world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944

Andrzej Rafal Ulankiewicz 'Warski II'. The Hideout.

Reprinted with author's permission from unpublished manuscript.

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  I could now see small residential buildings and trees on the side of Mokotow Field. Officer cadet ‘Daberko’, dressed in a jacket with its fur lining inexplicably turned inside out, stood at the manhole, ordering us to complete silence. I now grasped that we stood on the grounds of the upscale Kolonia Staszica Villa district, which had been emptied of all inhabitants and was now occupied in selected buildings exclusively by German forces.

German anti-aircraft artillery (‘flak’) pieces stood on the nearby Mokotow Field. Our group rushed over to the other side of Wawelska Street, now some two kilometers further east along Wawelska Street from the point of our tunnel entry. We then entered the occupied villa district, which was filled with narrow tree-lined streets, gardens, and romantic pathways. As daylight broke, we followed our guide for several minutes until we came to our chosen hiding place. It was a freshly burned-out villa with a big terrace in the back, surrounded by a garden full of robbed or abandoned miscellaneous items: suitcases, warm winter clothing, etc. The villa was located behind Langiewicza Street. The terrace was grown over by woodbine. Under the concrete terrace surface, a small opening allowed access to an 80-em high storage space. It was 'hot as hell' in there, as the adjoining house had burned down in the previous days and its brick walls were still very hot from the fire. Our group, a dozen people or so, were packed under the terrace as the proverbial 'canned sardines'. We then camouflaged the entrance point under the terrace with greenery. We were ordered to maintain absolute silence. Tensely, each of us could only privately ponder the uncertain fate of our group.

After sunrise, as some daylight penetrated our still dark and stifling hideout, we heard the nearby voices of Germans and of Wlasow soldiers (captured Russian soldiers constituting the most blood thirsty pack of murderers, rapists, and plunderers). They roamed throughout the day within the gardens and houses, searching for any remaining inhabitants and rummaging through the abandoned property left behind. On the ground lay numerous items of warm winter clothing and furs sprinkled with naphthalene (against moths), which saturated the surrounding air with a pungent smell.

This helped save us, for sure. On at least two occasions we could see and hear enemy soldiers, their 'Schmeiser' submachine guns at the ready, patrolling with barking German Shepherd dogs nearby. We thought, "Our chances for survival are now `null and void;' they will now finish us for sure!" However, the dogs' fine sense of smell was evidently blunted by the irritating and overwhelming odor of naphthalene, and though walking only meters away from our terrace, they apparently failed to notice us at all.

About midday, one of our soldiers farthest from the entrance to the terrace, his throat parched in the hottest and dustiest part of our hideout, started to cough. A horrible thought then entered my mind. "Boys, strangle him, otherwise we are all lost." I have always regretted this cruel, though natural reaction. Suddenly a burst of machine gun fire broke out above us, triggering a fusillade of automatic weapons fire around our entire terrace. After about two minutes, all firing ceased, followed by the shouting of German commands and the shouting of Wlasow soldiers. Through our entrance hole, we could see two groups of soldiers; one group of Germans leaving the ruins of our villa, while the other group of Wlasow soldiers approached from the gardens. It then became clear that each group had heard the coughs just when they had unexpectedly chanced upon, but had not yet identified, the others. Reflexively, each group had immediately opened up with machine gun fire aimed at the other presumed insurgent unit. This time the German and Wlasow forces had exhibited their routine lack of communications and coordination, making possible the continuation of our singularly extraordinary run of great luck!

Soon after night fall, three soldiers of our group received orders to leave the hideout and to scout a breakthrough route to the downtown area.

Our forces were still fighting there, as proved by the glows of fire and the sounds of battle. Our scouts returned and reported that the entire local district, Staszica Settlement, was completely deserted by the civilian population and by the uprising forces. Detachments of Germans and of Wlasows occupied the huge edifice of the Marshall Pilsudski Hospital at the Niepodleglosci Boulevard, the edifice of County offices at Filtrowa Street, and some remaining unburned houses in the Staszica Settlement. Our way to the downtown area was open only through Mokotow Field, Niepodleglosci Boulevard, and further on through the allotment gardens toward Polna Street.

