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Zygmunt Skarbek-Kruszewski. Bellum Vobiscum: WWII Memoirs.
Copyright © 2001-2008 Skarbek Consulting Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.
August 7, 1944
The thought of the Jesuits was still very much on all our minds. They were all well known here. Some were even from our block that went that day to the church service, the day of the uprising. Nobody had heard from them. There was now no hope left as three days had already passed since the chapel was burnt. We had to believe the Germans that everyone perished.
That afternoon the Germans who came to our block announced that the German Army authority had issued a truce period for our block from noon to 2 p.m. to enable the women to leave the block and go into the streets which were controlled by the Germans. Men were excluded from this truce.
After the Germans had left, unbelievable news spread through our yard. A few Jesuits from the burnt chapel were hiding in our yard. During the night two Jesuits and a little boy had arrived in our yard completely exhausted, wounded, half-starved and utterly dejected. They were given civilian clothing and were now sheltering in one of the flats.
In the evening when the gates were locked for the night and our yard illuminated by the fires of burning of Warsaw, most of us, as usual, came down to the yard to share the latest news. The three survivors from the chapel came down too. All our crowd surrounded them. We wanted to know the truth of the tragedy in the chapel. The two young men, very pale and emaciated, had short cropped hair and wore civilian suits. One had a bandage around his head and one hand in a splint, the other a dressing on a badly swollen face. The third, a teenage boy, was very thin and pale. On the day of the uprising he was helping during mass services.
When I was near the group, I heard someone asking "Did the Germans start shooting immediately they forced their entry?" The Jesuit with the bandaged head, feeling uncomfortable in civilian clothes, dropped his head and said; "No, they did not. After entering the chapel, the Germans called the Prior and asked him about arms. We were rounded up and pushed down to the basement. Two SS men were left to guard the door. After a while we were ordered to go into the doorkeeper's room. It was a small room next to the basement."
"Excuse me," somebody interrupted, "were there also others besides brothers and priests?"
"There were over a dozen women with their children who had stayed with us from the day of the uprising. In the doorkeeper's room there were about twenty priests. In don't know where the rest were, nor where the Prior was. We were crammed together in this room not knowing what they wanted from us. Time passed. One of our guards Went outside the door and spoke with someone and then closed our door. Suddenly the door burst open, framed in the door stood a young SS man with a hand grenade. He screamed some words in German at us and then, to our horror, he pulled out the pin and hurled the grenade into our crowd.
"Jesus,” prayed a woman next to me. In the crowd there was a deep sighing of 'Holy Mother', 'Oh, my Jesus Christ'..." The priest wiped his sweating face with his arm and continued "It is hard for me to tell in true order what happened next. We were all deafened by the noise. Pushed by others, I fell on the bed near the wall. I only knew that I was still alive and that nothing was hurting me. The same noise came for the second time and then a third ... I felt a sharp pain in my head. I opened by eyes and saw people trying to climb up the walls. I saw many bodies and blood on the floor. For a second I also saw some soldiers standing at the door, pointing their rifles into the room. Sour-smelling smoke stung my eyes. Screams, again some shots. I felt something heavy pressing on me. That was all. What happened afterwards I don't know. When I was conscious again the room was deathly quiet. Something was still pressing, me down. It was the dead body of one of my brothers. When I moved my elbow hurt badly,” he pointed to the splint, "and my head was hurting too. I sat up. It was already dawn. My God Father, I am unable to describe the sight. Bodies covered in blood, bodies of my brothers, of women and children. Opposite me were sitting two human forms. One, his head hanging down, was the body of Father Martin, the second one was Brother Joseph here with us. His face was very swollen and his eyes and face covered with blood. He looked dead and this saved him. The SS men did not finish him off, assuming him dead." We all looked at father Joseph whose face was distorted by swelling and covered with dressings.
The Jesuit continued "Leaving the dead behind, we pushed our way towards the door to the passage where we noticed a smell of singeing. The chapel was burning. We reached the yard and hid behind a stack of coal. Close to us German soldiers were patrolling the street. Crawling, We reached the barn where coal is kept and there, hiding in the darkest corner, we found our young companion,” he smiled tenderly at the boy. "We were afraid of the Germans and kept hiding in the coal. On the third night the hunger drove us to you, my dear people. God Almighty only spared our three lives." He finished speaking, bending his head.
Next morning, in one of the flats, the priests celebrated Holy Mass for the memory of all those who perished so tragically in the chapel. Most of the inhabitants of our block attended this Mass.
