world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944

Jan Nowak. Courier from Warsaw.

Reprinted with permission of the Wayne State University Press.

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  Jerusalem Avenue Crossing

By Jadwiga Nowak 'Greta'

[Jerusalem Avenue, a major boulevard, divided the center of Warsaw occupied by the insurgents. It was under constant barrage from the Germans at the Central Railway Station and the Poniatowski Bridge.]

August 16, 1944

It is nearly 2 A.M. and there is no sign of Jula. I am more and more anxious but comfort myself with the thought that perhaps Jerozolimskie Avenue is blocked or there is firing and nobody can get through... At 5 A.M. I realize that Jula won't be back today. The sun glistens between the houses. On tiptoe so as not to awaken anybody, I slip out of the room and walk toward Jerozolimskie Avenue. Outside there is a strange silence – all the firing has ceased. I reach one of the first cross streets leading to the Avenue. The front doors are closed. I knock at the front door of the house from which one can "jump" to the other side. After a while a little window opens in the door and someone asks: "Where?" "To the other side," I answer. From behind the gate I hear a whispered conversation, then somebody's irritated voice: "Why do these women wander about at all hours? We won' t let anybody across; there were too many victims in the night."

It takes quite a long time to persuade them. In the end they let me in. Something is pushing me, and after a moment I am standing in a break in the wall facing the Avenue. The far side was several yards away. So this is how ‘the other side’ looks, this mortally dangerous sector of the street, soaked in the blood of messengers, liaison girls, and couriers. One must cross these few yards under the fire of snipers on the upper stories of the Bank of National Economy. The street I crossed so many times before the Rising is now lifeless. Where are the streetcars, the horse carriages, the carts heaped with fruit and vegetables, the crowds of pedestrians, and, finally, the German motorcars? All is silent and empty. I decide to "jump." I lean down, ready to run, when somebody tugs at my hand violently and pushes me down "What are you doing?" he shouts. "Are you crazy? Not now."

Staring at the Avenue I did not see the soldier. He is no more than sixteen years old; in a helmet too large for him falling over his ears, he kneels with a rifle positioned in a little window between sandbags, watching the movement of the Germans at the crossing of Marszalkowska and the Avenue on one side and the Avenue and Nowy Swiat on the other.

"At first," he says, "they showed their faces often, but now the Krauts are more careful. Look there, quick, there he is running. Don't lean out, or they will hit us." I just glimpsed a German running through Marszalkowska.

"Why don't you fire?" I asked, astonished.

"We must save ammunition," he answers. "We must wait until more of them start crossing."

I again look at the Avenue. The road and the sidewalk are covered with bricks and plaster. Torn telephone and streetcar lines, whole trees and branches are scattered about. The pavement is full of holes made by German machine-gun fire. I decide to return to Adria. The streets are now becoming more animated; the daily ‘traffic’ is beginning.

In the evening a very excited Elzbieta, Rzepecki s secretary, rushes into Kowalik's room. They talk together in whispers. Kowalik suddenly grows serious, turns toward me, and says: "Jula was badly wounded during the night on the corner of Lwowska and Koszykowa Street."

I start at once to run and hear Tadeusz' voice calling after me in the stairwell: "Sano Clinic, in Lwowska!"

I go back to Widok Street. I wait in despair for two hours in a long line. I run across the Avenue, leaning down, remembering that the path runs slightly askew, to the left. I cannot make a mistake because that would be the end! Right away I find the hole cut just above the sidewalk, screened by sandbags. I am in the cellar: I run along the underground passage, stumbling all the time against the pipes and the knees of people sitting against the walls. I come out into the street at the crossing of Nowogrodzka and Krucza. I keep running, now in the middle of Marszalkowska. I am stopped by patrols once, twice, and asked for the password. I start running again. I reach the Clinic. I am sickened by the horrible smell of blood, pus, and carbolic acid. I stop a nurse: "Nurse, please," I ask feverishly, "where is the liaison girl, wounded last night, at the barricade, not very far from here, on the corner of this street? Please tell me quickly."

The nurse thinks for a moment. "Ah yes," she says at last. "She is in the garage."

"Why in the garage?"

"She died yesterday at six in the evening," she answers calmly. "She was very brave. She was hit in the stomach by a German sniper. It was one of those dum-dum bullets. The operations lasted a long time, but we could not save her.... A priest came.... Only afterward did her fiancé come."

I cross the street and look for the garage in which Jula is supposed to lie. I find it, but it is shut. I wait until dawn in the empty hall of the Architecture Faculty of the Polytechnic. I have time to think about my sister and our parents in Cracow. In September, 1939, they lost their only son, eighteen years old, in the battle of Kutno – and now she is gone…

I say my last goodbye to her on August 18 at 3 in the afternoon, together with her fiancé, Jan Kostrzewski (‘Zajac’). There is a priest, many flowers, many liaison girls, and the owners of safe houses and friends. They carry Jula to the little garden of the house in Mokotowska, where there are already other fresh graves. Handfuls of earth mixed with stones resound on the coffin... the priest does not want the righthand side of the coffin to be covered because "others will come here." On the grave we put a cross made of two birch branches and on it nailed a board with an eagle and the inscription "'Jula,' Barbara Wolska, aged twenty-nine, decorated with the Cross of Valor, died a soldier's death on 17.8.44." On the other graves there are often crosses with only two letters, ‘NN’ – unknown. Some distance away is the grave of ‘Rosomak,’ who parachuted in from England. He had taken part in the fighting at Narvik and in Africa. Now he had perished in the attack on a Warsaw apartment house. By the next grave a still young woman is kneeling, almost touching the ground with her lips. I hear her softly saying to herself: "Don't cry, don't cry, remember you are the mother of a hero...... I look at the tablet on the cross: "Soldier of the Home Army, aged 17," and I too am trying not to cry.

The same evening I return to our people. Jasiek suggests that I lead his patrol to our side. "You know the way," he says, "let's go." After crossing the Avenue we part in Widok Street. It is very dark. I am not sure if I am going the right way, so I stop a patrol and ask for directions.

"Ah, Adria," they say. "It does not exist anymore. An enormous shell fell there, you know, one of the huge ones from the Sebastopol cannon…”

I don't wait for further explanation and hurry on.

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