Berliners learn to accommodate the Red Army

View of ruined buildings in Wilhelmstrasse, Berlin, taken from the second floor of the Air Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium).
View of ruined buildings in Wilhelmstrasse, Berlin, taken from the second floor of the Air Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium).
An aerial (oblique) photograph taken from a De Havilland Mosquito of the RAF Film and Photographic Unit showing badly damaged buildings in the area between Friedrich Hain and Lichtenberg, Berlin.
An aerial (oblique) photograph taken from a De Havilland Mosquito of the RAF Film and Photographic Unit showing badly damaged buildings in the area between Friedrich Hain and Lichtenberg, Berlin.

The reality of the Soviet occupation of Germany now became all too apparent. In days and weeks of lawlessness following their victory the Red Army was to indulge in an epic of rape and pillage, much of it officially sanctioned. The Soviet authorities moved swiftly to dismantle and remove whole factories to the East.

Any man who had served in the military, and many who were merely suspected of having done so, were marched off to Russia where they would spend many years labouring to rebuild what had been destroyed. Many would not survive the hardships.

Werner Harz had narrowly avoided being marched off to the east on more than one occasion when his Volkssturm unit disbanded. He escaped and made his way back to his home in Berlin. For him and many others the ordeal of the Soviet occupation was only just beginning:

The atmosphere during the next few days was incredibly complicated and perplexing. We could scarcely realise our joy that the war was over because we had perpetually to be on the watch.The Russians were celebrating everywhere: in our house, in the streets, in the gardens, their victory celebrations lasting night and day for weeks. Unluckily a huge store of wine and spirits had been found just down the road, and an unending stream of keen-eyed soldiers flowed up the street, while on the other side a rolling flood of paralytic conquerors staggered back.

They were mostly from Eastern Russia, with Mongolian faces, Chinese-looking beards and earrings.There were little undersized men from Turkestan and sturdy- looking Siberians.

But one thing they all had in common — an absorbing and childish fascination in domestic gadgets and machinery. My electric radiogram really intrigued them. But having no electric current I found it rather difiicult to explain and as the machine obviously wouldn’t work they showed me their displeasure in no uncertain terms – by smashing it.

They were also fascinated by the water-closet which again, in spite of my rather undignified pantomime, they completely failed to understand. They searched steadily through my library looking for pictures.They sought continually after watches although we had already paid off our share of the reparations with every watch and clock in the place.They played with two cameras and broke them immediately. With deathly calm they took a lovely antique grandfather clock to pieces, and no one has since been able to reassemble it.

The street in front of our house looked like a fairground. Dirt, rubbish, pieces of cars and tanks were strewn everywhere and amidst everything dozens of Russians were riding bicycles — obviously trying this new type of transport for the first time in their lives. They fell to left and right but clambered back again like armless little apes. Some, just able to stay on, began immediately to try acrobatics; others stared proudly at their rows of watches, usually extending up both forearms.Then, when they were tired of it, they let the machines lie where they fell and walked away.

We had to watch like lynxes to prevent our inquiring visitors taking too much away that interested them. And my room was full ofinterest. I found it a matter of some delicacy to persuade a chummy Uzbeker not to demonstrate his prowess with the pistol by shooting the Iphigenia of Tauris illustration out of my Goethe first edition.

One national trait puzzled us. This was the habit of nearly every Russian who came to visit us of relieving nature in various, and to us strange and unusual places. We discovered these faecal visiting cards in every corner, on tables, beds, carpets and one, strangest and most ambitious of all, on the top of a particularly high stove. My own theory that this was the remains of an old superstition which implied than an object be possessed if the owner had stooled on it, did not obtain any general currency. But I still think it a possibility in the absence if any more valid theory.

It was all incredibly tiring. One had to be on one’s toes the minute a soldier came near, and dozens of them came near all the time. Each one had to be conducted through the whole house and couldn’t be trusted alone for a moment. As long as one watched them, kept talking, and treated them as guests, they could be dissuaded from taking away what they wanted, and breaking up what they didn’t. But they were always inspired with awe when they saw my row of books and the pictures on the walls.

The demand for women continued unabated and the unfortunate girls had to stay hidden under the roof for a whole week.We had nothing but admiration for the physical endurance which made the Russians capable of this exercise at all hours of the day or night. Fortunately I had a pornographic book in my library with which I managed to divert them from their more practical excursions in this sphere.

Since the exercise of hospitality took up the major part of our day it was a continual worry to find things to eat and drink. During the early days it was quite simple. Dozens of dead horses were lying in the streets and all one needed was a bucket and a sharp knife. Or it was merely a question of following the looters and joining in the free-for—all fights that were always in progress in the many grocer’s shops and food depots.

This account appears in Louis Hagen (ed): Ein Volk, Ein Reich: Nine Lives Under the Nazis.

British and Russian troops in the garden of the former Reichs Chancellery. The entrance to Hitler's bunker is immediately behind them.
British and Russian troops in the garden of the former Reichs Chancellery. The entrance to Hitler’s bunker is immediately behind them.

Allies come to terms with Germans and Germany

In the crematorium courtyard, U.S. soldiers confront the citizens of Weimar with the corpses found there. This was the first photo of Buchenwald to be published; it appeared in the London Times on April 18, 1945.
In the crematorium courtyard, U.S. soldiers confront the citizens of Weimar with the corpses found there. This was the first photo of Buchenwald to be published; it appeared in the London Times on April 18, 1945.
German civilians loot a train carrying food supplies.
German civilians loot a train carrying food supplies.

