Testimony of Izabella Wciślińska
HISTORICAL MUSEUM OF WARSAW
Age 21, before the Warsaw Rising she gave birth to a daughter, Barbara, on 20 March 1944. She lived in Żoliborz, on 3 Maria Kazimiera Street and ran a soap-perfumery and paper store with her husband at this same address.
The weather during the Rising was beautiful. So when it was quiet and peaceful, people gathered in the yard on Maria Kazimiera Street. Our home had a high wall on the stairwell side. The food was terrible, star shaped pasta with marmalade, and a bit of cooked vegetables which people brought from surrounding fields. When it was peaceful, one could cook, since there was a small coal-fired stove and water. I only breast fed my daughter.
We brought our bed and bedding to the huge basement under our flat and store and slept there, because it was quieter and more peaceful. Until September 14, one could still speak of relative peace. That afternoon we noticed that a tank was headed our direction up Maria Kazimiera Street from Bielany. A short meeting was held to discuss alternatives in case of an attack. It was stated that we have six grenades. The decision was common, not to attack, that maybe it's only passing by. Nevertheless, that was not the case. The tank came to a halt in front of Queen Marysieńka [Maria Kazimiera, wife of polish King Jan III Sobieski] palace. The Germans came in through a hole in the wall the size of an entrance door and ordered us to get out, shouting "raus". Before leaving the basement, in an agreement with my husband, I placed my ring with a huge diamond in the bedding, and gave my daughter to my husband in a sleeping bag, since I thought they might apply repressions towards men. They rounded us up in front of Queen Marysieńka palace, then we saw the barrel of the tank pointed towards us, and two Germans with rifles lying on both sides of the tank. Then I shouted to my husband: "to the ground and Basia in front of you". I also shouted to Mr. Wiśniewski, who stood in front of me (he lived on the first floor with his wife and two daughters) and Jerzy Wójcik, a 19 year-old boy who also stood in front of me, to get to the ground immediately. I hit the ground myself, but they made light of what I said and were hit by the first shots. They fell on me and covered me, someone's leg, someone else's back, since I was lying face to the ground. In front of my face was a big suitcase someone had thrown out. I was about 3-4 meters from my husband. The children were shouting frightfully, my daughter as well. I asked my husband in a hushed voice if he was still alive . He answered yes, but at some point I didn't hear the answer, so I asked again and then I heard: "I'm injured". I was very nervous, and to add to all this I also had to console Mr. Wiśniewski and Mr. Wójcik, who were begging for water. I told them they'd get it shortly, but they'd have to wait a bit more. Finally the shooting stopped and we heard the tank drive away. My husband lay near the wall, and my daughter behind him, tightly wrapped up in the sleeping bag. By his account, there was a man in front of him, fairly impressive, that had been released from Pawiak prison two weeks before the Rising. He was injured several times in the stomach, because later I did what I could to rescue him, I think is wife was killed, because she didn't come to his rescue, and I knew that she was five months pregnant. Nothing happened to my daughter, even the sleeping bag was undamaged, but it was the only thing that wasn't mine. It was made out of hair and I had borrowed it from the sister. I gave it back to her after the war.
The execution lasted for several minutes, they didn't finish off the injured. Mr. Rzeszotarski, as one of the commanders, pseudonym "Żmija", was in his quarters, and not with his family on 3 Maria Kazimiera Street.
There were several dozen people (about 70) in this execution, I suppose that about 30 persons were killed then. My husband was injured with bullet shrapnel in the left hand, his coat was shot up in more than 13 places, and through it, his suit, and even the shirt arm, but his body wasn't touched. When I touched his hair, an entire band in front dropped off. Aeroplanes flew very low over us during the shooting from the tank and rifles. According to later accounts of my neighbours, also rescued by a miracle - these were Soviet aeroplanes. Shots from the aeroplanes injured one of the German soldiers. When it started to get dark, Rzeszotarski sent insurgents with stretchers for the injured. They collected three corpses: Janek's wife, mother-in-law and son. I took my daughter from my husband, while he and the other less injured ran to the hospital. I, along with a few other persons who survived intact, tended to the injured. During the shooting, as it later turned out, many of the men who managed to escape to the palace, had enough strength to pry loose the grating in the basement walls of the palace.
Our store and flat was on fire. I managed to spend the night with my daughter in the palace. In the morning I saw an insurgent and asked whether he knows where the injured were taken to, since my husband was with them. He said to the insurgent hospital on Krechowiecka Street. Directly ahead of Maria Kazimiera Street was an entire estate of single family homes for the police. Trenches had been dug out between these homes, trenches about 60-70 cm deep, through which you could more or less safely get to Słowacki Street if bent over. I ran, half-bent over, through these ditches behind this insurgent, tightly holding on to my daughter, since she was really crying, while bullets whistled over our heads the entire time. Finally I reached Krechowiecka 6a, where there was a hospital in the basement of this house and I found my husband. We were together again, except that my husband was in a room with the injured, while I was given a place on the lower shelf in a bakery, since it was warmest there. A friend brought me a pillow and comforter. One day in October, when I was on my way to my husband's room, I felt the house shake and found out that a crater was the only thing left of the bakery. So I roamed about with my daughter to various places, until being led out after the fall of the Rising, which occurred at the end of October 1944.
