world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944

Zdzisław Szeliski, 'Zdziś', Battalion Gustaw, Company Anna.

Warsaw Uprising Recollections

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Zdzisław Szeliski ‘Zdziś’, soldier of the Home Army (AK) fought with battalion Gustaw, company Anna, in Wola, Old Town and City Centre districts. As POW, imprisoned in stalag XI-B Fallingbostel. After WWII emigrated to Canada.

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Zdzisław SzeliskiTuesday, the first of August, 1944.It was a nice summer day. I did not go to work because the factory where I worked was already closed in anticipation of the Red Army quickly advancing toward Warsaw.

We played volleyball in the field behind our building. Then around noon a messenger arrived with urgent news that I should report before 4 pm to an apartment on Leszno Street (near the Old Town). I knew that the anticipated Uprising against the hated Germans was beginning. I said goodbye to my mother, who already suspected what was going to happen.

When I arrived at the designated place, I met many of my colleagues from Company Anna, where I was one of the patrol leaders. There must have been 40 or more people. We received white and red armbands (to be worn on the right sleeve) and some arms—mostly hand grenades, some handguns, and a few machine guns. We were told that the fight would start at 5 pm (the so-called 'W Hour'), but even before that we started hearing gunshots. Company Anna did not receive orders to attack German installations, as we were considered a reserve unit. That night, a message arrived directing us to move to the Wola district. Early in the morning on August 2, while marching toward Wola, we stopped at a large shed containing German Army supplies. We equipped ourselves with camouflage field jackets, called ‘panterki’ because their color pattern was similar to that of German Panter tanks. In Wola, we settled in two houses on Młynarska Street, from which the previous day Germans had taken all inhabitants as hostages. In the first two days, with the willing help of many civilians, we built barricades across Wolska Street in order to block access to Kierbedz Bridge on the Vistula River. The next day, two German Tiger tanks appeared, moving toward the barricades. We were on the second floor on the partially burned-out building, armed with bottles filled with gasoline and wicks ready to be lit just before throwing them out. Unfortunately, some boys started the ambush too early, so the Tigers kept moving. When they stopped in front of the building and started moving their barrels toward us, we hid in the back rooms. The tanks fired a few times, and the walls tremble and plaster flew all around us. Fortunately, nobody was severely wounded, but we were all covered with white dust.

During the night between August 4 and 5 (or 3 and 4), we were awakened by the sound of a low-flying airplane and, a few seconds later, a great noise in the courtyard. We found that a couple of metal containers attached to parachutes had landed on the ground. They contained various arms, ammunition, and food supplies, which we were so happy to receive; later, we had to share these with other Home Army units. As I found out years later, the plane was a Liberator with a Polish and British crew flying from Brindisi, Italy.

The Germans kept pressing us, and the next day we moved across Młynarska Street to the grounds of the Protestant Cemetery. When we were not on the front line and it rained, we took shelter in little chapel buildings. There were rumors that the Uprising was collapsing and that we might go to the Kampinos Forest west of Warsaw. Some of the local people who had joined our unit over the previous few days were told to go back home. Then, on August 6, an order came that units equipped with any arms should move to the Old Town. We marched through the Ghetto, already burned out in 1943, near the infamous Pawiak prison. For the first time, we saw a German diving-plane Stukas in action. These single-seated light fighter-bombers would dive toward their target, release the bomb(s), and then sharply turn away. The piercing sound of the diving plane was followed by a bomb explosion. Such attacks, as well as the mortar shelling, were daily occurrences in fighting in Warsaw.

Gustaw-HarnaśIn the Old Town, we joined the ‘Gustaw’ battalion and were billeted in building No.3, on Kilinski Street. The 'Gustaw' battalion manned two barricades on Piwna and Podwale Streets. During the night of August 12, we were guarding the barricade on Piwna Street overlooking the Castle Square. On the morning of the 13th, another unit from the 'Gustaw' battalion replaced us, and we went to rest in our quarters on Kilinski Street.

Around 5 pm, we were awakened by noisy shouting; together with three of my friends, I ran to the balcony—our apartment was on the second floor. On the street below us, we saw a small German tankette covered with Polish flags. A huge happy crowd was shouting—we had captured a tank! Next, an explosion must have happened that I do not remember. What I recall was that the following day, around noon, I woke up covered with a blanket, lying on the floor in a large room. Next to me I saw dead people; my face was covered with blood. As I found out afterwards, I had a big wound on my chin and several smaller ones on my neck and chest. Soon my friends found me and carried me to the basement of a building. It took almost two weeks before I was able to walk. When I did, I received some second-hand clothing, as mine had been lost during the explosion. I learned that the little tankette, loaded with dynamite, moved close to our barricade on Piwna Street and got stuck, and the German driver escaped. Our soldiers–after a brief inspection–found it safe and moved it inside our defense lines. Then it exploded!

When I walked out onto the rubble-covered street, I noticed that our second-floor balcony no longer existed. Whether the force of explosion threw me inside the apartment or I fell on street, I never learned. Out of four persons on the balcony, only two survived.

In 1989, a book describing this event entitled Długa 7 was published in Polish by Robert Bielecki. In this book, to my surprise, I found my name on the list of those killed. It appeared that the list was made from the documents that were among the clothing and human remains found in the rubble. My [German issued] ID, the Kenkarte, must have been found. (Today there are two monuments on Kilinski Street, where 300+ people died.)

