Interview with Stanislaw Aronson The interview was conducted on 28 November 2007 in Warsaw and then completed via e-mail correspondence.
Stanisław Aronson, a.k.a "Rysiek", was born on 6 May 1925 in Warsaw into the family of Polish-Jewish intelligentsia [his father was a merchant and industrialist in Warsaw and ŁódĽ]. After the outbreak of World War II he stayed in Lviv, which was at that time under the Soviet occupation. When the German-Soviet war started, he and his family moved to the Warsaw ghetto. He escaped from the rail transport, leaving his family behind, and returned to Warsaw to join the Home Army (February 1943). He fought in the ranks of the disposable unit A of the Warsaw Directorate of Diversion [Kedyw]. He took part in sabotage and subversive actions. During the Warsaw Uprising he fought in Wola district in the ranks of Kedyw Kolegium A in Radosław Group. Seriously wounded on 9 August 1944, he stayed in a hospital located probably at 7 Długa Street until the fall of the Old Town. He survived when the Germans captured the hospital and was evacuated to the hospital for injured soldiers from Starówka, situated at the Institute for Mentally Ill in Tworki. When the war ended, he left the country and served in the Polish II Corps of General Anders in Italy. Next, he emigrated to Israel. He participated in a few Arab-Israeli wars and was promoted to the rank of Colonel. At present he lives in Tel-Aviv.
He has been awarded the Commander's Cross Polonia Restituta and Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, twice the Cross of Valour, the Home Army Cross, the Warsaw Uprising Cross and twice the Polish Army Medal.
Photo of Stanisław Aronson after World War II
The interview was conducted on 28 November 2007 in Warsaw and then completed via e-mail correspondence.
Stanisław Aronson, a.k.a "Rysiek", was born on 6 May 1925 in Warsaw into the family of Polish-Jewish intelligentsia [his father was a merchant and industrialist in Warsaw and ŁódĽ]. After the outbreak of World War II he stayed in Lviv, which was at that time under the Soviet occupation. When the German-Soviet war started, he and his family moved to the Warsaw ghetto. He escaped from the rail transport, leaving his family behind, and returned to Warsaw to join the Home Army (February 1943). He fought in the ranks of the disposable unit A of the Warsaw Directorate of Diversion [Kedyw]. He took part in sabotage and subversive actions. During the Warsaw Uprising he fought in Wola district in the ranks of Kedyw Kolegium A in Radosław Group. Seriously wounded on 9 August 1944, he stayed in a hospital located probably at 7 Długa Street until the fall of the Old Town. He survived when the Germans captured the hospital and was evacuated to the hospital for injured soldiers from Starówka, situated at the Institute for Mentally Ill in Tworki. When the war ended, he left the country and served in the Polish II Corps of General Anders in Italy. Next, he emigrated to Israel. He participated in a few Arab-Israeli wars and was promoted to the rank of Colonel. At present he lives in Tel-Aviv. He has been awarded the Commander's Cross Polonia Restituta and Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, twice the Cross of Valour, the Home Army Cross, the Warsaw Uprising Cross and twice the Polish Army Medal.
1. W.W.: To start with, could you please tell us in a few words the reason and purpose of your current visit to Poland?
S.A.: In principle, my current visit is related to the invitation I received from the Institute of National Remembrance to attend the conference "Jewish Community of the People's Republic of Poland Before and After the Anti-Semitist Campaign in the Years 1967-1968". You will surely ask me in a moment what I have in common with this subject - after all, I left Poland just after the war and never came back. I have prepared a lecture entitled "Fighting for independence of Poland and Israel", in which I will talk about myself and my life. I will present the lecture on 6 December, but I have arrived earlier to take care of some personal and official business.
2. W.W.: .: I have read various magazine articles presenting your biography. What captures the attention is the fact how many war experiences you have had in your life: first World War II, including the Warsaw Uprising, then a few Arab-Israeli wars in the ranks of the Israeli Army. Could you compare these so different wars of your life?
S.A.: It is a difficult comparison, because each of these wars was of different nature. Perhaps it is World War II that has especially engraved in my memory, but I also remember very well the war for independence of Israel, which was very dramatic. The number of casualties was disproportionate to the number of population - there were 7,000 casualties and about 20,000 wounded people per 600,000 inhabitants.
3. W.W.: So it was all about survival, like in the case of the previous war in Poland?
S.A.: Perhaps the Uprising was not the war for survival, as we did not have any doubts that we would eventually win, that the Allies would be victorious in this war and Poland would remain Poland - we had no idea that the Bolsheviks would arrive.
