Warsaw's time had arrived. The army of insurgents came out from the underground. Gates were being locked, shutters let down, no trams were moving, passers-by disappeared from the streets. Houses became fortresses, streets and squares battlegrounds. The block in which we lived also had a gathering point. The block of houses where we stayed was built by a co-operative for treasury employees and was very well suitable for forays by the insurgents. It was a big block of solid brick buildings enclosing a large yard with exits to Rakowiecka Street and the fields of Mokotow. It was surrounded by four streets, two closed iron gates guarding the entrances. In the middle, a rectangular yard the forum for the co-op. members. The fronts of the houses faced the yard. The balconies, overgrown with vines, were facing towards the yard from where the entrances led to the separate flats, each marked with Roman numerals. Acacia trees provided shelter and, instead of asphalt, there were green lawns with shrubs. Fat rabbits were jumping around playing with children. This was our yard - the arena for future events for people who lived here. There were about one thousand inhabitants in these flats.
When the uprising started there were friends and acquaintances who had come for a visit in our block. Some came from nearby streets, some from further suburbs. All these people were now unable to return to their homes as the streets were covered by crossfire. They all had to stay with us and share our fate until the end. Those from our block who were out had to stay where they were. Most of them never returned, especially those who were caught by the uprising whilst in central Warsaw or the 'Old Town'.
UPRISING .... UPRISING ... the news flew around. The clatter of steps down the stairs and anxious faces peering through the windows. This exceptional news penetrated all floors, attics and basements and the yard. In the yard the insurgents were already gathering into their sections. The last one had just arrived. Where did they come from? Who knows - just out of the ground. There were about thirty of them. Hurriedly they were fastening their insurgent's armbands. Some had helmets, some only hats - there were railway and tram caps and also caps worn by high school students. They were all in civilian clothes. They were a part of the Warsaw crowd which only a short time ago was covering streets, busy with their everyday lives. To the foreground of the group came a solidly built young man with a sub-machine gun in his hand and binoculars hanging from his neck. Hand grenades were distributed and orders issued. He was the leader of this section and allocated each to his post. Some singly, some in pairs were leaving the group taking positions near the gates, in the attic and windows. The remaining few were left as reserves and posted near the entrance to the basement. Our block was closed off. The leader rushed towards the east gate as from this direction intensified shooting was coming. In the other corner of the yard women were organising a first-aid station. Into the basement where the laundry was they brought field beds and tables for operations, medicines, bandages and various containers were placed on the shelves. On the door appeared the sign: First Aid Station. Along the wall stood stretchers and three young nurses were ready to receive the victims.
Evening came. One could hear, somewhere far away, heavy artillery, its thunder reverberating between our walls. In the street the shooting continued without stopping. Rifle bullets were breaking the plaster, grazing the walls and some of the bullets broke the windows entering the rooms.
We were cut off from the rest of the world. Those who at the last minute found shelter here had to stay and those who were away were unable to return.
I went nearer to the group of insurgents who were standing near the basement entrance. The young nurses were just bringing them a hot drink in metal beakers. Some of them were leaving, going towards the south gate. Opening the wrought iron gate carefully, they left in a single file. The street was empty. They were walking close to the walls. Each one of them was holding a hand grenade, or rather a petard, the shape and size of an egg. These were their only arms. Apart from the leader, I had not seen anyone of them with a rifle, revolver or any other firearm. Noticing this fact with astonishment, I went towards one of the youths. He was standing guard at the gate, holding his grenade. He was a young lad without a hat, with hair falling on his forehead, very clean with a well-ironed shirt and a dark jacket. He looked like a matriculation student. "Did you see something?" he asked, edging outside. "At present it is empty. Do you have some other arms?" I asked him.
"Were you issued with grenades?"
"Only this one,” he told me, showing his egg.
"What? Just this one? And with this one you are to..."
He interrupted, "Our section in this suburb will try to capture a munition store. The preparations have already begun - if we succeed we will have arms."
We heard steps on the street. The young boy looked through the gate and immediately opened the gate wide. Two insurgents were holding a third one who was barely moving his feet. When he lifted his head I saw a large bleeding wound just above his eye. He was deathly pale and blood was dripping down his collar. He was the first victim. The young nurses took him under their care.
This was the first August night, full of stars. It was also the first night of the uprising. We did not sleep this night. Under cover of the night the young partisans were storming the arms depot. We could hear the fighting. German searchlights moved over the roofs and dull sounds of the Front came from the outskirts of Warsaw. Only at dawn were we able to get some sleep but were woken suddenly by the sound of anti air raid artillery coming very strongly from the fields of Mokotow. The shooting was so near that one could hear the jarring sound of cannon gunstocks during the recoil. It reminded me of the roar of a hoarse elephant. The nearest guns were about two hundred metres from our house. I rushed to the balcony. Most of the people were standing at the windows and pointing somewhere towards the sky. I looked up. Between the white clouds gleamed white dots in the sky. They were probably Soviet planes. We went down to the basement. The majority of people were already there. Some were sitting on suitcases, some on chairs that they had brought down. A long narrow corridor of red bricks connected all the separate basement rooms. In the corridor, every few steps were numbered doors to the basement cellars of their owners. Some families even brought down their beds and all their belongings. Crowded together we all discussed the last events while waiting for the end of the air raid. I learned here that all partisans had left our block, supposedly to join other groups in our district. We were left to ourselves, a prey to the fancy of future events. Generally, feelings and rumours circulating between the people were quite optimistic. The general opinion was that the uprising would not last more than a few days. With great excitement it was repeated again and again that the Soviet Army was already in Praga (a suburb of Warsaw) and that Radzyn and Rembertow were already re-taken. These rumours were given as facts.
"Don't you hear the Soviet artillery shooting at the last German positions near the town? And these air raids overhead? The German situation is hopeless. This is quite obvious. Warsaw surrounded by the Soviet Army and in the city the uprising. You don't have to know strategy to evaluate the situation. It is critical for the Germans. It is only a matter of days." This was delivered in a booming voice by an evacuee from Lublin - a chemist who lived here with his relatives. Another voice, somewhere among the suitcases, "I have heard that the insurgents already have full control in Stare Miasto (Old Town) and the main railway station. The Germans have lost liaison with other units and are surrendering en masse.” This was the 'vox populi' (voice of the people) in the catacombs of our housing block.
In the meantime our observers from the roofs announced that the planes had left. A bit distrustful, the people started to leave the basement. The shooting was less violent than before. Shooting in the streets did not scare us as much as in the first days. Slowly we started to adjust to the situation of the uprising. The high brick walls gave good protection from stray bullets. So far nobody was hammering at the gates. Slowly we began to get used to the atmosphere. The streets remained empty. The inhabitants started to come down to the yard and sit on benches, children played between shrubs with wooden sticks, the game was war .. and chasing rabbits which were trying to hide from the screeching warriors. The men were walking along the footpath, commenting on the scanty and infrequent news.
From the moment of the uprising we were quite cut off. The telephones did not work, nobody had a radio, the paper published on the morning of the uprising never reached the streets. As there was no communication between the suburbs, the London bulletin did not reach us either. The news travelling around our block came from some elusive sources. Someone had heard from someone in the next house who had a radio ... all our information centres were only of this kind. Standing on the balcony and just looking down I would know when news arrived. Someone would stop somebody and start to talk earnestly, others would join and listen, the group would grow and then disperse. Men would rush home and news would travel through the whole building. The same was happening just now. Amidst the increasing group I saw an unfamiliar face and came down the stairs. For the first time a woman from outside came to our block (from Kielecka Street). Sneaking through parks and backyards, she had reached our block. The situation in Kielecka Street was very similar to ours. The partisans had also left. There were also no Germans - they, like us, were in no man's land.
"What is happening in the city? Where are the Russians?" Questions came from all sides.
"The heart of the city is in the hands of the insurgents, our white/red banner is flying on the Town Hall."
"The Russians have already taken Praga and are near Grochow,” she continued, proud of her mission.
This news was accepted without criticism - one simply wanted to believe. Nobody even asked where this news came from. Why should one ask? Our banner was flying on the Town Hall .. and everyone knows that the German situation is quite hopeless .. one does not have to know strategy ...
The mood was happy, the August weather was good and the evening quiet. Even the pigeons which disappeared during the noisy first day of the uprising started to come back, circling the roofs and, with friendly cooing, settled on the trees of the yard.
The night of the second day of the uprising passed quietly. At dawn some planes circled over Warsaw. Making large circles, they were flying very high. Even with binoculars I was unable to read the markings. Many people were already in the basements, some standing near open doors scanning the sky with field glasses. Some were certain that the planes were Russian, others just as certain that they were German. Others were ready to take an oath that they were English. From inside the basement, an elderly lady intervened.
"It is unimportant to which side the planes belong - each of them can bomb Warsaw. The Germans will bomb and shoot the Poles. The British and American ones will shoot the Germans. The Soviet planes" - here she hesitated a second - "could shoot one or the others. It is important that the doors of the shelter are closed. I ask you, sirs, please come inside and kindly shut the door."
Shortly after the doors were shut, sounds of shots and hollow drumming came from the street. The vibrations were so strong that the walls of the basement were shaking as if in an earthquake. Our anxiety grew during this unknown trembling. There was no detonation. We started to get up when a man rushed into the basement screaming "Tanks are coming along Rakowiecka Street." Through the open door an ominous sound of grating metal and continuous drumming of cannons reached us. Through the small, dirty basement window I could see the pavement and metal caterpillar tracks of large tanks. They were grinding along the pavement. I could not see their tops but could hear their gunfire as they were firing in front of them. They passed us fairly quickly. The walls stopped trembling. All of us were excited. Could they have been Soviet tanks? Comments, guesses and surmises were coming from all sides.
"Of course they could be Soviet tanks. You heard yourself from the lady in Kielecka Street that already yesterday Praga was in Soviet hands."
"My God, could it really be the end of the uprising" sighed a young woman with a child in her hands. She looked exhausted and depressed, and no wonder. Three days before at half past four she went shopping with the baby, leaving her other girl at home, a few streets from us. The first shots caught her at our gate where she took shelter and here she was to remain. "It is already three days that I have been here with my baby" she was crying "and my little girl is quite alone. Three days and three nights uncared for, unfed. My husband had not returned from work,” she continued, sobbing.
The planes left. People gathered in the yard. Unfortunately all hopes concerning the tanks were crushed. There were eyewitnesses. They were German tanks.
Faces became solemn, there was little talk, depression hung heavily over us and we were still cut off from the rest of the world. They were very disappointed people who went home to prepare a meal. This task was not easy, as food supplies in homes were getting quite low. We particularly missed tomatoes and bread. We sat down to some thin soup, artificially flavoured. There was not much talk, the mood was gloomy. Three days of uprising, three sleepless nights. The German tanks did not promise a good future. In addition, Czeslaw's dilemma: Should he actively join the insurgents or shouldn't he? Should he just passively wait for future developments? For the last two days he could not make up his mind.
Czeslaw was rather an unusual Pole. He was a product of international conflicts. He came from Lithuania where there e many families having to solve the same kind of problem. It was the aftermath of Polish/Lithuanian Union in the XV century. From one and the same family nest, the offspring could be of different nationalities. This was the case in Czeslaw's family. Czeslaw considered himself a true Pole and belonged to Polish organisations in Lithuania. His brother was a Lithuanian who stayed home to fight for his Lithuanian country. Czeslaw came to Poland, his adopted, chosen country. He was given a Polish Christian name but had a Lithuanian surname. He matriculated at a Polish school but finished at a Lithuanian University. He worked for the Polish community whilst living in Lithuania and longing for Poland. One of his sisters felt the same way, another was indifferent, but he dearly loved all his family. Different national feelings between the members of one family was not unusual Lithuania.
Pushing away his empty plate, Czeslaw said
"I have to join the group of insurgents in our block I should have done it sooner - now I should be fighting instead sitting in this prison."
"Does fighting as such attract you or do you consider it your duty? Or maybe your chosen profession?" I asked, being in a pacifist mood.
"I consider that fighting makes sense and is justified if it is the only way to defend my ideals or to protect the public welfare."
"For which ideal would you be fighting now?"
"For the most important one - the independence of our country "
"How do you imagine this independence?"
