world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944

Jadwiga Nowak 'Greta'. August 1, 1944 – 'W-hour'.

Translated by Jarek Gajewski.

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It is 9 a.m. on August 1st, 1944. I report to the apartment at Niepodleglosci Avenue, where the 'central post office' of our organization is located. There, I pick up the sealed envelope addressed to my chief 1. The envelope has the label "Urgent and is to be delivered to addressee personally." It is not hard for anyone to figure out that the envelope hides the message about 'it', which, we have been anticipating for two long weeks. I am supposed to waste no time and deliver the letter the quickest way possible. As if out of spite, there are no rickshas, no horse-drawn carriages at hand, and I know waiting for a street car is a waste of time. I run down the streets pushing people aside. Then, bursting into my chief's office and barely in the door, I shout, "Today!"

The chief looks at me. He knows, then he opens the envelope, reads, and in his calm, energetic voice, he issues the orders for the afternoon.

The Last Moments
I have dozens of orders, news, and instructions to be delivered all over the city in little time. A dozen German tanks approach the city on Grojecka Street. I walk several steps in the direction of Narutowicz Square. On a corner someone warns me: "Do not go over there! There is a 'round up' on Narutowicz Square. The Germans are taking young people to dig ditches for their machine gun positions and bunkers near the police barracks."

One has to be careful in these last hours. It would be a stroke of bad luck to be caught in such a moment. What is more, all kinds of compromising papers are in the pocket of my bag. Due to the great number of documents to be delivered, in the last few days we have had to carry our bags with compromising papers sticking out. Circling around and dodging the Germans on narrow street, I reach the apartment where all the women couriers from my department are waiting for me.

Among the Couriers
"Is it today?" – The question is raised from all sides. "Yes, today at 4 p.m. all have to report to prearranged locations." Suddenly, the room is a hive of activity. Everybody tries to speak at the same time. Every girl loudly makes plans: where to go, whom to call, what to prepare. Will we have enough time to do all these things?

Hanka has to bring back two radios from the 'hideout' located far away on Targowa Street. There are no rickshas at hand. Well, that is not unusual. The Warsaw ricksha drivers mobilized themselves a long time ago and now wait in their ‘hideouts’.

Ela tells her story about how she walked into an apartment today where about fifty boys were sitting: it was easier to walk in there than to leave. So as not to leak the news to the ‘Krauts’, the boys would not let anybody out. "It took me some time to explain myself" – says Ela – "I told them, almost my entire biography. They were not convinced at all. It wasn't until I showed them the last issue of the ‘Biuletyn Informacyjny' [the Polish underground newspaper. ed.], that they let me out." What great boys they were. Some of them were cleaning weapons, others counting rounds; nurses were packing up their bags. There was a wonderful atmosphere – they did not know that 'it' was going to be today.

Anna worries that she will not be able to reach her home in the Zoliborz district. She wears light shoes, falling apart already, and a light summer dress. Hopefully, 'it' is not going to last longer then several days. The hostess, our old friend and conspirator, says her farewells to us like a mother; we have had many meetings at her apartment. She has a son who works for ‘Kedyw’ [Polish Sabotage Command, ed.]. He has not been home for the last two days.

After telling everyone the news, I run back home. It has been raining since the morning. Now it stops, and the sun shines through the clouds. Warsaw smiles at us gaily. At home, I open the hidden boxes, pull out all the papers and the organization money, take a handgun and wrap it up in cloth.

Despite rushing, something inside stops me at the door. I take a long look at the apartment where I had lived for so many years doing my conspiratorial job. I realize at the moment that I am leaving something in my life behind once and for all. I have lived so many tough and beautiful moments between these walls. Here the people from my team had had meetings; here some of them had found a refuge after abandoning their own apartments suddenly and unexpectedly. There were so many moments full of frightening tension when, in the night or early morning the banging of the heavy 'Krauts'' shoes, shouting in their language which I grown to hate, and the sound of dangling keys of the housekeeper would wake me up. I had thought that maybe they were after me, just when there were so many compromising things in my apartment. Luckily, it was not this time. In the annex across the yard, windows would light up as lights were turned on inside. Yelling, shouting, and crying would be heard. Then the sound of footsteps and a car driving away and again stillness and quiet. In the morning, life would go on as usual. Only neighbors in the nearest store would exchange gossip about the events of the last night. We knew for sure that one of ours had gone away forever.

