Interview with Mr Stanislaw Likiernik

Interview was performed by correspondence in written form. Underlines in text are made by Stanislaw Likiernik.

         Stanislaw Likiernik was born on June 25, 1923 in Garwolin. During the occupation he belonged to ZWZ, and then took part in sabotages' actions of Kedyw AK Main Command. His activity from this period and from the Rising is presented in literary and feature form in Roman Bratny's book "Kolumbowie" (Skiernik character). In the time of the Warsaw Uprising his militant track was going ahead through Wola, Stare Miasto and Czerniakow in ranks of "Radoslaw" Battle Group. Three-times wounded, he was honoured with Military Order "VIRTUTI MILITARI" class V.
         Few times in the Rising he was close to death, for instance when he was going from Stare Miasto to Srodmiescie through Ogrod Saski with battalion "Zoska". His life he presented in own book with the title "Diabelne szczescie czy palec Bozy?" ("The Evil luck or the hand of God?"). In 1946 he emigrated to France, where he still lives. For 25 years he has been chief executive in Philips. He is married to Frenchwoman, and has two children and three grandchildren. Mr Stanislaw Likiernik is a member of Honour Board of building the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising.

Stanislaw Likiernik's photo from the School ID in 1939

Part of the interview

                  1. W.W.: Firstly I would like to ask you questions directly connected with your flash-backs presented in book "Diabelne szczescie czy palec Bozy?".
I was always puzzled by the famous action of breaking through Ogrod Saski. In description in Aleksander Kaminski's book "Zoska i Parasol" there is information, that insurgents formation twice went through Ogrod Saski and talk with single Germans positioned there. It seems to be improbable, that Germans would not gather anything after seeing insurgents formation (dirty uniforms, often ragged and blooded, wound dressings on their faces, each with visible injury, girls-medics with group of soldiers). Maybe they were scared to attack and conscious, that if they started to alarm, they would first lost their lifes. You were walking few steps from them.
Was this possible in your opinion? Whether it was so dark in Ogrod Saski, that this unable proper identification or was it lightened by fires? And finally - was the bands taken off or only narrowed, according to Aleksander Kaminski?

         S.L.: I have not seen and heard about any talks with Germans - apart from that from Marszalkowska Street. Bands were taken off and it was dark in the park, there were no lights from the fires. Stare Miasto was far away and probably burned at all, and Srodmiescie was not on fire.

                  2. W.W.: After being injured in Wola you were in hospitals and you lost your panther-uniform. Having no clothes you exacted on the nurse delivery of civil suit. Then you took part in combats in Stare Miasto and Czerniakow, and also breakthrough to Srodmiescie (Insurgents used German uniforms).
Did you get new uniform, if yes - when? There are no information about that in your narration.

         S.L.: It is good question. I do not remember at all, how I was in Stare Miasto uniformed. Maybe someone gave me panther, perhaps injured person. Your question shocked me. I do not remember anything from physiology life - what I ate, drank, how and when I washed myself (I hope I did it).

Photography of soldiers from Kolegium A took in Wola.
Stanislaw Likiernik stays in the third row, 9th from the right

                  3. W.W.: You also reminisced, that awareness of Rising defeat reached you in the end of August '44 (after Rising in Paris).
How did your point of view about Rising change during it?
When did you start thinking, that the situation is not going well?
Did you have any hope for redeem from wreck according to gen. Berling formations' landing in September 1944?

         S.L.: The awareness, or rather forecasting the fact that Rising may not be successful (not enough weapons) - as I wrote in my memoirs - we had before the outbreak. I was sure, that it would blast only with cooperation with Russians. It was not possible to make "surprise" for Stalin - who was enemy of London and AK. Germans were making for him bad job, as it was an addition to their partnership in 1939-41. When I talked with Jodla (Krzymowski) in Starowka, we had no hope for survive, because we could not think about capitulation and camps.

                  4. W.W.: I am interested in insurgents age.
In your opinion, were there only teenagers or also many older people, for instance 30 years old?