"Quite simply - a free country where Poles are ruling."
"I don't think it is that simple,” I remarked.
"You must realise that today we are unable to achieve our aim fighting alone."
"Fighting the Germans, we have to accept the help of the Soviets."
"But it is also certain that, having accepted their help, it will be their armies pushing the Germans out of our country and that, being allies, we will have to co-operate with them. We will have to agree to their political programme. Yes or no?"
"Not necessarily? I don't even know if they will be asking anyone. All Poland will be under their military control. Of course it will be very tempting for them to bring into our country their political ideas and the same administration as they have in their Soviet Union. It is self-evident from the principles of the Communist doctrines. In Lublin (a large city in east Poland) a complete administration organised by the Russians and headed by our Polish Communists is already waiting to take power. I think that the Russian radio station 'Tadeusz Kosciuszko', broadcasting in Polish, fully explained the political programme and aim of the Association of Polish Patriots - this means Polish Communists living in the Soviet Union."
"Yes, but don't forget there is still England and America. They will not allow it to happen."
"What will they not allow to happen?"
"Poland to become a Communist country.”
"There you are, now you are getting to the core of the matter. We are all speaking about independence, about free Poland, but in reality we are thinking about a system of government which suits us best. For you, independence means Christian bourgeois democracy; for other radicals - it is the People's Republic. To reach the desired aim some will welcome the help of England, others the help of Russia. Therefore we have a Mr. Bierut* - Polish Communist leader in Moscow, and Mr. Raczkiewisz* leader of Polish liberals in London. Therefore we have General Sosnkowski - Commander-in-Chief of the Polish exile army in London, and General Berling* - Commander-in-Chief of Polish Red troops in the Soviet Union. Therefore there is the A.K.* - white underground armed forces and A.L.* - red underground armed forces.
"Can we say with a clear conscience that we all aspire to the one goal? Do you think that General Bor-Komorowski*, Chief Commander of A.K. has co-ordinated his military strategy with General Berling, Chief Commander of A.L.? And that Prime Minister Mikolayjczk* his political ideas with Prime Minister Osobka-Morawski*? Already for three days Warsaw has been fighting and bleeding and at this time they are bartering in Moscow about Poland's future government. “Our history" - I continued - "gave us many sad examples in the so-called 'aspiration of common aim'. Just as well that this time our emigrant leaders found some support with foreign allies, otherwise Poles would now be fighting each other. Is there is just the one common cause? Independence? Democracy? Those are just words, not the real issue. Why should we deceive ourselves? In Poland before 1939 did the words independence and democracy have the same meaning for a landless peasant as for the wealthy mine owner? For whose independence are we fighting?"
Czeslaw interrupted - "You and your politics. There are historical moments when one has to fight and not talk. If everyone was just criticising and trying to predict, it would not even have come to an uprising!"
"Who knows? Maybe that would have been better than an abortive attempt. Our history has many such examples. Warsaw is burning, her people are dying and somehow our allies don't seem to be in a hurry. In the meantime the Germans are swarming over the streets with their soldiers and tanks and shooting as they like and we have not even enough ordinary rifles. This is the result of action taken without previous political discussions. First a slogan is given and later politics are made. Who knows the outcome of the Moscow conference?"
"Now we have a common cause which unites us all - to fight the Germans. They are our enemies and therefore we all have to mount the barricades with guns in our hands."
"And after that? Which of our allies will have the deciding voice, sitting in the ruins of free Warsaw? To whom of the powerful protectors will the 'independent' land belong? Who amongst the people will be the hero and who the traitor?"
Czeslaw interrupted, “Defeatism, it is ...”
"What you are saying is sheer…” he did not finish. On the staircase we suddenly heard loud noises of boots, yells, banging doors.
Opening the door a crack I heard voices in German. "Where are the men?" Closing the door silently, I called out in a hoarse whisper, "Germans!" We all jumped up from the table. What were we to do? Where were we to hide? It was certain that the Germans in our house were looking for partisans. How would they distinguish a partisan from an ordinary Warsaw inhabitant? There was no way at all. There were no documents and the same civilian 'uniform' for all. Searching for insurgents was a very simplified procedure. Czeslaw had the answer to his questions. We were two young men not living permanently in this house from which partisans were shooting and where a First Aid Station had been organised. We did not know whether the Germans would kill the men on the spot or treat them as prisoners of war. We could not flee from the third floor and the Germans were already moving up the stairs. There was only one way left - to hide in the flat and hope for the best, that the search would only be a superficial one. Marushka and Auntie would have to say that no men were living in this flat. We started looking for a hiding place, expecting the Germans any minute. Czeslaw hid inside a wardrobe, I on the entresol (a small, long shelf under the ceiling) of the kitchen. Marushka, taking away the ladder, covered me with empty suitcases. I asked Marushka to hide our hats and overcoats that were hanging in the hall and leave only two plates on the table. I also asked her to appear calm and not to show any nervousness, even during the search. Marushka performed all these instructions superbly and I was deeply impressed. Even her voice sounded un-troubled during the last moments of preparation. I knew how this sensitive woman was feeling and admired her full control over her emotions in moments of extreme danger for her husband and her close friend. I will never forget the moment when, after adjusting her glasses nervously, she calmly and thoroughly inspected the hiding places. Seconds and probably minutes were hurrying by. For the first time in my life I could hear with my own ears the beating of my heart, could feel the hot blood rushing to my temples and thoughts, trivial and important, rushed through my head at the same time. Then, for a few seconds, jut an empty feeling... I could hear the ticking of the clock and thought perhaps I will live only fifteen minutes ... thirty seven years and fifteen minutes. Why those fifteen minutes? Maybe because they are so hard to take. The suitcase pushing into my back was not leather, only imitation ... if they shoot in the head would it be instantaneous or would death take a few minutes of terrible pain? I saw my mother's face, but why is she smiling? That is silly. A stomping of boots on the stairs ... they were coming. Suddenly I became calm - an odd senseless calm. Something had happened to me. I felt empty ... waiting for my destiny.
Marushka is waiting for the bell to ring. Again seconds pass, minutes. Some doors are banging on the floor below. Silence? I can't hear the stomping of boots .. minutes pass - nothing. Marushka is opening the door slightly ... silence ... she goes out to the stairway. From my hiding place I can hear voices on the staircase. Marushka returns and says only two words - words like soothing balm ... "They've left."
We left our hiding places and peered through the window. We could just hear the departing footsteps nearing the gates. People were coming down to our yard-forum. Soon the yard was filled with people, all relating the latest happenings. Several S.S. men, armed to the teeth, had forced our main gate. Going along the walls they entered by different staircases. Not meeting any opposition, they entered the flats and started a spot check, searching for insurgents. Most of the men were able to hide.
In some flats men were found. After, checking their documents, the permanent residents of our flats were left in peace. A few who came from outside were shot. Some of the S.S. men were looking for insurgents in chests of drawers and commodes and some valuables disappeared into the pockets of the S.S. men. Our housing block had paid its first tribute. When dusk came we could see from the northern part of the city the glow of fires and smoke clouds which dispersed as darkness was deepening. At night only the glow of burning fires remained over the fighting in Warsaw. At three o'clock in the morning I was awakened by sounds coming from the yard. The door of the balcony was open and I listened. Again the sound of boots and then some loud orders issued in German - a reply in broken German. Once again steps under our balcony. "Where is the entrance to the basement?" asked a German voice with a cock of the rifle and a door closing on the first floor.
We stayed in bed as there was no sense in constant hiding. Half an hour passed and the Germans were still in the block. We could hear the splintering of wood as doors were broken down. Again voices in the yard, some barking orders and, at last, silence.
We did not sleep much that night. In the early morning a German officer and a few soldiers came back again. They were fully armed. He gave his orders to the people who were in yard. People living in this housing block had to choose from amongst themselves a commander of the block who had to allocate duties. The commander would be responsible for order and discipline with his head. The guards must watch the gates constantly.
Gates had to be locked and opened only on German orders. If only one shot was fired from the block, all the inhabitants would brought to the yard and "Here" he yelled and waved his revolver, indicating the wall, "they will be immediately shot." He gave one more look at the scared pale faces and left, followed by his soldiers who were holding their machine guns, ready to riot. We all remained motionless until they left the gate and sounds of hobnailed boots quietened down and the S.S men disappeared from view. Those who did not understand German asked for details of his speech. Within minutes our whole forum was full of people, even those who were inside during the issuing of orders. One of the members of the co-operative was asked to become the commandant. Guards were chosen to be relieved every four hours.
Now our block and our entire suburb came under full control of the Germans.
Groups of partisans had left in the direction of Pulawska street. We were faced with a difficult problem. How to protect our block from the irresponsible actions of a few men who could invoke a bloody retaliation by the Germans. One ill-advised shot from a window or from behind the wall would have to be paid for very dearly - with the death of a hundred defenceless people. Could somebody come to help us? Most unlikely. Our suburb was now completely in the hands of the Germans. They were the masters of life and death. To keep alive, to keep over one hundred families living was the duty of the guards who watched the gates and controlled the roofs, attics and basements.
However, it did happen!
When most people were busy preparing a midday meal, some shots were fired into the street from a window of the staircase. Who fired? Nobody knew. Not many had heard the shots but a few seconds later we all heard a loud, rumbling crash and our whole block trembled. We all jumped to our feet. The crashing noise was repeated a few more times. Looking from our balcony I saw broken glass, bricks and plaster tumbling into our block. Over the front of our block facing Rakovicka Street dark reddish smoke was rising. In panic, people started to run to the basement.
This was the German revenge on our block. Cannons stood in the field of Mokotow and they opened fire, directed at our block. Two storeys of the front were smashed and a few large holes appeared in the walls and roof. Nobody was killed. Those who used to live in the flats facing the main street now lived permanently in the basement as this side of the building had previously been damaged by machine guns and windows were broken.
Would the Germans leave us alone now? Had they satisfied their revenge? This thought was uppermost in our minds. Remembering the words ... “if even one shot be fired ...,” this thought sent shivers down our spines. Frightened faces and feverish eyes were looking through the crowded basement windows. Maybe they were on the way with machine guns to kill us all, lined up against the wall? These were hard moments, grating on the nerves. The tightly-packed crowd was waiting for its destiny. We heard a grumbling noise further away, shots and a jarring sound of metal on the street. "Those are tanks" people whispered. They came nearer very quickly and the walls began to tremble. Heavy Tigers, shooting from their gun turrets, were tearing the asphalt with their caterpillar wheels. "My God, will they be shooting at us?" asked a woman, leaning against the shaking walls. The tanks with their beastly screech passed us quickly, entering the Mokotow field in a scattered battle order, and disappeared from our sight.
Evening came. Depressed and tired, we were settling down for sleep. In the long basement, passages were filled with deck chairs and plank beds. Tired children were crying and old people, lying under the walls in uncomfortable positions, were sighing heavily. Piled luggage made it hard to move. On suitcases were candles, giving some light. It was a sad picture. Mothers were feeding their children with bits of food - no milk. Grown-ups did not eat an evening meal. The ghost of starvation was hovering over our block. Many had finished their supplies. Our co-operative shop was sold out. More and more people went to sleep hungry.
Our family also got ready for the night. From our balcony I saw the empty yard. The fires over Warsaw were casting a pale glow over the roofs and from the field of Mokotow came volleys of shots. In the neighbouring street I could hear an occasional single shot echoing along the walls. Our guards were patrolling the yard. From the windows next door I could hear loud sobbing.
At two in the morning we were awakened by the ringing of the bell and insistent hammering at our door. Marushka rushed to open it.
"Who is there?"
"Aufmachne" (open the door). Marushka obeyed and two S.S. men entered with their automatic guns in their hands.
"Are there men in this flat?" was their first question.
"Yes,” answered Marushka in German after a second's hesitation.
"Two. My husband and our friend who is staying with us."
One of them opened the door of the first room where Czeslaw was sleeping and both entered.
"Documents,” yelled one, shining his torch in Czeslaw's face. Czeslaw gave him his passport. They started checking.
"He is a foreigner,” called one, reeling on his feet. They were drunk.
"Out with him into the yard,” he yelled, pushing his gun towards Czeslaw. We knew what that meant. The life of our friend was hanging just by a thread.
