat could still have been under German surveillance.
In April or May you could notice slight nervousness and anxiety in our leadership. They stopped talking about our possible actions in case the Uprising started. But at the same time, our reconnaissance patrols became more intense. Each section was given one German manned object to observe. Our section was responsible for an approach to a small workshop or a factory (or maybe warehouse) in a little side-street off Wolska Street. The factory was placed in the south west from Wolska Street (odd house numbers).
We worked the reconnaissance by taking hour-long walks swapping pairs. One patrol would take three hours. We pretended to be bored boys having nothing better to do but talk and argue. Quite often the "disputants" would stop and gesture lively, looking at the world around with no interest. During each walk we would note numbers of people at German strongholds, shift changeover times, the routines of the guards, entering and leaving vehicles, etc.
The final reconnaissance report would include a drawing of the situation plans, possible ways of hidden approach, places to wait for action, suitable spots for sharpshooters supporting the attack directions and order of strikes. We didn't know then, that we would be used in a totally different area of the city. We were convinced the attack plans we were producing were to be used by our own group so we fulfilled our tasks very carefully. I have no idea if anybody used our plans.
Already in June our leaders started to tell us that because of the Red Army approaching the city from the east they didn't know if the order to start the Uprising would come at all. Maybe we would have to go underground even deeper.
Neither us nor our leaders liked it. We all couldn't wait to start the fight. Throughout all the training we never took part in any real action, yet we learned about many examples of great actions and fights from underground newspapers. We desperately wanted to do our part.
redaction: Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz
translation: Wojciech Hamerlinski
born 2 July 1926 in Warsaw
private of Armia Krajowa (Home Army) - AK
III squad, 165 platoon,
"Szare Szeregi" Company
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