First-hand accounts of the Warsaw Uprising
Memories of Janusz Hamerlinski - a soldier from "Kilinski" Battalion
Unfortunately, my notes dating back to this period are incomplete. Of course, I had kept record of them! But when the camp had to be evacuated, I destroyed them in fear of a possible revision. So, this is what I remember:
The journey lasted probably two days. We got off the train in a deserted area, awaited by soldiers armed with submachine guns and accompanied by dogs. It was around noon. Escorted, we had to cover a distance of about 2 kilometers before we reached the prison camp. However, we were not admitted there but instead put behind the barbed wire in a tent camp. It was a transfer camp - the quarantine. This was where the actual registration of newcomers took place. We had to surrender our Home Army membership cards and undergo revision.
The guards took all the German equipment we had. I had beautiful fur pilot gloves - they were taken away. The Germans spoke a strange, hardly understandable lingo. When I asked a wachmann (a sentry) to buy me a newspaper (Zeitung), he could not understand what I meant. As it later turned out, we arrived in Saxony (Man muss sachsich lernen!).
The camp was Stalag (Stammager) IV B - Mühlberg am Oder (at the Elbe River).When I left the registration tent I saw a colleague strutting around the camp in ... underpants!
So I asked:
"Did they take away your trousers?"
He answered with nonchalance:
"I gave the wachmann a cigarette - and now he is ironing my trousers!"
Indeed - nearby at the board some German was assiduously ironing the uniform trousers...
We spent around a week in the transfer camp - then we were transported to the actual prison camp. There we were separated and assigned to different barracks in groups of a few people.I was directed to the barrack for prisoners taken into custody in 1939.
The barrack was multi-national: The French, Serbs (the dirtiest ones), Dutchmen (proud and stiff), Belgians, Englishmen, Americans and Poles from western armies. All this English-American elite enjoyed the best position in the camp. They had a daily ration of packages from the Red Cross and separate food allocations for their own kitchen. The others could only rely on the camp menu and one package each month.
Also once in a month the prisoner could receive a package from home, but where was this home? Where was the family? Not one of us had any address of his relatives after the deportations from Warsaw. So many of us sent the requests (called "scheins") to the Red Cross, the British Queen etc. And after some time they received the packages.
The abundance of food and lack of any physical work allowed the Anglo-Saxon group to practise sport. Everyday we witnessed football matches between the British Navy and New Zealand cavalry and other teams.
On the other hand, the French soldiers organized a university which was attended by many Poles. There was a lending library with books in many languages, censored by the Germans. There were also Polish books. The German censorship also controlled the correspondence and… personal documents. To this day the photos of my colleagues which I kept on me at this time bear the stamp: "Geprüft - Stalag IV B".
The prisoners played cards, chess or carried out long, boring disputes. The food was mundane and scarce: in the morning black coffee, at noon a soup made from weed and a few jacket potatoes, in the afternoon some bread, a dab of margarine and some beetroot jam or a thin slice of sausage. We went hungry...
So when the Germans announced a voluntary recruitment "for work", after a short hesitation I volunteered... The discipline at such work was usually less rigid, and there was always a possibility to get some food from the outside...
After a month's stay at the camp - precisely on November 11 - in the group consisting of 90 Varsovians, I went to the railway station and set off into the world on a passenger (!) train.
During our journey, at night, some German officer furtively gave me several German marks and instantly left the carriage. I did not know it was the money. I thought these were some kind of papers (leaflets). At dawn we arrived in Dresden and waited for the change. There, under the escort of a wachmann I went to a john and suddenly discovered I had been given the cash. At once I bought some press and something to read (a story about the sinking of the English submarine Thetis during tests at the shipyard).
Only a few dozen kilometers separated us from Freital. From there we went on feet up the road to the labor assignment center. It was located on the floor of a road tavern. There was a bedroom where we slept on steel bunk beds arranged very close to each other. Our interpreter (Dolmetscher) was a Home Army officer referred to Stalag by order of the command in Ozarow (years later I met him again in 1988).It was Arbeits Kommando 1327 M - Stammlager IV A Hohnstein.
