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 camp and the escape
2nd September 1944, when we were leaving Warsaw, was hot. Particularly if one carried the wounded, it was very hot. One was terribly thirsty. During our first night in Pruszkow we were very cold. We were shaking with cold. On 3rd September, when we were outside the camp, it was raining cats and dogs. We got terribly soaked.
A nurse led our group out of the camp. She told us that we are going to Szymanow. However, after we left the camp, she led us a bit further away and said:
"Now you can go where you will."
We were dressed very lightly. I was wearing only a silk summer dress and lengthy poplin coat, but my legs were bare. I even did not have any underwear. I lost the shirt when I was carrying the wounded. We were cold. Evenings and nights were cool.
After leaving the camp in Pruszkow, I knocked at the door to a house and asked if they could give me some underwear. The owner of the house replied that she could not give me anything like that, since she had refugees from Warsaw here and she had to clothe them. From behind her back, the face of my high school friend appeared. It was Fema Szatkowska. I learnt from her that she had lost her husband in the uprising, and she herself had been driven out from Warsaw with her few weeks old baby - she could not take anything with her. She was sorry that she could not give me anything. We hugged each other heartily and said our goodbyes.
Mrs. Faryaszewska went to her acquaintances in Pruszkow, the Grochowskis, on Drzymala Street 4, while I and Janka - to the RGO (Central Welfare Council) barracks. On the following day in the morning, Fema found me in RGO, brought a loaf of bread and underwear which she sewed during the night from her child's napkins. I was very moved.
In the morning, the daughter of the Grochowskis appeared in the barrack, sent by Mrs. Faryaszewska, and she took us to her parents' house. We spent two nights in their private house. It seemed to us that we were in paradise. After a month-long misery - we could wash ourselves, sleep in a bed with clean linen, eat a wonderful dinner on a table covered with tablecloth. Food is on a plate and one eats normally, with spoon, fork and knife. It was a real shock. There was the atmosphere of goodness and kindness.
In spite of this, the terrible memories return, tragic pictures appear in our minds' eye day and night.
We both came down with a fever - 39 degrees Celsius. It was perhaps caused by the nerves. We are totally deprived of any strength, indifferent to everything that may happen to us. Janka also has bruised head, the whites in her eyes are navy blue as a result of a stroke. She looks seriously injured. I am only haggard.
Next day, or perhaps two days later, hammering at the door. The Germans enter the house in search of Varsovians. The Grochowski's daughter flees to the garden. She advises us to do the same. I have a fever, and Janka cannot move at all. We do not even try to drag out of beds.
The Germans demand to see our papers. I have a Kennkarte from Warsaw, Janka does not have anything.
"I see, you're from Warsaw. Get dressed."
It is obvious we are going to a camp. The Germans have repeatedly organized roundups in Pruszkow to catch the Varsovians. We explain that we have just been released from the camp in Pruszkow as unable to work. They are not interested in it at all, we do not have any paper verifying our release.
The Germans order us to get up. The Grochowskis quickly try to find some clothes for us, prepare food for the journey. We hide the money given us by Mrs. Faryaszewska:
"Just in case, so that you won't be penniless... maybe someone will help my children, about whom I know nothing at all."
We leave the house escorted by the Germans. Where to? We do not know. We join other people, taken from nearby houses, who stand on a square. Obviously, the square is surrounded, so that no one would escape. Mr. Grochowski runs to the square and brings us some more clothes. A jacket for Janka. I also get something. Apart from this, we get a food parcel. Mr. Grochowski already knows that we are going to a camp.
Several hours later, we are left in some place, I do not think it is the camp in Pruszkow. There is a hall, where the people are stuffed into. In the morning, we are pushed into a train. Four days and nights in cattle trucks. There are several dozen people here, a handful of straw or chaff strewn on the floor to sleep on. We were lucky anyhow, since the whole populace from the Old Town went to concentration camps. We got to a labor camp instead.
Along the way, the train stopped from time to time. Along the way, on Polish areas, the local people brought us water, tomatoes, onions, sometimes bread to the train. Some gave it for free, and we had to pay the others.
We got 2 loaves of bread for the entire carriage and nothing more. One could get water during the stopovers. The train often stopped in open field, usually next to cities and towns. I remember that it stopped on a train station, since there were platforms there. It was perhaps in Skierniewice. We knew that it was the last stopover before Reich. The last moment when we can escape.
