Interview with Mr Jerzy Sienkiewicz

The below conversation with Mr Sienkiewicz was conducted in connection with his earlier account included in the Oral History Archive of the Warsaw Rising Museum. It concerns the issues covered in his previous wartime reports.

         Jerzy Sienkiewicz was born in 1924 into a pre-war middle class family. Both his parents worked as civil servants. The outbreak of WWII interrupted his education at Stefan Batory Junior High School in Warsaw. At the onset of the German occupation he started to attend preparatory courses for vocational school run by pre-war High School teachers. The courses served as a smokescreen for the actual activity consisting in teaching the Polish youth for the so-called "minor" high school diploma (Translator's note: "minor" high school diploma was in pre-war Poland the rough equivalent of contemporary GCE in the UK). Jerzy Sienkiewicz passed the diploma and continued education at the clandestine University courses. He gave up his studies when he joined the Home Army where he served as a courier. At the same time, at the command of the Home Army he took up employment with the German company OBHUT specializing in the securing of warehouses and facilities at German-controlled airfields. In spring 1944 Jerzy Sienkiewicz was temporarily transferred to the 1140th platoon of the Home Army in a move to protect him from exposure, which had actually happened during his service in the Assault Group "Kedyw". The orders to return to his home detachment reached him at the time when the Home Army troops were gearing up for the Warsaw Uprising, but as a result of the protest filed by Capt. "Conrad" and Lt. "Wojciech", Jerzy remained at the disposal of the 1140th platoon, in which he was given command of an independent assault squad.
         During the Warsaw Uprising Jerzy Sienkiewicz fought in Czerniaków (where, amongst others, he took part in the attack on the Poniatowski Bridge), Sadyba, and Mokotów, at Czerniaków Bridgehead, in Mokotów again, and then, after the passage to the Town Centre through the sewers, in the neighbourhood of Nowogrodzka St. Soon after the capitulation of the city he fled from POW camp and headed to Błonie where he reported for further service to officer cadet Tadeusz Topczewski, a.k.a. "Wnuk". He was provided with counterfeit ID card (in German "kenkarta") and started service in the 57th platoon of the 10th regiment of Home Army. In the period immediately preceding the January offensive of the Red Army, he was a member of the joint Polish-Russian unit, which associated also the soldiers of Batallion "Zo¶ka", e.g. Michał Glinka, and those of the 1st Belarussian Front. e.g. Maj. Jakowlew of the intelligence service.
         Later he became involved in the so-called "Second Conspiracy". Arrested for the first time in August 1945, he was released after a few months. Following the release, he found employment with UNRRA and, at the same time, took up studies at Warsaw University. In 1946 Jerzy started to work for the American Army as a liaison officer with a mission to seek out air and land force soldiers who had been missing or killed in action on the territory of Poland. In 1949 he was arrested for the second time and received a 6-year prison sentence. He spent 15 months of that term sharing a cell with Wladyslaw Bartoszewski. Finally released in 1955, he initially took up employment with a steel and concrete manufacturing company which he later left to start his own business. At present he lives in Warsaw in Sadyba Czerniakowska district.
         He has been conferred the Silver Cross of the Order of Military Virtue (Virtuti Militari) and twice the Cross of Valour.

Mr Jerzy Sienkiewicz today

                  1. W.W.: The task assigned to your platoon for the August 1 was to take control of the Poniatowski Bridge. Can you provide the details concerning the preparations for this particular operation ?

         J.S.: On July 30, the commander of the platoon held a briefing for the leaders of the squads with the aim of outlining the military tasks to be achieved in the first hours of the attack. The briefing took place in a clandestine apartment at 16 Nowy Swiat. The same venue was an assembly place of the platoon commanded by Lt. "Torpeda" ("Torpedo") from the battalion "Miotła" ("Broom") belonging to "Radosław" group. These troops together with my platoon were bound at an initial stage to block the junction of Nowy ¦wiat and Jerozolimska Avenue to allow our forces to carry out the attack on the National Museum and the BGK bank. At that time no particular orders concerning the object of our attack were issued. Even the commander of the platoon, when queried, expressed his concern about the lack of specific information as to what facilities were to be attacked and stressed that we lacked time to reconnoitre the enemy forces.

         July 31 passed without any extraordinary events. There was every indication that the Uprising would be postponed until later. In the conversation with the company's commander held in the afternoon the soldiers of the assault group suggested forming 3-person squads, equipped with small arms, that would start disarming the German soldiers roaming the street of Lower Czerniaków district. However, the company's commander after consulting Capt. "Konrad" declined the request and justified his refusal by saying that the action could lead to the exposure of the assembly locations where particular troops gathered to await the outbreak of the Uprising. July 31 was for the Germans the day of regaining control after a stint of panic that had earlier led them to start retreating from the city. It was also the day of the return of police forces, the city's administrative offices and its employees as well as the arrival of Gen. Stahel, appointed a military commander of the Warsaw Stronghold. The thoroughfares, in particular Jerozolimska Avenue, 3rd May Avenue and the viaduct of Poniatowski Bridge were cleared of the retreating Germans and international troops collaborating with the Germans. The enemy's armoured divisions were moving from the west to the east. Among the approaching troops, our scouts identified an elite Hermann Goering Division and the emergency unit of the Oberkommando der Wermacht (OKW)
(Translator's note: Supreme Command of the Armed Forces). The soldiers of that unit stood out among the "standard" military forces by wearing a special "Hermann Goering" armband on the cuff of the uniform's left sleeve. The armoured vehicles and tanks of the Hermann Goering unit were advancing into the east in full operational camouflage. One had an impression that those deployed forces expected to confront the Soviet Army still within the boundaries of Greater Warsaw. The streets were being patrolled by the mixed groups of 15 to 20 men composed of Wehrmacht soldiers, police officers and Waffen SS troopers. They would stop to search not only civilians but also German military staff in an effort to find deserters. On the corners of thoroughfares one could see the Hungarian military officers - a sure sign of the concentration of Hungarian forces in the Warsaw area. Over the city the air fights between the German and Soviet aircraft continued nonstop. The fact that the Germans managed to bring the panic under control was a cause for concern for us, but it also gave us an impression of an imminent arrival of the Soviet Army.

