world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944

Zygmunt Skarbek-Kruszewski. Bellum Vobiscum: WWII Memoirs.

Reprinted with permission from the Skarbek Consulting Pty Ltd.

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August 5, 1944
About noon there were again planes over Warsaw. They were very high and seemed to circle very slowly. I was sitting on a bench, talking, when children began calling "Look, look, papers and more papers." Looking up, we saw leaflets fluttering down on the roofs. Some fell down behind our walls and were lost to us, others floating gently settled down between our walls. We started chasing them; some even tried to catch them from their balconies. Children and grown-ups alike were trying to grab these papers. There were not many of them which landed in our block; therefore everyone was vying for the privilege to be the first. These leaflets represented the first news from the outside world. Anyone able to catch a leaflet was immediately surrounded by a crowd. One had to read loudly. I was in luck and caught a leaflet and started reading [ leaflets ]:

Soldiers of the Home Army!

Our Government from London announces that Prime Minister Mikolajczyk's position in Moscow is such that he is unable to reach free decision and to have freedom of speech!

One has no doubt what intentions are hidden behind it.

I started to negotiate with representatives of German authorities, looking for common ground to co-ordinate actions against the Moscow traitors.

I hereby order a stop to all acts of hostility against occupational German authorities and an immediate return to initial meeting places of alert!

Everyone disregarding this order is taking sides with those who made an attempt on the life of our Prime Minister and will be shot immediately. Further orders will be issued.

 Long live Poland!

Chief Commander of Polish National Armed Forces.

(–) Bor. Warsaw 2nd August, 1944.

I finished reading and all were still holding their breath and listening to the echo of such odd and quite incompressible words. "Has 'Bor' really signed it?" asked someone.

"It was read for a second time."

"It is quite impossible."

"You are quite right."

"This is just a plain in lie, a forgery."

"It certainly is," agreed the others.

"Just listen. You see what the main point is – stop fighting the Germans and return to the point of alert. This is their main aim."

"It certainly is the work of the Germans."

"Oh! These buggers, these bandits, the forgers, trying to pretend to be 'Bor'."

"This way they have not a hope to win the war - they will surely come to grief."

This was the general reaction and opinion of our yard. I folded the leaflet carefully and put it in my wallet. It was certainly a unique document. The group dispersed, looking for other leaflets to compare whether they had the same contents.

In the afternoon the firing from the city became heavier. This was probably the partisans’ reply to the leaflets. A few hours later German bombers appeared over the city. They were flying quite low and one could easily see the black crosses of the Luftwaffe. The bombing of the city began. Again we sheltered in the basement. The walls were trembling from the heavy explosions. A cloud of dust rose above the roofs. Some were of the opinion that we would not be bombed and they were right, as we were in the part of the city where Germans had full control and, in addition, their heavy artillery was positioned next to our block. Some even went outside to watch the planes. They were flying low, making turns over the centre of the city and dropping their bombs. The erupting dust clouds pinpointed the places of explosion.

That night I was on guard duty. At two a.m. a gentle knock came at the door. I was ready. I, and the other guard, came down the stairs. The guards who had finished their watch gave us instructions and the key of the gate. My duty was to watch the east wing and the gate. Switching on my torch, I went to the basement and cellars. People were sleeping everywhere – on the naked floors, under the walls, in the boiler house. People of Warsaw were pushed down to the basements. From the moment when the uprising began the roles were reversed; the underground army came into the open and the civilian population went to the underground.

I continued my way up the stairs to the attic facing Rakowiecka Street. All over there were strings and drying laundry. On my left, holes in the walls and roof from cannon shells. In front of me was a large view of the city. Warsaw was covered by fires. A sea of red flames lit the sky. The stars looked pale and the roofs were covered with a reddish glow. The smoke over the city was like darkly gathering clouds before a storm. Somewhere behind our block were detonations, firing and screeching of machine guns. Warsaw was fighting on. In front of me – an empty street with some leaflets here and there. Quite near us, in the field of Mokotow, the dark silhouettes of cannon with their long barrels, and there were German patrols in the field. Coming back my torch shone in one of the corners where, to my astonishment, I saw a man sitting on a child's rocking chair. He was a man of about fifty, unshaven, with a heavily lined face, and clothed in a dirty and torn suit, torn shoes on feet without socks.

"What are you doing here?" I asked suspiciously.

"I sleep here as you can see," he answered without any embarrassment.

"Why here, in the attic?"

"I don't like the basement, it is too damp there. I have rheumatism and it is warmer here. The sun heats it nicely during the day. I have nothing to cover myself with."

"Are you from this block?"

"Oh, no. I am from prison. I was there over a year; near here in the Mokotow gaol. You know, the red brick building in Rakowiecka Street."

"Were you released?"