Enter Marushka. There are moments when strong words of a woman can achieve miracles. In her perfect German she flooded them with words interjected with "foreigner,” "travel orders,” "army follower". They were impressed. The less drunk one, pulling his companion by the sleeves, started to edge towards the door. They forgot about me and left. We could hear their receding footsteps. They whistled through their fingers calling others and at last left our yard.
We could not go to sleep that night. Who could sleep with this white glow of the fighting Warsaw. We sat on the balcony. The opposite walls were bathed in the glow of fires. A light wind carried some burnt paper and the smell of burning. In the yard were the measured steps of the guards. From the balcony next to ours came heavy sighing and whispered prayers and, on the ground floor, a woman was crying. We could hear her sobbing for a long time.
During this night drunken S.S. men raped four women in our block.
In the morning shooting intensified in the suburbs surrounding us. The rumours were that the insurgents were attacking from Puiawa Street. The heavy cannonade which we had heard during the first days of the uprising had stopped. Some planes were circling over the city. At about ten o'clock Germans appeared again. This time there were many army men in their camouflage uniforms holding their automatic guns at the ready. They covered all the exits and ordered all men to come down to the yard. There was no way out. Slowly and full of distrust we assembled in the yard. We were surrounded by the S.S. men. Behind them stood our women, weeping. Their sons, husbands and brothers were here. The Germans ordered us to line up against the walls with hands up. A thorough search did not reveal any arms. After the search was completed we were let go free. Thus ended the act of pacification of our block.
From this day onwards the Germans visited our block more often in a random fashion. They tried to converse with the inhabitants, they came and sat on benches in the yard, they tried to play with the children, they offered smokes to the men and smiled at the women. After the pacification of the block, they tried to win over its inhabitants.
They were getting bored sitting in the trenches on the fields of Mokotow - nobody was shooting at them. Here one could be with people, look at good-looking women and play with children. The children were just children; it did not matter that they were Polish children. There was the same childish prattle, the same tiny little hands touching them. Many of the soldiers had in their 'Heimat' similar toddlers who also tried to pull out the bayonets leaning against their daddies. What a pleasant feeling to remember. The soldiers would try to speak to the mothers in a mixture of German and Polish words. They would open their tunics and show their most treasured possessions - photos of their families and, pointing to the snaps, would say "I have two children. Here, look, my daughter two years, look here is my Frau.”
The German soldiers felt good. It was so much better to talk like this than to sit in the damp trenches. One could even forget the war for a little while. A queer thing is war and its psychology. Yesterday they were threatening to shoot us all and today they are playing with our children. Yesterday there was a brutal search and rape and today they come as visitors bringing brandy and cigarettes.
Slowly we began to get used to the new way of life. Many of us still shrank back instinctively when we sighted a German. We were all still very distrustful but, with time, we got used to them. The Germans brought us the news that the Russian Army was pushed far back from Warsaw. They were quite certain in their assertion received from the Fuehrer's headquarters that the Soviet Army under the German attack had retreated a hundred kilometres. We did not want to believe it. But still there must be some truth in it. People were saying, "Why didn't the Russians standing in the Praga suburb of Warsaw attack the city? Why had the Front become so silent?" Some were saying, "It can't be true. The Germans are saying those things on purpose to undermine our morale." But a nagging doubt remained.
About noon there were again planes over Warsaw. They were very high and seemed to circle very slowly. I was sitting on a bench, talking, when children began calling "Look, look, papers and more papers." Looking up, we saw leaflets fluttering down on the roofs. Some fell down behind our walls and were lost to us, others floating gently settled down between our walls. We started chasing them; some even tried to catch them from their balconies. Children and grown-ups alike were trying to grab these papers. There were not many of them which landed in our block; therefore everyone was vying for the privilege to be the first. These leaflets represented the first news from the outside world. Anyone able to catch a leaflet was immediately surrounded by a crowd. One had to read loudly. I was in luck and caught a leaflet and started reading:
SOLDIERS OF THE NATIONAL ARMY
Our Government from London announces that Prime Minister MIKALAYJCZK's position in Moscow is such that he is unable to reach free decision and to have freedom of speech.
ONE HAS NO DOUBT WHAT INTENTIONS ARE HIDDEN BEHIND IT.
I started to negotiate with representatives of German authorities, looking for common ground to co-ordinate actions against the Moscow traitors.
I HEREBY ORDER a stop to all acts of hostility against occupational German authorities and an immediate return to initial meeting places of alert!
Everyone disregarding this order is taking sides with those who made an attempt on the life of our Prime Minister and will be shot immediately.
Further orders will be issued.
Long live Poland!
Chief Commander of Polish National Armed Forces.
(-) BOR. Warsaw 2nd August, 1944.
I finished reading and all were still holding their breath and listening to the echo of such odd and quite incompressible words. "Has BOR really signed it?" asked someone.
It was read for a second time.
"It is quite impossible."
"You are quite right."
"This is just a plain in lie, a forgery."
"It certainly is," agreed the others.
"Just listen. You see what the main point is - stop fighting the Germans and return to the point of alert. This is their main aim."
"It certainly is the work of the Germans."
"Oh! These buggers, these bandits, the forgers, trying to pretend to be BOR."
"This way they have not a hope to win the war - they will surely come to grief."
This was the general reaction and opinion of our yard. I folded the leaflet carefully and put it in my wallet. It was certainly a unique document. The group dispersed, looking for other leaflets to compare whether they had the same contents.
In the afternoon the firing from the city became heavier. This was probably the partisans’ reply to the leaflets. A few hours later German bombers appeared over the city. They were flying quite low and one could easily see the black crosses of the Luftwaffe. The bombing of the city began. Again we sheltered in the basement. The walls were trembling from the heavy explosions. A cloud of dust rose above the roofs. Some were of the opinion that we would not be bombed and they were right, as we were in the part of the city where Germans had full control and, in addition, their heavy artillery was positioned next to our block. Some even went outside to watch the planes. They were flying low, making turns over the centre of the city and dropping their bombs. The erupting dust clouds pinpointed the places of explosion.
That night I was on guard duty. At two a.m. a gentle knock came at the door. I was ready. I, and the other guard, came down the stairs. The guards who had finished their watch gave us instructions and the key of the gate. My duty was to watch the east wing and the gate. Switching on my torch, I went to the basement and cellars. People were sleeping everywhere - on the naked floors, under the walls, in the boiler house. People of Warsaw were pushed down to the basements. From the moment when the uprising began the roles were reversed; the underground army came into the open and the civilian population went to the underground.
I continued my way up the stairs to the attic facing Rakowiecka Street. All over there were strings and drying laundry. On my left, holes in the walls and roof from cannon shells. In front of me was a large view of the city. Warsaw was covered by fires. A sea of red flames lit the sky. The stars looked pale and the roofs were covered with a reddish glow. The smoke over the city was like darkly gathering clouds before a storm. Somewhere behind our block were detonations, firing and screeching of machine guns. Warsaw was fighting on. In front of me - an empty street with some leaflets here and there. Quite near us, in the field of Mokotow, the dark silhouettes of cannon with their long barrels, and there were German patrols in the field. Coming back my torch shone in one of the corners where, to my astonishment, I saw a man sitting on a child's rocking chair. He was a man of about fifty, unshaven, with a heavily lined face, and clothed in a dirty and torn suit, torn shoes on feet without socks.
"What are you doing here?" I asked suspiciously.
"I sleep here as you can see," he answered without any embarrassment.
"Why here, in the attic?"
"I don't like the basement, it is too damp there. I have rheumatism and it is warmer here. The sun heats it nicely during the day. I have nothing to cover myself with."
"Are you from this block?"
"Oh, no. I am from prison. I was there over a year; near here in the Mokotow gaol. You know, the red brick building in Rakowiecka Street."
"Were you released?"
He laughed. "We released ourselves. When the uprising started the Germans opened a few doors and drove the prisoners into the yard, telling them they would be released. We who were still locked up shortly heard shooting in the yard. News spread immediately - Germans were shooting the prisoners in the yard. We started a riot in the gaol. Some were able to flee but the Germans started shooting at us from the yard and the street. We climbed on the roof and, although the building was burning, we were able to reach the roofs of other buildings. In this way about 380 of us got free. Now I am here and waiting for what will come next. I have nowhere to go. I have no house - my wife was killed in September 1939 in the ruins of our flat. One son died during the Polish/German war near Kutno and the Germans took my second son to Oswiecim (the extermination camp Auschwitz). Don't know if he is alive."
"Do you mind me asking why you were imprisoned?"
"You see I was put to work to repair the highways and I ran away and, coming to Warsaw I bought some goods from the farmers. As bad luck would have it, a Gestapo control caught me with the goods in the train. They took the goods away and put me in gaol," he finished.
I left him in the attic. The yard was silent. The guards were speaking quietly near the gate. We were relieved at six in the morning. I went to sleep but somehow I could never get enough sleep. At nine Marushka woke me, explaining that the Germans were shooting at the house next to ours and that our people were already in the basement. Explosions of hand grenades and shooting from machine guns were very close, coming from Akacia Street. We went down to the basement. Here we heard the latest news the Germans had broken into the Jesuit chapel that was about 200 steps away from us. What was happening there nobody knew. Maybe shots had been fired from that house and the Germans retaliated? After half an hour the shooting stopped. After leaving the basement we saw fires and smoke. Rushing up to the top floor we saw that the chapel was burning. Smoke was pouring through the windows covering the wall with soot and we could hear the glass breaking. In a very short while the whole chapel was on fire, cleaning the traces of the recent tragedy. We all worried about the fate that had befallen our nearest neighbours.
In the afternoon our nurses brought some wounded partisans to our block. These young girls were extremely brave. By unknown routes they were constantly sneaking outside and looking for wounded in our suburb. The armband of the Red Cross could not be relied on for protection. One of the nurses was killed whilst on duty. She fell, maybe hit by a stray bullet, in the potato field and her mates brought her home but she died on the way.
Again planes came from the west. "Maybe they are English?" people said. Somehow they shimmered differently in the sunshine. They were flying in a regular formation, just like cranes. Unfortunately they were German planes. Shortly the walls of Warsaw were once again shaking from detonations. It did not last long and anyhow, by now we were becoming indifferent to raids. There were many who never went to the basements, others continued walking in the yard during the bombing of the city.
It became quieter in the evening. The shooting in our suburb stopped but by now we were unresponsive to the sound of fighting further away. We considered it the normal way of life.
The chapel was still smouldering but the fire was localised and had not destroyed their total block.
People were spending more and more time in the yard as it was the only place where one could get some fresh air and stretch one's legs. High above the town some single planes were circling again but nobody took much notice. During the day so many of them were flying over our unhappy Warsaw. Some were bombers, some observers, and some were dropping leaflets. My God, one would go berserk if one rushed each time to the basements.
Some were watching the progress of the planes with field glasses. Someone from the balcony was calling for our attention. Some white objects were falling out of the planes. At first they fell quickly, then they just seemed to hang in the air. Our first thought was – parachutes. But soon those big umbrellas burst into thousands of white dots. "They are leaflets," voices called from everywhere. All of us were watching. It looked very impressive. All the sky seemed to be covered with white petals. They were swaying lazily, becoming bigger as they slowly descended. Prepared by the previous experience, we were waiting impatiently for news from the sky. What will they bring? What will they feed us with? We had to wait a long time until the leaflets reached our roofs. Those with a quick eye could distinguish the different shape of the leaflets. Does it mean they will have different contents? The boys were rushing to the balconies hoping that, with luck, they would be the first. The leaflets were just, just above our heads. We began chasing them. The leaflets were dodging us, swaying playfully to the left and to the right, until at last they landed amongst us. The crowd wandered to different direction in groups and started to read.
The time of freedom is approaching. The Polish People's Army, with self-sacrificing battles, paved the way for victory. The Russian allies had broken the yoke of the fascists' occupation. The Polish Government in London acknowledged that the Red Army and the Polish People's Army carried on their shoulders the weight of the battles for freedom. Marshal Stalin had guaranteed wide boundaries for Poland.
C I T I Z E N: The reborn Poland is Poland of the people. Everyone must add their efforts to rebuild the country. All kinds of fascist elements will be crushed. Every Pole, every organisation has to co-operate with us. The Free People's Poland is calling you. The new vigorous state organisation will guarantee your freedom and prosperity. The Polish People's Army is defending our Poland.
