Interview of Marta Gadomska-Juskowiak
DOB. 24.07.1931 r.
with Stanisław Maliszewski
When the Warsaw Rising broke out, you were a thirteen year-old girl and living in the centre of Warsaw.
Yes, on 4 Ogrodowa Street. I remember this day, it was a bit hazy, hot, but a bit of rain had fallen as well. In the afternoon it turned out that my brother has a temperature and was feeling sick. Mother sent me to the pharmacy for some aspirin, on Elektoralna Street. Then the first shots sounded. We were already terribly excited. My mother's sister, Zofia Stefańska, for years the curator of the Polish Army Museum, felt obliged to go to work, to the museum. Also serving in the underground (which I found out later), she had designated tasks there. She didn't make it. In the evening, or the next day, it turned out that she was injured. A sniper shot her from the church tower at Grzybowski Square. She was lying down, it was only a small wound, the muscles were only slightly cut. Somehow she started to function.
At home, besides my mother with two children, there was grandmother- Zofia Stefańska senior, the mentioned Zofia Stefańska junior, as well as as an older woman - the housekeeper Józefa Zwierzyńska, that is only women and children. The excitement was enormous. At night we began to construct a barricade that closed off Ogrodowa Street on the side of Solna.
So the civilian population began the spontaneous building of barricades. You helped with this?
Of course. Flagstones were pried up, whatever we could find. The number 2 property, on the corner of Solna Street was unimproved, there were some stables there, horses. The barricade rested against the corner of tenement house number 4, and our flat was on this corner, on the second floor. I don't remember what day of the Rising it was; the second, third, fourth? A tank drove up, raised the barrel and fired into the barricade. I, as an unruly child, had to see what this looks like and lay down on the balcony, with my legs in the room. The balcony slab must have been cast-iron or metal, in any event it was difficult to see what was going on. Mother dragged me into the room by my legs. Later, it must have been the fourth of August, I remember a terrible glow, and you could see smoke rising over Wola, people slipped by the rows of houses along Ogrodowa Street in a single file. They were fleeing burning Wola and headed to the Old Town.
And what of those first days became most etched in your memory?
These first two, three days, such euphoria, aren't really etched in my memory. I know that we were extremely happy, flags were put out, whatever people could, some pillowcases, sheets, went for these flags, you could hear songs. I didn't mention this yet, but lying on this balcony I saw that Ogrodowa Street was renamed into General Keeberg Street - I wanted to testify of this, because I never heard anyone mention this, that the name was changed like this on the first day of the Rising.
The next incident I remember well, were the stukas air raids, the howling sound and the bombing. The entire house shook, it lasted two hours. All the residents went into the basement, but grandmother said that we wouldn't go, she was afraid that we'd be buried, or killed due to the bombing, it didn't matter. So we sat in the centre room without windows, knelled down and waited for what fate would bring.
So you were afraid of this bombing? How did you feel this?
The howl of the stukases was so piercing that I can still feel the shivers on my back. When the bombing ended, the Germans rushed into the yard, with grenades, shouting "Raus! Raus!" and it seems that they drove out everyone from the basement. Most likely residents of the houses on 1, 3 and 4 Ogrodowa Street were executed at the Hala Mirowska.
On August 7 and 8 there were executions at Hala Mirowska, when the Germans arrived there from Wola. As a matter of fact, this is described by a memorial plate at the site. What happened to you and your family then? How do you remember the moment of being driven out of your home?
They gathered up people in the basement and set fire to the stairwells. We were on the first floor. The stairwells were wooden. We had to flee. Grandmother, my aunt, mother bundled us up in some blankets, quilts and then we went to the basement.
You passed through this burning stairwell?
Yes, through the burning stairwell. We squatted down and waited for what fate would bring. I turned out that we weren't alone in this basement. People remained there who pillaged the vacant flats and carried the full suitcases to the basement. It was very evident that we were bothering them. They said that they'd take us to a different basement. They led us through property number 6 to property number 8 - to the basement, that was between the second and the third yard, it was very deep. Hunger, darkness, who knows how the time passed.
