world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944

Central Commission for Investigation of German Crimes in Poland.

Excerpts from: German Crimes in Poland. Howard Fertig, New York, 1982.

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  How Wola Civilians Were Murdered

Record No. 53
I lived in the suburb of Wola, at No. 45, Gorczewska Street. On August 2, 1944, SS-men ordered us to leave and go to the house opposite; our house and the neighbouring ones were then burnt down. We got news on the 3rd that our position was hopeless, and that we were going to be shot. Several hundreds of people were gathered in the house. At 11 a.m. on August 4 the Germans surrounded the house, and ordered us to get out; dreadful cries from the women and children were heard. Some shots were fired at the entrance, and many people were killed or wounded. We were driven out into the potato field and ordered to lie down in the furrows. They guarded us closely, so that there was no chance of escape. After some minutes we were ordered to get up. Then they led us under a bridge quite near. There was no doubt about our fate. A woman asked where they were taking us. The answer was: "German women and children are dying owing to you, so you must also die". They regrouped us, separating a group of 70 people, who were sent over the bridge towards a hill. They placed the others (among whom I was) near a wall, amid barbed wire. In different places near us shots were heard: victims of the German persecutors were being executed. We were herded together. I stood on the outskirts of our group, while at a distance of about 5 metres (16 or 17 ft.) from us one of our tormentors quietly made ready to fire a machine-gun, and another took photographs of us, as they wanted to keep a record of the execution. Several were watching us. A volley of shots rang out, followed by cries and groans. I fell wounded and lost consciousness. After a certain time I recovered my senses. I heard them finishing off the wounded I did not move, pretending to be dead. They left one German to keep watch. The murderers set the neighbouring houses, large and small, on fire. The heat scorched me, the smoke choked me, and my dress began to burn, I tried cautiously to put out the flames.

I was hidden by a potato basket, and when the German sentinel was looking in another direction I pushed the basket in front of me and crawled along for a few yards behind it. Suddenly the wind blew a cloud of smoke in our direction so that the sentinel could not see me. I jumped to my feet and ran into the cellar of a burning house. There I found several people slightly wounded who had succeeded in getting out from under a heap of corpses. We set to work to dig an under-ground passage, a difficult task amid fire and smoke. At last, after several hours of superhuman effort, the passage was finished and brought us out in the courtyard of a neighbouring house, not yet on fire. This was about half past twelve at night. Someone led us out to the fields, away from the fighting and burning. I could hardly keep on my feet. I am still in hospital. The number of persons shot in my presence may be estimated at about 500, only 3 or 4 having been saved. The murderers were SS-men. [The Polish text shows that the author is a woman, this cannot be shown in the English translation save by the one word "dress". Note by the translator].

Record No. 57
I lived in the Wola district at No. 8, Elekcyjna Street. At 10 a.m. on Aug. 5, 1944 a detachment of SS-men and Vlassov's men entered. They drove us from the cellars and brought us near the Sowinski Park at Ulrychow. They shot at us when we passed. My wife was killed on the spot: our child was wounded and cried for his mother. Soon a Ukrainian approached and killed my two-year-old child like a dog; then he approached me together with some Germans and stood on my chest to see whether I was alive or not – I shammed dead, lest I should be killed too. One of the murderers took my watch; I heard him reloading his gun. I thought he would finish me off, but he went on further, thinking I was dead. I lay thus from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. pretending to be dead, and witnessing further atrocities. During that time I saw further groups being driven out and shot near the place where I lay. The huge heap of corpses grew still bigger. Those who gave any sign of life were shot. I was buried under other corpses and nea rly suffocated. The executions lasted until 5 p.m. At 9 p.m. a group of Poles came to take the corpses away. I gave them a sign that I was alive. They helped me to get up and I regained sufficient strength to carry with them the body of my wife and child to the Sowinski Park, where they took all the dead. After this sad duty had been performed they took me to St. Laurence's Church at Wola, where I remained till next day. I cannot state the exact number of the victims, but I estimate that those among whom I lay amounted to some 3,000 (three thousand). I met a friend in the church who had gone through the same experience as I, having lost a boy of 8, who had been wounded and died calling for his father. I am still in hospital and the image of death is constantly before my eyes.

