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Testimony of Stanisław Korytowski


  Testimony of Stanisław Korytowski

The fate of a person banished from Warsaw

Stanisław Korytowski, age 14. During the occupation and during the Warsaw Uprising he lived in Warsaw; a scout in "Szare Szeregi" ("Grey Troops", an underground Polish Scouting movement), pseudonym "Pantera" ("Panther"). After the uprising sent to forced labor in Berlin. 

     The Warsaw Uprising nears its tragic final. A ceasefire is officially announced as binding from October 1, 5 a.m. and on October 2 the fighting stops completely. Everybody has to leave the city.
     On October 3 at noon military policemen show up in our courtyard at Chopina street, ordering us to leave the building within two hours. The building is to be blown up immediately - that is what the policeman says and in this case we do trust the Germans. I am leaving the city together with the civilians. With my mother and sister, among the crowd of exiles we cross the ruins and remnants of barricades at Koszykowa and Śniadeckich streets. In the square in front of the Polytechnical University (Politechnika Warszawska) we are being given bread by the RGO (Rada Główna Opiekuńcza or Central Welfare Council, a Polish organization existing legally during the occupation, distributing food and basic help to displaced persons). The Germans are taking photos and try to count us, if I remember well. We follow the streets Nowowiejska, Filtrowa and further towards the Warsaw West (Warszawa Zachodnia) railway station.
     We are being convoyed by SS-men and military policemen. On their orders we are taking a quick rest and continue the march again. They hit with butt-ends of their guns those who walk too slow or try to go to a side. In the railway station they force us onto carriages which take us to Pruszków.
     The Dulag or transitory camp in Pruszków has been set up in a locomotive depot there. The halls of the depot are marked with numbers. A field kitchen serves soup to us, they also throw quarters of bread loaves into the crowd. We have no plates or cups. We borrow from someone a mug and a stew-pan.
     Incredibly huge crowd fills the halls. We can hardly find a place to lay down but it is close to the entrance of the hall which lacks the gate. At dusk Warsaw nomads lit candles. The hall looks like a cemetery on All Saints' day. It is very cold at night, the hall lacking any heating. There is no way we could fall asleep, all we are capable of is a short half-sleep. We are extremely tired and hungry.
     In the morning we go out of the hall to fetch some coffee and bread. Numerous soldiers patrol the camp. The camp commander (or someone behaving like him) walks around with a German shepherd and sets the dog on those who are closer to the fence. The patrols take some people out of the halls and search them. Some civilians ask who of us is from the Home Army (Armia Krajowa, abbreviated AK, the main Polish underground organization). There is however no response as we do not know who is asking and why.
     I meet many people known to me from the Uprising but we greet each other with a finger placed on the lips, meaning: Stay silent!
     The walls are covered with paper-slips placed by family members looking for each other. You can hear also people asking, who saw this or that man, who knows anything. Such questions were being asked in all the places.
     We also were looking for our family members from the city districts of Wola, Żoliborz and Mokotów. Unfortunately, they all lost their lives but this we were to learn only after the war. Despite all the prohibitions, guards and patrols, a barter trade blossoms next to the fence. For dollars or gold you can get sausages, bacon or bread. But it's something more than the trade - the inhabitants of Pruszków help some of us with no reward for it. They throw above the fence to our side some boiled potatoes. They feel compassion for us and want to help, although they do not have much to share plus the invaders persecute them too.
     In an office set up in a railway carriage we are registered, have a medical test (really!) and we undergo a selection meant for finding those who would be sent to forced labor in Germany or to dig out trenches.
     I was 14 years old and since two weeks I was sick with dysentery. My forehead was bandaged (a slight wound incurred by a piece of shell). As a matter of fact the wound has already been healed but I do not take off the bandage. I was quite tall (although slim too) for my age and I had no I.D. on me to prove that I was only 14.
     A German wearing a doctor's apron over his uniform takes off my bandage and immediately screams that I only pretend to be wounded. They also do not quite believe my age. Having written down mine, my mother's and sister's personal data, they direct us to the group of men and women meant for the forced labor in Germany. This group is growing by minutes and is closely watched by the guards.
