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)

Barbara Gancarczyk-Piotrowska,
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"

The beginning of the Uprising

         After leaving the Old Town I got to the labour camp in Wroclaw. There, in October and November 1944 I jotted down my August memories from the Old Town when they were fresh in my mind. I returned to my notes after circa 10 years, in 1955. They allowed me to write an accurate report of one insurgent month which left its indelible stamp on the entire life of a 21-year-old Warsaw girl.

         In the last days of July 1944 in Warsaw one could come across retreating German soldiers, camps, even on horse wagons, not cars. The Germans led even cows and other animals with the wagons. There was a lot of racket, in general - chaos. Apart from this, all Volksdeutsche and all German officials were frantically preparing for their departure from Warsaw.
         Very satisfied, we went to the train station to watch the runaway Germans get on the substituted trains not only through doors, but also through windows. It was like that on the Warsaw Central railway station and Aleje Jerozolimskie. One could sense that the Germans were afraid. It was known that the Russian army was approaching from the east. There was general unrest.
         A few days before the Uprising, the Home Army command issued an order saying that the ones living on the other side of Vistula, in Praga, Grochˇw, have to move to the left bank of the Vistula. They expected that when the Uprising broke out, the bridges could be blocked and there would be no communication.
         A few days before the Uprising, I moved to my friend to Leszno. Every day we awaited the mobilization order and troop concentration. It stretched on a bit. One day, there was an alarm and one had to be present, but this did not apply to me.

Barbara Piotrowska in 1944 after the Uprising,
photograph taken for the camp ID

         This is how I remember my experiences from August.

         1 August 1944.
         On 11 a.m. I learn about the concentration of the insurgent units on from Zbyszek Smidowicz, who already goes to his meeting point in Srodmiescie. I say goodbye with mixed feelings: anxiety and hope that we will , however, see each other again (a week later on 8 August, Zbyszek dies during the attack on Mala Pasta.
         After 2 p.m. I am present, as I was everyday, in the distribution point by Ms. Hanka to get secret press and correspondence. From there it is close to Danka Schiele on Noakowskiego Street. Danka is a member of the same Scouts' organisation as me. During the occupation we both underwent the sanitary and military training within the frames of the "Wigry" battalion.
         Danka is informed about our concentration point. She gives the address: the Old Town, 1 Kilinskiego Street, the flat of Professor Hempel, 5 p.m.
         I leave Danka at 3 p.m. I do not have much time left. I have to reach my friend Wanda Manczarska in Leszno, where I left my equipment: rucksack and first aid kit.
         Transportation is "lousy" on this day. The trams go irregularly, they are overcrowded.
         I find Wanda in her flat. She also goes to her meeting point, but to Srodmiescie. Wanda's father, Professor Manczarski wants us to eat something before leaving, but we have no time for it. We say our goodbyes in haste. When we are still on the stairs we hear his voice, warning us: "only do not follow stupid orders."
         On Dluga Street we part and each goes her own way. Yet another farewell, sorrow, anxiety masked with a smile:
         "Wandzia, Basia, so, see you later."
         I run on foot towards the Old Town, Wanda catches some tram to Srodmiescie.
         I reach Kilinskiego Street a quarter to 5 p.m. In the flat I meet a large group of boys and girls. One could hear gunshot from afar.
         Other nurses had their concentration point on Jezuicka Street near Kanonia. It was the flat of a diplomat by the name of Patek. My friends told me later, that the flat was beautifully furnished. The host himself did not even know that there is a concentration point in his flat. He was deaf, and he did not know very well that the nurses gather there. It was all organised by his housekeeper who was deeply engaged in the underground movement. The boys were deployed in different points in the Old Town. "Wigry" was a reserve unit of the commanding officer of Warsaw Region. There were special tasks for us.
         The shooting lasted until dawn.

