Evacuation of Inhabitants
[Editors’ note : Evacuation from Elektoralna Street, August 7, 1944, through the Wola suburb. Fragment concerning Wola.]
Record No. 1
Walking through Elektoralna Street was difficult, as it was strewn with debris, and pieces of burning wood. From Chlodna Street onwards we were awe-struck by the incredible destruction. To the right every house had been burnt; to, the left they were burning like gigantic torches. It sometimes seemed as though it was one great wall of fire. Our personal experiences, driven as we were like cattle, haunted by fear, facing endless danger from the continuous shooting among the ruins, and the huge fires — took on terrible unearthly dimensions. The Germans did not for a moment give a thought to the marching columns of defenceless people. They did not stop the fight. Sometimes, when it was too difficult to proceed, we stopped and then the Germans approached and robbed us of our valuables. I lost my watch in this way. The officers and soldiers selected from among us people whose looks they did not like, and proceeded to make a thorough search in the most brutal way, very often kick ing and abusing us. At some places they stood in rows on both sides — Germans to right of us, Germans to left of us — abusing us and calling us thieves and bandits.
The procession, marching slowly from St. Charles Borromeo’s Church to Zelazna Street, suffered terrible maltreatment and even torture. I dragged myself through these streets helping to carry bundles and bags. For a time I carried a little girl, Basia, two years old, in my arms. The child had lost both father and mother. The attitude of the women was deeply touching. Grave and obstinate, only paying attention to their children and bundles, they marched on like soldiers, taking care not to expose the little ones to danger. During the whole time, that is, until we reached Zelazna Street, where the women were separated from us, I heard not a single complaint, no bitter weeping, no begging for help. The women were bent under the weight of their bundles and traveling bags, and some also carried babies or small children in their arms. There were moments when the heat from the burning houses made our progress quite impossible. The wind blew up clouds of biting smoke which hid ev erything. Suddenly when we were at a very difficult point and in immediate danger of fire and shots, an air raid began. Panic and chaos spread among the raging Germans, and there was an awful tumult, everyone being in fear of immediate death.
We left behind us in the streets all the sick, aged and crippled. I repeatedly saw trembling old women, decrepit old men and sick people, quite stony in their indifference and exhaustion, who, being literally pushed out of our ranks, remained sitting on the heaps of stone and rubble. No one heeded them. The sight of these people, amid all the unspeakable horrors, remains in my memory as a picture of the uttermost misery.
I also saw in several places in Zelazna Street corpses of murdered people, lying in the streets. They could not have been victims of bombing or of stray shots, for they lay in groups.
In Zelazna Street the women and the children were separated from the men. The women took nearly all the baggage with them. It was a most painful sight, firstly because of the terrible exhaustion of the women who, notwithstanding, undertook to carry the baggage, and secondly because of their uncertainty about the fate of their dearest ones, fathers, husbands, brothers, or sons.
The Germans pushed us (the men) to the right side of Chlodna Street and led us through Wolska Street under the walls of burnt houses, treating us all as if we were murderers, bandits and incendiaries. They ordered us first of all to keep our hands up. Every moment, Germans with guns at the ready jumped at us with insults, blows and shouts, without any reason whatsoever. The most dreadful thing was that we expected to be shot at any moment. Machine guns were aimed at us every few minutes to make us hurry or when we were ordered to reform the procession. When we saw before us the barrels of guns, revolvers or machine-guns, we hesitated, turned our backs on the soldiers, and huddled closer to the walls as if death could thus be avoided. We were close to it. There were so many moments of immediate danger during our march that I do not even remember passing many parts of Wolska Street to St. Stanislaus Church.
From Zelazna Street onwards the Germans began to rob us completely, as a rule when we had stopped, or were near barricades. They took everything from us. Not to speak of my watch, I lost all the small objects I had in my pockets, including my scissors, electric torch and even a box of matches. I saw the Germans taking purses and money from the group nearest to me, and as for documents and papers, they ostentatiously threw them away in the street. Persons who specially displeased the Germans were ordered to hold up their hands very high; they were forced to throw away even the smallest baggage. The Germans snatched off sur hat’s or caps.
I tried several times to get in touch with the furious Germans in order to know what fate was awaiting us. I also tried a few times to save my things, but I do not remember any other answer but "Waaa?" "Looos" and so on. Inarticulate, animal roars.
The attitude of our men was wonderful. A uniform, massive group, like one body, flowing like a stream of lava through the street, in stony silence, stubborn, obstinate, without any begging, any cries, or any manifestation of fear or anxiety.
Our group of several hundred men was pushed on to a spot situated between St. Stanislaus’ Church and an unplastered house. It was, as we afterwards found, a police station. Here the last robbery took place. We were forced to drop everything we had in our hands. Before my eyes they tore a coat from the shoulders of an old man; and the two soldiers busy at this task casually remarked “So and so, he won’t need this any more". A heap of suit-cases, bundles, and things of all sorts lay near the place into which they pushed us.
They drove us through the entrance door and up to the first floor. It was probably an unfinished Polish school-building.
I found myself with about 100 men in an empty room about 5 metres (16 feet) square. It was somewhere about 3 p.m. My companions in misfortune proudly displayed the small objects they had succeeded in keeping. Somebody drew a watch from his boot, another had succeeded in hiding his penknife. An old man pulled out a piece of bread from his breast pocket. We divided this into tiny pieces, and these again into crumbs and shared them among us. When I got a bit, I shared it with my nearest companions and felt strangely touched. It was a sort of collective Communion, and the association and feeling were so strong that we all felt it the same.
We suffered very much from lack of water. Someone found a fire-bucket in the passage, but it was empty; the water had probably been already drunk.
We were forbidden to leave the room. Every few minutes new groups were brought in. We saw that in the adjoining rooms, in the passage and on the staircase, still more people were packed.
We were still very strongly under the impression of the experiences we had undergone and full of fear as to our fate. When they drove us to this empty room we were sure that our end had come; that they would barricade the house and throw hand-grenades into it, or shoot us all and then set fire to the building.
Our depression increased as every few minutes a drunken gendarme came to us and made such speeches as: "You are all Communists; you will be all shot tomorrow". After having threatened and insulted us, cursed us, and called us names, such as "revolutionaries" or "insurgents", he would leave the room. This man terrified us absolutely. He would then stagger down the stairs, but we had had hardly time to breathe when up he climbed again and began the same sort of talk.
One of the gendarmes at last allowed us to bring in some water. Evening came. Houses were burning in our neighbourhood. The heat of the fire and the smoke reached our room, making it hardly possible to breathe. The sound of explosions and shots coming from the town and the monstrous red glow of the flames completed the horror of our situation. We spent the night lying down one on top of another. Some slept.
In the morning of August 8 they drove us out of the house again like cattle, with our hands up. We learned after some time that they were taking us to the Western Station and were going to send us from there to the Reich to work.