I and "Janka" jumped under the carriage. Of course, we were guarded by German soldiers. We almost managed to get to the other side, but a guard noticed us and started to scream. Then we squatted down and took our pants off. As if we were peeing. Then he was reassured that we do not escape. But, of course, we had to go back into the carriage.
We reached Wroclaw. There we were left in the Femo-Werke factory. There was a concentration camp on the factory's grounds. The area was enclosed, there were wooden barracks. By the entrance, cages with vicious dogs. We were taken there. Our camp was separated by wires from the concentration camp. It was labor camp.
We were placed in one-storey wooden barracks. There were three-bunk plank beds. The straw mattress was a louse-infested chaff. We each got a louse-infected blanket. There were Soviet prisoners of war before us there.
It was not very clean there. The latrines were in the courtyard, it was a long barrack with one pole. There was a water-tap outside. There were a few dozen people. We were crammed, there was wooden floor and some iron stoves with pipes, but these stoves were not used. There was neither heating nor an appropriate cover. It was already cold outside. The food was lousy, but we managed somehow. Usually, there was turnip soup, and sometimes - chicory coffee.
A Frenchman called Fredzio brought us food. We both spoke French. We got closely acquainted with this Fredzio and we had special favors. To drink, there were usually mint or some other herbs, which we did not like. The mint is supposed to be healthy, but we did not drink it eagerly. We liked chicory coffee the best. Thanks to Fredzio, there was always chicory coffee in our barrack. We also got bread in loaves, which we had to share later. Fredzio managed to get a bread slicer for us.
Only after a few days did we start to work. Initially, there were the bombastically called meetings. The Germans wanted to find out what we can do. For example, Janka spoke German and could type, so they employed her in an office. I and another friend applied for jobs as draughtswomen. We were employed in a construction design company. It was located in a private tenement house. In a relatively large hall there were gathered drawing boards from Ursus and some other office. The Germans evacuated a railway construction design company.
The drawing boards were placed in the hall and we were supposed to work there. Of course, we did nothing. We got a plan to draw up. Once a day someone checked on us. I remember how I spend 3-4 days drawing a plan which could be done in 5 minutes. The boards were set at an angle. There were only three of us in the large hall. We sat down somewhere at the end of the hall, among the boards and above all we slept. We were not visible from the entrance. Leaning on the boards, we used to sleep all day long. There was no work to do, but one had to get up early. To work and back again we went on our own, without any escort.
Taking advantage of the free time, I began to write down my experiences of the Uprising and the camp. Initially, I wrote them in pencil on German factory blank forms. With the passage of time these notes turned almost completely illegible.
an excerpt of the notes on German factory blank form
Later, I kept on writing in ink on A4 graph-paper. These ones are fully legible until today.
an excerpt of notes on graph-paper
Making notes directly after the events in which I took part enabled me many years later to faithfully reconstruct my experiences of the Uprising and the camp exodus.
After some time, they changed our accommodation. We were taken to a large wooden theatre. It was a large shed with stage and seats for the audience. The hall was large, and there was bathroom and kitchen next to it. There might have been a restaurant before. In the kitchen, there was one water-tap with cold water for several hundred people crammed in the hall. There were men, women and children there. Entire families.
This time there were bunk beds. We chose a place next to a canteen. Others lived on the stage, there was looser there. It was terribly tight. There was one water-tap with cold water and 15 wooden tubs in the room - they were used as bowls for washing. The cautious ones kept these wooden tubs next to them and one had to negotiate with them, so that they would condescend to borrow them.
The conditions in this theatre were also terrible. Most of all, it was cold again. The hall was shadowed, just like all houses nearby. In the ceiling, there were cut some star-shaped holes through which the light filtered from above. In the evening, when we lay down to sleep and looked above us, we could see the starlit sky.
I kept on working as a draughtswoman, and "Janka" worked in the office. Then I was transferred to Famo Werke factory where tank parts were produced. There was a large group of Poles there, but also Italians, Frenchmen and Czechs. They were there on better terms than Poles. They had better accommodation than Poles.
The Poles did nothing in the factory. The foreigners might have worked a bit. I had to take care of 4 grinding machines, I was supposed to check them. After some time, the grinding machine stopped and I had to check the thickness of the teeth made by the machine. Out of 4 grinding machines only one was at work, so in fact I had nothing to do. Unfortunately, one had to stand all the time to the end of the shift. One could not sit down. From time to time a foreman came and all Poles frantically started to work.
