world war 2: warsaw uprising 1944

Andrzej Rafal Ulankiewicz 'Warski II'. The 'Finale': Cherniakow District.

Reprinted with author's permission from unpublished manuscript.

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  [During the second half o September regruped 'Parasol' battalion was defending Cherniakow district – the last area of a Vistula River beachhead still in Polish hands. This was the insurgents' last chance to link up with occupying the opposite side of the river units of gen. Berling Polish Army (WP). This army, under the Soviet command, was formed from Poles deported to gulags in 1939-1941 as well as the conscripts. Author's separated unit re-united with the main core of the 'Parasol' batalion at the beginning of September.] [...] In the meantime the Germans began to counterattack – some grenades exploded in the staircase and a sporadic shoot-out started from the side of the courtyard. “Go out. You lead the attack; the shock troops with machine guns will follow you,” said ‘Jerzy,’ urging me. I could see our boys with ‘MP’ submachine guns and ‘WP’ soldiers gathering around the out hole. I jumped and crept through the dig-out and stood on Wilanowska Street. I turned my head back and didn't see anybody coming behind me. I made a step forward, held my ‘Sten’ submachine gun ready to shoot, and started to shout, “boys, follow me!” No one was following me, and at this very moment I could see in front of me a round shield of fire at the height of the second floor of factory building. I felt a horrible pain in my right lung, as if someone had bored through me with a red-hot poker, and a sharp pain in my right arm. I felt that I was dying, and this was the very end of my existence. A flare was falling slowly over the Vistula River. It was daylight-bright, and all of a sudden I could distinctly see three Germans leaning out of a window sill on the second floor of the ‘Spolem’ building with the machine gun they had used to shoot me.

I was very lucky. By stepping forward, only two bullets hit me; the rest of the spurt missed me. Anyway, at the sight of the Germans with the machine gun and despite a horrible pain, I was seized with awful rage. I stood as I was and yelled, “You sons of bitches,” and I started to fire my ‘Sten’ submachine gun, which was set for single rounds of fire. After some rounds the ‘Sten’ jammed. Then I started to cross the street, falling down on the other side, near the walls of the ‘Spolem’ factory. I had hemorrhages from my mouth and ears, blood was everywhere, and I was in an agony of pain.

I don't know why the Germans did not finish me off as I crossed Wilanowska Street in the full light of flares, in clear view from the enemy's lines. Maybe I had hit the crew of the machine gun and set others in turmoil, astonished at not seeing me falling down after being shot. It's a mystery to me to this day. Human nature fights for its life and so did I, deciding to save myself by escaping to a safer place. On my way on patrol I had gotten fascinated by a hole in the ground floor of the burnt down garage. A strange voice was telling me: “Go there; your salvage is over there.” I started creeping slowly across the factory grounds towards the garage, quite the way of a biblical crucifixion. Gruesome pain literally paralyzed my movements but, in spite of all, I slowly pushed ahead.

It seemed to me that centuries passed by before I could see my ‘salvage hole’ in front of me. It was a round hole cut out with an acetylene burner in the cellar's heavy gauge sheet metal door. The dead body of the owner of this burner lay nearby. The ‘voice’ told me, “Get inside at once or it will be too late.” I fell head over heels into the unknown dark tunnel about two meters down and landed on a bunch of steel car parts and junk. I experienced terrible pain; my lungs were heaving a death rattle of strain. I could not catch my breath anymore. I ended up lying on my right side (the shot one) over the heap of rubble. Facing upwards, I saw two red glows of fire and a sky bright with flares. I was lying in an automobile inspection pit, 2.5 meters deep, approximately 3 meters long by 2 meters wide, full of car parts, wheels, old tires, bottles with leftover of moonshine, and apparatus for distilling.

I did not know if even a minute had passed since I had hidden in the pit. Suddenly I could hear German talk and hobnailed booted footsteps on the metal door above me. I could hear the voice of one soldier saying, “Kameraden, jetzt gehen wir zum Angriff.” ("Men, we are going to attack now.") Then there was a muffled shout, and I felt something hang over me. One of the German's legs had slipped into my hiding hole. Lying on my side, I could see two heads in helmets, leaning down against the sky brightened by the glow of fires. I knew that they were listening to discover if there was somebody down there. My death rattle breath or moaning could have betrayed me, so I stopped breathing. I don't know why I got a twitch in my back where the German grenade should fall, the one which I would have thrown into a suspected cellar if I were them. I felt an awful pain in my chest. I was choking, but suddenly I could hear the commands and heavy shooting. Apparently, the attack on my group had started, and this had saved me. The helmets over me disappeared, and I started breathing again. What a great relief, despite how painful the wounds were. The same voice which had told me to look for refuge here started to give me orders again. I was told to hide immediately behind a heap of tires in a trough where moonshine was distilled. Despite the pain I rolled over with tremendous effort to the place shown me by my ‘guardian angel’ and fainted.