         2 August 1944
         Early in the morning there is an announcement saying that the uprising did not succeed. The boys will force their way through to Kampinos Forest in close formation, while the girls, pretending to be "lost" civilians, are to disperse and go back to their families.
         The order was issued by the region's commanding officer, currently lieutenant colonel "Pawel" (Franciszek Rataj). "Wigry" and other reserve units went to Wola. They were to go through Wola to Kampinos to get the weapons and return to Warsaw, but it failed. "Wigry" soldiers fought alongside "Parasol" and "Zoska" in Wola during the first week, and then the unit returned to the Old Town. The marching orders to Vistula did not reach everyone. The officers, who stayed behind in the Old Town, began to organise some kind of second echelon of "Wigry" made up of volunteers, which finally grew up to include several hundreds of people. These were predominantly volunteers, the inhabitants of the Old Town and other people who did not reach their units - they all joined "Wigry." Thus the so called second echelon of "Wigry" came into being, then the first company, the third company. Later, our commanding officer, "Trzaska" (Eugeniusz Konopacki) who returned from Wola, took command over the entire unit, there was a reorganisation.
         In the morning on 2 August, the nurses abandon their quarters on Kilinskiego Street in small groups, leaving the insurgent equipment behind. On 6 a.m. I leave together with "Janka" (Janina Gruszczynska-Jasiak) and "Isia" (Maria Sieluzycka-Czerminska) . We went towards Napoleon Square, where my aunt lived. Our family houses were left behind on the other side of the Vistula in Saska Kepa and Grochow. We go though Podwale, then through the relatively quiet, extremely narrow Kozia Street. Along the way we hardly meet anyone. At the intersection of Kozia and Trebacka Street we come across a large German tank. Janka explains in German that the uprising accidentally found us on the street, and we wanted to reach our families on the Napoleon Square. The Germans, seeing three young girls, began to tell some unrefined jokes. They do not let us pass through Krakowskie Przedmiescie, saying that there is a fire there and direct us towards the Saski Square.
         Saski Square is full of soldiers and military policemen. There is a lot of tanks, cars and cannon guns. The shortest way to the Napoleon Square leads through the Mazowiecka Street, that is, through a concentration of soldiers. Initially, we go straight towards them, but then, on second thoughts we wonder "is it reasonable to put our heads into the lion's mouth?" We do not have enough courage, so we calmly turn back and head towards Teatralny Square. Under the arcades of the building there are several corpses of men wearing civilian clothes.
         On Senatorska Street near St. Anthony's Church there is another German tank. We tell these Germans the same tale as before; we pretend to be civilians surprised by the events. It comes much easier to us this time, since in fact some women with children, elderly men appear nearby. They direct us to Bankowy Square, totally unescorted. We try to go through the Zabia Street to Krolewska Street. We hear the swish of the rifle bullets. The Germans had to notice us from Ogrod Saski. We hide in the nearest gate.
         Later, through the courtyards of houses and out buildings we reach the Zelazna Brama Square and from there through the covered markets and Ciepla Street we reach Twarda Street. Unfortunately, the passage through the Marszalkowska Street is absolutely impossible. There is very intensive shooting there, the tanks do not let anyone pass this road. We turn back. We are directed to the dressing station located on the 11 Marianska Street in the private lodgings of Ms. Wanda.

