Interview-relation with General Scibor-Rylski "Motyl" interview conducted on February 18, March 3 and March 9, 2008, written by Maria Poprawa
M. P.: .: I very grateful that you agreed to meet with me and tell about your life during the World War II, General. You are a living witness of large part of our Polish history. I act in The 1944 Warsaw Uprising Remembrance Association [pl. Stowarzyszenie Pamieci Powstania Warszawskiego 1944] and I have already had a chance of hearing your account of Uprising events.
born in 1917 r. a.k.a. "Stanislaw", "Motyl" Brigadier General of the Home Army (Armia Krajowa) twice awarded the Silver Cross of the Order Virtuti Militari, twice awarded the Cross of Valour, awarded the Partisan Cross and the Warsaw Cross of the Uprising as well as the Commander's Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta
Let us start from the beginning. Please tell us something about your family.
Z. S-R.: .: I was born on March 10, 1917, in Browki, about 60 kilometers to the south-west from Kiev, in the estate of my parents: Maria née Raciborowska and Oskar Scibor-Rylski. All my lineage is in Ukraine. We were living there already since 16th century, we are of the Ostoja coat of arms. Browki (the central estate in the fiefdom) was not our only estate, we also had smaller estates located nearby (Spiczynce - after the grandmother née Marszycki, Wolica Zarubieniecka - after grandparents Raciborowski - the estates of my mother).
M. P.: Where does the agnomen Scibor come from?
Z. S-R.: It is in our family since the 18th century, but I do know its exact history. Widely known Aleksander Scibor-Rylski as well as Witold Scibor-Rylski from Legiony Polskie [the Polish Legions], a participant of Polish-Soviet War, did not descend from the Lesser Poland line and not the ours.
M. P.: What happened with you later?
Z. S-R.: In 1917 r. October Revolution took place, but my father was on friendly terms with the local population, so we were allowed to live in Browki. Unfortunately, at the end of 1918 we had to run away. We went to Biala Cerkiew and then to Kiev.
In 1920 Poles under the command of Rydz-Smigly captured Kiev. Father was looking for a way of leaving the place. A familiar doctor, the commander of a hospital train, helped us out. We received the permission for a departure. Our whole family went by train with the wounded. The travel took long. We often stood in the middle of nowhere. One day I played in a meadow with a soldier named Sikora, when all of a sudden the train started to get moving. My parents started to scream and in the last moment Sikora managed to throw me into the train, or I would have stayed in Russia. It was the first sign of Divine Providence, because I've experienced it many times in my life.
M. P.: I know you had sisters.
Z. There were four of us. The sisters were older than me. The first one, Kalinka, was born in 1910, the second one, Ewa, in 1912, and the last one, Danuta, in 1915.
We returned to Poland in 1920. We took up residence in Studzianki in Lubelskie Voivodeship, and later my father took an office in the Zamoyscy's Ordynacja Estate, which was the biggest land estate in the Second Polish Republic - at Maurycy Zamoyski in Zwierzyniec by the Wieprz River, 33 km away from Zamosc. Father became the manager of the fiefdom of Zwierzyniec, he administered the fiefdom of seven estates. He would often go round the estates in a britzka and in 1930 there was an accident. Father slipped on an iron step of the britzka and injured his knee. The leg was amputated in Lvov, but complications occurred (surgical erysipelas) and he died in 1931 after long illness.
We lived in Wywloczka estate, about 4 km from Zwierzyniec.
My education started in the family house. I had a teacher, and then I passed the exams to a secondary school.
I attended the 3rd grade of Jan Zamoyski Gimnazjum in Zamosc. Later, my mother learned about the Sulkowscy Gimnazjum in Rydzyn. It was a very good, with the headmaster in the person of Tadeusz Lopuszanski, former minister. I attended 3rd, 4th, 5th grade there in the class majoring in Mathematics and Natural Science. The class majoring in the Arts was also demanding, with good students there. The school was an expensive one - 250 zlotys a month, the half of it, 150 zlotys or 75 zlotys , paid those who could not afford to pay the whole sum, while those living in countryside were taught free of charge. The fees were allotted for a full board. As a half-orphan I was allowed to pay a smaller fee. We were educated in a extremely patriotic manner. They put a strong emphasis on history and mathematics, so I never had problems with my further education.
In 1935 my mother was given notice in Wywloczka and we moved to Kalisz, where we had a family. Uncle Malinowski lived in an estate in Pietrzykowo near Kalisz, while uncle Colonel Kossecki lived in Kalisz itself.
I finished 7th and 8th grade (in the class majoring in Mathematics and Natural Science) in T. Kosciuszko Gimnazjum in Kalisz. I passed my A exams in 1936, according to the rules the old system, because the last such exams were in 1938.
M. P.: What did you do after passing your A exams?
Z. S-R.: I passed my exams to the Air Force Officers Training Centre in Warsaw, located at 2a Pulawska Street. I chose a technical group. I underwent medical as well as psychological examination in Centrum Badan Lekarskich Lotnictwa [CBLL; eng. the Center for Aviation Medical Exams] and passed the general knowledge and German language tests. Before that however I had been on a 3-month infantry course in 57th Infantry Regiment in Poznan , where after the first month I took my military oath. Then I also took part in a glider course in Ustianowa. There were 70 of us, but after the exams only 30 were accepted to the Air Force Officers Training Centre. We would fly in "Wrona" and "Salamandra" planes then.
In 1939 we would go to the aerodynamic tunnel at the Warsaw University of Technology as a part of our lectures. We were taught how to deal with airplanes, we learned about different engines, all the equipment that existed back then, and we also attended an airframe course. We trained on "Los", "Karas" airplanes and "Pulaski" fighter planes. We also had different classes related to aviation, e.g. materials science, cartography. It was a school that educated officers, the technical service of airplanes. Our studies were intensified, because of the need of trained professional soldiers.
In 1939 I graduated in the rank of sergeant (officer cadet), specializing in the mechanics of aerial engines and instruments. I was assigned to the 1st Air Force Regiment at Okecie Airport in Warsaw. As a top student I had the right to choose the place of further service.