Of course, I measured and managed to get some cloths to clean them and constantly rubbed these grinding machines clean. Another worker found a lubricator, and when the foreman came, he oiled the machines. And the third one walked around with a broom and a dustpan on a stick and a handful of rubbish in his pockets. When a German was coming, he strewed this rubbish around and carefully swept it up.
In fact, this man was standing these 10 or 12 hours and was terribly bored. When the Germans were away, we used to tell jokes and other things to each other. However, one had to be vigilant, and start pretending to work at an appropriate moment. This is how this everyday work looked like. About noon there was a hour-long break and the so-called dinner. One got a plate of soup, it was quite filling and nourishing. We called it "the soup of 7 flowers." It was green and included various herbs, even nettles. Maybe it was healthy, but not very tasty. Sometimes there were even pieces of some kind of meat in the soup. It was important that this meal was filling.
We were not escorted to work, because different people worked in different places. There was a group which worked in Olawa in some factories. They had to get up at 3:30 or 4 a.m. since they had to go there by train. And by the way everyone else woke up, because the German yelled: "Olau, aufsteigen!"
Fredzio was with us no more, because we lived somewhere else, but we met him sometimes. However, in the factory I got acquainted with an Italian. He was called Sergio and we could make ourselves understood in French. Sergio was head over heels in love with Janka, but his love was unrequited. The three of us used to go for long walks. Janka took advantage of this acquaintance, because she wanted to learn Italian. In fact, at the end she talked a lot in Italian, and understood all. After the war, Sergio continued to write long letters to Janka.
We were very lonely and forlorn. Other people, particularly these taken during the roundups in Pruszkow from their own homes, were in touch with their families. Going to the camp, they took large suitcases with clothes etc. and got food parcels.
In contrast, we were alone and knew no one except for Mrs. Irena Faryaszewska, who left Warsaw without anything with her. We had not heard from our parents. Mrs. Irena sent us some packets, but most of all letters and postcards. I have these postcards till today. They are so warm-hearted. They were like news from another world.
This is one of them:
I am so sorry that I couldn't send you a packet. On the following day after I received your letter, there were no more transports by this company, and the army occupied this area. Two brushes and a pretty comb are still waiting - maybe the post will take this packet. I rejoiced heartily at your letter. I am glad that at least you are not apart... You are very brave and you have already survived a lot, considering your young age. So maybe you will also manage there... I am lying in bed and that's why my handwriting is so ugly. My leg has worsened, and it had to be operated on, it hurts so much. Now I'm afraid that I would have to go on crutches when they suddenly order to leave. I heard that my daughter is in Germany, she was taken away. They robbed her, so she was barefoot and hungry. Now, the family from Katowice and Sosnowiec knows about her and takes care of her. I cannot help my own child at all and it pains my heart when I think about her or about my son. I would like to stay in touch with you forever - we are bound by the painful tragedies. Remember your new auntie. I entrust you to God and kiss your both beloved faces.
Auntie Irena. 17 August 1944."
the original copy of the letter by Mrs. Irena Faryaszewska
Auntie Irena did everything in her power to help us: she encouraged us with her letters, sent packets, recommended us to her family in Sosnowiec and Katowice.
After the first week in the camp we started to plan our escape. Various ideas crossed our minds. The transports went to the east. We went to the railway tracks, to the semaphore, to check whether the trains stop here and with which train one could travel eastwards. We came to the conclusion that tagging along a military transport could be too risky.
It was cold. In October there was sleet and ground frost. We were terribly frozen. We decided to escape as an act of despair. It was too far to go on foot. Germans along the road, no place to stop, or to sleep. Cold nights.
We decided to escape by train. Poles could not go anywhere without a pass. Germans were allowed to travel without a pass not further than 80 km away. If someone wanted to go further, they had to have a pass.
We decided to take a risk. We planned to go to Katowice. First we would buy a ticket to Opole. Then we would get off the train, buy the ticket for the next stretch and so on to Katowice. It was a substantial amount of a road. Why Katowice? Because we had a hideout in Sosnowiec. Mrs. Faryaszewska had family there and we had their address. If only we could reach Sosnowiec. Then through the illegal boarder crossing, and we would have to figure something out.
