of the time of the Warsaw Uprising and the turn of 1944/1945
During the German occupation I lived with my mother Jadwiga Teofilak and her family on 66 Piusa XI Street (now Piękna Street). On the 1st of August about 2 p.m. my mother decided to visit her cousin who lived in Mokotów (part of Warsaw) and I joined her on this visit. I was then 7 years old. The outbreak of the Uprising found us with our family on Humańska Street. The shooting was dense, a dead body lay on the street and it became evident that we will not be able to make it back home. We have spent one week there.
In the apartment were about six persons. The grown-ups spent their time discussing or playing bridge while I listened to their conversations or read children books. We all lived in one room whose windows faced Humańska Street. The other room on the other side of the house was empty during the day as it was under fire from a watching sniper. In this room was a children bed where I slept. We lived on food offered by the family and at night the men went out to the nearest field to dig out some potatoes, which was very risky as the area was occupied by the Germans.
Around August 8th, German soldiers arrived at our home, ordering us to leave the building. Inhabitants were to leave immediately because the building was going to be burned down. Once already out on the street, I experienced horrible moments of fear, when my mother ran back inside the apartment in order to get some clothes. I was scared that she might not make it back in time.
Then we parted from our cousins who decided to leave Warsaw via Dolny Mokotów (part of Warsaw) which they luckily succeeded.
Mom was hoping to place me in a nearby hospital on Chocimska Street, because I got sick and had a high fever. The hospital was overcrowded, so we went along Chocimska Street, in the direction of Plac Unii Lubelskiej (square), along with other people who were being forced to leave Warsaw. It was a horrible experience because we were walking along a road that was between the walls of burning buildings. This will remain in my memory forever.
We reached the Państwowy Instytut Higieny (National Institute of Hygiene) on Chocimska Street, where we were permitted to enter. The building seemed immense to me; it was not on fire. There was a guard's booth and a large courtyard behind the fence. We were allowed to take up one bed in the doorman's space - besides Mom and me, there were also four women there, taking up two beds. Soon afterward, the whole main building of the Institute filled up with runaways. The whole staff of the Institute was also there; they were stuck at work because of the outbreak of the Uprising. One of the resident physicians took care of me and I made a quick recovery. On the other hand, Mom lived through her first very painful attack of gallstones, which had resulted from bad food.
We survived at the Institute for two weeks. During the day we could spend time in the courtyard, where a communal kitchen had been set up for everyone. During the nights, more enterprising people would walk through neighboring basements, for the purposes of so-called looting, and they would bring back the food that they had found. You could be killed for doing this. Ukrainians came to visit us on several occasions. Two of them became very fond of our roommates, who were from Kresy (Borderlands). They were happy that someone was talking to them in their language and was familiar with their home. This had an unexpected ending. One day, German and Ukrainian soldiers entered the territory of the Institute, ordering all people who were not employed at the Institute to leave the building. I was already standing in the doorway of the room, when one of the Ukrainians whom we knew appeared and said: "Cicho, wy siditie" ("Be quiet, and sit"), and he blocked the doorway with his body. So we stayed in the doorman's space. After the war we found out that the women were sent to Germany for forced labor tasks, and the men were shot immediately.
We continued living in the Institute for a few days; it seemed strangely empty then. Around August 21st, a decent coach pulled up in front of the Institute; it safely took the workers and us, from the doorman's space, to West Warsaw Station (Warszawa Zachodnia) and we were ordered to go to Pruszków. This was the unexpected result of the care given by the director of the Institute, a German, who promised his workers that he would not allow anyone to hurt them.
We waited for a very long time for the train to arrive. A woman gave me a piece of bread with melted butter on top - it was delicious! In Pruszków we spent the night sitting on the station floor, and in the morning we parted ways, going in different directions. We were free but hungry; we did not have anything.
After long considerations Mom decided to join our room-mates from the guard's booth on their way to Grodzisk. There, in one of the houses we were received with great sympathy, fed and offered shelter for the night. The next day something extraordinary has happened. One of the ladies from Kresy (Borderlands) went to the market and sold a brooch which she had hidden in a soap bar. This lady gave 1 000 złotys to Mom saying that she never wants it back. This was a token of gratitude to the Lord for salvaging her from the Warsaw hell.
Under these circumstances Mom decided to go to uncle Władyslaw Teofilak who lived in Kozłów Szlachecki near Sochaczew. The uncle was very attached to my Father who died a tragic death still before the war and Mom counted on his support. On the market in Grodzisk Mom found a farmer on his way home near Sochaczew who promised to take us to our family.
The uncle and his wife gave us a warm welcome. Their house gradually filled with runaways from Warsaw. I remember everyone helping to knead bread and bake numerous loaves in a huge oven.
One night I woke up with fear and a feeling lik3e chocking any minute. My throat was swollen and I had high fever. On the request of my despairing Mom my uncle took us by a horse-driven cart to Sochaczew where a doctor in the hospital diagnosed diphtheria. At home I was isolated for one month from other inhabitants, particularly children..