         "Bob", the commander's liaison, delivered to the assembly point of the assault group the order for the whole platoon to stand by in readiness, together with the order for "Franek" to report for a briefing at 11.30 to the building of the City Council in Nowy ¦wiat (at present a location of the former headquarters of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party). At about 11.00, "Franek" reported at the assembly point at 41 Solec St. where he was handed the order issued by Lt. "Wojciech" to go for the briefing. "Franek", our platoon's commander, asked me, "Szary" and a few other liaisons to accompany him. The briefing started at 12.00 o'clock in one of the offices of the City Council building. The meeting was covered by the teams from the 1138th and 1139th platoons, with soldiers being armed and wearing red-and-white armbands. In the room, which looked like a cross between a classroom and an office, there was a blackboard on which someone sketched a map of the route from 3rd May Avenue through Viaduct to the Poniatowski Bridge and its bridgehead with the indication of the directions of attack to be launched by particular platoons. Opening the briefing the company commander announced that the "W-hour" had been scheduled for 17.:00 on that day. The password and the counterpassword for the upcoming 24 hours were: Wolno¶ć
(Freedom) and Warszawa (Warsaw), respectively. The operational objective assigned to the 1140th platoon was to attack the Germans defending the bridgehead of the Poniatowski Bridge from the southern side, enter the bridge and disarm the explosive charges planted along its structure. Subsequently, the platoon was to move along the bridge towards Saska Kępa district with the aim of safeguarding it and preventing any attempted bridge destruction at any cost. During the briefing the 1140th platoon was represented by "Franek", myself and "Szary". The team liaisons were waiting in the adjacent room. On hearing the news, cadet "Ala" (Kazimierz Imroth), who was late for the briefing, immediately ordered to transfer his team from Nowy ¦wiat to 24 Solec St.

         Continuing the briefing, in response to a question concerning the strength of the German detachment in the forebridge area, "Wojciech" confirmed the lack of any elementary reconnaissance of the situation, but added that based on the findings collected in the previous weeks the German force probably consisted of the troops manning the anti-aircraft gun batteries which were part of anti-aircraft defense deployed across the Warsaw area. We were surprised to receive such a high-profile task but also convinced that we would be the first soldiers to meet the Soviet Army's spearheads in action. Even before the end of the briefing "Franek" dismissed cadet "Szary" and ordered him to oversee the transfer of the platoon to a new assembly point at 24 Solec St. Further into the briefing there were questions addressed to the company commander. Cadet "Sawa" enquired about collaboration with the troops operating to the south of our position in Saska Kępa. "Wojciech" assured us that our attacks were fully synchronised and that we should be able to meet up with our colleagues from the other group on the bridge during the combat. A few other questions were asked in which "weapons" were a recurring theme. Weapons were to be supplied from the warehouse in Czerwony Krzyż St.
(Red Cross St.) in the amount sufficient for all the attackers. Already at the beginning of the briefing, when I saw the map on the blackboard showing the direction of our attack I had doubts as to whether we would be able to force our way through chevaux de frise and barbed wire entanglements protecting the approach the enemy's positions on the bridge. I shared my doubts with "Franek" and others who were sitting closest to me. The doubts I had brought to my mind the idea which, upon "Franek's" approval, I presented to the company commander as Lt. "Wojciech" asked for questions. Counting on the courage and commitment of my colleagues from the assault group and their skill in close combat I suggested that the assault group of the 1140th platoon should enter the viaduct of the Poniatowski Bridge via the connecting walkway with Solec St. After that, it would stop a tram at the nearest tram stop, remove all civilians without causing havock, replace the engine driver with one of the soldiers, drive the tram to the German positions at the entry onto the bridge, launch a sudden attack and kill the German party at the bridgehead, barricade the entry onto the bridge with a two-car tram and, finally, install machine guns inside the cars. However, my proposal was not accepted. In reply to my suggestion "Wojciech" literally said: "Sabotage is over. Now, we are a regular military unit and we must observe generally accepted principles of urban warfare". I took note of his remark. As a commander of the assault group I was well aware of the fact that I together with my colleagues would be responsible for opening the way for the rest of the platoon.

         When "Franek" and I were leaving after the briefing, we were still talking about the state of armament of our platoon and the task we were expected to complete. Watching my colleagues on the days of mobilisation, I had no doubt that they were ready for the highest sacrifice. Straight from Nowy ¦wiat "Franek" and I walked along Aleja 3-go Maja (3rd May Avenue) towards the bridge viaduct. As we were passing the National Museum we were stopped by Waffen SS sentries standing there on guard. My ID document proving the employment with German airfield infrastructure company saved "Franek" from being checked. We had pistols on us so the shooting was at a hair's breadth and its outcome easy to foresee, given the fact that we were standing in the open space on the viaduct. After passing the German sentinels positioned at the bridgehead, "Franek" and I stopped about 50 m before the barbed wire entanglements surrounding their defences. We leant against the viaduct railing and, facing south-east, were observing the behaviour of the German unit for about 10 minutes. In that short span of time we were able to note the following facts: the German anti-aircraft artillery unit which had been stationing for months on the platforms topping the stone turrets, that constituted sort of a bridge gate, was replaced with a Wermacht unit in "feldgrau" uniforms (their predecessors wore uniforms in steel blue). On the embankment there were two anti-aircraft doublebarrelled guns, probably caliber 22mm. The guns were manned by German soldiers on standby to shoot. Artillerymen in combat helmets kept their hands on control knobs. An officer in the rank of lieutenant was scanning with binoculars the south part of the sky. Two machine guns of MG-42 type mounted on stands had their barrels directed towards the city. The guns, protected by earthworks, were operated by one-man crews Today, it has been ascertained on the basis of German documents that we saw the 654th platoon of Wehrmacht Pioneer Battalion of the Army Group Central, which on July 28 had been subordinated to the direct command of the Head of Pioneers of the 9th Army. Two companies of that battalion under the command of Capt. Trenner, with their own platoon of anti-aircraft guns, started to mine the city's bridges and prepare them for blowing up as early as in the morning of July 29.

