It is good that there has finally come a time when I, as an eyewitness, may finally reveal what I have seen and experienced in the course of one night, during the burning and massacre perpetrated on 800 wounded and hospital personnel working at St Lazarus’ Hospital.
I am a nurse, a graduate of the Warsaw School for Nurses; I worked on a full-time basis at the Charles and Mary Hospital, and therefore in close proximity to ’Lazarus’.
During the uprising, the two hospitals cooperated very closely with each other. On theevening of 5 August (I don’t remember the time), I went with a wounded man to the ’Lazarus’. Although the distance is small, I couldn’t return because the artillery barrage was growing stronger, and planes were circling over Wola, with the bombing continuing, and the first grenades were landing from the direction of Wolska Street. Buildings were catching fire immediately, yet there were some 500 sick people and others who were looking for shelter. Nobody survived, no one provided assistance, the rubble and flames blocked the way.
Expecting a bombardment, we took the wounded from the upper storeys of the building at Leszno Street to the cellars. The doctors were working without pause, a dressing station and operating room had been set up in the cellar, on the table [everything] was prepared for surgery, patients were waiting for dressings, but many had not yet been taken down to the cellar and were waiting upstairs. At the urological department, the screams and groans of the wounded were intensifying, there was confusion and noise, sick women, crowding in the corridor, praying, while the children (there were ten of them, and three infants) – frightened – holding on to our gowns, everyone was expecting death and cruelty. We were surrounded, there was no way out, the Germans were coming from Leszna andWolska streets. Insurrectionists on the top floors of our buildings tried to keep shooting, the administrative building and building ’E’ were ablaze. A crowd of SS men appeared in the courtyard, maddened, as if avid for blood. Machine guns had been set up, the SS men used their rifle butts to make their way through the crowd of people to our cellars, cursing and swearing at us terribly, one of them hit a wounded soldier on the face, while another kicked the man’s wounded back, blood gushed from his body, but the soldier never said a word. The elderly and those with weakened nerves were in a state of shock, and one of them threw himself at my throat, strangling me, while another – terrified – was seeking shelter under the table, and still another grasped our clothes, begging for help, but no help could be given, for in a second all of the wounded were detained in the cellars, while we were driven out and ordered against the wall. When coming out, I took with me a three-year old child who was crying and clasping my gown tightly, but a German took the child from me, while I found myself against the wall along with the others. Shells were still being fired from the upper storeys, a machine gun had been directed towards us, but we still had to wait for our turn to come. A murderous massacre was taking place, inhuman groans and wails coming from the wounded in the cellars, single shots could be heard. One would think that the walls would burst, unable to stand so much pain and blood.
I don’t know how long this lasted, I thought that time had stopped. We were not allowed to move, while on the other side, from building ’E’, a machine gun rattled and a hail of bullets was mowing down the entire personnel of that department, lined up against the wall. The dead were everywhere: nuns, nurses, one of the administrative employees with his children, while Doctor Szymańska lay in the cellar doorway, and around her a cluster of bodies – these were the patients who wanted to be with her right up until the end. Suddenly, the cry ’Long live Poland!’ pierced the air, hot with flames, and died away. The wounded – decimated, murdered – lay on their beds, only a small group of us remained. The Germans ran amongst the bodies as if possessed, demanding keys to the blazing storehouses. Two nuns went to hand them over, but they did not return – they were shot dead near the storehouse. Bullets were fired in our direction, and now only a head or two protruded from the crowd. Our eyes hurt from the heat, and our faces burned.
Silence descended, we sensed smoke and the smell of partially burned bodies that had been doused with petrol. I don’t know why we survived the bullets. We were led away from the hospital. A German informed us that we would be executed elsewhere. We were sad to leave the ’Lazarus’ and our friends, who were lying dead all around. We walked away, stumbling over human bodies, near the gate I fell, having caught my foot on the sprawled body of an insurrectionist in an army camouflage coat.
The ’Lazarus’ continued to burn throughout Sunday, 6 August. After ten days, as I worked at St Stanisław Hospital in the Wola district, I managed to get to the ’Lazarus’ to find my dead friend, Irena Rutkowska.
I went to the cellars. I remembered many of the wounded. Now, in death, after ten days had passed, they lay just as they had been left on that tragic night, only the sickly smell of decay permeated the air. The German who kindly accompanied me was sensitive enough that he had to leave the cellars. I was free to look for my acquaintances and permanently imprint on my memory what these barbarians were capable of. One of the cellars in which the sick were crowded was literally crammed with a mountain of bodies, and the faces of the victims still carried the look of fearful terror that accompanied them in their passing.
It was clear that a grave was being readied in the courtyard, for a hole had been dug, while many blackened human remains lay by the walls; nobody could be recognised. Other corpses, partially charred, had ghastly, grisly faces, swollen to three times their normal size, and with burnt out eyes. The barking of a dog came from the still standing wing of the building. It was sister Chodakowska’s dog, still alive; I took it to the hospital, it was as thin as a rake, with its coat singed. I found some documents, for example the card of Ms Zofia Rutkowska, the hospital storekeeper, and the cards of sister Chodakowska and Doctor Szymańska; the latter’s wooden prosthesis was lying beside her burned corpse.
When I revisited the hospital in 1945, all visible traces of the crime had already been cleared up, and a gigantic common grave dug; this had already caved in.
Should more detailed testimony be required in the present case, I declare that I shall answer every summons. I live in Zakopane in the teachers’ sanatorium, where I work as a nurse. Maybe now, when I know that the Germans will not get away with these acts of cruelty, with the barbaric torture of innocent people, maybe – for the first time since that tragic night – I shall fall asleep peacefully, without having to relive the ghastly image of hundreds of faces, all contorted in pain.