The second day of lying under the hot terrace was even more dreadful. Terrible heat, total lack of water and food, and the cramped position under the low terrace – all that tormented us enormously. Nevertheless, the day passed and evening and night finally came. Our group was more than ready to march. Everyone checked his weapons and hand-grenades and was ready for everything that might come.

At about midnight, air drops in support of 'fighting Warsaw' from Allied aircraft, which had begun and had continued since August 4, happened to be of particular assistance to our unit. German anti-aircraft artillery raged. The whole sky was cut with numerous beams of anti-aircraft search lights, and hundreds of shells exploded throughout the night, providing an excellent set of distractions for our breakout to the downtown district. We then left our hideout under the terrace, following our guide., What a marvelous feeling – to be breathing fresh night air and to be walking ahead toward our objective ! We crossed Wawelska Street and were then on Mokotow Field, held by the Germans for their anti-aircraft artillery (ack-ack) positions.

After some time we came to Niepodleglosci Boulevard, across which we had to run to get to the allotment gardens, adjacent to Polna Street, where we expected to find positions of the uprising fighters. Our boys ran across the very wide boulevard one by one. The unusually wide green strip in the middle of the boulevard was overgrown with potatoes and other vegetables. The 'ack-ack' guns firing with 'star shells' at low flying aircraft created a beautiful night view.

Nobody had taken notice of us, and everything went well until the unfortunate moment when we were detected in the light of German flares fired from Pilsudski Hospital. One of us had almost reached the other side when a flare fired above us and suddenly illuminated the remainder of our group. Beams of tracer ammunition were immediately fired at us. It now had become almost impossible to cross the street, but I lay at the curb, very patiently awaiting my moment of perilous opportunity. It was only possible to run across one lane of the boulevard to reach the relative cover of the central potato strip during the few seconds before the next flare was fired. The German tracer ammunition fire from their excellent vantage point in the high rise hospital complex across the street continued. Fortunately however, a brief break followed. I then ran across to the potato strip where I felt that I simply 'molted' into the earth. The fusillade soon restarted, and I saw red and blue beads of tracer bullets flying toward me. I felt lumps of earth hit my body as the bullets impacted the soil around me. I felt horrifyingly vulnerable, lying still on my belly, awaiting a fatal bullet. I then used the next break in flare and machine gun fire to complete my crossing of Niepodleglosci Boulevard and enter the allotment gardens. However, the Germans, now fully alert and aware of our presence, started to fire mortar shells into the allotment gardens.

Our crawling march toward Polna Street was painfully slow. Allied aircraft had disappeared from the skies, while mortar and machine gun fire continued to envelop us. We nonetheless persisted in moving forward. Night finally yielded to the dawn.

Suddenly, submachine gunfire opened up upon us from the direction of Polna Street, the position of the uprising fighters. They had mistaken us for Germans. Though under fire, our guide and our group commander crawled up toward the barricade on Polna Street and shouted, "Friends, don't shoot. It's us, Wawelska, Ochota district!" Finally, fire ceased. The Germans then started shooting at us as we ran up toward our fighter's barricade. We could see uprising soldiers wearing white-red armbands as they helped us to come up over their barricade. I noted smiling faces of young men in their uniforms, simple gray overalls, Polish eagles on their berets, weapons in their hands, and hand grenades stuck behind their belts. I don't know how to quite adequately describe this moment. We had now linked up with our fighting forces in the downtown area, a part of Warsaw freed from Nazi control. This symbolized to us the freedom of all of Poland, which we had fought for almost five years of German occupation. This picture will remain in my mind forever. After eleven days of defending the redoubt of Wawelska Street, after the gehenna of walking the sewers and of hiding in and under grounds occupied by German forces, we were reunited with our own comrades in the now free heart of Warsaw! [...]

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