world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944

Julian Eugeniusz Kulski. Dying, We Live. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979.

Reprinted with author's permission.

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We hear that the Home Army Command has decided that it is no longer possible to hold the Old City, owing to lack of food and ammunition, and to enormous losses. Yesterday alone, three hundred soldiers of ‘Chrobry I' Battalion died in a single sector of the Old City. So, the thin remnants of the Home Army garrison decided to escape through the sewers to the Center City. Their plan was as ambitious as it was radical.

It seems that at dawn the enemy attempted a surprise attack. This was repulsed, and some one hundred of the enemy were killed or wounded. However, at noon there came a simultaneous pincer attack – Ukrainian SS units from the Royal Castle Square and Germans from the north headed toward Krasinski Square. The famished and exhausted troops counterattacked with their last reserves of ammunition. Their devastating fire succeeded in keeping the attackers from entering Krasinski Square, where the manhole to freedom was located.

Leaving only token guards on the barricades, platoon after platoon, company after company, formed a long line. Then, with perfect discipline, the armed men descended one by one into the stinking, swift-flowing sewer.

The trip took four hours through waist-deep sludge and poisonous fumes. The human chain, each link holding tightly to the next one, snaked its way underground. Everyone had to move slowly, in total darkness and in silence. Those who slipped and fell in the deeper parts of the channels and had no strength to get up were drowned. The others could not spare precious time or reserves of energy to search for them, and without lights it was a hopeless task anyway.


As soon as the first rays of morning light fell upon the smoking ruins of the Old City, the Stukas began to dive-bomb Krasinski Square. Then, during the day, the enemy moved into the Old City, capturing some 35,000 civilians and 7,000 seriously wounded. Many of the wounded, lying in makeshift hospitals set up in the cellars below the ruins, were burned alive with flamethrowers. The old, disabled, sick, and all others unable to walk were lined up and shot, and the remainder were taken off to concentration camps.


Now that the Old City is taken, the enemy is trebling his attacks on our positions; the Germans want to finish us off, and as soon as possible.

So, in addition to employing heavy artillery, compressed air guns, missiles, and railway guns, the Germans have started mass air raids. Stukas fly low, relentlessly dropping bombs on Zoliborz.

At the same time, Praga – the Warsaw suburb on the other side of the Vistula – has been seized by the Red Army. One can see the Russian positions through field glasses.


We are now fighting in no-man's-land, the suburb of Marymont. Early this morning, a group of drunken Ukrainian SS attacked our positions at the "Oil Mill" which has provided thousands of gallons of vegetable oil for our kitchens. Before the attack, we could hear the balalaikas playing as these Ukrainians danced the kozak. They also shot tracer bullets wildly into the sky, and the news reached us that they raped those women who were unlucky enough to get in their path.

At dawn, they began to storm the hill to the "Oil Mill." Staggering and shouting obscenities, they approached our positions. When they were well within range, we aimed a murderous fire at them. They withdrew in terror, leaving more than thirty bodies on the field.

Soon afterward, the German command sent a couple of captured Polish civilians to see Major ‘Zubr,' Commander of the company whose units are defending the "Oil Mill." The Germans demanded that we allow them to collect the bodies of the fallen with the threat that, if the request were refused, they would execute ten Polish citizens for every dead Ukrainian. To prevent further mass murder of our civilians, we had no choice but to agree to their demands. We knew only too well that such threats are real.


Our detachment, together with the entire 229th Platoon, was sent today to take over and defend the Opel factory buildings. The extensive area of the plant, surrounded on all sides by a high masonry wall, borders on Slowacki Street on the east and the railroad tracks leading from the Warsaw-Gdansk Station to Palmiry on the west. To the north, the area ends along Wloscianska Street, and here the main gate to the compound, together with a small guardhouse, is located. To the south there are gardens, among the ruined fortifications of an old gunpowder factory.

I remember this place well, since during the early years of the Occupation I spent many a night there with a friend of mine exploring the underground labyrinths, searching for weapons and ammunition stored there by the Polish Army in September 1939. This was also the place which Ludwik had used for many a night meeting and for an arms cache, and it was near this factory wall that my friend and I attempted to disarm the German last year.

