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Testimony of Krystyna Zbyszewska


foto
Krystyna Zbyszewska
Born: January 16, 1930 in Katowice
Daughter of Jadwiga and Alfons
Address during Nazi occupation; Grójecka 16 St.

 

     I lived in Warsaw since 1939. Firstly on Skorupki St. and later at Narutowicza  Sq., in the house next to Grójecka 44 St. I lived there with my Mum and sister, who has been killed during the Uprising.
     I have actively participated in the Warsaw Uprising as a fourteen year old girl.
     I was a  member of the Gray Ranks, in the girls' squad of the Executive Group of the Pasieka - the Headquarters. We had a meeting place on Świętokrzyska St., where we were to assemble. I was not prepared at all when the Uprising had started. I haven't had any backpack and was wearing a yellow frock and sandals.  If I knew for sure that the Uprising was going to start I would dress  more suitably and would take a soap and a toothbrush with me, but I thought I would be back home soon, where my Mum was still waiting. At 5 pm. I heard  some shouting at Świętokrzyska St. I was in the flat on the second floor and then I saw the Polish officer running with the revolver and the sable in his hands shouting:  "Charge! Charge!". When I saw this officer I have felt, I was back in free Poland and this was a wonderful feeling. My colleague who was there with me told me that some people brought some wounded and bleeding girl. I can't remember this at all, apparently I was too excited. Only one important thing for me at that moment was the Polish flag, shooting soldiers and a feeling I had that I was  in free Poland.
     At first we were helping only in the kitchen cooking  soup. This was the second house from the corner of Mazowiecka and Świętokrzyska St.. There were some ruins and our boys sitting there and we have brought them some soup and also some bread. Later the insurgents postal service begun to operate, this was after the August 2, when the Main Post-Office has been recaptured from the Germans. The whole our small squad ran there to organize the office of the scouts' postal service. The mailboxes have been posted there and people at once started to drop the handmade postcards with addresses to say few words to their families. We have to divide these letters and even to censor them. There were small shelves for each street, where the letters were placed.. If there were no boys at the moment, but there was a lot of letters to be delivered  in the neighborhood, I would take them and   deliver. This was very important, since people wanted to know what was happening to their families, children, mums, aunts... Of course fighting was more important, but we also had the important tasks to do. I was delivering the mail in the  City (Śródmieście) district. If I had some free time I would be distributing "gazetki" (the illegal newspapers) on Złota St., into the direction of  the Warsaw Main Station. This lasted for pretty long time and at the time we did not stay any longer at Świetokrzyska St. Our a quarters were somewhere else, one should have go there through the ruins. There we lived - six girls. I had a half sister who was four years older - Bożena Rażniewska, my  Mum daughter from her first marriage and we liked each other very much. During the "W" hour She went with me to Świętokrzyska St and she has notices  the"Kiliński" battalion down the street. She begged somebody to take her as a liaison officer. Since then she was part of "Kiliński" and participated in capturing the Main Post Office, this was possible because she was older than me. She was wounded  in her thigh and since she was afraid to be withdrawn from the service because of this injury, she dressed her wound herself. As the result  she became very weak and in September she aws infected with dysentery and died in the hospital on Hoża St.
     I didn't know what has happened to my Mum. My Mum was staying at home until the end of the August. In the flat on Narutowicza Square stayed also my mum's brother and his wife. They had to be relocated, because their home was burnt. Later they had to go on Słupecka St. , but then the Germans came. They ordered them go under the escort to "Zieleniak". My uncle's wife was pregnant, so they easily let her go. It was much worse with my Mum, since she has been taken to the concentration camp in Ravensbruck. At first she was in Dachau. She went through the real horror.
