|| In 1944, I was 18 and a corporal in the Home Army's First Regiment 'Baszta,' First Battalion K 'Karpaty,' Company K-1, My cryptonym was 'Mir,' a reference to the town where I grew up. For a year, I had been trained in the using of plastic explosives, a supply of which had been dropped by the British. In readiness for the Uprising, Company K1 had assembled in the village of Zagonciniec just south of Warsaw. It was to secure Warsaw's Mokotów district. My unit was given the task of attacking the race track in the southern outskirts of Mokotdw where a detachment of the SS was stationed. We did achieve an element of surprise. As the attack proceeded, I was ordered on a reconnaissance patrol towards the Okęcie airport to see how the attack was developing there. As we approached, we were met with a hail of bullets from the German positions: the attack had not succeeded. We returned to my unit's position at the racetrack, but the area was no longer in our hands. The Germans, having recovered from the initial surprise, had quickly established machine gun nests in the bleachers of the race track and the withering fire forced our unit to withdraw.
There was a brick wall around the racetrack and it offered some protection. I could see my companions beckoning to me to its safety. Before I could get to it, I was hit, a bullet passing through my leg. I fell, saw that I was bleeding but found I could still move my leg and somehow made it over the wall. I had been lucky. It was a flesh wound and though, where it exited, the bullet had ripped out a fair amount of flesh, it had only grazed my bone. I was taken to a first aid post and eventually to St. Elizabeth's Hospital. There had been many casualties in the first day of the Uprising. My own Company, which had numbered 360 men, had suffered heavy losses. Sixty had been killed, not to mention the wounded. As a consequence it retreated to the Chojnowski and Kabacki Woods. And so the hospital was full and it had expanded to a couple of adjacent villas. I, and others, had been bedded down on the floor of a room in one of thesevillas. Again, I was lucky, for about a week into the Uprising, German dive bombers bombed the hospital itself and many of those on the upper floors of the hospital were killed.
About two weeks after I had been wounded, I learned that my company was back in Warsaw and I was feeling better, so I decided to leave the hospital and rejoin it. My buddies were happy to see me back and found an old rifle for me. The unit's doctor changed my dressings and I was given light duties until I recovered more fully.
Again in action
Soon we were given orders to secure a convent, and we were able to occupy the first floor, though the second floor continued to be held by the Germans. To force them out, we got a lot of straw and set it on fire. I remember how the masses of smoke caused one German to come down the staircase, shouting, "I surrender, I surrender", but when one of our lads came forward, the German shot him dead with a pistol he held in his hand. He was promptly dispatched. The mother superior of the convent was German as were some of the nuns, though most were Polish. When we wanted to search their cells, the nuns raised a great fuss, as they were a cloistered order and we should respect their privacy. But it was in her cell that we found an SS officer hiding. The SS was well known for not taking prisoners. Neither did we. In time we were driven from the convent by German tanks. When one of the first of these approached we asked for help from a unit equipped with a shoulder-held antitank weapon - the British had dropped a number of these but they were all too scarce. The weapon was fired from a basement window. I was to look to see how effective it had been, but a companion in arms pushed me aside saying he would do the checking. As he moved towards the window, the tank, which somehow was intact, fired its gun and the lookout was killed outright. Again, I had been lucky.
Later, I remember being in an apartment house while the Germans were in possession of the other side of the street. To show oneself in room facing the street was suicidal. But I found myself able to observe the street corner through a window of such a room while hiding in an adjoining one. A German would occasionally poke out his head from around the corner. I took two chairs, sat down on one and rested my rifle on the back of the other. Carefully I checked and rechecked my aim and then when the German poked his head out for the umpteenth time, I pulled the trigger. The bullet found its mark and later I saw other Germans dragging away the body. We were extremely short of ammunition and it was important to make each bullet count.
Through the sewers
From the beginning of the Uprising, my unit had been fighting in Mokotów, the southern district of Warsaw. The Germans had managed, in time, to divide the area under control of the Home Army into several enclaves, among these Mokotów, the City Center, and the Old Town. After 30 days, it proved necessary to evacuate forces defending the Old Town and the evacuation took place through the sewers. A time came when the evacuation of Mokotów also loomed. At that point I was assigned to form the armed detail assisting in the evacuation to the City Center of the wounded colonel 'Daniel' (Stanisław Kamiński), the commander of the regiment defending Mokotów. But Mokotów was much further from the City Center than had been the Old town and the evacuation under the German lines all the more perilous. Long lines of soldiers were waiting to enter the sewers. Our military police was preventing civilians from joining the exodus. Female liaison officers served as sewer guides; these women had traversed the sewers repeatedly carrying orders and munitions. At first we had to proceed on all fours, but then we were able to stand erect. It was the latter part of September and the waste water flowing through the sewers was cold. In some places the Germans had managed to dam the flow of the water with ready made barriers which we had to breach and allow the water to ebb before being able to proceed. At such times the water reached to our chins. We had to observe strict silence and could hear Germans shouting through manholes suggesting we come up and surrender, but, I learned later that those who did were promptly shot. And so it went for eleven long hours. I had been lucky to have received a bottle of vodka before entering the sewer. I had poured the vodka in my canteen and now when I found myself weakening and shivering, I would lean against the side of the tunnel and take a drink. I emerged totally exhausted, smelly and befouled. I made a decision: no matter what, I would never enter the sewers again. Taking note of where I had emerged, I went to the nearby apartment of the wife of a major I knew. She opened her door but would not let me come in, instead telling me to descend to the cellar and to leave all my clothes there. She then ran a bath for me and helped me get clean, then gave me her husband's ski suit. After that she offered to let me sleep. I slept a whole day and the following night. When I woke up at last, I found my gun and ammunition all cleaned and waiting for me.
Being in the City Center enclave, I went to see how my family was doing. Their apartment house was still standing. My brother spotted me and came out running ... followed by my mother and other members of the family. They were so happy to see that I was all right. They fed me and I spent a night at home before rejoining my unit. Soon the capitulation was signed. We were to be treated as prisoners of war. We assembled on Wilska Street and marched out in formations. As we passed the first German guards, we were to throw our weapons onto a pile on the ground, but I had already buried mine. Now under armed escort we were marched to a transit camp at Ozarów and from there we were transferred by train to the POW camp at Lamsdorf near Breslau.
Collected and translated by Peter and Teresa Gessner