world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944

Bill C. Biega 'Pałąk', Kilinski Battalion. Thirteen is My Lucky Number.

Reprinted with author's permission.

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WEDDING – August 13, 1944

bill biega... [Dr. Miroslaw Vitali1] ... had just been put in charge of a new, smaller field hospital that had been set up in the basement of a stationery store at Moniuszki Street 11, opposite the Adria Night Club. The next morning I and several other wounded were moved from the PKO (Postal Savings Bank) into the new location. Here we even had beds to lie on. Dr. Vitali put my hand together as best he could without the benefit of X-ray and with only primitive equipment. My arm was encased in plaster of Paris with a small window over the wrist for changing dressings. Whenever Lili had a free moment she came to visit me, at least once a day.

'Frasza' (Franciszek Szafranek), the Company Commander, had also been wounded during the fighting for the Post Office, on the afternoon of the second day. My friend Staszek Brzosko was now the acting Company Commander. 'Frasza' lay in the next bed and we wiled away the time discussing all the events of the previous days. We, and all the other wounded, were apprehensive about the future.

kilinskiThe failure of the Soviets to maintain their offensive and come to our assistance was ominous. Even Soviet planes had vanished from the air space over the city. True, none of us considered the Bolsheviks (as we continued to call them) to be our friends. But they were allies of our Allies, and common sense seemed to indicate that political differences should not prevent them from taking advantage of the bridgehead we had created on the west bank of the Vistula. We still felt sure that any day their offensive would resume, but nagging doubts disturbed us.

Several days later we were both making good progress. I had even been able to walk with Lili's assistance to the PKO for my arm to be X-rayed. When I returned, and Lili had gone back to the Post Office, 'Frasza' asked me, "I've watched you two for some time. You're both obviously very much in love, why don't you get married?"
"Yes, I love Lili and she loves me," I answered. "We talked about getting married many times during the last weeks, but it just wasn't a very practical thing to do in these difficult times. We plan to as soon as this is all over - if we both survive."
He asked, "Why don't you do it now?"
"How could it be done?" I responded.
"I will ask the Battalion Adjutant."

He proceeded to write a note which he sent with one of the couriers. Early the following afternoon a messenger brought him a note. He read it, smiled and said, "The arrangements have been made, your wedding will be tomorrow morning in the paper shop upstairs. I have sent a messenger to Lili to tell her!"

Rysia Vitali, the doctor's wife and constant assistant, made arrangements to get me a suitable uniform for the ceremony. Lili was in a stage of shock when she received the totally unexpected message, but her friends rallied to help her, gave her a clean blouse and skirt. My father came by visit me (his office in the Government Secretariat was only a few blocks away on Mazowiecka Street). When I told him the news he was vehemently opposed.

He said, "This a ridiculous thing to do, you have no home, no job, no way of supporting a family ..." and more in the same vein. All the usual parental objections.

Patiently, I explained, "Dad, you know that we've been in love for years. Tomorrow we might all be dead, so all the old rules don't mean anything. At least we'll be together as long as we can. Perhaps we'll survive somehow, let's hope and pray we do. Then we'll figure things out together."

He went away quite angry, but after reflection he realized that I was right. In the morning, he came to the ceremony and gave us his blessing.

Thirteen was still lucky for me. That was the date of our wedding day – August 13. A field altar was set up on bales of paper in the store upstairs. The borrowed uniform was pushed and pulled onto me over the plaster dressing of my left arm. Finally, I was ready just as Lili arrived with an honor guard composed of six of her girls, holding a bouquet of rather wilted gladiolus in her hand. An attack on our positions had occurred that morning so none of my colleagues, not even the best man, Stas Nestrypke, could come to the ceremony. However, the Propaganda Section, which was quartered in the night club Adria, just across the street, sent over a film unit. The entire ceremony was filmed, to the annoyance of the Battalion Chaplain, who disliked the bright lights and noise. Lili saw the whole film, two days after the ceremony, in the Cinema Palladium, which at that time was still operating. [...]

[...] We exchanged wedding rings, not gold but brass curtain rings. After the brief ceremony the Chaplain wrote up the marriage certificate using our assumed names of 'Pałąk' and 'Jarmuz'. My father had the presence of mind to say that the time of secrecy had passed, the document must be in our real names, otherwise later on we would have serious problems proving we were legally married. A new document was typed up and signed by Chaplain 'Corda'2. Then, all the participants and the other patients enjoyed a wedding breakfast composed of French sardines and paté on biscuits captured from the stores of the German garrison in the Post Office. The obligatory toasts were made in vodka.

The attack had been beaten back. Lili and I ducked behind the barricades, which were under constant sniper fire, to the Company command post, where another party had been prepared in the luxurious suite of the (pre-war) chief postmaster. More toasts were drunk, then we ducked back past the barricades to the hospital.

My bed was already in use! "Biega, if you are well enough to get married, we don't have room for you! We need your bed for the more seriously wounded."

Once more we returned past the barricades, with our heads low to avoid sniper fire, to the Post Office. We spent our wedding night on the floor of the ante-chamber to the office of the chief postmaster. Our nuptial bed was a mattress on the floor. We did not have much privacy; all night long, messengers tiptoed past our bed into the suite which was the company command post, but this did not bother us. I was in pain so I did not feel very amorous and we contented ourselves by cuddling together, shortly we fell into an exhausted sleep.

* * *

1 Dr. Vitali later became a famous orthopedic surgeon in England and received many awards, including Order of the British Empire, for his work rehabilitating crippled war veterans.

2 Chaplain 'Corda' (Wiktor Potrzebski) was killed several days later by an enemy bomb.

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