The Witnesses' Uprising Reports

War Memoirs

         We invite you to read the memoirs-reflections of Lesław Ludwig, written down 42 years after the Uprising. Lesław fought in North Śródmieście of Warsaw.
         After months spent in German captivity he moved to the United States. He never came back to Poland.

Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz

Lesław Ludwig,
born January 25, 1918 in Płock
Home Army shooter aka "Karol II"
Home Army Combat Group "Krybar"
3rd Company "Lewar"
Prisoner no. 140724

Memoirs after 42 years

         My Uprising days in the Company of Lieutenant "Lewar" and later, seen again from a distance of 42 years by a rifle volunteer.
         The waves of recollections, their fragments, often run into life on different occasions, such as at anniversaries, meetings, or other echoes from the past, bringing back the whispers of days gone by. It was August 1944 - the Warsaw Uprising.
         When returning to those days in writing 42 years later, you may run the risk of being charged with oblique statements and no factual precision and accuracy. Memory is a fallible instrument, time blurs images, details, names, days, hours.
         My voluntary report will suffer from these deficiencies. I have a pocket diary from 1944 that I have kept throughout the Uprising until now. I took notes about the importance of the passing days. These Uprising entries are short because I was busy with other things, but the notes taken in captivity are gathering pace.
         I had to take notes about receiving and sending letters from and to Poland and other problems of great significance, such as for example whether I was hungry, cold, and how I spent my days until the moment of liberation. Well, it is time to get back to the subject at hand, but with a preliminary digression first:
         Before the Uprising, in September 1939, I had already smelled the gunpowder, although I was officially in the pre-enlistment stage. I was lucky to voluntarily join the Warsaw Defense Battalions formed by the city mayor Stefan Starzyński.
         I was a soldier for 15 days (September 12-27,1939), assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the 26th Infantry Regiment, whose role at that time was to defend Boernerowo, today called Bemowo.
         After this episode, I was taken captive for almost 9 months, until June 1940 when I came back to Warsaw. Was the reason for the release the fact that unprofessional soldiers from the September defense of Warsaw were not to be taken prison according to the capitulation terms, or was there anything else - only the stalag documentation could tell, if it exists.
         Anyway, in 1940 I returned to Warsaw, and a year later I was sworn into the Home Army, with which I had later a rather loose organizational connection, so that when the Uprising broke out I was not called up. As a result, once more I voluntarily joined the fights.
         The afternoon hours of August 1 found me in the area of Warecki Square. After work I went into the city for family and provisioning reasons, but with no luck in this respect.
         But as a result of my leaving home at 26 Kopernika Street and because of the fact that the Uprising broke out just on my way back home, I decided to "spend the night" at the "Ziemiańska" café on Mazowiecka Street. There, after a cup of black coffee and a nap in a chair, I was motivated by a categorical imperative to join the Uprising.
         So on August 2 I reported to a unit - the company of Lieutenant Lewar stationing nearby on Mazowiecka Street. I was accepted after examining my military usefulness from September 1939.
         I completed my first "military" actions on this day with the use of a shovel and a pickaxe, digging a passage to the other side of Mazowiecka Street. On that occasion I met my younger brother - a messenger from a scout company - who was there with a provisioning mission of collecting weaponry and ammunition.
         Probably on the same day I accompanied some officer cadet (do not remember his rank, pseudonym or name) armed with a light machine gun during a reconnaissance patrol on Czackiego Street. We looked over Piłsudski Square from the roof of the Merchant Bank, but without shooting.