We set out on 28 October by train, having bought the tickets to Opole. We reached Opole, where the train stopped for some time. I stayed in the carriage, and "Janka" got off to buy tickets. She was gone for a long time. I left the carriage and went to the platform. "Janka" was still gone, and the train started to move. I was left alone, without knowledge of language, only with the camp papers. We made an arrangement that in case of something we would meet in front of the railway station.
One had to go past a couple of platforms to reach the station. I reached it with my heart in my mouth. "Janka" stood in front of the station. She claimed that she had been on the platform; she might have mistaken the platforms. In any case, we were lucky to meet again. There was sleet and the weather was quite cold. We did not have any stockings on our bare legs and our shoes were full of holes.
We went to a nearby church. There were 2-3 hours left until the next train came. What was important was the fact that we had the tickets. The train arrived. We got on the carriage, and the train was moving. The ticket inspector checked our tickets.
There were 3 elderly German women in our compartment. They sat opposite us. Then 3 German soldiers got on to our compartment. They might have been going on a holiday. The compartment filled. I did not speak to Janka, pretending that I was mute. A German tried to speak to me, but I did not answer.
The German women, who sat opposite us, looked at us with disdain. Of course, we did not have our camp badges, we ripped them away from our clothes. We pretended to be German. Our neighbors from the compartment whispered to each other that we must be coming from the West Germany escaping the bombardments. We looked so miserable, so badly dressed. Later on, Janka translated their conversation for me.
Suddenly, a man in civilian clothes went to the compartment with the ticket inspector. He asked everyone to show their passes. The German women showed their passes and the soldiers theirs. We searched our pockets terribly long. At last, we showed our train tickets. The German said that he was not interested in them, he wanted to see the passes.
We said that we had no passes. He got interested where we were coming from. We said that we were from Breslau. Where to? To Katowice.
"You think you're so clever. First a ticket here, then a ticket there."
We replied that we were going to our family to get some clothes. Before that, we had to show our camp papers.
"Aha, so you're escaping and travelling by stages."
We said that we were not escaping at all, but only going to our family for some clothes.
Of course, he put us down on the nearest station. We were waiting for a train which was going in the opposite direction. Apart from us, he caught a boy, a Pole, who also travelled illegally. I remember that he had a cage with rabbits. When we saw this cage, we wanted so much to laugh.
The German took us to Opole. There he brought us to the Bahnschutz post, and telephoned Gestapo in Opole. He said that he had caught runaways and was waiting for someone to fetch us. The Banschutze were glancing at us. We said that we were not escaping at all. They replied that they would like to let us go, but the Gestapo had already been alerted, so they could not do it. They apologized to us profoundly. During this time, the attitude of Germans was different. They felt that the war was coming to its end.
A gendarme came and took us from the station. He spoke Polish fluently, he might have been a Volksdeutsch. Again, we explained to him that we were not escaping. Janka had had jaundice and she was totally yellow. We explained to the gendarme:
"She is sick, and I have tuberculosis. We don't have any warm clothes."
Maybe he believed us, or maybe not. He asked:
"How do you want to explain yourselves? Tell them that you're ill and you're going to get some clothes."
This is how he taught us. He explained that he would let us go, but could not in this situation. He brought us to Gestapo. I remember that we ended up on the first floor. There sat a uniformed officer. Next to him - a German woman - the interpreter. They had already known that they had runaways. They conducted an interview with us. We firmly held to our version about the clothes.
Finally, they brought us to the cellars and closed us there. The cellar was separated from the corridor by some bars. I had on me the notes from the uprising, written in pencil. I wondered with Janka whether to destroy them or spare them. And I did not destroy them. We also had something for the road, some bread.
We were in this cell, talked to each other and at last we started to laugh. We had bettered out fate, indeed. When one is young, one can laugh at anything.
"You see, Janeczka, we're cooped up now, and we don't know what is going to happen next, maybe we'll go to concentration camp. And we wanted so much to better our fate."
Suddenly, the familiar gendarme appeared in the corridor.
"I see that you're having fun here."
"It isn't raining, and it's a bit warmer."
And he replied:
"Don't worry, everything's going to be all right."
