First-hand accounts of the Warsaw Uprising
Memories of Janusz Hamerlinski - a soldier from "Kilinski" Battalion
Everyday, newspapers reported heavy and escalating fights for the PASTa building (no 33).
Germans defended it furiously. Because of the rubble everywhere, it was next to impossible to get directly to the building. The building was fired upon from windows of the houses on the opposite side of the street. Units from the 'Kilinski' battalion were involved in the attacks more frequently now. Our friends would come back knackered and not very talkative. The area was scattered with bodies. There was not much talk in our 'commando' squad. We expected to be thrown into action at any time. Into Hell! Finally the order came...
On Sunday 20 August we went to the barricade in Marszalkowska and Zielna Street under fire, fully armoured and to speak the truth, anxious and scared shitless. But before we could take positions we got an order to go back. PASTa had surrendered. We were quite happy our first 'Szare Szeregi' 'commando' squad mission ended that way.
The last ten days of August were filled with strong German attacks on the Old Town to get a passage to Kierbedzia Bridge. The fighter units with heavy casualties gradually lost their positions and started evacuation through the city sewer system to the city centre. One of the sewer exits in our area was in front of the barricade in Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street (no 26). The exit was completely exposed to the German positions. I guess that could have been one of the reasons the battalion attacked St. Cross Church and the Police Station taking them on 23 Aug. I didn't take part in it.
After taking those positions we started to receive the evacuees. I was on duty at the sewer hatch then and I do not know about how they were taken care of or what later happened to them.
When I was on duty I saw only armoured fighters, no civilians. I won't say here how exhausted and dirty they were, there have been better reporters than myself. But we, who hadn't experienced such heavy fights and bombardment were very impressed with their weapons, German camouflaged tops and the hardness in their eyes. Those guys hadn't given up yet!
The tragic situation at the Old Town had forced the HQs to organize the troops to make an 'upper' breakthrough - not through the sewers. It was decided to attack towards the Old Town - to meet the fighters half way.
It took place at night 30 - 31 Aug. I am not sure if the attack was planned to go through the Saski Garden, as the Germans had dug in there. I guess we were to go around those positions. The 'Kilinski' Battalion got to their positions along Graniczna Street overlooking Zelazna Brama Square.
On 30 Aug: we took positions in the basements of houses in Bagno or Prozna Street.
Correction - first we took some flats on the first floor with windows overlooking the street in the afternoon, and then we entered the basements in Krolewska Street. On my way to the position I proudly carried a British PIAT, much to the admiration of passers-by. In this flat on the first floor I practised pulling its firing spring - you did it with both hands holding its butt with both feet at the same time. Tough bugger! Unfortunately the PIAT was taken away from me and replaced with ... a smoke grenade. (Smoke grenade for a night battle???)
So equipped for combat with a pistol and a smoke grenade I sat with my mates in a basement corridor light heartedly flirting with jolly medic girls to the hiding civilians' disgust. Before the evening we got an order to go to 35 Krolewska Street where we were explained the task. It was more or less that: - 'follow the rubble (no 34) up to the burnt house (no 37) in Graniczna Street and stay there.
Our sappers will go before you and blow up the front wall of the taken by Germans house. Your job is to attack the house immediately after the explosion and then get to Grzybowski Sq.'
When it got pitch black - we went off. Just before we left we had been told 'no sappers unfortunately, no big deal though as there is a big hole in the basement wall and you will get to the Germans easily'.
Yeah right - no big deal...
Quietly one after another we go through the rubble (untouched from 1939 I guess), It is very dark and quiet... Finally we get to the burnt building but there still is a brick wall (no 36) separating us from it. It is attached to the front wall of the burnt house. To get to the basement we would have to get to the yard (at least we thought so) then to the gateway, then to look for the basement entrance. Yes, but just behind the brick wall was the tall front wall of the house taken by the Germans with a lot of ventilation windows from pantries or toilets. Quiet!!! A few minutes (maybe 10) I lay still under the brick wall, which was not too tall from our side as there was about 5 feet of rubble undert it. We will have to jump from the top to the concrete yard, but how?