M. P.: Did you see the impeding warfare?
Z. S-R.: Of course. In the first two weeks of July we had our first leave. The press informed about a tense situation in Europe. In the Officers Training Centre the curriculum was intensified, at homes people were discussing Hitler's conduct. We were conscious of the fact that the war would start. After those two weeks of leave we were sent telegrams to assemble in the Regiment at Okecie Airport in Warsaw.
M. P.: How do you recall the outbreak of war?
Z. S-R.: I was with my Regiment at Okecie Airport. On one hand we were happy to know that we would finally be able to defeat Germans, on the other, when we saw the first bombardments of Warsaw we were disappointed with not being able to fight. I remember that the first air raids took place on September 1, and it continued until September 6. Okecie Airport was the main target. In the first days of September we dealt with the registry of equipment, the registry of population and anti-aircraft defense. Only the airport service remained at the Okecie. The Regiment was dissolved, with the particular squadrons ordered to the aviation at the disposition of the Chief-in-Command as well as to the Army Air Force.
The airplanes had already been redeployed to the airfields in the east, while we left Warsaw on September 5 with the ground echelon, under the command of Major Prohazko, by use of goods train, and later by truck. We were moving to the east. The ride ended and we started to break through on our own feet. Our first encounter with the Germans took place near Mrozy, to the north of Kaluszyn, where we could hear the sounds of battle and artillery from. Our positions were encircled by the Germans, they were firing with the artillery, grenade launchers, and machine guns. We were throwing grenades and it came to a bayonet fight. They could not withstand our attack.
There were many wounded, a few killed. The squadron commander order to disperse, we were poorly armed, and the whole unit had no chance of breaking through. We moved forward in our school group, including Zygmunt Jedrzejewski, to the area that was free of the Germans. We managed to reach the Independent Operational Group "Polesie" commanded by General Franciszek Kleeberg.
M. P.: .: How did your battle trail with General Kleeberg look like?
Z. S-R.: As I could ride a horse well, I was ordered to cavalry. It did look funny - me, in a pilot uniform on a horse. Some of the colleagues also could ride a horse, while the others were ordered to infantry. I was a messenger between "Olek" and the commander of brigade Colonel Plisowski "Plis". In fact, I was subordinated to "Olek". "Olek" Battalion was an infantry one, there were a lot of officers (mainly Second Lieutenants), but there were also officer cadets. We were an attacking group, "the group of desperados" to force Germans back, we were unfailing in battles. "Polesie" Group was achieving successes, destroying enemy tanks and battle vehicles.
I fought near Leczna, Adamowo, Wola Gulowska (fierce fights for the church and cemetery) - all victories. In the forests in the area of Kock, the Germans encircled us. Between October 2 and 5, Kock repeatedly changed hands. The Germans would capture it and then we would force them to withdraw. We were bombarded by airplanes, artillery, mortars. The Germans wanted to force us back, to destroy us, at any cost. We were the last bigger operational group that was still fighting in the territory of Poland. Warsaw already surrendered, other units were defeated. It was a real hell, one air raid after another, artillery shells, mortars and grenade launchers exploding near me. People were dying. And the sight of torn-apart bodies of friends. I will never forget those tragic moments. The heaviest battle lasted since September 30 until October 3. "Edward" Group surrounded the Germans from the south-west. The German command was withdrawing soldiers to the west, they were captured. On October 5 the Germans were ran away in panic.
Finally, we ran out of ammo and General Kleeberg decided to stop fighting and surrender in order to avoid unnecessary losses. It was terrible. We - the victors, had to surrender.
M. P.: you personally hear that famous last order of General Kleeberg.
Z. S-R.: The capitulation took place in a forester's house. I, a young Second Lieutenant, was present at that moment. I was taken to the briefing by Colonel Plisowski. He took liking in me, it happens in war. He believed that I had luck, because I was not killed during the fights with such artillery shelling. We gathered in one large room. Around 1 a.m. General Kleeberg read out the order. It was unforgettable. The officers, old colonels, had tears in their eyes. It was hard to believe that battle-experienced soldiers were crying. It was a great tragedy for all of us, a lost freedom, lost independence. We were professional soldiers. It is the most tragic thing which a soldier can experience. Although we defeated the Germans, we had to surrender. General Kleeberg said then that we would still be of use to Poland and Polish blood was not to be spilled in vain. It was the hardest moment for him.
M. P.: What happened with you after the capitulation?
Z. S-R.: All the army surrendered near Kock on October 6. All the army surrendered near Kock on October 6. It must have looked awkward, as our units were marching in the front, while the Germans who had been taken prisoner in the back. (I know it from the afterwar story told by "Kleeberg soldiers". The officers were sent to Oflags, whereas NCOs to Stalags.
Eight of us, technical pilots were breaking through to the south. We wanted to reach Romania. We were sleeping at a hostess's in Krzywda village. At night the woman came and told us that the village is surrounded by the Germans. We had our sub-machine guns and grenades with us, so we hid them into the bed of hostess. We asked her to bury them later. We stood without weapons when a German came. He looked at us, tall boys, and got pale. He had a rifle on a belt hanging on his arm. He took us prisoner and brought us to his lieutenant, who was sitting next to fire and baked bread on a stick. He gave us that bread.
They transported us to Kielce. We already spent three days in a garrison, when on the fourth day a word was spread that all born in Poznanskie Voivodeship were being allowed to go home. I told the authorities that I was born in Pietrzykow near Kalisz. I was familiar with that place, because my uncle had a real estate there. They put me on that list. First soldiers already left to Warsaw. I gave a letter to one of them to inform my mother that I was in Kielce. My mother came, we met in a guardhouse and talked. I believed that I would be free on the next day, because the list with my name was in the guardhouse. She brought me underwear and a sweater. My mother was staying in Kielce. Unfortunately, at night there was an alarm and we were moved to the west.
