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"

7 Dluga Street

         19 August
         We go back from the cathedral to the new quarters. We are assigned a spacious room upstairs in the Ministry of Justice building on 7 Dluga Street. Together with "Basia Wasilewska" we start preparing a special breakfast: bread with sliced bacon. The boys cannot wait for the moment when they would be allowed to get their portions. The portions are precisely distributed and restricted, but they necessarily have to be fair, that is, equal.

The area of the Ministry of Justice building on 7 Dluga Street.
German aerial photograph taken before the outbreak of the Uprising

         Suddenly, we hear the characteristic creaking of a Nebelwerfer. We know that in a few seconds terrible missiles may reach us. We throw ourselves on the floor. The windows in this room overlook the street. The first explosion is heard. The next one is closer. The third one hits our building. It turns grey with dust, the plaster falls down on our heads, the walls shake.
         We regret our wonderful breakfast very much. We clean rubble and plaster from the pieces of bread; it is not a problem that they will crack a bit in our mouths. What is worse is that "Benius" pseud. "Benesz" (Bernard Bielinski) got hit by a shrapnel in his knee. I take him downstairs to the hospital, which is located in the basements.
         Half a hour later, "Zbych" (Zdzislaw Skupien) and "Szary" (Jan Gejge) are injured by a shrapnel on the courtyard of the Ministry of Justice.
         In the afternoon, me and "Teresa" go to 44 Podwale Street to get the Home Army IDs prepared for us. There is a heavy bombardment there. We sit for half an hour in the basement. At last, we make a decision to come out. On Kilinskiego Street we hear the creak of a Nebelwerfer. We run to the gate, to the stairs. It is getting dark, a blow throws us to the ground, something pours down on our heads. I lose the ID I was holding in my hand; it has hit quite close, two floors up. We were lucky this time.
         At night, from midnight, I am on hospital duty by the wounded "Zbychu" and "Szary."

         20 August
         Our quarter is located on the ground floor of the Ministry of Justice in the so-called paper mill. We feel here much safer than on the first floor. Mostly because we stay in rooms without windows. It is, however, pitch black here; one has to use candles. Sleeping on bales of paper is not that bad. At least it is warmer and softer than on the bare concrete.
         It is Sunday. In the corridors of the Ministry of Justice, Father Rostworowski says the Holy Mass. There is a lot of people. Just before the Elevation, a Nebelwerfer missile hits the building, luckily, two floors up. The Mass is interrupted for 10 minutes. The rubble has to be cleaned from the altar, the candles which went out have to be lighted again. All people present here are calm in a way that brings respect, nobody leaves his place or panics. There is a deadly silence. Father Tomasz absolves everyone. After a short break, the Mass continues.
         At night, I am on duty with "Basia Wasilewska" in hospital on 7 Dluga Street.
         The hospital staff is too meagre to bear - psychologically and physically - the difficult service which often lasts 48 hours or longer. Because of this, unit nurses who leave for "rest" after 24 hours, are often assigned to immediate relief.
         We have under our care a large ward on the ground floor with the adjoining corridor. About 80 people in total.
         These "lucky" wounded are usually laid down in twos on beds pushed together by the walls. Others lie side by side between the beds, almost under the beds and in the middle of the ward on mattresses, stretchers, or blankets. One has to be careful not to step on somebody or hurt someone. The lack of light only worsens the situation. The tiny candle-end and a few matches left for us for the entire night is not much. We also got less than a glass of priceless black chicory coffee for these few dozen of people: dying of thirst, bloodless, fevered. We divide it in very meagre parts, at least one teaspoonful at a time.
         Me and Basia are on duty on the corridor. We have only one tiny chair at our disposal. Next to us, an elderly man with a shot throat wheezes, dying. Luckily, his wife is by his side. The patient is conscious. He suffocates. He begs his wife to lift him up and then lay him down again and so on without end. It seems to him that the change in his body's position will restore normal breathing. The woman is at the end of her tether. Suddenly, she jumps up, crazed, and starts hitting her husband on his head with her fists. She is screaming:
         "I cannot bear it anymore, why do you pester me so? You tell me to lift you up and lay down again... and I don't have any strength left..."
         We hold her hands. We take her aside. We explain to her:
         "What are you doing? This man is dying."
         The woman trembles, sobbing.
         Among the patients on the ward, there is a young man. His leg is amputated up to the groin, and his head is bandaged. He constantly calls us, tosses on the bed, and when he is approached, he mutters something unintelligible. One moment, he catches me by the neck. In spite of everything he is still very strong. Only with difficulty I manage to break free from him. The people present on the ward tell him off for disturbing the peace. With the coming of the night, they have a few hours of relative peace before them. The sounds of struggle are heard, but from afar. The planes start to plague us first at 5 or 6 a.m. It is getting quiet on the wards. The patients want to sleep.
         A loud groan reaches us from some distance. As if it was coming from above. Some people still remain on the first floor. The groan turns into a clear calling, it repeats itself. I follow the voice. I go through the stairs. I must pass the hospital sewer. We have had no sewerage for weeks. The excrements of the patients are carried here, to the first floor, to the former toilet rooms; a mass of them has already reached the window. One has to hold one's breath when passing here. The stench brings nausea.
         In the door of one of the demolished wards I come across a stretcher with a severely wounded man. It was him who called despairingly: "Water, water." Nearby, with her face downwards, a burned, naked young woman lies on her stomach, unconscious. She will not live till dawn. She is dying alone on the bare floor. I think about her family whom I do not know anyway... mother, father, siblings... Oh my God, I wish they would never find out how their daughter, perhaps their only, beloved daughter, or sister, died. The slender young body is still breathing. What can I do for her? I do not even have anything to cover her with. It is a horror.
         In the morning, three dead bodies are carried away from our ward.

