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Testimony of Wacława Połomska


Wacława Połomska                                                                                         E300
of the Krzyczkowska family

From Wandering Roads

     The mood and the atmosphere among the residents of the apartment at 17/19 Zagłoby Street in Warsaw, on August 1, 1944 was different than any other day. In the afternoon, unknown men began arriving in our yard. From the conversations of adults, it followed that a unit was gathering and it would attack the "squadron" ("dywizjon") on the neighboring street. A German military unit was stationed there.  
     Given the situation, my mom decided that it would be better if my sister and I did not stay there, and she sent us to a friend who was staying in Ulrychów, not far from the tram terminus. Some events were expected there too because the friend's mother suggested that we take shelter in the basement. But we did not remain there for long. My sister and I decided to return to our parents on Zagłoby Street. 
     As we headed home, I noticed that people were leaving from the gardens that were behind our building and heading quickly to their apartments. There were already around a dozen men in our yard, and among them was Ms. Olszewska dressed in army pants and knee-high boots. I soon heard the sounds of shooting, coming from different directions. Mom did not allow me or my sister to go out anywhere. We had to stay in the apartment. At one point I saw, through the window in the room that looked out onto the yard, that the unknown men had disappeared from the yard and nothing was happening around Zagłoby Street; tranquility reigned. After some time, from the West, from the gardens, German soldiers came to our building. They wore helments with nets on them, and they wore short pants and camouflage jackets with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows. The soldiers forced all the men out from the building and in the yard they checked their identification documents. Soon afterward, they let the men free and the soldiers themselves left. 
     In the evening, unknown people brought a few murdered Gypsies from the gardens to our yard, and they laid them down by the wall. Again, a heavy shooting began; its echoes reached us from various directions. From the window in our apartment, I saw a white and red flag on the school on Zawiszy Street. The inhabitants of the apartment building commented on this with satisfaciton; they were happy that our people had captured the school. News was also reaching us that Germans had killed a few people in the area and had displaced participants of the uprising from some streets.
     On our street, the night passed calmly. There were no German soldiers or uprising participants close by.        
     On the morning of August 2, the corpses of the unburied Gypsies were still laying in our yard. A heavy rain was falling. Around noon, Germans again appeared in our yard, and they ordered all of the inhabitants to immediately leave the building and gather by the wall of the "Squadron" ("Dywizjon"), on the opposite side of Zagłoby Street. The inhabitants of the building left in the clothes they had on. Mom, my sister and I were only in dresses, and father was in pants and a shirt. Soon the German soldiers began shooting at the building, and our apartment building started burning. Meanwhile, another group of soldiers started to set up machine guns. I saw how they put together straps with cartridges and started to aim the barrels in the direction of the crowded gathering of people by the wall of the "squadron" ("dywizjon"). There was commotion and crying. Ms. Zygmunciakowa lamented loudly because her sick, 90-year-old mother - Ms. Lipińska - stayed behind in the building. Horrified, we all awaited the moment when the shots would fire and we would be killed. At one point, a man dressed in a trench coat and in knee-high boots emerged from the group of people standing by the wall and approached the group of German soldiers. I noticed that an animated conversation began between him and the Germans, which was clear from the behavior of the Germans and the man. This lasted for some time. Suddenly, one of the German soldiers and also the man turned to us, saying that we must immediately head in the direction of Górczewska Street. The people instantly dispersed and ran along Zagłoby Street, in the direction of Górczewska street. My parents grabbed us by the hands and we started to run away, together with the crowd. At the end of Zagłoby Street, we ran onto the back end of Górczewska Street, which had tanks driving down it at the time. Nearby burned down buildings, through the gardens along Górczewska Street, we reached the factory site, where we stopped for a moment. There were already many people from Zagłoby Street there. From the East, somewhere from the area where the overpass was on Górczewska Street, the sounds of heavy shooting were reaching us. 
