world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944

Witold Bartnicki. From Old Town to Zoliborz. In: Andrzej M. Kobos, Kanaly w Powstaniu

Warszawskim. Zeszyty Historyczne, No. 109, Instytut Literacki, Paris, 1994.

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  zoskaOfficer cadet Witold Bartnicki 'Kadlubek', decorated with Cross of Valour [ medals ], was a member of 'Zoska' battalion fighting in Wola, Old Town, and Cherniakow districts.

Translated by Marcin Markowski.

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[...] As an armored platoon we were quartered on the first floor of 12 Franciszkańska Street1. The entrance was from the left of the stair case above the gun-smithy. One time after coming back from a patrol I noticed a map of sewers spread upon a table and a couple chairs. A few people were sitting at the map I don’t quite remember who it was. It was surely you 'Wacek' [ micuta ], there were also our Jewish friends there along with a person from the municipal sewer service, we were lucky to have him join us. The man from the sewer service was cross-referencing passages known to him to those that were recalled by the Jews. That’s when a decision was made to forge these routes to determine the best way they could be used. That’s probably how the entire idea of moving through sewers to reach Żolibórz was started.

The second thing which I’d like to bring up and at the same time ask if any of you retained a narrow piece of paper issued by the Headquarters of the Group North ‘Wachnowski’2 with his signature? It stated that in my case officer cadet ‘Wiktor’ has the right off movement through the sewers on the territory of the city of Warsaw.

In the basement of the building at the Franciszkańska Street there was a tunnel leading into the sewers. It was built using an old mining method with wooden beams holding up the ceiling. Someone had to professionally design the tunnel as it traveled down diagonally and ended directly on the side-wall of the tributary sewage canal. There was a sizable entrance battered into its wall. At first there was a barrier built by the Germans during the liquidation of the ghetto, and which we destroyed. To the right of this sewer there was a sort of a platform and a path to the storm overflow channel.

Therefore we didn’t need to use the manholes to enter the sewers. The entrance to the sewer was also guarded by us at all times. Since I was wounded I couldn’t freely use the sewers hence I often stood on guard duty by the entry way. Even our Gendarmerie wasn’t aware of this entrance, besides nobody ever used it but us. This entry was truly covert as it remained undetected until the very end of the uprising. Even during the evacuation of the Old Town using the sewers, the manhole at the Krasinski Square was used as entry regardless of the German shelling and bombardment as opposed to our secret entrance.

The storm tributary was built in such a fashion that it had a narrow trough running through the middle with two small shelves on the sides and the ceiling up above, altogether a pretty big cross-section. It was pretty high about 150-160 cm, walking was uncomfortable through the center trough. I remember that even though I wasn’t tall I still had to stoop and after passing through, my army jacket had holes on the sides from the constant rubbing on the walls. In the side channels which had an oval cross-section and which were filled with sewage and dirty water the only way to travel was on all fours. We used these passages to travel to the last quarters of the ‘Zośka’ battalion in the Old Town at the Koźla Street3.

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1 This house and neighboring houses at Mławska Street were destroyed by stuka dive bombers on August 28. Under the ruble were buried dozens of soldiers from the ‘Czata-49’ and ‘Sad’ battalions, and nearly the entire ‘Sad’ platoon from the ‘Zośka’ battalion. One of the buried was photographer of the ‘Radosław’ corps. His camera was excavated in 1945 during the exhumation. From the film a few pictures were rescued. Among them there are two famous pictures from the generals’ ‘Bor’ August inspection of the ‘Radosław’ corps quarters at the Okopowa Street in the Wola district. Those are the only pictures of the general ‘Bor’ before the capitulation.

2 Group formed on August 5 from the units of the Home Army still fighting in Wola, Old Town, Żoliborz and in the Kampinos forest. Group ‘North’ was commanded by colonel Karol Ziemski ‘Wachnowski’ who later became a General. Part of this group was the ‘Radosław’ corps.

3 On the evening of August 28th after the bombing of the quarters at the 12 Franciszkańska Street., the quarters of the ‘Zośka’ battalion were moved to the Koźla Street besides Sapieżyńska street.

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