I found myself in captivity, in the Stalag in Stargard. They put us in large tents, two hundred people in each of them. It was the end of October, it was already cold. I did not say that I was a NCO. I volunteered for a work camp. A farmer came. He had a large farm in Strosdorf. He chose ten strongest soldiers. In his field we would dig out sugar-beets, which he supplied a sugar-refinery with. We were still working on the field in January, in the freezing cold. There was also a Pole working for him, who was living in Germany since 1920. He settled there with his family, he had a son and a daughter. He helped us, took care of the ten of us. The farmer was feeding us poorly, so we revolted and we were moved over a dozen kilometers away to another village, Horst. I worked there alone at small farmer's place. My job was to milk the cows. He had eight of them. I worked in the field in the spring of 1940. I plowed the fields in March and sowed them in April. In the west, near Szczecin, it is warmer than in the central or eastern part of the country. It was very warm already in May, and in June we were transported to Pyritz (Pyrzyce). We were taken to a brick-house. They wanted to sent us to Russia, as the ones who were born in the east, the Russians. At that time we were working very hard in the brick-house. We were fatigued. Since some time we had been preparing for the flee. We broke the bars and 40 of us out of the total 60 people ran away at night. We divided into threes and started to travel to the east, without any compass, map. Only the stars and the moon acted as our guide.
We were breaking through at nights and sleeping in cornfield in the daytime. One day we were woke up by a hum. There was a mower working nearby. We got scared and since that time we were hiding in groves. We were eating dried bread. During my stay at the smaller farm, I managed to dry pieces of bread, because he had been feeding me quite well, but my supplies lasted for 5 or 6 days. We began to starve. We would eat young swede ripped out in the fields, and we were already travelling for three weeks. My comrades did not have strength to go further on and presented themselves in the nearest Arbeitsamt. I continued to walk, planning to go for the two next nights. Somewhere on my way, I milked a cow to a water-bottle and it helped me to survive somehow. I swam across the Notec River, went through Notec Forest and reached the old Polish-German border. I found myself in Pilka village, where I met a wonderful man, a Pole, who helped me a lot. He gave me food and a place to stay, in a forester's house. He lived with his grandmother, wife, and daughter. I helped them in harvest. I spent a month there. After I took rest and regained my strength, the local organization organized me a further escape. By a semaphore I got into a coal-train acting a railway man (in the uniform, with the armband and a railway box ) and went to Poznan. Happy as I was heading to the east, I noticed that we passed Rawicz, Rydzyna, the areas from my school years. I was terrified, because the train brought me to Breslau (Wroclaw) and stopped in a mine.
Once again I wonderful people took care of me. They gave me clothes and set me out. I met a working miner near a pile of junk. He showed me the direction. Having walked on the top of some barrels and over a fence, I got out of the mine . At dusk I headed for the next town. Cows were being brought to cow barns in a farm. There was a girl with two cows at the end. I walked up to her and asked for help. Once again I met wonderful people. Silesians moved me from village to village and in such way I arrived in Zloty Potok in General Government. I had no ID and could be arrested, but I managed to get to lime kiln workers, and I got through with a group of miners. There was one wachman (guard) counting how many people goes to work. We were walking with our flashlights. They went to work, while I went further on. I arrived in Zloty Potok at dawn and did not know where to go. I knocked in the doors of a hut and told that I was I a Pole, who ran away from captivity and wanted to get to Warsaw. I was lucky, the Providence watched over me, because the housekeeper was going to Warsaw in the morning. He bought me the ticket, while I helped him with the two heavy suitcases with meat inside, and so, as a meat smuggler I returned to the capital exactly in the anniversary of the outbreak of war, on September 1, 1940.
M. P.: How did you started to work in conspiracy?
Z. S-R.: In Warsaw I went to my sister, Kalina, who was living in Sulkowskiego Street in Zoliborz District. I stayed there. My mother together with Ewa, her husband and Danuta were living in Sucha Avenue, in a big, five-room flat near the Italian embassy. They could live there thanks to Pietrabisa, an acquaintance of theirs. I visited my family from time to time. It was safe there, because Italians were Hitler's allies back then.
I still did not have any ID. Already in the first days of September I was trying to get in touch with my friends. One day I went to Aleje Ujazdowskie Avenue. Somewhat instinctively I felt I would meet someone there. And so it happened as I saw Major Prohazko walking, the same one who was the commander of the echelon in September last year. I walked up to him and reported myself in the military manner.
He was surprised, but happy. I told him my story and asked for help in getting documents. After 2-3 days I received the Kennkarte. My name was Zbigniew Kaminski. He contacted me with Zwiazek Walki Zbrojnej [ZWZ; eng. Union of Armed Struggle]. In September 1940 I took an oath and was subordinated to the Main Command from then on.
Never later did I meet Major Prohazko.
M. P.: What were your tasks in the conspiracy, General?
Z. S-R.: I took a job in "Ludwik Spiess i Syn S.A.", a pharmaceutical company in Bielanska Street. I would distribute the medicine to pharmacies in Warsaw by rickshaw. I was working there since 1940 until June 1943. In the meantime I would go around the whole General Government and together with a group of pilots we would select the future air drop locations. Because we had graduated from an officer cadet school for pilots we knew which conditions had to be met, so that a pilot could find such a location at night. The coordinates were sent to London. Every such an outpost had its code name. I would go to Lowicz, Wyszkow, Rybienko, to name some towns. This work lasted until the October 1941.
Since 1942 we started to receive air drops. The first one was poorly organized and took place near Skierniewice. The further air drops were successful. Every each of them would be supervised by the triangle of three outposts. If the pilot missed the first one, he would fly to the other. Thanks to the fact that we had a radio, we knew when the operations would take place. They would broadcast proper, popular melodies, e.g. "Goralu, czy ci nie zal", repeated three times at 5 p.m., 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. If the same melody was broadcasted for the third time, it meant that the airplanes took off to air drop outposts. There were 40 of us officers responsible for the receiving of air drop and we would go from Warsaw to the destination points. Everyone was responsible for his outpost. I had the alias "Stanislaw" back then. The airplane would come between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. One had to set the lights, the indicator that showed the wind direction. The airplane would drop containers and paratroopers, always headwind. There were always 12 parachutes, we counted them in the sky. There were three men and nine containers or six "cichociemni" paratroopers and six containers. We would give them IDs, Kennkarten. All the equipment, containers with weapons, ammo, explosives for the later "Wachlarz" organization as well as dressings were "harbored" in a village or neighboring guerilla unit. After some time (a month or few weeks) we would transport the equipment to Warsaw by cars, while the men would immediately be brought to the nearest railway station divided into groups consisting of two paratroopers and liaison officers and head to Warsaw. From there they were sent to appropriate, predetermined place. I would receive air drops in the Lowicz area, in Wyszkow by Bug River, in Rybienko. Near Lowicz there were 8-10 of such points. I was dealing with the air drops until June 1943.
