world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944

Tadeusz Janowski 'Sereda'. From Mokotow to City Center. In: Andrzej M. Kobos, Kanaly w

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

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Translated by Magdalena Rosak.

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During the last days of battle in Czerniakow, we crossed through the sewers from Okrag No. 2 to Solec. The Germans squeezed us so hard by the Vistula River that at Solec 39, we were in trenches a mere stone's throw from the Germans; they were in trenches, and so were we. There were also some Poles, the Berlingers1, who crossed the Vistula with incredible sacrifice and enthusiasm. All they wanted to do was fight, but did not know how. They were poorly trained. Possibly they were good in open field battles. As soon as one of them caught sight of a German, he would stick his head out. They simply did not know hot to use cover; they were being killed like flies. They did not even have anti-tank ammunition for the weapons they brought.

We entered the sewers on Zagorna Street. The crossing from Czerniakow to Mokotow went pretty well, even though for about eight hours we had to walk extremely slowly to keep the water still and not make any noise. The crossing from Mokotow to City Center however, was horrendous. On September 26, I entered the sewer with one of the last groups. We had one last guide. We were entering on all fours into an egg-shaped canal, 80 cm [2.6 ft.] high and then walking on bent legs in the water drain, not higher then 160 cm [5.25 ft.].

Near the entrance to the sewer, the Germans raised the water level higher. They dropped the cement bags, stacked them up high, and crowned them with barbed wire. One of the Germans must have been down there not long before we arrived. To top it off, the beasts hung up grenades. To get through, we had to squeeze sideway, falling into the sewer water.

Panic soon erupted. After our guide's death, we lost our way. There were around twenty of us, including a few women; we did not know how to get to City Center. We were moving forward, only it turned out, we were going back to Czerniakow. At some point, the Germans threw carbide into the water. It [the sewer] became awfully stuffy and smelly from the carbide emitted gas. The sewer water was so filthy that I was urinating into my handkerchief and tried to breathe through it to somehow survive. There was awful coughing and frightful panic around. The people were shouting: "Does anyone have any explosives? Let's throw some and break through this and get outside and not suffocate!". I know that there were some people who came out of the sewers in the German-controlled districts and were shot on the spot2.

It was then that I thought of my family. I was imagining that at some point I would be pulled out of this shift with my wife and baby witnessing it. I thought of my daughter – "I have to survive!". I started backing up in the direction of Mokotow. I was walking very slowly, I could feel the dead bodies and the weapons under my feet. My friend came up to me and said: "Tadeusz, Tadeusz, I'll just have some tea and go to bed." People were shooting each other, taking their own lives in this madness. I could tell by the shots that five or six people committed suicide. They simply could not bear it any longer, despite the fact that they had already endured so much during the Uprising. There was no sense of survival. It was a frightful moment, a psychosis, a nightmare. I somehow managed to back up about 300-400 meters [320-440 yards]. I really do not know exactly how many. I dosed off half standing and leaning against the sewer wall. I do not know how long I lay like that. I lost sense of time. I found two sugar cubes in the pocket of my camouflage jacket. I slowly started sucking on them and fell asleep again. I had no idea how long I slept.

At some point, I heard the sound of water coming from Mokotow. I grabbed my pistol. "Who's there?" – "It's me, from Mokotow" At the last moment they jumped into a sewer. "Do you know the way?" – "Yes". They were right; about 100 meters further on, there was another sewer route which you had to jump into. We took this route. It was extremely hard for me to walk; I was wounded in my leg.

Under Zbawiciel Square, which was in German hands, there was a crossing of many sewers. We got there, and in the darkness, I could feel that there was already a group of people there – civilians. There were all praying. You could hear the Litany: "Mother of God, pray for us, St. Mary, Mother of God..." in this filth of sewage.

I remember, there were some civilians entering the sewers in Mokotow, some of whom had passed. There was, for example, this lady in a fur coat getting into the sewers; a hundred meters farther, the discarded fur coat raised the water level; or, there was a suitcase, or a backpack blocking the passage. The people we came across must have been taken with insurgents from Mokotow, and they remained in the sewage; probably too afraid to go on. What to do with them? We went farther. Later on, two of the men who were walking with me and were not wounded went back with the rescue group to bring these frightened people out from the sewers.

There was one more difficult moment. At one point, the sewer was cut open by an air bomb. You had to jump over that opening. The water level there was very high, but there was a little ladder attached and you could catch it during the jump and climb up it. The first one of us jumped, then the second one, and I was third. At last we came out in Ujazdowskie Alley, across from Wilcza Street. Everybody was coming out through this manhole, which today [1989] is asphalted. Nearby, at No. 24 there was first aid.

It turned out, I had walked in the sewers for 2.5 days. I would never wish to live through this again.

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1 Soldiers of General Zygmunt Berling Polish Army. This army, under the Soviet command, was formed from Poles deported to gulags in 1939-1941 as well as the conscripts.

2 At the Dworkowa Street manhole, the Germans executed over 300 soldiers and civilians who came out of the sewers.

3 In 1946, from the portion of sewers under Agrykola Street, 36 bodies were recovered.
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