Did your mother and grandmother manage to take something to eat?
I don't remember but I think the looters provided us something. It seems that water was hard to get. Maybe mother and my aunt walked around these flats, but I don't know. In any event, all this traffic attracted Germans to the basement. Meaning that these looters, came up and told us to flee. They fled themselves. Crossing through the third yard of property no. 8, they fell into the stairwell, which was directly in front of this row of gates. Michal ran behind them, then I, and grandmother. There were different levels to the basement, especially as we rushed into that stairwell in this third yard directly opposite, there was this opening to some basement, I think 45 Leszno Street. This basement was much lower.
Above us, under the ceiling of the basement corridor, gas lines and cables ran. The others knew this is an obstacle and skilfully jumped over it, my brother saw this, so he jumped too. I hung on this and fell down, on these pried out bricks, and grandmother fell on me, because she waddled through these cables as well. At that moment a German fired a burst of shots in this opening, but we lay on the bottom, so we were safe. Thankfully, nothing happened to us. Auntie didn't manage to fall into the opening and stood behind the door leading from the yard into the stairwell, but the German didn't notice her, though just a metre away. Mother didn't manage to run into the yard and remained in that stairwell. Later, when the Germans withdrew, we got back together somehow. Finding Michał was a problem, who ran behind them somewhere, but he was found somehow.
So your family was together again, just that you didn't know what to do next?
The basement on 45 Leszno Street was empty, you could only see, I don't know - that someone sheltered Jews, because it was better adapted, a mess everywhere, swarms of flees. They raised pigs there, we were terribly hungry by then. This basement with the pigs was closed by some heavy staple. It would be difficult to break because of the resulting noise. Every time we moved the door, these pigs squealed and that brought back the Germans. And the scream again: "Raus! Raus!" We went out. It was luck that the stairwell was still intact. This is the patch of a ruin adjacent to the Court building, with this pet store, between the post office, book store ...
I saw this when in Court once, I looked down and there was this patch of a yard. They drove us down Leszno Street, Wolska Street.
So the Germans had driven you out of this place and forced you to some larger group of people?
Yes. This group of people kept getting bigger. We walked by the Karol and Maria Hospital, it was already after the pacification. Grandmother lifted some small pillow, red, with the printing Karol and Maria Hospital. This pillow existed as a souvenir for years, I don't know what happened to it now.
We went out on Działdowska, maybe Młynarska Street, in any event we crossed Wolska by the children's hospital on Działdowska. There I saw dead people lying in the niche of the gate, on the Wolska side, unused, because the hospital entrance is on Działdowska. In this manner we reached St. Stanisław Church. There was a crowd of people there already. The men and women were segregated, children with mothers, our housekeeper, this way we were treated as a family. The men were sent to this lower church . We spent the night in the church, on the stone flooring. We lay side by side. Those who got there earlier, had pieces of boards from the benches.
So in this church, when you were there - you had this conviction, that the Germans might execute you nevertheless? Or had the worst already passed?
No, no. It was known that the Germans are executing men. We didn't know what would happen to us. I remember, that we prayed, sang. Even in this march down Leszno and Wolska, we sang. The Germans didn't react. The next morning there was a selection again, but they let us pass together. I don't remember anymore what street it was, we walked to Dworzec Zachodni (rail station) to the trains. It was some road through a field, there were no large buildings there. The Germans set up some stand, they had sliced bread in baskets, loaves cut into quarters, hard boiled eggs. They set up cameras and filmed us. Every one took a piece a bread, the children got an egg. Surely it was a newsreel.
This was a propaganda film.
They put us on this train. I don't remember, but I think it was a commuter train, a regular one that operated on the Dworzec Zachodni - Pruszków route, to Pruszków, to these industrial buildings. I remember there were pits there, the stench, dirt, mud and human faeces. I don't remember how long we were there, a day, two, three? Everything is blotted out of my memory.