In Kozłów Mom worried continuously about the fate of her bother, his wife and children who actively participated in the Uprising. By accident she learned that her nephew Staszek Gromulski ( pseudonym Ruskin, GURT group) was wounded and died on the 6th of August. Soon after that it turned out that her niece Wandzia Gromulska, a nurse in the GOLSKI battalion was killed already on the 3rd of August. Under these circumstances Mom decided to look for the desolate parents hoping that they might be staying with the family in Częstochowa.
In November we thus went to Częstochowa to doctor Bielunas, cousin of my uncle's wife. Also here we were given a warm welcome and offered a room and bed. We spent Christmas with the Bielunas family and learned that uncle Gromulski and his wife are staying with another family near Piotrków.
I have to write about how I was dressed - after all, in August I left the house in a summer dress and in sandals. So Mom sewed me an overcoat for the winter - it was made out of a cousin's brown bathrobe lined with some rabbit fur which were given to us by an acquaintance. My shoes were composed of pieces of wood; Mom nailed fur onto them and smoothed the inside with fur. They were very warm.
In Częstochowa I was enrolled in the Nazareth nuns school and was admitted to the third grade. My general knowledge was quite adequate as I took lessons earlier at home and was sent to the second grade at the age of six. In spring, together with all class-mates I had my first confession and Holy Communion.
What did we live on in Częstochowa? At the beginning we were supported by the Bielunas family but as more and more family arrived from Warsaw, the Bielunases faced serious difficulties. Tatiana Wysocka, aunt of Mrs. Bielunas arrived with her seriously ill son Stefan. Luckily, Mom met a dressmaker (Mrs. Lena Krukowa) whom she had known before and who accepted as a helper. Both ladies were sewing men's shirts all day long. Mom also managed to sell a set of self-painted Christmas cards.
I remember the passage of the front in Częstochowa. There were no battles in the streets and it took not much more than 10 hours for the Soviet soldiers to pass the town. It was a very cold month of January.
At this time Mom's acquaintances invited us to move to her apartment which she rented in town. We accepted this invitation to relieve the Bielunas family. Mom continued to sew shirts but in the evenings she was baking cookies which she then sold to the confectionery. Despite her efforts money was scarce. To add to all the troubles I contracted measles and for some time could not attend school.
We had only one sheet and one bowl. Mom had found two parts of that bowl in the garbage - the bottom and the rest. When she asked the locksmith to repair it he refused in lack of time. Mom (who before the war graduated not only from the Academy of Arts, but also from Państwowy Instytut Robót Ręcznych [State Institute of Manual Work]) asked him to lend her the smoldering-iron and give her some tin. The locksmith agreed curious how a woman would go about the job. After she had finished he said to his journeyman: "I wish you could do it like this".
In May we heard the good news that war is over. Everybody was happy. On Jasna Góra a (monastery and chapel with the famous image of the Black Madonna) thanksgiving celebrations were held and thousands of people attended the Holly Mass "on the ramparts" below the monastery walls.
The theater in Częstochowa reopened featuring "Placówka" (Outpost) by B. Prus. I remember that the part of Ślimak was played by the Warsaw actor Edward Strycki. Earlier rehearsals for other productions began and calisthenics and dance classes were conducted by Tatiana Wysocka. Also organized were rhythmic and folk dance classes for children which I attended with great pleasure. In June these classes were terminated by a performance supervised by T.Wysocka. I still perfectly well remember the scheme of the solo dance to the melody "Biały Mazur" by Osmański brilliantly performed by the ten year old Oleńka Borsz the future ballerina in the Warsaw Opera.
It was a lovely hot month of June. Crowds gathered every day on the banks of the Warta river. Near Częstochowa the river was shallow and kids could safely play in the water. One day, however, my friend and I got near the railway bridge where we were sucked in by a whirlpool. Since then I know what drowning in spinning water feels like. Luckily, teenager boys were nearby having a bath and rescued the half-dead girls.
By end-June 1945 Mom and I returned to Warsaw and directed our steps to 12a Puławska street to the apartment of our cousins, the Krupski family where, besides the owners, we met my uncle Gromulski and his wife both despairing of the loss of their children in the Uprising. Much time was spent in the evenings on recalling the atrocities of war and roving after the exile from Warsaw. The Krupski family moved to Wrocław and their relatives from Vilnius (Mr. and Mrs. Czarnocki and children) moved in and stayed in the apartment with my uncle and aunt and ourselves. Soon the building was nationalized and taken over by kwaterunek (state office for accommodation control). The separate rooms were given to persons occupying these rooms. At times a four room, kitchen and bath apartment was occupied by eleven persons. Therefore we often referred to it as a "family kholkhoz". Every-day life became stabilized. Mom was teaching drawing and manual work at school, I attended the fourth grade of the elementary school, uncle Zdzisław Gomulski who was an engineer was employed Biuro Odbudowy Stoolicy (Office for the Rebuilding of the Capital) and my aunt did the cooking and sewing clothes for the family.
Immediately after the war many naive people believed that the next war will break out very soon as the western countries will certainly not abandon Poland under the influence of the communistic Soviet Union. And in the late fifties to seventies it seemed that my generation will never live to the fall of the communistic regime. But we did live to it. The course of history is not easy to predict.