As the Allies moved deep into Germany and began to encounter ordinary Germans many men were wondering about the contrast between ‘ordinary’ Germans and the war crimes that they were uncovering. The German population would soon become subject to a programme of de-nazification as the Allies took control of the administration of the country. In the interim period there was great uneasiness about how they should deal with Germans, how many of them were still dedicated Nazis?

Henry Swann a US Army doctor describes the situation in a letter home to his wife:

Apr. 19th

Germany

Darling,

Yesterday we were on the road all day. The country-side was clothed in a filmy haze which softened the bright sun-light. This part of Germany looks like a fairy-land. Little farms, with the apple and pear blossoms framing the red-tiled roofs, set in neat patterns over the gently-rolling green hills, broken here and there by a grove of delicate birch trees, or green pine. What a setting for the tide of human misery which thronged the road-side!

Liberated workers and freed prisoners of war, mostly men, but also many women streamed past us as we rode, like a movie reel. Russians, Poles, Italians, French, Dutch, and Belgians, dressed in scraps of uniforms, patched work-clothes, rags and tatters; carrying little or big bundles, or pushing little wheel-carts; tired and hungry; apathetic, sprawled out under the tress in little groups; trying to get back and away from the front. Many of them seemed dazed, almost uncomprehending. Others, who, no doubt, have not been imprisoned and beaten long enough to have their spirit broken, laughed and waved us on. Here was freedom at last; now remained only the long and perhaps devious way home. But most of them were thin, and old, and weary. They were as people in pain and yet asleep. What a parade of thwarted lives, of physical and spiritual agony, of human bitterness! A trickling column, two hundred miles long.

And past them in big lorries rolled the convoys of German prisoners, going back to their cages to loaf away the remainder of the war, safe and well fed. The prisoners ride, the liberated allies walk. There are good reasons, of course, but war is strange, isn’t it?

In the little farming towns where the war swept by and left them unscathed, the German people go about their business; fat, rosy-cheeked kids play and wave at us, though we wave not at them; women wash and shop, and chat, and watch the kind-hearted, soft Americans go by with scant concern; and saucy girls smile and wiggle just a little at the G.I.’s — girls who last night warmed the bed of an S.S. trooper. (Non-fraternization is more than a policy: – it is a military safeguard. Not a few G.I.’s have followed these Lorelei into their houses, and have met death and oblivion in the dark.) These apparently happy and unconcerned people view the straggling refugees with little interest and no compassion. It is, perhaps, of no importance, for are they not just slaves?

And from these little towns came the men who are paratroopers and gestapo boys. And these people who smile and wave and fly their white flags by day, by night are smuggling arms, concealing escaping prisoners and sniping at any unwary soldier.

The name of the town where now I am located I cannot tell you, of course. [He is referring to Gardelegen – where he was a witness to the aftermath of the massacre] But it will soon burn in the hearts of men along with Lidice and Lublin. The Germans perpetrated here a human massacre so brutal as to defy belief; the evidence is complete and irrefutable; and it chills the heart to see it. There is no human crime of which they are not capable! Some day, you will read the story in the papers; I hope they publish it far and wide, though I admit that although I have seen terrible things in this last year, I myself could scarce have the heart to tell you of it.

And so Germany lies a beautiful, apparently innocent, whore; outside, appealing and disarming; inside, disease-ridden, deceitful, and vicious. In the success of our armies and the prospect of a termination of hostilities in the near future, we have perhaps lost sight of our enemy. But here he is still, – sly, beguiling, arrogant, ambitious, and inhumanly cruel. Let some think that this war is over. It is just beginning! And if we are weak and sentimental now, armies will march again as sure as fate. We must not be fooled by their smiles, their folk-dances, their pretty country-side. We cannot afford another era of phony peace.

We are now with an Evac. which took over a big Nazi hospital. Very comfortable and quite civilian. For the first time in over a year, I have bathroom facilities with hot and cold running water. You probably never think what a luxury it is to be able to turn a handle and have hot water run into a nice clean white basin. One takes it so for granted, until you don’t have it. In Paris and Brussels there was no coal to heat water. Most English homes never had central water heating because of fuel shortage. And in Belgium and Germany, not many pipes carried water of any kind. So we turn it on and off, and wash our hands twice, just to enjoy the luxury of it!

H

The complete collection of Henry Swann’s letters 1944- 1945 can be read at the National Library of Medicine.

A hangar full of wrecked German aircraft at Schmarbeck airfield, Germany, 20 April 1945. In the foreground are Heinkel He 111 and He 177 bombers.
A hangar full of wrecked German aircraft at Schmarbeck airfield, Germany, 20 April 1945. In the foreground are Heinkel He 111 and He 177 bombers.
A Cromwell tank of 7th Armoured Division (the Desert Rats) on the Bremen-Hamburg autobahn, 20 April 1945.
A Cromwell tank of 7th Armoured Division (the Desert Rats) on the Bremen-Hamburg autobahn, 20 April 1945.

Two very different Germans consider the future

Two old members of the Volksturm seem relieved to have surrendered to British troops in Bocholt, 28 March 1945.
Two old members of the Volksturm seem relieved to have surrendered to British troops in Bocholt, 28 March 1945.
Displaced German civilians cooking a meal in the town of Rees, 28 March 1945.
Displaced German civilians cooking a meal in the town of Rees, 28 March 1945.

In Laubach in western Germany one man had maintained a small act of resistance against the Nazis throughout the war. A mid level civil servant, Friedrich Kellner deliberately set out to record every detail and nuance of Nazism as it affected ordinary Germans.

