Nazis use ‘Ukrainians’ to massacre civilians in Warsaw

A German picture of members of the Dirlewanger Brigade, criminals enlisted by the Germans and associated with numerous atrocities.
A German picture of members of the ‘Dirlewanger Brigade’, criminals enlisted by the Germans and associated with numerous atrocities.

Andrew Borowiec’s memoir Warsaw Boy describes his life in Poland during the war and his time as a fifteen year old member of the Polish Home Army. But his memoir contains much more than his own observations and describes much of the background and incidents to which he not witness. One of the more notorious groups operating on behalf of the Nazis in Warsaw was the ‘Dirlewanger Brigade’, the 36th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS led by Oskar Dirlewanger.

This group participated in one of the first counter-attacks against the Polish resisters, during which large numbers of civilians were evicted from their homes or simply burnt out of their apartment blocks so that the SS could gain ground. SS Gruppenfuhrer Reinefarth was to complain “What shall we do with all these civilians? We have less ammunition than prisoners?”. The answer to his own question was to massacre most of them:

While the surviving men were organized into working parties, the women and children were being herded past Reinefarth and Dirlewanger to the places where the overworked firing squads, topping up on vodka were waiting for them. One of them was the main factory yard of the Ursus tractor company. Outside the factory gates their victims were divided into batches of twenty and then, when their turn came, shoved with rifle butts through the yard’s big doors.

Families got split up. Children became hysterical at the sight of freshly killed parents and siblings and were swiftly silenced. Most of the people pulling the trigger were the Red Army renegades we usually referred to as ‘Ukrainians’ or ‘Vlasov’s men’.

The SS obviously intended to organize the killing the way a well-run abattoir tries to avoid letting the livestock scent the blood before it is too late. But it soon became an utter charnel house. A few people did survive to bear witness — mostly because their executioners, some of them singing, were too drunk to shoot straight. Wanda Lurie, the wife of a Home Army man who was away with his platoon, was in the last stages of pregnancy and accompanied by their three children: Wieslaw, a boy of eleven, his younger sister Ludmila, who was six, and three-year-old brother Lech.

The notorious Oskar Dirlewanger in 1944
The notorious Oskar Dirlewanger in 1944

Andrew Borowiec quotes directly from the account of Wanda Lurie:

I came last and kept in the background, continuing to let the others pass, in the hope that they would not kill a pregnant woman, but I was driven in with the last lot. In the yard I saw heaps of corpses three feet high, in several places. The whole right and left side of the first and biggest yard was strewn with bodies.

We were led through the second. There were about twenty people in our group, mostly children of ten to twelve. There were children without parents, and also a paralysed old woman whose son-in-law had been carrying her all the time on his back. At her side was her daughter with two children of four and seven. They were all killed. The old woman was literally killed on her son-in-law’s back, and he along with her.

We were called out in groups of four and led to the end of the second yard, to a pile of bodies. When the four reached this point, the Germans shot them through the back of the head with revolvers. The victims fell on the heap, and others came. Seeing what was to be their fate, some attempted to escape; they cried, begged and prayed for mercy. I was in the last group of four.

I begged Vlasov’s men around me to save me and the children, and they asked if I had anything with which to buy my life. I had a large amount of gold with me and I gave it to them. They took it all and wanted to lead me away, but the German supervising the execution would not allow them to do so, and when I begged him to let me go he pushed me off, shouting, ‘Quicker!’ I fell when he pushed me. He also hit and pushed my elder boy, shouting, ‘Hurry up, you Polish bandit!’

Thus I came to my place of execution, in the last group of four, with my three children. I held my two younger children by one hand, and my elder boy by the other. The children were crying and praying. My elder boy, seeing the mass of bodies, cried out, ‘They’re going to kill us!’ and called for his father.

The first shot hit him, the second me; the next two killed the two younger children. I fell on my right side but the shot wasn’t fatal. The bullet penetrated the back of my head from the right, then exited through my cheek. I spat out several teeth. I felt the left side of my body growing numb, but I was still conscious and saw everything that was going on around me.

Wanda Lurie was to survive for over 36 hours on the pile of bodies, pretending to be dead even when her wristwatch was taken from her. Eventually she was able to crawl away, one of the few survivors from around 10,000 people murdered on this day alone.

See Warsaw Boy: A Memoir of a Wartime Childhood.

The bitter terms upon which the Warsaw Uprising was to be fought had been established.

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