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Testimony of Ryszard Zabłotniak


Ryszard Zabłotniak, 15 years old                                                                         

Evacuation from Warsaw

     At the end of August 1944, I along with a large group of civilians, was gathered in the Old Town by the German Army, and we were forced to go to a church in Wola. At the time I was fifteen years old; before the uprising I was a student in the second grade at a middle school, which was obviously working with the underground.
     After a night spent in sitting position at the church, we were taken from Warsaw West Station, via electric railway, to the transit camp in Pruszków. During the trip to the transit camp and then during a later evacuation, I was constantly met with spontaneous efforts by local people trying to help. The trains were completely bombarded with bread and fruit, despite the objections of supervising soldiers. The Germans shot at people who rushed to help us.
     In the Pruszków transit camp, I received a portion of canned soup from the cauldrons of the Polish Red Cross (Polski Czerwony Krzyż, PCK) or the Central Welfare Council (Rada Główna Opiekuńcza, RGO).
     During departure from Pruszków, on the way to, as it later turned out, KC Sachsenhausen (a concentration camp), I decided to notify my family, which was living in Ożarów, about my fate. For this purpose, I threw three pieces of paper onto the tracks, each rather significantly timed; every one of them reached the addressee within one day! I kept one of those pieces of paper, as a symbol of Polish solidarity in times of hardship.  
     After being freed from the camp, I returned to Warsaw in June 1945. Our situation was exceptionally difficult - my father had died in KC Oranienburg (a concentration camp), my mother had a room in a shared apartment, as well as one straw mattress and a blanket.
     As an example of an interesting period during my stay at KC Oranienburg (other issues are probably well known), I could say that a small group of Polish youth would meet with the goal of discussing selected works from Polish literature. The organizer of these meetings was a Polish man, the "group leader" ("izbowy") of block 8.
    
I do not know the number of Warsaw residents who were sent to Sachsenhausen. About 4000 people arrived in my transport, but some of them (the women) were separated probably at Ravensbrück. Then the men were sent, marching on foot, to Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg. Even more transports arrived in Sachsenhausen. From Oranienburg (a stay at the factory hall "Zugang"), everyone was sent away, with the exception of metal-workers. Then I posed as a locksmith, as advised by the older prisoners, which was even checked - I was asked to set a zipper to scale, which I knew how to do from middle school.
     Initially, we were not yet hungry, thanks to the food that everyone in the transport was provided with by people from areas surrounding Warsaw.
     The conditions are best described by the fact that of eight men, whom I knew in Warsaw, only I survived. They all died from hunger; not one was murdered. We survived thanks to the help of a kitchen worker named Mieczysław Masztalerz, who currently lives in Łódz. During this time, I was also faced with a few attempts by perverts - German criminals - to "protect" me. I think it is interesting that among Poles, there were no homosexuals, or there were few.
     I worked in hall No. 8, twelve hours a day, where I rather quickly mastered a method of preparing one detail so that it would be accepted by the technical control but later it would not be fit for assembly. Nevertheless, I was punished with extra work, for "inaccuracy". At "Jugendblok" (a section for youth) I was beaten on several occasions by the supervisor, for an uneven bed or an allegedly dirty cabinet. I was also punished with a reduced salary, which was paid out in useless camp currency.

 

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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