On June 15 Michalina Wieszniewska, "aunt Antosia", as she was commonly referred to in the time of war, brought me new, perfect documents issued for Zbigniew Jankowski and the order from AK Headquarters. I was given alias "Motyl", which I kept until the end of war. I was assigned to Kowel to select the locations for air drops.
I met "aunt Antosia" many times. She died in an explosion of shell in Czerniakow District near shipwreck of "Bajka". She was waiting then a pontoon which was to transport the wounded, she had a wounded cichociemny under her care.
One of the paratroopers, cichociemny - Captain Bogdan Piatkowski "Dzul" was the husband of my sister Danuta. He was in "Wachlarz" organization and operated among other places in Minsk. After the bust he was arrested, but did not give anyone away. He died in March 1943.
M. P.: Why were you called "Motyl"?
Z. S-R.: There were "bridges" then, the command of Kedyw [from: Kierownictwo Dywersji; eng. Directorate for Diversion] ordered to collect parts of missiles, V1 flying bomb and V2 long-distance rocket, which were being developed by the Germans. The airfield as well as the whole operation were called "Motyl" (German tests in area of Blizna). The airplanes were transporting the fragments of the new weapon to England and I was connected with the air drop points. I think that is why I was called so.
In a contact point in Kowel I met Colonel Kazimierz Babinski - "Lubon", the commander of Volhynian District, Major Jan Szatowski - "Kowal", Lieutenant Michal Fijalka - "Sokol" (paratrooper from England). There were cichociemni and many officers. In this area the organization was already developed, with the operating guerilla unit. It was July 1943.
The population feared the massacre done by Ukrainians. In bigger villages the Poles grouped together into small units. There were teachers there. One had to train those teams, inform them how to receive air drops and how to do during the action. I was performing this task until the end of 1943.
On January 1, 1944, there was a concentration of the 27th Volhynian Infantry Division of the AK. We went out from Kowel to Zasmyki. The town borders were not being particularly guarded by the Germans. Again I would ride a horse. It was beautiful. During the battles, the group would dismount horses, which would be looked after by a horse orderly. Many horses were killed during the operations of the Volhynian ID.
We started to gather men. There were a lot of cichociemni officers. The division numbered 5000 men. We were reinforced by a very well armed battalion from Maciejow, consisting of the local police - people forced by the Germans to help. At night they tied the Germans and got through to us, with mortars and heavy machine guns. They had blue uniforms, that's why they were called "Blekitni" [eng. "the Blues"]. I commanded one of the companies that had come from Maciejow. Colonel "Lubon" assigned "Blekitni" to every unit - to "Sokol's" (Fijalka - my commander), to "Jastrzab's", and to "Garda's".
I became the commander of the 2nd company in "Sokol's" battalion of I/50 IR in February 1944, after the death of Second Lieutenant Jan Lucarz "Jura". The secretary of the company was Wladyslaw Filar, now a prominent historian. He writes books about the World War II, among other things, about 27th Volhynian Division.
The task of 27th Volhynian Division of AK, which as the first one started to fight with the Germans on the basis of Operation Tempest, was to protect Polish population against the terror acts from the side of Ukrainian nationalists and the Germans. We fought the Ukrainians, the Germans, and the Hungarians. Because of it many Polish villages managed to survive. We captured a large territory. I stationed to the south of Kowel and Zasmyki. Later, as we had escorted Colonel Babinski to a ford on Bug River, who had been called to Warsaw, we stayed in Binduga village until around March 20. It was a large village, on the top of the school there was a Polish white-red flag.
Colonel Babinski was replaced by Colonel Kiperski "Oliwa", the commander of Kedyw, and the one who brought the Warsaw company to Sztun in the first days of March. Fully armed, they went through the whole General Government by cars and arrived in Binduga. There they crossed the river and finally reached my company. Already on March 10 they took part in the joint operation in Korytnica.
Later I was assigned to Sztun village. A German company was coming from the east to the west. Three battles for Sztun ensued. On April 2 the Germans attacked us. We surrounded them. They were the toughest fights of my company, we even fought hand-to-hand. In the following night of April 3/4 ,1944, there battle was on again. We were helped by "Kowal's" and "Mohort's" units. I was wounded in the right knee. Ten Polish soldiers died, nine, including me, were wounded. Eighty Germans died and 40 were taken prisoner. We captured 26 army supply wagons, including field kitchens. My company went to the area of Zamlynie and Wysock.
Afterwards tough battles for Stawki, Staweczki, and Mosur forests ensued. We cooperated with a Soviet unit. At that time Colonel "Oliwa" was already dead, he died in the air raid during the redeployment of the division headquarters from the gamekeeper's cottage at the border of forest to the new place in the farmstead Dobry Kraj (lit. Good Country). Its place was taken by his deputy, Major Tadeusz Sztumber-Rychter "Zegota" He led the Poles across the railway tracks, we captured German bunkers, but we were also shelled by an armored train from Kowel.
We broke through the Shack forests. The whole division gathered. The commander decided to break through Prypec River. He contacted Warsaw by radio, informing that we would head to the east to the Soviet forces. 1st Battalion "Garda" went with a Soviet unit to Prypec River. The Germans spotted them and laid a heavy fire on those 3 companies (over 300 Polish soldiers) and a group of Russians. Russians who had their positions on the other side did not that it was Polish companies with a Soviet unit that were coming in their direction, so they also started shooting. There were heavy casualties, half of them died, including Lieutenant "Garda". I heard about what had happened from the Poles that managed to cross Prypec River. They were incorporated by the Polish Armed Forces.
The whole division broke through Bug River to the area of Ostrow Lubelski in Lubelskie Voivodeship. 27th Volhynian Division of AK captured a large territory, several villages. Since June 20 my company was deployed in Masluchy village where a crossing over Bug River was.