         3. August
         In the morning the two of us, me and "Isia" are sent as a sanitary patrol to the area around Grzybowska Street. They expect that the people wounded during the siege of Pasta on Zielna Street are there. One has to be careful, as Twarda is shelled by the German snipers. We reach the opposite of All Saints' Church. They still do not let us go. We are not assigned to any insurgent unit, we cannot prove our identity in any way, we even do not have the insurgent armbands. We stick around the gate until noon. There is a horrible downpour. We return to the meeting point soaked to the skin. Here we are given a specific task to do. We have to transport several ill people to the hospital. A People's Army officer also approaches us, asking us to take care of his pregnant wife, who suffers from a haemorrhage. Admitting her to any hospital is terribly problematic. Everywhere we are told that they do not have enough specialists and we are driven from pillar to post.
         Me and "Janka" are physically and psychologically exhausted. We went quite a long way carrying the sick woman on a stretcher, finally, we get the correct information and find the way to a private gynaecologist's office on 53 Sliska Street. With relief, we leave the patient there, letting her husband know about it. In the afternoon we are sent with large sacks and baskets to bring food, bedclothes and dressing to the newly-organised Social Insurance Institution's hospital on the Marianska Street. We go from backyard to backyard, calling on civilians to give gifts. We go there several times, the people are exceptionally sacrificing, they do not stint on anything.
         Before the evening, we survive the first air raid. The bombs fall in the area of Sienna and Zlota, so relatively close. Enormous devastation.

         4 August
         We apply to work in the hospital. "Isia" and me each have a room with four injured people under our care. "Janka" registers the sick and the injured whose numbers are constantly increasing. The management of the hospital demands that we keep impeccable order and cleanliness. Everyday, we wash the sick, feed them, give them medicine, help by making the dressings, wash the floor in our wards. We are both amateur nurses, trained for this job during secret courses, however, apart from this, our work in the hospital, our approach to the sick, has nothing in common with routine. We experience someone else's pain too deeply, we are moved by every smallest wish, as far as it can somehow alleviate their suffering.
         One of my wards was a young man whose hand was freshly amputated, he had a fever. Another one had a shot-through, swollen jaw. He had to be fed through a tube. The third one was heavily scalded by a phosphor bomb. He suffers terribly. After one day of our hospital service, which lasts continuously from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m., we are totally exhausted.

         5 August
         The normal hospital service. I met my friend from before the war, Witold Marczewski, who is wounded. "Isia" takes care of him. Witold cannot find the words to thank her. During the day, we are plagued by the planes. They have it in for our quarter. The bombs fall relatively close. The windowpanes break. We move the beds to the back of the wards. In contrast to the majority of the personnel, me and Isia do not go down to the shelter. We remain by the bedsides of the sick, who cannot be brought downstairs. Though the building shakes from the explosions, we reassure them that the bombardments are far away and they are safe.

         6 August
         The hospital work. In the morning I meet Wanda Krysiewicz. She came to visit a wounded friend. She is assigned, as a nurse, to one of the insurgent units in Srodmiescie. The three of us would prefer the service in a military unit to that on a hospital ward; this is what we were trained for during the secret training. Apart from this, we have a little grievance against the command, that they tricked us by sending us home. The struggle continues, there is no mention of any defeat, or even more, about the downfall of the entire uprising. On the streets, the fighting units are seen, accompanied by girls: nurses and women liaison officers. We envy them their honourable service.
         Wanda offers us the assignment to her own unit. We eagerly agree. We make an arrangement with her to meet tomorrow at noon. Until this time, we committed ourselves to force our way to the Old Town to get our sanitary equipment: first aid kits and rucksacks and return to Srodmiescie.
         In the afternoon I go to Zlota Street to the family of one of the wounded to get some food for him. I see the horrifying aftermath of the bombardment.
         In the evening, we announce to the hospital authorities that we start service by the insurgent unit. The parting with our patients is very wisftul. During these few days we managed to get used to each other. We promise to visit them. We spend the night in our quarters in the flat of Ms. Wanda on Marianska Street. Unfortunately, there is a fire there. The house burns from the roof. We carry buckets of water to the fourth floor. Apart from the three of us, no more than 2-3 people take part in extinguishing the fire. After an hour we are completely exhausted. We sit down in the gate and try to fall asleep. It is cold, hard and very uncomfortable, so we make a decision to spend the night by my acquaintances the Madejczyks, who live nearby on 18 Twarda Street. It is already midnight.
         Having made sure to whom we are going, the house's inhabitant who is currently standing sentry on the courtyard, opens the gate to us. Our acquaintances, just like all the other tenants of this tenement house, moved to the basement. We decide to make ourselves comfortable in their flat on the fourth floor. We find the flat opened, partially demolished. The stars are visible through a hole in the ceiling. The three of us lie down on an old couch. The incredible exhaustion overcomes at last all the discomforts and cold, bringing the much-desired sleep.

         7 August
         We wake up at 6 a.m. We eat up the rest of bread left in the cupboard, wash it down with berry juice. We get ready to our marching to the Old Town. The way leads through the burnt-out Hale Mirowskie. There is not a soul in this area. We have no idea, what the situation is like. Where are the Germans, and where are our boys? From which side does the shooting come? Which way can one safely reach Elektoralna Street? There is calmness and silence around. The machine guns can be heard, but rather from a distance. We decide to "jump" through the Mirowski Square. It went smoothly. There was no reaction from the Germans. On Elektoralna Street we come across units retreating from Wola. We reach 1 Kilinskiego Street.
         On the quarters we find some of the friends from "Wigry." We learn that our boys has not returned from Wola yet. We inform them that we were assigned to Srodmiescie and we are returning there. We are supposed to be present at noon. We find our rucksacks and first aid kits. We leave the Old Town. We reach the Bankowy Square. In the ruins of the Polish Bank we are stopped by an insurgent sentry. They inform us that the way to Srodmiescie has been cut out by the Germans this morning and it is not possible to go any farther. So we are forced to stay in the Old Town.
         "Janka" goes to the Maltese Hospital. She learnt that her friend was there. He is badly wounded. Me and "Isia" go back to 1 Kilinskiego Street.

         8 August
         We were assigned, together with some other friends, to the second platoon of the assault company which included thirty-three people at the time. I set out towards Stawki with a large group of boys and girls. Large, well-stocked German warehouses which have been captured by the insurgents are located there. The way leads through the ghetto. We go close to the Powazki Cemetery. We "collect" everything we can: food, (flour, sugar, canned food ) as well as German uniforms and underwear. We return heavily-laden with all this stuff.

         9-11 August
         Our platoon, under the command of Lieut. "Andrzej" (Jerzy Kowalczyk) and Lieut. "Piorun" (Jan Derengowski)was transferred to the school on Barokowa Street to protect the Headquarters of Gen. "Bor" which came here from Wola. The government delegate, Jankowski, and other well-known and important people are there. Barokowa Street branches off Dluga Street towards Krasinskich Garden. The school is located on the border of the Krasinskich Garden, nearby the street. We are gathered together in a large hall, perhaps a gym, there was a piano and several tables there.
         During the night, the platoon stands sentry in the Krasinskich Garden when there are nightly air-drops of weapons and ammunition.
         Here we get acquainted with Fr. Tomasz Rostworowski who organises a campfire for Scouts one evening. Father Rostworowski was then appointed as the military chaplain of the Headquarters. Playing on the piano, he sings the Scouts' and military songs together with us. There is a merry, cheerful, careless mood.
         Apart from our "Wigry" unit, the 112 Platoon, which came from Wola, was assigned as a guard of the Headquarters.

         12 August
         A heavy bombardment of the school on Barokowa Street lasts all day long. The Germans had to find out that it is here where the headquarters is located.
         The Headquarters moved to 7 Dluga Street.
         All day long we are plagued with planes, at night - with artillery. We are forced to go down to the basement for the night.
         In the morning, the second platoon of the "Wigry" Assault Company takes over the post in the St. John's Archcathedral on Swietojanska Street. Our quarters are on 1 Kilinskiego Street.

Barbara Gancarczyk-Piotrowska

prepared by Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz

translated by Katarzyna Wiktoria Klag

      Barbara Gancarczyk-Piotrowska
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"

Copyright © 2012 Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz. All rights reserved.