This historical moment requires a joint effort under a united leadership of the Polish People's Army. Who is not subordinate is sabotaging free Poland. The lordly, grand leaders of the National Army have to step aside.
Being in the pay of Hitlerism, their undermining work is finished.
Death to the fascists:
Long live the Polish People's Republic:
General Berling, Commander of Polish Army in Russia.
Government Press in Wilno.
Another leaflet read like this:
THE UPRISING IS OUR DEATH!
Now the Communists have achieved their aim. We ourselves are destroying Poland. The Polish underground is getting weaker in her fight with Hitlerism; later the Bolsheviks will come and crush her. It was like this in Wilno, the same will happen here.
We are blind:
We were led into this error.
NEVER WILL WE GIVE OUR COUNTRY TO THE COMMUNISTS
You must understand that Hitler has to fight the Soviets if he intends to stay in power. This fight will finish him, giving the English basis for victory and allowing the allies to help us.
Guard against ill judged actions!
Keep cool, remember our fallen heroes. They sacrificed their life for free Poland, never for the support of Communists.
OUR STRENGTH: wait for the right moment.
THE RIGHT MOMENT: a victory by our allies in the west.
People were reading and listening, looking for new leaflets and building new groups. Nobody was sure how many leaflets there were. What was their real meaning? Did they have the same propaganda thoughts?
I heard the following.
"Which one did you read?"
"The one by General Berling."
"About the People's Army?"
"And you?" asked another one.
"The smaller one."
"Which was the smaller one?"
"You know, the one about the uprising being the death of us."
"What do you know? I have not read this one. What did they say?"
"That Communism has achieved its aim ..."
"Pardon me, but that was the one I just read - 'People's Army with their sacrifices had paved the way for victory - that means Russia achieved her aim."
"No, you are wrong, just the opposite. The one I saw stated quite plainly that the Soviets will crush Poland, Poland which we ourselves have destroyed."
"Simple - we are hitting Hitler and Stalin will crush us so why should we fight? Better to wait until Churchill and Roosevelt finish both. You see, that will be our victory."
"You know, there is truth in it. I even like it. Where is this leaflet?"
"There, you can see the group reading near the rubbish stack."
One person left and another joined the group, asking timidly.
"Excuse me, please, but would you have the leaflet, how can I say ... about Stalin, Hitler and Roosevelt?"
"What, is there one like it?"
"Yes there is - the most reasonable one."
"No, I am looking for it. I was told that you had read it."
"No. We caught only the one with grammatical errors."
"With grammatical errors? That means there is a third one. Could you show it to me?" ... scanning the leaflet, "Ah, that is from Berling. I have already read it."
"The one you mentioned before - who signed it?"
"Nobody?" He was very disappointed. "An appeal without a signature? That is impossible - you probably missed it. Somebody had to sign it. Maybe a general, or did it come from a party or a committee?"
"I assure you, nobody signed it. Anyway is it important? If you like their politeal opinion, you can sign it."
"The position has already been decided, on the Warsaw's barricades. Opinion? The opinion during war is formed by bayonets."
"You are a cynic."
"And you are naive." Everyone started laughing. The fellow who had come looking for a leaflet gave up as at this moment someone new came towards us. He called out to the newcomer, an elderly gentleman living near our flat.
"Hello doctor, good to see you. Maybe you have the second leaflet?"
"My dear sir, firstly I don't know which one was the first. Were they numbered?" he asked, smiling.
"The smaller one, the one which was unsigned."
"But it is quite irrelevant. In my opinion they are all coming from one and the same source. There - from heaven," - he was pointing upwards. "In this heavenly matter are engaged Mr. Hitler's planes. First they throw bombs on us and then leaflets. Just for a change so we don't get bored whilst waiting for help from our allies which is coming at a snail's pace. They are all means to the one end and the gullibility of people is boundless."
It was late and already dark when the last inhabitants left the yard to return to their flats or basements; only the guards were keeping watch. That night I slept undisturbed.
Next morning when I was taking the rubbish bin outside I found a new, red leaflet. By which wind and at what time it was blown into our yard I didn't know. Nobody had seen it the day before - the night had brought it. This is what it said.
We demand a Soviet Poland!
We the Polish Soviet workers who have mounted the barricades to fight for Poland's freedom against the fascist beast, in this hour we are raising our voices announcing to Poland and the world so that the people, our friends and enemies, should we have risen to fight against Hitlerism to revenge ourselves on the terrible enemy of our people and of the people of the Soviet Union; we have mounted the barricades to destroy the fascist beast and at the same time to establish in our country a government which will be the only one to give happiness to the Polish worker and guarantee his freedom -
FOR THE SOVIET POLAND!
In the hour when in our capital city we raise our aims against fascism, the oppressor of mankind, we declare solemnly that with this battle on the barricades we will wipe out the old Polish reactionaries, capitalists and the clergy.
The Polish Soviet worker who mounted the barricades is demanding a Soviet Poland without large landowners who were inhuman exploiters.
Through our fight on the barricades we will create this type of Poland for which we are ready to give our blood -
FOR THE SOVIET POLAND!
Joining our brothers in the Soviet Union, we will destroy the old order and will create the Polish state of the worker.
Long live Stalin!
Long live Soviet Poland!
Central Committee of the Polish Communist Party.
I finished reading the leaflet and was emptying my rubbish bin when Adam joined me. He was called Adam by everyone. He was a student of classic philosophy.
"Have you been reading something new?"
"A new leaflet, this time a red one," I replied, greeting him. He began to read, supporting his chin on his fist. It was his typical gesture when concentrating. Sometimes he even bit his nails. From next door came Marjory, also bringing her rubbish out. She joined us. She was the maid of the doctor's family who lived opposite us. We all knew each other. She was a short, broadly built girl full of energy and covered with freckles. She wanted to know everything and tried to have her own opinion.
"What is new, Mister Adam?" she asked, emptying her bucket.
"Nothing good, Marjory. By now people don't know themselves what they are fighting for in our unhappy Warsaw. This is tragic nonsense,” he continued his thought. "You just think, the Polish Communists also mounted Warsaw's barricades, fighting for Soviet Poland. Right. We know that on the same barricades there are Poles fighting for Poland's independence. Fighting shoulder to shoulder for contradictory aims. Not enough, I beg you, just you read - "we declare solemnly that this battle on the barricades will wipe out the old Polish reactionaries, capitalists and the clergy.' You see? Our common enemy has not yet been destroyed but we already have promises that brothers from the barricades will fight each other."
"I will tell you something, sirs,” interrupted Majory. We Poles are really good at unsuccessful uprisings. So many people perish. Oh, Mother of God, what will there be left from our Warsaw which is burning without interruption day and night? And just think about the Jesuit brothers,” she continued, crossing herself. "Last night a woman came from Akacia Street. Oh Jesus, Holy Mother what has happened there. She was telling that they ordered all the Jesuits to get completely undressed and then .. and then .. they killed them all, all of them, without pity, and afterwards they killed all the women and children. Those who went to pray on the day of the uprising and were unable to leave. God have mercy on us - to murder clergymen, women and children, and where ... just you think where they were murdered in the house of God, in, a chapel! That is the most devilish and sacrilegious thing that has happened since the world saw the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. All that because of this uprising. Yes, yes ... but I am just talking and talking and the work is waiting." She ran back home.
". . . . and all that because of the uprising! You have heard and her, haven't you?" asked Adam, biting his lips nervously. His hair, as if never combed, fell over his forehead, a long pale face with very regular features made beautiful by large, burning eyes. He was slightly bent and extremely thin. His suit was badly worn and crumpled, his badly knotted tie was always hanging astray like a much used string, as Adam often used to grab, hugging it to his chest. He loved to gesture. Only when gesturing was he in his element. Without gestures Adam could not talk, nor could he think. With his long white fingers he was constantly touching his face, his eyes were full of fire as he developed new ideas. His face twitched and he quite often talked to himself.
The yard called him a fool whereas his intellect was way over the others. He did not understand the others and they did not understand him so they just called him a fool. They were just ‘bread-eaters' and he was a thinker. Why should they try to climb intellectual heights? To understand Adam it was much easier to give him a place below and call him a fool.
Taking my bin and returning home I met some Germans. They were smiling and greeting people they met. At our door a neighbour, a doctor from Lublin, stopped me asking me to be his interpreter. He wanted to speak to the Germans. He was concerned about his relatives, an engineer with a wife and two daughters who, during the day of the uprising were making the best of a nice summer day and went to the fields about 500 steps from here and never came back. Five days have passed and he wanted the help of the Germans to be able to bring them back. "What could have happened to them?" he asked the Germans, with me as an interpreter. The Germans explained that about two hundred civilians who were caught during the beginning of the uprising in the fields of Mokotow were interned in the barracks near the artillery position. The doctor asked the Germans to intervene with their authorities and to release this family. He promised them vodka and cigars.
After breakfast a meeting was called in our forum, in the yard. Our rubbish heap had become a matter of public concern. It had grown out of all proportion and was stinking to high heaven. Being imprisoned in our yard, we were unable to remove the rubbish. A heated discussion developed between the organiser of the meeting who wanted the rubbish burnt and others who thought it should be buried. Many speeches were held. Two parties developed. The party which advocated burning was grouped about the more radical ones and consisted mainly of the younger people. The part of the conservative liberals wanted the rubbish to be buried. Only after a speech which was deeply thought through and delivered in an enrapt manner was a decision reached. This orator delivered his speech in a very picturesque way with flowery words and convincing arguments. At least 40 per cent of the rubbish could not be consumed by fire as it consisted of tins, broken plates and other unburnable goods. The resolution was carried through and the organiser asked for volunteers who owned shovels. The appeal was so successful that we began digging trenches in relays. While one party was digging the other was resting, sitting on benches. The trench became deep. Children played with the wet sand, making fortresses and moats. During the day the wind had increased.
"Maybe the weather will change,” said someone digging near me.
"We could do with some rain,” said Adam. "It might help with some of the fires in Warsaw." Speaking about the weather made the people look up at the sky and immediately they shouted "Leaflets!" Now everyone was looking up. The strong wind was pushing a white cloud quickly above our roofs. We were very disappointed as none descended to our yard. The wind was chasing them to another suburb, the bulk landing in the fields of Mokotow. One of the leaflets brushed the roof and, reducing speed, started to come towards our yard. Being the tallest in our group, I was lucky to grab it first. Now I had quite a set of "sui generis" (the only one of its kind) documents. According to our yard custom, I had the honour to read it to our forum.
A large group was surrounding me so I stepped on the bench and, opening the rather large leaflet, began reading the words of the 'manifest':
Prime Minister Mikolajczyk held a conference with Stalin and pledged mutual co-operation with the Red Army. The same Red Army which had murdered the soldiers of the National Army in Wilno and brought the Ukrainian thugs into Lwow and Lublin where thousands of our countrymen perished for their unshakable belief in the final victory of a great and independent Poland. The German occupier was unable to break the proud Polish spirit. All his shrewd methods, trying to destroy the heroic Polish nation were for nothing. The Soviet brutality is also doomed to failure. The Russian Government has clearly shown its treacherous plans by setting up a Bolshevik government in Chelm. The hostile reaction by the Polish people taught Stalin a lesson that by force only he will be unable to break the Polish people. Now he has returned to the way of deceitful treachery. Prime Minister Mikolajczyk let himself be used for the ignoble plans, probably being afraid of losing his position. The Polish soldier never submitted to his enemy. Prime Minister Mikolajczyk, the Polish Quisling, stained the honour of the Polish soldier who fought for five years and never gave up. Poland's enemies, heavily armed, can occupy our soil but cannot conquer the Polish people. To pave the way, they are now using treachery. The unshakable belief and the self sacrifice of the heroic Polish soldier will never allow the Bolsheviks to destroy the Polish people through treacherous and cowardly politicians. The German occupier is fighting with his last breath. In the West the Americans and the English have broken through the Front and are streaking forward as quick as lightning.
Here, the German occupants are also hurriedly fleeing. But Russia is also at the end of her possibilities. Great and independent Poland will soon appear at the side of our allies, America and England, but never under the German yoke, nor the Soviet whip. Poles, the decisive moment of our heroic battle will require from all of you an unbreakable faith in victory, self-sacrifice for the nation and a strict discipline to the leadership.
