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Testimony of Jerzy Uldanowicz


THE HISTORICAL MUSEUM OF WARSAW

Jerzy Uldanowicz
E 155                                                                                                           

Banished from Warsaw - After the Uprising - and Sent into Forced Labor

 

     At the capitulation of the uprising, I was in the building at 7 Grzybowska Street, where I had lived since before the uprising, a building in an area free from German control. At the time I was 14 years old.
     During the first 2-3 days after the capitulation, the people who were staying in the area around Grzybowska Street were informed (I do not remember by what means) that after their obligatory abandonment of Warsaw, they would be directed to rural areas in the General Government (Generalne Gubernatorstwo). This information, which most of us believed, not only decreased our level of vigilance and in principle eliminated efforts at escaping from arrival at Pruszków, but it also influenced - to a significant extent - our mode of preparing ourselves for the travel; in particular, it resulted in - rather than taking appropriate clothes for hard, physical work in open terrain, which later turned out to be exceptionally necessary - taking various instruments which would according to our judgment be useful in the countryside for exchanging for food, paying for lodging, etc., since money was gradually losing its worth.
     We headed out before noon on October 7, 1944, along with the majority of the relatively few people who, after the uprising, stayed in the remains of the buildings on Grzybowska Street, between Graniczna Street and Ciepła Street. I walked with my closest family members, that is with my mother (age 38) and my grandma (age 69). Because of the ban - which had been introduced by the Germans - against taking the bulk of one's things, our entire luggage fit into improvised backpacks made out of bags and hemp cords.
     Moving along the route that was delineated by German posts, that is along Chłodna and Wolska Streets, we reached - along with a gradually growing line of people who were being banished - the Church of Saint Stanisław (Kościół świętego Stanisława) on Wolska Street, where there was one of the main gathering points for people who were being banished from the city. We stayed there for a few hours, among the crowd which filled the inside of the church and the churchyard. 
     Next, we were made to form a tighter line that was more closely monitored, and we were rushed down Bema Street into the area of West Station (Dworzec Zachodni), where we were commanded to enter uncovered freight wagons ("węglarki"), and soon thereafter the train moved, in order to quickly reach Pruszków, next to the railway maintenance and repair shops, where a transit camp had been created. Dusk fell. We were rushed into one of the halls, which was full of grease and water standing especially in the ditches that were between the railway tracks. With a dramatic lack of space, in considerable noise and cold, we spent the night on the damp concrete.
     The next day - October 8 - before noon we got our first meal since setting out from our homes (and our only meal during the 48-hour journey from our home to the transit camp that we went to after Pruszków). A carriage appeared with a cauldron full of soup, which was poured into containers that were stretched forward simultaneously by hundreds of hands. Only some people managed to get a bit of soup, which was nearly poured on the heads of people crowding around.
     In the afternoon, one of the most dramatic moments of my life took place - segregation. We were made to form a very long line, most often walking with family, and so in threes, fours, fives, we approached a group of Germans who were standing together, one of whom - in uniform - carried out instant assessments, "roughly" ("na oko"), with regard to each person, and then with the wave of a hand, directed each person to one of three clearly marked-off sections of the huge square.
     This small motion of the hand in fact decided about matters of life and death, since from one of the sections on the square, the banished people were taken to railway transports that would head to various rural territories in the General Government; while from the second and third sections, people were taken to places of forced labor or to concentration camps. 
     I will not undertake describing in detail the tragic scenes which played out during the segregation - those who went through it generally were already then aware of its goals. Every now and then, Germans separated - by force - parents from children, husbands from wives, the healthy from those who were clearly sick or weak members of the family. In most cases these were the last living moments of the banished people of Warsaw to see their loved ones.  
     As a result of this segregation, my grandma was transported to the village of Wyciąże, which was located near the current Eastern border of the city of Cracow, where she stayed until the end of the occupation (see copy of Central Welfare Council (Rada Główna Opiekuńcza) document); while that afternoon mother and I, along with thousands of other people, were loaded into a train on a side-track; the train was made up of covered, closed freight wagons and supervised from the outside by armed soldiers. We counted: 80 people of both genders, along with all their belongings, were crammed into a relatively small wagon.
