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Zygmunt Skarbek-Kruszewski. Bellum Vobiscum: WWII Memoirs.
Copyright © 2001-2008 Skarbek Consulting Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.
August 3, 1944
Opening the door a crack I heard voices in German. "Where are the men?" Closing the door silently, I called out in a hoarse whisper, "Germans!" We all jumped up from the table. What were we to do? Where were we to hide? It was certain that the Germans in our house were looking for partisans. How would they distinguish a partisan from an ordinary Warsaw inhabitant? There was no way at all. There were no documents and the same civilian 'uniform' for all. Searching for insurgents was a very simplified procedure. Czeslaw had the answer to his questions. We were two young men not living permanently in this house from which partisans were shooting and where a First Aid Station had been organised. We did not know whether the Germans would kill the men on the spot or treat them as prisoners of war. We could not flee from the third floor and the Germans were already moving up the stairs. There was only one way left – to hide in the flat and hope for the best, that the search would only be a superficial one. Marushka and Auntie would have to say that no men were living in this flat. We started looking for a hiding place, expecting the Germans any minute. Czeslaw hid inside a wardrobe, I on the entresol (a small, long shelf under the ceiling) of the kitchen. Marushka, taking away the ladder, covered me with empty suitcases. I asked Marushka to hide our hats and overcoats that were hanging in the hall and leave only two plates on the table. I also asked her to appear calm and not to show any nervousness, even during the search. Marushka performed all these instructions superbly and I was deeply impressed. Even her voice sounded un-troubled during the last moments of preparation. I knew how this sensitive woman was feeling and admired her full control over her emotions in moments of extreme danger for her husband and her close friend. I will never forget the moment when, after adjusting her glasses nervously, she calmly and thoroughly inspected the hiding places. Seconds and probably minutes were hurrying by. For the first time in my life I could hear with my own ears the beating of my heart, could feel the hot blood rushing to my temples and thoughts, trivial and important, rushed through my head at the same time. Then, for a few seconds, jut an empty feeling... I could hear the ticking of the clock and thought perhaps I will live only fifteen minutes ... thirty seven years and fifteen minutes. Why those fifteen minutes? Maybe because they are so hard to take. The suitcase pushing into my back was not leather, only imitation ... if they shoot in the head would it be instantaneous or would death take a few minutes of terrible pain? I saw my mother's face, but why is she smiling? That is silly. A stomping of boots on the stairs ... they were coming. Suddenly I became calm - an odd senseless calm. Something had happened to me. I felt empty ... waiting for my destiny.
Marushka is waiting for the bell to ring. Again seconds pass, minutes. Some doors are banging on the floor below. Silence? I can't hear the stomping of boots .. minutes pass - nothing. Marushka is opening the door slightly ... silence ... she goes out to the stairway. From my hiding place I can hear voices on the staircase. Marushka returns and says only two words - words like soothing balm ... "They've left."
We left our hiding places and peered through the window. We could just hear the departing footsteps nearing the gates. People were coming down to our yard-forum. Soon the yard was filled with people, all relating the latest happenings. Several SS men, armed to the teeth, had forced our main gate. Going along the walls they entered by different staircases. Not meeting any opposition, they entered the flats and started a spot check, searching for insurgents. Most of the men were able to hide.
In some flats men were found. After, checking their documents, the permanent residents of our flats were left in peace. A few who came from outside were shot. Some of the SS men were looking for insurgents in chests of drawers and commodes and some valuables disappeared into the pockets of the SS men. Our housing block had paid its first tribute. When dusk came we could see from the northern part of the city the glow of fires and smoke clouds which dispersed as darkness was deepening. At night only the glow of burning fires remained over the fighting in Warsaw. At three o'clock in the morning I was awakened by sounds coming from the yard. The door of the balcony was open and I listened. Again the sound of boots and then some loud orders issued in German - a reply in broken German. Once again steps under our balcony. "Where is the entrance to the basement?" asked a German voice with a cock of the rifle and a door closing on the first floor.
We stayed in bed as there was no sense in constant hiding. Half an hour passed and the Germans were still in the block. We could hear the splintering of wood as doors were broken down. Again voices in the yard, some barking orders and, at last, silence.
We did not sleep much that night. In the early morning a German officer and a few soldiers came back again. They were fully armed. He gave his orders to the people who were in yard. People living in this housing block had to choose from amongst themselves a commander of the block who had to allocate duties. The commander would be responsible for order and discipline with his head. The guards must watch the gates constantly.
Gates had to be locked and opened only on German orders. If only one shot was fired from the block, all the inhabitants would brought to the yard and "Here" he yelled and waved his revolver, indicating the wall, "they will be immediately shot." He gave one more look at the scared pale faces and left, followed by his soldiers who were holding their machine guns, ready to riot. We all remained motionless until they left the gate and sounds of hobnailed boots quietened down and the SS men disappeared from view. Those who did not understand German asked for details of his speech. Within minutes our whole forum was full of people, even those who were inside during the issuing of orders. One of the members of the co-operative was asked to become the commandant. Guards were chosen to be relieved every four hours.
Now our block and our entire suburb came under full control of the Germans.