The pistol in my right hand, the flipping smoke grenade in the other. I don't have a bag, the pocket is too small. The grenade is almost as big as a wine bottle obstructs and limits movements. So I leave it under the wall, let it stay there till the better times!
At a signal (whisper or gesture) one by one we get to the top of the brick wall and jump. The effect quite unexpected - the noise of boots hitting the concrete (some had hobnailed boots). Dull sound of bodies hitting the floor from a 7 foot drop. Occasionally somebody loses his helmet when touching down which rolls nicely clanging on the concrete. I jumped as one of the first ones, I also lost my helmet. With a cat's move I grab the 'pot' rolling away and jump to the left into the gateway. I take a deep breath and listen.
After a beautiful symphony of thuds, bangs and clangs there is a constant roar of exploding grenades. The Germans warned by our 'quiet' approach start to throw grenades through all of the ventilation windows. No casualties so far, apparently they ar using concussion grenades with a not very powerful blast. In the dark I can hear - ' take cover at the staircase!' Two jumps to the left and we are at the staircase of the burnt house. I moved with 'Wir' to a landing next to a window overlooking the yard. The sound of grenades is not getting any weaker. Suddenly a scream and loud moaning, one of ours got hit!
From the downstairs we can hear a frightened whisper - 'Jesus! He has both legs torn off!'
The unfortunate one asks for help, asking us to finish him off. None of us is brave enough to go and help him. After an hour or two he gets quiet. But how do we stop him bleeding to death? We would need a surgeon.
Maybe a quarter of an hour after we arrived there we receive a report:
'We have found the entrance to the basement and the hole to get to the next house, our objective'.
We can hear somebody downstairs giving an order to enter the basement carefully. Then through the thunder of the grenades we can clearly hear the clink of broken glass and sporadic machine gun bursts. Apparently the Germans put plates, jars, glasses and stuff like that in the corridor and their MG took position at the top of the corridor... So there was a surprise - but it was ours.
As there was no way to get through the MG barrage and it was impossible to approach with a grenade because of the sound of the broken glass when we moved, we had to give the attack up.
We remained on the stairs but the number of wounded increased. We saw it was quite easy to evacuate the wounded through the window next to me and 'Wir'. The window was more or less at the same level as top of the brick wall we had jumped through and maybe two feet away. If only we had known it earlier!
'Wir' moaned loudly as he was injured in the back. I guess I bandaged him (or someone else) and gave him to the medic girls waiting at the brick wall (and on top). I witnessed several, I guess more than ten wounded being evacuated this way. They were difficult hours. The thunder of the exploding grenades was not as powerful but still constant.
We spent one hour after another in complete stupor. What will happen when it gets brighter?
Suddenly I notice I can't lift my right hand. It is strangely inert but no blood. A sinew just refused to work - I had been taking rifles from the wounded. Now I can't lift my rifle. Should I fight with my left hand? Time to retreat.
Before I had time to think about it, an order came:
'Retreat to the previous positions!'
We approach the window and one by one, step on the top of the brick wall and hide behind the front wall of the burnt house - practically on the other side of the staircase. It is not that dark any more, though there are still stars in the sky.
I look around and to my terror I see a flame thrower section with all the equipment just next to me. Dear me - if it blows up? One accurate grenade launcher shot would be enough for us to burn like candles on a Christmas tree! Shortly afterwards we receive orders to come back to the quarters in Krolewska Street (no 35).
And this is a picture I will carry in my mind to my last breath.
Night, stars in the clear sky. I am sitting on a pile of burnt bricks. Three or four rifles on my back (I started the mission without any), right hand hanging to the ground. A medic girl is kneeling in front of me with her head on my lap, sobbing in distress. I have no idea if I ever met her before the action; a complete stranger.
After the war I learned that the next morning another attack was carried out, this time along the other side of Graniczna Street, practically in the open area. The guys hit the dirt under heavy fire from the windows of the same building we had tried to take the night before. They could only watch the flares signalling the directions for the German air force or artillery to attack. We had heavy losses. Maybe now a smoke grenade would be useful?