     From the factory site, my parents headed to some acquaintances who were living in Koło, around Księcia Janusza Street and the soap factory. There, in the home of the Marciniak family, we stayed for about two weeks. Ms. Kłosiewicz, Ms. Jankowska, and Ms. Olszewska with her daughters Mira and Romana stayed there with us.
     During our stay with the Marciniak family, on several occasions we went to Zagłoby Street with Mom. We always got there via Żmigrodzka Street. Our home was not burned down; so we managed to salvage some clothes and food from there. We met Ms. Lipińska in one of the apartments. We gave her food and left her there because she did not want to go anywhere. After the war, I found out that Ms. Lipińska survived the war, that she took shelter in a nearby house in the gardens when the Germans began to completely destroy the building on Zagłoby Street.  
     The moods of the inhabitants in Koło varied depending on news. When news of uprising successes reached us, we were happy; when Germans captured more areas of Warsaw and destroyed the city and its residents, we were overcome with sadness. The Germans also treated the inhabitants of Koło brutally, even though battles were no longer going on there. On Deotymy Street, near the church, Janka Wiśniewska was murdered - my older friend from the building on Zagłoby Street. 
     On August 15, a German car drove by on the street and through a loudspeaker called on all inhabitants to abandon the homes and gather at the tram terminus on Obozowa Street. My parents took only the most necessary things, and along with the other inhabitants of Koło, we all went to Obozowa Street. From there, the Germans directed us in the direction of Boernerowa. In the area of the tram passing lanes, the inhabitants of Koło dispersed into surrounding buildings. My parents went to the Raków family. But after a few days, the Germans chased all the newcomers out from the houses and gathered us in a meadow. German soldiers surrounded the crowd of people and started pulling out the men. They took my father, too. They formed a line out of the men and under escort, they marched them in the direction of Pruszków. Remaining in the meadow were the inhabitants of Koło, primarily women with children, and left alone for some time they dispersed into surrounding buildings again. My mom, with me and my sister, returned to the Raków family. But there was a good number of people there and the Raków family did not think it was possible for us to stay with them. Night was approaching, and we did not have anywhere to go. Meanwhile Ukrainian soldiers (Własowcy), whom we called Mongols, were roaming around the area. We went into a greenhouse and spent the night there.  
     On the second day, in the morning, the Germans gathered all the runaways, and under escort, through Jelonki and Groty, they led us to Pruszków. I remember that we spent the night during this trip in a large pile of hay in Groty. Awfully exhausted from the journey and from carrying all of our belongings, we reached Pruszków. There, the Germans placed us in halls on the site of some factory. My younger sister became seriously ill there. With difficulty Mom brought her back to health.  
     In Pruszków, Mom and I started to look for Father because nearby there were halls occupied by men. Despite insistent efforts, we did not manage to find him. 
     We stayed in Pruszków for a few days. Toward the end of the week, the Germans loaded a mass of people into freight wagons and they sent us to the camp in Stutthof.
     From the train ride, I remember the following image - at one of the stations, a boy got out of the wagon to get water. Germans beat him up till he bled. I looked at this boy and at the German children who were standing next to the German station, nicely dressed and well fed. This sight will stay in my memory forever. 
     In Stutthof, we were placed in barracks in which there was some sawdust spilled onto the floor. We slept on it. Nearby the barracks there were whole heaps of shoes and hair. At the time, I thought that we would also end up as just that. 
     I do not remember how long we stayed in Stutthof, but at any rate, in September, some of the people, including us, were loaded into wagons (first, I think, into wagons of a narrow gauge commuter train, and then into normal, large wagons), and we were sent to the work camp outside of Grudziądz. The place, where the camp was located was called Alt Vorwerk in German. 
     The camp was located in a boggy meadow. There were round barracks covered with plywood, which had partitions like for horses. In every partition there was space for four people. In this kind of barrack, 40 people were held. Mom and I and my sister were directed to barrack number 18. 
     Every morning in the camp, Germans organized assemblies, during which adults were directed to work by digging trenches, while older children were taken in by neighboring Germans to work in the fields. I was often employed in gathering potatoes and digging out beets.
