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.