How about us, those withdrawn from the action? After giving our weapons back in the quarters in Krolewska Street, guys went different ways. 'Wir' was taken to 'hospital', 'Szczerba' and I went to a medical point in Prozna Street. Of course we had to walk there. 'Szczerba' was in deep shock (to tell the truth we all were) I was diagnosed with a minor sinew injury at the elbow.
I can vaguely remember the medical point was located in an extension in a flat on the first floor. We were given an injection and taken to a room with two or three beds with proper white sheets and pillows on them! It was first time since the beginning of the Uprising we could sleep in such luxury. And we slept 16 - 24 hours.
After we woke up we immediately wanted to go to our quarters in the Main Post Office. I couldn't go to my quarters as I was forced to remain in the medical point, also in the same building as the post office. I had my arm in a sling. I was given a nice, soft bed with the head at the eastern wall. There were also shelves, where the patients kept their personal belongings. I put my Zeiss binoculars in there on the best spot. I left them there...
I was admitted to the medical point on 1st Sept. In WO 'Trocki's bag such a report was found.
'Morski' after being examined by a doctor and treated for minor injuries taken to the medical point.
'Morski' was there from 30 August to 1st September.
The nurse in med point Krystyna 1st September 1944 - 9 company.
Probably the report is about me in Prozna Street, but 30th August? The action had taken place 30th at night, It was not finished before midnight, was it? Maybe we slept the whole day 31st August through.
And another report:
'By an order from WO 'Trocki', master corporal 'Drucik' lent me a rifle 96306. During the action in Graniczna Street. I gave private 'Morski' the rifle and along with the belt and 2 cartridges with about 60 rounds. Then after getting wounded he gave the weapon to private 'Kazik'. Then he by an order from WO 'Trocki' gave it to someone else.'
Three days between the 2nd and 4th September I spent doing nothing in the medical point. Blessed three days! I wouldn't be affected by any order from the Headquarters. I would wander around the medical point and try to 'hit on' the girls. And then 5th September came...
I was at the med-point. I was on my bunk when the air raid alarm sounded. I could hear loud orders to gather in the shelter at the main corridor of the building (p.22). But I thought those orders were not for me. So I stayed at the med-point as I was comfortable enough there. Better on the couch than crowding at the hall...
And then suddenly there is an explosion! Smoke is coming from the direction of the canteen. Then silence and some shouts ... a direct hit! Half conscious I run outside for the fresh air.
OK out there, no trace of bombs. But somebody is already trying to organize a rescue team.
Where? In this hell under bombs??? What about me, should I join them with my arm out of action? Rescue? Who? My fear and my sense of duty struggle with each other. I run to Warecka Street. The whole front of the building is destroyed. Buildings on the other side of the street are in flames. I stand there confused.
And then someone (man or woman, I can't remember) talks to me:
- We need to run away, I know how to get to Gorskiego Street. There is nothing we can do to help here!!'
We get through the backyard of a house we know (11 Warecka Street) - the back of the building is on fire. Through the gate (the first floor is on fire) we get to another backyard and from there to Gorskiego Street. Now it looks completely different - the buildings are not damaged.
I got led along Szpitalna Street to Bracka Street and got located at the northern part of the house at 18 Bracka Street on the first floor. On my way there I had learned that all my mates gathered in the shelter had got killed. The bomb had entered the building through a window on the first or second floor and exploded in the basement. That's the end.
I can remember myself sitting on a sofa with my Walther pistol in my hand wondering if I should shoot myself in the head. I can't remember anything else though I guess I didn't shoot as I am still alive.
Neither can I remember who it was who took care of me in Bracka Street, nor for how long.
I had nowhere to go, the company was finished. My CO WO'Trocki' was dead. 'Szczerba' was dead too. With my injured arm I am no good to any unit. There is only one way left - to Mother!
But then I had to get through Jerozolimskie Avenue first.
