Barbara Kaczyńska-Januszkiewicz was 13 years old at the time of the Warsaw Uprising. She lived with her parents in the Mokotow district, liberated by the insurgents on Aug. 1, 1944 and defended by them until Sept. 27, 1944. After Mokotow’s capitulation, along with all of the district’s civilians, Barbara was marched to a German transit camp in Pruszkow outside Warsaw. Her family was released from the camp and transported by freight train to Kielce in southern Poland, where they stayed until the arrival of the Soviet army in Jan. 1945. Encouraged by her father, Barbara kept a diary from Aug. 22 to Oct. 4, 1944.
Translated by Anna Borejsza-Wysocka.
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Aug. 22, 1944, Tuesday. 3rd week of the Uprising. 11 o’clock.
Today, three weeks have passed since the beginning of the Uprising, and "our boys"1 are organizing a party. (There will be light [referring to electricity] and radio.) We are curious if they will invite us. We barely finished breakfast when Mach came with his Hiszpan,2 a bottle of gasoline, and a brush. When he was done cleaning the revolver, he had a great thought.
“Girls, if you want,” he said, “I will bring you a K.B. rifle.”
“Excellent, great, how nice you are sir,” yelled Hanka.
“I will take it apart into its components.”
“But quietly, very quietly, since you know, sir, how my mother fears weapons. If she saw that you, sir, brought a K.B….” I was unable to finish, as he was already gone.
A moment later he returned with his friend’s K.B. A very nice machine called Marysia, it had a scar on its butt from a bullet. He took the machine gun apart and explained its machinery to us; he showed us the parts and taught us what each function was and how to use it. At the end he showed us how to do an “arms to a leg on tempo.” And he demonstrated! To the “tempo three” it worked marvelously, but later when he threw the K.B. over his shoulder, he hit the lampshade.3 With the noise of the breaking glass, mother came running and raised an alarm. But any disturbance was avoided. Mom wrapped Mach’s arm, since he injured himself, and then she herself asked for the K.B., making sure that is was not loaded. When Mach was leaving, the K.B. on his back, he again hit the remnants of the lampshade and the lamp bulb. Again Mom wrapped his arm, since he injured himself once again.
7:30. The boys are departing at 8 o’clock and are hurrying with supper. Everyone has come together: Mach, Orzel, Marian, Martyna, Kuba and Kozak. Kozak was lucky to get a chicken for dinner. He wanted to eat it, but the boys snatched away the poor chicken in the blink of an eye. They left the poor scoutmaster only a wing. As always, the atmosphere before the battle was very happy. Mach described how the population inhabiting these homes, where the Zakapiory led a campaign, was the enemy for them and how it was such a treat when they captured arms and wiped out the Szwabs.4 Apparently cinzano5 and champagne slid down on strings. Some civilian, when they returned, gave them an entire box of krowek.6 They barely finished eating supper, when they marched out. Tomorrow morning they will return as victors, since the Zakapiory platoon never loses.
Mach got a K.B. He wants to name it something. He is unsure. We advise him to name it after one of us. Which one will he choose?
Aug. 23, Wednesday
The baptism of the machine gun did not take place since the boys are still at their posts. How sad it is without them! From early morning, the mine flamethrowers start playing. This is very unpleasant. First there are a couple of terrifying rasps, followed by bangs. Not loud, in fact, but unpleasant since there is a large rush of air. My ears hurt. A couple of missiles fell near [house] number 8. We went to observe the damage once things settled down.
Aug. 24, Thursday
Nothing exciting. The boys returned. Today planes are flying continuously and are dropping bombs on the city. Mrs. Jadwiga shut Hanka and me in the basement, and we were unable to get out. We began screaming and pulling on the door. The girls in the kitchen heard us, and one ran upstairs for the keys. We were released. The howitzer had moved. The bangs were distant, only the rasps can be heard clearly. Each time we hide underneath the windows. The boys were supposed to come for dinner at 2:30. They came at 5 and brought some unpleasant woman. The mood was instantly ruined. I did not come out of the kitchen. We ate dinner in the room since the artillery continued to pound. Mach insisted on cleaning Zakapiorek’s money with chloric acid. He cleaned a couple of pieces and burned his fingers black. They brought in a cartridge shell from the Tygrys,7 poured some water, and placed some beautiful roses it in—how that cartridge shell leaks. The roses were moved to the jar. Mach gave a beautiful rose to that woman and nothing to us!