Do you remember what you ate in Pruszków?
I think we ate some soup, from the RGO. In Pruszków were were loaded into cattle cars, with dried, good it wasn't fresh, manure on the floor. It was so crowded there that it was not possible to lie down at night.
The trip lasted for several days and nights. I remember that we crossed the Polish-German border on August 15th. Earlier, when we travelled through Grodzisk and Milanówek, grandmother and auntie organised some paper and stones, to throw out, with information about where we are. This was information for the family, because we had relatives in Milanówek and in Grodzisk. Our relatives there quickly found out what is going on with us. Both these messages quickly reached them. Later came August 15th, on Ascension Day we crossed the border. It was such a beautiful day, sunny. We reached Berlin, actually to Oranienburg.
The trip lasted a long time. How were physiological needs taken care of?
If the train stood somewhere in field, we quickly went under the railcar, no one looked at anyone, if you had to that was it. In Oranienburg on the wide ramp, latrines, boxes were set up. There was another selection in Oranienburg. After writing down that we're mother's children, then the family separately. Single women - both the Stafańska women and the housekeeper, ended up in another railcar. I don't remember whether they gave us something to eat there, whether there was bread or something, I don't remember this. The train travelled around Berlin a long time. I remember the joy that Berlin was so shelled, a lot of rubble, that lifted our spirits. This railcar with the single women was disconnected in Ravensbrück and they ended up there. We kept going. The trip to Bergen-Belsen lasted a long time.
Do you remember what was talked about during this trip, where the Germans were taking you to? What were the speculations?
I think there was a pervasive apathy, that we didn't know what would happen to us, where they were taking us, no one knew anything. In Bergen-Belsen, when they unloaded us from these railcars, it was some five kilometres to the camp itself. We walked through a beautiful pine forest, in the intoxicating, hot sun. I remember the beautiful bell flowers, lying down on the moss and looking at this bell flowers. It was hard to walk. We were terribly hungry, exhausted.
At Bergen-Belsen we were led to some huge industrial building, plots were painted on the floor, and they had to be kept. I remember some assemblies, being pulled out, the head counts, terrible lice. Even my brother with a buzz cut, had lice. I think they gave us some soup. If you had to leave for physiological reasons, there were latrines about 100 metres from this hangar. There was a lean to, ditches, and round beams were placed on this in such a way that if someone lost his balance, he might fall over. You had to protect yourself, one holding on to another, waiting for an empty spot on this beam.
Did you sleep on plank beds there, or the floor?
No, no. On bare concrete. I had some coat there, From there they put us on railcar again.
How long were you in Bergen-Belsen, are you capable of defining this?
I have the impression that on August 22nd, I think this is in mother's correspondence, we reached the final stop of Hanover. The train took some roundabout routes. From there we were driven to a mikvah. They ordered everyone to strip down and walk into this mikvah. We were led into a building with showers. By then people knew how this took place in Oświęcim. Everyone had already said goodbye to the world. It turned out that it really was cold water.
So there was a moment of great relief, that it was water and not gas?
Later we really were given back the clothing, after delousing. Afterwards, I don't remember how, we ended up at the final stay in Hanover, on Leinau Strasse. This results from mother's correspondence.
Did someone then say that it's the end of the trip?
No, but there was employment for us. They drove the women and girls who were 14, but I wasn't 14 yet, so I remained in the camp - to work in the kitchen, helping to peel potatoes.
And where did your mother work?
Mother worked at the "Tuschke" firm [owner's name], they made sauerkraut there. She shredded cabbage by hand 12 hours a day, day after day. They also made sauces for the army.
Your brother was younger than you, he was 10. Was he also employed for some kind of work?
No, they scamped around and the company wasn't too interesting. He was poor there and beaten by Poles, by his peers. The camp was located in some semi-industrial buildings. It was fenced in along the gardens. One has to admit that the Germans there behaved very well, they tossed onions to us through the fencing. If they saw us anywhere near the fence, they tossed us onions.