     When the building of the Main Post Office was  has been bombed, we couldn't operate the insurgents' postal service anymore. Then we moved to quarters on Jasna St. At the time I had some terrible problems with my stomach, because water's quality  was not good as it should be. Since the post service was not operating anymore the scouts squadron leader told me that I would become the liaison officer at the "Miłosz" battalion. I went there with my colleague Danka Banaszek. We had our quarters on Wiejska St.  Every morning we would be  going with the whole squad to have some home made "plujka" soup. The we would be waiting in front of the quarters of a major to receive some orders. We were supposed to deliver some documents and orders. I have been staying there until the end of the Uprising. I was terrified with what would happen to Warsaw. I knew that the Germans hated us and wanted to destroy Warsaw. I also didn't know what was happening to my Mum. I didn't know where to go, should I go to my family who lived in Włoszczowa and in Olkusz. I went to "Gozdal" (Przemysław Górecki ) on Wilcza 41 St. and asked him, what to do. "Gozdal" was the scoutmaster, who looked after us. Some people told me I should go as a civilian, the others that I should go with my squad. "Gozdal" asked me where did I live before, I told him that this was in Ochota district on Narutowicza Square and that I have left my Mum there. He told me that I should not go  as a civilian and instead  I should remain with the squad. So I took my stuff and packed it in my backpack.
     Together with my squad we walked through a half of Warsaw to the Zbawiciela Square. I haven't  had any weapons with me but all my colleagues had to throw their weapons - revolvers, shotguns - into the basket. I thought that my heart would bleed to death. We walked along Grójecka St. to my flat that was on the third floor. Everything was burnt down. My Mum was gone, taken the Germans somewhere away. I walked with the squad all the  way to Ożarów. There were some tomato fields on the way. When we saw these tomatoes- there ten or fifteen on  each bush - we have rushed towards them. I went there and I couldn't stop from was stuffing myself.
     Finally we came to Ożarów. At first we had to register somewhere, give the names and the name of our squad. There was also a queue - to get some soup. It was a barley soup with red tomatoes - delicious, I have never eaten something so good before. It was already late so we went to sleep. When we woke up in the morning all of us were coverd with a deep blue paint. There was some paint there that has melted overnight and as the result it was very difficult to wash it away. We stayed in  Ożarów for about two days. The Germans organized a segregation place there, separating men from women. I ended up in a train carriage where I was given a piece of bread, a small piece of margarine and a piece of pate the a size of teaspoon. It was to be our breakfast. We spent three days in the train.
     For the first time we were allowed to leave the train in Bremen and then we walked to the first camp - Sandbostel. We saw the camp from the distance and some men in uniforms, and we were pleased because it meant that we would be the prisoners-of war. We didn't know what would happen to us.
     When I saw they were wearing the uniforms I though that we came not to the concentration camp but to the prisoner-of-war camp. Men went to the separate barracks. We had two barracks for women and I was in the first one and my friends in another. At first I slept on the ground but when they have realized I was only fourteen I was sent to the second barrack. There were sort of rooms in this barrack and there the younger girls were kept.
     The men who looked at us through the wires were surprised that there were women in the camp at all and, furthermore, so young like us. I was only 158 cm tall so I was quite short. The other girls were of my age and of my height. There was a terrible climate there, plenty clay and mud all around and because this was autumn it rained every on and off.
     The food was  as follows: in the morning "wonderful" coffee that actually was some water of an earthy color, one loaf of bread for every six person and piece of margarine and also a bit of beetroot marmalade. For the dinner there was a soup, "delicious", made of kale or of rutabaga, or sometimes of peas. Each pea had a little hole and usually a tiny worm was sticking out and such tiny worms were floating on the surface of soup forming something like a thick skin. In the evening we would get only coffee. The bread, which we would get in the morning, had to be divided on two parts; for the morning and for the evening. Once or twice everybody was so happy because we would get two potatoes per person. The Germans didn't force us to work. I knew this has happened in other camps but not in our, or at least I am not aware of that.
     There were between 150 and 200 women in our camp. Just before the Christmas we were told that they would be taking us to the woman's camp. We were not sure to be happy or to worry. We had packed up our belongings, all was already done. We were to leave in the morning but during the night my face became as red as a beetroot, I had a of 40 degrees temperature.. My scout leader reported to Germans that I had a fever .The doctor came with three or four Polish soldiers and with the stretcher and they took me to the hospital. The hospital was outside the wired fence of camp. This was hospital for everybody because not only Poles were in the camp but there were also Italians, French and, as I was told also two Englishmen. It was an international PoW camp. There were mainly Polish doctors who worked in the hospital. . It turned out I've had diphtheria. Behind the hospital were two barracks for those infected by diphtheria. There were already my five colleagues in there. This was really great We were given dumplings, soups with grits. After what I came through during the Uprising the camp meals seemed to be as great to me as those, served  in the Ritz Hotel. I stayed in the hospital until March.