         21 August
         A heavy bombardment and shelling of the Ministry area lasts from the morning. The Germans must have learnt that it is here where the headquarters of the Home Army is located. Artillery and Nebelwerfers thunder incessantly. There is evacuation of the upper floors of the hospital and rooms on the ground floor. A lot of people is engaged in this action. The hospital numbers hundreds of people. Together with "Gruba Zosia" I join in to help. The way is strenuous, frequently strewn with rubble and dangerous, because they are shooting "like hell." Every time a missile hits the building, plaster and rubble falls on our heads. Luckily, the windows had been broken a long time ago, and we will not be hurt by glass. As the result of the incendiary missiles, fire breaks out here and there, but the dedicated "firemen" on duty on the hospital roof work efficiently and the fire is usually quickly discovered.
         We have to go through the hospital stairs, the large courtyard, winding passages and then jump to the other side of Podwale Street. It is enough to carry only one person here to have one's heart in one's mouth out of exhaustion. But you have to go several times at least. One can have a rest, take a deeper breath on the way back, carrying an empty stretcher.
         I meet "Chinczyk" (NN) from the 1112 platoon on the stairs. He looks at me closely and in the first moment he does not recognise me: me and Zosia look simply ghastly. Dishevelled hair, dust-covered heads, red from effort, grimy faces, marked with thin smudges of sweat. Terrified eyes of "Chinczyk" are no wonder for me. I gratefully accept few pieces of gingerbread that he gives me. For a moment, I have pangs of conscience for not reading his letters sent by a "hitch" due to lack of time or lack of interest. I do not even know what declarations they hide, which Teresa cannot forgive me. Stoically calm, I bear her bickering remarks and jibes with humour.
         In the evening, some boys from our platoon, led by "Trzaska" (Eugeniusz Konopacki), set out through the sewers to Zoliborz in order to fetch the weapons. Full of anxiety, we say our goodbyes.