         On August1 about 9 o'clock a.m, all the crews positioned on the bridge reported readiness to blow the bridge up to Capt. Trenner at his quarters at "Schicht" House in Nowy Zjazd. The Poniatowski Bridge crew consisted of 1 officer, 3 non-commissioned officers and 25 soldiers. From what we know now on the basis of existing German documents, it is evident that the point of attack assigned to our 1138th, 1129th and 1140th platoons was the most critical point of the 9th Army communication route. The heavy fighting undertook by the Germans on August 3 together with the engagement of their elite front-line troops such as the 19th Panzer Division and the 4th East-Prussian Grenadier Regiment to fight the way through to the other side, confirmed the strategic importance of the insurgents' attack on the Poniatowski bridgehead. One may risk a claim that on August 1 were one of the units acting directly for the benefit of the eastern front, and also the one which was to play a pivotal role in opening the way to Warsaw in the event of the successful development of the Soviet attack. szawy.

                  2. W.W.: What is your assessment of the initial stage of the insurgence in Czerniaków district ?

         J.S.: The Rising was a great improvisation. During the first few early days the situation in Czerniaków looked bad - let's have a glimpse at the map. In those days the major part of Czerniaków territory was a no-man's land. Only in the area of M±czna St. the insurgents managed to establish a "stronghold", as I call it, occupying the triangle contained within Czerniakowska, Solec and M±czna streets. The barricades were erected on M±czna and Solec. In the "stronghold" there gathered the remainder of the troops which failed in the attacks undertaken on August 1, namely the 5th Group "Siekiera" ("The Axe"), cavalrymen of the 5th Mokotów district, my 1140th platoon of the 3rd Home Army Group "Konrad", the 3rd Company and even the soldiers of the 7th infantry company "Garłuch" from Okęcie. The commander of my company, i.e. the 3rd company of the 3rd Home Army Group "Konrad", Lieut "Feliks" Szaniawski together with 5 other soldiers swam across the river to Saska Kępa on the night of August 1 and was never heard of since. The self-appointed Capt. "Sęp" Izydorczyk (in reality, a sergeant of pre-war Polish Army) made an attempt to re-assemble and bring under his command all the broken units. By the way, he was said to have killed second lieutenent Ledóchowski in his own apartment in Przemysłowa St. and was tried for that crime after the war. Our direct commander, second lieutenent "Franek" was our elder by about 10 years. He was a teacher by profession and was a man of good will but he had more flair for teaching than commanding. Out of 11 soldiers of my assault group only 7 had weapons, while the remainder had only hand grenades. Some of us wore army (panther-printed) camouflage jackets which we seized after capturing a German truck on the night of August 1.

         On August 3 in the morning, we clashed with the tanks of German 19th Armoured (Panzer) Division advancing towards Warka. The division was ordered to leave Warsaw from the south, but could not proceed along Jerozolimska Avenue. A few vehicles, including tanks, pulled off the Poniatowski Bridge to continue along the Vistula River, but they encountered a barricade that stood in Maczna, Solec and Czerniakowska. My platoon had no anti-tank grenades, but luckily the men from "Siekiera" unit under sergeant "Mały" were in possession of an explosive made out of an aerial bomb, weighing about 20kg, which we used to damage a German tank of Panzer IV type when it approached our position. It was not a Tiger. In the majority of memoirs, each German tank and each assault gun appears to be a famous Tiger. In actuality, I had never seen tanks of that type in action in the streets of Warsaw. Those vehicles were considered by the Germans to be too good to be wasted in street fights. The tank with the damaged track remained at the barricade while the remainder of the German tanks were waiting at the marina Syrena. At the same time the German infantry started to advance in our direction. It was a difficult moment for us. Each of us fled to such cover as was obtainable. Fortunately, it turned out that the Germans were firing anti-tank projectiles at us because they were prepared to fight Russian T34 tanks, not urban army. Such a projectile could hurt someone only when it hit one directly. After the war, one of the colleagues showed me those anti-tank projectiles which had frequently been found in flats and classified as "unexploded shells". Those projectiles looked like unexploded missiles, but in fact they were the cores of anti-tank projectiles. During that fight second lieutenant "Franek" was seriously wounded.

         Under the cover of fire from submachine guns, the Germans managed to tow away the damaged tank. The Germans obviously did not intend to engage in combat with us. After that encounter they retreated from Warsaw via other road through Rozbrat St. Our "gang" lacked a commander. The order was reinstated on August 7/8 when Capt. "Kryska" took charge of the unit. The earlier seven days was a period of sheer chaos. As I recall it now, those days were characterised by disorder and lack of command.

         I have no idea how the rising in Czerniaków would have developed if Capt. "Kryska" had not taken control. "Kryska" brought 4 companies of Rising Security Military Service (RSMS), which were completely unarmed. They had 3 to 4 guns per company. It would be useful to note that at the moment of the outbreak of the Rising, the insurgent army was divided into two categories., the Kedyw assault teams, as no longer necessary in the regular war conditions, were disbanded and turned into first-line combat troops, as was, for instance, my unit. The combat troops constituted the first category of the military force. The second category military units were called the Rising Security Military Service (RSMS) responsible for securing or guarding the captured buildings and POWs. So, the group commanded by "Kryska" consisted of 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th RSMS companies, if I am not mistaken. In Czerniaków, there was a fairly large number of soldiers from the unit of Lt. "Siekiera". "Siekiera" along with his headquarter staff stationed in Szara St. while the troops were deployed along the barricades in Czerniakowska, Solec and M±czna streets at the far end of Czerniaków. When "Kryska" turned up with those four companies, the top people at the headquarters, that in the meantime had been relocated to Ujazdowskie Avenue from Krucza St., concluded that it would be necessary to regroup some of the units from Czerniaków, as Ujazdowskie Avenue lacked any armed defence except for battalion "Ruczaj". So, they ordered to transfer two companies of Lt. "Siekiera" from Czerniaków, the move which deprived Czerniaków of the military protection but had the effect of trapping the police force inside the Sejm building. In that way Czerniaków was left with the remains of the "Siekiera's" group under the command of his deputy Lt. "Tum". Our high command also sent to Czerniaków a SOE Capt. "Tur"
(Translator's note: Special Operations Operatives, SOEs, were Polish soldiers, highly-skilled paratroopers and undercover commandoes, specially trained in England in various methods of combat, sabotage, usage of weapons, etc who throughout the war were dropped on parachutes on Polish territory to assist with their skills the operations of the Home Army in the country. Owing to the nature of their clandestine activities, the SOEs had bee named "Cichociemni" in Polish, which translates into English as the "Silent and Unseen".) who gathered all those scattered units and formed them into a battalion. The 1140th platoon in which I served before moving on to Mokotów was incorporated into that battalion as its core unit.

