world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944

 

 

Sylwester Braun 'Kris'. Stories Behind the Photographs. In: Reportaże z Powstania

Warszawskiego (Warsaw Uprising Reportages), KAW, Warsaw, 1983.

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Attack on the Police HQ

Sometime before August 20, I moved from the children’s hospital on Kopernika Street to Staszic Palace, which was still partially in German hands. Secured by the boys from the Home Army, who were on duty in this section, with only a camera in my hand I was running down a corridor and stopped in a room where the still warm blankets indicated that the Germans must have just abandoned the post.

From the window there was a view of the entire foreground under enemy control—the police headquarters, St. Cross Church, and Warsaw University. In front of the headquarters’ gate I saw a German post of machine guns firing at Nowy Swiat Street. The crew was visible from above and was less than 80 meters [87.5 yd] from me. I shot a series of photos, which appear to reflect my “nervousness.”

A few days later, on the night of August 22, fearing a surprise attack, the Germans set the buildings opposite St. Cross Church on fire down to Obozna Street. This caused the entire foreground to be quite visible. Illuminated by fire, the church looked dramatic. Its steeples were sharply visible in the red glow against the dark night. On August 23, a fight broke out at dawn. I took a series of pictures of the foreground from the windows of the Staszic Palace. The church’s steeples were already lying in the street, still burning. A fight was going on in the temple.

I got to the church through a breach in the wall from Swietokrzyska Street. Through that same breach the 'Harnas' group accomplished a successful attack and partially seized the building of the police headquarters. The first boys from the Home Army reached the main entrance to the temple. In the entrance’s frame, Christ’s statue was sharply outlined against the backdrop of the smoldering ruins. The fight continued. I got to the funeral chapel in the church’s basement, where a casket was standing on a platform. I opened the door leading to Krakowskie Przedmiescie and, from street level, behind a curtain of fire and smoke, I saw a tank and the burning church steeples. The buildings on the other side of the street were also burning. I took pictures and returned upstairs. In the right hand section of the church, a cracked plate was lying with the inscription Your home is where your heart is. A plate commemorating Chopin.

The aisle was burning. Some soldiers were trying to put out the flames, others were praying. The girls were cooking soup for the fighters. Colleagues from the film company were shooting pictures.

I went to the presbytery. The fight was over. German captives and police forces were escorted from the building. They had to hold up their pants as their belts had been taken away. A tall, slim Home Army lieutenant carried a flag with a swastika that had been ripped off the police headquarters.

The smoke slowly subsided.

Translated by Elizabeth Kanski

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The Old Town

We knew about the fierce fights in the Old Town. To document the heroism of the insurgents, a project to send a group of Field Film Service through the canals to the Old Town was brought up. However, the decision was called off as the refugees who were facing extermination flew in great numbers to City Centre, making it possible to move through the canals in only one direction. To observe the battle, at least from a distance, I went to the roof of a high building on Kredytowa Street, from where I had a sweeping view. It was probably the best place to view the Old Town. I took many photos of bombing and fires, observing from this height the advancing destruction. The last photos of the series present only bare ruins—the remnants of cemetery monuments.

Soldiers of the Old Town—the bravest groups of insurgents—together with groups of civilian citizens got through the sewers to City Centre. The manhole to the underground labyrinth was on Dluga Street in Krasinskich square. They were relieved to find the exit at the junction of Nowy Swiat and Warecka Streets. The distance was about 2 kilometers [1.24 mi]. The people seemed to walk for an eternity. The fate of those who were cut off from the exit was tragic. Only a small group of the insurgents from the ‘Zoska’ battalion succeeded in getting through the enemy lines. Pretending to be German troops, they went through Saxon Garden and, after running across Krolewska Street, they were with theirs. I was on Warecka Street and took pictures of the Old Town defenders getting out of the sewers.

These shocking pictures remained in my memory for a long time

Translated by Kamila Pajer

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Passage through Aleje

[Middle photo: wreckage of the German tank near Aleje passage]

During the first days of the Uprising, a strong concentration of SS and Wehrmacht forces positioned themselves in the BGK building, the Polonia hotel, and the central railway station. From there they were hit with unceasing machine gun fire as people tried to cross Aleje Jerozolimskie—known as Aleja Sikorskiego at that time—on foot.

Capturing and guarding this artery was particularly important for both sides. For the insurgents the connection of two parts of the city was outright decisive for the Uprising’s fate. For the Germans, Aleje Jerozolimskie was the shortest transportation route to the [Eastern] front over the Poniatowski bridge. At all costs they were trying to oust the Poles from particular buildings, squeeze into insurgent posts, and expand the German domination. They were attacking with tanks as well as shelling and bombing Polish positions.

In the initial phase of combat guarding both sides of Aleje, the number of fallen and injured was enormous on the Polish side. In this dramatic situation, the detachments of the 'Belt' group—later renamed the 3rd battalion of the 21st pp Dzieci Warszawy (Children of Warsaw)—received the order from the Uprising’s command to block Aleje Jerozolimskie with a double barricade and build potentially safe passage between the northern and southern parts of the city. A platoon of sappers was assigned for this task, with a covering company serving under Lieutenant 'Budzisz.'

The erection of the barricade started at night from both ends of Aleje. First, with the assistance of civilians, hundreds of sand bags were gathered and then placed crosswise in the street. But during the day, German tanks destroyed what we had done at night and the work had to start anew. Sand bags were, of course, a temporary fortification. Thus, it was decided to dig a 1.5-meter [4.9 ft] excavation through an opening in a cellar. Then the passage would be significantly safer.

That work required the assistance of specialists. Immediately young and old reported from the neighboring houses. The work proceeded quickly. Soon machine gun fire was no longer dangerous. The howitzers were causing the devastation.

A railway tunnel passing under Aleje in the middle of the street allowed for only an 80-centimeter [2.6 ft] excavation. Tram rails were blown up by the sappers using TNT. The relatively shallow excavation was secured using high piles of sand bags. A barricade was erected through which passed a stream of civilians—liaisons were running, injured were transported, and the postal service was circulating.

There were constant battles for this barricade. Fortified and repaired, it survived until the last days of the Uprising.

In the second half of September, parallel to it, an entirely underground corridor was excavated under Aleje Jerozolimskie, guarding even against howitzers.

The preservation of the barricade in Aleje was of enormous military significance. Thanks to it, the shortest route through Poniatowski bridge was closed to German frontline transports during the Soviet offensive in September 1944.

The battle for Aleje was won by the insurgents.

Translated by Elizabeth Kanski
Image of the Aleje crossing permit from the Krzysztof Głuchowski 'Juraś' collection

See also [Jerusalem Avenue Crossing ]

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