After arriving in the new garrison area, the soldiers spent their first days resting, eating, repairing clothes, boots and cleaning weapons. With a great fierceness people fought with bugs. At the beginning the soldiers themselves organized the laundry and boiling of their clothes, but after a couple of days the sanitary service arranged the extermination of insects in a special car captured on the Germans. It would go round the units. A part of Warsaw company was given leave. They went to Warsaw to meet with their families. Afterwards they fought in the Uprising as members of "Czata 49", the company commanded by Lieutenant "Piotr" - Zdzislaw Zolocinski.
M. P.: You were selecting the air drop locations, General. Did you receive any air drops for 27th Volhynian Division? Were you a burden for the population in Volhynia?
Z. S-R.: We received only one air drop in Mosur forests. We tried not to burden the civilians with providing us with food supply. The presence of 27th Volhynian Division, a large unit of almost regular army, on the territory under its control was of great importance to the local civil population. Although there was a constant danger of attacking the area by the Germans, the activity of our units took care of various loose, armed groups that often had been conducting hold-ups, harassing helpless people.
Around July 15 a messenger passed me the order of the Headquarters that I was to report myself in Warsaw. I ended my activity in 27th Volhynian Division in the rank of Lieutenant. I was recommended for promotion by Tadeusz Sztumberk- Rychter after he replaced "Oliwa".
On July 20 I left. I received civil clothes and I went to Warsaw via Lublin, where in the contact point I got documents issued to the name of Zbigniew Kaminski. On the next day I arrived in Warsaw and went to my sister who was living in Zoliborz District, after that I reported myself in the contact point.
I was given a new task - the collection of air drops. I was on two trainings in Miodowa Street, where we were lectured about new code names for collecting of air drops.
M. P.: Did you know that the uprising would start in a few days?
Z. S-R.: But of course we knew. We counted days. We were waiting for that moment impatiently. I had my contact point in Hoza Street. There was a vigil. Then the second one. Those days dragged on forever. We were afraid that they would call the uprising off. After further two days third vigil was ordered. It was on July 30, 1944. On July 31 we felt that something had to happen any time soon. Then the messenger came and informed us that on August 1 we were to appear in Panska Street to receive arms, with 5 p.m. scheduled as W hour [from Polish wybuch, meaning "outbreak"].
On August 1 at 11 a.m. the two of us went to 3/5 Panska Street, where in the basements our warehouses were located. The area was secured by Second Lieutenant Zygmunt Jedrzejewski "Jedras" and his team. We took submachine guns, pistols, grenades and got them ready for you in the staircases. We had to wipe off petroleum jelly it was smeared with.
Major Tadeusz Runde "Witold", cichociemny, came to us, introduced himself and said that he would be our commander, responsible for "Czata 49" battalion.
M. P.: Where does the name "Czata" come from?
Z. S-R.: The name stems from Centrala Zaopatrzenia Terenu [eng. Logistics Headquarters], which was a part of Kedyw of AK Headquarters. It was formed in 1943.
Then we walked to Karolkowa Street. We were wearing loose-fitting coats, because we had to hide weapons. Part of weapons and ammo was transported by cars. The assembly took place around 1-2 p.m., then the registering of soldiers and the organizing of the battalion. Major "Witold" assigned the units to the officers.
I became the commander of the company which was sent in the evening to Lieutenant Colonel Jan Mazurkiewicz "Radoslaw", the commander of "Radoslaw" Group formation, the part of which was also "Czata 49" battalion.
I was ordered to attack cigarette factory from the side of Dzielna Street. The sappers planted explosives under the factory wall and made a large hole, through which we entered the premises. After a short fight with the Germans we captured the State Tobacco Monopoly, a car (Mercedes 170 V), several trucks, weapons, ammo and some food. I would drive that Mercedes through ghetto to Miodowa Street in the Old Town.
We took the remaining Germans prisoner.
On August 3 and 4 terrible battles were fought in Wola District. The Germans wanted to eradicate us at all cost.
The battles were fought between Okopowa, plac Kercelego, Wolska and Karolkowa, Streets. Later our units and "Piesc" battalion rushed against the Germans in the area of Tyszkiewicza, Gostynska, Plocka, Dzialdowska and plac Opolski Streets. At the beginning we forced the Germans back from the Evangelical Cemetery, which they were attacking, but the charge cracked. In the next days we fought to defend the areas near Mlynarska, Zytnia, Okopowa Streets near the Evangelical and the Jewish Cemeteries. "Parasol" battalion had its position there. The Germans came with tanks. We had PIATs, a wonderful anti-tank weapon, a sort of pear filled with explosives, with a spring which had to be wound up and then the shell flew 50 meters, unfailingly hitting the tank, which would be set in fire and the tracks would be destroyed. In such a way "Zoska" battalion captured 3 tanks, two of which they started up.
On August 5 Gesiowka concentration camp was captured, in the ruins of ghetto there still had been a small camp with interned Jews. The operation was a success thanks to the tank that had been captured the day before. Later we wanted to capture Wolski Hospital. On August 6 and 7 we fought along Plocka Street. There was a strong charge of our 3 battalions. Many of our soldiers died then. I agonized over the death of Stanislaw Potworowski, my friend from the days of my education in Rydzyn. He died, while standing next to me in Plocka Street. The Germans slaughtered the civil population.
The attack was not successful. On August 8 we started to move back thrugh Stawki Street. We captured warehouses there, with food and uniforms. All our group formation was wearing camouflage dresses. "Radoslaw" Group formation was distinguishable thanks to them. We were well-armed. We managed to receive a few air drops and gain some weapons on the Germans.
The battalion was under the constant fire of grenade launchers and armored train. On August 10 "Czata 49" was under the constant artillery shelling. The Germans were demolishing Warsaw systematically, one house after another. Fire glow could be seen everywhere.
Then came the fights to hold Stawki Street and Muranow District.
On August 17 we moved to the Old Town. We had a moment of rest in the quarters in Mlawska Street and in St. Jan Bozy Hospital in Franciszkanska Street. Then heavy struggle in Muranow went on again. The command decided that we would take Stawki back. There were warehouses with food and weapons, the supply was really important. Stawki changed hands two times.