         "Kryska" did one important thing. He transferred the units which were gathered inside the stronghold area within the boundaries of the four streets that I mentioned before as far as possible towards the German lines. He moved them from Czerniakowska St. to Rozbrat St. for on the opposite side of Rozbrat, in the junior high school building, there stationed an SA battalion, the so-called "yellows". Our soldiers on the one side of Łazienkowska St., transferred there by "Kryska", were facing the Waffen SS cavalrymen deployed on the other. The only obstacle preventing "Kryska" from taking control of the entire Czerniaków district was the School of Journalism in Rozbrat St. "Kryska" ordered to capture that school on August 11. The few Wehrmacht soldiers who were inside to guard the storerooms, escaped uptown to the Sejm building. As a result, our lines in Czerniaków stretched along Rozbrat St. to Łazienkowska Avenue and farther to the Vistula River, and the Home Army controlled a huge area with a narrow passage leading through Social Security Building, the hospital and Ksi±żęc± St. to the City Centre.

         When all these events were taking place I was no longer in Czerniaków as on August 5 I was moved to Malczewskiego St. in Mokotów district together with five other soldiers (including four colleagues from my former assault team). We were all transferred to Mokotów with our weapons and till the very end of the Uprising constituted a very consolidated unit. The command of "Baszta" regiment resided in Malczewski St. (although part of the regiment left earlier for Kabaty). "Reda" took my report, examined our weapons and said: "You will be of use to me". That is how my mission in Mokotów started.

Jerzy Sienkiewicz dressed in a "panther-printed" jacket

                  3. W.W.: What was the quantity and quality of weapons in possession of the units operating in Czerniaków?

         J.S.: The armament situation on the first day of the Uprising was tragic, laughably tragic. In September 1939, fort in Sadyba district was defended by a reserve unit of infantry troops, probably the 336th unit. After the fights with the Germans, a part of that unit retreated towards Czerniakowska St. At the time of capitulation the unit was in the vicinity of Solec St., where the soldiers buried their weapons in the factory yard, and then dispersed, went home. The insurgents were tipped off about the place where that weapons were hidden on August 5, I guess, so they dug up some light machine guns of 28 type, that were in a very bad condition, as well as ammunition, grenades and French rifles. In that simple way our platoons were provided with additional arms.

         The second glorious moment for Czerniaków was when one of the transport airplanes that were flying supplies to Warsaw dropped the whole freight in the area of Czerniaków district. The consignment consisted of eight or ten containers in which we found a great deal of PIATs
(Translator's note: Projector Infantry Anti-Tank - British weapon used during WWII.) and PIAT ammunition. Thanks to that airdrop, Czerniaków could supply with PIATs the southern part of the City Centre area. The airdrop also included Sten submachine guns, ammunition and explosives. Taken together, both the "excavated" pre-war arms and the airdrop have provided us with tolerably sufficient amount of weapons, which the units could share and transfer from one to the other for use.

                  4. W.W.: For a longer period in August you were staying in Mokotów. How would you describe the then situation in the district ?

         J.S.: Until mid August it was relatively quiet as only submachine guns and hand-held anti-tank weapons were in use. After August 15, the Germans started to use the mine-throwers, nicknamed "the moving wardrobes". The situation was slightly weird. In mid-August a carriage with Hungarian soldiers aboard drew up to the barricade in Puławska St. Our boys took them to the high command located in Malczewskiego St. When the Hungarians were leaving after the meeting with our commanders, our soldiers started to cheer enthusiastically: "Long live Hungarians" in the Hungarian language, however, I recall that the Hungarian officer who accompanied them made a sign to our insurgents to stop cheering. And after that visit the "moving wardrobes" started to fire at our headquarters exactly on target.

                  5. W.W.: In your recollections you have mentioned the sight of the murdered people you saw during the night attack from 5th to 6th August in Belgijska St. What was the effect of what you saw on your behaviour in combat?

         J.S.: The objective of our attack was to force the Germans out of Belgijska St. Earlier, during the occupation, I was aware of the German terror but never saw the killed people. Now, I saw the effects of a massacre with my own eyes. Among the dead were the people who were killed as a result of the explosion of grenades, and also those who were mowed down by submachine guns when they attempted to escape across Pulawska St. There were about 200 people. The corpses of the murdered lay close nearby and were smouldering in the fire of the house burning by. The stench of the smouldering bodies and the stench of burning feathers...... The latter odour became the ever-present hallmark of the murdered city. And then I thought to myself what enormous price the civilians were paying for the Uprising. We saw that the jokes were over.
         What effect did it have on us? Well, there was a guy among us whose relatives were killed in that massacre. At the beginning he was in a mood to throw himself under a tank with grenades in hand, but as time passed he managed to pull through.
         Prior to the Uprising, the Germans were carrying out their campaign of murder all the time, but at that moment in Belgijska St. we were the eyewitnesses to the killing, and, for instance, saw a half-burnt woman who had probably attempted to crawl out of the building.
         I sat down on a chair and fell asleep. When I woke up I noticed the blades of grass growing among the cobblestones. Hardly a few days of the Uprising had passed when it appeared! Apart from the sight of the dead, I clearly recall that detail.