The crossing has been described very accurately in many publications. I am not going to repeat them. A ditch 2,5 foot deep with a low embankment across the street. Entrance through the basements from Widok Street. The exit from the basements through the front wall but lowered to the level of the embankment. There is a checkpoint to control the traffic there. The ditch was located a bit to the West from the crossing with Krucza Street. Some gunfire was coming from the main railway station and BGK (National Economy Bank) on Nowy Swiat Street.
I cross the ditch running and staying low. I get through the line of basements up to Nowogrodzka Street. Here is the exit to the fresh air. I come out in Krucza Street and stop myself amazed... A totally different world! Buildings not damaged, glass in the windows - even trees are green. Looking around I move forward along the west side of the street. I can't remember if it happened then or a few days later but I reached Wspolna Street.
Air raid! No, not an air raid, these are Stuka bombers coming back from bombing the Kosciuszko area. Some of the 1st Polish Army (LWP - coming from the East along with the Red Army) had landed there, what I didn't know about at the time. But later I witnessed disgusted Uprising fighters saying that those from General Berling threw their weapons away! In our reality it would have never happened. Well, apparently the boys were trained for field combat and didn't cope very well in street combat in the city. It was still a surprise they gave up especially as they would never have been lacking weapons.
The Soviet air force gave us some cover with their fighter aircraft. They would chase the Stuka bombers away from Powisle. As a result the Stuka bombers would hurry-scurry to the West dropping the bombs blindly. Many fell along Ksiazeca - Wspolna streets.
Standing there at the crossing of Krucza and Wspolna streets in front of me I could see St. Alexander's church at the Trzech Krzyzy Square. It was the church where I was christened. Suddenly I saw a Stuka bomber pulling up above the street and the bombs in the air. They disappeared in the church's roof. Then the church's walls slowly leaned forward on all four sides and after a moment of hesitation, hit the ground.
We were never to see the church in the shape from before the war ever again.
I went to Mother for convalescence, to 26 Hoza Street, to my own basement. I don't know if it was a good thing to do as a bombardment of that area from big rail mounted cannons had just started. One shell would demolish a whole building from its very foundations. This way, the odd number side of Hoza Street was destroyed, and half of Skorupki Street was also annihilated.
In times in between bombardments we 'lived' at our flat on the ground floor. Andrzej Wolski - a soldier from the Parasol unit visited us from time to time. He had participated in the fights of Wola and the Old Town. He was very taciturn and depressed.
It was not safe there. I just couldn't sit tight, maybe it was just the wanderlust I was born with or my instinct, but going to different streets of southern side of the city centre I never got into a bombarded area.
One of those trips I can remember with clarity. I went to the attic of a building on the corner of Krucza and Piusa XI Street. It was a tall building providing a great view to Saska Kepa. But you couldn't see too much with a naked eye: foggy Vistula river banks, some trench lines, some shapes - maybe tanks? - and Russian Yak fighters in the air.
I have to admit - yes, there were air drops. It was a really impressive and spectacular view when Polish and English heavy bombers arrived. They would come low surrounded with swarms of colourful beads - anti-aircraft explosions. The aircraft had their position lights on. Although I never experienced a drop personally, my only participation was only carrying the Piat on 30th August.
In mid September air drops from the East started - Kukuruznik aircraft (Po-2). They would fly on moonless nights with their engines throttled back, dropping ammo, Pepesha submachine guns and anti-tank rifles in bags without parachutes. They also dropped savoury biscuits. The equipment usually reached us with no problems but the long rifles would bend horribly when they hit the ground.
One calm evening my mum went to see her neighbour at a house nearby. There was the main chimney maintenance door in the basement where everybody was. While she was there, there was some commotion at the yard - people would look at the sky. Some were signalling with their electric torches. Suddenly we could hear a muffled detonation nearby and a slow roar of an aircraft flying away. Just a moment later my mum came back flashing her eyeballs. Other than that she was as black as coal. The detonation had blown all the soot from the chimney onto everybody in the basement.
I can't remember how long I was convalescing, I guess no more than a week. But I must have been at mum's on 18th September again if from Hoza Street I could see the powerful raid of the Flying Fortresses and that enormous 'carpet drop' of parachute containers. Germans were firing like crazy.
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
Copyright © 2011 Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz. All rights reserved.