Warsaw combatants treated as prisoners of war

Wounded members of the Polish home Army after the surrender.

Wounded members of the Polish Home Army after the surrender.

eopleof Wola district leaving the city after the failed Uprising, while Polish nuns distribute water. Photo takes from the corner of Staszica and Wolska Streets looking East on Wolska street.

People of Wola district leaving the city after the failed Uprising, while Polish nuns distribute water. Photo takes from the corner of Staszica and Wolska Streets looking East on Wolska street.

The early stages of the Warsaw Uprising had seen appalling savagery on the part of the SS and their auxiliary troops. As more regular troops from the Wehrmacht became involved in the conflict attitudes had adjusted somewhat – even though the Polish Home Army had been fighting in improvised uniforms, much of it taken from the Germans, they began to be treated as regular combatants when they were taken prisoner.

When surrender came to be negotiated the treatment of prisoners was a key consideration. Andew Borowiec describes the agreement that was eventually reached:

Most surprisingly of all, SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski had also agreed that our guards would be the German Wehrmacht. There was to be no question of us falling into the hands of the Ukrainian, Cossack and other non-German renegades who had been recruited as SS auxiliaries.

Von dem Bach praised our bravery and related how he had personally persuaded Hitler to treat us as soldiers rather than terrorists. Presumably he had convinced his Fuhrer that it would otherwise take weeks to winkle the last of us out of the ruins of Warsaw, and this might somehow tempt the Russians into making a crossing.

The treatment of prisoners nevertheless varied greatly. Undoubtedly it was a great deal better than would have been the case had the SS taken direct charge.

Hitler’s vengeance had only just been contained. He wanted the whole of Warsaw razed to the ground and the remaining civilian population, some half a million people, were evicted to allow this to take place. Significant numbers were sent to concentration camps or sent as forced labour to the Reich but most were left to find new homes elsewhere in Poland.

For Andew Borowiec, who had been captured on the 27th September, his treatment as a wounded combatant was relatively good, even before the formal surrender was signed:

The treatment of Home Army prisoners being transported to various Stalags varied greatly and often depended on the whim of quite junior ofiicers. Some were pummelled with rifle butts as they were packed, Without food or water, into cattle trucks with standing room only and not even a bucket for bodily functions.

My own treatment, together with the other wounded combatants from Mokotow, was very different. First we were taken by rail to Skierniewice, a town some forty kilometres west of Warsaw, once famous for a railway station that was supposed to be one of the gems of the old Warsaw—Vienna line. The German 9th Army’s headquarters had been there for the last three months, ever since the Red Army had pushed them back to the Vistula.

We arrived at a transit camp, where we were taken on stretchers into a large barracks and laid with other wounded men in rows on the floor. It was there that we learned for the first time that both the northern suburb of Zoliborz and the city centre had surrendered, and the Uprising was over. I don’t think any of us expected it to end like this, and I remember none of us wanted to talk about it. I think we were quite numbed by the news: all that effort, all that sacrifice.

Prisoner-of-war doctors, mostly Russian and French, examined our wounds in a somewhat cursory fashion before we were loaded into freight wagons equipped with wooden cots and lavatories. Our Wehrmacht guards did not prevent Polish civilians reaching the train and handing us baskets filled with food. There was one guard to each wagon; as well as carrying rifles they each had a couple of stick grenades thrust into their belts.

At the royal and ancient Polish city of Poznan, which had been annexed by the Third Reich, our wagons were shunted into a siding when another ambulance train, replete with red crosses, drew up alongside us. We could see bandaged German soldiers inside, and they could see us, because the walking wounded, like myself, had been allowed to gather at the open door to get a breath of fresh air.

For a while we examined each other with evident curiosity, perhaps more on their part than on ours because, in the main, we were wearing an odd assortment of civilian clothes.

Then one of the Germans asked where we were from. ‘Aus Warschau,’ we said. ‘ Wir sind auch aus Warschau ’ So now it was established. They were also from Warsaw, and we were each living proof of the other’s combat skills.

There was some fraternization. ‘Czerniakéw?’ they asked. ‘ Und die Altstadt,’ some of us replied. The Germans threw a couple of packs of cigarettes and what appeared to be a small bottle of schnapps over to us. Then their train started to pull out. Some of us wished each other goodbye and good luck, and then they were gone.

See Warsaw Boy

Even if they had not been wounded most surviving members of the Home Army were in a bad way.

Even if they had not been wounded most surviving members of the Home Army were in a bad way.

The remaining civilian population was evicted as Hitler ordered the systematic destruction of the city.

The remaining civilian population was evicted as Hitler ordered the systematic destruction of the city.

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: