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)
13 August - "The Black Sunday"
13 August, Sunday:
In the morning, at school on Barokowa Street, Fr. Warszawski says mass. The building is seriously damaged. The bombardments still continue. There are orders for evacuation of the headquarters as well as the units. We go back to 1 Kilinskiego Street.
Kilinskiego Street before 13 August
On Dluga Street I meet my acquaintance from Saska Kepa, Zosia Martens. She is following a unit. We part with each other. We do not have time even to speak a few words. We say hello and goodbye with a smile. It does not cross my mind that it will be the last smile of Zosia, which I will retain in my memory, I have no inkling that she will die shortly after our meeting.
In the afternoon, about 5 p.m. the sensational news reaches us, that our boys captured a tank on the Zamkowy Square. We are in our quarters, on the first floor of the house on 1 Kilinskiego Street. We run to the balcony, we push our way to the windows. We notice a whippet tank driving through Podwale from Nowomiejska Street. It is getting closer. A white-and-red flag flies over it. A crowd of people takes to the street. The general feeling of enthusiasm and joy is infectious. The tank reaches the barricade on the intersection of Podwale and Kilinskiego Street. It climbs higher and higher. Unfortunately, the obstacle is too high and it comes to a standstill. The people immediately scatter the flagstones from which the barricade is made, on one side. There is yet another attempt, this time a successful one. The tank passes. They are under our balcony.
Looking at them from above, we notice Scouts sitting there. Among them, there are ten - or twelve-year-old boys wearing Scouts uniform with insurgent armbands. They turn into Kilinskiego Street facing Dluga Street. We scream out of joy, wave to them, blow them some kisses. They stop by the neighbouring house. The mechanism must have broken down, since the driver jumps out of the tank. We can see how he tinkers with it. He is surrounded by a crowd of people who took to the streets. The crowd grows, expands. The old, the young, children, all run through the streets. Everyone wants to come as closely as possible, see with his own eyes that the success is a real fact and not some fictitious fib, a "hoax" made up to boost the morale.
It is a beautiful, hot, sunny afternoon. We are crowded on the balcony. I stand closest to the concrete railing, next to Janka. I see everything perfectly well.
Suddenly, in a split second a fire appears in my eyes... I am out of breath, and I fall on the floor, unconscious. My last conscious thought is the awareness: this is the end. We must have been hit by some missile. I am dying... The last thoughts are directed to my mother. Seconds or minutes pass, I lose my sense of time. Piercing, despairing screams, turning into animal roaring, howling, groaning of people torn into pieces bring back my consciousness.
I lie, blown down to the floor by a horrible blast, on a teeming mass of people who, only a moment ago, stood near me. I feel someone clambering from below me, crawling out to the room. I kneel down. My hands, legs are sticky with blood. My skirt is torn into pieces in front. I do not feel any pain. Is it not my own blood? I get up. I make one step. It is hard to believe that nothing has happened to me, that I am not even wounded. We gather in the room from the side of the courtyard. If it was a Nebelwerfer, more explosions would follow.
The flat is demolished, covered with rubble. Doors and windows are out of their frames. Broken glass on the floor and furniture. The ropes on which we hang our underwear to dry, is hung with human remains in shreds. "Isia" and "Szpak" (Hanna Klopotowska-Pawlowska) are wounded. I cannot find neither "Janka" nor "Ola-Ola" (Aleksandra Petrażycka) . They were standing next to me. I run to the balcony. I almost trip on a bloody human body without a head and limbs, thrown here by the explosion.
The concrete railing of our balcony was destroyed. The girls could have fallen down. The view is so horrible that it takes away all courage. The screams of the injured are heard, despairing voices of mothers looking for their children are more than one can bear. I retreat to the small nurses' room, which is relatively little demolished. A group of our remaining nurses is already working there. They are bandaging. I join them. I am trembling all over. With my wobbly hands I rinse someone's eyes with picrin instead of Rivanol and I wonder why he is screaming.
I can see through the window how they dig the mass graves on the courtyard. The human remains are sometimes carried down in buckets. The horrible, nauseating stench of burnt bodies was spreading in the air. The cause of the tragedy came to light. The trophy tank had inside a treacherous charge of trinitrotoluene with an incredible strength of explosion. The Germans sneakily brought it to the barricade and ran away.
The remains of the torn-up Borgward ( photography by Leonard Sempolinski)
The bodies, or rather shreds of bodies are buried in graves dug up on 1 Kilinskiego Street. There, a small cemetery was established. I saw from my window Father Rostworowski, who was blessing these dead. It was a terrible tragedy. One was staggered. Until 13 August I have not directly come across such a tragedy. I totally broke down. But one had to get oneself together somehow, the nurses were needed.
I spend the night in the room by the courtyard, with wounded "Janka" and "Isia." It is difficult to fall asleep. This is the night of airdrops. The Allies' planes fly very low. The German defence is simply incredible. The sky is as bright as if it was a day thanks to the spotlights and star shells. The cannonade of the anti-aircraft weapons lasts incessantly until dawn. In the morning I learn that one of the Allies' planes fell down on Miodowa Street.
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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