In Muranow I got wounded in the left arm and in the head.
We wanted to connect the Old Town with Zoliborz District. Colonel Wachnowski, the commander of the Old Town, sent the order to attack the railway tracks, the Citadel with the whole battalion.
On August 21/22 my company, "Zoska" battalion, parto of "Parasol" battalion rushed the sports field of "Polonia" club.
The Germans was firing at us with the armored train, grenade launchers, mortars. It was terrible, the attack lasted the whole day. The shells were hitting from all sides. The ground was exploding, our companions were torn apart on our eyes. I can compare that action with the battle of Kock. Over thirty percent of our soldiers died there on "Polonia" field. It was not until the night that we were able to take the wounded and retreat to the Old Town with those who survived.
I already said about my great fortune in life. Without special Providence I would not make it through those tragic moments, through the escape from Kiev, battles in Independent Operational Group "Polesie" or in the Uprising. But on August 28, during the tragic air raid of German Stukas, I had the greatest fortune on my side ever. We were in the first floor of the house at 3/5 Mlawska Street. Together with the battalion commander "Witold", my aide-de-camp Daniel Jaksa-Debicki we were sitting at the table. Suddenly airplanes came and dropped bombs. I managed only to shout to them to throw themselves on the couch in the recess. Then there was the explosion. The whole apartment house collapsed next to us. We were choking with smoke, dust and soot. The three of us survived on that couch in the recess by the one and only remaining wall. I could feel the roof under my feet. It was a meter below. We used it to get down to the yard.
M. P.: .: I've heard about that event from Joanna Runge-Lissowska, the president of our 1944 Warsaw Uprising Remembrance Association. Her grandfather, Major "Witold" often recalled that event and how you miraculously escaped death.
Z. S-R.: That wall stood there until 1949, I think. When I went to Warsaw in 1947 I saw that wall and the couch. This feeling that we should be on the other side, but fortunately we survived.
M. P.: It was almost the end of August 1944...
Z. S-R.: On August 29 we were called to a briefing. The plan was presented which concerned going through the canals to plac Bankowy Square in order to attack the enemy from the inside, together with the simultaneous blow by the units located in Srodmiescie District, which were to attack from the side of Krolewska Street. The Colonel Wachnowski's reconnaissance informed that next to the latrines fenced with blacha there are two manholes. We were to use them to get to the ground and attack the Germans. I said I would lead the soldiers. I took 120 soldiers, mainly from "Czata", but also from "Miotla" and "Zoska" battalions, as well as some from Lieutenant "Piotr's" company (those of the Warsaw company that went on leave from 27th Volhynian Division). They could be counted on.
In the night of August 30/31 we entered the canals through the manhole in plac Krasinskich Square. We went fast and silent, part of the way through a storm canal, then the low, one-meter tall, canal. This was the longer way to get there. We walked under Miodowa, Krakowskie Przedmiescie, Krolewska, and Zabia Streets. We arrived at the destination. It turned out that the boys opened one manhole, while the other was blocked by a car. Since the reconnaissance the Germans brought their men there. And above that, the soldiers who were coming out weszli w kawalki blachy, which encircled the latrines and which were destroyed during fights. There was an awful lot of noise. The Germans understood what was going on and immediately started to shoot at us with grenade launchers and machine guns. Eight, maybe ten, men came out, two managed to get back into the canal. One was wounded in the arm. The rest of the team died.
I was going to go after "Jedras", Zygmunt Jedrzejewski, my friend from the Air Force Officers Training Centre. We always stuck together, we always had to have full confidence in the other. Zygmunt was already just under the manhole when the soldiers fell on him. We closed the manhole quickly and had to go back under Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street through the low canal, then a short passage through a storm canal, which had clinker brick banks on the sides, so the company could sit down. I sent the message to "Radoslaw", asking what to do. After two or three hours the messenger came with the order to move to Srodmiescie District. It was the first unit that came from the Old Town to Nowy Swiat Street in the corner of Warecka Street.
On September 1 we came out to the ground. We were ordered to go to Chmielna Street, to the hospital near Prudential skyscraper. We looked horrible after going through the canals. We were washed and fed. Contented as I was with the other world than the one I had known during fights, I took a walk to my sister, who lived at the corner of Nowy Swiat and Foksal Streets. She dressed my wounds. Until this day I still have a shrapnel in the arm, which was not taken out during the Uprising. After two days of rest in the area of Chmielna and Traugutta Streets, the rest of units that fought until the end in the Old Town joined us and we received order to move to Czerniakow District.
In the night of September 3 to 4, we went through a barricade in Aleje Jerozolimskie Avenue, the devastated Plac Trzech Krzyzy Square, and then through a ditch along Ksiazeca Street. "Czata 49" took quarters at 2 Okrag Street. Already on the next day the Germans started to shell us with "the cows", a sort of multiple rocket launcher which gave a terrible howl and hit next to us with a characteristic swish. Then we were being shelled by a railroad gun of very big caliber. Some companions were buried alive during the fights.
The heavy artillery shelling went on constantly. The houses were collapsing, burying the soldiers. On September 11 my company was stationed near Ludna Street, with the soldiers quarters in the premises of Municipal Gasworks. The battalion had troubles with holding the sections connecting Czerniakow with Srodmiescie District. "Czata" was there together with "Kryska" units. Lieutenant Colonel "Radoslaw" commanded the whole section. Since the morning of the next day there was an artillery barrage. For the whole day the Germans were bombarding us, then they sent the infantry. Strong enemy attacks hit my company in the gasworks in Ludna Street. We were reinforced by those from "Kryska" units and the unit of Lieutenant "Czarny". Holding the territory of gasworks cost us a lot of casualties. On September 14 we garrisoned the ZUS [from Zaklad Ubezbieczen Spolecznych; eng. Social Insurance Institution] edifice and the area around Ludna Street. In the evening there was a strong assault on our positions and the Germans managed to force us back from Ludna Street.