I could not fight the Nazis in the present, as they had the power to still my voice, so I decided to fight them in the future. I would give the coming generations a weapon against any resurgence of such evil. My eyewitness account would record the barbarous acts, and also show the way to stop them.

In doing so he took an extremely perilous course. So many other like minded Germans had ended up in concentration camps, which few survived. His diary reveals what many Germans knew about the war, including a widespread understanding of various aspects the Holocaust, based on first hand accounts from troops returning from the east.

On 27th March he had written about the imminent collapse of the front near him:

The German army is fleeing!

Since yesterday evening, March 26, 1945, cars heading toward the direction of the east have been racing past our building. We could not sleep the whole night because of the noise. The “best army of the world” (as it was so often called) is fleeing back.

To Where? To the Weser? God, you fools, you were not able to defend the Atlantic and Siegfried Line, as well as the Rhine. What do you think you can do inside Germany? Despite what those who would prolong the war might still invent, the dissolution is complete–and it is but a short time before the war machine itself comes to a stop.

Then an uncommonly serious and extremely heavy time of the reconstruction begins after this worst of all wars. And there are very few people who are in the clear; the war affected everyone’s thinking and actions completely until the war was at its end. The hangover will last longer than the greatest pessimist can imagine.

Then on the 29th March the Allies finally arrived:

Shortly after 3 p.m. there are noises on the street. In the cellar of our building are gathered those wounded in the name of Goebbel’s propaganda, and some neighbors, all overawed. Among them, naturally, are the Party members, who do not have a clear conscience. These believe the approaching Allied soldiers will behave like the German soldiers did in Poland, etc. This sheepish fear gives me pleasure. I do not pass up the chance to make scornful remarks.

We go outside to the courtyard entrance and see the advance guard drive by: tanks, armored cars, trucks, and jeeps. For the first time we behold Americans. The soldiers are outstandingly equipped. Their appearance is remarkably good, well-fed. There is no comparison between the Germans’ material and the Americans’. Anyhow, the American army makes an impression of excellent, disciplined troops. I want to hope that this good impression will continue to remain in the future.

Read more of his diary entries in English at Friedrich Kellner: Selected Diary Entries

German civilians pass burning buildings in Bocholt, 29 March 1945.
German civilians pass burning buildings in Bocholt, 29 March 1945.

Meanwhile in Berlin the senior Nazis continued to delude themselves that the situation was in some way salvageable. Propaganda Minister Jozef Goebbels was also an assiduous diary keeper throughout the war. His diaries give no hint of impending doom, let alone any sense of panic. He continued to write long detailed, daily analyses of the international scene and the war situation right up until the 9th of April.

On the 29th March he surveyed the eastern front, and considered a confidential report on the war in western Germany. He was still making plans for resistance to occupying Allies:

The report starts by saying that large-scale demoralisation has set in in the West, that a vast army of stragglers is on the move eastwards, that east-bound trains are crammed with armed men, that there is no longer any question of firm cohesion anywhere, and that in places detachments of Volkssturm can be seen marching westwards while the regular troops set off towards the east.

This is, of course, extraordinarily menacing and gives rise to the greatest anxiety. I am convinced that we shall succeed in re-establishing some sort of order in this wildly milling mob. But, the war having moved so far onto German territory, we can no longer afford to abandon large areas as is usually associated with such proceedings.

The Americans are already saying that they are only 150 miles from Berlin. This is not true but I believe that they are trying to divert our attention in a false direction …

Hannover was raided yesterday in addition to Berlin. The two raids were described as medium to heavy. Reich territory was clear of enemy aircraft during the night. For the first time for 35 days Berlin was not given the compliment of its Mosquito raid. Among the inhabitants of the Reich capital this produced a sort of definite disappointment. When the Mosquitos did not arrive in the evening, everyone naturally expected that they would come during the night. They probably stayed away for reasons of weather.

I am now very busy with the so-called Werwolf organisation. Werwolf is intended to activate partisan activity in enemy-occupied districts. This partisan activity has by no means got off to a good start.

Here and there certain noticeable actions have been reported such as, for example, the shooting of the Burgomaster installed by the Americans in Aachen; for the moment, however, no systematic activity is visible.

I would like to take over direction of this partisan activity myself and I shall possibly ask the Fuhrer to give me the necessary powers. I shall set up a newspaper for Werwolf and also make available a radio transmitter with powerful beam facilities; both will carry the same name. Announcements both in the news- paper and over the radio will be in definitely revolutionary terms without any external or internal political restraints.

In the present war situation Werwolf should be what the Angriff [ Nazi newspaper – ‘The Attack’] was during our struggle period [before the Nazis came to power] when we were fighting not only for Berlin but for the Reich; in fact it should be a rallying point for all activists who are not prepared to adopt the course of compromise.

See Final Entries 1945: The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels

Displaced German civilians queue for water rations, 28 March 1945.
Displaced German civilians queue for water rations, 28 March 1945.
Rations being handed out to displaced German civilians, 28 March 1945.
Rations being handed out to displaced German civilians, 28 March 1945.

