There is only one such interview...

Compiled by Monika Ałasa

         For five years I've fulfilled my journalistic ambitions thanks to "Cool Times". Since the beginning of my editorial work here I've done many interviews. Each of them was a great experience for me. Each had to be prepared in a different way. Each taught me a lot... The interview you are going to read in this issue of "Cool Times" is unique. In the life of every journalist there are, I guess, people who would be ideal, the most suitable for a particular journalist's interests or career plans. I have always dreamt of doing an interview with a person I admire. As you probably know, my heroes are people who fought during the Second World War, especially those who took part in the Warsaw Uprising. September 14, 2005 was a day when my dreams came true. I came to Warsaw and visited General Zbigniew Ścibor - Rylski a.k.a. "Motyl".

General Zbigniew Ścibor - Rylski a.k.a. "Motyl"

                  A.M.: Please, let me express my gratulations on your promotion to the rank of General

         Z.Ś-R: Thank you.

                  A.M.: I will not start typically... I will ask later on about your childhood, youth and the times of the occupation and repression. We are now in the seat of the Association of Warsaw Insurgents, of which you are the President. Please, tell our readers about the Association's activity.

         Z.Ś-R: The Association of Warsaw Insurgents (Związek Powstańców Warszawskich) has been functioning for over 16 years. Our most important task was to register all the insurgents, irrespective of the units they fought in, including the soldiers of the Polish Army (W.P.) 9th Pułk Kościuszkowców who crossed from Saska Kępa to our side during the night of 15th/16th September 1944. The next issue was to conduct a survey of the conditions in which the insurgents live, their health conditions, their social conditions, if they need any financial help, etc. Currently, social issues are predominant; the average age is 78 years and many are over 90. An extremely important issue is to enlighten the young generation as to why the Uprising broke out, what the circumstances were, what ideals were our guiding principles, what we were fighting for, etc. A lot of friends take part in lectures at schools. We founded the 1944 Warsaw Uprising Remembrance Association (Stowarzyszenie Pamięci Powstania Warszawskiego 1944), whose members are professors and young historians, journalists and those who are interested in the Warsaw Uprising and would like to bequeath the ethos and ideals of our generation to future generations, when we will not be here.

                  A.M.: On July 31, 2004, the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising was solemnly opened. What did you, a Home Army soldier, a Warsaw insurgent, feel at that historical moment?

         Z.Ś-R: We had been waiting for the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising for more than twenty years, from the first decision that the museum would be situated on Bielańska street. A corner-stone was built and an erection act was signed; however, fate was unexpected. This building's owner would not sell it to the city. At the time the president was Mr. Kozak, who wanted to pay an enormous sum of money. Today we have to admit that it was very fortunate that the transaction wasn't carried out. The museum on Bielańska street would have been only a substitute. The present location is excellent. We've got a huge building, the Freedom Park and the Memory Wall, on which the names of the dead insurgents have been engraved. I think all the insurgents were very moved when, eventually, after 60 years the museum was opened in such a solemn way. We were overcome with emotion when a bell named after our Commander, "Monter", was set in motion by the President of Warsaw and sounded audibly. It was a historic moment, indeed... Our dream had come true. It will be permanent proof for the future generations that there is no prize that should not be offered in the fight for the freedom and independence of our homeland. Most importantly, future generations will learn the reliable truth about the past and this is the most important task that the museum is to fulfil.

                  A.M.: Let's come back to your youth. What did your life before the war look like? What memories do you have of your family, your school?