Aug. 25, Friday
One can clearly hear the Bolshevik artillery. The Moskale are near Praga. We are curious, what will they do with us? In Lublin and Lwow they are behaving horribly. They are capturing all who work in the AK [The Home Army] and placing them in jail, and they deport the population. Again the howitzer is pounding. We are sitting in the shelter. Daddy went to Krasickiego. Not far from daddy a bullet detonated. The rush of air bent daddy in half. There was no shrapnel. The fire died instantly. We went to number 30 for a communiqué. It’s not there yet. When we were in the middle of Mr. and Mrs. Welman’s garden, the howitzer began to grind. We ran to Mr. and Mrs. Ambrozewicz’s entryway. It banged in the distance. Another such episode met us in the garden of house number 28. We hid in the entryway. Next we ran home. Now I am sitting under the window in the shelter on a trunk and I am writing my diary on my knee. Really!
No, this exceeded all expectations! And this according to Zakapiorek! I have never heard such a thing! It happened like this: the boys came down for supper. Along with them came Wanda with the intent to stay the night. They sat down to supper, Wanda with them. Mach started to joke around that she is his fiancée. My mom said that all three of us should go to another room.
Heniek: “So the young lady should stay, but those little ones can go!”
Instantly I left the kitchen. Hanka stayed. She has no pride. I told her this. She responded: “what’s it to you?” She pulled me to them terribly, but I would not go. Let them know that I have pride. Maybe they will not understand, but it’s all the same! Wanda jokes around, flirting with each one in turn. Now I understand what a diary is: it is a person to whom one can confide, without fear that they will betray me. An hour ago they brought in a Pancerz who was wounded in the leg. He is not yet 28. When he will no longer have a fever, I will visit him. I looked into the kitchen—Mach is sitting, coddling Wanda, and she is smiling at him. Gosh darn them! I can’t find a place for myself: I walk from corner to corner. Terribly stupid! Ha, tough!
Aug 26, Saturday
The boys moved to Chelmska Street, but they will soon return. Hanka returned to her house. She will come visit us. Today I was at Pancerz’s. He has a small fever, but he is feeling well and is hungry. He had pains through the night, so he is on a diet. I will bring him dinner. They have a radio there. They invited us for a broadcast at 6:15. Hanka came with her mother. We left at 6:30. The broadcast had already begun but it was so hard to hear and it was so boring, that we did not listen. It is already 7:30. Mom once again went to see the sick with Marysia—ah, let her go! She left in the middle of supper. I am hellishly hungry, and mom will be gone long since she wants to wait for the broadcast. We are not going to do anything. (Especially me!) The silver poplar is visible from the kitchen window. I like her terribly. She is so slender and shapely. When the wind blows, her leaves have long stalks and move in different directions. It looks as though someone has poured silver water on the tree from the peak to the roots. I love trees. If after the war we settle in the village, there has to be lots of trees in the garden and in the front of the house, woods, water and much, much clean fresh air.