We spent there only two hours more. They led us upstairs. There was the same officer and interpreter woman there. We explained again that we were not escaping. Let them see what we were wearing. And I started to undress. I had a jacket. Underneath there was a jerkin, under it a nightie and a sweater. This was what I was wearing. The feet bare, without any stockings. The shoes - the upper part came off the sole.
The German said:
"Now we practically should take you to concentration camp. But this time we will pardon you. You will get a pass for the return trip to the camp. You have to hand this pass in to Lagerführer, and he has to post it to us. And this settles the matter."
A German dressed in civilian clothes escorted us to the train station. He talked in Polish, too. He put us on the train. We travelled back to Wroclaw. Of course we did not hand this pass in to the Lagerführer. Nobody learnt about our escape, because we left in the morning with the group going to work, and returned in the evening. And this is how our first escape ended.
Immediately we started to plan another one, which was much better organised. We got acquainted with Silesians who worked in Wroclaw. They could legally visit their families in Katowice during weekends. They promised us that they would smuggle us. "Janka" even had a legal pass. She procured it from work, with annotation that she was going to Katowice to get some clothes. I did not have any pass, and was a stowaway.
The Silesians said that it was best to leave on Saturday about 2 p.m. People go from work then, and the trains are stuffed. Even, if we have only one pass, they are going to organize it. "Janka" sold a golden chain, so we had some money. We bought some food for the road and set out.
We met the Silesians in front of the Wroclaw train station. Meanwhile, air-raid alert was announced, and everyone went down to the shelters. We also had to go there. The alert lasted perhaps half and hour. Then, we went to the platform. It turned out that the train which we were to take was already gone. The next one that arrived was empty. We had to make the decision whether to go or not. "Janka" said:
"You have to decide on your own."
The train stopped on the station only for a few minutes. I wondered whether I should take a risk and go, or not. Next to me there was an elderly Silesian man. He told me:
"Get on. Everything's going to be all right."
And I got on. They divided themselves among different compartments. One in the front, another in the middle, and yet another in the back of the train. Janka was on one end of the carriage, and I on the other end. There was no one in the compartment. I was totally alone. The train started.
Along the road, in Opole, there was an alert. There were more alerts on the road. But we somehow managed to get to Katowice without any control, maybe at the beginning there was a train inspector. Certainly, there was some kind of confusion because of the alerts. Maybe the members of the Gestapo who controlled the trains got on the first train, it is difficult to say.
We reached Katowice. "Janka" had a ticket and could get off in the normal way. I did not have a ticket. To get off, one had to have the ticket and the pass. I had a ticket, but only to Opole. The Silesian got off as the first, and I stayed on the platform. He bought me a ticket with which I could get off. And in this way we found ourselves in Katowice.
Sosnowiec was our destination. The Silesian who accompanied us lived in Sosnowiec and together with his friend he took us to Sosnowiec. There they saw us off to the address given us by Mrs. Faryaszewska. Thanks to it, we did not wander in the city. The Strokowskis, whom we reached, received us in a very kind way. Anyway, they were notified that we are from Mrs. Faryaszewska and must be helped. We stayed overnight by them. On the following day, together with Mr. Strokowski we set out by train to Trzebinia, and then, on our own, on foot through the border to the General Government.
There were two borders there. It was easy to cross the first one in Dulowa. And the second one was next to Krzeszowice. We passed Krzeszowice, there was a lot of soldiers there. Nearby there was the mansion of the governor Hans Frank. We decided to leave the road, knowing that there could be a barrier there and they would stop us there for sure. We decided to go around this border through the neighboring villages.
We did not know, however, which way was the safest one. We went to the first hut we came across, as I remember in the village Zbik. There was a woman and a girl in the hut, they were eating dinner. We asked if we could get a plate of the soup. We were hungry and cold. It was December, and there was sleet.
We were treated to the soup, and we asked:
"How can we get to the General Government? Do you know, which way can we take?"
The woman replied:
"I don't have a good grasp of it, but my brother led people many times, so I'll go to fetch him."
We stayed in this hut, waiting with our hearts in our throats, not knowing whether the woman went to fetch her brother. Then, the brother really came. He told us through which villages we have to go, which road to choose and what is the easiest way to go around the border.
"The border is between Radwanowice and Brzezinki. You must be careful there, since there are bunkers there."
We went on with Janka by some muddy roads. It was raining and snowing. It was 11th December, it was completely dark. We went in mud by some ravine. I went up and said to Janka:
"Come to me, here is a path and it is dry."