During the rising I had a lot of milk, so in addition to my daughter I could feed other small children a bit, collecting the milk in a glass. The director of this hospital on Krechowiecka Street was a physician - a Jew, who had a daughter my age, and his wife didn't have milk. So I gave his daughter half a glass. This director was a very brave and courageous person, and he knew German well.
As an injured person, my husband received a bowl of soup a day in the hospital, usually barley with horsemeat broth and a piece of this meat. My husband ate this piece of meat, and I had the soup.
When the Germans came to the hospital this director came out and talked with them. It occurred at the end of October. I was taken with other woman and elders by foot to the camp in Pruszków. On the other hand, they took my husband along with other injured persons from the hospital, whom they called bandits, by trucks to this camp in Pruszków. It was terrible there too, they slept sitting upright in a huge hall, with throngs of people, there was nothing to eat, only a bit of cold water. According to accounts by my husband he spent one night at this camp. In the interim it was announced that a train would be leaving for Kielce and the inured and women could leave. My husband went to Kielce, where after spending the night at the crossing attendant, he got on a train to Częstochowa, where his sister Jadwiga Chrzanowska lived with her husband and children.
On the other hand, I was in the camp with my daughter for two days and I dreamed of getting to Pruszków, where I had relatives, but I wasn't able to. Finally, they loaded us up in this open hog cars for transport. Before getting on this rail car I approached the engineer who was operating this train and asked him to slow down right after Pruszków, since I have family there. The train really did travel very slowly after Pruszków, I even managed to pour a bit milk into the mouths of two children, I wrapped up my daughter tightly in the sleeping bag and decided to jump from the train. It wasn't that easy, my dress got caught but I jerked at it and made it to the ground. They immediately threw my daughter to me, I caught her in my hands and started to flee across the tracks. I didn't see anything that was going on around me. At some point a young man came up to me from the other side, grabbed the small bundle I was carrying and said: "Follow me quickly", which I did. He lived not far from the tracks on Fabryczna Street along with his parents. The entire family took care of us very kindly, first I washed up, ate my fill, they gave me a comfortable place to sleep, and they tried to find a stroller for my daughter. I felt fine and safe there. Several days later I made it to aunt Weronika's, my father's sister, who lived in Pruszków with her family. I also received shelter and food from her.
From aunt Weronika's I went to my sister Zdzisława Świetlik, who lived with her family in Grodzisk Mazowiecki. There I found out that my husband is looking for me and wrote that he'd be leaving for a train from Grodzisk to Częstochowa. I agreed to go meet him. I talked over the matter with the engineer and for a certain amount he let me ride in the handcar in front of the train. The handcar is like an open, four wheeled cart, with a barrier about half a meter in height. The handcar was attached to the front on the steam engine and was protection for the train if something was placed on the rails, it would fly into the air first. So I travelled squatting or lying down, so no one would see me, but the soot sprayed all over me so that I looked like a black woman.
My husband was waiting for me at the station in Częstochowa. He brought us to his sister Jadwiga on 17 St Barbara Street by cab, near Jasna Góra, where she lived with her husband Stefan, son Lesio and daughter Alusia. There were already quite a few relatives from Warsaw there, her parents Florentyna and Józef Wciśliński, her brother Stefan Wciśliński and his wife Hela and their son Zbyszek.
Since we lived not far from Jasna Góra, we walked with our daughter almost every day to the church, to pray. The unveiling of the picture of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa was very moving for us. We usually went there in the morning, there were no crowds, you could look around and pray. A lot of people came to pray, since there were many people in Częstochowa like us from the Warsaw Rising.
Our living conditions were very difficult, but one lived with the hope for a better tomorrow. We bought and sold sugar, spirits, supplying this to stores. I also sold my gold "Omega" watch. Others that came to Częstochowa for short periods of time included: my husband's brother Zenon, Sefan's wife's brother Oleś, my husband's uncle - Antoni with his wife and others. They were all looking for some place to find permanent accommodation.
At the beginning of February 1945, right after liberating Częstochowa from the Germans, which took place on 17 January 1945, Mrs. Iza Mejerowa came to us, who lived in Warsaw during the occupation and Rising not far from us on Mickiewicz Street. I can't remember how she happened to find us. She was a tailor by trade. Her husband was killed in Auschwitz, she was all alone, we liked each other a lot and as much as possible I tried to send work her way. Furthermore, she really loved my little daughter. In Częstochowa she lived with us on St. Barbara Street, she bought and sold various things and with the money she earned she some some little tablecloths, material, and made clothes for me and my daughter. She also cooked, mostly pirozhkis with headcheese, cabbage for her and she was happy to be with us.
When everyone left my husband's sister, they sold the flat and moved to Washington Street.
My husband decided to go to Wrocław and have a look around. His cousin Kazio Wciśliński, uncle Andrzej's son, was living there, along with his wife and family, as well as his sister, Zosia Pawłowska and her daughter, whose husband was staying in London, since 1939. He hasn't even seen his own daughter, because she was born at the end of 1939, and he was already away in the war. Uncle Kazio offered my husband work at the Wrocław Municipal Board, Department of Trade.