     On the evening they put us on coal-carrying type of carriages and the train takes off. The carriages lack roof, which enables me to watch the upper floors of the buildings we pass as well as the stations. I can see a boy covering a window with a blanket - a picture of a relatively normal life, without shelters, basements and bombs. How long ago it was! I have to run away! But how? The carriage door is barred from outside but there is no roof and the train is currently moving slower as it approaches an embankment.
     Apparently many others thought of it too just before me, as I can hear someone jumping off the train and the guards' shots that follow. I climb to the edge of the carriage wall. Close to me a young guy is jumping. Shots again! He was probably hit as I can hear his scream. And the train now goes downhill, faster. Someone pulls me down. I am such a coward!
     I was really mad on myself for this moment of hesitation. But what would happen with my mother and sister left alone? In this apathetic state of mind I was trying to fall asleep.
     On the next day we have been taken off the carriage at a ramp on the outskirts of a huge city - Breslau. From history classes I know that it was our Polish Wrocław.
     Our column has been led to a camp next to a nearby sugar-works. Like in Pruszków, here too reigns an unbelievable crowd and mess.
     Slices of bread are thrown into the crowd and in order to get some soup or coffee from a field kitchen you really needed strong arms - such was the organization of distribution of meals there. It is getting dark. Everyone to the barracks! - the camp commandment's order follows. Who stays outside, will be shot dead! Then they shoot in the air to frighten us.
     There is crowd in the barracks too; people sit down on a concrete floor.
     I do not know where my mother and sister are.
     I am sitting on a high stool, shared with another person. Under my feet there is someone lying on the concrete. After a few hours I feel pain in all my body. I would prefer to lie on the concrete floor but there is no room left. The night passed in torments. How many more such nights?
     In the morning I find my mother and sister standing in line to the kettle. I have found a rusty can, from which I drink my turnip soup. I have no spoon. We manage to find a place to sleep in tents close to the sugar-works. We are preparing our "couch" on bare ground. In daytime there is sunshine but at night it gets cold - it is middle October after all. Polish workers from the sugar-works throw to us, above the fence, some squeezed-out beets. We try to chew on it - at least our jaws are busy with something for a while.
     In the evening we can see a flesh of light and hear a bang coming from the direction of the latrine. In the morning we examine the effects of the explosion. Parts of concrete structure of the latrine are in pieces. Someone must have fallen into the latrine pit as we can see some clothes being dried in the air after being washed off of excrements. Was it a methane explosion? We do not know. Every day the Germans are taking some people from the barracks, who do not come back after being dragged to a nearby square for selection.
     We too are being taken to the selection square, having spent two weeks here. They read aloud our names and we are given tin plate badges with numbers to wear on chest. As we quickly learn, we have been dispatched to work in a company based in Berlin. Soon we are marching towards the railway ramp.
     We are put on a cattle-carrying type of carriages, the chest plates being taken away from us. The train is taking off.
     After a dozen or so hours the train stops at a ramp in the middle of a pine-tree forest. Where are we - is it a camp? Perhaps a concentration one? No! This used to be a Hitlerjugend (Hitlerian youth organization) camp, now being used as a quarantine place for the forced laborers. The camp's name is Wilhelmshaven - do not mistake it for the same name port city.
     There were lots of women and men in the camp, all of them from Warsaw.
     The camp was set up in the middle of a forest, some 50 kilometer away from Berlin. The barracks are equipped with plank-beds with no straw on them, bed-bugs do not allow us to fall asleep. On the third day we are led into a shower room, our clothes being vapor-washed. The guards and personnel of the camp are all Ukrainians, including many women.
     One day we were loaded on trucks and moved to a camp in Berlin. It was the Z.Z. Barackenlager - Lichterfelde - West, Prettauer Pfad 19/20. We were supposed to work for the company Fa. Franz Schnell - Strassenbau Berlin - Steglitz, Bismarckstrasse 16.
     We were stationed in concrete and wooden barracks. Plank-beds there had bed-bugs as well. Metal doors were all barred from outside. Each place had a fire-place but nothing that could be used as fuel, so we had to bring wood for burning from the ruins of destroyed buildings.
     We are working for a couple of days constructing internal roads in a nearby housing settlement under construction. Then we clean the city streets from debris after air raids, we also recover bricks from destroyed buildings.