I regained consciousness as daylight trickled through the hole in the sheet metal door. It was quiet; only gunfire and bomb explosions could be heard from far away. I was lying in some kind of a wooden trough, as if in a coffin. There were car tires and moonshine bottles surrounding me, and old, dry, yellow peas and moldy marmalade that smelled like vinegar in an iron pot. I must have lost a lot of blood; I was so weak that I could not move my hand, although the pain had lessened. I was trying to remove the ‘Sten’ hanging on my neck, but I was too weak to do it. I was still lying down and slowly started thinking about my situation and my chances to escape alive.

Suddenly, without any warning I saw something black in the hole above me and the shape of a man. As soon as I recognized the barrel of a submachine gun, he started shooting. Horrendous thunder, amplified by the resonance in the small cellar, completely deafened me for a moment. The German surely had emptied the whole magazine of his gun (thirty-two bullets). Thank God I was hidden at the end of the cellar; otherwise, only a ‘wet spot’ would have remained of me. Fortunately I wasn't hit by the bullets' ricochets either, and the German walked away. I could hear spurts from his submachine gun; he must have been firing at dead bodies, suspicious nooks, and corners like my hiding place.

I must have lost lots of blood, and I was so weak that I found it difficult to raise my hand. By a miracle, the hemorrhages clotted without any dressing or medical help in a dirty cellar, and nature itself won the fight for my life. Time was passing slowly in my hideout. I didn't have anything to eat except the pot of moldy marmalade and a handful of spilled round peas, which I had found among bottles with leftover moonshine at the bottom. Obviously the cellar served a practical purpose, too. However, I didn't feel hunger or thirst, due to the big loss of blood. I was in a strange state of mind, as if under anesthesia. Two or three days had passed since I had hidden in this car-inspection underground space, when a thundering drum fire aroused me from my lethargy. Artillery shells coming from beyond the Vistula River landed nearer and nearer to me. All of a sudden there was a tremendous explosion, followed by the thunder of brick masonry sliding down from the free standing walls and into my hole. It got very dark; dust and smoke filled the air.

After a while, coughing and choked by dust, I realized that I was buried alive in my cellar – a hopeless situation with no way out. I knew that death must come to me in a short time. I'd lost completely the sense of time. It was fortunate that there was a ventilation shaft in that cellar which, by a miracle, wasn't buried, and it was giving me fresh air from the outside of the building. Strange thoughts appeared in my head, returning me to happy moments of my life: My parents and my brother appeared so vivid in front of my eyes. I didn't know then that my brother had been murdered in Gestapo headquarters in Krakow after the unsuccessful assassination attempt on SS General Wilhem Koppe. I was sorry to leave this world but, I had already come to terms with that fact.

Some days passed by again when abruptly I could hear the noise of pickaxes over me and bricks falling into my hide away. Then I saw light above me and heard people's voices. I couldn't believe my eyes, which were accustomed to darkness. I tried slowly to adjust to the new conditions. I could see faces of three people leaning over the dug up hole and rays of sunshine entering inside. I tried to get up and to creep on my belly towards them, to shout, but unable to utter a sound. They noted me, and then their heads disappeared from my field of sight. I thought that they must have become afraid of the sight of a ‘ghost risen from a grave'. After all, my looks were horrible. I was covered with clotted blood, dirty, and haggard to the last – in one word, a walking dead body.

But after a while they came back, picked away the rubble around my hide away, and dragged me to the surface. I'll never forget that moment till the end of my life. I could see people dressed in plain civilian clothes. They talked Polish to me, the sky was blue, the sun was shining, there was a warm autumn afternoon. How happy I was – life, something that I'd already lost, was given back to me by a miracle. People were talking something to me all the time; I somehow didn't catch anything, being so happy.

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