         Z.Ś-R: As far as I'm concerned, I must admit that my whole life is a confirmation that I was born under a lucky star and I was always in God's care. I was born on March 10, 1917, on my parents' estate, Browki, appr. 70 kilometres south west of Kiev. The outbreak of the revolution changed everything. In 1918 my parents and us, had to leave Browki. I had three sisters: Kalinka, Ewa and Danuta. I, Zbigniew, was the youngest. We hid in Biała Cerkiew. When in 1920 the Polish Army under Rydz- Śmigły's command reached Kiev, my parents moved to Kiev. My father was looking for any chance to leave and after a great deal of effort, he got permission and we left by the last train, with the wounded. During the journey, the train would stop in the fields. Once, a soldier named Sikora took me to play in the meadow. The train set off, unexpectedly. My mother almost fainted, she started to yell and Sikora "threw" me into the train and he himself jumped into the last carriage. It was the first sign of providence as I could have stayed in Russia!!
         My father got a post on the Zamojski's estate in Zwierzyniec on the Wieprz river. There I spent my whole childhood. My father administered many estates. He used a chaise a lot and in 1930 he slipped on an iron chaise's step and hurt his knee. There was a complication and despite the amputation of the leg in Lvov, after a severe illness, he died in 1931. We still lived on the estate of Wywłoczka, about 4 kilometres from Zwierzyniec. I entered the 3rd class of the Zamoyski Gymnasium. Then my mother found out about a Gymnasium with a boarding-school, the Sułkowscy school in Rydzyn. I attended 4th, 5th and 6th classes there. As my mother had to move from the flat in Wywłoczka, she left for Kalisz and I finished my 7th and 8th classes there, in the T. Kościuszko Mathematical-Scientific Gymnasium. After the matura exam I passed the entrance examinations for a technical school of Air Force Officer Cadets, Technical Group, Warsaw, Puławska street 2a (zawodowa Szkoła Podchorążych Lotnictwa, Grupa Techniczna). In 1939 I graduated from the school and was assigned to the First Air Force Group, Warsaw. As I had graduated at the top of the class, I had the right to choose.

                  A.M.: Could you please give us more details about your contribution to the conspiracy, but the one before The Uprising?

         Z.Ś-R: The outbreak of war, evacuation to the East, the first battle with the Germans near Mrozy, the first dead… We got to the Autonomous Operation Group "Polesie", whose commander was General Franciszek Kleberg. We fought together until October 6, the date of the capitulation near Kock. Our group of 8 technical aviators didn't surrender and we decided to get to Romania; unfortunately the Germans encircled us in Krzywda village and we were taken as prisoners to Kielce and then to Stargard. I didn't admit to being an officer. I said I was an unteroficer and I managed to get manual work. I worked in Strohsdorf village, and then Horst. In 1940 all people born in the East were concentrated in Pyritz, now Pyrzyce. After three days, on July 1, we broke the bars and a big group, about 40 people, escaped. We divided into threes and walked eastwards, only during nights. After various adventures I reached Warsaw on September 1, exactly on the first anniversary of the outbreak of war. I was again in my beloved Warsaw. Happiness again... I met my commander, Major Prohasko, who contacted me with an appropriate section. I received a Kennkarte, work attestation, and other documents. I started my activity and traveled through the whole of German-occupied Poland (Generalna Gubernia). My task was to find places that would be convenient for future airdrops, to give all the needed information and describe landmarks. This job lasted until October 1941. From 1942 taking airdrops of weapons and Cichociemni started.

                  A.M.: I have always admired people of your generation. What can you say about your friends' deeds during the War?

         Z.Ś-R: A lot of my friends forced their way West. They were trained to become pilots and fought for England. Many of them died as aviators. A handful stayed alive. I got in contact with them after the war. These are: Bohdan Ejbich (he lives in Canada, he wrote many books, memoirs of the airforce..., he comes to Poland every year), Stefan Andersz (he fought very bravely in the Battle of Britain, he lives near London, comes to Poland, we see each other every year), Tadeusz Andersz, the last commander of Division 306. He and I received a nomination for the rank of General on May 7, 2005. He lives in England and comes to ceremonies. We both were very happy to receive this honour in Wrocław. Leopold Antoniewicz lives in England. Sergiusz Czerni came back to Warsaw in 1949. Alojzy Gura and several other people live in Australia. Our fates were very different after the war...
         Coming back to the occupation times: in June 1943 I was sent to Kowło to find convenient places for future airdrops. The work was extremely dangerous because the Ukrainians would murder people. I miraculously missed meeting them. Otherwise, I wouldn't have stayed alive. On January 1, 1944, the commander, Colonel Bombiński commanded a concentration of the 27th Wołyńska Division of the Home Army. I took command of a company in the "Sokół" battalion (Michał Fijałka). I walked through the whole battle route; the most serious fighting was waged by my company in Sztuń. After a hard battle we won ten carts and we took 80 prisoners. There were many dead Germans. It was one of the greatest victories. Then there were fights for Stawki, Staweczki and Mosurskie Woods. We got to the north of the Szackie Woods. There were hard fights and eventually we reached Lubelszczyzna, the area of Ostrów Lubelski. I was in garrison in a Maśluchy village.

