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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On the 5th of September, the Stuka dive bombers started a systematic attack on the area around the Post Office. Most of the soldiers of our company, who were in reserve or off duty, went into the air raid shelter built by the Germans. Some kind of premonition made me admonish Lili and several others close to us, including Staszek Brzosko,
"Don't go to the shelter! Please, listen to me, stay here!"

One of the bombs fell through one of the large windows of the central hall and exploded in a stairwell just a few feet from our headquarters room. – B-O-O-M – a deafening explosion. Numerous noises of falling objects. Rubble fell on us. It became completely dark, smoke and dust swirled around us. Someone cried out. Then silence.

When I picked myself off the floor my ears were ringing from the concussion. The air was so full of dust and smoke that I could not see more than a couple of feet. Except for some scratches that were bleeding, I seemed to be OK. I groped around and found Lili, I could barely recognize her. A layer of gray dust covered her completely, even her face and hair, her jacket and shirt were torn. The rest of the group were in the same shape. Only one had been hurt by the typewriter which had been hurled off the table by the force of the explosion, but, fortunately he was only cut and bleeding and had suffered no serious injury.

After the dust had settled a little, we crawled over the rubble to determine the extent of the damage. When we emerged from the wreckage of the walls surrounding our room, we were stunned to see that, although the main structure of the Post Office was standing, a portion of the south wall had collapsed. A crater in the floor under the rubble revealed that the concrete roof of the bomb shelter had collapsed from the direct hit. Not a single sign of life came from the couple of dozen of our comrades who had sought security there. Quickly, rescuers came with crow-bars and picks, but there was not enough manpower to deal with the heavy blocks of concrete. There was little hope of finding anyone alive. The only survivors were those that were with me and some others who had been in a different part of the building, farther away from the explosion. We were told to move in with the Third Company which was quartered around the corner in the Gorski High School.

Lili and I picked our way past the barricades to my father's office which was only a block away. He couldn't recognize us at first. Then he managed to find a bucket of water and a towel and some soap and helped us clean ourselves off and obtained a couple of clean shirts for us to wear. After some rest and some food we returned to our group at the Gorski school.

I obtained a group of German prisoners to dig into the rubble in the vain hope that some survivor might be found. This operation went on all night long. Truly a scene from Dante's Inferno – bearded prisoners, most stripped to the waist, the sweat on their bodies gleaming in the light of the flaming, smoky torches that provided the only illumination, worked with iron bars and pickaxes to clear away the enormous blocks of concrete, grunting and groaning from their exertion. One by one we extracted the bodies and laid them out, covering them with whatever scraps of material we could find, bits of curtains and blankets. The force of the explosion had torn their clothes off. As dawn approached, Lili found a volunteer to continue supervising the work and dragged me away to get some sleep.

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