Aug. 27, Sunday
Today I was supposed to go to the Elzbietanek8 for holy mass. I didn’t go because the artillery was pounding and mom was afraid. I went with Marysia to Hanka’s to get a toothbrush for the wounded. We had just walked in when the German planes approached and began shooting using their onboard weapons. (It’s good that they were not bombarding!) We went down to the basement. Once it quieted down a little, Marysia went home, but I stayed. Suddenly I heard my mom calling. Unnerved by the shots (she did not run into Marysia) she came to find out what had happened to us. We went home at once. Now I sleep on my old bed. My legs stick out, it’s so short! But it is comfortable. Marysia yearns for the wounded and to tell fortunes. Mom went to the wounded and brought back very sad news. From the Zakapiory platoon, 5 were killed and 15 were wounded. From the company headquartered with us, Kuba was killed and 4 were wounded. They do not know yet who they are. I am sitting in the shelter and writing it all down, since the howitzer is pounding and the planes pummeling with machine guns. Poor Kuba! I see him constantly! When he is talking, when he is eating wild strawberries and strolling in the garden. Hanka will be sad when I tell her. I do not understand the word killed yet. It seems to me that he will soon return, if not today then tomorrow, after a week, in two, in a year, but he will return. I am still very childish, even though in 12 days I will turn 13. For my birthday I was planning to invite Kuba, Marian, Zakapiorek, Martyna, Tyran and everyone from these two groups. And now! Kuba is not here, this is already certain, but the wounded? My mind does not grasp this! The glass door to our room was demolished from the bangs. The glass fell out, shattering throughout the room, the frames were ripped out, distorted… The wartime appearance! Daddy is fixing them. Apparently Mach, Zakapiorek, and Marian are seriously wounded, especially the first and the last. Poor boys! If only the Zakapiory would return. Night. Mom’s heart aches, so none of us sleep. Marysia feels a great sadness for the casualties. So I tell her that it is pointless—it is not Christian—because they are in heaven and are better off. Wrak came in the evening. A very nice and handsome boy. He turned 20 and passed the high school exams to graduate this year.9 He says that someone locked the door to the garden so he had to enter through the window.
Aug. 28, Monday
Marysia sped off to the wounded and the Komitet10 to find out what happened with her mother. Mach is with us in the basement. He came to us from the Sick Ward to sleep. Three pieces of shrapnel hit him in the jaw and chin. Kuba and Marian are dead. Mach saw it happen with his own eyes. Marian was hit in the temple, and the bullet exited through the back of his head. Kuba was hit in the chest. Wrak went to order the caskets. They are to be buried in Dreszczera Park (tomorrow, I think). Mach, after he gets some sleep, is going to take them. How horrible! Mom was crying. I am happy that she can cry her eyes out, but not me. I can’t cry, so I am sad and weighted down….The casualties appear before my eyes constantly. I see them, I think that they will come soon, and yet they are not here…But they are better off….As I am writing this, upstairs the howitzer is beginning to growl. I barely had time to get up when there was a great bang. The lamp swayed (probably fell), the walls moved, drywall fell. Dust filled the entire room. Newly fixed doors ripped off. I came in, but daddy stayed. He will probably come in a minute. I went upstairs. The lamp is hanging in its place. Again it roars. The wall where a white armoire stood is cracked. The windows in the ground-floor door fell out, the door frame on the front door sways. All the doors are broken. We can’t shut them. Martyna and Heniek came from their posts, they want to bring Kuba and Marian themselves, but Mach insisted on going along. The funeral will be at 10. They are already decomposing. It’s terrible to think, that the boys—cheerful, healthy, always appearing before the eyes—are now transformed into two rotting corpses!
1 "Our boys"—Members of the insurgent platoon from Baltyk battalion (Barbara calls them Zakapiory) stationing for a few weeks in her house.
2 Hiszpan—Literally translated as “Spaniard”; refers to a 9 millimeter handgun.
3 Klosz (original text)—The author here refers to a lampshade made out of glass, not fabric.
4 Szwab—An inhabitant of the German region of Swabia (Schwaben in German). In Polish, a derogatory term for all Germans, similar to bosche or boche.
5 Cinzano—An Italian brand of vermouth.
6 Krowka—A Polish brand of toffee-like candy.
7 Tygrys—WWII German heavy Tiger tank.
8 The author is referring to the convent of Saint Elizabeth.
9 Matura (original text)—High school exit exam. This was especially important in the context of the war and occupation since the schools and universities were closed and students had to study in underground education systems—tajne komplety—which made passing such an exam even more difficult.
10 Komitet—Insurgent's department of civilian affairs.