Record No. 58
When I was endeavouring to get outside the town from Wola, I passed through Gorczewska Street. This was on August 7,1944. When we passed No. 9, Gorczewska Street (a house which belonged to nuns), we were called into the house and ordered to carry out and bury the corpses which were there. The courtyard was a dreadful sight. It was an execution place. Heaps of corpses were lying there; I think they must have been collecting there for some days, for some were already swollen and others quite freshly killed. There were bodies of men, women and children, all shot through the backs of their heads. It is difficult to state exactly how many there were. There must have been several layers carelessly heaped up. The men were ordered to carry away the bodies – we women to bury them. We put them in anti-tank trenches and then filled these up. In this way we filled up a number of such trenches in Gorczewska Street. I took the impression that during the first days of the Rising everybody was killed. Later on wom en and children were sometimes left alive, but the killing of men still went on. I watched all this until August 7, when I succeeded somehow in getting away out of this hell, having been saved by a miracle.

Record No. 59
On August 5, 1944, at Warsaw at about 4 or 5 p.m., the houses Nos. 105,107, 109, Wolska Street immediately behind the railway bridge, the so-called Hankiewicz houses, were suddenly surrounded from all sides by Germans, who threw hand-grenades and set then on fire by means of some white powder, which they carried in bags. There were many inhabitants there and lots of people had come here from town. No order to leave the houses was given. After the Germans had surrounded them no one left them: everyone was burnt alive or else killed by hand-grenades. No one could escape. Only those were saved who had left the houses at some earlier hour. It was said that the Germans burnt all the houses in which insurgents had stayed. In the Hankiewicz houses some 2,000 people or perhaps even more found their death.

Record No. 60
On August 7, 1944, about 9 p.m., at No. 15, Gorczewska Street, the three and four-storeyed Wawelberg blocks were surrounded by Germans (SS-men). They threw hand-grenades inside, surrounded the houses with machine-guns, and set them on fire from all sides. Any persons who tried to get out were killed. People in flames ran to the windows. Nobody could escape from the fire; they were all burnt alive. It was a miracle if someone escaped. I know of one woman who jumped from the second storey and thus succeeded in saving her life. The front entrance was full of the bodies of those who had tried to escape from the flames. I saw among them women with babies at the breast. The houses were completely surrounded, and I suppose there must have been about 2,000 people living in them. No one came out alive unless by miracle, as in the case of the woman I have mentioned above.

Record No. 63
I lived at No. 18, Dzialdowska Street, Wola. The Insurgents had built two barricades near our house, at the corner of Wolska and Gorczewska Streets, with the help of the inhabitants, including even children. Machine-guns, ammunition and grenades were (placed in the neighbouring house. On August 1 at 3 p.m. heavy fighting broke out in our district. The situation had been difficult from the beginning, all the more because the Volksdeutsche, who were numerous here, shot covertly at the Insurgents and betrayed their whereabouts to the Germans. Tiger tanks were brought up, houses were broken into, and many people were killed; our house was hit several times. The tanks attacked from Wolska and Gorczewska Streets. The Germans broke in; they dragged the men out and ordered them to demolish the barricades. They then began to set the houses on fire. I saw Nos. 35 and 8 in our street being set on fire; bottles of petrol were thrown into the flats without warning, and so it was impossible for the inhabitants to escape. I stayed in the cellar of No. 18 until August 5, when, between 11 and 12 noon, the Germans ordered all of us to get out, and marched us to Wolska Street. This march was carried out in dreadful haste and panic. My husband was absent, taking an active part in the Rising, and I was alone with my three children, aged 4, 6 and 12, and in the last month of pregnancy. I delayed my departure, hoping they would allow me to remain, and left the cellar at the very last moment. All the inhabitants of our house had already been escorted to the "Ursus" works in Wolska Street at the corner of Skierniewicka Street, and I too was ordered to go there. I went alone, accompanied only by my three children. It was difficult to pass, the road being full of wire, cable, remains of barricades, corpses, and rubble. Houses were burning on both sides of the street; I reached the "Ursus" work's with great difficulty. Shots, cries, supplications and groans could be heard from the factory yard. We had no doubt that this was a place for mass executions.

