Married with brass curtain rings in burning Warsaw

Captured German Sd.Kfz. 251 from the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, and pressed into service with the 8-th "Krybar" Regiment. The soldier holding a MP 40 submachine gun is commander Adam Dewicz "Gray Wolf", 14 August 1944

Captured German Sd.Kfz. 251 from the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, and pressed into service with the 8-th “Krybar” Regiment. The soldier holding a MP 40 submachine gun is commander Adam Dewicz “Gray Wolf”, 14 August 1944

Almost a fortnight after the Polish underground Home Army had launched their insurgency and the residents had joined the Warsaw Uprising, the Poles were still controlling sections of the city and holding their own against the German counter-attacks. Thousands of women and children had been murdered by Nazi death squads as they sought to regain control of the city. The insurgents were under no illusions that it would be a bitter fight – but it still did not seem possible that they would have to fight alone. The Red Army was not very far away, they were slow coming, but surely they would take advantage of the situation and join the battle?

Bill C. Biega whose Home Army identity was ‘Pałąk’ was a member of the ‘Kilinski Battalion’. He had been wounded in the early fighting and lay in the Home Army’s improvised hospital. The wounded had time to reflect on the situation:

The failure of the Soviets to maintain their offensive and come to our assistance was ominous. Even Soviet planes had vanished from the air space over the city. True, none of us considered the Bolsheviks (as we continued to call them) to be our friends. But they were allies of our Allies, and common sense seemed to indicate that political differences should not prevent them from taking advantage of the bridgehead we had created on the west bank of the Vistula. We still felt sure that any day their offensive would resume, but nagging doubts disturbed us.

It was this lurking doubt that things might not end well that prompted a conversation with his fellow wounded friend ‘Frasza’ about his long term girlfriend Lili:

Several days later we were both making good progress. I had even been able to walk with Lili’s assistance to the PKO for my arm to be X-rayed. When I returned, and Lili had gone back to the Post Office, ‘Frasza’ asked me, “I’ve watched you two for some time. You’re both obviously very much in love, why don’t you get married?”

“Yes, I love Lili and she loves me,” I answered. “We talked about getting married many times during the last weeks, but it just wasn’t a very practical thing to do in these difficult times. We plan to as soon as this is all over – if we both survive.”
He asked, “Why don’t you do it now?”
“How could it be done?” I responded.
“I will ask the Battalion Adjutant.”

He proceeded to write a note which he sent with one of the couriers. Early the following afternoon a messenger brought him a note. He read it, smiled and said, “The arrangements have been made, your wedding will be tomorrow morning in the paper shop upstairs. I have sent a messenger to Lili to tell her!”

Rysia Vitali, the doctor’s wife and constant assistant, made arrangements to get me a suitable uniform for the ceremony. Lili was in a stage of shock when she received the totally unexpected message, but her friends rallied to help her, gave her a clean blouse and skirt. My father came by visit me (his office in the Government Secretariat was only a few blocks away on Mazowiecka Street). When I told him the news he was vehemently opposed.

He said, “This a ridiculous thing to do, you have no home, no job, no way of supporting a family …” and more in the same vein. All the usual parental objections.

Patiently, I explained, “Dad, you know that we’ve been in love for years. Tomorrow we might all be dead, so all the old rules don’t mean anything. At least we’ll be together as long as we can. Perhaps we’ll survive somehow, let’s hope and pray we do. Then we’ll figure things out together.”

He went away quite angry, but after reflection he realized that I was right. In the morning, he came to the ceremony and gave us his blessing.

Thirteen was still lucky for me. That was the date of our wedding day – August 13. A field altar was set up on bales of paper in the store upstairs. The borrowed uniform was pushed and pulled onto me over the plaster dressing of my left arm. Finally, I was ready just as Lili arrived with an honor guard composed of six of her girls, holding a bouquet of rather wilted gladiolus in her hand. An attack on our positions had occurred that morning so none of my colleagues, not even the best man, Stas Nestrypke, could come to the ceremony.

However, the Propaganda Section, which was quartered in the night club Adria, just across the street, sent over a film unit. The entire ceremony was filmed, to the annoyance of the Battalion Chaplain, who disliked the bright lights and noise. Lili saw the whole film, two days after the ceremony, in the Cinema Palladium, which at that time was still operating. [...]

Bill and Lili's wedding was filmed by a Polish Propaganda unit and featured in Allied publicity about the Uprising.

Bill and Lili’s wedding was filmed by a Polish Propaganda unit and featured in Allied publicity about the Uprising.

[...] We exchanged wedding rings, not gold but brass curtain rings. After the brief ceremony the Chaplain wrote up the marriage certificate using our assumed names of ‘Pałąk’ and ‘Jarmuz’. My father had the presence of mind to say that the time of secrecy had passed, the document must be in our real names, otherwise later on we would have serious problems proving we were legally married. A new document was typed up and signed by Chaplain ‘Corda’2. Then, all the participants and the other patients enjoyed a wedding breakfast composed of French sardines and paté on biscuits captured from the stores of the German garrison in the Post Office. The obligatory toasts were made in vodka.

The attack had been beaten back. Lili and I ducked behind the barricades, which were under constant sniper fire, to the Company command post, where another party had been prepared in the luxurious suite of the (pre-war) chief postmaster. More toasts were drunk, then we ducked back past the barricades to the hospital.

My bed was already in use! “Biega, if you are well enough to get married, we don’t have room for you! We need your bed for the more seriously wounded.”

Once more we returned past the barricades, with our heads low to avoid sniper fire, to the Post Office. We spent our wedding night on the floor of the ante-chamber to the office of the chief postmaster. Our nuptial bed was a mattress on the floor. We did not have much privacy; all night long, messengers tiptoed past our bed into the suite which was the company command post, but this did not bother us. I was in pain so I did not feel very amorous and we contented ourselves by cuddling together, shortly we fell into an exhausted sleep.

See Bill C Biega: Thirteen is My Lucky Number: The Dramatic True Story of a Polish Resistance Fighter. His website Bill Biega has further extracts from the memoir, much more about his subsequent life in Britain and the USA and a section on the Polish Home Army.

Home Army soldier armed with Błyskawica submachine gun defending a barricade in Powiśle District of Warsaw during the Uprising, August 1944

Home Army soldier armed with Błyskawica submachine gun defending a barricade in Powiśle District of Warsaw during the Uprising, August 1944

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

ccg August 14, 2014 at 3:46 am

Imagine trading Hitler for Stalin. Some deal!

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