     Then came two big bellied Wehrmacht soldiers, both pretty old, and took us to the train station and then we went to Oberlangen, to the POW camp for women. I ended up in the last barrack, since it was last transport, that has been brought there. I  have joined my colleagues after a few months. We have had a really nice time there. For example we have organized the camp's  "Olympic games" - races, long jump, I  have participated in it but did not win. The camp commander had organized a variety of task for us to keep us from boring and stopping us from sitting  and looking through the window. There were English lessons. During the church holidays we have learned to sing the church songs. The Italian chaplain used to come to us.
     In April the whole sky was full of bombers. I felt happy that it was to be the end of the war. I thought the Germans did not have enough strength to shoot them down. The sound of artillery was getting closer and closer each day. One day we saw a tank coming. Our colleagues who could speak English went there with the Polish flag to welcome them. The soldiers came  out and the girls talked to them  in English and then they started to shout: "Women! You are Polish  and we are Polish too!" We asked them where they were from and they told us that they were from general Maczek army. They told us the  we were already free. We were so happy! The guards who were sitting in the  turrets ran away. We were told  that the commander of the camp has been caught. Everybody thought that this would be Englishmen to come first, but tactually he camp was liberated by Poles and these soldiers took us under their protection.. I didn't know where they did they get so many chickens and tinned food from. I can remember myself even now when I am sitting on the small stool, the plank in front me and the tinned herring (which I hated), tinned powdered milk and a sweet tinned beef on it. Horrible! But I ate it. The soldiers were visiting us, looking for their families  and friends. They have organized entertainment for us.. After three weeks somebody came to me. At first I wrote a letter to the "aunt", a friend of my Mum, who was an officer. I knew in which camp she has been kept. I asked her in my letter if she knew something about my Mum and told her that I was in Oberlangen waiting for some news. At that time my Mum has been liberated from Ravensbruck  concentration camp by Americans, but she was badly sick and was taken to the hospital in Murnau. There was a big officers' camp there  since 1939. She has been well-fed and got some medicines. My Mum also wrote a letter to her friend, to the so called "aunt", who's  real name was Maria Gutry .Before the war and also during the occupation she worked in the library. She has received both letters, mine and my Mum's, at the same time so she sent my address to my Mum. My Mum knew all generals, majors and the other captains who were kept in Murnau. There was one general, who's daughter was in Oberlangen too and he sent the car with the driver to pick her up. My Mum asked him if he could took me as well and bring to Murnau.A soldier came to me and said that one of the generals was asking me to come to Murnau, because my Mum has been there. I was very happy, I have packed my belongings at once I went with this soldier to the camp commander. The soldier had to give the general's name, because one could not simply leave the camp, since I was a soldier a not a private person. The commander agreed for me to leave. We were traveling through Germany for two days and  then I came to Murnau in the Alps.
     I asked where to look for my Mum and I had been told to go to the hospital, because she was working there as a nurse. I went to the hospital and there I was told that  my Mum was in the first floor. I was standing in the corridor and then I saw my mum, she had very short hair. She looked at me, came closer, but  passed by. I was standing there and wondered why she couldn't recognize me. I didn't realized how much I grew during my time in the camp, and that the last time my Mum has seen me was before the Uprising. She passed me close two times, and finally  I called her out and asked  whether she could not recognize her own daughter. Mum looked at me and was really shocked: "O my God! This  is you!". I was much taller and fatter than before, because during these few weeks in the camp I have eaten plenty of tinned meals and powdered milk and got fat as big as a "barrel". Mum had her own quarters and she took me there. She introduced me to  her colleagues, including  the cavalryman who looked after the stable of  the Polish horses there. He wanted me to go with him  to this stable and to ride  horses because this would help me to lose some weight. He gave me his trousers and boots but I was actually so fat I couldn't put it on. At last I was riding without the riding trousers. I actually knew how to ride. Only then I realized what I have done by eating so much which  was  not healthy for sure.