He laughed. "We released ourselves. When the uprising started the Germans opened a few doors and drove the prisoners into the yard, telling them they would be released. We who were still locked up shortly heard shooting in the yard. News spread immediately - Germans were shooting the prisoners in the yard. We started a riot in the gaol. Some were able to flee but the Germans started shooting at us from the yard and the street. We climbed on the roof and, although the building was burning, we were able to reach the roofs of other buildings. In this way about 380 of us got free. Now I am here and waiting for what will come next. I have nowhere to go. I have no house – my wife was killed in September 1939 in the ruins of our flat. One son died during the Polish/German war near Kutno and the Germans took my second son to Auschwitz . Don't know if he is alive."

"Do you mind me asking why you were imprisoned?"

"You see I was put to work to repair the highways and I ran away and, coming to Warsaw I bought some goods from the farmers. As bad luck would have it, a Gestapo control caught me with the goods in the train. They took the goods away and put me in gaol," he finished.

I left him in the attic. The yard was silent. The guards were speaking quietly near the gate. We were relieved at six in the morning. I went to sleep but somehow I could never get enough sleep. At nine Marushka woke me, explaining that the Germans were shooting at the house next to ours and that our people were already in the basement. Explosions of hand grenades and shooting from machine guns were very close, coming from Akacia Street. We went down to the basement. Here we heard the latest news the Germans had broken into the Jesuit chapel that was about 200 steps away from us. What was happening there nobody knew. Maybe shots had been fired from that house and the Germans retaliated? After half an hour the shooting stopped. After leaving the basement we saw fires and smoke. Rushing up to the top floor we saw that the chapel was burning. Smoke was pouring through the windows covering the wall with soot and we could hear the glass breaking. In a very short while the whole chapel was on fire, cleaning the traces of the recent tragedy. We all worried about the fate that had befallen our nearest neighbours.

In the afternoon our nurses brought some wounded partisans to our block. These young girls were extremely brave. By unknown routes they were constantly sneaking outside and looking for wounded in our suburb. The armband of the Red Cross could not be relied on for protection. One of the nurses was killed whilst on duty. She fell, maybe hit by a stray bullet, in the potato field and her mates brought her home but she died on the way.

Again planes came from the west. "Maybe they are English?" people said. Somehow they shimmered differently in the sunshine. They were flying in a regular formation, just like cranes. Unfortunately they were German planes. Shortly the walls of Warsaw were once again shaking from detonations. It did not last long and anyhow, by now we were becoming indifferent to raids. There were many who never went to the basements, others continued walking in the yard during the bombing of the city.

It became quieter in the evening. The shooting in our suburb stopped but by now we were unresponsive to the sound of fighting further away. We considered it the normal way of life.

The chapel was still smouldering but the fire was localised and had not destroyed their total block.

People were spending more and more time in the yard as it was the only place where one could get some fresh air and stretch one's legs. High above the town some single planes were circling again but nobody took much notice. During the day so many of them were flying over our unhappy Warsaw. Some were bombers, some observers, and some were dropping leaflets. My God, one would go berserk if one rushed each time to the basements.

Some were watching the progress of the planes with field glasses. Someone from the balcony was calling for our attention. Some white objects were falling out of the planes. At first they fell quickly, then they just seemed to hang in the air. Our first thought was – parachutes. But soon those big umbrellas burst into thousands of white dots. "They are leaflets," voices called from everywhere. All of us were watching. It looked very impressive. All the sky seemed to be covered with white petals. They were swaying lazily, becoming bigger as they slowly descended. Prepared by the previous experience, we were waiting impatiently for news from the sky. What will they bring? What will they feed us with? We had to wait a long time until the leaflets reached our roofs. Those with a quick eye could distinguish the different shape of the leaflets. Does it mean they will have different contents? The boys were rushing to the balconies hoping that, with luck, they would be the first. The leaflets were just, just above our heads. We began chasing them. The leaflets were dodging us, swaying playfully to the left and to the right, until at last they landed amongst us. The crowd wandered to different direction in groups and started to read.

The time of freedom is approaching. The Polish People's Army, with self-sacrificing battles, paved the way for victory. The Russian allies had broken the yoke of the fascists' occupation. The Polish Government in London acknowledged that the Red Army and the Polish People's Army carried on their shoulders the weight of the battles for freedom. Marshal Stalin had guaranteed wide boundaries for Poland.

The reborn Poland is Poland of the people. Everyone must add their efforts to rebuild the country. All kinds of fascist elements will be crushed. Every Pole, every organisation has to cooperate with us. The Free People's Poland is calling you. The new vigorous state organisation will guarantee your freedom and prosperity. The Polish People's Army is defending our Poland.

This historical moment requires a joint effort under a united leadership of the Polish People's Army. Who is not subordinate is sabotaging free Poland. The lordly, grand leaders of the National Army have to step aside.

Watch them!
Being in the pay of Hitlerism, their undermining work is finished.
Death to the fascists!
Long live the Polish People's Republic!

General Berling, Commander of Polish Army in Russia

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