So there were decent Germans, who strived to help upon seeing human misfortune.
This camp was not so closed up, because I remember that if we had a bit of money (if the family sent some), you could go into the city, but you had to hide carefully [sewed on letter P]. I remember that once I didn't hide ...
There was a German woman who sold red cabbage salad with snails, edible ones. Fine if you like this, it was a bit a protein and some vegetables to the soup served once a day at the cafeteria. In the morning there was dishwater like black coffee, a bit of bread, the wages in kind were collected in the evening. Every so often Michał got a glass of milk, but I didn't. Once a week we received half a stick of butter. We also received packages from the family.
Your family from Grodzisk and Milanówek sent packages?
No. They let the family in Sosnowiec know. We didn't receive anything from Milanówek. I don't remember exactly how it was.
In any event you did receive some packages from your family.
The camp was refurnished after a while. We were moved to the Hanomag site, a tire factory. It had typical concrete barracks, there were rooms, bunk beds. People were packed in. Since vapour condensed on these concrete barracks from the breath of so many people, stalactites formed. Everyone slept packed in like sardines on the lower levels, because rain fell on the upper ones.
I didn't mention the allied bombing, which took place every night and frequently two, three times a day. Whenever you dozed off for a bit, you had to get out of these barracks and hide in the shelters, to the basement of the adjacent building. We were very ill, I had some staphylococcus infection, which festered, it was terribly painful when I recovered from this ...
Was there any medical assistance there?
I don't know. I don't remember. I know that mother had problems with her legs, with circulation and I think she received a leave for two or three days. That family from Silesia contacted with some friend of friends from Hanover and she came to see us there from time to time, brought us bandages, ointments, pumpernickel, some eggs. She gave us what she could.
And what happened to your grandmother and aunt?
They remained in Ravensbrück. Grandmother died in January 1945. They took my aunt to work in some village, I think to a bauer. Supposedly, the housekeeper was standing in the gas line when count Welnard arrived and took her to Sweden and they took care of her. She came back to us in 1946. Auntie was in the interim camp in Lubeck.
As a matter of fact, I have the materials here, but you know ... For the first time I was encouraged to have a look at these war papers. There are things I cannot look at, for example mother's and auntie's correspondence from Ravensbrück. Such terrible things happened there that when I started to read this, I couldn't I wrapped this up and the package lies here somewhere and I don't know what to do with it. Some people tell me to burn it and don't look inside. My heart, tied to keeping old written texts, so hurts me. Nevertheless I don't want to deprive my children the possibility of reading this. So I'm counting on you a little bit, that you'll help me with this ...
How long were you sick in the camp.
It wasn't that I was confined to bed. The day began with baking onions on some stone. There were cabbage barrels in the warehouse, the remainder was poured out and a bonfire was lit, on which we baked the onions. Then every finger had to be wrapped with this baked onion, and there were twenty fingers and these carbuncles on my legs and hands. I walked around with this. Work lasted 12 hours, from six to six.
Later, the family from Silesia got us out of the camp. Some kind of connections, my father's aunt, I no longer remember the name of this man from Sosnowiec, hired mother supposedly as a qualified weaver. I don't remember, surely it's in the papers there. I do remember that he came for us on December 11th, took care of the papers in the camp, put us on the train. He said that he'd travel with us, but that we don't know each other, yes, that we were not to talk to each other. We travelled two days from Hanover to Sosnowiec. It was a regular passenger train. We travelled through Wrocław, completely wrecked and full of holes. I don't remember what we ate there, surely some hardtack.
And you found yourself in Sosnowiec with your family. This was on your father's side?
Yes, on the side of my father. My father was a lieutenant in the 29th Kalisz Infantry Regiment and withdrew to Warsaw with the Poznań Army. He was only injured near Łomianki and ended up in Ujazdowski Hospital. Later he fled so he wouldn't end up in an oflag. The children weren't told where he was fleeing to and where he was hiding. We were to say that father was in the war and was killed, and we don't know what happened. When we wrote a letter to father, that only might reach him, we had to write to some uncle. Father hid out the entire war near Rzeszów. He didn't find us until June 1945.
