world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944

Julian Eugeniusz Kulski. Dying, We Live. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979.

Reprinted with author's permission.

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It was a parched summer morning. At dawn we got orders to move into a house at Tucholska Street, off Krasinski Street, where our whole platoon had gathered. Here, additional arms were distributed among us.


Along with a few others I was chosen to go on patrol to Suzina Street, our pistols and Sten guns hidden under our jackets. We were to protect another detachment of our company, which was engaged in moving arms from one of our hideouts. Our orders were not to shoot unless first fired upon.

When we got to the corner of Krasinski and Suzina Streets, we divided into pairs at the intersection and waited, more alert than ever before to everything that was happening around us.

We did not have to wait long.

From Kochowska Street the advance group, led by 'Swida,' carrying two large packages, entered Krasinski Street, while 'Korwin' and 'Longinus' ran into 'Wilk' and 'Horodenski' going toward Suzina Street.

At that moment, a German patrol truck drove quite slowly down Krasinski Street. Seeing the column, the Germans brought the vehicle to a screeching halt and opened fire on the men in the middle of the boulevard.

'Swida' responded with his Sten gun; one of his men pulled a light machine gun out of a sack, took up position and, after firing a short salvo, uttered a curse: his gun was stuck. At that moment, 'Wilk' and 'Horodenski' entered the action.

The Germans, surprised by the fire on their flank from the other side of Krasinski Street, turned around. This gave the opportunity to the 'Swida' group to withdraw to Kochowska Street.

The firing was still fierce, and bullets whined over our heads as we lay flat in the green center strip dividing the boulevard. I kept firing back, 'Wilk' wounded a couple more of them with his Sten gun, and the Germans withdrew quickly toward Powazki. During this exchange of fire, 'Horodenski' was wounded, and he and 'Wilk' withdrew to the Lower Park.

Having a few minutes' respite, we unpacked the arms and distributed the guns, hand grenades, and ammunition among us. I drew an old Polish army rifle-the Warszawiak 1937-with ammunition. Then we took up positions in the buildings along Krasinski Street.


It was then early afternoon. Two huge German trucks, loaded with special SS anti-insurgency Commandos, stopped on the boulevard and began firing into Suzina Street with machine guns and rifles. We in turn opened up on them, and their bullets roared over our heads and hit the walls of the apartment building from which we were firing. This exchange of fire gave me my first opportunity to use my newly acquired rifle. At one point, we had had no wounded, although several Germans had been struck by our bullets. Then, however, after half an hour's engagement, I saw that two of our men had been hit and were being carried to a nearby house. The Germans, who had not yet been really able to reach us with their fire, sent a sharpshooter to the end of the street opposite us in order to gauge our exact location. One had to admit that he showed great bravery, for his mission pretty well marked him for certain death.

To our amazement, without any cover, the sharpshooter crossed the whole distance between the place where the German trucks were situated and the end of our street. Only there, when he was facing us, did a bullet from Cadet-Officer 'Mirski's' gun strike him.

The Germans withdrew with their trucks, and we are going to move to a house on Mieroslawski Street where we intend to stay until it is time to rejoin our company.

Tuesday, August 1, Evening

At exactly five o'clock, as planned, a wave of explosions and bursts of automatic rifle fire set off the Uprising throughout the city. In the midst of the dust and fire, white and red flags (not seen since 1939) were raised along the streets and fluttered from windows and rooftops to hail this great moment.

German tanks were on the corners of all the main boulevards and squares, and their shells and machine-gun fire prevented our units from crossing the streets. Heavy gunfire, machine guns, and exploding shells broke out all over Zoliborz. The battle had started in earnest.

With the support of a heavy Tiger tank, the Germans attacked the building at the corner of Krasinski and Suzina Streets, so we decided to move to Zeromski Park. However, when we got to the lower part of Krasinski Street, we realized that we would have to attempt to cross it while it was being swept with tank fire. The German machine guns were placed so low that the bullets were cutting the leaves off the potato plants growing in the center strip of the boulevard.

In spite of this we had to cross the boulevard. Crouching, with my rifle in my hands, I ran at a terrific speed, but I got pinned down in the middle of the road and was unable to proceed. Then, the tank trained the muzzle of its big gun on my position and the first shell exploded about twenty-five meters from where I was lying. The next was even nearer, so there was no time to think.

We all jumped up and with one rush covered the distance to the other side of the boulevard. While I was pinned down in the middle of the boulevard, a bullet had cut my sleeve and wounded my right arm slightly. I was very lucky, but 'Bogdan' had received a serious leg wound and we had to go back for him.

When we entered the building on the other side of the street, we left our wounded with the medics, and a nurse dressed my wound and gave me some water. As we sat in the courtyard, an old lady blessed us with the sign of the cross. She was crying with joy and excitement because the longed-for hour of the Uprising had really come at last.

As night fell the shooting stopped, and Zoliborz became quiet again; only the crackle of flames from the burning houses disturbed the silence. Gradually, however, the survivors of the dispersed units began to gather on the streets of Zoliborz, some of them coming all the way from Bielany and Powazki.

