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Testimony of Wiesław Kępiński


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     They turned away after a while - a minute or so - and went away. And then I stood up. It is daytime. I am on display. Coming from that field into Redutowa Street I ring the bell, or knock at the gate. A little house with a garden, people living normal lives, a dog barking, nothing wrong going on, no Germans. A completely different world from the one at the borderline of the embankment. I was let in and fed.
     Luckily, a bit further down Redutowa Street, between Wolska and Pustoła Streets, was the house where two Paciorkówny sisters lived, and one of them was my godmother - so I was at home there. They knew how to take care of me. There were some other lodgers living there. Those were such small modest houses - one of them made of timber, tiny but with a top floor, the other one-storey, made of brick, I suppose, all very nice but quite makeshift at the same time, quite poor.
     There was a German kitchen in the yard. The women living in that house used to help there - they peeled potatoes, cooked for a group of Germans. It was necessary - and the sisters took care of it - to do one's best to hide the fact that I was wounded. How it happened  [that the Germans took no interest in me], I keep wondering myself, [after all] I hadn't been there and I suddenly - there I was. They just probably didn't care at all who was living there - there had to be a kitchen, there had to be soup made for them, that was all. And people lived there in peace. At that time it was still hard for me to write down or remember the dates. But I know for sure I was there from August 5th till 15th, since it was on August 15th that a British plane carrying provisions for the insurgents was shot down and it fell further down Redutowa Street; and now, reading on the memorial stone placed on the corner of Wolska and Redutowa Streets how many pilots were killed and when - on August 15th -  I have gathered  it must have been 15 days at least [that I spent with the Paciorkówny sisters] eating and sleeping, while they would take me out so that I would have the dressings on my wound replaced. There was a house down Wolska Street - no trace of it left now, of course - where a dressing station had been arranged. She made it out we were walking easily, but I hardly could walk at all as the wounded area was highly innervated and it hurt a lot. With each bomb exploding in Starówka (the Old Town) I felt as if I was being needled -  how it works, I don't know - the air or the blow , or maybe the sound itself makes one feel like that... [I spent there] those 10 days, but it might have been longer. Anyway, it started getting less quiet later. People might have felt instinctively that they [the Germans] might come to Redutowa Street too and start the slaughter , one person after another as far as Jelonki district. Without much thinking, after I had consulted it with the sisters, of course, I ...
     There was in that house a couple with a boy, a bit younger than I was and they made out I was their son too... A sort of camouflage... And since they lived next door, I think I used to spend the night with the sisters, they fed me, took me to the dressing station , bathed me  because I wasn't able to  bend down ...
     One day, when part of the people had already left their flats, there was one flat empty in our house, so I looked inside - the door was open, so you didn't even have to break in - and I took , I remember, a  linen sack with flour, quite a big portion, and a picture from the wall - Christ with a burning heart. And those were all my belongings when I set off on a journey to my aunt who lived in Jelonki. I went by myself. The sisters stayed, those people stayed... 
And they let you go, all by yourself?
    
They did. It was some sort of agreement. They might have thought it would be better if it was aunt... Further away from what was likely to happen, anyway...Further away from Wola, from that scene of slaying; they thought it would be safer there. I don't know how it was. It seemed as if it  had been set beforehand that it was to happen that way. It soon started getting more and more dangerous at my aunt's place in Jelonki too and so aunt Sokołowska - actually she was some distant relative - took me to Ożarów. She was another person who took care of me.
     They were [very poor] themselves... and another picture quite incredible, as if not of this world, not of that Warsaw - a space of 2.5 by 2.5 [metres], maybe less, without floor, a window and a door, walls covered with tar paper from outside as a kind of insulation, terribly primitive conditions... I think they - uncle Sokołowski lived there too - had a stove, a bed and a table. A room like a coal-hole.
     It became quite dangerous in Jelonki too. Some Mongol hordes, some Asian people riding horses... They would burn down houses,  rob, rape. Part of the inhabitants were displaced later on - it wasn't known where to, whether it was to a prison camp... We escaped being displaced from Jelonki somehow, we came back home and some people were driven into a field, but aunt didn't take long - she took me to Ożarów the next day. She gathered it had become too dangerous, we were about to be displaced, there was no knowing what would happen next and we had to run away. One more terrible experience connected with Jelonki: Germans would pick up a  dozen people equipped with shovels and they brought us, with no clear purpose, to Warsaw; some kind of  sweeping or clearing job, I don't remember, I was a small boy, anyway... But I simply went there for curiosity - to see how Warsaw looked like ... Despite the wound. But this is what I was like...You know, all wound heals fast on a young body. But I went there only once. I remember we went down a street, it might have been Wolska Street, and Chłodna Street later on, I'm not sure.  Houses were close to one another though, so it was the centre of the city. I don't quite remember what the shovels were for or what we did there, especially the adults... It must have been a cleaning team... I don't know if that was after the Uprising had collapsed. When the Uprising was dying down, it was only in Stare Miasto (the Old Town) and Mokotów. Wola had fallen much earlier. They might have been clearing the streets... It was a horrible view, anyway: all those burnt down houses, some junk in the street and (I write about it in my memoirs) a man's head lying in the street... Later on - to avoid such situation that they might send us away to a prison camp or take us to do some clearing job in Warsaw and we wouldn't know what was to happen next - we went to Ożarów outside Warsaw.
     It might have been September already. I stayed with some people near the road to Poznań, a couple with a child, maybe some friends of my mother's. And again, I found out after many years that one of those days was September 18th , because I saw from Ożarów  a host of aid packs for the insurgents falling down from the sky. After war I read in an album that it was on September 18th. This is how I sorted out the time.       
     Later at Ożarów someone took me to another place, which was further away from the road, to some place in the village... But luckily that did not last for much longer - my sister, my dear Henia, found me at Ożarów. And for me that was a breakthrough moment - that someone is close to me, very close, that she will stand in for my mother, stand in for my family, that she will take care of me, will know what to do with me, how to save me, how to feed me...
     We stayed with her parents-in-law, at Włochy; then she took me to a place near Rogów, to peasants in the village, to Stefanów. Henia's husband and Henia's son were already there. It must have been the beginning of October because it started to get quite chilly. While we were riding in the train engine, it was very hot next to the furnace when the stoker was putting coal into it, but our backs were cold... A horse wagon came to pick me up because after all, my wound was hurting me all along - so they laid me down on the straw and that was how they carried me all the way to the farm.
     And I lived there with my sister and her husband, who was dying of tuberculosis. When my sister would go to trade - because she would take illegally slaughtered pork, sold by the cut, to a place near Warsaw; God, it was so difficult to earn a couple of zloty, it was so difficult... In any case, when she was not home, I had to take care of her husband, who was dying of tuberculosis and her son, who was younger than me. I had to learn how to prepare soup, how to feed another person - and wait for my sister, who would return and everything would get better right away. And it was like that until liberation. The winter was a nightmare, that last winter - from 1944 to '45. As soon as liberation came, I left that place right away. But it was already spring, April. Because you would have to be crazy to go in the winter time, to who-knows-where. To what? To some burnt down room? To freeze?

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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