     The train moved forward, but soon afterward it stopped for 1-2 hours in the district of Pruszków, where local people gave us a bit of food through the bars in the little windows of the wagon (this included sausage for sale, 500 zloty for one kilogram - this sausage was eaten immediately by people who had starved during the uprising, and caused many of them to have an upset stomach, which greatly complicated an already difficult situation in an extremely crowded wagon).
     The train finally moved on its way. Next, it stopped for a short time in Skierniewice and in Koluszki, where local people gave us hot drinks through the bars.
     During the entire journey, we were let out of the wagons only one time, for the purpose of relieving ourselves - for a few minutes we all stayed within a few dozen square meters of the wagon, surrounded by rifles aimed at us by the guards.
     During the train ride, a few men from our wagon managed to break through a small window that was located above the bumper, and one of the men fled this way. Another prisoner, while running away from a neighboring wagon, was shot nearby the tracks by a guard.
     At dawn on October 9, the train stopped with a little bit of a distance to the transit camp in Burgweide, near Wrocław (currently Sołtysowice and Polanowice, which belong to the district of Psie Pole in Wrocław). The official name of the camp was: "Durchgangslager des Gauarbeitsamts Niederschlesien Burgweide" (see copy of the document, "Antrag auf Arzfliche Untersuchung").
     While going to the above-mentioned camp, we passed a prisoner-of-war camp - of British or American prisoners. These prisoners threw us a significant amount of food and cigarettes through the wires, things which came from packages which they had obtained. 
     The camp at Burgweide, in which I stayed from the 9th until around the 16th of October, was typical: it was surrounded by a net and barbed wire, and was composed of standard, wooden barracks. It was divided into two sections -after a one-day stay in the first of these sections, we were directed to the baths, while our clothes were simultaneously disinfected, and afterwards we found ourselves in the second section of the camp. During this time we were also subjected to a very hasty medical exam (see copy of the document, "Antrag auf Arzfliche Untersuchung").
     The food in the camp was decidedly insufficient, especially with respect to calories; furthermore the serving of the meals from the cauldron was organized in a malicious manner. We were forced to stand in lines for the meals during a significant part of the day, which concerned especially older and weaker people, because the cauldron was placed somewhere else every time; and in connection with this arrangement, the later a person reached the cauldron, the later he received a meal. The slowest people did not get anything. Hunger troubled us - we would eat even the oldest, entirely dried and moldy bread.
     Thousands of people stayed in the camp - considerably more people than could lay down in the barracks for the night. I spent the first night in the rain on a bench outside the barracks; while the second night I spent in comparatively "favorable" conditions, because I was inside the barracks on a table around 1.5m by 1m, with two other people, of whom only one, in this situation, could at any given time assume a semi-horizontal position, while the two remaining people were forced to sit. Most prisoners spent nights sleeping directly on the floor, yet excessive crowding prevailed there too.
     During our stay in Burgweide, we were entered into a camp police record - I was assigned number "A.4762" (see copy of the document "Merkzettel zur Vorlage bei der Meldebehoerde des Wohnortes").
     A selection of prisoners was gradually carried out, creating groups that were directed to railway transports, whose fate we did not know at the time.
     I managed to get into one group along with Mother. This group, composed of a few dozen people, escorted by an armed guard, was transferred by passenger train to Katowice, where we were all forced to do physical labor in steam engine maintenance and repair shops. I became the helper of a locksmith, while my mother, after a few 10-minute trainings, was ordered to work (simultaneously) at two powerful grinders. We were given accommodation on the terrain of these shops, under very bad conditions (three-story, wooden bunk beds in halls of a few dozen people).
     In our difficult situation (alongside difficult working and living conditions, one could sense the effects of considerable psychological and physical exhaustion caused by the events of the previous weeks), we obtained a great sense of relief and help from the unusually warm treatment given to us from the very beginning by the local workers - Polish people who were employed in the same shops. I will never forget that they cared for us - youth and adults - as if we were their closest friends or family. They did our work for us to the extent that they could; they warned us against the Germans at the appropriate moments; they gave us their meals. 
     The Germans noticed this. After one week they transported our entire Warsaw group to Gliwice, where we were put to work in similar steam engine maintenance and repair shops (the official name: "Reichsbahn Ausbesserungswerk Lokomotivwerk Gleiwitz"), and we were given accommodation in camps that were located nearby: the women's camp was at 95 Bergwerkstrasse and the men's camp was at Weidmannsweg (see copy of the worker identification card). 