The people who stood at the entrance were led, no, pushed in, not all at once but in groups of 20. A boy of twelve, seeing the bodies of his parents and of his little brother through the half-open entrance door, fell in a fit and began to shriek. The Germans and Vlassov's men beat him and pushed him back, while he was endeavouring to get inside. He called for his father and his mother. We all knew what awaited us here; there was no possibility of escape or of buying one's life; there was a crowd of Germans, Ukrainians* (Vlassov's men), and cars. I came last and kept in the background, continuing to let the others pass, in the hope that they would not kill a pregnant woman, but I was driven in with the last lot. In the yard I saw heaps of corpses 3 feet high, in several places. The whole right and left side of the big yard (the first yard) was strewn with bodies. (A sketch of the yard was made by the deponent.) We were led through the second. There were about 20 people in our group, mostly children of 10 to 12. There were children without parents, and also a paralysed old woman whose son-in-law had been carrying her all the time on his back. At her side was her daughter with two children of 4 and 7. They were all killed. The old woman was literally killed on her son-in-law's back, and he along with her. We were called out in groups of four and led to the end of the second yard to a pile of bodies. When the four reached this point, the Germans shot them through the backs of their heads with revolvers. The victims fell on the heap, and others came. Seeing what was to be their fate, some attempted to escape; they cried, begged, and prayed for mercy. I was in the last group of four. I begged the Vlassov's men around me to save me and the children, and they asked if I had anything with which to buy my life. I had a large amount of gold with me and gave it them. They took it all and wanted to lead me away, but the German supervising the execution would not allow them to do so, and when I begged him to let me go he pushed me off, shouting "Quicker!" I fell when he pushed me. He also hit and pushed my elder boy, shouting "hurry up, you Polish bandit". Thus I came to the place of execution, in the last group of four, with my three children. I held my two younger children by one hand, and my elder boy by the other. The children were crying and praying. The elder boy, seeing the mass of bodies, cried out: "they are going to kill us" and called for his father. The first shot hit him, the second me; the next two killed the two younger children. I fell on my right side. The shot was not fatal. The bullet penetrated the back of my head from the right side and went out through my cheek. I spat out several teeth; I felt the left side of my body growing numb, but I was still conscious and saw everything that was going on around me.

I witnessed other executions, lying there among the dead. More groups of men were led in. I heard cries, supplications, moaning, and shots. The bodies of these men fell on me. I was covered by four bodies. Then I again saw a group of women and children; thus it went on with group after group until late in the evening. It was already quite, quite dark when the executions stopped. In the intervals between the shootings the murderers walked on the corpses, kicked them, and turned them over, finishing off those who still gave any sign of life, and stealing valuables. (They took a watch from my wrist, but I did not give any sign of life). They did not touch the bodies with their bare hands, but put rags round them. During these dreadful doings they sang and drank vodka. Near me, there lay a big, tall man of middle age in a brown leather coat. He was alive, I heard his death-rattle; they fired 5 shots at him before they killed him. During this shooting some shots wounded my feet. I lay quite numb for a long time in a pool of blood, the dead weighing on me. I was, however, conscious all the time and fully realized what was happening to me. Towards evening I succeeded in pushing away the corpses which lay over me. It is impossible to imagine how much blood there was all round.