         S.L.: The majority of combats was very young. In our sabotage group, Kedyw, there was a group of workers from Wola, who were, I guess, thirty. You should ask Danusia Mancewicz.

                  5. W.W.: In many memories about the Rising stems that "esprit de corps" Rising formations was built first and foremost on friendships and long, long acquaintanceship.
Did you observe big influx of volunteers to the Rising formations?
those volunteers integrated well with cadre formations?

         S.L.: There were a few added in boys and as far as I remember - two girls, Irys and Wanda - Irena Wnek and Basia Niklewska (killed in the Rising).

                  6. W.W.: In your book there is a statement, that "The Rising was the worst period in life". However, in the end of the book, you wrote, that "The moments of combats during occupation, when I felt free, fighting for freedom - will always remain in my memory, unvanished and valuable."
So, was the Rising something tragic and horrible, or something elegiac and great?
Which emotion is the strongest one, when you think about the Rising?

         S.L.: I have good remembrances from Kedyw actions before the Rising. Capturing Stawki and march to Wola near the Pfeiffer factory - it was the only good moments - first and second day of the Rising. The other things were not that great - hospitals, operations without anaesthesia, friends deaths. It was rather tragic situation.

                  7. W.W.: I guess, that the war time affected on your life.
How often do you think about the Rising and the occupation? Are those times so faraway, that you think about them only from time to time?

         S.L.: This period of life is still alive and unforgettable. Certainly, it is impossible to think about it every day, but it is encrypted somewhere in mind - and also on skin.

                  8. W.W.: You lead special meetings for the French youth about the time of the II World War.
In what are they the most interested in?
Are the French youth conscious that the Poles were fighting against Nazism* or you have to explain them basic facts about the war and occupation in Poland?
Do they piece Warsaw Uprising together with Uprising in Ghetto in 1943?
Are some of them shocked by the fact, that something like Warsaw Uprising exists in the history?

* Hitler's Germans have such name in France, and also quite often in Poland.

         S.L.: The Uprising in Ghetto is often known, our rather never, apart from people especially interested in the history or in Poland. Many times the reactions after publishing my book were like: "So there were two Uprisings in Warsaw?"

                  9. W.W.: You are - like your friend Krzysztof Soibeszczanski "Kolumb" - one of the models for Skiernik character in Roman Bratny novel "Kolumbowie".
Are your connection with this character based only on your adventures or book's author used also your characteristics?

         S.L.: In Bratny's novel there are my adventures. Little is written about characters, because it is kind of "reportage" book.

                  10. W.W.: Before the World War's outburst you hated Germans (especially those from SS and Gestapo) and this feel motivated you to conspiracy operations.
Did this feel strengthen during the Rising?

         S.L.: The hate did not strengthen. It was in the peak before the Rising.

                  11. W.W.: I relate to the ending of your book, in which you give in four points life's "testament".
Does those points are based mainly on the Uprising's experience?
Does your life after the Rising in France (you had major and responsible positions) influenced somehow on your life attitude and personality? I mean, could it be said, that main life lesson you had during the Warsaw Uprising?

         S.L.: Certainly not only the Rising, rather things, which were before. Kedyw, group actions, absolute solidarity, friendships, giving responsibility - those things were the fundament of my attitude. The Rising did not add anything, it even changed our attitude to our commanders to the "sceptic" one. For instance - attack on Dworzec Gdanski, the idea of creating "tunnel" for Starowka to Srodmiescie, and on the beginning - attacking bunkers by defenceless people. It gave food for thoughts and also influenced on my attitude to the "hierarchy" for the rest of my life.

                  12. W.W.: For the majority of the young the Rising is something abstract, history "struggle". Other people, who are interested in the Rising, are not only excited by the superhuman actions, but also those actions are strange to them. Nowadays it is hard to understand such a brave behaviour and immolation. While reading about those things people, who usually underestimate themselves, say they would never act like troops during the Rising. On the other hand, in every memorial about the Rising - also in yours - it is said that brave and immolation were very common.
So, could it be explained by the whole situation during the occupation or it was special generation, in which you were also, and patriotism nurture?

