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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The Germans are now advancing at a terrific speed. This evening they took over Saint Stanislaw Kostka Church and gained ground along one side of Krasinski Street. From a window in our cellar, we could easily see the tanks rolling along the boulevard. Then, after taking positions in front of the apartment house we were holding, they began to destroy it methodically.

Because the enemy was so very near, we decided it would be better to rejoin our company, so we left the cellar under cover of darkness, crawling away over the sharp rubble on hands and knees.

I noticed that I was not cold anymore. The whole of Zoliborz was on fire, and the flames illuminated the streets, warming the air around us.

All this time, the Red Army waited in silence in Praga, on the opposite side of the Vistula River, promising every day to send help and telling us to keep on fighting. Not a single company crossed the river.

Then the Germans attacked with full-sized tanks as well as Goliats. All communication between our units broke down, and each detachment was now completely on its own. By late afternoon, the Germans had driven deeply into the southern section of Zoliborz, toward Wilson Square and Krasinski Street. The artillery fire ceased only when night fell.

This evening we heard that General Bor-Komorowski had notified London that our situation is desperate, and that capitulation is inevitable unless large quantities of arms are received at once.

At the same time, he sent a message to Colonel ‘Zywiciel' to keep on fighting, if only for one more day.

During the night I joined my friends, and helped them to defend our building against strong attacks by the enemy. I stood behind the window in the cellar bunker, so weak that I was hardly able to stay on my feet-let alone to continue firing-but now and then I would climb the ruins of the staircase and throw grenades upon the attacking Germans.


It is now Saturday. At nine o'clock this morning the enemy managed to set the second and third floors of our building on fire. We had to stand at our posts, deafened by exploding shells, our eyes smarting from the smoke.

It was so dark that none of us knew what was happening, and the groans of the wounded were making us more and more despondent. It was now clearly impossible to hold Zoliborz any longer, and shortly after ten o'clock Colonel ‘Zywiciel' ordered the companies to withdraw in the direction of the Vistula. We were to cross the river at night and join the Russians.

Our company, which by that time was reduced to less than half its full strength, was again to be the last one to leave its position. The Commandos were always first to attack and last to leave. That was our job. However, at noon the order came from Lieutenant ‘Szeliga,' and under cover of smoke we started to withdraw. Creeping through ruined houses, we reached a building on Mickiewicz Street. The remnants of our division gathered here while the Germans found themselves at last in possession of almost the whole of Zoliborz.
The rows of tanks standing on Wilson Square and lining Slowacki Street fired a stream of shells at us. The Germans had thrown an entire armored division into an area the size of a postage stamp. The Fire Brigade Building was blown to smithereens by an attack from Goliath robot tanks.


We had hoped to remain here until nightfall and then, after breaking through the German positions by the river, to reach the Russian boats that were supposed to be waiting for us.

The tanks were causing heavy damage, and I received an order to fire at them from my PIAT antitank missile thrower. It was now almost beyond my strength even to lift it; the fever had made me so weak that I was falling down every few meters. In order to ready the PIAT for action, I had to lie on my back to pull its spring.

I took a position in the ruins opposite a large Tiger tank, and my first missile hit the right tread of the tank, immobilizing it. I saw the huge gun slowly turning, finally pointing straight at me. I knew I had to get him this time. The second shell blew a large hole in the center, and flames shot from the tank. The hatch opened, and a black-uniformed crew started to jump out. The first man was cut down by our machine-gun fire. The second was killed as he was at-tempting to leave through the hatch. As he fell back, he grabbed the open hatch door, closing it. Nobody else left the steel trap.

My PIAT hit several tanks as we moved among the ruins. For once, there was an ample supply of missiles, and they were being handed to me one by one. Finally, I could no longer pull the spring and collapsed, utterly exhausted.

The holes in the walls and roof made an awful impression on me and the thought nagged at my mind, Where is Marysia now? Is she still alive?

I lurched back down the stairs like a lunatic and met my startled companions. One of them shouted, "What the hell are you doing wandering around these ruins? Are you mad?"

I sank down on the steps near my fellow soldiers. The whole situation looked quite hopeless. We had to face a fact we had always known – had always known, even if not admitting it – that at some time we would have to be prepared for capture or death.