Next day the executions ceased. The Germans broke in 2 or 3 times during the day. Now they had dogs with them. They walked and jumped on the corpses to see if any of the supposed dead were still alive. On the third day I felt the child move in my womb. The thought that I dare not kill this child made me look round to examine the situation and the possibilities of escape. Several times, when I tried to get up, I became sick and dizzy. At last I succeeded in crawling on all fours over the bodies of the dead towards the wall and looked round for a way of escape. I saw that the passage through the first yard which was there when we were being led to death was now blocked by a pile of corpses. German voices were heard from the street; I had to look for another way. I crawled into the third yard and found a hiding-place there in a hall where I got through an open window with the help of a ladder. I hid here, fearing the Germans might come to control the place, and spent the whole night here. That night was dreadful. A Tiger tank stood in the street firing continuously, and planes did not cease bombing. All the walls shook. I feared the factory with all the dead would take fire any moment. In the morning all was quiet. I climbed up to look through the window to see if there were any living people about and saw a woman. (As stated later it was another victim who had escaped death by some miracle. She also was an inhabitant of our house.) Then a man about 60 years old came crawling through the yard; he had also escaped death, but had lost one eye. They had both spent these two days in some hiding-place. We began to search the whole yard for some way out. After a long search and many attempts to get free, we at last found a hole on Skierniewicka Street and made our way out through it. The man, however, hearing the voices of Ukrainians* did not follow us. They were standing alt the corner of Wolska Street and did not see us. We went through the debris and rubble into the middle of the street. Then they saw us and surrounded us, though we begged them to allow us to get to a hospital, as we were wounded, which was obvious. We were soaked in blood. We were driven in the direction of Wola in a group with other passers-by, picking up still more on the way. At a certain spot the younger and older people in the group were separated. Young men and women were put on one side and then marched towards a house of execution. This was past Plocka Street in the direction of St. Stanislaus' Church. The remaining group (including myself and my companion) were driven to St. Stanislaus' Church. I saw heaps of corpses on the road and parts of bodies, and Poles carrying the bodies away under escort. German officers standing in front of the church laughed at us, and kicked and beat us. The church was overcrowded. People were being taken in and out. I was then so exhausted that they laid me with the other sick persons before the High Altar. There was no help. I only got a drop of water. After two days I was taken on a peasant's cart with the other sick and wounded to Pruszkow, and from there to Komorow, and then still further to Podkowa Lesna. It was only there, on August 11, that I got medical attention and help. On August 20 I gave birth to a little boy. I suppose I have lost, not only my three children, but also my husband, for he told me that he was going to stay in Warsaw to the end. I have no hope that he is still alive after all the dreadful things that happened.

The Germans were setting houses on fire; throwing people out; hunting and beating them. In the yard of the "Ursus" works people were shot by Vlassov's* men under the command of a German; they say he was from the SS. As far as I can judge, there must have been 5-7 thousand dead in the yard of this factory. About 200 people were driven there from our block alone, which had over 40 flats (with about 4 people in each), and all were killed.

Record No. 73
On August 5, 1944, between 12 and 2 p.m., I saw from a window on the first floor of Wola Hospital Germans dragging women out of the cellars of No. 28, Plocka Street. They shot them in the courtyard with machine-guns. Almost at the same time, I saw in the courtyard of No. 30, Plocka Street the hands of more then 20 people raised and visible over the fence (the people themselves could not be seen). After a volley of shots these hands fell down: this was another of the executions in Wola.

Record No. 95
On August 5, 1944, I was sitting in the cellar of No. 4, Staszica Street with other inhabitants of the house, when suddenly the Germans broke in and drove us out, at the same time grabbing the things we had with us. The women were separated from the men and driven in the direction of Dzialdowska Street.

I was led out with a group of men to the yard of No. 15, Staszica Street. Several hundred men had been driven into this yard. The Germans began to fire machine guns at the crowd. I had withdrawn to the rear, so that before the first rows had fallen, I succeeded in lying down and concealing myself. The shots did not reach me. After some time I crawled out from under a heap of corpses. When, after some time, a German officer arrived, he did not give the order to finish those who were still alive, but allowed us to join the people who were being driven along the street. I thus got to Gorczewska Street and from there to Moczydlo. When I was passing No. 26, Staszica Street, I heard shots coming from the yard; an execution was taking place.

* See [ RONA ]
German eyewitness account [ thieme ]

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