                  6. W.W.: W.W.: Can you elaborate on your two-day fighting in the Czerniaków bridgehead for the second time from September 17th to September 19th?

         J.S.: In the second half of September I was summoned to the headquarters of Col. "Waligóra" to determine whether it was possible to take a patrol across the German lines towards Siekierki. At that time I was unaware of the make up of that patrol since I talked to Capt. "Wania" only. Platoon sergeant "Afrykańczyk" (a former non-commissioned officer of the Foreign Legion who perfectly swore in French) was appointed the commander of the patrol. In the evening, our whole group, which included a Soviet officer, attempted to break through the German lines at the Rabbit House. The few encounters with the Germans and the exchange of fire alarmed the German troops stationing at the foot of the embankment and, thus, our escapade was thwarted. We returned to the headquarters of "Karol" where Capt. "Wania" was informed that Berling's detachments landed in Czerniaków (Translator's note: Polish army under the command of Gen Zygmunt Berling which fought as parbt of the Soviet forces, composed of Polish ex-prisoners released from gulags as well as deportees from the eastern parts of pre-war Poland, formed in the USSR under Soviet control on the strength of agreement between Stalin and London-based Polish government-in-exile). We decided to change the direction of our mission, so the group of Capt. "Wania" led by cadet "Selima" passed to Czerniaków through the sewers.
         There, I was in Wilanowska at the headquarters of lieutenant-colonel "Radosław" and took part in the battle taking place there. I met him there for the first time. After the war we cooperated a lot, among other things, on the erection of the Warsaw Uprising monument.
         I was allocated to the group of insurgents comprising soldiers from "Czata 49's" and "Kryska's" detachments. We fought a regular battle with the use of mortars, artillery, etc. Before the outbreak of the uprising I lived at 41 Solec St. The building was on fire when I got there, but my mother was missing (it turned out later that the Germans drove her away from the house, but she survived). Opposite the house was a small square in which stood 80mm mortars belonging to the Berling's Army commanded by three woman-soldiers. In Czerniaków the Soviet artillery bombardment from across the Vistula River was of immense assistance to us. Thanks to Soviet artillery our defence could last so long.

                  7. W.W.: During the night from 19th to 20th September you left Czerniaków and passed to Mokotów through the sewers together with "Radosław" detachments which were evacuating from the bridgehead. There you met the veteran fighters who were in combat in Wola, in the Old City and in Czerniaków. What impression did they make on you?

         J.S.: The only consolidated group was "Parasol" comprising about 25/30 men. The remainder was a mixture of people from battalion "Zo¶ka", the detachments "Czaty 49" and "Kryska" and two of my colleagues from the 1140th platoon who stayed in Czerniaków when I already moved on to Mokotów.
         After a time in Czerniaków, where they were engaged in a regular battle, they were terribly exhausted. All "Radosław" people were lightly wounded. Capt. "Motyl" had an arm in bandages. Apart from that, they were bitterly disappointed about the Berling's troops which managed to land on this bank of the river. Initially, it was hoped that once they got across the river they would relieve us in the fight or even move deeper into the city. That never happened. There were a great deal of weapons and ammunition lying about, submachine guns, and anti-tank guns, but to no avail since a fight to defend the bridgehead was never undertaken. For us it was unthinkable wastage seeing so many weapons that could be recovered from the dead. You could take whatever one needed, e.g. there were rifles left behind in basements by those who swam across the Vistula.
         In my opinion "Radosław" did the right thing leading the remainder of his detachment out of Czerniaków. He behaved like an experienced commander. But, half of battalion "Zo¶ka" remained there under the command of Lt. "Jerzy". Only those who managed to stay close to "Radosław" left Czerniaków with him. And I was at his headquarters. When Maj. Łatyszonok from the Berling Army realised in the morning that "Radosław" left, he was dismayed.

                  8. W.W.: What is your recollection of the closing period of fighting in Mokotów when the Germans launched their final attack?

         J.S.: On September 24 at dawn a police battalion composed of Ukrainians and Germans attacked the detachment of Lt. "Góral". I was put on alert and took part in the fight together with my colleagues who retreated from Czerniaków. The German losses were 3 killed and a few wounded. The same group of policemen were dragging out of the sewers the insurgents withdrawing from Mokotów, and murdered them in the morning of September 27 in Dworkowa St. in revenge for the death of their colleagues. In the evening of September 26, about 8 p.m., I was ordered to evacuate my group from Mokotów to the Centre of Warsaw. I was exceptionally lucky getting into the sewer through a side manhole located at the junction of Belgijska and Pulawska streets, thus avoiding the evacuation through the access points in Szustra and Baluckiego streets.
         On September 27th about 6 a.m, the Germans realised that the underground sewers underneath are teeming with insurgents, so they blew up the main sewer on the corner of Podchorazych St., exactly at the entrance to Lazienkowski Park. In that way, they managed to block up the passage between the manhole and the Lazienkowski Park. The insurgents following us fell into German hands in Dworkowa St. and some of them were shot. In the sewer running under the Ujazdowski Park the Germans put up two barricades to dam up water, and mined them with grenades, but our engineers managed to dispose of the explosives. The last stretch of the sewer led to a collection chamber located on the corner of Gornoslaska, Mysliwiecka and Piusa XII streets, from which we had to climb up the ladder to the street level. All the hatches along Piekna and Piusa streets were opened, so were walking inside the sewers, literally, under German feet. As I was in the sewers before, I was not afraid of the crossing, but for many of my colleagues the journey through the wastewater canals was a shock and they often lost control. There was no one to take care of us when we were getting out of the canals through the manholes in the City Centre. It was different in the case of the soldiers evacuating from the Old Town at the beginning of September. Then, those leaving the sewers were offered tea and attended to. In our case, even the moment of our emergence from the canal was not adequately covered. The Germans were mere 200m away from the manhole through which we were leaving the sewer. And, there was only a protective screen put up at the junction with Matejki St. to shield us from the shell fire.