4. W.W.: Well, perhaps, but the Bolsheviks were approaching and you had to consider the consequences?
S.A.: Well, we thought about it, but not very intently. We knew that it would be no good for us when the Russians came, but we did not realize to the very end what the situation would look like.
5. W.W.: Did you count on political agreement between the Allies?
S.A.: We thought about such an agreement, but for instance Rybicki* was against the Uprising only because he believed that we would be all arrested as a result and there would be no one left to wage war and resistance against the Soviets when they came. Rybicki must have known about the condition of our armament, training and equipment, but I think nobody realized at that time that the fights would get drawn out - everybody assumed that it would all end within 4-5 days and that we would be the only victims, arrested and deported after the fights.
*Dr Józef Rybicki a.k.a. "Andrzej" - commander of the Kedyw District of Warsaw; previously commander of "Andrzej's Group", later transformed into the Disposable Unit A of Kedyw called Kolegium A.
6. W.W.: So you thought that the Uprising would be a success, but afterwards they would catch you all?
6.1 W.W.: But the Uprising resulted in something quite contrary; the largest number of casualties was found among civilians...
S.A.: It always happens so. Politicians make mistakes, but it is civil population that pays for those mistakes. Today, after reading General Anders' assessment of the Uprising it is easier to understand the function that politicians served in the decision concerning the Uprising.
7. W.W.: Let me compare your words with the interview with Józef Rybicki, published in the book by Wojciech Wi¶niewski entitled "Rzymianin z AK" ["A Roman from the Home Army"] [the interview conducted in 1984]. In this interview Józef Rybicki talked about how proud and joyful he felt because of the Uprising, because he could fight in that Uprising.
S.A.: I can understand Rybicki; it might be so that during the Uprising he felt pride that he could participate in warfare after the Uprising broke out, but I know and I heard that Rybicki had been against the rebellion just as Stasinek Sosabowski, who had told me about it several times.
8. W.W.: So it turns out that although you had doubts about the purposefulness of the Uprising, participation in the fights may give you satisfaction?
S.A.: I am not sure whether you can say that fighting or war gives you any satisfaction. Maybe it is victory that does. War - being the war itself - I am under the impression that it can give you no satisfaction.
9. W.W.: Still, in many treatises and elaborations concerning the Uprising I have encountered descriptions - I am not sure if or to what extend they were "retouched" - of great joy and pride of fighting and heroism.
S.A.: These elaborations must have been retouched; otherwise, how could you explain to society such great losses we suffered: the destroyed capital and in the end our failure and the Soviet occupation. I am not sure if I saw any pride or great joy in the faces of my friends. Each day they watched their friends being wounded or killed.
10. W.W.: .: I have read various articles and pieces of writing about you, but I have never learnt about your training. You operated heavy - as far as the Uprising was concerned - gun, heavy machine gun ...
S.A.: [laughs and waves his hand] there was not really any training... Our commanders provided us with theoretical training and we trained in actions, but it was not any kind of "commando" - a six-month course. It was not any serious training because there were no conditions for it. Maybe a few times we traveled to the forest for training. Our fighting in the underground was based on quite different theories than military operations.
11. W.W.: And you were lectured on theory in the officer candidate school?
S.A.: Yes, there was some theory. I do not remember it well. During the courses we received a booklet and we learnt from it and memorized it.
12. W.W.: But you trained and became a good soldier after all?
S.A.: First of all, we had reserve officers as our commanders, who instructed us on what to do and how and when to do it. We fought mainly in the city. Even those assaults on trains were simply subversive actions, actions performed in the city. It was not the fight that would require any typical military training. You had to follow your common sense: for example how to block a given building.
13. W.W.: Flexible thinking and a bit of improvisation?
S.A.: It was all about improvisation. That is why such a man as Rybicki, who was not a military, was an appropriate person to take command, because you had to improvise a lot. The same situation was in England: the Special Operations Executive also consisted mainly of civilians, with the exception of Collins, who was in command, and a few officers. The whole English intelligence comprised people who did not serve in the Army. Those in the Army followed only one line of thinking, and that was not suitable for this kind of warfare.
14. W.W.: But when it comes to the atmosphere and mutual relations in the underground and insurgent army, was there saluting, reporting etc.?
S.A.: No, no.
15. W.W.: There were no such formal aspects of behavior?
16. W.W.: I have read various memoirs about the Uprising. In some of them I found the cases, in which the commander who gave orders and the soldier discussed or negotiated carrying out the tasks.
S.A.: I do not remember if there were any discussions.
17. W.W.: You had much confidence in your commanders?
S.A.: Yes, of course.
18. W.W.: Let me get back to the time of the occupation. I have read your memoirs and found nowhere any information regarding what you did and how you made a living?