Tuesday, August 1, Night

We all regrouped and started to advance toward the building on Krasinski Street where our company was stationed. When we reached our company safely, we heard that during the day there have been heavy losses. So, our detachment has been lucky, for the only two wounded are 'Thur,' on whom a wall, struck by a shell from a Tiger tank, had collapsed, and 'Bogdan.' However, 'Wacek' is missing. Hungry and tired, we could hardly stand, but there could be no rest for us. After a short break, the order to march put us all on our feet again. [...]

Thursday, August 3, Midday

While preparing the defense, Colonel 'Zywiciel' had given our Commando company-the only one really armed-the job of se-curing the outposts. The 226th, my platoon, and the 229th Platoon were ordered to take up positions opposite each other in the rows of individual houses on Zeromski Street. A patrol was also sent to nearby Kleczewska Street in order to seize a house there and then to wait for the next order. Members of our detachment were selected for the patrol. I was among them, and 'Korwin' was our leader.

After a careful examination of our Sten guns and rifles, we proceeded – under cover of the gardens – to carry out our task. Creeping along, we crossed a road which was under enemy machine-gun fire and then found ourselves at the designated house. The frightened inhabitants had already spent the whole morning in the cellar; when they saw us, armed to the teeth, they left the place altogether.

After we had explored the house, 'Korwin' placed a few of us at the windows as observers. We were to be relieved every two hours in order to break the monotony. With hand grenades stuck in his sapper's boots, and a semiautomatic rifle nonchalantly slung across his shoulders, the bearded 'Korwin' gave the impression of a piratical guerrilla rather than of a well-disciplined junior officer. Then, our heroic leader stationed himself in the cellar, from where he gave us his orders. I was placed behind the window of the large and still beautifully furnished living room.

The machine-gun volleys and shells exploded constantly. Every five minutes or so a bullet or fragment of a mortar shell would enter the room and strike the furniture or the walls. Then there came an unexpected letup and, crouching below the window, I found time at last to think.

I thought of Ludwik in particular. We finally were doing what he had dreamed of for four long years. We were in the thick of battle against the Occupier and the man who had brought me into the fight, who had steeped all of us in the need to fight and perhaps die for freedom, was not there. I hoped he would have been pleased with the results of his careful and constant planning to turn young boys into fighting soldiers.

The maneuvers of the Third of May, deep in the Great Kampinos Forest, in about the same spot where we had been the previous night, the visit to the Fighting Ghetto, the faces of Ola, Stefa, Zula – all passed before my eyes in swift succession.

I wondered where the Uprising found my father, and how he, my mother, and my sister were managing. Marysia, I somehow knew, was all right, and I felt strongly that if I managed only to survive this day, I would see her again.

While I was thus deep in thought and feeling very uncomfortable on the hard floor, I turned onto my other side and then noticed on the piano a photograph of a very beautiful girl. The face seemed very familiar to me.

After a moment I was sure it was the likeness of my cousin, Ania Marjanska, who lived in Komorow, near Warsaw. I soon remembered that one of her family had a house on this street and thought, here I am now, I do not know why, in that very house.

Thursday, August 3, Afternoon

In the afternoon, all hell broke loose. The artillery, tanks, and heavy mortars fell on our positions at the Workers' Conquest Colony. Occasionally a Tiger tank passed along the next street, or even along ours, sometimes so close to the house that it nearly touched the walls. The whole earth trembled with heavy explosions and we could hear the voices of the advancing Germans quite plainly. Every minute they could be heard more clearly, and we soon found ourselves in the middle of the German infantry and tank units attacking the Workers' Conquest Colony.

We were now in a hopeless position, well behind enemy lines. If we were discovered by the Germans, we would not be able to defend ourselves for more than a few minutes. We could not even hope to get any help from our company, as we were completely cut off from them.

Then 'Korwin' – who was as intelligent as he was cautious – found a small door behind a locker in the cellar which led to a tiny hiding place under the stairs. After removing all traces of our stay in the house, he ordered us to go in there one after another. We pulled the locker back in place from inside so that nobody could detect the door from the outside.

The hiding place was very tiny, only as long as the height of an average man and little more than one and a half meters at its highest point. It is incredible how such a small hole could hold nine men, three of them very tall.

We were all sitting so that each man's head was resting against the back of the man in front, our knees drawn up to our chins. We clung firmly to our precious weapons, and tried to ignore the growling of our empty stomachs. In this extremely uncomfortable position, nearly suffocating from the lack of fresh air, stiff and cramped, we waited.

All the time the battle continued in its full fury and we could hear the voices of the Germans outside our building. The thought that our friends were fighting and dying while we were sitting under the stairs and doing nothing, caused us anguish and frustration, but we had no choice.

While waiting for the Germans, we decided that, if attacked, we were going to fight to the end and then explode our hand grenades rather than be captured alive. Every one of us agreed on that point.

By the end of the day, the roar of the battle ceased and we no longer heard German voices. After six hours of unimaginable physical contortions, we were at last able to leave our hiding place and to get some fresh air into our lungs. None of us would ever forget those six hours.
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