                  9. W.W.: Why, in your opinion, the defence of Mokotów lasted so short and collapsed after four days?

         J.S.: The Germans ceased harassing Mokotów with minor forays and under the command of Gen. Rohr. launched a regular offensive operation with the aim of destroying the entire district. It stopped being funny because the assault cannons used by the Germans in large numbers were immediately shattering our fire positions. In addition, a battalion of Hermann Goering division, which was leased for 2 days to carry out the attack, was composed of genuinely skilled soldiers. Besides, Mokotów was a residential district and its villas constituted no obstacle for German tanks. The fighting to take control of Żoliborz, considered similar in character to the one for Mokotów, lasted 3 days.

                  10. W.W.: .: Did you have, in the course of the Uprising, any information on how the fighting was proceeding in other areas of Warsaw?

         J.S.: No, I was not aware of the situation in other districts apart from that in Czerniaków and Mokotów, as well as in the City Centre in the closing phase of the Uprising

                  11. W.W.: During the time when the capitulation talks were in progress, after your passage from Mokotów to the City Centre through the sewers, you had an encounter with soldiers from Dirlewanger's detachment. You have recalled that they looked "normal". Do you remember any more details or impressions from that surprising encounter?

         J.S.: I asked Dirlewanger's soldiers (Translator's note: A German penal anti-partisan detachment assigned to the suppression of the Warsaw Uprising under the command of Oskar Dirlewanger, notorious for extreme sadism, ruthlessness and savagery. Their operations in Warsaw was the slaughtering of tens of thousands of non-combatant civilian population.) what they were going to do with us. There was a guy among them who came from the Rugen Island and who told us in a difficult-to-understand Slavic dialect that "they would take us to a big square and ask us whether we would want to fight Bolshevics together with them". The Germans started to form such a legion with a frantic hurry already in August 1944 and planned to incorporate it into the Wehrmacht forces. To that end, they had recruited about 2 thousand men and were forming those conscripts into battalions.

         As far as the German crimes are concerned, the atrocities committed by the Germans are a fact, but there were also examples of German civilised behaviour. For instance, on Czerniaków bridgehead, in the heat of the battle that they were losing, the Germans evacuated our field hospital from Zagorna St. although there was no doubt that it was a hospital treating the insurgents. So, in conclusion, everything depended on the people who were fighting at a given section of the frontline. There were some German troops which allowed the citizens to normally leave the captured area. Until today, it beats me why the Germans hanged Father Józef Stanek. A day before he had visited them as a peace envoy, so they should have respected him.

         Here is another example of how a person who found himself in German hands was saved.
         My colleague, officer cadet from "Zo¶ka" detachment Edward Wi¶niewski, received an order the reconnoitre the approaches to the Holy Trinity Church. He wore a leather jacket and a Berling's Army's cap. A shell exploded next to him deafened him for a while and when he was lying on the ground a German came up, kicked him in the bottom and shouted "Stand up!". It was in Wilanowska St. Edward raised himself from the ground and the German led him to the collection point of the POWs that was organised in the pasta factory SPOŁEM in Czerniakowska St. They were murdering people there. That German was an SS trooper. The other SS soldier who was there ordered Edward to lie down on a pile of corpses to shoot him down, because he didn't feel like dragging his dead body. Why did he want to kill him? He searched Edward and found a defence grenade in a pocket hidden under the gloves. At that moment a German who brought Edward turned up again and said: "I took him prisoner. He surrendered to me. Don't kill him".
         So, Edward was deported to the POW camp in Skierniewice as a Berling's soldier. On the way to the camp he tried to establish which company and which regiment he allegedly "belonged to". It was after the capitulation in October when he admitted to having been the Home Army fighter.

         Different Germans behaved differently. When I worked in a German company OBHUT, on the initiative of the Home Army Intelligence, I encountered young German Luftwaffe soldiers, who made a positive impression on me. They were young and jolly, so one would feel sorry in case one would have to shoot at them. I recall how glad they were when the Home Army group "Osjan" blew up the German transport aircraft in Bielany. I participated in that action and was a co-author of the action plan. Thanks to our act of sabotage they didn't have to fly missions to the east front. They also allowed us to use their shooting range.

                  12. W.W.: What is your recollection of the moment of the capitulation of the Uprising?

         J.S.: I felt uncertain about our fate. It was hard to believe that the Germans would take the capitulation agreement seriously and would treat us as POWs with all due respects. We were fortunate that there emerged the possibility to capitulate. We would have been massacred without that chance. It was touch and go whether we would manage to keep the communication route between the southern City Centre area and the central downtown area.

                  13. W.W.: What factors, in your opinion, determined that the Uprising lasted so long despite the enormous disproportion of military forces at the disposal of both sides?

         J.S.: I think that that of big significance was the establishment of the bridgehead at Magnuszewo by the Russians. Because of that the Germans relocated all the worthiest forces which they had accumulated in Warsaw and in its vicinity to stop the gap in the frontline at Magnuszewo. To that end, for instance, they transferred there the detachments of Hermann Goering division which initially were stationing in Wola. If the Russians had not taken control of the bridgehead, the Uprising would have lasted shorter.

                  14. W.W.: Prior to the Uprising you were the military instructor in the 1140th platoon. What is your assessment of the level of military training of the insurgents? Did they become skillful soldiers after the Uprising thanks to the experience gained in combat?

