The ‘W’ Hour
On August 1, 1944, at about 5:00 pm, I heard machine guns and grenades exploding. From my balcony at 28 Kopernika Street, I saw the attack on the [Warsaw] University. The boys positioned themselves along the street; the girls were delivering weapons and ammunition. They started shooting at German positions. The Germans responded with a barrage of heavy machine gun fire along Kopernika Street to Tamka Street. The street was blocked with fire from the university. The surprise attack failed; we sustained losses. Night came—a night of anxiety and uncertainty. The cannonade could be heard throughout the night. German tanks were driving along Nowy Swiat Street, but did not enter the side streets.
Kopernika Street was completely open, and the Germans could invade at any time. The Powisle district was threatened. The next day, a barricade was erected in front of my house. The insurgents started to protect their inventory and organize the Powisle district. They successfully captured the power station on Wybrzeze Kosciuszkowskie (Kosciuszko’s Seashore). A Home Army division and the workers from the power station attacked the German crew on August 1 at 5:00 p m (known as the ‘W’ hour). The main building was captured very quickly, and the whole power station was overtaken by insurgents the next afternoon, supplying electricity to Warsaw for as long as Powisle was in Polish hands. I could finally see the situation in Srodmiescie. Successful combatants had started in Napoleon Square, where a company of the ‘Kilinski’ battalion had captured the Prudential high-rise building. The next aim of the attackers was the Main Post Office building. During the night of August 1, the bunker in the post office building was destroyed. The next morning, one German tank coming as reinforcements was destroyed by Molotov cocktails, and a second one withdrew. The struggle lasted the entire day. The offensive was successful, and on August 2, about 5:00 pm, a red-and-white flag was mounted on the captured main post office building. It remained there until the end of the Uprising.
The first days of the Uprising were successful, and we were given hope. Free Warsaw!
Barricades are being erected. Insurgent troops are marching, singing songs. The insurgent press informs the world about the successes. The Postal Annex station on Aleje Jerozolimskie Street is captured. Mailboxes with the Polish eagle appear on the streets. We are collecting German weapons and ammunition; we are destroying German tanks. German flyers asking us to surrender only make people laugh. All along Krolewska Street the German attacks from the Saski Garden are crushed by the ‘Andrzej’ defense group, leaving only wrecked tanks behind in the foreground. When the citizens of Warsaw hear sounds of fighting, they are spontaneously supporting the insurgents—they build barricades and tunnels and give food to the soldiers.
That first night, full of uncertainty, the insurgents felt that all of Warsaw was behind them, supporting them—that the entire population was taking revenge on the Nazis for their crimes, jails and concentration camps, raids and public executions. The first shots freed the city from the nightmare of the Gestapo. An uplifting mood reigned in the streets.
Although not all German resistance points were captured, although the moment of surprise failed and numerous insurgent attacks were bloodily fended off, the successes of the first and second day of the Uprising consolidated their belief in victory.
We are free! We will defend freedom to the end.
Translated by Wojciech Jan Kaczmarek
My First 'Jump' Through Aleje
Crossing Aleje Jerozolimskie, especially during the first days of the Uprising before the barricade was built, was a baptism of fire for every soldier and civilian, woman and child. It was for me as well.
As dusk fell, ranks of people who wanted to get to the southern part of the city waited at Widok Street.
Houses on both sides of Aleje were burning. Through the yards and gaps in the walls, I reached the main gate, which lead to the street passage. The gate was protected with sand bags. Insurgents were in their firing positions. The street passage faced an onslaught of laser bullets. Between machine gun bursts, you had to cut diagonally across the street—which was lit by burning buildings—and dart into hot basements on the other side of Aleje Jerozolimskie. You passed groups of people who wanted to join their relatives, couriers with orders for northern Warsaw, nurses always ready to help the wounded, or scouts with the mail—everyone getting ready to go to the other side. The exit to Nowogrodzka Street seemed to be an oasis of safety. I was very happy that I could see the stars in the warm, August night.
My return from Zbawiciela Square to Kopernika Street occurred during the day. The passage through Aleje occurred during heavy howitzer fire. Everyone chose his moment for the run—first crossing himself and then making the 'jump.' It was hard for me to decide, but I knew that if I didn’t do it now, I would never be able to do it.
Translated by Wojciech Jan Kaczmarek
Nowy Swiat Street Barricades
During the first days of the Uprising, Nowy Swiat was under cross fire by the German machine guns all along the line, from Aleje Jerozolimskie at the BGK building to Staszic Palace on Krakowskie Przedmiescie. German tanks were cruising unpunished, breaking any attempts to build a barrier. Closing this important thoroughfare and connecting Powisle district with City Centre became an issue of survival for the insurgents. It happened on August 3 by building two barricades—one on Chmielna Street and a second on Warecka Street. The Germans were trying to destroy these initially weak fortifications, but the defenders were successfully protecting it. The barricades were systematically fortified and expanded, and in the end Nowy Swiat was closed to the Germans.
I took many photos while the barricades near Warecka were being built; I documented the life of the barricade defenders—their joy and despair—because the fights had resulted in many sacrifices. One day, in the middle of August, I brought the soldiers Biuletyn Informacyjny (Information Bulletin). Suddenly I saw on the barricade a girl turning a small pistol (called a 'five' in soldiers’ slang) over in her hands. I was surprised because this kind of pistol was useless on a barricade. However, the pistol was like the Cross of Valor for “Bystrzyca”—the pseudonym of the girl—for capturing four armed Germans.
It happened on August 1, the first day of the Uprising, about 11:00 pm. Swietokrzyska was completely dark. Two nurses from the 'Kilinski' group—'Bystrzyca' and 'Lucyna'—were running for the wounded at the main post office. Suddenly they heard steps and German language. Without thinking at all, 'Bystrzyca' shouted Haende hoch! 'Bystrzyca' and 'Lucyna' were dumbfounded—in front of them there were four Germans, standing with raised hands. The girls quickly disarmed the captives.
For this feat, 'Bystrzyca' got an award on her birthday: a small, slick 'five.' Very proud and overjoyed, she was looking at her pistol with her comrades when I came and gave them Biuletyn Informacyjny. Everyone immediately gathered to read the news together. They made a very good subject for photographs.
Later I heard about a tragedy. Crossing through Aleje Jerozolimskie, 'Niteczka,' the girl with a cap on her head who is evident in one of my photos, got killed. Her boyfriend, an officer cadet, was thanking me for this photo with tears in his eyes.
Translated by Wojciech Jan Kaczmarek