Toward the end of August, the defense of the Old Town was no longer possible; most of the houses were in ruins, and people took shelter in cellars. The commander of our company, Lieutenant Andrzej Sanecki, was killed in a bomb attack. The evacuation of the combatants was ordered. The only way to get to the Town Centre still under Polish control was by walking through the sewers [ read more ]. Together with the other ‘walking’ wounded and accompanying nurses, I entered the sewers at the Krasinski Square on September 1. I remember the chaos and crowds of people trying to get in. Finally our turn came; I stepped down on iron steps with the help of Danuta Magreczynska. Then we started walking, Danuta ahead, and I with my hands on her shoulders. We found the water cold, slightly smelly, and about three feet deep. The sewer was less than five feet high, so everyone had to walk bent down. From time to time we had to stop; we could hear the steps of German soldiers above. We walked in silence and complete darkness, occasionally stumbling on some objects. Finally, after several hours of exhausting progress, we surfaced at the corner of Nowy Swiat and Warecka Streets. Again, Danuta helped me to get up the ladder. (A commemorative plaque is now placed there.)There, in the café ‘Napoleonka,’ we were looked after by young girl guides.

And this might have been my first meeting with my future wife, as she was one of those girl guides. But for certain, I met Jagoda ten years later in Montreal, and afterwards we found out that during the Warsaw Uprising we had been in the same place at the same time. During the 1942-1944 Jadwiga (Jagoda) Mieszkowska was attending high school–Gimnazium Krolewny Anny Wazowny in Warsaw. There she joined the #39 Polish Girl Guides Underground Troop (39 WZDH) She remembers a solemn swearing-in ceremony and frequent clandestine meetings. The girls had to learn the topography of Warsaw in order to safely deliver messages and distribute clandestine press. Some girls were assigned to learn first aid, others telecommunications, and still others military services. On August 1, Jagoda, who had just turned 15, was not informed about the troop’s meeting place. So she stayed with her mother and sister in an apartment at 53 Nowy Swiat. When the first aid post was opened in nearby 'Napoleonka', Jagoda volunteered to work there. The girls had to fetch water from a well and, when defenders of the Old Town showed up, wash them and change their dressing if needed before assisting them in reaching a transfer point at the Main Post Office building on Napoleon Square or the hospital down on Tamka Street.

'Napoleonka' was a welcomed but short rest stop. We were happy and slightly surprised that, after all the ruins in the Old Town, we could see so many sound buildings.

Our group was escorted to a field hospital on Krucza Street, where Dr. Morwa was stationed. There for the next few weeks, I regularly changed the dressings on my chin and the inflammation in my inner right ear. Since my wound had never been sutured, for the rest of my life I carried a deep scar on the left side of my chin. Soon I discovered that the apartment of my aunt Halina Szeliska at 11A Piusa Street remained intact. There I found my father's youngest brother Zygmunt and his wife Zofja Myszkiewicz with their two-year old son Janek (my godson). Aunt Zofia died giving birth to the second son, Staszek, shortly after being evacuated from Warsaw. Most nights I slept in this apartment and during the day met with friends who, like me, were recovering, including Stefan Medwadowski, who had been wounded in the knee.

Our spirits were not very high; the expected help from the West never arrived, although a properly trained Polish Parachute Brigade existed in England. The Soviet army’s advance westwards was stalled on the right bank of the Vistula. Then on September 18, belated help arrived in form of a huge air drop. Over one hundred American Flying Fortresses B-17s dropped 1,280 containers, but only 390 landed in the districts of Warsaw still in the insurgents’ hands. By mid-September, via Polish Red Cross, negotiations began with Germans to end the Uprising. The final agreement recognizing Polish soldiers as combatants was signed on October 2. Knowing of the surrender, we started getting rid of German uniforms, helmets, and machine guns.

The final roll call of the two battalions having roots in the Resistance Organization NOW – 'Gustaw and Harnaś' – took place on the afternoon of October 4. It was made clear that individual soldiers had the choice to go to a prisoner of war camp or stay behind and leave Warsaw with the civilian population. Our commanding officer, Major Gustaw, gave a farewell speech as he decided to try to join his family outside Warsaw as a civilian.

My close friends Stefan Medwadowski and Ted Konopacki and I decided to walk out as combatants. Everybody present was given 500 Polish Zlotys and US$10. However, there were not enough $10 bills and higher denomination bills had to be shared. Stefan and I shared $20, but how and when we divided it neither Stefan nor I can remember. Our Final Orders (Rozkaz Nr. 39) were read. They contained the list of promotions as well as the names of people decorated with the Virtuti Militari Cross and the Cross of Valour. (My name ‘Zdziś’ was read on the list decorated with the Cross of Valour; however, I still cannot find this list.)

The next day, on October 5, as part of the 36th Infantry Regiment, we marched out of Warsaw.


After the insurgents (about 15,000) left Warsaw, all civilians were evacuated. Finally, following specific orders from Hitler, the Germans dynamited and burned buildings still standing. In January 1945, the Soviet army entered the ruins of Warsaw.

In 1989 Robert Bielecki published the book 'Gustaw-Harnas' in Polish. Unfortunately, my name is missing from that book. None of my close friends from the Underground or Uprising are still alive in Poland. Two of my closest friends, Stefan Medwadowski and Ted Konopacki, live in the West. Of the 932 soldiers who fought in the Gustaw and Harnas battalions, more than 300 were killed and many more were wounded.

The very extensive book Rising ‘44 by Norman Davies was published on the 60th anniversary of the Uprising. The same year, a new Museum of The Warsaw Uprising was opene

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