I walk down the streets of the city witnessing the frantic activity of the underground mobilizing. Men and women – the soldiers of the AK (Home Army), who in a couple of hours are going to fight against the enemy – mix with the crowds of civilians so as to move unnoticed. The trained eye can recognize them by their brisk walk, boots, belts, berets, and trench coats that, almost give them the appearance of soldiers.

Friends do not stop to chat. The air is heavy and electrified, just like before a storm.

At 4 p.m. sharp, I report to the location at Boduen Street. I am allowed to enter after giving the password. All is ready. The five boys from ‘Kedyw’ with 'Sten' [machine] guns hanging down their shoulders, and ‘filipinkis’2 hanging by their belts wait for the proper moment to go out on the street. They are calm and self-assured – these are veterans; they have experienced much combat. What is going to happen today will not be their first time. At 4:30 p.m., they put on coats to conceal their weapons and activate their ‘sprayers’ (machine guns). Leaving one by one, two minutes apart, our team departs to our next assembly point. Crossing Swietokrzyska Street, we hear a single shot coming from Napoleon Square where a group of Germans stands; other than that the square is empty. I wonder; if they suspect anything?

Hotel ‘Victoria’
After 20 minutes Germans are evicted out of the Hotel ‘Victoria’ which had been intended to be General Monter's headquarters.3 We try to get there, but the Germans keep furiously firing from the direction of Dabrowski Square. It is impossible to take even a few steps to cross the street. So we get through the apartment buildings' cellars and the passages made between the walls. The cellars are already lit up; housekeepers show us the directions through these underground passages.

In ‘Victoria’ [at 26 Jasna Street], I receive the instruction from my commander to go to Swietokrzyska Street to establish communication with one of the cells of our department.

I walk down the street, but after passing two blocks, Home Army soldiers order me to go back. The street is still under enemy fire. Two of our soldiers have been injured just a few moments ago. I have to go through underground cellars up to the corner of Swietokrzyska and Jasna Streets. Thus, I must enter a backyard where a civilian directs traffic. "Please enter this door", he says. "Up there on the right is a bar. From there, just one careful jump and you are on the other side of the street. But please be careful, some ‘Krauts’ keep firing from the Main Post Office."

A dozen civilians sit and discuss in the bar. At the sight of me, or rather at the sight of my white and red armband, they rush to me and ask for a spare one; they want to be soldiers too. They show me directions politely and help me lift a crate.

Across the street, in the entrance of an apartment building stand several insurgents with guns in their hands. Swietokrzyska Street is completely empty; from time to time, the sound of flying bullets and the cracking of glass can be heard.

Suddenly, two people run quickly near a wall. An insurgent across the street gives me a signal, meaning it is safe to jump. I run, crouched down, then burst into the entrance.

On the Front Line
In the apartment buildings there is frantic activity; insurgents break a passage in the wall, and on the upper floor in the big hall, doctors and paramedics set up a provisional hospital. In the room nearby, a firing position is also set up. There is also a machine gun position on a balcony covered with a pile of pillows and mattresses. The machine gun crew wears Polish helmets from 1939. Suddenly, the phone rings. A soldier rushes to it and answers it, but his commander stops him, saying "Both post offices are still in enemy hands." One floor up, 'Pe-Zetki' [members of the women auxiliary unit, ed.] prepare the evening meal for our soldiers. Finally, I reach my unit. All of them are calm with smiling faces. The radio station, which had been transported from Czestochowa several days before the Uprising, is located not far away, just a few blocks from the place. At this moment no one would be able to reach it, for enemy gunfire is too heavy; we have to wait until dusk. Our unit will go there under the cover of night and retrieve it. The boys are already excited at the prospect of undertaking the challenging mission. The radio station is made of four heavy wooden boxes. All of us know that the radio station has to be assembled and be on the air as soon as possible to spread the news about the Uprising.

* * *

1 Tadeusz Zenczykowski, nickname ’Kowalik’, ‘Kania’, decorated with the Order of Virtuti Militari [ medals ], in the Home Army: chief commander of the 'Action N’ – psychological diversion against occupiers, and the head of the propaganda cell 'Roj' (Hive). During the Warsaw Uprising, he was the Head of the Propaganda Branch in the Sixth Department of the Home Army Headquarters.

2 Insurgent-made grenades. The name came from a designer of the grenade, Filip, who was a chief of ordnance at the Home Army Main Headquarters. [translator's comment]

3 General (before the Uprising a colonel.) Antoni Chrusciel ‘Monter’, the Warsaw District Commander of the Home Army and the chief commander of the Warsaw Uprising.

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