The next day there came the recruiting officers from ... a steel foundry! Süchsiche Guss und Stahlwerke Dühlen. The majority of my colleagues declared to be farmers, so they were directed to the reloading group that also did earthworks. One of us, an engine driver assistant, was assigned to operate a factory steam engine.
I introduced myself as a ... lathe operator and was assigned to the extruding shop - Zieherei. The work took six days a week, 10 hours a day. In the factory we were given "regenerating" soups - you could even ask for the seconds! This was a very characteristic soup, consisting mainly of water and nettle, initially very filling, but ... after half an hour a man did a wee-wee and was hungry again. Additionally, with the German precision once a week we were given a food supplement (Schwerarbeiterzulage) that included long but narrow bread, 6 dag of margarine and 10 dag of liverwurst or other suspicious cold meats. It was just enough for one supper.
Our relations with the Germans in the factory - good. However, with the Arbeitskommando commandant - much worse. After three months he was disciplinary transferred to ... the Dutch camp. The poor guy stole even our own packages.
On the other hand, the Section Supervisor - Zieherei-Obermeister - conscientious and decent. When I once broke the grip shield of the machine, I expected to be accused of a sabotage. But he only cried: Man! How did you do it?! Another time, he ran down my wachmann for bringing me too early to work (for another shift). He told him to relieve me from the current shift, because the workers must rest after work!!! and come back to work refreshed.
Firstly I worked at two turning lathes under the supervision of one of their operators, later I was solely responsible for their operation. One of the workers, a red-headed and obese man, was rather unpleasant, but also harmless. The other one, a petite man, often shared his meagre breakfast with me. In return, from time to time I treated him to an American cigarette (I did not smoke in captivity). However, he never smoked them in my presence - he would say: I will leave them for later - I'll show them to my friends!
For Christmas, he received from me 5 kg of coffee beans - he did not know how to behave. In secret, he wanted to prepare a knife for me made from the blade of a steel saw. He hid it carefully in a personal locker (for tools). Later I learnt that the half-ready knife was found by another worker who tried to accuse me of ... producing weaponry. However, my friend confessed about his intention and probably got in big trouble because of this.
During a lunch break I often visited large furnaces in the camp. It was warm and cosy there... Near the furnaces, there were air-raid shelters dug in the slope of the hill. During the air-raids we were driven mercilessly to those shelters, from which you could not see the sky, as the view was blocked by the ceilings. The air-raids were becoming more and more intensive, but without bombardments.
At the end of February or March, when the alarm went off early at night, they forced us to the cellars of the tavern located four kilometers from Freital. The warning was very urgent. Indeed, soon we could hear series of bombardments from the distance followed by an incessant continuous rumble. It lasted from 1,5 to 2 hours. It was the famous American bombardment of Dresden. Next day, when we were returning from work in escort, we were accompanied by crowds of haggard-looking German civilians, often with what was left of their belongings dragged along in handcarts. Women and children ... Covered in soot and dust.
The wachmanns ordered us to help the exhausted people. However, none of us stepped forward; we only observed the inhabitants of the so far quiet city with satisfaction. There were no repressions for our lack of response.
The "bombardment after-party" took place on the same or next day. Before the wachmanns were able to force us into the shelters, we could count over 3000 planes flying high in the air.
The production in the factory still went on; however, stacks of finished goods began to pile up in the halls, as there was no possibility to deliver them to the ordering party in a safe way.
In mid-April, around 14th-the evacuation. We headed south. Personal baggage had to be carried on your own back, the baggage belonging to the wachmanns - in the cart pulled by the prisoners. We marched through the ruins of Dresden in the direction of Czech Teplitz. Past Dresden, we spent the night in a barn, and at dawn we joined a large, multi-national, numbering thousands of people, column of prisoners heading in the same direction. The prisoners tried to encourage us to rebel against pulling this cart. Let the Germans pull it themselves! But we would not hang our "folks" out to dry (Volkssturm).We even let a new, advanced in age but very jovial commandant sit in this cart, because he could not continue the march due to asthma problems. The column was often passed by the Swedish Red Cross cars, which threw around packs of cigarettes for the prisoners.
At night of April 16 and 17 we continued the march. Suddenly the blizzard hit our column. Due to limited visibility we lost contact with the main prisoner column. The terrified wachmanns begged us not to run away...
