The Warsaw Uprising had been planned as a brief insurgency by the underground Polish Home Army, intended to last for a few days before the Red Army Army joined them in sweeping the Germans out of Poland. It had turned out very differently. The Poles were on their own, Stalin did not want to help them, content to see independent Polish spirit and leadership wiped out before he imposed a communist regime. The battle had not been confined to the Home Army but had included all the residents of the city, thousands of whom had died in the struggle – either murdered out of hand or killed in the relentless bombing and shelling.
Despite holding greatly superior forces for two months the ground held by the Poles had been slowly whittled down as their circumstances became ever more desperate. Julian Kulski was one of the combatants, a 15 year old boy, he was eventually able to record the final hours of the Uprising:
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 30
It is now Saturday. At nine o’clock this morning the enemy managed to set the second and third floors of our building on fire. We had to stand at our posts, deafened by exploding shells, our eyes smarting from the smoke.
It was so dark that none of us knew what was happening, and the groans of the wounded were making us more and more despondent. It was now clearly impossible to hold Zoliborz any longer, and shortly after ten o’clock Colonel ‘Zywiciel’ ordered the companies to withdraw in the direction of the Vistula. We were to cross the river at night and join the Russians.
Our company, which by that time was reduced to less than half its full strength, was again to be the last one to leave its position. The Commandos were always first to attack and last to leave. That was our job. However, at noon the order came from Lieutenant ‘Szeliga,’ and under cover of smoke we started to withdraw. Creeping through ruined houses, we reached a building on Mickiewicz Street. The remnants of our division gathered here while the Germans found themselves at last in possession of almost the whole of Zoliborz.
The rows of tanks standing on Wilson Square and lining Slowacki Street fired a stream of shells at us. The Germans had thrown an entire armored division into an area the size of a postage stamp. The Fire Brigade Building was blown to smithereens by an attack from Goliath robot tanks.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, AFTERNOON
We had hoped to remain here until nightfall and then, after breaking through the German positions by the river, to reach the Russian boats that were supposed to be waiting for us.
The tanks were causing heavy damage, and I received an order to fire at them from my PIAT antitank missile thrower. It was now almost beyond my strength even to lift it; the fever had made me so weak that I was falling down every few meters. In order to ready the PIAT for action, I had to lie on my back to pull its spring.
I took a position in the ruins opposite a large Tiger tank, and my first missile hit the right tread of the tank, immobilizing it. I saw the huge gun slowly turning, finally pointing straight at me. I knew I had to get him this time. The second shell blew a large hole in the center, and flames shot from the tank. The hatch opened, and a black-uniformed crew started to jump out. The first man was cut down by our machine-gun fire. The second was killed as he was attempting to leave through the hatch. As he fell back, he grabbed the open hatch door, closing it. Nobody else left the steel trap.
My PIAT hit several tanks as we moved among the ruins. For once, there was an ample supply of missiles, and they were being handed to me one by one. Finally, I could no longer pull the spring and collapsed, utterly exhausted.
The holes in the walls and roof made an awful impression on me and the thought nagged at my mind, Where is Marysia now? Is she still alive?
I lurched back down the stairs like a lunatic and met my startled companions. One of them shouted, “What the hell are you doing wandering around these ruins? Are you mad?”
I sank down on the steps near my fellow soldiers. The whole situation looked quite hopeless. We had to face a fact we had always known – had always known, even if not admitting it – that at some time we would have to be prepared for capture or death.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, NIGHT
The news came through, striking like lightning. The message was starkly brief. Surrender! The word itself brought forth a furious barrage of oaths from all sides: “Lies!” “Impossible!” Still, all the companies were ordered to line up. We did so, not yet able to believe what was happening.
Lieutenant ‘Szeliga’ stood before our company. I had to struggle to stand to attention and to concentrate as he took a paper from his breast pocket and began to read aloud the order from Colonel ‘Zywiciel’:
I thank you, my dear comrades, for everything you have accomplished during these two months of fighting with the enemy, for your efforts, pain, and courage.
I am proud that I had the honor to command such soldiers as you. Remain such in the future and show the world what a Polish soldier is, he who will sacrifice every-thing for his country.
An hour ago, as ordered by the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, General Bor-Komorowski, I signed the surrender document of our group. . . . We are surrendering to the Wehrmacht as a regular army, and we will be treated according to the Geneva Convention.
I thank you once more for everything. God be with you!
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, MIDNIGHT
After that, everything went like a nightmarish dream. Hardly realizing it, we began to fall into military formation. It was nearly midnight as we started our slow march uphill from the Glass House along Mickiewicz Street toward Wilson Square.
We all made one last effort and marched in an even, measured step, as on parade, our rifles on our shoulders. We had to remind the Germans what kind of soldiers they had been fighting during the last two months.
With officers at our flanks, we advanced toward Wilson Square, solidly lined with tanks, where the Germans were waiting for us. When we were about ten meters from a gate leading into the courtyard of a large building, the command came: “Kompania Stoj!” (Company Halt!). Our commander exchanged words in German with the officer-in-charge. Then we entered the courtyard.
A thrill of terror shook me as I saw the faces and uniforms of the hated enemy at such close range. The Germans at once surrounded us and confiscated our short arms, field glasses, and so on. Then we marched in company formation through the courtyard; passing the tanks standing at the entrance to Slowacki Street, we found ourselves in the middle of Wilson Square, illuminated by the flames of burning Zoliborz. Here, we had to lay down the rest of our weapons.
I had nothing left to give up.
See Julian Engeniusz Kulski: Dying, we live: The personal chronicle of a young freedom fighter in Warsaw (1939-1945). YouTube has a short interview with Julian E. Kulski, now a U.S. citizen, on his views on the importance of the Uprising.