         22 August
         The Ministry building is still plagued by all kinds of missiles. Only the air bombs pass us over, though they hit the houses on the other side of Podwale, Kilinskiego and Dluga Streets instead .The fire of the Ministry lasts until noon. The action to extinguish the fire is impressively organised. Through the entire courtyard, there is a long queue of people, from the barrels filled with water during the early days of the uprising. The queue reaches the last floor and even branches in several directions. The most courageous ones take their positions on the roof. This time the fire is particularly dangerous, it lasts for several hours, breaking out in many places.
         A lot of people are mobilised to extinguish the fire, as well as all available "fire brigade" equipment, such as pots borrowed from the kitchen, kettles, also buckets, basins, bowls and so on. I hand the bowl to my neighbour on the left, to get a bucket from the one on my right, and get hold of the handle of a pot another moment. Unfortunately, there are short breaks in water delivery. Every time a Nebelwerfer creaks, a bullet swishes, the approaching Stukas roar, people run to the walls, or hide in the gate, shedding the priceless drops of water. Some of them do not go back to the queue. The queue of the "firemen" gradually diminishes. In spite of this, the fire is stopped about noon.
         Hell broke loose over the Old Town. The bombers attack the area of Old Town Marketplace, Jezuicka and Swietojanska Street. It does not happen very often that the first front line is bombed. A tiny miscalculation may result in firing on one's own units. This time, it seems that the bombs fell in the area of the cathedral. What happened to our unit which sticks there?
         About 2 p.m., taking advantage of a small break between the air raids, full of anxiety I set out there, through Podwale, Nowomiejska, Krzywe Kolo, the Marektplace, Jezuicka. I am terrified by the results of the bombardment. The Marketplace probably suffered the most damage. I reach Jezuicka, our quarters, a moment after a bomb hit it. It fell close to the barricade. The blow broke open the gate and knocked down everyone who was nearby. I find them covered in dust. How come that nobody died?
         When I am present in the ruins of a house on Kanonia Street, "Lech" (Leszek Klimczak) is killed by a fraternal bullet; he went out towards the Castle to make a reconnaissance with a three-men patrol. He recklessly leaned over from the gate, and because he was wearing a German uniform, an uninformed friend took him for an enemy soldier and killed him on the spot. He fell on the Kanonia Square. We had to wait until twilight to drag him out of there. We buried him in the courtyard bordering with the Jesuit Church. The number of graves on this courtyard was quickly growing.
         "Ogniomistrz" (Andrzej Lewocki), who has throat injury, as well as "Robert" (Tomasz Russanowski), "Wojtek-Rawicz" (Wojciech Rzymowski), "Dab" (NN) all stay with me. I see off "Ogniomistrz" to the Ministry. I return with Ewa to get "Robert." Together with "Justyna" (Helena Suryn) and "Ewa" (Ewa Dziewulska-Sieminska) we carry him on the stretcher. The way is burdensome, the streets and the marketplace are strewn with rubble. We must stop from time to time to catch breath. As late as on Krzywe Kolo Street we come across some "civilian" men who help us to carry the wounded to the hospital, albeit unenthusiastically.
         In the area of the cathedral, the situation is not funny. The Germans charge from several directions: from the Castle, Kanonia Street and the slope. Our tiny unit is incomplete: some boys went through the sewers towards Zoliborz to get the weapons, apart from this there is a lot of wounded people, and many are killed. "Roch" commands the defence of the cathedral. He asks me to inform someone from the headquarters about this hard and dangerous situation in this sector and ask for reinforcements. I return to Kanonia Street with Lieu. "Prymus" (Jerzy Chorzewski), "Adam"(Adam Nikolay) and five other people from the 1112 platoon. In the tucked-up blouse of the camouflage jacket, just like apples in an apron, I carry some "filipinkas" (ET wz. 40 hand grenades) and some English grenades, the so called "eggs" taking care so that they do not hit each other too much. I put my feet carefully. I am not allowed to stumble, or even more, to fall.
         It is late evening. Fires illuminate our way. I return to the Ministry about midnight. I learn that the wounded: "Benesz" (Bernard Bielinski), "Zbych" and "Szary" were moved to Krzywa Latarnia.

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.