Warsaw Uprising – women and children suffer

Warsaw Uprisng - Stuka dive bombers over the Old town, August 1944
Warsaw Uprisng – Stuka dive bombers over the Old town, August 1944

After a month of fighting the Polish Home Army continued to hold out in their desperate battle against the Nazi occupiers. There was still no prospect of Stalin’s troops advancing any further to assist them – and Britain and the U.S. struggled to find the means by which to offer substantial support.

For the Nazis the whole city was regarded as simply a battlefield to be be smashed apart with no regard to occupants, be they Polish Home Army soldiers or ordinary civilians. Julian E. Kulski had grown up with the war, now still only 15 years old, he was one of hundreds of teenagers fighting with the Home Army. He kept a journal of events during the uprising, including 31st August:

Zoliborz is under unrelenting bombardment. On this sunny afternoon, countless enemy Stuka dive-bombers flew over our positions and over Wilson Square. As they were not fired upon, they swooped low over the roofs of the apartment houses, and one could easily see the huge bombs attached to their fuselages. I saw them dive over the lower part of Mickiewicz Street.

After a few minutes, a dreadful explosion shook Zoliborz, and a terrible sight met my eyes. Wall after wall of the enormous apartment building at 34- 36 Mickiewicz Street began to fall down. The front wall of the building slipped out at the base, as a result of the well-aimed bombs, exposing all the interior floors.

After a while, a curtain of dust began to descend over the whole building. My heart sank – it was the building in which Marysia lived. My first thought was to run over there to help. But I was not allowed to leave our quarters. Later, though, an order from our commandant sent us off: “Detachment to dig up the ruins, at the double.”

He did not have to tell us twice!

I started first, and forgetting military discipline, I left my detachment behind. Fear of what might have happened to my friend made my heart thump even faster than the exertion did.

Fortunately, the wing of the building where Marysia lived was still reasonably intact, but the entire middle part had collapsed onto the cellar in which the inhabitants of the building were gathered. The bombs had been dropped aslant and exploded nearly at the foot of the building.

Some rescue squads were already at the place, together with Colonel ‘Zywiciel’ and our Company Commander Lieutenant ‘Szeliga.’ Along with the others, I began to dig under the rubble. We could hear the groans of the victims buried under the broken bricks and glass.

After an hour, we succeeded in digging out a middle-aged woman whose legs were smashed and twisted. Before she lost consciousness, she whispered through pale, blood-covered lips that about ten other people had been with her before the bombs fell.

Now we began to notice a head, a leg, or an arm under the debris — a sign that we were coming to more bodies. The next to be uncovered was a man, but he was already dead, his body damaged almost beyond recognition.

After three hours of intense digging, we found a woman holding a baby in her arms. The baby wailed like a wounded bird, and its mother, though injured herself, clasped her child tightly. She lay in a very difficult position, so it took a long time to free her.

Soon after that we had to stop, and went round to what had been the back of the building to have a breather. The whole garden was full of corpses — there they all lay — men, women, children, and infants. Then, among the civilians standing in a dazed huddle, I noticed Marysia — miraculously, she was not even scratched. The scene made many of us who had never cried before, do so now — particularly because the dead were mostly women and children.

See 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.

Young members of the Polish Home Army in Warsaw during the uprising.
Young members of the Polish Home Army in Warsaw during the uprising.

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