     I stayed  in the Murnau camp for about one month. One day I heard some songs and I saw the trucks driving into the camp. There were our colleagues from Oberlangen coming. In the camp they didn't know what to do with them so some of the girls - 200-300 persons - were sent to Italy. There were my friends amongst them and they stayed for few days in Murnau.
     There was a large lake there with some wonderful little islands. We used to go there together with my friends from the Home Army to have a swim and to have a good time. One day we have noticed as sign on the other side of the lake it turned out that the military maneuvers were taking place there. We didn't know about it. We went to the lake, swam to the islet, ate or sandwiches and we were coming back dressed in wet swim suits. Then the American patrol comes and asks us where we are coming from. We told them we were coming back from the lake and they told that it was not allowed because of the maneuvers. They spoke in English and I could already speak in English a bit. We were arrested. In Murnau there is the city-hall, housing the municipal authorities and there were the cells there as well. They shouldn't take us there, even though we were not wearing the uniforms at that moment but only civilian clothes. We told them told we were Polish soldiers. But they knew nothing about the Uprising and didn't believe that women could be the Polish soldiers. Fortunately somebody has noticed what has happened and informed the camp authorities. So in the camp they found out that boys and girls from the Home Army were locked up together with the Germans by the Americans who arrested ten of us. On the next day the girls were supposed to go to Italy to the Second Corps of the  Anders Army.  Our superiors came to the Americans to ask them to have us released  and  at last they agreed. I spent that very night at my Mum place and in the morning I went to Italy with the other girls.
     I  came to Macherat, this was the transition camp for women. We were uniformed and they divided us: the fourteen and fifteen year old girls were separated and the older girls were sent to school in San Giorgio. The other women were sent to the hospital as secretaries. There were the laurel bushes and vine- I saw this for the first time in my life when we came for a walk. Wonderful grapes, figs, dates, oranges, lemons - this was something new for me.
     I was myself in the group of fourteen girls who were to go to Nazareth. The other girls stayed in Macherat, in the other squads of the Second Corps. We traveled through the whole Italy. In one of the ports (I don't remember its name) there was a magnificent ship called "Kanton". We were traveling first class by this ship and we were eating in the first class dining-room. On the lower deck there were the Sikhs who traveled to India, this was the first time that  I saw the Indians who had long hair hidden under the turbans.
     The first thing that I saw when we approached Port Said were the children who swam to the ship and asked for baksheesh. We did not have any money and couldn't give them any baksheesh. Mrs Radwańska was with us, she later worked in USA for the "Voice of America" radio. She played piano very well  and was giving  concerts in the first class of the ship. She mainly played the Chopin music but not only.
     We traveled by that ship for three days. One day, before the concert, the tall black man holding a violin in his hand  came to her and asked if she could accompany him. They have started to play but it turned out that he, although he was a black man, did not have any sense of rhythm at all. She told us: "Listen, do you see what he is doing? I can't follow him!", but he went on playing and when he suddenly stopped he started to talk in Polish: "Madame, may be I can't play the violin but I love doing it". It turned out that this gentleman was hospitalized in the field hospital at Monte Cassino, in one room together  Poles and has learned to speak Polish. We have reached  Port Said, got into the train and went to Nazareth. They sent us so far away, because there was no other school  in San Giorgio except for the secondary school. When we came to Nazareth it turned out there were already  some 1700 girls there  who came together with the Anders Corps from Russia. Half of them died of typhus during the way. These girls who traveled by Caspian Sea were saved, but those who became ill still  in the USSR have died. They have been traveling by trains as a "free riders", without any  food or something to drink. My colleague who was cleaning the office in the Soviet camp saw a newspaper in the  waste basket and there was a story there  about the Polish Army that was formed in Kazakhstan. She put this newspaper under her shirt and later did show it to the others. This way  they have found that there was a possibility to join the Polish Army. As the result she and everybody else from that camp went south. These girls who has been in Nazareth were already well fed, had the uniforms, books and exercise books. They were divided into the classes, because these girls didn't attended any schools for two years.