S.A.: I received my soldier's pay, much as every regular soldier did. Almost all of us in the "Zbik" platoon received such a pay. I think that it amounted to about 500 Polish zloty, but they also covered our accommodation charges.
19. W.W.: You did not have any job?
S.A.: I worked for some time in a German company in the directorate of forests. But only for a short time. The Kedyw wanted me to get a German certificate.
20. W.W.: Have you heard the story about the insurgent redoubt in the Simons' Passage in the Old Town?
21. W.W.: Is it true that your grandfather was the owner of the Passage?
Each of my grandfathers, on the mother's side - Kafeman and on the father's side - Aronson, had 25% of shares in it. Before the Uprising, I went there to meet our administrator to collect some money. Leszek Rybiński and Olgierd accompanied me. He was terrified when I introduced myself and told him that I was son of Waldemar. I asked him if he could give me any money without calculations. He answered: "There is not much I can give you. I have to settle accounts with Germans."
22. W.W.: Did you have false papers on you?
S.A.: You had to have them. First, I got ones for the name of Zurawski, later for the name of Zukowski. One time there was a give-away in Czerniakow. We had to move at dawn. Mrs. Furmanek from Czerniakow was arrested after the assault on the train near Skruda, in which her son had lost his life. We thought that the mother was arrested because her son's body had been found, but it turned out that she was charged with trading in moonshine. But we did not know about that and so we changed the address.
23. W.W.: Do you remember anything from the ghetto? How long were you there?
S.A.: I remember a few pictures here, a few pictures there. Especially deportations were well engraved in my memory. I do not remember Germans shooting at anybody during the march towards Umschlagplatz. They [the Germans] controlled themselves quite well. They did not want any excesses or panic to take place, they wanted to have everything under their control.
24. W.W.: So generally you do not recall any excesses on the Germans' side?
S.A.: Initially, there were no special disturbances. Until 1942 the Germans did not enter the ghetto as often.
25. W.W.: That is why you said before that at first the ghetto had seemed to be even safer, as there had been no roundups.
S.A.: Yes, but later, when it all started, it was a totally different picture. The Ghetto's liquidation began in July 1942. One day the Ghetto was cordoned off by the army and police and the Germans started to systematically evacuate the whole district and lead people to Umschlagplatz. From there they were transported to the execution site. Naturally, the Germans kept that fact in secret. Officially, it was just a deportation.
26. W.W.: So nobody believed in this tragedy to the very end?
S.A.: Nobody ever believes that he will die, that he will be killed.
27. W.W.: But when you were escaping from the train, you knew what you were running away from?
S.A.: I did not know at that time what this train was heading for. Maybe it was heading for a labor camp? Part of that train was going to Poniatowa or Trawniki, where a labor camp was located.
We did not know about it to the very end. And if we had known, we would not have believed that.
28. W.W.: Some time later after your escape you returned to Umschlagplatz in a different role: as a soldier in the regiment of Stasinek (Stanisław Sosabowski) on 1 August.
S.A.: As a "landlord". And you want to ask me how I felt at that moment?
You did not think about it. You did not try to be a philosopher. It had to be done, so let's get over with it - that was it. Start philosophizing and you will go crazy.
29. W.W.: After capturing Stawki it was probably the happiest day of the Uprising - the march towards Wola on 2 August?
S.A.: Yes, it was really a great day.
30. W.W.: At that moment you thought that the Uprising would be a success after all?
S.A.: Yes, as far as we were concerned. Perhaps Stasinek knew more. On the third day we already realized that the things were not as good; we knew about the intention of withdrawing to the Kampinos Forest. First the order came, next - it was cancelled.
31. W.W.: When you got heavily wounded in Wola on 9 August, you stayed in a hospital on Długa Street until the fall of the Old Town. What do you remember from that period of time?
S.A.: I remember that we had to hide under our beds whenever there were bombardments. Fragments of wall fell on us. We felt pessimistic about the whole situation. But we were lucky that those injured Germans who stayed with us in the hospital rescued us.
32. W.W.: They testified to the German soldiers who marched into the hospital that you were civilians, although they were perfectly aware that you were not...
S.A.: We had burned our uniforms a day or two before the Germans came. But they wanted to help us and behaved very decently. There must have been many Germans in 1944 that had been against this awful war. Even if in the beginning 80% of German population had been in favor of it, their number must have been lower in 1944.
33. W.W.: Where were you and what did you think when the Uprising ended?
S.A.: I stayed in the estate near Cracow. When the Uprising was to end, we left the Old Town and got through to the hospital in the mental institution in Tworki. On 15 or 16 September we watched the air drop of American soldiers. The day after, we ran off. We learned about the fall of the Uprising in the estate near Cracow from people who had been deported from Warsaw. We might have also heard it on the radio. In this region near Cracow - there was free Poland there, without any Germans. But I did not dwell on it at that time. We lived from day to day.