                  A.M.: It's time to come to the essence of our conversation, i.e. the Uprising. Mr. General, how do you remember the first day of that August and the preparations for the "W" hour?

         Z.Ś-R: On July 20 I was called to Warsaw. I took part in the first vigil, then in the second and finally we got an order to collect weapons. The "W" hour had struck! We collected weapons from Pańska 3 and 5 street. The concentration of our union took place in Wola, on the following streets, Żytnia, Karolkowa and Młynarska and in the Powązkowski cemetery and on Okopowa street. The "Czata 49" battalion occupied quarters on Żytnia and Karolkowa streets, I took command of the company. The battalion's commander was Major Tadeusz Runge a.k.a. "Witold", Cichociemny. During the very first night I participated in the action of taking up a "tobacco regie". We captured several trucks and a Mercedes 170 V which I used many times to travel through the Ghetto to the Old Town on Miodowa street, where my friends lived. I carried cigarettes and food. We took over big warehouses on Stawki.

                  A.M.: What about trivial but also important issues like clothes, food, places to sleep, etc? What kind of conditions did you live in at that time?

         Z.Ś-R: The whole "Radosław" unit used to wear camouflage jackets. I had my own jacket and knee-boots - from the underground army. In the first weeks the food was good. Having occupied the warehouses on Stawki, we had no problems. From the middle on, about August 20, the food got worse and worse. Most often it was soup from ground barley or wheat: pluj zupa, because you had to spit scales out. We slept in the quarters, often on the floor, sometimes on couches but always fully dreased, ready to fight. Several times I slept in the ruins in houses' gates. It was like that in Muranów and the Old Town. We transported food to the Old Town, where warehouses were built as we were supposed to move there, which happened on August 8 -10. I found myself in the Old Town, on Mławska and Bonifraterska streets. Afterwards there were fights for Muranów and we tried to move to Żoliborz through Polonia's football field. The latter resulted in huge casualties. The fighting seemed to be endless. There was no time for anything else. We miraculously stayed alive on Mławska street, where a bombing raid occurred. When I heard Sztukas, we made a dash for a couch that was in niche. At that moment a bomb exploded … A whole tenement-house was ruined, the wall with the niche and couch was the only thing left untouched, together with Major "Witold", my aide-de-camp Danek Jassa-Dębicki "Gryf" and me. It was a real miracle.

                  A.M.: How were you armed during the Rising?

         Z.Ś-R: Our battalion was well-armed. We had machine-guns, several light machine guns, piat (from the airdrops) and rifles. I had a machine-gun and a 9 mm "Colt".

                  A.M.: Please, tell us about everyday life during the Uprising. Did you often gather to listen to the radio together or go to mass? Was listening to radio station "Błyskawica" possible?

         Z.Ś-R: Our unit was permanently on the front line. We didn't have a chance to listen to "Błyskawica". Several times I had an opportunity to listen to the Radio "Free Europe".

                  A.M.: Coming back to your Uprising memories...