Next day the weather was beautiful - we were resting in some mountain village. Exhausted after the strenuous march, we were lying on the green grass. We enjoyed our time observing single planes incessantly attacking German cars. The attacks were successful.
We enjoyed our observations until one of burning jet-fighters began to hedge-hop in our direction. Instantly, we hid in a nearby forest, collecting shells and tin connectors from 22 mm bullets falling from the sky. Since that time we always hid on the shady part of natural land covers.
Eventually, we lost contact with the camp headquarters and were put in a farm in the upland village of Hermsdorf. We lived in a barn. There were no German sentries around, but we were forbidden to leave the area of the farm. Such insubordination could end in death punishment. In spite of this, the prisoners risked their lives and snuck out to the neighboring houses to get some food or current information about the situation on the front. We bartered with (in soap, coffee, cigarettes) and obtain information from the Sudeten Germans, who behaved friendly (already!) towards us.
We cooked food (very often potatoes) with sorrel leaves and salted it with red cattle salt. For cooking we used mess tins placed on stones over a small bonfire fueled with wooden sticks.
Here is the original record of notes that I kept on those days:
April 17 - Tuesday We are running round in circles still in the same place. Still a total mess. We are probably in the middle of the chaos. Cieplice taken by Americans. Problems with food.
Attacks of British jet-fighters. Accommodated in a wooden barrack 5 km from Altenberg.
April 18 - Wednesday From 6 p.m. marching for about 10 km to a permanent place. At 12.00 a.m. accommodated in a barn together with Bulgarians (Hermsdorf).
April 19 - Thursday I've eaten the leftovers from the package. I have 34 potatoes of average size, about 2 kg - and 5 and a half of cigarettes. No chance of cooking. One loaf of bread for five.
April 20 - Friday. I've eaten the potatoes. I have cigarettes. Americans have taken Berlin. The front is probably 40 km from here. Soviet offensive ongoing.
April 21 - Saturday. Bread for five and some canned food. Everyday wassersoup, very thin, made of combined representative packages.
Everything I had to eat I've already eaten. Tomorrow, despite a strict prohibition, I will have to sneak out to the village, try to sell something and in this way survive just another day.
General weakness of the body. Strong wind, some rain, cool.
April 22 - Sunday. I have fixed something to eat without sneaking out, as there are lots of soldiers in the village. Maybe tomorrow. Bread for five.
April 23 - A sally. I was given some potatoes. All transactions in cooperation with Wlodek Oseka. Tomorrow a peace conference. Today apparently ceasefire.
The settlement may be reached within 3 days. A village in a faraway place. Today bread has been brought for 5 people, but it will be handed out tomorrow.
April 24 - I feel "chwatit". My stomach is full with those potatoes. I still have enough of them for another 1 - 2 days. They have brought bread for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, one loaf of bread for 5 people.
April 25 - Wednesday. It is the third day that we are given water instead of coffee. Our relationships with German authorities have become strained. We are closed in the barn.
It is colder here than outside. Outside is sunny, after 5 days of snow and wind. Cooking is impossible. We still have 34 potatoes for the two of us. This will do today, but what about tomorrow?
What if we have to sit here also tomorrow? What about cooking?
April 27 - Friday. Somehow we survived yesterday. Today 7 potatoes for each of us. A sally is necessary, but risky.
April 28 - The sally was successful, but today we should make another trip. American tanks have reached Teplitz. The Soviet soldiers have taken over more than half of Berlin. Goering has resigned due to health reasons.
April 30 - Day by day... We spend our time cooking until 4 or 5 p.m., than we get warm in the bauer's kitchen and we turn in.
On Saturday we sold a pack of tea for 7,5 kg of potatoes (85 in total), two cigarettes and 5 dag of meat. The latter was just a gift.
Goering and Grazziani captured in civilian clothing on the Swiss border by Americans. Himmler is also not doing well.
We are given bread for six. The front is about 28 km west from here.
May 2 - Wednesday. Hitler is dead. Admiral v. Doenitz has taken command. The Germans are ready to surrender to the Allies, but are fighting with the Soviets to the bitter end.
May 3 - Thursday. The third of May... Nothing much to say; what was and is not now... A foul-up at trade. We have few potatoes and only tea to sell. A snowball's chance in hell. Still snowing.