I hereby announce the following Order of the Day. The Bolsheviks are near Warsaw and proclaim that they are friends of the Polish nation. This is a treacherous lie. Our borderlands, Wilno and Lublin, are calling to high heaven for revenge. Our Soviet enemy will meet with exactly the same ruthless fighting which is breaking our German invaders. To act for Russian advantage is treason to our country. The hour for a Polish uprising has not arrived as yet. Orders issued by Soviet servants are null and void.
The commanders of the National Army must stop all acts which are trying to help the Soviets. The Germans are fleeing. On with the battle with the Soviets. Long live free fighting Poland.
Chief Commander of the Armed Forces in Poland.
NOTE: All the original leaflets are in the author's possession. The translation tried, where possible, to include spelling and grammatical errors.
I came down from the bench and gave the leaflet to others to read. They were still doubtful and wanted to see with their own eyes, to look at the black on white. "Could it be true that BOR ...? No, it is impossible - it must be a forgery. To start fighting the Soviets now is an absurdity!"
I went to talk with Adam who was leaning on his shovel.
"What do you think about it?" I asked him.
"I can't understand one thing. If one falsifies something, one should do it properly. But all these errors in the leaflet, they jar on one's ears terribly. It is hideous."
We continued digging our trenches for our rubbish.
"You know," Adam started talking, picking at a brick absentmindedly, "this incident with the Jesuits was a great shock to me. I knew these people. Between them were many very valuable individuals, deep minds and insatiable scholars. For instance, the old father professor. I used to visit him often. We would sit on a bench and become immersed in deep conversations. These were such good hours for me. My mind was free to fly to idealistic heights. He was directing my way. At this stage I was deep in the Kantian dialectics, looking for the categorical imperative as the starting point for man's moral position. You would be mistaken in assuring that he was showing the truth only pointing to heaven. He directed me along human tracks, the best method, the method of historical materialism. He showed me to what people were coming and what they were longing for. He achieved something which seemed impossible to achieve. He set himself free, liberating himself. His body was not necessary to him any more - it was just like the shell of a chick. His soul was fully ripe.” He stopped talking, his lips were twitching, his eyes burning. He started digging but then continued:
"... and then comes such a beast, a senseless tom from the Hitler studs who carries a machine gun - and S.S. man - and starts shooting into human skulls like a soulless robot. This bit of lead tears the brain away and all the deep thoughts are extinguished just like a candle flame. You know, one can get mad. It is beyond my comprehension. And, at that, it was only just a small fragment of the horrible tragedy that is surrounding us -WAR. The biggest human cataclysm brought forth by humans. Not one natural catastrophe has claimed as many victims as a war. If we think about earthquakes, floods, erupting volcanoes, tempests - the victims were counted in thousands and maybe tens of thousands but the war claims tens of MILLIONS. When Vesuvius erupted and destroyed Pompeii claiming a few hundred human lives all the world was in mourning. Monuments were erected in memory of this human tragedy. Now a fleet of planes, directed by human hands, can drop bombs on a big city and bury a hundred thousand inhabitants. Natural disasters are like children's toys compared with deathly human inventions. People are killing people. Homo sapient. The primate of their species.
"I often wondered what caused people to fight. Is it something biological, like breeding, or is it sociological, having its roots in co-existence. The materialistic dialectic is pointing to economical conditions but this does not cover wars for non-economical reasons such as religious wars. What economical reason could unite the Christians from Western Europe to fight fanatically the Arabs in their desert steppe of the Middle East? During human history, how many different slogans were written on the war banners? Would a war psychosis be possible if people possess some instinct which, during the thought of war, triggers off some repulsive feelings?
"Could such a Hitler exist with his gospel 'Mein Kampf' if the German nation was a society of conscientious pacifists? All this social doctrine is based on an apotheosis of wars. His first evangelist and high priest, Alfred Rosenberg, squeezed out everything he could from Hegel, Nietsche and Fichte about the godly fighting spirit and incorporated it in his ideology of National Socialism. All the propaganda was directed to unleash a primitive fighting spirit. To drug the people with a mania of grandeur of the Master race. To tickle his vanity, to excite his imagination with assured victories. To indoctrinate him with a hatred against other races, other ideals, other nations. The 'Volk' (in the German nation, “people”) frenzied by the red rag of the Hitler toreadors, came out to fight. To fight with the West, to fight the East, to fight the capitalists and the communists, to fight the democracies and plutocracies, to fight the Jews, religion, philosophies and literature.
"And the people, you know - just people who are organising, supported by science, this horrible machine of destruction. Engineers are giving their most to create a better bomb which will kill more people simultaneously and destroy more relics which were worshipped with piety for generations. The best brains are competing to create better means to wipe out PEOPLE and their accumulated treasures. In research laboratories, in construction offices, in factories ... they are producing better and better bombs ... two .. four .. six .. toners, air mines, flying fortresses, phosphorescent bombs, V-1, V-2, V-3 …
"What are the millions of forced labourers and war prisoners in Germany doing if not producing the destructive tools of war?
"Oh, my God, that is a machinery of the devil. I lack the words. Do you think that all this, all the organisation for total war, will be satisfied with this only? Certainly not" - now he was speaking full of irony "there will still be some living people behind the Front and some who survived in the bombed cities, some who survived concentration camps and those who survived the 'liberation' of their country from independence, and some Jews - a nation of the doomed. Today's war is a total war – bellum omnium contra omnes (war of all against all). Those who are not killing others or are not helping in killing others - oh, what irony - are enemies of the country. Those who dared to be born Jews are criminals. Those are the laws of total war. The organised system is for total destruction of defenceless people, those people which the Front missed. The concentration camps are growing to the size of cities. Organised armies of dog-catchers are performing round-ups. They are chasing the people in the streets, squares and yards - these dog-catchers of the total war system are chasing these hunted people. They are thrown like dogs into trucks and afterwards behind the barbed wire of camps. To hang or to shoot simultaneously tens of people would be simple but hundreds of thousands is a costly problem. Therefore a cheaper and 'more productive' system to exterminate people was organised, helped by science. Phase one - choking people in gas chambers, phase two - mass burning in crematoriums. The last product - fertiliser from human bones - not damaging to the totalitarian system, even desirable for growing cabbages,” he yelled, his face distorted with a painful smile. He touched his brow, he was tired. His face was twitching nervously and he was biting his lips. But then he continued, not as loudly, stopping between words.
“The totalitarian system is not only destroying the living person with its creative mind, but also his previous thoughts contained in books and his masterpieces in art and literature. The totalitarian system, irrespective of whether they are red, white or brown, are astonishingly united and exceptionally conceited. They will not tolerate anything that is not proclaimed by them as truth. Take, for instance, literature. Sometimes they prosecute the author and sometimes the books. What will be left of literature if sometimes the creators and sometimes the creation is being destroyed by the totalitarian system? Take the German poet, Heine - his books are suddenly removed from all shelves because he had a mother, or was it a grandmother, who was a Jewess. Einstein's theory of relativity is being expunged because its author is a Jew. But again, if a pure Aryan, Zessing, wrote 'Nathan the Wise', only his book was burnt as it is not acceptable for a Jew to be wise and to be a deep thinker. How many such examples one could quote."
I interrupted - "Adam, this reminds me of some incidents in a library in Kaunas. Then, in 1940, Lithuania became a Soviet republic, the Soviets ordered the removal from the library of all books written by the so-called reactionaries, that is Poles, and also books written by Russian emigrants. A year later came the Germans - they in turn ordered the removal of all books by Soviet authors and the translations of other Russian authors. In this way, during a year the library became short of books as it was mainly stocked with books from her neighbouring countries written in Polish, Russian and German."
"There, you are”. Adam was speaking again full of emotion, "this total war destroys all and everything. It seems absurd but the enemy armies are working together. The armies which are in the offensive are destroying and bombing the hinterland - they are destroying the railways, factories and towns. Armies on the defensive, when retreating, destroy bridges and burn everything possible so that the enemy is unable to use anything which they had not previously destroyed. The same applies with people. The retreating army is killing all its political enemies. The offensive one is killing all the adherents of its enemy. I ask you, isn't it the perfect co-operation for total destruction of life and goods?
"I hate war, I hate it with all my nerves, with all feelings, right to my marrow. But I do realise that I am helpless in hatred like a child who is blowing into the wind to stop it blowing on the child's face. I don't even know if it is an infectious illness or an inherent one in all people. If I could find this 'baccillus belli' (war virus), I would be the first to start fighting it."
I interrupted, smiling - "There you are, now you have also caught this infection. You are ready to start fighting."
We were interrupted by the loud voice of the doctor from Lublin. "Enough digging, the second shift is due now. The first shift will now start emptying the rubbish heap as the trench is nearly finished."
Adam climbed on top of the heap but his work was not progressing as he was trampling on a tin, muttering to himself and biting his lips.
That afternoon when German soldiers again came to our yard our women surrounded them, asking them to allow the gathering of some potatoes which were growing in the field of Diokotow. The women explained that bread had gone long ago and the food supplies were finished in most of the families. After talking between themselves, the German soldiers told our women to gather in the yard and, under the protection of the soldiers, they would be allowed to go to the fields. It was only a small group with Marushka amongst those ready to go. As we still distrusted the Germans, we followed them to the gate. They were the first to be permitted to go outside after six days imprisonment in our yard.
They returned triumphantly after an hour. Marushka brought her potatoes in a scarf and apron tied around her waist. She was shot at while digging and had to dive between the plants but we all enjoyed our meal very much. Marushka told us that, during the digging, she had a good look at the chapel of the Jesuits. The building was mostly ruined and smoke was still coming from it. All around was empty and quiet and heaps of bricks and glass covered the lawn. The reason for destruction as given to her by the soldiers was that there was a search in the monastery of the Jesuits and the Prior was asked if there were arms on the premises which he denied. But after a thorough search, including a personal search of the priests, arms were found and even Polish officers in hiding. According to the soldiers, there was even a colonel with the officers. Not only rifles but also a lot of ammunition was found. Therefore the German officer in charge issued the order that everyone should be shot, including all civilians who were there during the church service. The house was burnt.
The thought of the Jesuits was still very much on all our minds. They were all well known here. Some were even from our block that went that day to the church service, the day of the uprising. Nobody had heard from them. There was now no hope left as three days had already passed since the chapel was burnt. We had to believe the Germans that everyone perished.
That afternoon the Germans who came to our block announced that the German Army authority had issued a truce period for our block from noon to 2 p.m. to enable the women to leave the block and go into the streets which were controlled by the Germans. Men were excluded from this truce.
After the Germans had left, unbelievable news spread through our yard. A few Jesuits from the burnt chapel were hiding in our yard. During the night two Jesuits and a little boy had arrived in our yard completely exhausted, wounded, half-starved and utterly dejected. They were given civilian clothing and were now sheltering in one of the flats.
In the evening when the gates were locked for the night and our yard illuminated by the fires of burning of Warsaw, most of us, as usual, came down to the yard to share the latest news. The three survivors from the chapel came down too. All our crowd surrounded them. We wanted to know the truth of the tragedy in the chapel. The two young men, very pale and emaciated, had short cropped hair and wore civilian suits. One had a bandage around his head and one hand in a splint, the other a dressing on a badly swollen face. The third, a teenage boy, was very thin and pale. On the day of the uprising he was helping during mass services.
When I was near the group, I heard someone asking "Did the Germans start shooting immediately they forced their entry?" The Jesuit with the bandaged head, feeling uncomfortable in civilian clothes, dropped his head and said; "No, they did not. After entering the chapel, the Germans called the Prior and asked him about arms. We were rounded up and pushed down to the basement. Two S.S. men were left to guard the door. After a while we were ordered to go into the doorkeeper's room. It was a small room next to the basement."
"Excuse me," somebody interrupted, "were there also others besides brothers and priests?"
"There were over a dozen women with their children who had stayed with us from the day of the uprising. In the doorkeeper's room there were about twenty priests. In don't know where the rest were, nor where the Prior was. We were crammed together in this room not knowing what they wanted from us. Time passed. One of our guards Went outside the door and spoke with someone and then closed our door. Suddenly the door burst open, framed in the door stood a young S.S. man with a hand grenade. He screamed some words in German at us and then, to our horror, he pulled out the pin and hurled the grenade into our crowd.