Polish army stood on the other side of the river. In the night of September 14 to 15 the reconnaissance of the First Polish Army reached us. There were four soldiers, one of whom was wounded. He stayed, while the others rowed across in a pontoon boat to Saska Kepa District, together with Lieutenant Kazimierz Augustowski "Jagoda" sent by Lieutenant Colonel with the request of support in form of weapons and landing of Polish forces at the bridgehead. Major Kmita and five men rowed in a boat before them, being covered by Lieutenant Marczyk from my company. They were carrying the report with the precise position of our forces. "Radoslaw" wanted to hold the Czerniakow bridgehead at all cost in order to facilitate the landing of Polish Army soldiers.
On September 15 first landing of Berling's soldiers took place. The commander of that battalion was Lieutenant Kononkow. The men was at once redeployed to the outposts. The first battalion went to Czerniakowska Street. They had anti-tank guns. Every unit was assigned our soldiers, because the newcomers did not know how to fight in urban area. More boats came at night. The Germans noticed the movement at the bank of Vistula River and intensified artillery and mortar shelling. A shell hit next to me. Lieutenant Kononkow died. I survived. Kononkow's radio operator sent the information about the death of the commander. I was told to take the command over the battalion and so I, an officer of AK, became the commander of Berling's soldiers. Unfortunately, they were just ordinary farmers from the east, terrified with shooting, ruins, the soldiers who were meant to fight at the front, in the large spaces. They did not know how to fight in the city. They could not hide, so the enemy spotted our positions at once.
Nevertheless, they were eager to fight, they had anti-tank guns to fight with the tanks, there was a mortar platoon, infantry and it was thanks to them that we managed to hold the Czerniakow bridgehead so long. I was receiving further landings of General Berling's soldiers under deadly artillery fire. The Germans laid fire on the river. The soldiers were falling out of pontoons into the water. The smokescreen did not help. A lot of equipment, cars sank to the bottom. They arrived decimated.
The soldiers of the First Polish Army reinforced our positions significantly. They fought heroically, arm in arm, on barricades and in buildings. Soon the Germans began to force out our groups. We ran short of ammo, food and water. On September 18 the enemy encircled our positions. In Wilanowska Street the commander had his quarters, I was by his side with Berling's soldiers. There were wounded in the basements. The Germans were coming up right to the apartment house. There were two tanks in front of us. We called for support from the other side of Vistula River. We survived thanks to their artillery. We would not have made it by ourselves.
In the night of September 18 to 19 Lieutenant Colonel "Radoslaw" asked the commanders of the First Polish Army to take the wounded from the bridgehead. He ordered to gather the wounded and prepare them for the evacuation. The wounded soldiers were taken out from the basements and houses and lied on the bank of the river. The first pontoons took the most seriously wounded. Horrific scenes could be seen there. At one moment a mortar shell hit next to the cichociemni who waited for the crossing: Fryderyk Zoll (back then known as Kozlowski), the father of Andrzej Zoll, Zygmunt Milewicz (he got wounded) and "aunt Antosia", the caretaker of cichociemni. That exquisite woman died while performing her tasks until the very end. She was a messenger, caretaker of "the birds", cichociemni. We managed to transport them to the other side of the river.
Unfortunately, there were no more pontoons. On September 19 the afternoon attack of two German infantry companies supported by tanks separated "Czata 49" battalion from the positions of the rest of "Radoslaw" units and Berling's soldiers. On September 20 Lieutenant Colonel "Radoslaw" ordered the evacuation through the canals to Mokotow District. A unit of "Czata" and "Zoska" battalions was left to secure the evacuation. The passage through the canals was very difficult, we had to pull ourselves up the ropes over a dam. The canal was blocked by the things left by those who went through there earlier, and apart from that we had plenty of wounded with us. The soldiers walked through the storm canal from Solec, under Mysliwiecka Street, Agrykola and the Baths Parks. The wounded were received, while the soldiers had to rest, being unable to fight. Only few joined the battles for Krolikarnia Palace.
On September 25 "Radoslaw" ordered to go to Srodmiescie District.
On September 26 I, Colonel "Radoslaw", Major "Witold" and other soldiers evacuated through the manhole in Wiktorska Street. The manhole in Pulawska Street was buried and the further evacuation was performed through the one in Szustra Street, secured by the platoon of Lieutenant "Maly". We had a good guide, so we did not get lost and came out to the ground in the corner of Wicza Street and Aleje Ujazdowskie Avenue.
M. P.: Was is the end of the fights for "Czata 49"?
Z. S-R.: Yes. We went through one very dramatic moment more. On September 27 a random bullet hit Lieutenant "Maly" in Aleje Ujazdowskie Avenue. He walked the whole battle route of "Czata 49" with the insurgents: he battled in Wola District, in the Old Town, in Czerniakow and Mokotow Districts, protected his companions by the manhole in Szustra Street. In the one of the last days died a brave soldier, several times buried and dug out of the rubble. He was killed by a grenade launcher's shrapnel which hit his temple.
M. P.: did leaving of the city look like?
Z. S-R.: Since October 3 the civil population was moving from Warsaw to the transit camp in Pruszkow. All the commanders of AK units which had been fighting in the capital were closing the organizational matters, granting promotions and awards. I became a major then (formally later), while my commander "Witold" a lieutenant colonel.
After the capitulation, on October 4, "Radoslaw" decided that everyone had to decide for themselves whether they would go into captivity. He chose from his closest companions a group of soldiers which was to continue conspiratorial activity, among whom there was me and Major "Witold". In Pruszkow we reported as civilians to the so called "jedynka" [lit. one; in this context - a part of camp for civil population]. A doctor there recorded us as the wounded and we were sent two days later to the hospital in Grodzisk Mazowiecki. Together with Major Tadeusz Runge "Witold" we headed for Milanowek. We were still working in the conspiracy. We sent to London the information about enemy army positions and movements in Warsaw. After the liberation of the capital in January 17, 1945 we moved to Lowicz, because "Witold" had been familiar with the area since the period of receiving air drops. We were observing the situation and were in contact with "Radoslaw" who managed the intelligence net in the area of Czestochowa and Krakow. I was in Lowicz when the war ended. On May 7 I reported to Lieutenant Colonel Jan Mazurkiewicz "Radoslaw" that I was going to Poznan. I went to my brother-in-law who lived in Sroda, and then to Poznan.