The news came through, striking like lightning. The message was starkly brief. Surrender! The word itself brought forth a furious barrage of oaths from all sides: "Lies!" "Impossible!" Still, all the companies were ordered to line up. We did so, not yet able to believe what was happening.

Lieutenant ‘Szeliga' stood before our company. I had to struggle to stand to attention and to concentrate as he took a paper from his breast pocket and began to read aloud the order from Colonel ‘Zywiciel':

I thank you, my dear comrades, for everything you have accomplished during these two months of fighting with the enemy, for your efforts, pain, and courage.

I am proud that I had the honor to command such soldiers as you. Remain such in the future and show the world what a Polish soldier is, he who will sacrifice every-thing for his country.

An hour ago, as ordered by the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, General Bor-Komorowski, I signed the surrender document of our group. . . . We are surrendering to the Wehrmacht as a regular army, and we will be treated according to the Geneva Convention.

I thank you once more for everything. God be with you!


After that, everything went like a nightmarish dream. Hardly realizing it, we began to fall into military formation. It was nearly midnight as we started our slow march uphill from the Glass House along Mickiewicz Street toward Wilson Square.

We all made one last effort and marched in an even, measured step, as on parade, our rifles on our shoulders. We had to remind the Germans what kind of soldiers they had been fighting during the last two months.

With officers at our flanks, we advanced toward Wilson Square, solidly lined with tanks, where the Germans were waiting for us. When we were about ten meters from a gate leading into the courtyard of a large building, the command came: "Kompania Stoj!" (Company Halt!). Our commander exchanged words in German with the officer-in-charge. Then we entered the courtyard.

A thrill of terror shook me as I saw the faces and uniforms of the hated enemy at such close range. The Germans at once surrounded us and confiscated our short arms, field glasses, and so on. Then we marched in company formation through the courtyard; passing the tanks standing at the entrance to Slowacki Street, we found ourselves in the middle of Wilson Square, illuminated by the flames of burning Zoliborz. Here, we had to lay down the rest of our weapons.

I had nothing left to give up.


The Germans separated us into two parties – one consisting of Officers and Cadet-Officers, and the other of noncommissioned officers and the ranks. They then took us through the ruins and ashes of once-beautiful Zoliborz in the direction of Powazki Cemetery. At Powazki, the Germans put us in some military stables and shut us up for the night.


At ten o'clock in the morning, a carload of leather-coated Gestapo men arrived. Unable to touch us since we were under the "guardianship" of the SS Lower Saxony Panzer Division, they had to be satisfied with the mere sight of us. We looked at each other like savage animals. As it turned out, this was my last sight of the Gestapo. Fever tremors shook my body, and before my mind's eye passed Czarniecki Street; Pawiak; Szucha Avenue; Krasinski, Slowacki, Zeromski, Suzina, and a kaleidoscope of other familiar places that had become the battle stations and boulevards of war.

At noon, trucks took us to a camp in Pruszkow, near Warsaw. On the way we passed the Jewish Cemetery bordering the burned-out remains of the Ghetto.

My fever was rapidly worsening, and I now had a racking cough. Hardly able to move, I shamelessly prayed for a quick end; but it was not to be – this was only another beginning.

At Pruszkow we were put into a cold dank hall, but because I was so ill I was moved into a smaller room, where the officers looked after me. I was hardly aware of what was happening.


Some of our troops from the Center City were brought to Pruszkow this morning, and it seems that our capitulation is now complete. They had brought with them a few copies of the last Home Army Information Bulletin, and one of our officers came to wake me up so that he could read it to me:

Home Army Information Bulletin October 4, 1944
Last Number (102/310)

The battle is over ... but the defeat is the defeat of one city, of one stage in our fight for freedom. It is not the defeat of our Nation, of our plans and historical ideals. From the spilled blood, the common hardship and difficulties, from the suffering of bodies and of souls, there will rise a new Poland – free, strong, and great.

With this faith we will live in forced, homeless wanderings or in prison camps, just as we live with it in our work and battles. This faith is the most real, the highest testament written with the blood of the many thousands of victims and heroes of the Uprising.

Good, to forgive;
Best, to forget!
Living, we fret!
Dying, we live.
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