"Jesus,” prayed a woman next to me. In the crowd there was a deep sighing of 'Holy Mother', 'Oh, my Jesus Christ' . . ." The priest wiped his sweating face with his arm and continued "It is hard for me to tell in true order what happened next. We were all deafened by the noise. Pushed by others, I fell on the bed near the wall. I only knew that I was still alive and that nothing was hurting me. The same noise came for the second time and then a third ... I felt a sharp pain in my head. I opened by eyes and saw people trying to climb up the walls. I saw many bodies and blood on the floor. For a second I also saw some soldiers standing at the door, pointing their rifles into the room. Sour-smelling smoke stung my eyes. Screams, again some shots. I felt something heavy pressing on me. That was all. What happened afterwards I don't know. When I was conscious again the room was deathly quiet. Something was still pressing, me down. It was the dead body of one of my brothers. When I moved my elbow hurt badly,” he pointed to the splint, "and my head was hurting too. I sat up. It was already dawn. My God Father, I am unable to describe the sight. Bodies covered in blood, bodies of my brothers, of women and children. Opposite me were sitting two human forms. One, his head hanging down, was the body of Father Martin, the second one was Brother Joseph here with us. His face was very swollen and his eyes and face covered with blood. He looked dead and this saved him. The S.S. men did not finish him off, assuming him dead." We all looked at father Joseph whose face was distorted by swelling and covered with dressings.
The Jesuit continued "Leaving the dead behind, we pushed our way towards the door to the passage where we noticed a smell of singeing. The chapel was burning. We reached the yard and hid behind a stack of coal. Close to us German soldiers were patrolling the street. Crawling, We reached the barn where coal is kept and there, hiding in the darkest corner, we found our young companion,” he smiled tenderly at the boy. "We were afraid of the Germans and kept hiding in the coal. On the third night the hunger drove us to you, my dear people. God Almighty only spared our three lives." He finished speaking, bending his head.
morning, in one of the flats, the priests celebrated Holy Mass for the
memory of all those who perished so tragically in the chapel. Most of
the inhabitants of our block attended this
At noon the time came for the promised truce. It was a very great event in our imprisoned life. Women with white handkerchiefs in their hands rushed out. Some went to dig potatoes, others to visit neighbouring houses where they had friends and relatives. Our yard was visited by women from other blocks. It was very lively in the yard with greetings, kisses and hugging between friends and relatives. People from further away also came. There were some hand-pushed carts, fully loaded, there were women and children and also some men in torn clothing and covered with soot and some were wounded. Of course we started to ask questions. They were evacuees from the avenue of Niepodleglosc (Independence). A few days before there had been very heavy fighting. The Germans were attacking from Rakowiecka Street.
There was bombing, including incendiary bombs. The fires were so fierce that it was impossible to stay. Taking their meagre possessions they left for neighbouring streets and, using yards only, had arrived here. The insurgents were still fighting from some houses in Niepodleglosc Avenue.
Opposite the first aid station a young man was lying on the grass. His face looked greyish-green and he was covered with sweat. Sometimes he was grabbed by cramps. Next to him knelt a woman, crying silently and bathing his face with a wet rag. Sometimes his eyes rolled up and he seemed to be only semiconscious and in great pain. He did not seem to be wounded and had only a small dressing on his hand. Two hours later when I passed him again he was covered with a white sheet and the young woman was sobbing. He was deed.
The doctor standing nearby told me the cause of his death - it was tetanus. The dead man's wife told him that a bullet had slightly grazed her husband's hand but they had to crawl through the potato fields because they were being shot at. His hand became dirty which probably caused the tetanus. Alas, there were no injections against tetanus available at this first aid station and he was condemned to death. Death for him was inevitable. Now it had claimed him.
In the evening we were alarmed by heaving shooting from the direction of Okecie (Warsaw's suburb). We were alarmed as, until now, there had never been fighting from this direction. Sore boys brought news of houses burning in the fields of Mokotow. We felt even more uneasy. We were expecting an attack by the partisans. Some rumour also reached us that the Russians had broken through the Front in East Warsaw. When it became dark we could see a few fires from the fields of Mokotow. Single houses were burning. Germans in full battle dress rushed into our yard and told us to go down to the basement as a battle was going to start near us. They rushed through the yard and disappeared through the opposite gate.
It was once again a night full of anxiety. Shooting had intensified a lot. The German machine guns were alongside our block. They were shooting non-stop in the direction of the burning single houses. Some soldiers were moving forwards, protected by the walls. Wounded soldiers were brought to our first aid station. We were all gathered in the basement as bullets were even whipping through the yard.
Everything quietened down in the morning. After a few hours' sleep I came down to the yard. It was a sunny morning, children were playing in the sand pits and elderly gentlemen were sitting on benches getting, some sun and warmth after a night in the cold and smelly basement. Even the pigeons were flying trouble-free among us. In front of the First Aid Post were field beds for the slightly wounded. What I saw was rather unusual considering the circumstances we lived in. On the grass, lying side by side, were Polish insurgents and uniformed German soldiers. Polish nurses were helping them, full of concern and attention, giving one and all their friendly smiles. This picture brought a pleasant warm feeling. It was like an unexpected ray of sun breaking through dark thunderous clouds, a ray of humanism, a human approach to humans. Those who only a short while ago were ready to kill each other were now lying close together, not enemies any more but suffering human beings.
Unexpectedly an armoured car stopped before the gate. A German officer with some soldiers came towards the First Aid Post. In terse sentences he asked for a surgeon who had to go with him immediately to operate on a seriously wounded German officer of higher rank. Professor Loth, a famous Polish surgeon, lived in our block. He was called down. We all watched full of anxiety as our professor in his white coat followed the German to the car. His wife was crying and begging the German to let her husband return after the operation and to protect him against German bullets. We were all worried and anxious to have him back. Having the good fortune to have this surgeon in our block, we did not want to lose him.
On one of the benches an old woman was sitting and crying silently. Her old face was deeply lined and her hands were kneading a wet handkerchief.
"Why are you so upset?" I asked her, thinking that she was upset because the professor had to leave.
"My poor little son is probably already dead,” she said and began to sob.
"Where is your little son?"
"He worked for the Jesuits. You know, where this terrible thing happened, where all were killed. Oh my God, he will never return to me. I came here from Kielecka Street looking for him when I heard that the chapel was burnt down. And here I was told that all were killed by the cursed pagans. I wish to give him a Christian funeral but they do not allow me to even look for his body."
"How old was your little boy?" I asked her, thinking that maybe the boy who had survived could be her son.
"I think he would now be sixty-nine." Astonished, I looked at her. She continued "He was not young any more, my son, but he was the only one I had. He was the only solace in my old age. My husband died fifty years ago. I brought him up alone. He was not married - he was not of this world. He worked for the Jesuits as a cabinet maker. And now this terrible misfortune. And now this divine scourge. Now I am quite alone"
There were no words which I could use to comfort this unhappy woman.
Coming home, I met Czeslaw at the door. "Goodbye, Zygmunt, I am leaving. I am going to join the insurgents. I should have done it a long time ago." For the first time his voice was quite firm. He had decided.
"Wait, let us talk. How are you going to find them? Our suburb is completely in the hands of the Germans. You might be caught even before you ..." He interrupted;
"All last night I was thinking. I have decided. I will sneak through the yards and I will avoid all streets. And anyway I am free and not responsible to anyone."
I understood. Nothing I could say would stop him - just the opposite. An argument now would make him less cautious and impetuous. We were so different in our outlooks. I took his hand and wished him all the luck to achieve his aim. He rushed down the stairs and disappeared from view.
Just after Czeslaw left an insurgent group of medical and first aid staff arrived in our yard. A young doctor and four nurses were carrying stretchers. The doctor was carrying a white handkerchief in his hand as it was the truce hour. We surrounded them immediately, asking for news. They came from the suburb of Czerniakowo. Fighting still continued there and their hospital was overcrowded and conditions of work extremely hard due to lack of medical supplies. Wounded had to be operated on without anaesthetics and without painkilling drugs. Fighting in the streets made it very hard to find and bring in the wounded. Quite often the wounded were lying for days in empty flats, behind gateposts, in ruined basements or just among the ruins. As they were left untreated for so long, their condition become so bad that only amputation remained. The insurgents had no organised resistance until the Place of Unia Lubelks where there were the first barricades. We were also told about some news of the war in Europe. The German front lines in France were broken and the allies were advancing quickly. Nobody knew how the situation was developing on the Soviet front. This was all the news we received.
As Marushka was not in the yard, I went home to share the latest news with her. I found her ill in bed. In the morning she had not been feeling well but now she was worse. Her temperature was rising above forty. I felt desperate. Marushka was showing signs of blood poisoning in the leg which was injured. We were lucky as an injection of prontozyl was brought for her during the night by a young schoolgirl with long blonde plaits. As our First Aid Post had no injections, one could get them only from somewhere near the centre of Warsaw from a medical store. This schoolgirl was our liaison officer - the connecting link. She was small, nimble and agile 'like a little field mouse. By squeezing through holes in yard fences, through basements, she was able to reach the medical store bringing the needed supplies requested by our doctor. This time it was she again who brought to Marushka the badly required medicine. After a while Marushka fell asleep. She was very hot and was muttering something. I was sitting on the bed and watching her. My old auntie who was partly infirm was sleeping in her own room. The old clock was still ticking. I could not sleep - sad thoughts kept invading. What will happen if I lose may most faithful life companion? The extremely high temperature, the swollen groin, spreading dark patches mean trouble. Will I see Czeslaw ever again? Or his sister, Henia, with the baby living in the southern suburbs of Warsaw? And my cousin Marysia who is now a nurse somewhere in Warsaw? And all the other relatives and friends scattered somewhere by the war? In my mind's eye I saw our departure from the house on the hill and the small human form of Jurek whose white cap was only a small dot. I saw Roman giving me his charming smile. I was also hungry as for dinner today we had bread and finished the lot. This bread we bought for 100 zloty from a railway employee living in our block. He still had bread but we had no more zloty left. What will happen now? What in a hundred years? Will there always be war? During wars the research and technique for destruction develops very quickly. Maybe in times to come people will develop a bomb loaded with some such super dynamite that all the earth will blow up and the glorious victor will not even have a place to dictate his terms. This is absurd. But the basis of war is built on the absurd war logic and its pathological justifications.
Marushka was breathing heavily and covered in sweat. I tried to make her more comfortable. Her body was fighting for the right to live. Maybe her blood was sighting a deathly battle with invading bacteria?
Hours dragged on, time stood still. What is time? I was never able to understand the definition of absolute time.
In the morning Czeslaw returned. He was tired and depressed. Crossing various backyards, he was able to reach the Avenue of Niepodleglosc where signs of fierce fighting were visible. In some empty houses insurgents were hiding. They told him that their group, including their leader, were crushed and only a small number were able to retreat to inner suburbs. The avenue was under complete control of the Germans who could shoot from different positions. It was quite impossible to reach the other side of the street. The few left had no ammunition and were in hiding between the labyrinth of the ruins. Very disappointed, Czeslaw had returned.
This day the family of the Lublin doctor also returned. The two soldiers had kept their promise and escorted his family back to him. The young engineer and his family looked tired, dirty, covered in torn rags. The daughter had bleeding feet, torn by barbed wire. The first days of the uprising were spent in one of the gazebos. They were eating fruit and salads. It was cold at night, as they had nothing to cover themselves with. In the first days, being afraid of ambush, the Germans would not leave their reinforced positions. After a few days, having a large range of covering fire, they started to dominate this area, pushing the insurgents out. The engineer's wife told us that when the first patrols reached the fields everyone was very astonished to see among the S.S. men many Ukrainers, Kazbeks and Azerbaijans. They, more than the S.S. men, became a terror to the people. Those primitive, undisciplined Asiatic men in German service, morally dull beyond any comprehension, let loose all their beastly instincts. When drunk they started hunting people, raping women and grabbing valuables. The frustrated engineer told us that when he was trying to rescue his teenage daughter he was thrown to the ground and beaten unmercifully and, of course, his watch and other valuables were taken. His daughter was lucky to run away from a completely drunk soldier. All night she hid in the potato field. All looted things such as watches, earrings, rings, cigarette cases, the soldiers put into stockings. It became impossible to keep hiding. Of their own free will, the people started to go to the nearby German barracks which were close to the artillery. There were about two hundred people. The women were employed to dig potatoes, the men to polish the cannons until they were shining. This way they lived for ten days without being able to wash or to undress.