First impressions of Allied occupied Germany

Winston Churchill with Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, Chief of the Imperial General Staff Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke and General William Simpson of the 9th American Army at the Siegfried Line, just outside Aachen, Germany, on 6 March 1945.
Winston Churchill with Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, Chief of the Imperial General Staff Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke and General William Simpson of the 9th American Army at the Siegfried Line, just outside Aachen, Germany, on 6 March 1945.
A Sherman tank crew of the Nottinghamshire Yeomanry (Sherwood Rangers), 8th Armoured Brigade, shaking hands with US troops in Issum, Germany, 6 March 1945.
A Sherman tank crew of the Nottinghamshire Yeomanry (Sherwood Rangers), 8th Armoured Brigade, shaking hands with US troops in Issum, Germany, 6 March 1945.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill chalks the message "A Present for Hitler" onto a shell which he then fired from a 9.2mm gun at the eastern edge of Goch, Germany, on 5 March 1945
Prime Minister Winston Churchill chalks the message “A Present for Hitler” onto a shell which he then fired from a 9.2mm gun at the eastern edge of Goch, Germany, on 5 March 1945 (original War Office caption see comments below)

Many Russian troops had been angered by the apparent wealth of Germany as they began to occupy the eastern territories. Why had a country with such fine houses and productive farms caused such misery by invading Russia? Most of the Soviet troops originated from peasant backgrounds with very basic living standards – they wanted to know what had the Germans sought to gain?

As journalist Alan Moorehead entered western Germany he too was struck by the relative prosperity of the country. In the country areas at least the population had been protected from many of the privations of war. They seemed to have done better than many in England and France where the rationing and shortages had been commonplace throughout the war years:

We had entered Germany in the north-west, the rich Rhineland province, where the border populations were mixed, more subject to outside influences and presumably less overborne by the Nazis.

The first thing that struck you in the lush green countryside was the cattle, so numerous, so well fed. Chickens and pigs and horses were running everywhere. The farms were rich, wonderfully well equipped and managed. The farming people and their foreign workers were well dressed, and they looked strong and healthy. One could turn into any house at random and find a cellar lined with glass jars of preserved vegetables and fruits. It was nothing unusual to come on many sides of bacon, and larders of fresh meat and dairy butter. In the better homes there was wine and often French liqueurs.

The villages and smaller towns too had a solid bourgeois comfort which had been unknown in England and France for years. Silk stockings were a commonplace. There was not much leather in the shops, but every house seemed to have a good linen cupboard, and there was always an extraordinary variety of electrical gadgets, like radio sets and cookers and vacuum cleaners.

On the walls no sign of Nazi flags or pictures of Hitler; these had been snatched down at the last minute before the Allied troops arrived. Whenever you entered a gasthaus or a shop you would always be certain of seeing a discoloured patch on the wallpaper where a photograph of one of the Nazi leaders had hung until the previous day.

Whenever you approached a farm in a jeep, the German family would remain indoors and send out one of their foreign workers, preferably a Dutchman, in order (they hoped) to make a good impression. Most of their valuables they hid in the cellar or dug into the ground under the chickens’ runs. As for the eggs and chickens and the other things they could not hide, these they offered almost eagerly, expecting no payment. They expected to lose everything in the way of cattle and horses, and the motor-cars which had been stored away years since under the straw in the barns.

That was the first thing we learned inside a week of living with the Germans; they expected to be ill-treated. They had an immense sense, not of guilt, but of defeat. If a man’s shop was entered and looted by Allied soldiers he never dreamed of protesting. He expected it.

And the reason for this was that he was afraid. Mortally and utterly afraid. And so the German made the ordinary normal reaction of a man overcome by fear; he ran to obey. He was obsequious. And the women turned away their heads. They walked past with wooden despairing expressions on their faces, as though they were being pursued by someone. One saw few tears.

For the Germans the catastrophe had gone far beyond that point. Tears were a useless protest in front of the enormity of the shelling and the bombing. And so one was always surrounded by these set wooden faces.

Sometimes our car got stuck in the mud. At a word the Germans ran to push it out. Once a German came up to my driver and said: ‘The Russian prisoners of war are looting my shop. Will the English soldiers please come and see they do it in an orderly manner?’ It never occurred to him to contest the right of the Russians to loot. He was simply anxious to avoid the needless smashing of his windows as well.

We lived in farmhouses and small hotels, most of them filled with refugees from the bombed-out towns. We said: ‘We will require this room and that room in an hour’s time.’ At once the German families rose and left—to live in the cellar probably. They cleaned the rooms, washed our clothes, did our cooking.

After the first week in Germany it never occurred to us to mount sentries at night. Often four or five of us would sleep entirely alone in a village filled with hundreds of Germans, most of whom had husbands and brothers who had been killed or captured by the British, and whose houses had been wrecked by the British. Never anywhere did any German civilian attempt to shoot at me or menace me or steal any possession of mine.

See Alan Moorehead: Eclipse

Men of the 1st Royal Norfolks, 3rd Division, clearing enemy resistance in Kervenheim, Germany, 3 March 1945.
Men of the 1st Royal Norfolks, 3rd Division, clearing enemy resistance in Kervenheim, Germany, 3 March 1945.
A Sherman tank of 8th Armoured Brigade in Kevelaer, Germany, 4 March 1945.
A Sherman tank of 8th Armoured Brigade in Kevelaer, Germany, 4 March 1945.
It would seem that someone at the WarOffice had problems with Metric units. A 9.2-inch howitzer and gun crew of the 5th Heavy Battery, Royal Artillery, at the School of Artillery at Larkhill, Wiltshire, November 1939.
It would seem that someone at the War Office had problems with Metric units. A 9.2-inch howitzer and gun crew of the 5th Heavy Battery, Royal Artillery, at the School of Artillery at Larkhill, Wiltshire, November 1939.