At noon the time came for the promised truce. It was a very great event in our imprisoned life. Women with white handkerchiefs in their hands rushed out. Some went to dig potatoes, others to visit neighbouring houses where they had friends and relatives. Our yard was visited by women from other blocks. It was very lively in the yard with greetings, kisses and hugging between friends and relatives. People from further away also came. There were some hand-pushed carts, fully loaded, there were women and children and also some men in torn clothing and covered with soot and some were wounded. Of course we started to ask questions. They were evacuees from the Avenue of Niepodleglosc (Independence). A few days before there had been very heavy fighting. The Germans were attacking from Rakowiecka Street.
There was bombing, including incendiary bombs. The fires were so fierce that it was impossible to stay. Taking their meagre possessions they left for neighbouring streets and, using yards only, had arrived here. The insurgents were still fighting from some houses in Niepodleglosc Avenue.
Opposite the first aid station a young man was lying on the grass. His face looked greyish-green and he was covered with sweat. Sometimes he was grabbed by cramps. Next to him knelt a woman, crying silently and bathing his face with a wet rag. Sometimes his eyes rolled up and he seemed to be only semiconscious and in great pain. He did not seem to be wounded and had only a small dressing on his hand. Two hours later when I passed him again he was covered with a white sheet and the young woman was sobbing. He was deed.
The doctor standing nearby told me the cause of his death – it was tetanus. The dead man's wife told him that a bullet had slightly grazed her husband's hand but they had to crawl through the potato fields because they were being shot at. His hand became dirty which probably caused the tetanus. Alas, there were no injections against tetanus available at this first aid station and he was condemned to death. Death for him was inevitable. Now it had claimed him.
In the evening we were alarmed by heaving shooting from the direction of Okecie (Warsaw's suburb). We were alarmed as, until now, there had never been fighting from this direction. Sore boys brought news of houses burning in the fields of Mokotow. We felt even more uneasy. We were expecting an attack by the partisans. Some rumour also reached us that the Russians had broken through the Front in East Warsaw. When it became dark we could see a few fires from the fields of Mokotow. Single houses were burning. Germans in full battle dress rushed into our yard and told us to go down to the basement as a battle was going to start near us. They rushed through the yard and disappeared through the opposite gate.
It was once again a night full of anxiety. Shooting had intensified a lot. The German machine guns were alongside our block. They were shooting non-stop in the direction of the burning single houses. Some soldiers were moving forwards, protected by the walls. Wounded soldiers were brought to our first aid station. We were all gathered in the basement as bullets were even whipping through the yard.
Everything quietened down in the morning. After a few hours' sleep I came down to the yard. It was a sunny morning, children were playing in the sand pits and elderly gentlemen were sitting on benches getting, some sun and warmth after a night in the cold and smelly basement. Even the pigeons were flying trouble-free among us. In front of the First Aid Post were field beds for the slightly wounded. What I saw was rather unusual considering the circumstances we lived in. On the grass, lying side by side, were Polish insurgents and uniformed German soldiers. Polish nurses were helping them, full of concern and attention, giving one and all their friendly smiles. This picture brought a pleasant warm feeling. It was like an unexpected ray of sun breaking through dark thunderous clouds, a ray of humanism, a human approach to humans. Those who only a short while ago were ready to kill each other were now lying close together, not enemies any more but suffering human beings.
Unexpectedly an armoured car stopped before the gate. A German officer with some soldiers came towards the First Aid Post. In terse sentences he asked for a surgeon who had to go with him immediately to operate on a seriously wounded German officer of higher rank. Professor Loth, a famous Polish surgeon, lived in our block. He was called down. We all watched full of anxiety as our professor in his white coat followed the German to the car. His wife was crying and begging the German to let her husband return after the operation and to protect him against German bullets. We were all worried and anxious to have him back. Having the good fortune to have this surgeon in our block, we did not want to lose him.
On one of the benches an old woman was sitting and crying silently. Her old face was deeply lined and her hands were kneading a wet handkerchief.
"Why are you so upset?" I asked her, thinking that she was upset because the professor had to leave.
"My poor little son is probably already dead,” she said and began to sob.
"Where is your little son?"
"He worked for the Jesuits. You know, where this terrible thing happened, where all were killed. Oh my God, he will never return to me. I came here from Kielecka Street looking for him when I heard that the chapel was burnt down. And here I was told that all were killed by the cursed pagans. I wish to give him a Christian funeral but they do not allow me to even look for his body."
"How old was your little boy?" I asked her, thinking that maybe the boy who had survived could be her son.
"I think he would now be sixty-nine." Astonished, I looked at her. She continued "He was not young any more, my son, but he was the only one I had. He was the only solace in my old age. My husband died fifty years ago. I brought him up alone. He was not married – he was not of this world. He worked for the Jesuits as a cabinet maker. And now this terrible misfortune. And now this divine scourge. Now I am quite alone."
There were no words which I could use to comfort this unhappy woman.