         J.S.: .: It is a naive question. Why? Because, fifty per cent of the insurgents never fired a bullet owing to the lack of weapons or opportunity. You can read in detail about the military training skill of the majority of the insurgents in the book by Kurdwanowski. That man had never had a gun in hand and, still, went to fight in the Uprising. Only those who were in the army before the war or underwent preparatory military training knew how to fire a long gun. In my 1140th platoon the soldiers with a long service in the underground were armed quite well with machine and regular pistols. They were knowledgeable in using the Mauser gun and Polish hand-held machine gun of 28 type, but they did not know how to use the Bren sub-machine. We received that gun at 16.00 hours on August 1. It was one of the guns dropped on Warsaw in an air delivery and no one had any idea how to operate it.
         I remember that while I was in Mokotów we came across a PIAT anti-tank gun which was dropped as part of the airlifted supplies. On opening the container we found out that it was not a PIAT but an unknown, highly primitive, spring-driven device, something on a pattern of a medieval crossbow. Inside were the operating instructions in English so we approached one of the Polish SOEs for help. Surprised, he glanced at the apparatus and asked: "Where did you get it from, guys" "From the air drop". He was unable to help us despite his training as a Special Ops Commando. However, he specialised in intelligence activities, and that might be the reason why he was not familiar with that kind of weapon.

                  15. W.W.: What can you say about the methods of combat used by the Germans?

         J.S.: The Germans would always precede their attack with a heavy artillery barrage, provided it was an actual attack, because sometimes they would shoot with no reason. They would arrive, fire and leave. When they were launching a real attack they wouldn't give way, though. Then, it was a different story.
         The fighting with the police was of a different character. The police were good at defensive battle. When they were ordered to defend a building, they were determined to go on until the last man, but they didn't know how to charge at the enemy. Also, different was the fight with the Wehrmacht units, with frontline detachments which knew how to attack and how to defend. The police were accustomed to killing people in the streets but not to being shot at. Prior to the Uprising, only individual policemen were shot at.
         During my fight in the City Centre I observed that the Germans were in the habit of bombarding the area with mortar fire at a specified time. They were firing at us for about 15 minutes and then would hold off until lunchtime. Such shell fire killed Lt. "Mały" from "Czata" detachment. He was hit by a shrapnel of the size of two pins, as it turned out afterwards. We didn't know what happened to him when all of the sudden he began vomiting and fell down. At first, it even crossed our minds that he might have drunk some vodka.

                  16. W.W.: Do you recollect and humorous moments that occurred during the Uprising?

         J.S.: My colleagues were firing at a German bunker with a Soviet armour-piercing rifle. They were not sure, however, how the Soviet ammunition was marked. So, they shot at the bunker with an incendiary projectile and they hit well on target as the shell fell inside through the opening. Earlier, the Germans carried an armchair into that bunker. By the way, they liked comfort: they would carry mattresses and beds out of the houses and stretch out on them, or would be wrapping themselves in carpets. That armchair inside caught fire and the smoke started to emerge from the bunker. I was passing by my colleagues who said to me: Look, what is going on with that bunker!". "What have you done?", I asked in response. "Just fired from the rifle!". "And what?" "And now, look, it is burning!" That is what our prank looked like.

                  17. W.W.: What, in your case, the last days of German occupation looked like?

         J.S.: In December 1944 we came across a Russian reconnaissance group belonging to the 1st Byelorussian Front, headed by Maj. Jakowlew of the Soviet Army. That group received from us very valuable information, I mean not directly from me but from our units operating locally. The Rusians received the tips from the locals after joining the local intelligence network with which they were penetrating the railway line from Błonie through Płochocin to Warsaw. Everything what only was transiting along that route would fall into the Russian hands.
         We deployed our men along the road from Grodzisk to Błonie in the drainage ditch just outside the premises of a huge matches factory. It was on the outskirts of Błonie where the factory was situated. We had a machine gun. There were eleven or twelve of us and we all were armed with guns and pistols. You could see that the German escape was drawing to a close. It was one p.m., I guess. We wanted to open fire at them but at the same time avoid an encounter with a strong detachment which would mow us down at the end of the war. The interesting thing was that in that ditch there stood a German 105 mm howitzer complete with a trailer which had been driven into that ditch by accident and couldn't get out. The Germans simply didn't notice that it was a ditch filled with snow. The crew threw a grenade at the canon and left. In the car of the howitzer we found some ammunition. We retreated out of the ditch and took more advantageous positions on the timber logs. Michał Glinka from "Zo¶ka" detachment said to me: "Shall we open fire at those cars?". At that very moment I turned round and saw about half a company of SS soldiers, dressed in white winter uniforms, moving to our direction across the snow-covered field. What would have happened if we had started a skirmish with them? With us was Maj. Jakowlew accompanied by four Russians dressed in short white sheepskin jackets. They were uniformed after a Soviet fashion, without any "refinements" in the form of white winter uniforms sported by the Germans. We, in turn, wore civilian clothes. One of us took a coat from the car. We also had bullet belts on us. For a while nothing was going on. It was bleak and grey, and the road was empty. Suddenly, we spotted a distant point approaching us. A small vehicle was moving along to our direction from Grodzisk Mazowiecki. We were prepared to shoot for we thought that it would be our last German car we would open fire at in the war. But Jakowlew, who was observing the vehicle through binoculars, was obviously scared.
         "It is not a German vehicle, do not shoot!"
         An American half-truck pulled over next to us, so we rushed out of our hiding place. A lieutenant-colonel jumped out of the car and Jakowlew came up to him. As I was standing next to Jakowlew, I heard the following conversation:
         "Have any tanks passed that way?"
         Jakowlew replied in Russian that there were no tanks passing, which provoked the colonel to exclaim:
         "And who are you?"
         "We are the scouts of the First Front," replied Jakowlew, who wore no shoulder straps on the sheepskin jacket.
         "What scout? You are a spy, you!"
         He jumped on Jakowlew and they started to quarrel. So, I thought for a second who they might think we were if a Russian was suspicious of another native Russian. They were arguing for about three minutes, threatening each other. In the end, Jakowlew asked:
         "Do you have a wireless?"
         "I do."
         "So, get the wireless operator in here."
         The wireless was in Jakowlew's detachment.
         "Go and play this instrument!" Jakowlew ordered the operator.
         So, the wireless operator got into to the armoured vehicle and started to perform his magic tricks. After five or ten minutes, he emerged from the car and announced:
         "Comrade colonel, this is a genuine major!"
         The group exchanged passwords and "friends" started to hug and kiss each other. When the whole rumpus ended, we felt relieved to know that we were working for the right people. The colonel didn't ask whether we were the Home Army solders, or not, despite the fact that we were all a shabby-looking pack, wearing no identity marks, even the armbands. Then, we got into the cars together with the Russians and drove off to Błonie, which was already controlled by a local fire brigade in navy blue uniforms, wearing armbands and armed with rifles. For a week we performed the duties of the local militia. We had our official workplace in the Town Hall where we also slept. After a few days there was a conversion of money. We converted all the money we had. We were the "rulers". Michał became the chief of the militia unit. We were busy catching individual Germans soldiers among whom there were also the wounded ones. Our Home Army nurses set up a hospital for those soldiers. I personally knew the girl who ran that hospital Basia Topczewska, a tall blonde. During that time thousands of Soviet troops were rumbling through the town in the march towards Poznań. After a week the "symbiosis" ended. I was on duty when a Willys jeep drove up and stopped in front of the Town Hall, and an officer in a four-cornered hat jumped out. I reported to him.
         "And, who are you?"
         I said, "A people's militiaman." "And what about you, lieutenant. Where are you from?"
         "From the department."
         I was unaware of what that meant. It turned out later that "the security force" was known on the other bank of the Vistula as "the department". The name "security force" was coined in the eighties.
         "Where can I set up the post?"
         "You may take over the building abandoned by the German Military Police."
         There stood a red bricked building in which the lieutenant and his men established themselves. The local "commies" came out of the closet at once. Although they spent the war at Błonie and knew all the boys from the Home Army, they were not very eager to join the ranks of the people's militia, and preferred to remain aloof. It was the lieutenant who gave them a spur. On the day following his arrival, the lieutenant came to our room. Inside were I and Michał discussing what to do next. And the lieutenant said:
         "Comrades! In the evening we are going on an operation. Do you know where a guy by the nickname of "Czech" lives?"
         "Czech" was the commander of the "Bagno" (Marsh) area, the codename for Błonie. Until today I have never learnt his true identity. Michał replied:
         "Where do you want me to report, lieutenant?
         "I will come to pick you up. I have a few other reliable people."
         He needed those people to surround the building. Michał summoned Tadeusz Topczewski and said, "Tadeusz, go to this "Czech" and brief him on the situation. He must clear out from here!"
         On that night we left at the post all the heavy weapons we had: guns, sub-machine guns and machine pistols. We only took short weapons with us, alighted on a horse-drawn cart and drove off to Warsaw. It is what the end of the occupation looked like.