     Having arrived in Gliwice from Katowice, we found ourselves in a completely different world - in general we were among local and visiting people who were decidedly reluctant or rather hostile toward us (after all since 1939 the Polish-German border divided Katowice from Gliwice). Everything that was Polish was stifled by the Germans, of whom an increasing percentage - with the passage of time and the approaching defeat of the Third Reich - was composed of runaways from the Soviet Union and East Prussia.
     From the beginning the above-mentioned circumstances were expressed by the unpleasant way in which we were treated by most local workers -Germans, who not only tried to burden us with work beyond our strength, but also repeatedly tried to physically eliminate us, creating "accidents" with premeditation.
     My mother and I were made to work outside, generally at reloading. We were forced to do extremely hard, physical work. Here is an example: many times, within about two hours, I had to reload by hand - carrying or throwing - a batch of break pads used in steam engines; that is, 500 pieces at 25 kilograms each, which came out to be 12.5 tons (and I was only 14 years old!).
     All of this took place alongside the preservation of a certain semblance of "lawfulness" ("w majestacie prawa"). Every month we received a salary, which generally came out to be 50-120 marks, after deducting from the earned amount for the cost of housing, food, working clothes, other fees (including - as we were informed - for the Fund for Rebuilding Poland (Fundusz Odbudowy Terenów Polskich); although sometimes there were cases in which Polish people found out, at the moment of pay, that they would not receive any payment because they were debtors to the maintenance and repair shops. Since I was considered to be a hard-worker ("Schwerarbeiter"), each week I received one or two additional food rations, in the form of a piece of sausage that weighed about 5 decigrams. The sick were entitled to medical leave. When I became sick, probably with bronchitis, after a 5-10 second "examination" the repair shop doctor deemed me to be sick with strep throat and granted me three days of leave, after which I was forced to return to work. In the out-patients' clinic, nearby the repair shops, information was posted that the patients would be seen according to nationality or citizenship - they would not be seen according to order of reporting at the clinic - following this information was a corresponding list on which Germans took first place, Polish people took the next to last place, and in last place - citizens of the Soviet Union. The staff of the repair shops, totaling around 3000 workers, was composed of representatives of twelve nationalities. 
     Our behavior also normalized during the increasingly frequent air raids of the British and American airforces. In contrast to the Germans, forced laborers were not entitled to use the shelters - we had to abandon the repair shops, which were never bombed, and during the whole duration of the air raids, we would stay in an open area amid densely falling anti-aircraft shrapnel.
     In theory, we were entitled to a break from work on Sundays and on holidays; however, in practice, we spent those days either in the repair shops (because of the need to complete allegedly urgent reloading tasks), or nearby Gliwice digging anti-tank trenches.
     Our food was very bad. The main problem was its low-calorie content and shortage of vitamins. To a small extent, we made up for these shortages by buying illegally from Germans and using certain amounts of food ration cards, mainly for bread and margarine (at the time all food products, with the exception of salt and beer, were sold exclusively for ration cards). Moreover, on several occasions we managed to get modest vegetarian dishes from restaurants in Gliwice - other meals could be obtained only with ration cards.
     Our living conditions were also very bad - we stayed in 20-person halls in standard barracks with almost no heating. Our primitive bunk beds and slight bedding were full of bugs, which were already there at the moment we arrived.
     We got back at the Germans for all these wrong-doings in essentially one way - we commited sabotage, changing its form and its target to suit the circumstances. Generally, sabotage consisted in destroying or damaging materials and parts that were intended for production.
     During our stay in the repair shops, up until the Soviet offensive in January 1945, there were - as far as I can remember - no attempted escapes by Polish people (earlier there had been - the unsuccessful ones led to concentration camps), because we were awaiting a quick shift in the front.  
     Soon after the beginning of the Soviet offensive, that is around January 20, 1945, we heard quickly amplifying sounds of the approaching front, and we also observed an equally sudden growth in chaos and signs of panic in the German community, which was accompanied by a sudden change in the Germans' treatment of us - they became polite, often almost servile; many of them "remembered" their knowledge of the Polish language, which earlier they would not admit to, etc.
     After three or four days of this kind of development in events, we decided to take advantage of the situation and escape, so that we could wait for the passage of the front in more suitable conditions, that is in a community of Polish people. 
