Elementary School no. 2 in Hrubieszów
My wartime experiences
The Polish-German war broke out on 1 September 1939. During that time I was living with my parents in Warsaw. The sad news about the war quickly spread across Poland, because the enemy was attacking with all his might. He had been preparing for it for almost 20 years. At that point, Poland had already had a special place in my heart. Upon hearing about our defeat I couldn’t understand the horror of war.
A few weeks later, the German troops arrived near Warsaw. The siege lasted for several weeks. Heroic Warsaw – bombed and burned – defended itself to the last bullet until it was finally defeated and the Polish heroes were killed.
The German occupation began. Thousands of Poles were arrested and detained in such prisons as Pawiak, Treblinka and other sites of massacres and torment. Polish people from all over the country were deported to Prussia and Germany. The German occupation lasted five years. During that time Poles died in various ways: in prisons, due to starvation and poverty, killed, hanged and destroyed in a barbaric way by the occupier. Each year, the number of Poles was decreasing, until the moment of the uprising in the capital came. I was growing up and studying under watchful eyes of my parents, hoping that Poland would rise today or tomorrow, and that it would continue to exist in the same form as it used to – as a free and sovereign Republic.
In the afternoon on 1 August 1944, the uprising broke out. The army, youths and even children took part in combat. I was living with my parents a few kilometers from the center of Warsaw. The first battles broke out simultaneously in all districts of the city. A dozen minutes later, the fighting was in full force. We could hear gunfire – single shots and machine gun bursts, bursts from the MMGs, the banging of cannons, the growl of the planes, the terrifying whistle of planes flying low to drop bombs onto churches, houses, defenseless population and children. Noise, smoke, dust, burning posts in shops and petrol factories, black smoke from oil, and fiery explosions completed the horrific image of the burning Warsaw. Huge buildings several storeys high and blocks of flats which made up entire streets were coming down like a house of cards in the wind. They instantly turned to heaps of ash and sanded bricks upon getting hit by a well-aimed bomb dropped by the enemy from low altitude. From the first day of the Uprising, Warsaw continued to burn for several weeks without a break. People were arrested, killed in groups numbering 10, 50 or 100, or deported to Prussia and deep into Germany.
Several days after the beginning of the uprising, that is on 9 August 1944, around 7.00 a.m., all adult and young men were taken from my neighborhood and rushed to Okęcie, then to Pruszków, and later deep into Germany.
This was the saddest day of my life because among those who got taken away was my dad – he was torn apart from his beloved relatives, and had to abandon his family home and his dearest Homeland. We have been waiting for him for days and months. We still have not heard from my dearest dad. He may have died, like thousands of other Poles, who had been murdered by the merciless German killers.
The insurgents fought for almost a month – hopelessly, waiting for any sort of help. The residents of Warsaw and insurgents were dying. The number of victims among both civilians and soldiers was growing even though many posts had been reclaimed. The Germans defeated the insurgents and herded about 15,000 of them deep into Germany.
The number of casualties was so high that the residents of Warsaw were in mourning, for in every family there was at least one person who lost their life. 35 percent of Warsaw was destroyed. The rest of the residents were thrown out of the capital. [The Germans] continued to burn and destroy everything that could be demolished, burned or blown up. They were bombing, destroying and burning everything, as well as laying mines and blowing things up for six whole months, i.e. until the moment when the Polish and Soviet troops arrived. Hundreds of families died under the rubble, covered by four- and five-story buildings. A single building could end up as a grave for 300–500 people.
In the entire Warsaw – my home town – only a few dozen buildings and a single church remained standing – the Visitationist Church at Krakowskie Przedmieście Street. In the Church of the Holiest Savior only the outer walls remained, while the entire altar of Christ had been blown up by the enemy.
The sight of the burning Warsaw will be embedded in my memory forever as the most spectacular and painful fire in history. So many mementos, churches, beautiful museums, statues and houses were burned down by our German enemies.