Insurgent accounts of the witnesses
War Reminiscences of the nurse of the Scouts' battalion of the Home Army "Wigry" Barbara Gancarczyk-Piotrowska pseud. "Pajak" (=Spider)
The outbreak of war
In the summer of 1939 we were in the summer resort, as usual. In the autumn I was to start learning at Maria Konopnicka grammar school. I was sixteen then. In the summer, in the summer resort the mood of uneasy expectation dominated. Everyday we listened carefully to the radio. We expected the outbreak of war, though we hoped that it would not come to that. An Italian journalist, Mr de Andreis, lived in our house on Elsterska Street. He assured us that certainly there would be no war.
My father was a reserve officer and we excepted him to be called up to the army any moment. On 1 September in the summer resort in Emowo we learnt from the radio about the outbreak of the war. My father was then in Warsaw. Mum decided to go back to Warsaw, she did not want father to be alone then. She made this decision in spite of the news about bombardment and real danger.
We took our stuff on the farmer's wagon. I remember that the farmer, who always drove us to Warsaw, did not want to take the risk this time. Finally, probably because of the higher fare, he agreed. I do not remember very well which way we drove. Probably we drove through the Wal Miedzeszynski on the Vistula, but I am not sure.
Barbara Piotrowska in 1939
We reached Warsaw on 4 September. There had already been bombardments in our neighbourhood. We lived near Rondo Waszyngtona. Through the Aleja Waszyngtona, Polish army units were retreating to the east and the civil population was moving. Crowds of civilians, with bundles, women with children and prams. All of them were going through the Aleja, Poniatowski Bridge and farther on towards Grochow.
The refugees often stopped over in our home. Of course, there always was a meal for them, something warm to eat. We were wondering, why they were going there, to uncertain future. Particularly mothers with small children. We even tried to persuade them to stay with us. People did not want to stay, however, and continued to run away.
There was a bombardment of Aleja Waszyngtona and Poniatowski Bridge, because there was a crowd of people and the soldiers there. The bombs fell, among others, on our neighbours' garage on the opposite side of the street. Then my father decided, on 7 or 8 September, to take the family farther away from the roundabout. He made an agreement with his friend, Mr Moykowski, who had a house on Irlandzka Street. The whole family moved to his house about 8 September. We moved there, taking only the most necessary things.
The front was approaching. The Germans came to Saska Kepa from the side of Praga as soon as on 10 September. Also on 10 September our house was bombed and it turned into ruin. For the long years of the war we were left practically without anything, without a roof over our heads. Later on, we found a small flat on Saska Kepa, a bit farther away from our house.
Saska Kepa was shelled by the artillery, and bombarded by planes. The inhabitants of the quarter began to run away through Poniatowski bridge to the city centre. About 15 September we also went to the other side of the Vistula. The bridge was shelled, and there were lot of holes in it. Many people died crossing the bridge. During the migration to the city centre, the famous dancer Halina Szmolcowna, the wife of the conductor Grzegorz Fitelberg, died on the bridge.
We spent the rest of the siege in the city centre. Initially, we were in Prudential on the Napoleon Square. My father worked there for some time, and his friend, Mr Moykowski, was the manager. It seemed to us that we would be very safe there. There were excellent several-story shelters. But the building was heavily bombarded. A fire broke out, and water started to leak into the shelter in which we were. The firemen advised us to move out, since it was unclear what would happen next, the ceiling might collapse.
In these circumstances we moved to the Agrarian Bank, where my father also worked. The bank was situated on Nowogrodzka Street, opposite Roma. We stayed in the strongroom. The strongroom had exceptionally strong ceilings and walls, so it was a safe place. Inside the strongroom there was very tight, people sat on one another. We slept on the chairs, on the floor. The building was relatively little damaged during the warfare. We stayed there to the end of the siege.
I would like to add that my father did not get the draft card; probably they did not have enough time. During the siege he took part in transporting the ammunition. When the siege of Warsaw ended, we returned to Saska Kepa. It was about 3 days after the capitulation, in the first days of October 1939.
We survived September 1939. We returned to Saska Kepa, to a small, empty flat. We had to adapt it step by step. In spite of the fact that our family had lost everything, that we became destitute, nobody cared about it. What was most important was the fact that no one from our family died, all of us survived the bombardment.
prepared by Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz
translated by Katarzyna Wiktoria Klag
born on the 18th of October 1923 in Warsaw
the nurse of the Home Army
pseud. "Pajak" (=spider)
the 2nd platoon of the assault company
Scouts' battalion of the Home Army "Wigry"
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