This night I was on guard duty. Nothing special had happened. As usual, Warsaw's fires were lighting the sky. Shooting was only far away. We walked around the quiet yard. Some people, as usual, were sleeping in the basement.
I was thinking about the story Marushka told me. A schoolgirl with the long, blonde plats, accompanied by her mother, came to visit Marushka. Marushka was thanking the girl and feeling very guilty towards the mother, having endangered the girl's life. The mother, speaking with a sad smile, told her the following tale. Her teenage girl, being of small build and very agile, was going most nights into the city for medical supplies needed by the First Aid Post. They both considered it their duty to help people as best they could. Mother would gladly have gone instead of letting the girl go but only a child was able to squeeze through the only available narrow openings through damaged brick walls and sewer grilles. Marushka was deeply touched by this attitude of a loving mother, understanding how terribly hard it must be to let the child face additional danger in bringing help to others. To Marushka, this mother was the real heroine.
Next morning I got up and was shaving when I heard some commotion in the yard, some yelling, some running. I looked out through the bathroom window. People were forming groups and then quickly running somewhere else, women were wringing their hands and rushing back into the flats. All these activities were so nervous that I wiped the soap from my face and ran to the yard. On the stairs I met our neighbour.
"A few minutes ago Germans came and ordered everyone, without exception, to vacate the house. In fifteen minutes all the houses will be burnt down."
His wife was terribly distressed. "What shall we do? How can we save our property? We can't take all our things with us." There was no time to lose. I rushed back home. Marushka was still very weak and lying in bed. Although the crisis had passed and the infection gone, she was still very tired from the high temperature. Bad luck. I told her to get dressed quickly. We decided to take to the basement the more valuable things belonging to my auntie. If the house burned down, maybe something in the basement would survive. We made big bundles from sheets, emptying wardrobes and drawers, and hurried to the basement. The stairs were crammed with people rushing up and down. Taking only the most essential things, especially the remaining food, we locked the door and, accompanied by auntie and Czeslaw, went down to the yard.
Many were already gathered in the yard. Some were still bringing down their belongings, others were digging holes in the lawn to hide some of their things. It was crowded and hectic beyond description. Trunks, suitcases and bundles made walking very hard. The Germans were speeding us along. Nobody knew where we were supposed to be going.
Hesitating, waiting for others, people were stopping before the gates. Nobody wanted to go outside as there was still shooting in the streets. From the direction of the Union Square came the sound of heavy firing from cannons. We could not stop here - the pressure from behind was too strong and one by one people came into the street and into the yard of the next building. Someone had started in that direction and the rest just followed. It was a long chain of people, burdened with their possessions. We went through other yards, through holes in fences, through empty building blocks, passing different rubbish heaps. If we had to cross a street we did it carefully, looking to all sides and then rushing as quickly as possible to the other side. Sometimes the well-trodden road led through empty basements, boiler rooms and laundries - everywhere the doors were open. This was the line of communication of fighting Warsaw. The track was well-trodden by the insurgents, evacuees and liaison officers. We reached Kielecka Street. My other cousin, a doctor, lived here. We thought we might stop there. But here was the same picture. This block had also to be vacated and burnt and my cousin had already left. The same chaos, the same laments. Tired women, crying children and rushing men looking for some way out of this trap. What to do? Where to flee? Did they intend to burn all Warsaw down? Yards and streets were full of people and their belongings. From a side street German soldiers rushed out waving their guns at us and telling us to look for shelter as in ten minutes German planes would bomb the neighbouring street where there was still resistance from the partisans. The coming bombs should crush them. Everyone rushed to the basement. Some left their things behind whilst others were trying to take them to the shelter. The crush was unbelievable. People were tripping over the bundles which were obstructing the way on the narrow and dark stairs. Some were cursing, others were praying and children, pushed from all sides, were crying. Suddenly all became quiet as the first loud detonation shook the walls. The doors were left open. As I could not make my way downstairs, I stood on the stairs observing the sky. The air raid had begun. More than ten bombers of the Luftwaffe were circling like hungry vultures looking for their prey. For the first time I saw quite clearly the falling bombs. Clouds of dust were rising above the houses. Each plane was dropping its prescribed ration. The suburb was all in flames. Heavy detonations were shaking the walls of our basement. From the depths of the basement came the sound of collective praying. From above the hungry bombers, flying very low after all the bombs were gone, started shooting with machine guns into the streets. This all took place in ten short minutes. That was all. The planes turned back leaving behind the agony of a suburb smouldering and covered in a mourning pall of black smoke.
After leaving the basement, the S.S. men directed us to the other side of Rakowiecka Street. Helping the old aunt, we tried to cross the street as quickly as possible. A few German armoured vehicles were in the street and further down were the remnants of barricades and barbed wire entanglements. After a few short rests, we reached the park which surrounded the officers' casino near Rakowiecka Street. Here we took a deep breath. Big, old trees, many shrubs and lawns were like a 'tonic. There were no houses nearby. We liked it here. Among the bushes I found some old club chairs, deep and comfortable. We chose a cluster of shrubs, brought the club chairs and, with our things near us, we felt we were in a natural wild summerhouse surrounded on all sides by shrubs and trees.
Night was approaching. More and more evacuees were coming to the park looking for a place to spend the night. Our block of flats was still untouched. We decided to await new developments. Covered with coats and a blanket for auntie, we slept in our chairs. The night passed.
The cold morning woke us at dawn. In the park birds were singing and in the Mokotow fields bullets were whistling. Leaving auntie with our things, Czeslaw, Marushka and I went to look for some hot food. Czeslaw, after his unsuccessful attempt to join the partisans, stayed with us. Near a dried-out pond we saw a large wooden building which was the officers' club. A few people were already around. Some were washing themselves under the hydrant. The inside of the club was packed with people and their suitcases, children were sleeping on tables, others slept on chairs and benches, leaning against walls. We met many people from our yard. In the large kitchen women were cooking for their families. Various pots and pans were standing on the hot stove. We brought our meagre supplies and Marushka started to cook. It was good to have some warm food. Looking around we saw S.S. men among the evacuees. Marushka went to ask if we could return home as our home was still standing. Maybe the order to burn had been cancelled?
"No, the order stays. It is only postponed for a short while. I don't advise you to go home,” replied the soldier.
"We would like to bring a few more things and it is so near to here. There is even some vodka left,” Marushka said, looking him straight in the eyes.
He became interested. After a short hesitation, he told us that he would escort us. We went, the soldier leading, behind him Marushka with a white handkerchief in her hand and, behind her, Czeslaw and myself. Only a few people were furtively walking about. We walked along our block where the footpath was covered with bricks and broken glass. In many places there were big holes made by artillery shells. We entered our yard where we found a few people who were unable to leave their belongings behind and had decided to stay in the block. Entering the flat I immediately got the vodka and offered it to the soldier and then we started to do some more packing. The soldier, drinking from the bottle and in a happy and friendly mood, was trying to help us. He admired Marushka's bracelet so much that she had to give it to him. When the packing was done I went out to the balcony to have a last look at our yard. How different it looked. Gone was our forum and I did not see people, only rabbits that were left behind and were now playing on the lawn. At this time of the day the yard had usually been pulsating with life but now it seemed dead, the balconies and windows empty. I looked at the flats that would shortly be consumed by flames. Glancing around, my eyes stopped at the second floor opposite us. Sitting on the windowsill was Adam. The window was open and he was looking at the window reflection of himself. His face looked distorted by an odd and tragic grimace. He was biting his lower lip and it seemed that he was speaking to his mirror image. His hair was falling over his brow and his long, thin fingers were drawing something on the window pane. When we were in the yard going back to the park I called out to him. He looked down at me, smiling sadly.
"Adam, why haven't you left? Staying here might cost you your life."
"Life is now very cheap at the stock exchange of war. There is no possibility that I will overpay." After a few seconds of silence he continued. "Then I was a kid and saw boys burning nests I thought them wicked but now when people are burning people I simply don't want to be a man. I would rather be a bird and fly to the world of winged ghosts."
Adam will stay in my memory for a long time. Were his shaking fingers crossing out his own image? Did he look for the last time at his own reflection? I don't know, but I never saw him again. I was told soon after that he committed suicide by jumping out of a window.
We returned to the park. From everywhere new refugees, thrown out of their houses, were coming. The place in front of the casino was swarming with people and hand-pushed carts. Families were camping on the lawns. I also saw a group of people who looked a lot worse than the rest. They were emaciated, their clothing dirty and torn. They were the people who, on the day of the uprising, at about 5 p.m., were passing through Niepodleglosci Avenue. When the uprising began with shooting from all directions they hid in one block that was under construction. They could neither go back nor forward. There they spent eleven long days without food and long nights in the cold. In the street I saw a group of insurgent prisoners who, under the guard of some S.S. men, were laying mines across Niepodleglosci Avenue.
When we were in the kitchen trying to prepare some warm food, we heard that houses in Rakowiecka Street were being burnt. We all rushed out to look at the street to see with our own eyes the new crime committed by our occupiers. Until the last moment we did not want to believe that the Germans would do it to a suburb which was completely under their control. We assumed that the threat to burn all the houses down was only meant as a threat which would bring all the people outside and then they would be herded together, taken prisoner or to internment and, in the meantime, the soldiers could do some looting.
Reality proved us wrong. The vandalism committed by the 'bearers of culture' was witnessed by thousands of people who were watching behind the railings of the park.
In, the middle of the street there came a group of fully armed S. S. men, their guns at the ready. Behind them came the fire lighters with their equipment - a hand-drawn cart with a barrel of petrol and bags full of flock. First, hand grenades were thrown in, damaging windows and doors, then tufts of flock soaked in petrol, lit and tossed into the houses through the openings. And so they walked along from window to window, from door to door, from house to house, covering the whole street, leaving behind burning fires and clouds of smoke. First the lighter furniture and drapes burned, then the fire licked along the wallpapered walls, pictures fell down and bookcases collapsed, giving the fires more strength. The flames became brighter and spread quickly through the houses, creeping to beds where the smoke became more acrid. Full of encouragement, the fires started licking the outside walls and flames growing bigger reached the higher floors. Nothing disturbed them as the S.S. men made sure that nobody could try to put out the fires. All this was watched by a crowd of people from the other side of the street. Although the street was very wide, the heat of the fires reached us. Some people had tears in their eyes. We were watching the destruction of our homes, our belongings and our relics so dear to our hearts. Our capital city, Warsaw, was being destroyed.
When the Germans were farther away and the flames were engulfing houses, some people couldn't stand it any longer. Breaking fences, some people ran to their homes. The crowd still waited but when the first people started to return carrying on their backs their possessions the crowd surged forward. People were throwing things out of the burning houses, others carried their belongings over the road into the park. The people were working frantically, carrying their burdens on their backs just like ants rushing to and fro around their disturbed anthill.
The German soldiers did not interfere. They only made sure that nobody put the fires out. When one elderly man grabbed the hose and directed the water towards the house, he was shot down on the spot without any warning. The water continued to flow from the hose along the street and the people fled. The body of the man who had dared to fight the fires in his own home remained in the street.
The fires were spreading higher and higher. The breaking windows were falling to the street. The heat made it impossible to go near the houses. Less and less people, at the risk of their own lives, tried to reach the flats. Some people, crying, their skin and hair badly singed, tumbled out of houses. Watching the fires, we did not notice dark thundery clouds gathering over Warsaw. Only when the first drops began fulling, a great rush started to find some shelter against the rain. The casino was overcrowded, as were all the outbuildings, including the hothouses. Completely soaked through, we found an unfinished garden shed. It had neither windows nor doors nor floors but it had a roof which was the most important thing. The room was crowded and no floor space was available but the porch was still free. I put the easy chair which I had brought over from our previous place along the wall for my aunt. Late in the evening the rain stopped. Marushka went to the kitchen to boil up some hot water while Czeslaw and I started to prepare our shelter for the night. Under the roof we found some straw mats which were used for the hothouse windows. We put some on the floor and we used one to cover the door opening.
