THE LAND GATHERS ASHES AND IT REMAINS IN THE HUMAN BEING
Time was neither shorter nor longer. It was as it was supposed to be, when, holding hands with her friend, they were standing in front of the German firing squad. She was not afraid of anything. Only two obsessive thoughts were attacking her: that it would hurt and that she wanted to shout: ‘Poland has not died yet!’
The Ursuline sister Janina Chmielińska is slowly reaching the age of 90. However, it can be said ‘she is approaching’, because despite of her age of 86 she moves round the town vigorously. She take an active part in works of the convent. She is at meetings with the youth and tells young people about the Warsaw Uprising. She meets with few soldiers of the group ‘Siekiera-Kryska’, to which she had been assigned as a linear nurse. – But if somebody had wanted to talk with me about the Warsaw Uprising twenty years ago, I would have refused – sister Chmielińska admits. I would not have been ready for it. For a few dozen years I had not watched war films, till one day I visited a family and they turned on TV in order to watch ‘Stake higher than life’, I had to leave quickly. I came home and sisters asked me at once what had happened to me, because my face was green….It is typical that the ground gathers ashes and it remains in the human being. I think that all people who experienced the war, Siberia, camps, the Warsaw Uprising, have something of it – ashes of the dead remain in them.
Poland has not died yet
In her childhood, Janina Chmielińska was called Nina, in conspiracy she took on the nickname of her surname: ‘Chmiel’. She does not remember the invasion of the Germans into Warsaw in 1939, because her father took her quickly to the family in the province of Lublin. She arrived in the beginning of October. She was 12 years old. She lived in the downtown of Warsaw, with her father attorney, who was closely cooperating with Stefan Starzyński and sister older than her by four years and attending the high school. A few weeks later she started her ‘conspiracy’. She and her best friend Zofia Stefanowska went to lay flowers and light a grave candle in the place of the public firing squad. Only thanks to the cuteness of a Silesian man from Wehrmacht were not stopped by gestapo at that time. However, it was very close that they paid life for their ‘heroism’. Two years later, by their own will, they got to the headquarters of gestapo in the alley of Szucha. They passed along the building of the German torture chamber in the district where it was forbidden for Poles to be without a pass. They sang not too loudly: ‘Poland has not died yet!’.
During occupation, however, at first, there was primary school at home and secret junior high school. And time, when she secretly fell in love with the extremely popular singer Mieczysław Fogg. On her fourteen birthday her older sister made an unexpected present for her: she invited her to a café ‘New World’ where Fogg gave his concerts. There were secret looks at the idol, ice-creams and orangeade. Shortly after that Nina was in conspiracy.
In the beginning, because of the communist friend, she got to the organization ‘Sword and plow’ for a few weeks. However, later, she joined a secret scouting in the 31st Female Warsaw Scouting Team of the Troop of the Downtown and in ‘Grey Ranks’ she had trainings. On Pola Mokotowskie and also outside Warsaw. Later there were courses for nurses in Warsaw hospitals of St. Roch and named Carol and Mary. And, finally, an oath. It had been just a few days before the Warsaw Uprising, a few days before her sixteenth birthday. – We took an oath on a rainy day in front of ‘doctor Konstancja’, that is, prof. Irena Semadeni-Konopacka, who during the Uprising had lost her husband and son – sister Chmielińska tells about war times, like about yesterday. – It made an unusual impression on me, because, going to the place of the meeting, and I remember the address as today: 20 Noakowski St., I was passing people at my age and a bit older, in boots and ski boots. Despite of the strong heat, they were wearing coats and jackets, under which they were carrying some angular objects. Something protruding. Even an untrained eye could notice, that it might have been weapon…
Fire, moans of the wounded, hours of victory
The first alarm came on 27 July 1944. In a flat of a tenement house in Powiśle, six young nurses gathered. Waiting for ‘the final battle’, for a few hours they filled their time with talks, reading books and – the shout: ‘May the National Army live forever!’ – while killing bugs with an ashtray. The alarm was cancelled. A few days later only oil of a bomb and memories remained of this tenement house. And on the previous backyard of the house, today there are trees. There is not even the outline of cellars, which became a grave for a dozen of people.