         S.L.: I do not like phrases like "bravery" and so on. In this situation there were not any other way to behave. I think that our nurture - first generation in free Poland, tradition of fighting for freedom have influenced on us. But "Solidarnosc" shown that Polish people can rebel without blood (almost). I do not think we were special. Poles can fight and rebel. But we cannot live in democratic country, be for, not against, vote. I see it everyday in TV Polonia and it is horrible.

                  13. W.W.: Many Insurgents think that if they had to choose on more time - like in August 1944, they would act the same, knowing that the Rising failed.
What do you think about that? Or maybe those people do not recognize the Rising as a failure?

         S.L.: The Rising was made on order. We were combats, so we had to do orders (despite having eventual opinion about commander). Of course not in 100%. Germans behaved in this way - I would not shoot kid for any order.

                  14. W.W.: According to the Rising, there is an opinion that from military point of view it was bravery act, but with no chances for the success because of big disproportion. On the other hand some say that it was military success (for 2 months big city territory was tackled by Insurgents, despite the fact of disproportion), but it failed because of political reasons, not military (disloyal allies and Stalin's behaviour, half-enemy).
What is your opinion? Was it, the Rising, big, even improbable military success, but mucked up due to wrong political calculations of Polish politician or as a result of betrayal of allies and USSR?

         S.L.: The Rising lasted 63 days. Our commanders expected 6 days. Yes, it was not to forecast. I think Germans did not use all their strength. However, it was 63 days - maybe too long. Purportedly there was a offer of capitulation in August. By loosing 200 000 people, 20 000 young combats, I would never qualify it as "military success".

                  15. W.W.: Many ex-troops, for instance American, who were fighting in Vietnam or Iraq, suffer social inadequacy, psychical disorder and many more complication. In my opinion, this syndrome does not touch insurgents from the Warsaw Uprising. They even with passion live in normal, after-war life. Of course unless they were under Stalin repressions. The same attitude was seen in people who emigrated (you as well). Those people turned out to be very creative and could without any problems integrated with the society.
How it could be explained? Is it a result of the fact, that duty was done excellent and they were conscience of fighting for good reason, even though it failed (American combats are in different situation - they could feel cheated by politician because of being involved in unfair war, what resulted in refuse by society)? Or maybe you do not think that the majority of Insurgents had good state of mind after the Rising failure?

         S.L.: I always emphasize that we are normal, without psychologist aid. And American troop has this care after a month in Iraq. I think that defending, have a belief of right combat are something different than be occupant - then there are problems...
"Good state of mind" - I do not know. The satisfaction of survival - for sure.

                  16. W.W.: There are still controversy about the sense of the Rising.
Shall we treat the Rising as a dangerous warning or as a inspiration origin and typify?

         S.L.: I do not think that the Rising is a typify. Of course, underground fight against German was a must, like for many compatriots, because it is not good to be a "slave". Unfortunately, those who where in concentration camps could not do this. I am lucky - not only because of this what happened to me during 5 year occupation, but mainly because I have never been humiliated, which was not easy to achieve. It is also a key to shortage of "psychological hurt".

Stanislaw Likiernik photo from 1946

                  W.W.: In the end I would like to really thank you for this interview. The possibility of live contact with testifier of those dramatic and legendary days is a great privilege and emotion, which could be compared with talk with participant of historical combat, for instance in Vienne, Grunwald or Austerlitz.

         S.L.: I do not know, if we could compare our actions to combats like Vienne, Grunwald or Austerlitz. I think it is something different. Rather "January 1863 Uprising" is similar to ours. Even though it was also hopeless, but it has unable "rusification" for 50-something years till 1905. Did ours something bring? I leave it to discuss. You know my opinion and I do not want to discuss it, because it is senseless. Addition reflection: Czechs had very different relation to occupation, Germans or fights on the West. We cannot behave like this, but who is right?

Marly Le Roi, October 10th, 2006

Stanisław Likiernik now

interview was made by Wojciech Wlodarczyk

compilation: Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz

translation: Rafal Zelman

Copyright © 2009 SPPW1944. All rights reserved.