Norwegian Resistance sinks troopship with timed mines

Norway had been under German occupation since 1940.
Norway had been under German occupation since 1940.
British deception plans had forced Hitler to keep many troops in Norway, waiting for an invasion that never came.
British deception plans had forced Hitler to keep many troops in Norway, waiting for an invasion that never came.

Way back in 1940 Churchill had sought to ‘set Europe ablaze’ withe the establishment of the Special Operations Executive which supported resistance groups throughout Europe. A series of very significant sabotage operations against the German nuclear programme had been mounted in Norway. Even though Norway now appeared to be something of a backwater, which the Germans surely would wish to evacuate at some point, there were some very determined members of the Resistance who wanted to carry on the fight. Attacks on German troops meant fewer men who might be transferred back to Germany to carry on the main battle.

One man who had already been involved in a number of successful sabotage operations, as well as escaping from Gestapo custody when he was arrested in 1941, was Max Manus. On the 16th January he would successfully carry out an audacious attack on German shipping, carrying his explosives into Oslo harbour right under the noses of the Wehrmacht. He did so at a time when the Germans were on high alert for sabotage attempts, with soldiers positioned around the docks with orders to fire at anything floating in the water in case it might be a frogman.

The following report reads like it might be fiction, perhaps from an episode of Mission Impossible, but comes from the Special Operations Executive’s file recommending Max Manus for the Distinguished Service Order:

Manus planned and carried out the operation which saw the sinking of the ship ‘Donau’ approx 9,000 tons and the damaging of the ‘Rolandseck’ of approx 2000 tons.

It was not a straight forward operation as the limpet mines, the rubber boat and other equipment had to be concealed first on a wharf in Oslo harbour that was used for the embarkation of German troops. This in itself was a hazardous operation, but the shear audacity of Manus’ methods saw him through.

Brazen use was made of a well of a lift which led from the deck of the wharf to the lower platform whereby the equipment could be stowed. To get through the guard entrance at the dock a decoy vehicle was used with the occupant creating a nuisance of himself with the guards.

The second vehicle, with Manus and packed with all the equipment was then waved through … the ruse had worked. But to Manus’ chagrin the wharf was full of Germans. However, fortune favours the brave and with great daring, and in full view of the Germans, the equipment was unloaded close to the lift. The car was then driven out of the dock.

Later, when the wharf was clear of Germans, the equipment was stowed away in the lift and taken down to the lower section. Manus was aided by two loyal Norwegian workers.

The plan was to attack a large, heavy transport ship, but Manus had to wait some days until a suitable target presented itself. On the 15th January the ‘Donau’ arrived from Aarhus and Manus made the decision to attack her (NB. The ‘Donau’ had previously been used to transport Jews from Norway to Germany whereby many of them were taken to Auschwitz where their lives were sadly and cruelly taken).

Early next morning, Manus, with a helper met with his dock contact, but the man was not at all optimistic. The water surrounding the wharf was full of floating ice, a German soldier had recently fallen in and a search was in progress and finally a number of horses had been tied off to the door entrance which led to the lift. Manus decided to carry on.

Manus and his companion, Roy Nielsen dressed in full British battle-dress with over 100 metres of cordtex tied around their waists, but all concealed under boiler suits, approached the dock guard and proceeded to take part in a comic sketch to aid them through the gate…

Nielsen ‘slipped’ on the icy ground, much to the amusement of the guard … it worked, though, and they were through, despite a cursory inspection of their papers.

Once again the sheer audacity and bravery of the Norwegians had come to the fore. However, the atmosphere was still tense as the guards that were posted on the wharf to protect the ‘Donau’ regularly aimed their rifles and shot in to the water at anything that was suspicious.

Fortunately, the horses had been embarked and the door was clear to enter. The lift was positioned so that the two men could slip underneath it. Looking through a small chink they could see Germans approaching, but all the Germans wanted to do was to get out off the wind. There was at least 8 degrees of frost and it was exceptionally cold in the biting wind. After a while the Germans moved on and Manus’ contact on the docks carefully locked the door.

A rope ladder was let down amongst the wharf timbers but soon the rungs were full of ice: the rubber dingy was also lowered and blown up to the covering tune of a German sergeant drilling an unfortunate squad.

Eleven limpet mines were care fully loaded in to the dingy along with two Sten guns, ammunition and grenades in case they had to fight their way out of any trouble. The two men removed their boiler suits and stepped into the dingy in preparation to pushing off. However, a German patrol boat pulled up alongside the wharf and began a searching amongst the timbers.

Manus and Nielsen laid low in their boat daring not to breathe, but the Germans were not the most observant and soon left. After a suitable period waiting for the all clear the intrepid duo pushed off.

The going was tough as they inched their way forward through the ice using oars and an axe. Navigating carefully alongside the ‘Donau’ they placed their limpets aft of the engine room. With all the limpet mines in place they made their way back to the wharf, but then noticed the ‘Rolandseck’ arriving on the other side of the wharf.

Manus knew this was too good an opportunity to miss. Despite both men being soaked through and very cold, they fetched the one remaining limpet from their improvised store. The German patrol boat returned once again, but as before it failed to spot the armed Norwegians and once it had moved off the duo paddled their way alongside the ‘Rolandseck’ and planted their limpet on its side.

During this operation the ‘Donau’ left its mooring moving into open water with two tugs attending alongside. This meant that light now streamed under the wharf making it even more hazardous for the men as they returned, but to their relief nothing untoward happened and they made it safely back to their timbered shelter.