         The next day marked an unfortunate sortie to Napoleon (Warecki) Square in the intention of dismantling a squawk box for our insurgent use. Unfortunately, we came under fire from the Arbeitsamt, the said officer cadet got injured, and the plan fell through.
         When I was still stationed in the company quarters on Mazowiecka Street, more combat in its nature was my service at the side of the head of the company, Sergeant "Hef", while penetrating Czackiego Street, where this fierce-minded officer, apart from carrying out a reconnaissance mission, would indulge in hunting Germans, whenever they appeared in the Police building or in the area of the Church of the Holy Cross.
         The reconnaissance missions consisted in wandering through floors and attics of houses situated on the even-numbered side of Czackiego Street, which, as it later turned out, was a harbinger of our move to this street, when "Lewar" moved to the Merchant Bank, and our platoon - to quarters on the other side of the street, with a view on the Church of the Holy Cross.
         The Merchant Bank became the place for further recruitment to "Lewar's" unit and the swearing-in of volunteers, from which I was exempted so as not to swear to the Home Army twice. The bank was the place where, after the bureaucratic-registering procedure, I received my Home Army identity card no. 3837 confirming that I was a Home Army shooter with the assigned pseudonym of "Karol II". I still keep this identity card somewhere in my old emigration papers.
         The first August weeks on Czackiego Street were of training, recruitment and company integrating nature. For our privates this was a time for familiarizing themselves with weapons and equipment - stens, "sidolki" grenades, sack grenades. Apart from that, the soldiers would patrol lookouts or other posts: an insight into the forefield of the Police Headquarters and the Church of the Holy Cross from the direction of Czackiego Street, outposts in the Merchant Bank with an insight into Traugutta Street and further, an outpost near the exit of Traugutta Street on Małachowski Square.
         We felt that the company soldiers were consolidating in terms of combat, despite shortages of equipment, and were establishing themselves in their assigned positions. The troops, the platoon, were growing accustomed to one another, we were getting to know each other, while more and more newcomers were arriving to Lewar's unit. For example one day, while holding my post at the crossroad of Świętokrzyska and Czackiego Streets, an older man approached me and explained that he was a major in the Polish Army and he wished to join the nearest unit. I referred him to the Merchant Bank as the place for achieving his goal. He was accepted. As I do not know the personal details of this major, I will refer to him further as Major X.
         When it comes to my peer shooters from that time, I have a fragmented memory of "Gapa" ("Dupe") - a volunteer but, although we were together throughout all those insurgent days and even the first period of captivity, his name slipped my mind. There was also a young boy (do not remember his pseudonym or name) whom I saw the next time in New York in 1954 at the annual celebration of the Pulaski Day Parade, at which a larger contingent of Home Army veterans from nearby American states was present. We recognized each other by our faces, and in hasty words we recalled our insurgent days in "Lewar", after which we had fallen into the emigratory existence or non-existence.
         "Bałtyk" ("Baltic") - Bolesław Rzepko is yet another fellow whom I remember more distinctly. I was with him throughout the whole time of the Uprising, captivity and the first period after our liberation in Germany. He returned to Poland probably in 1945 or at the beginning of 1946. He reminds me of "Sokół" ("Falcon") - his friend, who died on September 6.
         After this digression let me come back to the August days. There is a pass, which I have found in my old papers, that testifies to some relaxing day at that time. The stamp in the pass says that it was issued by the 3rd Company, 8th Group, Area I, Circuit 3, District of Warsaw and that it authorizes Lesław Ludwig to leave his quarters and go in the direction of 26 Kopernika Street on August 10, which I eagerly did in order to meet my family.