     For some time, in a more remote part of the camp a group of French P.O.W.s as well as Italian, Czech and other nations' workers have been stationed. We work together with them. We also collect unexploded bombs which we then carry on a stretcher to trucks, being supervised at this work by sappers.
     After a few months' time I am moved to some cleaning work within the camp. I am moving excrements to a nearby field. With a huge shovel I pour the excrements into a tight container and with a wheel-barrow I carry them off for the distance of about 100 meters. I also do other errands. I am sick and have a fever. A huge abscess grows on my neck.
     I was ordered to dig out a drain hole, fill it with stones and cover with soil. Having taken off the upper layer of soil I had to deal with loam which I was not able to dig away at all with my spade. My eyes were full of sweat, the abscess making any movement of my body hardly possible. The loam was like a rubber! No way! I gave up. The Lagerführer (camp commander) yells at me, saying it's a sabotage, calls me names like "You, Polish pig!" and hits my head and back with the handle of the spade. Suddenly I feel pain on my neck and... a sudden relief. The abscess hit by the handle of the spade has been broken! The pus went down my back. In the evening the remaining part of the pus has been pressed out and the abscess started to heal up.
     Lagerführer Neumann, a Hitlerian, walked around in his black uniform of an SS-man. He was about 60 years old, of a low stature, slim, with a long red nose.
     "For disobedience I have already sent many of you to the camp nearby" - he used to warn, roaring in German.
     The camp he mentioned, just 100 meters away from ours, was a concentration multinational camp. Poles, Belgians, Frenchmen, Dutchmen, Norwegians, Austrians, Ukrainians, Czechs and Russians used to work there.
     Air raids and bombing: the British almost always at nights, while Americans during daytime.
     I remember a sunny winter day and an air raid of American bombers on Berlin. I was just working in the field. The "Superfortresses' were flying in an array on very high altitude. Over the center of Berlin I could see the little clouds produced by anti-aircraft guns and I could hear the explosions of bombs.
     Suddenly one of the planes, hit by a shell, has flashed like a match and only small pieces of it fell down.
     On the same day in the evening a group cleaning debris in Berlin came back from the city. Everybody's eyes were swollen due to the dust, hair burnt by heat and full of lime dust from the rubble but at least they are alive, they have survived the air raid!
     From a Czech guy I was given an illustrated book titled "Disappearance of Warsaw". I looked through it and managed to read a bit, although it was in Czech - I clearly understood what the Goebbels' propaganda wanted to achieve by publishing it. It showed burning and destroying of Warsaw after the capitulation, executed by special commando equipped with flame-projectors. It showed placing of blow-up devices in the buildings. They didn't mention however the terrible plundering of the city, which happened prior to its demolition.
     The vengeance action as presented in the book was a clear warning: Everybody who tries a similar thing like Warsaw did, resisting the one thousand year old Reich, will end up in a similar way.
     The third decade of April 1945. You can hear the frontline coming near. Soviet airplanes are often seen above Berlin - the stormers Il 2 shoot and bomb. Air raid warnings are no longer announced. Berlin is under siege. Our Lagerführer and the camp personnel have all run away.
     The remaining food is distributed among the laborers. Some bread, potatoes, turnip. The nearby concentration camp is empty; where are the prisoners? The SS camp watching crew has been moved to the center of Berlin.
     We wander among the crowd throughout the camp, looking for food. We find nothing. Tin cans contain molasses.
     Platoon of SS-men is being assembled, they are about to march out in order to defend the leader of the Reich. We are not afraid of them any more. We are not going back to the camp.
     In small groups we try to hide in the basement of small unfinished houses in the nearby settlement, where half a year ago we used to build roads.
     On the other side of the road, next to a bridge, an anti-aircraft gun is mounted in such a way that it could shoot horizontally. The crew are guys from Hitlerjugend and Volkssturm (defence units formed of civilians). They are drunk and aggressive. The second night of our nomad life passes by.
     Suddenly an SS-man shows up in our basement. He claims to be from Cracow and asks for civilian clothes. But we have no clothes, so he goes to look for them in other places.