     There were some boys as well, they going to 3 or 4 cadet or mechanic schools. General Anders wanted to save as many as possible of the Polish youth who had been earlier in the Soviet Union. And, thanks to God, he succeeded, because a lot of this youth came to Palestine. The girls have been divided into different classes; I was assigned to the second class of the secondary school. They considered us to be heroes. We were making performances and told the stories about the Uprising. For them it seemed very strange that the girls took part in it, it was something unusual. One of my colleagues broke her leg and we pretended that  she was in the insurgent hospital, we sang the scout songs, for example the "Mokotów March". When we have received  the uniforms then we started to have leaves too during Saturdays and Sundays. Then I hitch-hiked first time, Palestine was a very interesting place for me, after all Jesus lived there. Under the basilica of the Holy Family there were stairs leading to the cave, there was the table where Saint Joseph used to make tables ad chairs. Right in Nazareth there was the place of the Annunciation, now, as I heard, there is a huge basilica there. I have been going also to Kana of Galilee, to the Benediction Hill and of course to Jerusalem. I wanted to see everything that was possible. After some time I received a letter from my Mum. She wrote me she was working in the Polish Red Cross in Italy and that she have asked them to transfer her to Palestine or Egypt. They transferred her to the place at the Suez Canal, there was a Polish hospital there. The patients there were mainly suffering from tuberculosis. I was coming to spend the holidays with her, and from there I was going to Cairo to see the Sphinx and the pyramids. I have  pleasant memories of Egypt. But my Mum after all wanted to come back  home, to Poland. She didn't know what she could do in England, she could fluently speak French but she couldn't speak English.
     I stayed in Nazareth from November 1945 to mid of !947. Finally we applied both my Mum and m, to return to Poland. When I told about it in my school in Nazareth they looked at me as if I was a communist. We all still remembered Warsaw. All members the Home Army wanted to come back to Poland. Those who came from the Soviet Union have lost their homes in the East and they had nobody to come back to in Poland. Most of them decided to stay, perhaps five percent came back to Poland. In April or May my Mum and me went to the camp in Suez-  this was the camp for people who wanted to return  to Poland. We stayed there fro about two weeks, and later went to Suez by car and boarded  the ship. We got out in Naples and there a Polish train was waiting. We were traveling for two or three days through Germany and Czechoslovakia to Dziedzice. In Dziedzice we received the passes and the repatriation cards. I went to Katowice, because another daughter of my Mum was living there.
     Actually I am from Katowice and I lived there until the  beginning of the war  and so did my Mum.  Her first husband was a coal mine director there. Later on my Mum divorced him  and married my father. I lived with my Mum at my sister's place in Bytom and at that time came to Mum an old friend of her - the major. She has divorced my father and married this major. A half year later my father came back from Romania. He managed to get a flat and there I lived with him. I attended a school in Bytom, and continued  until the fourth class. Later I started to go to the secondary school in Katowice and have passed the high school examinations there. I even commenced my  studies  at  the Silesian Polytechnic, but in 1951 I married my friend and we went to Warsaw. There our son Jacek was born. At first I couldn't study; I did not have a chance. I had to work, because my husband was studying at the Warsaw Polytechnic. My father-in-law bought me the weaving machine and  I worked in the cellar making wool.
     My arrival to Warsaw   few years after the war was terrible for me, I couldn't .find my place there. These ruins, these paths between the ruins... I knew they were building the  East-West Route and it was wonderful but the new houses were not exactly  how I wanted them to be.
     Each time when I was thinking about the Uprising I ended up with some terrible dreams. I was dreaming about the ruins of Warsaw, I was running away through some stairs and was chased by a snake or a bandit or a monkey.. I had such nightmares for at least 20 years. Then I started to work in the foreign trade, I  went to East and West Germany and when I had seen the ruins there I had my nightmares even there. I have seen Dresden, it was all really horrible what these Germans did to the world!
     I'm not afraid a salute and detonations any more. At first I was afraid of planes. I was wondering if they would drop a bomb or not. I am not afraid any more, after all it has passed already sixty years passed.

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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