         In the meantime, the days of military actions were coming closer. Together with "Gapa" and the afore-mentioned nameless comrade we trained how to operate Stens, earning in this way the nickname of PMs (pistol machine gunners).
         On the evening of August 22, I was assigned a night shift armed with a pm near the cellars of a burned house at the crossroad of Traugutta and Krakowskie Przedmieście Streets. I completed my duty and turned in my weapon almost at sunrise of August 23. Having done this, I received a pathetic order to rest and take a nap, just as our attack through the Church of the Holy Cross on the Police Headquarters commenced. I was given a report on this action a day later from "Gapa", who got lucky in a military sense - he had a chance to actually fire a pm.
         Fate brought me other errands on this day. Following a short nap, armed with a sack grenade, I was ordered to keep vigil and observe Traugutta Street, which could be a possible route for a German counterattack from Krakowskie Przedmieście.
         My outpost was located in a house next to the Merchant Savings Bank - we were occupying the 1st floor. There was a hole in the wall in the corner of the room, making it a good vantage point with a view on Traugutta Street to Krakowskie Przedmieście Street. This was also the location of a PIAT anti-tank weapon waiting to welcome any German tanks coming there. And so, there was a tank rolling onto Traugutta Street, releasing a Goliath tracked mine. However, the soldier operating the PIAT screwed up and waited instead of firing the gun immediately, whereas the Goliath did not want to wait but exploded with a fatal result. The blast of the explosion blew plaster dust and crumbs right into our eyes, leaving our, or rather assigned to us, PIAT operator incapacitated. A piece of wooden roof fell on my head, pecking my head harmlessly with splinters - as a result, my combative position changed into prone position under cover of plaster and dust, but I was still holding a grenade in my hand. I must have looked really pathetic, especially when I started to climb out of this misery.
         Fortunately, military medics came quickly to our rescue - they carried the PIAT boy across Czackiego Street to a dressing station in the Merchant Bank. I followed them with heavy steps - a picture of misery and despair. A female medic I met on my way turned out to be my friend from Warsaw School of Economics - she gave me a tetanus shot - I am not sure if it was either out of the goodness of her heart or necessity. She encouraged me to sit down on a hospital chair and relax and suggested that I try some delicious cherry marmalade, which I did with moderation but without resistance, despite the buzz in my mind.
         Probably the roof falling on my head caused my confusion, because I cannot remember what happened throughout the rest of the day. Probably I returned to my quarters late in the evening, where "Gapa" was giving an account on the fights in the Church of the Holy Cross, and the euphory of the victory cheered us up.
         From the notes made in my pocket calendar in August I can deduce that on August 24 I was on leave at home on Kopernika Street, but probably not because of recovery needs but rather for sentimental and family reasons - my Mother's name day on August 25.
         From the course of the last days of August I cannot recall my service at "Lewar", but my notes tell me that on 27, 28 and 30 I was on leave at home for a few hours, having a pleasure to meet my younger brother, who had got injured in the Old Town and who smelled really bad after passing through the sewers to Śródmieście.
         Before August 28 I noted down that our company, or its part, was in reverse before moving to action with a mission to advance in the direction of the Saxon Garden through Traugutta and Królewska Streets in order to relieve or come to the rescue of troops trying to make their way out of the Old Town. Later our company was to regroup before launching an attack on the University.
         My notes from this period of time read:
         August 31 - hunting and diversion, 2 small holes - injuries
         September 1 - on leave, at home, rest
         September 2 - sortie to Traugutta Street, grenades and holes
         September 3-5 - no notes
         September 6 - 19 Czackiego Street, by some miracle getting away unscathed, passing across Aleje Jerozolimskie, 77 Marszałkowska Street.