M. P.: When did you reveal your identity? Did you experience repressions?
Z. S-R.: I did not reveal my identity, so I did not experience repressions either. I lived in Poznan under the assumed name. At the beginning I worked in the Bureau of Automobile Repairs "Motozbyt", I was collecting old cars from UNRAA [The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration]. No cars were manufactured in the country at that time, and they were needed. They were repaired in Motozbyt plants (chassis, engines). I would go round the whole Poland. I worked in the Poznan's Transport Company for a short period of time, and since 1956 until the retirement I worked as a technical inspector in the Zjednoczone Zaklady Gospodarcze INCO [eng. United Economic Enterprises ]. There were over a dozen of us, inspectors. We would go to construction sites and conduct the training how to make thermal and hydro insulation, which was a technological novelty in building industry back then. I worked in the Designing Office of INCO until my retirement in 1977.
I returned to Warsaw in 1963 and settled up in Radosc.
M. P.: Did you start up the family?
Z. S-R.: I met my wife in 1946 in Gdansk. I was collecting 500 cars from UNRRA in Gdynia. My sister Danuta asked me to pass a letter to Zofia Kochanska. They got acquainted during the war. Danuta - the wife of "Dzul", a soldier of "Wachlarz", gave Zofia Kochanska and her baby Maciej a place to hide, also after the uprising. I had heard about her. She was an intelligence agent of AK, known as Marie Springer, but I recommend reading about her in the "Agaton's" book "Z falszywym ausweisem po prawdziwej Warszawie".
I went with the letter from Danusia, and in 1948 she became my wife. She had a son, Maciej.
Together with husband, Jan Kochanski, Maciej's father, worked in conspiracy. They were arrested in Lvov. He died in Pawiak prison.
We settled up in Poznan in Wroclawska Street. In 1963 we moved to Warszawa-Radosc, we bought a house in Krola-Kazimierza Street. She ran a craft workshop in Warsaw Cooperative "Reflex". I was still working in the Designing Office of INCO in Poznan, but now I was conducting the training for construction workers in Rzeszowski Voivodeship. In 1977 I went on retirement. Maciej graduated from Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in 1968, built a house in Miedzeszyn and we settled together.
My wife died in 1989. I still live in Miedzeszyn with my sister Danuta, with Maciej and his family next to us.
M. P.: .: I know you work socially. You are one of the founders of Zwiazek Powstancow Warszawskich [ZPW; Association of Warsaw Insurgents].
Z. S-R.: When I retired, there was still no possibility of organizing such associations. Colonel Stanislaw Ksiazkiewicz from ZBoWiD [Zwiazek Bojownikow o Wolnosc i Demokracje; eng. the Society of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy], a veterans association, organized first groups of AK soldiers, meetings of "Czata 49" and 27th Volhynian Infantry Division of AK, in which I took part. Only after the changes of 1989 the bill concerning associations and unions was passed. They had to registered by court.
Zwiazek Powstancow Warszawskich was not formed until 1989. I became the chairman and it is so now. I had three-year break, when Kazimierz Leski was performing this function. The aim of our non-governmental organization is maintaining of friendly ties between insurgents and the care over them and their families. Now they have 90 years, the youngest 80 years. We deal with veterans rights for our soldiers. We popularize the history of the Warsaw Uprising, we cooperate with Zwiazek Harcerstwa Polskiego [eng. Polish Scouting and Guiding Association]… I am happy that the Warsaw Uprising Museum was created, we strove for this for many years. I was a member of the Honorary Board for the Formation of the Warsaw Uprising Museum.
I am also a member of Zwiazek 27. Wolynskiej Dywizji AK [the Association of 27th Volhynian Division of the AK], Zwiazek Kleeberczykow Samodzielnej Grupy Operacyjnej "Polesie" [the Association of Kleeberg's Soldiers of Independent Operational Group "Polesie"], and in December 1, 2004, I was appointed as a member of Kapitula Orderu Wojennego Virtuti Militari [eng. the Virtuti Militari Order's Chapter].
M. P.: You have many military and civil awards...
Z. S-R.: I was awarded the Silver Cross of Virtuti Militari (twice), the Cross of Valour (twice), the Partisan Cross, The Warsaw Cross of the Uprising, and from the civilian ones: Commander's Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta.
M. P.: You have not written you memoirs. Why?
Z. S-R.: .: I was always busy, but my secretary from 27th Volhynian Division, Wladyslaw Filar, recorded my reminiscences. Maybe we will do something together again...
M. P.: Thanks to the ZPW activists, in 2004 our association was created, Stowarzyszenie Pamieci Powstania Warszawskiego 1944 [the 1944 Warsaw Uprising Remembrance Association], which started to form up in 2003.
We have common goals - the popularization of the Uprising history, patriotism...
Recently we have been working on the project of making the year 2009 the Year of the Warsaw Uprising.
Z. S-R.: It will be the 65th anniversary of the outbreak of the Uprising, and there is already so few of us.
The veterans live to pass on the knowledge about the Uprising, to talk about patriotism, also the contemporary one in times of peace. The Uprising heroes have to remind of the basic truths in the life of Poles. Public service is to be a dedication for the common good, and the Homeland is sacred. Young generation is our national treasury, which cannot go to waste. Present governing elites should take care of them.
M. P.: Thank you very much for your willingness to share the reminiscences from before almost 70 years. These meetings, conversations with you, General, a witness of such important event for Poles, were a great pleasure for me and a wonderful lesson of history.
I think I got to know your war fortunes very well, but the more publications concerning war, occupation and conspiracy I read, the more questions come to my mind, but let's stop at what we have. Thank you again.
Z. S-R.: I wish you successes in your work in SPPW 1994 and best of luck.
interview conducted on February 18, March 3 and March 9, 2008, written by Maria Poprawa
M. P.: .: I very grateful that you agreed to meet with me and tell about your life during the World War II, General. You are a living witness of large part of our Polish history. I act in The 1944 Warsaw Uprising Remembrance Association [pl. Stowarzyszenie Pamieci Powstania Warszawskiego 1944] and I have already had a chance of hearing your account of Uprising events.
interview by: Maria Poprawa
edited by: Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz
translated by: Pawel Boruciak
Copyright © 2010 SPPW1944. All rights reserved.