The shed stood opposite the burning houses and not far from the street. Although the rain, had damped down the fires, they were again burning fiercely. In some houses the fires had reached the roofs. The crumbling walls and ceilings were bursting into myriads of sparks. The noise of the raging fires continued, the heat was reaching us and the smoke completely covered the sky. We did not notice when the evening became night. It was so light in the park that one could read without trouble and it was hot. Exhausted people were trying to seek rest and sleep on benches, under trees and on lawns. From the city the sound of battle continued as usual but nobody took much notice. It was like back ground music coming from our fighting Warsaw. The whole park created an impression of a huge railway station where travellers with luggage were waiting for a train - destination unknown.
After midnight the air was torn by a thunderous roar. In seconds the dozing people were up looking for shelter, not knowing what the new menace was. Hanging on to their remaining property, they tried to hide behind buildings, trees and shrubs. Frightened children screamed and mothers clutched them tightly.
Adjacent to the park was German heavy artillery, camouflaged by the shrubs. The noise of the shooting was deafening, hurting the eardrums and accompanied by a loud screeching sound and the jarring of gunshots. The onslaught was directed against the centre of the city. The park and the scared faces of the people were covered with a red glow. Thousands of sparks were flying over the park. The houses were covered by heavy smoke. It was a gloomy night. The twelfth night of the Warsaw uprising.
In the morning when the sun's rays, with great difficulty, penetrated the smoke clouds everything looked dirty and cheerless. The tired people of Warsaw were emerging from their dark and musty lairs where they had spent another sleepless night. The people were exhausted and depressed - some were apathetic.
How dreary was this September morning. The lawns were covered with ashes. The sooty, heavy leaves resembled artificial cemetery flowers, hanging deathly quiet over the trodden down earth. The twitter of the bards was missing. Even the doves, Warsaw's faithful friends, had left this town of fires and smoke. Only people remained - grey people, homeless people, herded into this park. The guns were quiet when I went outside. It was a strange sight. Everything was covered with leaflets - lawns, shrubs and even on tree branches hung leaflets. Some were still falling down slowly.
To the people of Warsaw." This heading was looking at us from everywhere. The leaflets were adorned with the German black eagle resting, on the Hakenkreuz.
To the people of Warsaw:
The German High Command wants to avoid unnecessary bloodshed which will mainly affect innocent women and children and therefore has issued the following appeal:
1. The population should leave Warsaw in a western direction, carrying white kerchiefs in their hands.
2. The German High Command guarantees that no-one who leaves Warsaw of their own free will, will come to harm.
3. All men and women who are able to work will receive work and bread.
4. People unable to work will be accommodated in the western district of Warsaw's province. Food will be supplied.
5. All who are ill as well as old people, women and children needing care, will receive accommodation and medical care.
6. The Polish people know that the German Army is fighting Bolshevism only. Anyone who continues to be used by them as a Bolshevik's tool, irrespective of which slogan he might follow, will be held responsible and prosecuted without scruples. This ultimatum is for a limited time only.
A few hours later we saw the first evacuees leaving Warsaw. They walked in groups in the middle of the street. They were just as dirty and haggard as we were. They walked with heavy, tired steps, wiping their sweating faces. They walked bent under the load of their bundles. Everyone was holding a white handkerchief. Leading the group was a woman in a grey coat with a knapsack. In her hand was a stick with a white handkerchief tied to it. Next to her was a young boy leading a goat on a string.
"Where are you going?"
"To the west, we are leaving Warsaw,” came the replies.
"Where are you from?"
"From Polawska Street, from Kazimierzowska Street, from Czerniakow suburb,” the evacuees replied.
"Were you driven out by force?"
"Yes, the ultimatum,” others answered. "What else could we do? Everything, was burnt down."
They passed us, but others followed - from Lakotow, Aleja Szuha, Polna, Pulawy, etc., etc. From behind the fence we looked on, undecided.
"They are right, what are we waiting for? Soon we will be forced to leave. Isn't it better too now?" people were asking each other, looking for advice. Some started packing their things onto handcarts whilst others, still undecided, were seeking other opinions. We decided that Marushka should go outside and try to get some information. She was gone for over an hour. She went to the military offices near our park and, from there, even to a nearby Gestapo office. The news she brought was not good. In both places she was told that the groups of people who did not willingly leave Warsaw would be forced to leave but first the men would be separated from the group. Coming back, she saw near our park a big group of people where men were being separated from their families. Under no circumstances did we want to be separated and so, taking my aunt, Czeslaw and all our things. We went into the street. We saw that our block was still standing undamaged. The brigades starting the fires had not reached our house yet. Only a few people were in the yard. Our flat was undamaged. Auntie's eldest daughter and grandson were alive and would look after her so she decided to stay in her flat. She did not want to follow us into the unknown. What would Marysia, her youngest, think when coming back from the uprising she found the flat empty? She did not realise how hopeless the situation was, or perhaps she did not want to face it? She had raised her family here and she wanted to stay here with her memories as each thing in the flat was familiar and connected with her family. The future did not interest her any more. She would sit here, near the window, in her favourite rocking chair and wait for her children to come home. They had all gone to the war but would return back home to mother. We were unable to shake her decision. In her quiet way she was quite determined. We went to advise her daughter and then we three started on our way to the west.
Marushka was leading with a stick on which was a white serviette upon which previously had stood a samovar. This white serviette was now a sign of surrender. Czeslaw came next and I followed with a suitcase and a rucksack.
We entered Mokotow fields, going towards Wola. In the bushes were hidden some tanks, their barrels showing above shrubs. The soldiers were picking apples from the nearby trees. In the city the fighting continued - here in the fields only occasional bullets whizzed past. In the nearby trenches, German soldiers were standing at their machine guns. We felt uneasy. When we passed the orchards we saw a river of people flowing towards the west. They were coming from all directions of Warsaw. Some went in a single file following some tracks, others in groups cutting through the fields. Near Okecie all the groups joined into one large river of humans. It was an odd procession, formed by the evacuees who were leaving their town to total destruction.
There were women and children, old and young men. Most were carrying or dragging their possessions but some had carts which were dragged along or pushed from behind. We saw exhausted single women who, unable to carry their things, were towing them along attached to a length of rope. We saw wounded and burnt people who carne away with only their lives. We saw a dead Woman on the road to our right, lying on the ground. A small girl and her little brother were trying to drag their mother by the hands while the crying girl kept repeating “Mum, come on .. Mum, come on" We also saw old folks who did not carry anything. They had left in the clothes in which they stood - it was burden enough to carry themselves along. They were walking slowly, stopping and breathing deeply. In front of us were three such old ones. Two thin old men were helping an old crippled woman to walk. As she was partly paralysed she walked very slowly, stepping over the uneven stones. People were passing them, just like a river current passes moss covered stones along its banks.
After one of the bends, the crowd divided. Some continued straight ahead, the others turned towards the right, following a narrow track. We stopped. Where were we going? It was time to think. To the west - the meaning was too vague. To leave the town? Yes, but by which way? Would the Germans let all go? This was the question that everyone was asking. Why were some turning to the left? Where would we end up if we continued straight ahead?
"Don't go straight ahead, the people from neighbouring houses said. "There the Germans are locking everyone up in camps. The narrow lane to the right leads to EKD (a small electric railway line). There is a chance to catch a train there but the Ukrainians are guarding it,” the locals informed. The Ukrainians were a terror to all of us - it was better to avoid them so the majority continued straight ahead. We did the same.
The locals were sitting, on benches in front of their houses, This part of the city was not included in the uprising. They looked at us with compassion. From the windows we were given apples - at the gates, tomatoes. In the streets women were distributing milk. They also had plenty of buckets of drinking water.
We all tried to avoid large, through-roads, keeping to shall side streets. Turning into one of these streets, we suddenly heard rifle shots. The procession stopped and immediately dispersed being fences and buildings. We were from Warsaw and accustomed to shooting in streets. After a few moments we saw a crowd of people running back. The first reached us.
"Run, the Ukrainians are shooting and hitting people with rifle butts, herding all to the highways,” the fleeing people yelled. We started to run - towards the highway. Behind us the shooting continued - screams and curses and yells in Ukrainian. Reaching the highway, we had to stop. We could not run any further with our luggage. Many left all their things and escaped with their lives. Those who did not run were beaten mercilessly. Bleeding people were climbing the high embankment. Many hands and faces were torn, their clothes were covered with blood. Women were not spared either. Some were lying on the embankment - they were massacred in a horrible way. These degenerate Ukrainians stopped at the highway shouting obscenities and waving their rifles. These servants of the 'master race' dressed in S.S. uniforms, these hunting dogs of Himmler were now dividing between each other the loot left behind by the fleeing evacuees which was there for the taking.
We continued on our way. Depressed and apathetic, we kept on the highway, being afraid of the side streets. At the end of the town we were stopped by a German patrol.
"Halt: It is prohibited to go further."
We were all directed into the yard of a sawmill. On the street corner stood German S.S. men, ready to shoot. There was no way out. In the large yard there was already a very big crowd. Nurses from the Red Cross were dressing the wounded. In the yard were some German officers.
Tired, we sat down on some planks awaiting our fate. We were caught - we could not even return. There were rumours that the Germans would separate the men from the rest. It seemed very likely. There was a large percentage of young, able-bodied men in the crowd. The Germans could easily assume that these men were insurgents and, in the best event, treat them as prisoners of war. After resting for a while, our energy started to return and we decided to try something and not just wait. During the five years we had been together, I could not now imagine wandering alone separated from Marushka. Holding hands, we had survived many critical moments together. We would not loosen our grip. Holding Marushka's hand tightly, I had an idea. "What about our travel order which we received in Lithuania? Couldn't we make some use of it now? The destination was stated Modlin. You could say that you were on your way to your formation through Warsaw, being the nearest route, when the uprising stopped us in Warsaw."
Marushka went to the two officers standing near a car. They talked for a few minutes. Marushka showed them our documents. After a while they waved to us to come nearer. The officer holding the documents asked "Which one is Kruszewski?" Marushka pointed to me. The officer, still holding the documents, ordered us to get into the car without giving any explanation. This took us by surprise. We were staggered. We started to explain that our relative, Czeslaw, was with us, that he too was from Lithuania and that he had to stay with us. The officer refused. We were ordered to get into the car immediately as he was in a hurry. We hesitated, trying to think of something to say. A soldier standing beside the officer took Marushka's suitcase and put it in the car, telling her to hurry. We sat down in the car, the soldier next to us, the officer at the steering wheel and next to him another soldier with a short automatic gun. There was no time even for a farewell from Czeslaw, nor time to take our remaining things from him. The car passed the gate and turned towards Wolska Street. We passed a cordon of soldiers who were guarding the evacuees. The streets were empty. In the fields were Ukrainian patrols.
We started to feel very uneasy. It was all so unexpected. Where were they taking us? And in a car guarded by two soldiers. What could be behind all this? We looked at each other, full of questions. We were afraid to speak to each other. Maybe they thought us German? After a few minutes we were in Wolska Street where the car was stopped by military police. They were standing around a truck which was blocking the road. The officer of our car got out, telling us to do the same. Taking our things from the car, we intended to thank him very nicely and to disappear. But he had other intentions. He gave our documents to some noncom and told us to jump into the truck where some soldiers were already sitting.
"You will go to Modlin,” he informed us and returned to his car. Soon our truck was also on its way. Now we were even more worried. Why were they treating us like prisoners? Why didn't they return our documents? What would happen if they started checking on us and our false statements? We didn't know anything about Modlin. We had concocted a string of lies and now we were caught in the net.
When we came to the boundary of Great Warsaw, our car was stopped at a military check point. An officer of the "Reichswehr" checked our documents very thoroughly and asked Marushka about particulars regarding the travel pass being issued for Modlin. She replied with further, very plausible lies. We passed the check successfully. The truck was on its way again. The highway was wide and on both sides large chestnut trees gave deep shade. The wind was warm - it smelled of fresh fields. Our eyes rested on ripening crops waving in the light wind. On the horizon was dark smoke from burning Warsaw.