| Wojciech Rostafinski, as a participant in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising witnessed the events described in the article. For his bravery during the Uprising, Mr. Rostafinski was awarded the order of Virtuti Militari [ medals ].
In April and May of 1943, Germans were proceeding with a complete annihilation of the Warsaw Ghetto that they created in 1941. During the preceding months they deported hundreds of thousands of hapless Ghetto inhabitants to the Treblinka death camp and killed them there. And, in April of 1943, after some fierce fighting a few determined and brave Jewish fighters were finally overwhelmed by the armed to the teeth SS units. Subsequently the Ghetto was totally destroyed – all of some forty-city blocks.
One year and three months later, on August 1, 1944, the Polish Home Army, in what is today called the Warsaw Uprising, openly took arms against the Germans. It seemed that the time for action was ripe: the Germans were not only losing on the eastern front but also, in the last two weeks of July, their endless evacuation columns were crossing West through Warsaw. In those last days of July everybody in town, myself included, could hear the thunder of guns in the East, the front line being a mere 20 miles away. What happened next is well documented in history books. Once the soldiers of the Warsaw Uprising conquered a good part of Warsaw, barricades were erected, and German traffic to the front line was halted, the Soviets stopped their offensive and waited, until 63 days later the Polish Home Army was obliged to capitulate. There was no choice, the city desperately needed water and food for the civilian population (about a half million people) and no ammunition was left for the fighting men and wo man. Some fifty percent of Warsaw's buildings lay in ruins, bombed or burned. All together during the tragic days of the Warsaw Uprising, over 250 thousand Poles were murdered not only by the Germans, but also by Ukrainians and members of the Gen. Vlasov army [...]. [ RONA ]
The Warsaw Uprising took place simultaneously in the center of Warsaw and in near and distant suburbs. In several areas it was a very uneven match because the well-armed Germans stayed hidden in their buildings (barracks) and poorly armed Home Army units could not even approach their targets. But not all insurgent units were so poorly armed. The first day some did manage to capture respectable amounts of armaments and stores of munitions, but this was a rather exception. Of course each company had a machine gun and perhaps a flamethrower. But on the average a group of some twenty soldiers might have only a couple of submachine guns, several rifles, some handguns, some homemade grenades (two or three small, secret shops were producing them) and very effective gasoline filled, self-igniting bottles.
The following true story is told as it was written in several accounts of those who participated in it. The heroes belonged to the 3rd Company of the Battalion 'Zoska', a unit of freedom fighters during the German occupation. The words 'company' and 'battalion' are quite misleading here. The strength of those units was somewhat less than half of the same unit in a regular army and their equipment about a tenth. It should be mentioned that most of their officer corps and a good number of soldiers stemmed from prewar Polish Scouts, a highly idealistic and disciplined movement. Except for a few, most of the soldiers were high school students and working youths from factories, and the officers were generally drawn from university students. A last remark: all names given in the text are surnames used during underground activity. In those days no one knew the identity of any other because in case of an arrest, even when torture was used (a common method), the Germans could not force anyone to reveal
the underground network. Today, in historical literature, the identities and true names of those heroes are known.
On the fifth day of the Uprising, captain Jan announced a new objective for the company: to take the concentration camp Gesiówka, erected by the Germans in the vast, empty and wide open space of the burned out Warsaw Ghetto. The name of this labor and annihilation camp stems from the same of the Gesia street, which was parallel to a nearby street, Pawia, on which stood the infamous prison Pawiak, in which the Germans incarcerated Poles for their patriotic stand. My parents and my sister spent over a year there before deportation to concentration camps in May 1944. Because of an approaching front the Germans decided to get rid of most of the prisoners from Pawiak. Several hundred were executed in the nearby ruins and two thousand were sent to Buchenwald and Stutthoff concentration camps. The small Gesiówka camp was kept open, however, with a plan to execute the prisoners before the
Germans' flight to Germany. Taking Gesiówka would allow the liberation of its 400 prisoners, the obtaining of arms and the elimination of the German fire from the guard towers overlooking the streets and buildings on the fringes of the ruined ghetto. Two events made this endeavor mandatory and possible. First was a chance arrest, on the first day of fighting, of a Gestapo officer from the Gesiówka Concentration Camp who revealed that all of the prisoners were Jews, the last Jews remaining in Warsaw. The second, was the capture of two German tanks on the third day of the Uprising. Unbelievable as it might seem, two of the most modern and dangerous German Panther tanks wandered beyond German lines and the confused crew surrendered after a rather mild grenade attack against them. Now, the story of how the attack on Gesiówka went.
At 10:30 A.M. on August 5, 1944 the now Polish Panther moved into action. A distance of some 300 meters separated it from the main heavy iron gate of the compound. At first Germans held their fire thinking that it was one of the armors of their relief force. However, when the Panther easily forced open two sizeable barricades erected before the entrance, all hell broke loose from the guard towers. The unruffled Panther approached the large gate and crushed it to the ground. At the same time, two of the tank's shells hit one of the guard towers, then another, and eventually all eight towers were silenced. It should be mentioned that the camp consisted of brick towers connected by a five-meter high brick wall – it was a veritable fortress of rectangular layout. Inside the Germans build various shop buildings, quarters for the inmates and for themselves, including a spacious two-story administration building.
After the first shots demolished the towers near the main entrance, foot soldiers entered into action. Within minutes small groups of Germans started to escape from the towers and to retreat to the administration building and further out beyond the wall of the compound in the direction of Pawiak. Platoon 'Felek' quickly flushed the remaining Germans out of the various areas of the camp. In the administration building they saw a most unusual scene. In the main hall there was a long table covered with a white tablecloth, a tureen filled with still warm soup, bottles of liquor and untouched plates. Only the turned over chairs testified to the hasty retreat of the Germans as an antique grandfather clock in the corner chimed eleven o'clock. The whole action took just 30 minutes of intense fighting. The fleeing black clad SS men were under Polish fire still some distance from the compound.
Before the 1st shots echoed a most moving scene occurred. Gradually, at first hesitant, then jubilant figures emerged from various buildings. All were Jewish slave laborers, 324 men and 24 women, of whom just 89 were of Polish citizenship. The others were of Greek, Romanian, Dutch and Hungarian nationalities. Most of them joined the ranks of the fighting Polish units. Along with their liberators several fell in the nearly two month long struggle that followed. In the surprise attack on the Gesiówka compound, a number of SS men were killed. On the Polish side, one soldier was wounded and one young man and one woman gave their lives.
A few days later, following several successful actions, the tank was abandoned; there was no way to recharge its batteries necessary to power the starter, rotate the turret and activated the internal gear yet, it served so well. The last Jews in Warsaw were saved.