world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944

Barbara Kaczyńska-Januszkiewicz. Warsaw Diary. Fragments.

Reprinted from Powrót do Wspomnień, 2004, with author's permission.

[ exit ]  

Translated by Łukasz Nogalski.

Sept. 23, Saturday

Father brought 23 books from upstairs. I will be busy with them. I have to bind them and make a list of them. Hanka came. We talked over one another. She has three dogs to feed, but there is enough food. She could not believe how much we have been through.

Sept. 28, Wednesday

I have not written for such a long period of time as there was no time or place to do so. This is what happened: on Sunday planes flew over and bombed houses number 32 and 34. Then tanks came and opened fire on us. Later they shelled us with rocket-propelled mortars we called “cows.” That is how it went during those three days. On the 26th the Germans were near our house, shooting at the windows. On the 27th we were woken up and told that the Poles have surrendered; there were white flags on the buildings. We couldn’t believe this. However, when we came out we saw the white sheets—the Mokotow district has fallen.

We went down to the basement to wash ourselves. We barely finished doing this (we did not eat or drink anything) when the Germans appeared. They told us to leave. We grabbed our suitcases and began a horrible journey in the direction of Jerozolimskie Avenue. The awkward suitcases hurt our hands. We tripped over rubble and unexploded munitions. Our feet fell into potholes. The tanks shot at the city. Shells were flying overhead. Add the screaming of the Germans and the wailing of children to this chaos. Daddy was stopped on the corner of Szczekocinska Street and was given a task of leveling the trenches. We were driven to Niepodgleglosci Avenue. There we had a break. Thereafter, we were driven to Odynca Street. From Odynca to Pyrska Street, there were horrible sights: rotting human corpses, horse and dog carcasses, destroyed houses. We were driven in such a way to Pyrska Street through some pathways all the way to the former horse race tracks. There we were put into barracks where horses used to be housed. We rested a bit. I found Piotrek, Rysia, Iza, and Witek. Supposedly Hanka and Janusz are also here.11 We stood the entire day in the barracks. In the evening they chased us outside, supposedly to board the train. Some went to Wlochy district by foot, the rest were supposed to ride the train to Pruszkow. We stood together with Mr. and Mrs. Welman on the ramp waiting for a train. At one point, on our way to relieve ourselves, we heard daddy’s voice. We were overcome with joy.

The train came at midnight, and we left for Pruszkow. We came to a stop at the old railway yards. In the afternoon of the 28th they threw us out again, and a selection took place. They took men, women, and teenagers for forced labor in the Reich. Daddy, looking very frail with glasses on, was not picked, although they checked him twice. Mother was afraid for me because I am so tall, but I also was passed over. Now—that is, on the 29th—we have been sitting since yesterday in some other workshop building. We are supposed to go to Czestochowa. One more selection is ahead of us. At every step we meet our old friends. My parents frequently stop and get lost. I am constantly looking for them. Conditions are horrible here: there is dirt and a nauseating smell from the trash dumped on the train tracks. We sleep huddled on some wooden boards. The Red Cross gives out watered-down coffee in the morning and the evening and a quarter loaf of bread per person. In the afternoon they offer soup.

Tonight I managed to bang my head just above my ear on a metal rail. In order to get this bandaged, I had to walk in the dark due to an aerial raid. Russian airplanes are regularly bombing Warsaw, night and day. It was a miracle I did not injure my other ear. Now that I have bandages around my head I look so much like a boy that everyone calls me a “young man,” “sir,” or “boy.” It is all very amusing.

Oct. 4, Wednesday

A lot has happened in the past few days. Since the 2nd of October there has been relative peace and life is going on in its usual course. We even have white bread, deli ham, butter, bed sheets—well, in a sense, we have it all. Just like in a fairytale. Above all, we are far from Warsaw; in fact, we are near Cracow. We did not fly here on a magic carpet, rather we took an indirect route in an open wagon freight train. But I should describe events in the order they occurred: on the 30th we learned unofficially that there will be a transport. We got ready and did well by taking our place in line. It should also be mentioned that we waited for this transport for two days. They kept us in rows of four for three hours with the unruly crowds constantly pushing and shoving. Later, they let us cross the barbed-wire fence and go to the train wagons. We were lucky that family K. knew an Austrian who arranged for us to board the train.

We got into a quite decent, clean train wagon.12 It was very tight quarters in there, but the most bothersome was the lack of place to relieve ourselves. One gentleman came up with an idea to buy some kind of a “potty pot.” The money was collected, and two pots were purchased. However, one of them—a decent cooking pot—disappeared after the first use. The second one leaked, but we used it all night.

In the morning, someone threw it out. People asked the Germans to open the doors during the train stops. This was not a good idea because the train departed without any notice. Anyways, not everyone could take advantage of this opportunity because jumping off the wagon was only suitable for the young people. Plus there were those who had upset stomachs. What about eating, drinking? We did not get anything. We had a bit of bread, but it did not last long. There was no water. One time in Skierniewice the children got two apples and a piece of bread. That was the end of that. They gave us water and bread, though sparingly, because they themselves could not or did not have any. They did this from the bottom of their hearts, and it was hard to believe these were the same Germans who were sent to the front! They really treated us well! They helped elderly people to get off the trains and tried to cheer us up. We understood very little since they spoke only German or broken Polish. One of them said: “Do not be afraid, you no have home, but you have life, me no family, home, life.” Another one almost broke into tears when told about the terrible fate of Warsaw. And so, that is how we traveled for almost two days until the night of the 11th. Our route was the following: Pruszkow-Skierniewice-Koluszki-Skarzysko Kamienna-Kielce-Wolbrom. We stopped in Wolbrom sometime in the morning. Again we were broken up into groups of four and distributed into living quarters. Luckily daddy asked some firefighter about an apartment. He had only three persons assigned to his place and so he gladly accepted us. Now we live in a kitchen, we have it well. It is warm and the food is plenty.


* * *

11 School friends whose last names I do not recall.

12 These were roofless freight wagons normally used for the transportation of coal. We were crowded into them, and we could only stand up.


  [ exit ]