                  18. W.W.: The Home Army fighters were frequently incarcerated in the same cell as Gestapo functionaries. Was it also your case?

         J.S.: It was in 1951. While I was doing time in Mokotów prison, I developed ulcers and was transferred for treatment to the prison's hospital. Lying on the bed next to me was a German guy, with whom I could talk as I spoke German fluently. It was Jacob Sporenberg, SS Obergruppenführer, who after the war was tried and given a death sentence for shooting 18,000 Jews at Majdanek concentration camp in November 1943. Amongst other things we talked about, he told me about his transfer to Norway towards the end of the war where he resided in the castle, a seat of the Norwegian king. When the demise of the Third Reich was drawing near, he was approached by a certain Léon Degrelle, chief of SS in Belgium with a proposal to escape to Spain by an airplane. Sporenberg felt hurt by that proposal and refused, asserting that he couldn't abandon his troops. After a time, the castle was surrounded by Norwegian partisans who proposed that he lay down the arms, but Sporenberg didn't want to give up the castle to the partisans. He did surrender, however, to the British paratroopers when they landed in the area.
         Another time I was interned in the same cell with a likeable, cultured German. His name was Kurt Fischer, a lieutenant-colonel of German police. After my release, I learnt from Władysław Bartoszewski that Kurt Fisher was the right hand of Reinefarth who commanded the troops in Wola and Czerniaków.
         One can see him in the majority of photographs taken during the signing of the capitulation agreement. In one of those shots he is standing behind Bór-Komorowski and von dem Bach. In the other he is sitting in the passenger's seat in a car carrying "Bór". He had been handed over by the Americans to the Polish authorities on a charge of acting in the capacity of Stroop's adjutant, but the indictment was formulated in such a way that he easily cleared himself of the charges. We spent a lot of time talking, but of course he never uttered a word about his involvement in the suppression of the Uprising.
         The other time I was put in the cell with Erich Engels, a Gestapo officer in the Haupsturmführer rank, who had organised the man-hunt in which Władysław Bartoszewski had been captured and subsequently deported to O¶więcim.
         Taking this opportunity, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the internment of Home Army soldiers in a cell together with German war criminals was not the result of a premeditated policy conceived by Communist authorities, but, simply, stemmed from the chaos and slapdash organisation which was common in prisons at that time. However, a basic principle was observed that the prisoners kept in the 10th and 11th pavilions and involved in the same case overseen by Różański
(Translator's note: Różański was an infamous security service officer, renowned for his hatred, cruelty and sadism towards Home Army fighters arrested after the war as the "enemies of the people and German collaborators" by the Communist regime. He was notorious for his exceptional brutality and ruthlessness during the interrogations of Home Army men and women alike, who usually were subsequently sentenced to death, deportation to gulags or to many years of imprisonment.) were never allowed to share the same cell. There were the cases involving multiple defendants. For instance, in 1952-53 the Mokotów prison was full of people implicated in the case of cavalry captain "Garda" Czajkowski, who arrived from London to set up underground intelligence units. A number of women from Cracow aged between 70 or 80 were imprisoned then.

                  19. W.W.: What is, in your opinion, the state of play concerning our current awareness and knowledge of the Uprising ?

         J.S.: The outline history of the Uprising is well known. New details of the fighting conducted by particular troops, units and individual insurgents are coming to light all the time.

                   W.W.: Thank you very much for this interview.

Jerzy Sienkiewicz today

interview conducted by: Wojciech Włodarczyk

edited by: Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz

translation: Anna Halicka

Copyright © 2011 SPPW1944. All rights reserved.