I pulled her by her hand and dragged her up. Suddenly I turned and in some distance I saw a silhouette of a German. He was standing on the hill, but the silhouette was visible on the background of the sky, it was a shadow with a rifle. Of course, we jumped downstairs and ran on through the mud.
We reached the village Brzezinki which was in General Government. From the woman in Zbik we knew that her paternal uncle is the village leader there, and he is a good guy. She told us that he would put us up for the night. We found him. We went to the hut, and there was only his daughter there. We asked if we can stay overnight. She replied:
"I don't know, my parents aren't at home. When they're back and agree, you could stay."
We waited for her parents about 15 minutes. Mr. Ksiezyc with his wife came. We say that we would like to stay overnight.
"So show me your papers."
We say that we have no papers, we are from Warsaw and our papers are lost.
"In that case you can't sat overnight. I don't know who you are, maybe some German women."
He explained that the searches were quite frequent here. The village is just behind the border.
"Maybe we can stay overnight in the barn."
"Not in the barn, they search there, too."
In one word, he said that it was absolutely out of the question. Then I showed him the only papers which we had. These were our camp papers. I said:
"We don't have any other papers, and in fact we are escaping from a camp, we are from Warsaw and we took part in the Uprising."
"Why didn't you say this to begin with?"
And we talked to Mr. Ksiezyc until 2 a.m. He was so curious what happened in Warsaw during the uprising.
"You know, there are Varsovians by us, but only elderly women. They don't know anything, and I can't learn from them what it was like."
He was also curious what kind of mood it was in Germany, among Germans, as he learnt from us that we escaped from Wroclaw.
Mr. Ksiezyc put us up for the night and brought some straw from the barn. Mrs. Ksiezyc prepared a wonderful supper and on the following day she gave us packet lunch for the road. We had some money with us, and wanted to pay for it. We left the money on the table, but the daughter of our hosts ran after us and gave it back. Until today I have fond memories of Mr. Ksiezyc and his hospitality. We experienced a lot of good from people who were total strangers to us, whom we met for the first time in our lives. The fact that our second escape from the camp was successful was to a large extend thanks to many friendly, warm-hearted and courageous people.
We set out on foot from Brzezinki to Krakow. It was about 25 kilometres. In Krakow, we came to the family of Mrs. Faryaszewska on Golebia Street 2. It was 11th December, Janka's birthday. They also received us cordially. There was supper, and - what is most important - we washed ourselves thoroughly.
During our journey, it was raining all the time and there was mud. We looked horribly, we were infested with lice. They absolutely wanted us to stay overnight. However, Nowy Targ was our destination. In the meantime, we learned that the train to Nowy Targ left on 5 or 6 a.m. We thanked for their hospitality. We believed, anyway, that we would not cause them any trouble in such a state.
"Janka" had a cousin in Nowy Targ, Father Pilchowski, whom she wrote letters to when we were in the camp. It was a very respectable family. We knew that they would certainly help us.
We reached Nowy Targ by train which was terribly crowded. We went with our hearts in our throats, since there were roundups to send people to labour camps. But we luckily arrived there. We got off on the train station. It was 12th December 1944. We had some money left. "Janka" said:
"After all this we must arrive with aplomb, with a cab, and not on foot."
I remember that we hired a cab and arrived with aplomb. The priest lived in the newly built curate's house, in 3-room house. His sister and housekeeper lived there. It was a normal house, with a bathroom, warm and heated. We ate at the table. We, the lousy pigs, immediately ran to the bathroom. They washed our heads with schoenocaulon. All our clothes were burned, and we put on the priest's undershorts and undershirts. Later on I brought this underwear to Warsaw.
Immediately there were clean beds, food, and most of all - bath. We spent about two weeks there. Or maybe 10 days. I remember that we spent Christmas there. Then the priest hired a room on the Kolejowa Street for us. The hostess lived in the kitchen, and we - in the room.
In Nowy Targ, we started working in Tabak Werke. It was a cigarette factory. One could get employed there, they accepted new workers eagerly. One had to get up early to get to work. We did not have watches, but our hostess's rooster, which crowed at 6 a.m., woke us up. One day, after I woke up, it seemed to me that it was time to get up. I woke "Janka" up and she replied: "Leave me in peace, the rooster hasn't crowed yet." It turned out that the rooster was already swimming in the broth.