Adjoining the main building, which is the Assembly Hall, is a large, two-story brick extension. At the beginning of the Uprising the roof was only partly completed. It has no doors or windows, just rough openings, and I have dubbed it the "Brick-kiln." Next to it is a one-story building, and farther on is a tall structure with a wooden attic on the third floor. We have named this the High Hall, as it is the tallest building in the compound, and is located at one of the highest points in this part of Warsaw, so that from the attic we have the best possible view in all directions. Particularly strategic are the views north toward Bielany and west to Powazki, where the enemy's concentrations of artillery, armored cars, and tanks are located. From here we can also see what is happening eastward across the Vistula in Praga, where the Russian army is poised in immobilized silence.

As soon as we occupied the terrain, we began digging communication trenches at night. These trenches crisscross and connect all buildings and entrances to the compound, incorporating into our defense the makeshift bunkers which the Germans had hastily constructed before the onset of the Uprising.

It is an extremely difficult place to defend because the com-pound is situated in an open field, just about 600 meters from the enemy's guns, tanks, and infantry. In addition, the quarters of the German SS units in the Chemical Institute are less than two kilometers away, and the tanks of an SS Panzer Division are situated in the gardens.

When we seized the compound, we were taken by our commander to several key posts which we were supposed to cover particularly well because the enemy was so close to them. Cadet-Officer ‘Konar's' detachment was given the job of defending the main gate of the compound. They quickly made themselves at home in the adjoining guardhouse and, since some Germans still did not realize that the Opel factory belonged to us now, visitors knocked at the big gate to be let in. Let in they were, and properly welcomed, too!


‘Gazda,' ‘Thur,' and I have been ordered to hold the "Brick-kiln". Some of the main observation posts are situated here. There is also a small gate leading into the gardens at this point-an important position, as it is very easy for the enemy to reach this place under cover of the trees. In the event that the enemy does break through, we are to attack and to engage him until the reinforcements arrive.

The second observation post, which is situated on the mezzanine floor, is as important as it is dangerous. The task of the observer is to watch the movements of the enemy through field glasses and, if he notices anything unusual, he is to report it at once to the commander, using a field telephone mounted below the window opening.

One has to climb to this mezzanine floor by means of a Fire Brigade ladder because there are no stairs, and a careless movement of the head at this observation post can draw a burst from an enemy machine gun.

The task of the third observer is to keep an eye on the gardens from the ground. We change guards at these three points every three hours in order to keep awake, for we are on duty around the clock.


In the morning and evening, warm coffee and bread are brought to our posts by the nurses. Soup is brought in the middle of the day. We have a tough job, and the poor food and cold, sleepless nights are weakening us.


‘Korwin' sometimes leaves the warmth and comfort of the bunker in the Health Center (and the company of our attractive front-line nurses) to inspect the posts. We object strongly to having our concentration broken by someone creeping up on us from behind, as we have enough to do watching for the enemy! So this evening, when ‘Korwin' was within hearing range, the two of us on duty clicked the safety catches on our rifles before shouting at him to stop and give the password. The noise reverberated against the walls of the empty, cavernous Assembly Hall. It stopped ‘Korwin' in his tracks, and he whispered, "Don't shoot!"


The last few days have been relatively quiet for us since only the open spaces of the compound are under fire from mortars and grenade-throwers. Zoliborz is still under very heavy artillery fire, but since the strong Russian antiaircraft guns across the river could now easily bring them down, Stuka dive-bombers can no longer bomb the city.


News has reached us that Praga is still held by the Red Army, so the Germans are frantically rushing to block or destroy all bridges across the Vistula.

Our position has again attracted the enemy's attention, and today I noticed from my observation post gun muzzles pointing toward us. I had just enough time to slip down the ladder before the "Brick-kiln" was shaken by exploding shells. Even when we are under fire, we are not, of course, allowed to leave our observation posts, and so after each burst of shots I must return to my position.

At midday, they sent a Stuka to eliminate our observation post. It bore down, its machine guns firing directly at me, it seemed. It came so close that I could see the pilot's expression. The war suddenly seemed totally personal; then, with a thunderous roar the plane climbed steeply and was gone. The resulting silence shook me even more than the previous noise.


We are beginning to doubt the results of our efforts. Only the nights are free from artillery fire – except when the Germans fire at Soviet airplanes. These planes fly over our positions and drop us food and arms-but without parachutes, so that three-quarters of these supplies are smashed and useless. Still, the remainder is sufficient to keep us alive and fighting. That is good enough for Soviet purposes and for Soviet propaganda.

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