34. W.W.: Exactly. When it comes to posttraumatic stress disorders resulting from war, I have recently read a piece of information in the press: according to CBS, about 6,000 former American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq committed suicide in 2005. I wonder why this syndrome - I think so - did not afflict those who participated in the Uprising, despite its tragic balance.
S.A.: It is hard to believe, yes. I have to check out this information myself. When it comes to us, I am under the impression that this phenomenon was absent in our case, but I am not sure if anybody kept statistics concerning this matter.
35. W.W.: I have one more question concerning the famous photograph of your detachment.
S.A.: Yes, it is one of the most famous photographs.
36. W.W.: Do you remember in what circumstances and where it was taken?
S.A.: Yes, I remember it well. It was taken on 2 August in the afternoon. Komorowski was visiting our unit. We stood in line, or in two lines, and he began to inspect us and greet each of us.
He asked a few of us where they had come from, where they stayed etc. It was "Bór" Komorowski together with "Radosław". A few shots were taken by a famous photographer of the Uprising - his name was Stanisław Kopf.
37. W.W.: The photo reminds me of the question concerning the uniforms. You wore a uniform partially consisting of a camouflage dress ("panterka" - "panther") and uniforms worn by the German crewmen operating assault guns. Why did you choose that second uniform?
S.A.: I do not know, perhaps I liked it more...
Stanisław Aronson in Wola district, 2 August 1944 (second from right)
38. W.W.: You were the originator and executor of the installation of a plaque written in three languages and commemorating the liberation of a group of Jews by your unit on 1 August 1944. This plaque is located just a few meters away from the place where Umschlagplatz was situated, now visited regularly by guests from Israel. Do you have information about how this plaque is received by visitors from Israel or have you heard any comments from them? In other words, how do those people perceive the commemorative plaque? Is its location optimal?
S.A.: Unfortunately, my battle for this plaque has not yet finished. I think the majority of visitors do not notice it. One day, I spoke with one of such groups myself. The families of the victims and a handful of those still alive meet in front of this plaque regularly on each anniversary of the Uprising at 3.00 pm o'clock. The same happened on the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, which I also attended. Three buses had arrived with Israeli military men and their guides on board, who led the visitors to the memorial at the Umschlagplatz. Naturally, the guides had no idea that there was any plaque there. So I approached the group, introduced myself and provided them with exhaustive commentary on how this target had been captured on the first day of the Uprising and 50 Jews had been liberated as a result. Now I am planning to build another plaque that would be more noticeable in its form, e.g. a boulder or a rock, but this would involve rebuilding of the memorial at the former Umschlagplatz.
39. W.W.: You supported your friend from Kolegium A - Stanisław Likiernik - who defended Poles in the discussion that carried on in the French press. The dispute concerned the Polish-Jewish relations during World War II. In one of such discussions the head of the Coordination Committee of the Jewish Organizations of Belgium expressed his opinion that "the Jewish community in Poland comprised 3 million people in 1939, but in 1945 it numbered only 5,000 of survivors. It is a ratio that has not been attained in any other European country, not even in the Nazi Germany." In your opinion, why do the comments unfair like this one appear?
S.A.: Unfortunately, after the war there was nobody who would be interested in taking care of this matter in Poland or abroad and speak honestly about the past events, provide reliable statistics and not sweep any inconvenient truths under the rug. It was not easy to admit that there had been many liars and scoundrels. In fact it was after the publication of the book by J. T. Gross when the real discussion and extensive research conducted by the Institute of National Remembrance started. I have read recently that there were about 5 to 10% of inhabitants who officially collaborated with Germans in Warsaw. This means that there were from 50 to 100 thousand informers.
This is a complex and sore issue and I do not think I am competent enough to discuss it here. But one thing must be added: there is a part of Polish community that should perform examination of conscience.
40. W.W.: Finally, what could you tell us about the balance of the Uprising? People say that the Uprising saved us from becoming the seventeenth Soviet republic and that it was and is the cause for pride for future generations...
S.A.: Maybe it is so - this is a question for political scientists or psychologists.
In my opinion, we paid too much for it. It was really a failure... The city went up in smoke... so many casualties, so many killed. I cannot imagine Poland becoming the seventeenth republic if it had not been for the Uprising. What did those Russians care about the Uprising? Firstly, it suited them just fine, and secondly, in 1945 Russians ignored public opinion.
W.W.: Thank you for the interview
Stanisław Aronson dzi¶
interview conducted by Wojciech Włodarczyk
compiled by: Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz
translated by Beata Murzyn
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