In September 1945 we all went together to Wrocław. We went by freight train for nearly a day and a half. Upon arriving in Wrocław we lived with my husband's brother Kazio on 95 Stalin Street, now Ogrodowa Street, and then on 105 Nowowiejska Street flat nr 6 on the second floor. The flat was nice, a three room, kitchen, bath, but heat was in coal fired stoves, besides it was infested with bugs like all of Wrocław. My husband started work at the Department of Trade as a clerk responsible for store assignments. The work was burdensome and initially without pay, but there were modest food rations, later UNRRA packages from the USA. People reported to this Department to obtain a store, indicating its address. My husband presented them nominations to assign a given store, first receiving applications from them and reporting to the commission.
In December 1945, Mrs. Mejerowa came to us in Wroclaw and she took control of the household. Not far from our flat was a square, called Grundwaldzki, where people sold various things. She used to go there, and sometimes Mrs Mejerowa and I would go there to sell something to go on living somehow.
I didn't like Wrocław though and I never could get used to it and sleep well. I could never get away from the stress and what I had to go through. I became pregnant with a second child. On 17 February 1946 I was with my husband and daughter at the Wrocław Opera to see "Tosca". Upon returning home I was feeling bad and at Mrs. Mejerowa's stern intervention, my husband brought me to the clinic, where I gave birth to my son Maciek around 5 in the morning. There were many Germany women at the clinic this time, raped by Soviet soldiers. Mainly they sold these children to Polish childless couples for 1000 - 1500 zloty. These mothers were afraid to go back to Germany with such Mongolian faced children. Soldiers from various republics served in the Soviet army, in large part from Asia.
Sometime at the beginning of 1947 Mrs. Mejerowa left us, first to her family in Radość near Warsaw, then to some cousins in Gdańsk. She met her future husband there, Stefan Konrad. We keep in touch with him, he lives in Gdańsk -Wrzescz. Mrs. Mejerowa died in 1979 and now he's a widower. They lived nearly 25 years together, I think happily, though he was 10 years younger and they didn't have any children. According to her last wish, her remains were brought to Radość and buried in the family grave there.
In every predominantly German city there were old -age homes, where old people had a room, care and food. In Wrocław, not far from our flat, there was also such an old-age home, where very bad food conditions were created after the war, though not just. One of the neighbours, a German lady, proposed that one of these German women would come and for watching over the children receive a bit of food. I agreed to this. So a seventy year-old woman spent the days with us, taking care of the children. My daughter didn't like her and would mock her German jabber, but then she wasn't too friendly to my daughter either. On the other hand she very much liked my son and was great at playing with him, she called him "Mackele", and everything else in German.
Food was hard to come by, so that woman - Frau, cooked oatmeal, then she mixed in one spoonful of condensed American milk that we got from UNNRY, and she took this oatmeal to the old-age home to share with the other residents. I didn't have anything else to give her, since I didn't have enough to eat myself. In 1948 she left for Germany, gradually everyone left Wrocław and went to Germany. The woman cried terribly when she had to say goodbye, especially to Maciek. He too was affected by her leaving, he missed a patient companion to play - he walked around, looking for her, I felt very bad for him.
When my husband returned from work, after eating the modest dinner, we went for a walk to the garden plots where children played outside.
Due to the fact my husband didn't earn much at the Municipal Council Department of Trade, my brother-in-law who worked in Warsaw at the Central Offices for Fish Trade as head of the personnel department, recommended my husband work for this firm as well, at the Wrocław Branch, which my husband consented to and he started work on 1 January 1947 as an administrative manager.
In 1948 an exhibition titled "Regained Territory" was organised in Wrocław. The Central Offices for Fish Trade advertised its products at this exhibition, in particular a new kind of ocean fish, the cod. For the duration of this exhibition, cooks from Gdańsk were brought in to prepare this fish in various ways. The fish stands were enormously successful among the fair-goers.
In the beginning of 1949, relations deteriorated at my husband's work and he couldn't find work anywhere else. We agreed to return to Warsaw. My husband talked with his parents, who lived in Warsaw next to the settlement Zagościniec 35, in a haphazardly, partially rebuilt home. My husband's parents agreed to this and his mother came to Wrocław in March 1949 to take our children to Warsaw. We stayed in Wrocław another week or so to settle matters related to the trip. My in-laws house featured one room and a kitchen. My husband, children and I lived in this room, and my in-laws lived in the kitchen like before.
On 1 April 1949 we started new jobs: I as an accountant in the accounting department for the Dom Towarowy on Puławska 47a Street, and my husband at the Municipal Real Estate Board (currently called the Przedsiębiorstwo Gospodarki Mieszkaniowej /Housing Economy Enterprise) at Marszałkowska 8, as an inspector in the Building Operations Department. On the other hand the children were assigned to the preschool run by the Order of the Immaculate Conception on Idzikowskiego Street. Usually I saw them off to preschool n the morning, while my husband picked them up after work and brought them home.