         Casting my mind to those days, I can give the following accounts:
         August 31 - The diversion took the form of showering the debris on the other side of Traugutta Street with sack grenades from the direction of the Merchant Bank. There, somewhere behind the debris, were German outposts stretching to Królewska Street.
         The goal of the hunt carried out from the houses adjoining the Merchant Bank was to identify and lay fire on any spotted German positions behind Traugutta Street in the direction of Królewska Street and Małachowski Square. A few of us participated in the party.
         I received a rifle, some officer cadet had an LMG; he fired the first shots, but he did it so unfortunately that after firing the first volley the recoil force kicked him back and he had to give up on shooting and back out to repair the weapon.
         I was allowed to keep my position with my rifle for some time. This gave me a chance to take a shot at some Jerry who had run into my view like a loser. Alas, the shot did not kill him and he managed to limp behind the debris, disappearing from my view. Just after, I came under German fire, and the wall fragments made by bullets caused two scratches to my skin. As there was nothing more to do there, I pulled back to the Merchant Bank.
         September 1 - was noted as a relaxing day, but mortar shelling, grenade fire and Stuka strafing all were beginning to intensify in our area.
         September 2 - on this day a group of us, forming a troop, quickly crossed Traugutta Street and attempted to attack German positions in the houses at the back of Królewska Street, which we had spotted two days earlier. There we came under heavy machine fire that pinned us down among the debris and forced us to take cover in some cellar spotted under a destroyed house. We made our way back to the Merchant Bank in disgrace.
         September 3-5 - no notes on those days testify to the fact that those were very heavy days spent under intensifying fire and in the bitterness of failures and losses. Word spread that Lieutenant "Lewar" had been heavily injured and was treated in a hospital on the other side of Nowy Świat Street in the area of Kopernika Street, that the last attacks took heavy toll on our company which lost its striking force, that the Merchant Bank, our base, was to be taken over by another unit and that we were to pull back to regroup. The supervision, or command over our unit, was to be taken by Major X, mentioned previously in this report.
         September 6. It was my belief that on that day we represented a group of survivors who were stationed at 19 Czackiego Street. I am not sure how many of us were left - a dozen or so. Our activity came down to being on duty in the rear in anticipation of being withdrawn to the reserves.
         The following brothers in arms emerge from my memory: "Gapa", "Bałtyk", "Sokół". One time the latter released me from my post, which I would call an observational-contemplative position. I went down to the cellar to have a nap, when just a few minutes later a bomb hit our house, tearing it apart. My couch moved to a place where the wall had been just a moment ago.
         With my head spinning, I dashed into a neighboring room, from where I could hear screams and moans. There I saw "Bałtyk" sitting in a semi-reclining position. A few bricks had fallen on his head, and even more of them had covered the boy up to his knees.
         First I rushed to the nearest medical point screaming for help, and then I began to clear "Bałtyk" of debris. He looked quite ok, but later he had a false idea about me saving his life.
         After clearing and cleaning of rubble, Major X took the remnants of us under his care. In the meantime I learnt that "Sokół" had been killed by that fatal bomb.
         On (probably) that night we crossed Aleje Jerozolimskie and moved to 77 Marszałkowska Street.
         My next September note reveals a confession on September 7 and a holy communion on September 8. It seemed there was an occasion for it; besides, an escape from death prompted us to settle accounts with God.
         It seems that my pocket calendar did not want to accept any further September notes. Therefore I need to reconstruct the events from my elusive memory.
         The first days in our new quarters in South Śródmieście would have been of relaxing nature, if it had not been for the rush of thought and the awareness of suffering and tragedies all around us, from which you could not avert your eyes.
         I believe there are moments in human life when your awareness subconsciously switches off so that you cannot see what hurts, tears, aches.
         Memory erases images and blurs thoughts so that despair will not twist the way you should follow, and the echoes of painful or tragic experiences will not distort your later life. I would call this mental state an inner self-defense. And I think I was characterized by this state during my days in South Śródmieście.
         Whether there were 7 days, or 10, more or less, I cannot recall now. The only useful activity from that period was some provisioning mission, which consisted in carrying sacks with barley from some warehouses for cooking unhulled barley soup.
         There was also some meeting in a hospital with a friend, from whom we could learn about the fate of Powiśle and families left there. Powiśle in the area of Kopernika-Tamki Streets had fallen at the beginning of September.
         Probably around September 15 the Lewar remnants came back to North Śródmieście to join other troops. Our group of a few Lewars - "Bałtyk", "Gapa", me and others - were assigned to the quarters somewhere in the area of the intersection of Złota, Zgoda and Jasna Streets. We were part of some sapper unit from Powiśle commanded by a lieutenant with an exotic pseudonym - "Mimoza" or "Marabut".