     The living conditions in the camp, especially as winter was approaching, were very difficult. We slept on the floor, which had some straw thrown onto it. It was not until later that we succeeded in making a bed out of pieces of board. An epidemic of typhoid reigned in the camp; there was a shortage of soap; the food was very bad. We received low-calorie dinners from the communal kitchen. For this reason, my sister and I often went to the fields and gathered potatoes from the mounds. We were afraid of the Germans, but hunger was stronger.
     Also with us in the camp in Alt Vorwerk were the following people: Ms. Kłosiewicz, Ms. Jankowska, Ms. Mossakowska with her son Kazimierz, my friend Czesia Paradowska and other people from the camps in Pruszków and Stutthof.
     On January 20, 1945, the Germans evacuated the inhabitants of the camp in Alt Vorwerk. We were rushed in the direction of the Vistula river, which we crossed on ice, and we were directed to the camp in Grupa. There were Italian prisoners and prisoners of other nationalities there. We were placed in barracks, in which there were bunk beds.
     Between January and February, there were days when the Germans no longer controlled the situation; there was visible disorder and the inhabitants of the camp were left to themselves. The sounds of the approaching front were reaching us. During this time, the prisoners broke open a storehouse of food. Then people stocked up on canned food, sugar.
     On February 2, the camp in Grupa was shelled by the artillery. Even this accident happened: one of the shells landed in our barrack and badly wounded five people. Among other things it tore off the foot of Ms. Jabłonka's son. During this time, we took shelter in bunkers, where we stayed for a few days. Nearby, the front rumbled. But the Germans appeared again, and around February 10 they rushed us in the direction of Świecie. In the early evening, the line of people stopped in a village nearby a forest. At night, in the area of this village, a frightening shooting exploded. The glass flew out of the windows. At one point, a very young Russian soldier - almost a child - came into the home where we were staying, and after him came a second soldier who was older than him. Even though we heard shooting all around us, I felt that liberation had come, that German control had ended. The Russian soldiers asked if there were German soldiers in the house and they became interested in a man who was with us. He was an Italian prisoner named Ben Rocco, who had mixed into the crowd of people and walked with us. The Russian soldiers wanted to take him, but we somehow explained to them that he was not a German but an Italian prisoner. So, he was left in peace.
     In the morning, the Russians ordered us to leave the village and head in the direction of Bydgoszcz. In the forest by the village and on the road there were many corpses of German soldiers. Passing by the corpses, we made our way in the direction of Świecie, together with the others. 
     Before Bydgoszcz, we stopped in some village for the night. Our host, who had been a farm-hand for Germans and who now occupied their household, treated us very warmly. The host killed a pig and allowed us to eat our fill. But the good mood was disturbed by an unfortunate accident, which happened to a young boy, the brother of the host. While playing with the fuse of a grenade, he caused an explosion. A finger was torn off from the boy's hand. Then I ran onto the road and stopped Polish soldiers, who quickly took the boy to the hospital in Bydgoszcz.  
     We reached Bydgoszcz without obstacles. Only my legs hurt because I walked the whole way from Grupa in clogs. In Bydgoszcz, on the bridge, an army patrol was checking everyone's documents. Ben was walking with us. I do not know why, but at this point, Ben decided not to approach the patrol and he separated from us. We have not met him since.
     From Bydgoszcz we reached Grodzisk via freight train. We stopped in Milanówek and stayed with relatives. There we found out that my uncle Władysław Mucek's house on Kawcza Street had been saved. So we headed in its direction. From Warsaw West Station, on foot through a terribly ruined Warsaw and across the bridge on the Vistula by Karowa Street, we reached Grochów at the end of February or at the beginning of March. 
     After many months of wandering and awful experiences, we returned to Warsaw. Our house did not exist anymore, but Warsaw was free, the city that is my home.

*

     During the described events, I turned 15. We all survived the war. My father, who had been sent to the camp in Austria, returned to Warsaw in the summer of 1945. My relatives who had been sent to the camp in Berlin also survived the war. So we were immensely lucky to survive the war, despite the tragic fate of Warsaw's inhabitants, and today everyone - my parents and my sister - are alive and live in Warsaw.

 

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  The project is implemented by the Museum of Warsaw in cooperation with the State Archives of City of Warsaw, and the Niedersachsische Gedenkstatten Foundation