May 5 - Saturday. Three German armies have capitulated in Czechoslovakia, Norway and probably Holland. Rumors about the end of the war. It is raining cats and dogs.
May 7 - Monday.The first day of sun. In the afternoon Soviet spearheads in the village. Can we at least once eat our fill?!
In the evening the village is in the Soviet hands (well armed).
"Poles? You maybe from Warsaw? Then everybody at the wall!"
The accidental raid of Soviet planes on their own tanks.
We have enough to eat. Two of our inmates are dead, shot by German rear guards for plundering under the tarpaulin of the car.
May 8 - To the north! Pushing the carts (farm, hand-barrow) with food, we are marching on foot 12 km from Hermsdorf through Frauenstein to some village.
Today is the name-day of my Mother (Stanislawa). Night's rest at a modern farm-house.
May 9 - On our way we change the carts for the bikes. Accommodation in a deserted modern apartment in Freiberg.8 a.m. - end of the war!
May 10 - Thursday. Again in Freital, in the Reichsbaracks with Poles.
May 16 - Wednesday. Until today we have been dawdling in Freital, waiting for God knows what (listening to the radio and making up our minds; back to homeland or to the West?).
Today we set out with our bikes in groups of 13 people to Bautzen (Budziszyn). Wlodek Oseka is lost. Waiting for him and Zawisza, we separated from the rest of our group.
Zawisza is loitering as hell. Half a day sick, half a day repairing his bike. We are joined by Morawiec from a concentration camp. We spent a night around 35 km from Dresden.
May 17 - Thursday. Zawisza is lostsome where behind Budziszyn. We are heading for Niesky.
May 18 - 17 km to Niesky. We are travelling now in the wagons of Sorbs returning home. We are travelling slowly, but at least we can rest.
We should catch a train in Rauscha (Ruszów).God knows where this village lies, somewhere near Niesky.
May 20 - Sunday. All day in the village of Viereichen, staying with local Sorbs, unaware of our true national identity.
They speak a language similar to Slovakian. A bathe in the Spree and a ride to Rausza - approx.30 km to the East.
We have entered the Polish territory on the right bank of Nysa (Nissa) approx. 16 km from Rausza - at the Polish border post.
The squad of the 2nd Polish Army, forgotten by its commanders, served border duty.
We had brought with us a Polish woman working for a bauer in the German village - she stayed with the soldiers.
May 21 - On our bikes heading for Rausza for 18 km and then by train... but without bikes to Warsaw. The train is transporting rails for a Warsaw bridge.
May 22 - Changing trains for another freight train. We are sitting on the platforms in the rain. In the evening we cross the old border in Rawicz.
A lump in my throat - what the heck? Back in the Polish land... We have reached Ostrow Wielkopolski.
May 25 - Wednesday. Heading for Lodz on a passenger train. Arrival at 2 p.m. A train to Warsaw at midnight - I am intending to get off in Zyrardow, where my Mother is probably staying.
May 26 - Zyrardow, 5.30 a.m. My mother is here! I sleep until 5 p.m."
typescript finished on March 31, 1983
P.S. Janusz Hamerlinski a.k.a "Morski", born in 1926, after returning from captivity he settled permanently in Gdynia. He graduated from Gdansk University of Technology and became a naval architect. Throughout all his professional life he worked in a design office of the Paris Commune shipyard (at present Gdynia Shipyard in Gdynia).
Romuald Dobrecki a.k.a."Szczerba", born in 1924, died September 5, 1944, in the bombardment of the building of the Main Post Office.
Janusz Komorowski a.k.a."Wir", born in 1924, seriously wounded in the attack on August 31, 1944 near Graniczna Street, having left the prisoner camp XI A Altengrabow he returned to Warsaw where he lived till his death.
Olgierd Micha³owski a.k.a.Smuga", born in 1924, after the fall of the Uprising he was deported to the prison camp IV Mühlberg, which was later liberated by Americans. He never returned to Poland - he settled permanently in Canada.
redaction: Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz
translation: Beata Murzyn
born 2 July 1926 in Warsaw
private of Armia Krajowa (Home Army) - AK
III squad, 165 platoon,
"Szare Szeregi" Company
Copyright © 2013 Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz. All rights reserved.