When we left for work in the early morning, we could see the entire panorama of the Tatra Mountains. The mountains, strewn with snow the colours of the rising sun. It was breathtakingly beautiful. After the nightmarish experiences, in contact with nature the world was again becoming beautiful for us, in spite of the whole "humdrum of life" which surrounded us.
The frosty winter gave us a hard time, we had not heard from our loved ones, there were two of us, haggard girls, wearing whatever we could get. "Janka" was dressed in layers, and she had perhaps as many as 7 layers on. When she put them all on, with my help, she was so stiff that she could not reach her own nose with her hand and I had to wipe her nose. On the other hand, I had child's trousers on, and the crotch reached my knees. I remember how they fell down once on the street and the passing-by Germans laughed at me. We could laugh at ourselves in such cases, anyway. The sense of humour did not desert us.
We earned some money in Tabak Werke, there were even allowances: usually vodka and cigarettes. At noon we were invited for soup, and for dinner/supper we went to Father Piechowski, who was a great support for us.
I had an aunt in Zakopane. On New Year's Eve we decided to set out to visit the aunt. The aunt did not know that I was in Nowy Targ, she believed that I was in the camp. On New Year's Eve we waited for the train on the station. Unfortunately, the train did not come, along the way the partisans had blown up a bridge. We had to go back home from the station. We invited an elderly woman who did not know what to do with herself. As I remember, there was minus 18 degrees Celsius - both at night and during the day.
On the following day in the morning when it was daylight and it was past the curfew, I set out on foot to Zakopane. I remember how the snow crunched under my feet. First there was only the two of us, and later someone else joined us. We went through Szaflary and Bialy Dunajec. Somewhere near Bialy Dunajec, we saw a car, perhaps a delivery van. We stopped this car and got a lift for the last stretch of the road.
We appeared by my aunt's. The aunt, as I recall, gave us a lot of money. I also got a winter coat from her. Janka said: "Listen, you know what, maybe it will be enough money for a sleigh ride to Cyrla." I had never been in Zakopane before. Janka had been there earlier. And we threw away all our money.
At that time in Zakopane there was a lot of convalescent Germans. The shops were for Germans. But there were also many Varsovians. I came across Mrs. Haman and her sons, who left Warsaw after the uprising and reached Zakopane. We spent a pleasant evening with them. And we were to Cyrla.
Then it was 1st January 1945. We returned to Nowy Targ and worked there yet another month.
I managed to get an original Kennkarte by the false name Konarzewska Barbara. I told the clerk that my papers from Warsaw were lost.
It was known that the Russian army was coming. One could hear cannonade, Nowy Targ was shelled by artillery.
A Wehrmacht officer with his aide-de-camp was assigned to take up lodgings by us. Germans went from house to house, looking for lodgings for the army. One or two nights before the liberation we were peering through a window, we lived on the ground floor, and we saw the Germans retreating. They were dressed in white, the combat forces with weapons. They might have been members of SS, their units went under our windows.
The following night the officer with his aide-de-camp stayed overnight. Of course we had to vacate our room, and moved to the kitchen, to the hostess. That evening we talked to the Germans. Janka spoke German, and the aide-de-camp spoke Polish. They invited us and we talked for a long time. I experienced terrible things during the uprising, I saw executions of defenseless, wounded people and we told the Germans about this. They nodded, but what could they say to us? But it was clear that it shocked them.
This German was not a professional soldier, but a drafted one. He was relatively young and his aide-de-camp told us that he was a good man. He commanded a unit of Russians and treated them normally. I must confess that in spite of his being German, this officer was likeable. Certainly not only because he was very handsome, friendly and cultured. I learned from him that he had a family.
At night, Nowy Targ was heavily shelled, particularly in the area of the market place, there were fires. Our hostess suggested that we should hide in the cellar. I and Janka did not want it very much, but we agreed in the end.
Our German left the house several hours before coming of the Russians. I suppose that these Germans were killed, since the Russians surrounded the retreating German troops and destroyed the encirclement.
In the morning, the Soviet troops came. The house was full of them. One could see that they were on the run, panting. Even though it was winter, they wanted water and water. Mrs. Bochenska put a bowl and a mug, but they drank directly from the bowl. And then they ran on.
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"
Copyright © 2013 Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz. All rights reserved.