The dingy was disposed off by knifing and the men once more donned their boiler suits. Suddenly, the sound heavy steps approached the door way and then men stood ready with their Sten guns cocked for action, but to their immense relief it was their contact who had come to open the door. The men stepped out on to the wharf and made their way past the guard at the dock entrance who again laughed at Nielsen’s unfortunate earlier ‘accident’. Manus and Nielsen stepped aboard a tram and made their way home.

At 22:00hrs the ‘Donau’ was in the sound just off Drøbak having just dropped off her pilot. The Captain had just increased speed when the explosion occurred. The Captain attempted to beach the ship and ran her ashore at full speed with crew jumping off in all directions. Despite the beaching the ship settled at the stern and sunk in 25 metre of water’.

It is not known how many casualties there were aboard the Donau, although a large amount of equipment was lost, as well as many unfortunate horses. Roy Nielsen was to die in a Gestapo round up of resistance fighters on 4th April but Max Manus managed to evade the same series of raids. He went on to be awarded Norway’s highest military honour the War Cross, for the second time, for his part in this raid. Read more about his career at Nuav.net.

Max Manus, a leading member of the Norwegian Independent Company, a group within the British SOE.
Max Manus, a leading member of the Norwegian Independent Company, a group within the British SOE.
The SS Donau which was being used by the Germans as a troopship. Earlier in the war she had been used to transport Norway's small Jewish population to Germany - almost every one of them was subsequently murdered in Auschwitz.
The SS Donau which was being used by the Germans as a troopship. Earlier in the war she had been used to transport Norway’s small Jewish population to Germany – almost every one of them was subsequently murdered in Auschwitz.

British troops begin to intervene in Greece

The ELAS communist group of Greek resistance fighters had been the best organised during the occupation - but were now being asked to disarm.
The ELAS communist group of Greek resistance fighters had been the best organised during the occupation – but were now being asked to disarm.

Greece had suffered terribly during the years of German occupation, before the Nazis withdrew in October 1944. An alliance of resistance groups from across the political spectrum had fought a vigorous campaign against the occupiers – but the civilian population had borne the brunt of inevitable reprisals.

Throughout Greece massacres of civilians had been commonplace, even if only the Kondomari, Crete massacre is particularly well remembered because there is a photographic record.

The best organised resistance group had been the communist group ELAS and the left wing EAM – and the British Special Operations Executive had done much to support their operations. Now the British government were wary of the communists and wanted to see them disarmed. Tensions mounted inside Athens as it became apparent that Britain supported the right wing elements of the coalition Greek national government. Regular British troops were now sent to Greece to help maintain order.

At first the British troops found themselves generally welcomed. As individuals many of the troops themselves were sympathetic to the socialist cause:

In my childhood I had always been reading the Classics and the thought of going to Athens was something quite remarkable to me. Something that I thought I should never have been able to take advantage of.

One of the companies that night was placed on the Acropolis itself. Nothing much happened and next morning I said to Signaller Tony Sacco, “How was it, Tony,” and he said, “Nothing else but bloody stones up there and it’s freezing cold” I thought, “Well, that’s the practical view of what the Acropolis was like!

All of the army by that time was pretty well socialist. Everyone was of the view that the Conservatives were to blame for all sorts of ills that we had in the war, the general level of the economy and the way that people felt about the future. So that, by and large, they were all pretty well Labour.

Even though people admired Churchill for his ability to lead the country, his politics were completely suspect – he was a Conservative and was blackened with the rest of the Conservatives.

We felt that what the Government was trying to do in Greece was to restore the monarchy, which we all surmised was really not what the people wanted, but was going to be imposed upon them.

Therefore in the beginning there was a fair amount of favourable feeling towards this insurgency.

Signaller Ronald Elliott, Signal Section, HQ Coy, 16th DLI

‘Maintaining order’ in a civilian population was never going to be an easy task for regular troops who had straight from the battlefields of Italy:

During this early phase the troops were not usually fired on. There had been some sort of shooting incident in the street and there was an angry mob around.

One didn’t know at all what to do, we really had no rules of engagement or anything like that. I determined the only way to deal with it was by a show of strength. So I fell in my platoon, very conspicuously in the street, went into open order and ordered them to fix bayonets. Then we marched briskly down the street to where this mob was and of course everybody just melted into the side lines.

Then there were people there weeping and wailing over a man who’d been shot through the head — it was obviously an assassination of some sort.

Then we were thanked by the people who offered us wine to drink, which turned out to be Retsina which we’d never had before. Retsina’s got a very, very bitter taste of resin – I thought we were being poisoned and I declined to drink it, which was very embarrassing really.

Lieutenant Russell Collins, Carrier Platoon, Support Coy, 16th DLI

See Peter Hart: The Heat of Battle: The 16th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, 1943-45

A recent Observer article analyses the British involvement in Greece at some length.

Men of 'L' Squadron SBS (Special Boat Squadron) investigate the ruins of the Acropolis in Athens, 13-14 October 1944
Men of ‘L’ Squadron SBS (Special Boat Squadron) investigate the ruins of the Acropolis in Athens, 13-14 October 1944

SS and Wehrmacht struggle over Polish prisoners

Polish units preparing to leave Warsaw after the surrender of the Uprising.
Polish units preparing to leave Warsaw after the surrender of the Uprising.
Warsaw - The End of the Rebellion (original Nazi caption): "This is the end of an uprising, which was instigated by men who allowed themselves guided by false national pride and the deceptive promises of Soviet and British "friends": a gray misery army of ragged and mutilated prisoners. "
Warsaw – The End of the Rebellion (original Nazi caption):
“This is the end of an uprising, which was instigated by men who allowed themselves guided by false national pride and the deceptive promises of Soviet and British “friends”: a gray misery army of ragged and mutilated prisoners. “

Following the end of the Warsaw Uprising hundreds of thousands of Poles were at the mercy of the Germans. How they were treated depended very much upon which unit was responsible for guarding them. Civilians were being evicted from the city so that it could be destroyed block by block, on the orders of Hitler.