     We watch from the basement window the bombardment of the center of Berlin. There is no fighting going on in our place. But from a nearby church from time to time series from a heavy machine gun can be heard. The anti-aircraft guns have vanished.
     The dawn on April 26 or 27. Through our little window I can see Soviet soldiers placing a telephone cable. The nomads have gone out of their hide-outs, all of them being forced laborers, slaves. The Germans are no more. A Soviet army officer is asking who we are and from where. We respond. He understands and leads us to their field kitchen. From the next building our "nocturnal guest" is being led out, still wearing his SS uniform. But we are brought back to reality by another series of the heavy machine gun on the church steeple. A storming group of Soviets is being sent there. We two want to participate in the fighting. There is about 20 of us and lots of left-over weapons around. The officer does not agree - it is the business of the army. We are allowed however to collect the weapons to defend ourselves against remains of German units. Later we found ourselves in quite a trouble because of these weapons as we were stopped on the road by a Soviet patrol and arrested for illegal possession of arms on the home front. Two whole weeks an investigation lasted. During that time we were forced to perform some agricultural work. After another such armed group had been "arrested", we have been released. Well, we were a bit afraid of our fate but someone too has to work on the soil in order that it brings fruit...
     So we went away, men and women with bundles and trolleys. In groups or separately. To new camps, new hells, starvation and humiliation.
     There is more and more of us: Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Frenchmen, Ukrainians, Italians and Russians. We are moving south, towards Luckenwalde. Each national group has ribbons sewn to their clothes with the national colors. Here and there you can see little flags and banners flying on the trolleys.
     We are in a joyous but at the same time also a fearful mood. Are our families and friends alive? Is the house still there? Is there anything we could go back to?
     The border has been moved to the west! What happened to our family house? The Warsavians know no such border dilemmas. Some know for sure their house has been destroyed and the family murdered, but they still go back to Warsaw, to their Motherland. We sleep in desolated buildings and barns. Everywhere we are looking for food bur find only potatoes, which we boil.
     On the way we witness the tragic effects of rapes. Beyond Luckenwalde the column divides and continues in smaller groups following various directions.
     We head for Cottbus, Forst. Then through Lubsko, Żary, Żagań and Głogów (Glogau). We walk along the Odra river, avoiding the center of Głogów, which is still burning. We are crossing the river by a provisionally repaired bridge.
     From Luckenwalde we have always been directed by the Soviet home front movement regulating officers to secondary roads, less important for the army. The main roads were for the use of military columns. And therefore now too from Głogów we had to move northward, towards Wschowa, where finally we were able to board a third-class train. Our four-wheel trolley, a faithful companion during the 400 kilometer-long march, we had to leave in front of the railway station in Wschowa. But the train took us only to Leszno, where we had to get out.
     We stay in the station, waiting for the next occasion. A train stops at the ramp carrying rails to the Soviet Union. Whole huge railroad units are being carried. We climb on them. After several hours the train takes off, carrying a crowd of people on top of it. It is quite dangerous, especially at turning points. One woman has her leg trapped and squeezed by rails that suddenly moved. She screams. The train stops at the next station, the wounded woman is taken to the station buildings. The train continues but often has to stop before a semaphore. At night we stop in Zduńska Wola. Here the train changes the direction, the SOK (Służba Ochrony Kolei or Railway Protection Service) officers order us to get off the carriages. So we again wait in the station.
     We use each coming occasion to move even the shortest distance, in order to be closer to the final destination. Finally we are on a train that is said to head for Warsaw West. It's a little trifle for us that as a matter of fact it stops one station before, at Włochy suburb. We get off and direct ourselves to our old good friends living at Chrobrego street.
     From Mrs. and Mr. Owczarek we obtained all necessary help and cordial attendance.
     Next morning I am walking afoot to Warsaw. The destruction is much graver than in October 1944 - an effect of the work of German incendiaries. Here and there you can see sapper patrols from Polish Army or Red Army, who check the building for mines. I direct myself to Chopina street. The whole even-number side of Aleje Ujazdowskie lies in ruins. So the Germans did blow it up, as they said on October 3, 1944. Only the arched gates of apartment houses have been preserved, covered with debris. Fragments of walls and the gates are all covered with paper-slips informing about the fate of relatives and friends.


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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