     My mother and I, taking only the same backpacks made out of bags that we had abandoned Warsaw with, got into a tram and soon afterward we found ourselves in Sosnowiec, where we stayed with Mother's cousin. While there, after a few days - around January 28 - we lived to see liberation by Soviet military units.
     We did not hesitate for long with regard to the possibility of returning to Warsaw. It is true that we could easily obtain good living conditions - especially when it came to housing - in liberated areas, even if in Gliwice; meanwhile on the other hand, we had unverified information that in Warsaw, what remained of our apartment and all our belongings was ashes; yet, our attachment to Warsaw decidedly prevailed.  
     We waited only for the railway to be repaired and the departure of the first trains in the direction of the capital. When this happened, in the second half of February, we left Sosnowiec. That day we managed to reach only Częstochowa. We spent the night there, and the next day in the morning, we got on a train headed toward the capital. We traveled in overcrowded conditions, in wagons that I think dated back to the First World War.
     We reached Warsaw at dusk. We spent the night in the apartment of passing acquiantances, nearby Plac Zawiszy. The next day in the morning, we impatiently proceeded to 7 Grzybowska Street. It was there that our remaining doubts were dispelled. What remained of our home, which we had left on October 7, 1944, was ashes. It had been burned down by the Germans - as had been done to thousands of homes - after the Warsaw population was forced to leave. The things which we had moved to the basement - just in case - before leaving the capital, were not saved either. From a heap of rubble and ashes, we dug out only a few useful metal objects.
     The surroundings of the building looked similar. There was, in principle, no sign of life on the street, with at least 95 percent of its buildings destroyed. A corpse was laying on the sidewalk outside one of the neighboring buildings, while next to it was the decapitated head still wearing a hat of the City Sanitation Department (Zakład Oczyszczania Miasta).
     Given the situation, we headed to Praga, where Mother's brother had lived with his wife and two children on Stalowa Street until the uprising. We found his family intact and healthy, but he himself was not there. It turned out that during the uprising, being the leader of the group "Radosław" of the Home Army, he was wounded in Old Town. He was carried through the sewers to City Center (Śródmieście) and found himself in an improvised uprising hospital, which was located in the school building at 8 Drewniana Street in Powiśle. On September 27, 1944, that is three weeks after the German occupation of that area, they killed all wounded people in the hospital (akta Głównej Komisji Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich w Polsce - teczka 802 z/O.K.M.W nr 851, protokoły zeznań świadków nr 6 i 7.) That is how he died - Lt-Col Wacław Piotr Janaszek, pseudonym "Bolek", age 40, distinguished with Virtuti Militari and three times with the Cross of Valor (Krzyż Walecznych).
     For the time being, we moved in with the family living on Stalowa Street. Soon afterward, my grandma - who had been forced to leave Warsaw after the uprising - also joined us there.
     The left bank of Warsaw attracted us very strongly, so we went there relatively often, crossing the Vistula either on the ice or by the "wysokowodny" ("high water") wooden bridge or by the pontoon bridge. I especially remember using the "wysokowodny" bridge. First and foremost, it had to serve the needs of the front, so for some time it was open to civilians only during specified hours in the mornings and afternoons - every time, crowds waited for the bridge to open for civilians. One of my last trips across the Vistula at that time had to do with my participation in a rally, which was organized on Castle Square (Plac Zamkowy) around March 30, in celebration of the liberation of Gdańsk.  
     Our stay in Warsaw involved huge difficulties - our living conditions were extremely tough; it was also difficult to obtain food, especially since we did not have a source of income. So we decided - my mother and I - to leave Warsaw. As we left the capital - in April 1945 - we told ourselves that we would aim to return, as soon as conditions would permit it.
     We took up residence in Lublin, where - thanks to the exceptional kindness of our acquaintances - we obtained temporary and later permanent housing, as well as work - at first home-based work - for my mother. She worked extremely hard, first and foremost in order to obtain the financial resources necessary for my medical care, since it had turned out that as a result of being sent to forced labor, I had become sick with tuberculosis and my heart was in bad condition, even though previously I had stood out for my good health and exceptional endurance in physical activity.
     In 1952, I was sent to pursue professional studies in Warsaw, where I later began working professionally on the basis of a work order. At the same time, I tried to make it possible for my mother to take up residence with me. We managed to realize this at the end of 1955. We were both in Warsaw again!

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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