Former combatants were supposed to be treated as prisoners of war – but the significant factor was whether they fell into the hands of the SS or of the Wehrmacht. This was a portent of things to come for many other people in Europe, including German nationals, as the Nazi regime began to crumble.

Bill Biega had fought in the Uprising and had been married at the height of the fighting before being wounded and eventually taken prisoner. The 11th October found him on a train, after finally being sent out of Warsaw. The wounded had received treatment from a number Polish doctors who now were allowed to accompany them, together with the doctor’s families:

The following morning the train pulled into another siding parallel to a street with street car tracks. It turned out that we were in the outskirts of Lodz, Poland’s second largest city, only 100 miles from Warsaw.

Armed SS troopers in their ominous black uniforms surrounded the train. We were loaded into waiting street cars, which took us through city streets, then out along a cobble stone road in the outskirts. We were forced to alight and enter a field surrounded by a tall barbed wire fence.

Inside the compound stood rows of long wooden huts which were filthy inside; there were no beds, only dirty straw on the floor. This was obviously a concentration camp, not one suitable for wounded soldiers. I was stunned, as were my comrades. So much for honorable surrender and treatment in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

We had been naive to believe the Nazis. We sat outside in despair. Luckily, the weather was sunny and warm, otherwise the situation would have seemed even more tragic. After several hours we were told to get back into the street cars which took us along the same city streets, back to the train.

I learned later that there had been a major altercation between some Army officers and the SS. We never learned what exactly happened, but, fortunately for us the Army won.

Among the conditions for the surrender of Warsaw was the stipulation that: “ .. control, transportation, housing and guarding of the prisoners of war shall be solely under the jurisdiction of the Deutsche Wehrmacht (German Armed Forces).” (Paragraph H.(9) of the agreement)”

The news of our presence had spread quickly through the city. Lodz had been incorporated into the Third Reich shortly after the occupation of Poland and many Poles had been banished to the General Government. However a large part of the Polish population had been allowed to stay to work in the textile mills, so vital to the German war effort.

During the return trip from the camp, people ran along the streets throwing packages containing bread, fruit and vegetables through the open windows of the street cars with little interference by the police. At the train the SS guards had been replaced with Army soldiers in their familiar gray-green uniforms.

Beyond the cordon of sentries small groups of local people were standing, who had also brought food packages. Some of the more severely wounded had never been unloaded from the train as no suitable transportation had been made available. The train stood at the siding all night; finally, early in the morning it moved off westward.

We traveled slowly through the provinces of Silesia and Saxony, standing often for hours in sidings while other trains carrying troops and freight passed us. On the train we were well fed, that is we received the same rations that German soldiers would have received.

Our orderly heated the food for us and dished it out on enameled metal plates. Presumably, the same was happening in the other cars of the train. Several of the critically wounded died during this journey which lasted three days. Finally, we pulled into a siding next to a pine forest.

We had arrived at Stalag IVB, located near the small German village of Zeithain, a few miles east of the river Elbe, about halfway between Dresden and Leipzig.

Our welcoming party included the camp commander Stachel in the rank of Oberst Arzt, which translates as Colonel Doctor. He was a typical Prussian army officer, slim, erect, dressed in an impeccable uniform, shining riding boots and carrying what looked like a riding crop. When he saw the doctors’ families alighting from the train complete with children, cats and pet birds, he turned around and left in disgust. This was too much for a proper, German professional army officer.

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.

Warsaw Uprising: Evacuation of people from Mokotów district
Warsaw Uprising: Evacuation of people from Mokotów district
The distribution of bread to starving civilians by the Polish Red Cross.
The distribution of bread to starving civilians by the Polish Red Cross.

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.

Warsaw Uprising – surrender ends the bitter struggle

Germans shelling Town Hall and Blank Palace from 7.5-cm-Pak 40.
Germans shelling Town Hall and Blank Palace from 7.5-cm-Pak 40.
 Firing of 32-35 cm ammunition into Wurfgerät 42 "Nebelwerfer". Photo of 201st Stellungswerfer Regiment bombing Old Town and North Śródmieście district from Żelazna and Żytnia street intersection.
Firing of 32-35 cm ammunition into Wurfgerät 42 “Nebelwerfer”. Photo of 201st Stellungswerfer Regiment bombing Old Town and North Śródmieście district from Żelazna and Żytnia street intersection.
In the occupied areas of Warsaw, German soldiers set all buildings on fire to decrease the chances of the AK (Home Army) using them in the future.
In the occupied areas of Warsaw, German soldiers set all buildings on fire to decrease the chances of the AK (Home Army) using them in the future.

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’:

Soldiers!
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.

Soldiers!
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.