How did the later history of your family play out? I understand that you arrived to Sosnowiec with your mother and brother.
It turned out badly again, because I had finished mandatory schooling already, reaching fourteen years old. Michał had to attend school. He was ten, so he had to attend the fourth grade of a German school, not knowing a word of German. The second problem, since he didn't speak German, they beat him so that the family decided nothing would come of this and they forced us to cross him off the records.
An aunt near Olkusz took me in to help me recover. My father's brother took in mother, to Kazimierz near Sosnowiec (now this is a district of Sosnowiec). We had to give up on ration cards, and it wasn't possible to live without them in the Reich (and it was indeed the Reich), because you couldn't even buy a shoestring. The family fed us in the period preceding the new harvest with hardtacks, carrots, potato peelings.
A man worked in the Kazimierz-Juliusz mine who was on the Volksliste, or the Reichliste - he was a member of the NSDAP, and there were underground classes for Polish youth there. He had school-aged sons himself. We went to these underground classes, I continued the sixth grade, and Michał the fourth. This was on the level of this prewar school, and not the German one. Those people lost a lot. It seems, that they finished him off after the war, and I think nothing worked out for his two sons. One became a drunk, the other is a poet, seems he's mentally ill, a schizophrenic. I don't know whether one or both of them are thriving in Kraków, their name is Kijanka. Later it turned out that he was also a member of the Home Army, but he walked around in this [German] uniform and he paid, and his family paid for this after the war.
How long were you in Sosnowiec and the surroundings? At some point the front arrived. Were you still there?
Then we went back to another aunt in Sosnowiec. I went to the Emili Plater secondary school. Michał attended primary school and he was moved at once from the fourth to the sixth grade. In comparison to the children with the German school, he was a genius. This way, he passed his A-exams before he reached sixteen.
Getting back to this "Polish-German Reconciliation" Foundation, it was terribly difficult with this compensation award.
Did you manage to arrange this or not?
It was settled after a very long struggle. They found fault with the fact that I didn't have repatriation papers. And when this man withdrew us from Hanover to Sosnowiec, and then the front came and Sosnowiec was a Polish city, so I had nowhere to repatriate myself to. That's why there were huge complications, to explain all this. In the end they granted it.
What happened later? When did you return to Warsaw? Was this right away after the war?
It turned out after the war that father had a wolf ticket and couldn't return to Kalisz, the locals didn't really like him. He left for the Regained Territories. First he was in Kłodzko, then Wałbrzych. Father was educated as a water construction engineer. The Coal Union in Wałbrzych hired him. I passed my A-exams there.
Later, really, everything started to fall apart. I left to study in Poznań, and we were brought to Warsaw after the second year.
So you were an adult when you returned to Warsaw, as a student?
Yes, as a student. It was 1953, so I was 22 years old. Mother died in 1953. Father also died quickly, because of what he went through in the war, the hiding ...
Father, injured in 1939, wanted to cross the Polish-Romanian border, it was one of the last crossings through a "green border". The Germans beat them up, he lay in a ditch somewhere. Before he made it to his brother near Rzeszów, he already had pneumonia. They thought he wouldn't survive.
After the war, since he felt out of place in Wałbrzych, he strived for a transfer. He moved to Zabrze, but there it turned out he had TB, so he concluded that he'd be better off fleeing Silesia. He went to Warsaw, because we were in Warsaw. He had no flat, he lived in a corner. Mother died, father died, we were left alone.
So you remained with your brother?
With my brother. My brother is no longer alive.
Where did you live as a student?
In the dormitory, but when we finished studying then we lived in Iwiczna, in a hotel for workers. My brother lived in Jelonki, he received a junior lectureship and cooperative flat. That's how it was.
Was life hard after the war?