         Here I must admit that those September days disappeared from my memory nearly completely except for some fragments. I do not remember the names of streets, houses, their numbers, I have forgotten the faces of newly met people. When we crossed back Aleje Jerozolimskie with a guide, at night the guide started looking for the quarters of the troops commanded by lieutenant "M". A pseudonym starting with this letter seemed somewhat exotic to me. Later, when I was in captivity and after that period, I tried to think back and recall the full name of that lieutenant's pseudonym. I somehow recalled "Mimoza" from my fallible memory, but quite recently I also remembered "Marabut". What was the truth - I cannot confirm with confidence. In any way, the lieutenant was a good sort and despite the influx of new people into his unit, he treated everybody on equal terms.
         We did not carry out any military actions in September. The days had turned into a routine based on survival and anticipation. Our unit was assigned to an outpost on Chmielna Street. Sometimes some Germans would come out on the other side of the street, but there were no combat actions in our section. Sometimes we had to watch out for the so-called "pidgeon snipers" - German snipers firing from rooftops.
         When it comes to other responsibilities, besides the outpost, I remember guarding German captives who were used to dismantle unexploded bombs. In this respect, but in a different situation, I once dropped the ball. One day, we had to take turns guarding a German captive kept in the area of our quarters. When my turn came, the Jerry was sitting on a chair, crunching from time to time sugar cubes. I was sitting nearby, but I did not engage into any discussions, just listening to his mumble or mutter. At some point my eyes closed innocently and I drowsed away. I was gently waken up from my snooze by the German prisoner who needed to go to the john, which he was of course allowed to. There was soon a guard change and until this day I have kept my misdemeanor in secrecy.
         My another sin from this period was of looting character. Near Sienkiewicza or Boudena Street I was able to localize the grave of my friend who had been killed in an attack on the General Post Office. I wished to somehow commemorate or honor the moment of his extinguished life. The flame of a candle was perfect for this purpose - the symbol of a vigil light. I recollected that there used to be a stand selling devotional articles near the church on Moniuszki Street. I went there searching for a candle or a lamp. The stand had been smashed - I took a candle and shamefacedly carried it to an uprising chapel located in a nearby house. There I lit the candle, whispering a few words in a prayer.
         I will refrain from reminiscing about gastronomical thrills from that period of time. For breakfast we would have an unhulled barley soup, sometimes we would have hardtacks of poor edition, dropped from a Russian plane nicknamed Kukuruznik. Once we could feed on some soup containing meat of suspicious origin - was it a cat or a dog - nobody dared to verify that.
         And so September passed. New entries in my calendar began to appear again in October. They read that on October 2 my younger brother found me at the quarters on Chmielna Street. The perspective of capitulation and captivity was looming on the horizon. My brother and I decided to get to the party together - i.e. we decided to keep together.
         The next entry from Wednesday, October 4, reads "clean-up for the parade", which translated into smartening ourselves up and preparing for German captivity.
         "Gapa" bade farewell to the landlady of our quarters. A few tears were shed. I was given a tin box with the inscription "Tea, E.W.I.G.. sp. akc. Warszawa, Leszno 10", knowing from my captivity experience from 1939 that such a box could be useful for keeping threads, needles or other personal and valuable items small in size. I probably also weaseled some needles and threads out of the owner on this occasion. Looking at this box now, I am sending my abstract thanks to my forgotten benefactor.
         Entry on Thursday - October 5 - reads "Departure - Ożarów", which means that after assembly and pre-marching ceremonials we set off along Aleje Jerozolimskie, turned in our weapons at Narutowicza Square and marched along the road to Ożarów.
         Friday - October 6 - Ożarów with its charm.
         Saturday entry - October 7 - reads "A letter through the Principal Protective Council (RGO) to Płock, entraining at 4 pm".
         The letter, which was addressed to my aunt in Płock, was delivered - the family address in Warsaw was no longer in circulation. We wanted to let our mother know in an indirect way that we were alive and on our way to German captivity.
         Monday - October 9 - we were accommodated in barrack no. 37 in Stalag IX in Fallinbostel. Later the barrack number turned into 39 B, and I was registered as prisoner no. 140724.
         Our days in captivity went by, until our fate brought us to Stalag VI J in Dorsten. On October 24, 1944, only "Gapa" out of all Lewar soldiers was left in this camp, whereas a group of ca. 150 Home Army boys and I were transferred to Arbeitskommando in Krefeld near the Rhine. Out of all Lewar soldiers, only "Bałtyk" was still with me - he had joined his brother Józef Rzepko in anticipation for the POW journey.
         The Arbeitskommando-Home Army ties bonded us together for a few months of our stay in Krefeld, where we were rushed to work, and later during an evacuation march in March 1945, and in May that same year when we faced the problem of liberation, which entailed either returns to Poland or global migrations.
         And at this point I will finish the story of an insurgent volunteer shooter, reconstructed 42 years later by

Lesław K. Ludwig
Formerly "Karol II"
Springfield, Massachusetts,
October 28, 1986

Edited by: Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz

translation: Beata Murzyn

Copyright © 2024 Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz. All rights reserved.