Polish POWs on Opaczewska Street at the intersection with Grójecka Street. Judging by the uniforms the prisoners are likely to be from one of the units of General Berling Army which crossed the Vistula river and joined the Uprising.
Polish POWs on Opaczewska Street at the intersection with Grójecka Street. Judging by the uniforms the prisoners are likely to be from one of the units of General Berling Army which crossed the Vistula river and joined the Uprising.
Sick and starved people emerge from basements and sewers in Warsaw, two months after the start of the Warsaw Uprising against the occupying German forces. As a result, thousands of the city's inhabitants were killed or sent to concentration camps, and the city destroyed.
Sick and starved people emerge from basements and sewers in Warsaw, two months after the start of the Warsaw Uprising against the occupying German forces. As a result, thousands of the city’s inhabitants were killed or sent to concentration camps, and the city destroyed.

Polish Home Army trapped in the Warsaw sewers

The Home Army propaganda poster calling for the efficient use of ammunition by the insurgents. The exact translation reads - 'One bullet, one German'.
The Home Army propaganda poster calling for the efficient use of ammunition by the insurgents. The exact translation reads – ‘One bullet, one German’.
Exhausted soldier of the Polish Home Army emerging from a sewer after escaping from German encirclement. One of his fellow soldiers pulls out his submachine gun of the sewer hatch.
Exhausted soldier of the Polish Home Army emerging from a sewer after escaping from German encirclement. One of his fellow soldiers pulls out his submachine gun of the sewer hatch.

The battle in Warsaw had now been grinding on for almost two months. Gradually the German forces were were reducing the areas held by the Polish Home Army to isolated pockets. There was no way to get around the city except by going underground – into the sewers. Soon the Germans were aware of this and began trying to block the sewers or force people out with gas.

For one anonymous fighter the sewers that were the only possible means of escape soon turned into a deadly trap. He was trying to evacuate a badly wounded female fighter along with two companions, it was a desperate business and it soon became more desperate:

It was 26 September. For the last fortnight I and my radio group had been in Mokotow, where the situation was critical, not to say hopeless, just as it had been in the Old Town a month earlier.

We were on a narrow strip of territory like an island, with the Germans all round. We carried her in turns, stumbling over corpses, knapsacks and arms. It was horrible. Ewa’s demented howling mingled with other unearthly screams. She was not the only one. I felt my strength ebbing away. At one point I lost my footing and fell heavily. My companions, Oko and Geniek, helped to put me on my feet again.

We set Ewa down and covered her with overcoats; we had to rest. She sat, propped against the side wall of the sewer, no longer screaming, and with glassy eyes. A procession of ghastly phantoms kept filing past us, some of them howling as Ewa did only a short time ago. Those screams, multiplied by echoes, were about as much as one could stand.

Then a new party approached. I wanted to warn them that we were resting, but before I could do so one of them had fallen, and the others, no longer aware of what they were doing, went over him, trampling him down into the bottom of the sewer — automatically, quite unconscious of the fact that he was still alive. In the same way they would have walked over us.

When they had passed we got up. Ewa no longer gave any sign of life, nor did the man who had been trampled on. We walked on. We passed a barricade put across the sewer by the Germans. After some time we caught up with the group which had passed us. Then we came to another barricade. This one was well built and was a real obstacle. There was no way through here. I turned back with my group, and some of the others followed. When we came to the first barricade, the one we had just passed, we met a party of people who told us feverishly that the sewer beyond the barricade in the direction of Mokotow was flooded. So we should never get to the top! .

A despairing argument took place between the two groups, the one that had brought the news of the flooding and the one that had come up against the impenetrable barricade. By then people had lost their senses; they were shouting in their fury and anguish.

Some remnant of judgment indicated a return to Mokotow. It was not very likely to succeed, but it was the only way of keeping alive — no matter for how long; the only thing that mattered was not to die in the sewer.

The gas was affecting our eyes more and more the whole time. I felt just as if I had sand under my eyelids; my head, too, was rolling to one side in a queer way. The mass of people all round were still arguing how to save themselves. From time to time a hideous bubbling was heard, as one more person whose strength had gone slipped into the foul liquid. But even more unbearable would be the voice of some woman pulling him out: “Look, he’s alive, he’s smiling! My darling, you’ll soon be on top again!” Oh God, not to see it, not to hear it!

I realized during my increasingly rarer spells of clarity that I was beginning to lose consciousness. I held on to one thought: to get back to the surface. I did not want someone else to hear the splash and the bubbling which my ears would not hear. I shouted then, at the top of my voice: “Make way, I’ll lead you out!” But the angry yells which met me on all sides were the worst thing yet. “Who said that? Fifth columnist! Shoot him!”

This shouting, like a sharp lash, spurred me to an extra effort. I escaped. I had enough sense left to realize that at such a moment what they threatened could well happen. Edging sideways close to the wall, my group and I crossed the barricade unnoticed by the rest. We were over on the other side. We were going back, come what might.

At once we were deep in it. After a few steps we could no longer feel the bottom, but with the help of planks, knapsacks and abandoned bundles, we managed to keep our heads above the surface. After a short time we again felt the ground under our feet. The cold water and the absence of the blasted gas helped to clear our heads, and, holding each other’s hands, we crawled slowly forward. Forward, that was what mattered. I knew that by following that sewer we were bound to come out in Dworkowa Street. We had to make it. ”

At 4 p.m., seventeen hours after we first went down into the sewers, we were pulled out of them by S.S. men in Dworkowa Street.

This account first appeared in: The Unseen and Silent: Adventures from the Underground Movement Narrated By Paratroops of the Polish Home Army.

Soldiers of the Home Army watching out for the enemy, hidden behind a street barricade. Note that two of them are armed with handguns only.
Soldiers of the Home Army watching out for the enemy, hidden behind a street barricade. Note that two of them are armed with handguns only.