         Z.Ś-R: Any fighting in the surrounded Old Town would inevitably have ended tragically. Colonel Wachnoski decided to move to Śródmieście. I got an order to go through the sewers to Plac Bankowy, together with a group of 90 soldiers, then to leave the sewer, attack the Germans and make evacuation of the units coming from the Old Town possible. When the first squad left the sewer, our soldiers stepped on some sheet metal, made a noise and the Germans started to shoot. A squad commander, "Cedro", and almost the whole squad were killed. Only three who jumped into the sewer escaped death. And so the operation ended. We went to Śródmieście through the sewers, leaving at the corner of Warecka and Nowy Świat streets. The whole army went through the sewers. Three days later, "Radosław" union was sent to Czerniaków, where, while fighting against the overwhelming enemy forces, in horrible conditions, we waited until the landing operation of the 9th "Kościuszkowcy" regiment. After grouping the soldiers on the defence line, the Germans understood that there had been a landing operation and they started to attack fiercely. Just next to me, Lieutenant Konankow died. I, "Motyl", was promoted to his rank of "Kościuszkowcy" battalion commander by means of a radiotelephone. It is the only case when a Home Army officer took command of "Kościuszkowcy."
         After stout resistance and fighting, and given the impossibility of evacuating the wounded, "Radosław" decided to go to Mokotów through the sewers, which happened during the night on September 20. After five days of fighting in Mokotów, we went through the sewers to Śródmieście. Mokotów gave up the struggle on September 27. After the capitulation, on October 2, "Radosław", together with the wounded and chosen officers went to Pruszków, from where we were released to hospital after three days.

                  A.M.: I realize that a task I'm going to give you now is not an easy one but if you were to describe one situation, maybe a minute or a split second within those 63 days that left the most lasting impression in your memory, what would it be?

         Z.Ś-R: It would be very difficult for me to say which moment of the 63 days of fighting was the most tragic and left the most lasting impression. Undoubtedly, I have to name the air raid on Mławska street in the Old Town a "miracle" because we should have died there. Then, fighting in Czerniaków, hard fights in which Lieutenant Konankow was killed just next to me and I survived. Why?? In my whole life I keep wondering why some die so close to you and others survive?! There is no answer to that.

                  A.M.: What is your after-war life history?

         Z.Ś-R: The Rising collapsed, but our command would still conspire. "Radosław", as a Kedyw commander, did not resign. I was ordered to live in Łowicz and be active in that area till July 1945. Then I moved to Poznań where I was completely unknown...
         After the end of the war I moved to Poznań as I knew that when they arrested "Radosław" I would be arrested, too. I didn't admit who I was. I worked in "Motozbyt" in Poznań. I ran a Repaired Cars Office until 1952, then I worked in a Transport Firm in Poznań for 4 years. In 1956 I got a post as a technical inspector. In 1963 I came back to Warsaw. I lived in Radość, near Warsaw. I worked until 1977, when I retired.

                  A.M.: Were you victimized because of your participation in the Warsaw Uprising and your affiliation to the Home Army?

         Z.Ś-R: I was not victimized as not until coming back to Warsaw in 1963 did I admit to organizing "Czata 49". Those were different times and one could come out of hiding.

                  A.M.: I think highly of young people living in Poland under the German occupation. I read about them with bated breath, especially about the Warsaw Insurgents. Unfortunately, one is rather unlikely to meet young people with similar ideals nowadays... What do you, Mr. General, think of the present-day young generation and their attitude toward the Homeland?

         Z.Ś-R: I often give lectures at schools with young people. I am convinced that most of them would behave in the same way as we did in the year 1944. It is my strong belief that the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising will play a significant educational role.

                  A.M.: Expressing my great gratitude for your willingness to share your feelings with young people, I wish to assure you of the pride and joy coming from my membership in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising Remembrance Association. I will try to be an active member. I consider our today's meeting and this conversation with you, Mr. General, to be an honour. Thank you!

         Z.Ś-R: Thank you very much and I wish you the best of luck in all your activities.

Warsaw, September 14, 2005

compiled and translated into English by : Monika Ałasa

prepared by: Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz

Copyright © 2006 SPPW1944. All rights reserved.