Sister Janina Chmielińska ‘Chmiel’ emphasizes that although she was participating in the Uprising for two months, they can be summarized in ‘a day and a night’. And in ‘the space of ruined tenement houses’ of a few quarters of streets where her group was acting. There were first killed people there. Fire. Moans of the wounded. Hours of victory. Tragedies. The girls had their first insurgent hospital in the pre-war headquarters of the Social Insurance Company, which got under strong firing of the Germans at once, because it was on the area of a German district.
So, insurgents quickly became the target of not only regular armies, but also snipers. The girls, unaware of criminal behaviors of the Germans, went out to bring the wounded from the field of the fight. They were wearing white uniforms of nurses and… they quickly became the target of snipers. Only God’s Providence, through strong wind, was carrying bullets millimeters away from the target. – The fights lasted in the quarter of a few streets. Once a building was in the hands of the Germans, once it was in ours. Screams, curses, imprecations. A lot of the killed and wounded on both sides – sister Chmielińska recalls.
Pain of mother
In the mid of August in the headquarters of the Social Insurance Company, Fr. Stanek was celebrating the Holy Mass in an enormous hall, decorated with a lot of white-red flags. It was extremely solemn, especially after singing: ‘Lord, please deign to let us have our independent Homeland back’.
Before that, I and my youngest friend, 15-year-old ‘Remi’ were wondering whether to go to the Holy Mass or not. At that time, we both were not familiar with religious practices. Fr. Stanek was encouraging us to the sacrament of penance. Finally, feeling reluctant, we decided to go. And it was her last confession and the holy Communion. Next day she was killed with a bullet of a sniper, who wounded her heart. She might have’ not noticed’ what had happened…..She had a real funeral. With a distinction, speeches of commanders and friends. And her friend Zosia Rusiecka crept, even with a risk, to the places of snipers and picked a few carnations to lay them on her grave. Our visit to mother of ‘Remi’ a few days later was shocking . I went with Nina Bemówna and when we were giving her the cross and a belt of her killed daughter, she said nothing. She only looked at us with great pain and reproach. It is remembered till today. This is pain of the mother. Yes. Later there is dust, bombs, blood. Fights for one room. A piece of a cellar or kitchen. A courtyard or a cellar.
It was no longer possible to help the wounded
Other days, weeks of fights were passing. There was a shortage of water. Food. At one moment the German fire was so strong, that nearly all houses were burning. And the nurses were no longer able to take care of wounded insurgents. At night they were sent to the Downtown with appeals for help. When ‘Chmiel’ and her friends managed to get to the centre situated a few meters away, through ditches and cellars, they were surprised by its normality. Somebody was playing the mandolin. A few people were drinking coffee not in an improvised but a normal café. People were walking along ‘free’ streets. After nearly 24 hours they returned to Powiśle. It was obvious that they had to withdraw. Powiśle was defeated. Also the Old Town. Whereas, the Germans brought the most cruel units onto the area. Troops of gestapo and Wehrmacht were supported by the Wlasov units. Also ‘the Goliaths’ were brought into the fights with insurgents. Self-propelled small tanks were filled with trotyl. Whereas, there were stations of the Soviets opposite the Vistula, who were passively watching the fights. A few dozens of Polish snipers, who had been allowed to move to Powiśle, were not given any medications, nor dressings and only 72 bullets in the magazine. Seeing what was happening, some of them crying, others cursing, were going back through the Vistula. And the Germans were tightening a ring in Powiśle more and more. They were burning house after house, shooting, burning the wounded people. German airplanes, not harassed by the Soviets, were bombarding insurgent positions more bravely. Insurgent hospitals, situated in cellars were collapsing, while burying the wounded. The Germans ‘showered’ them with grenades. Nurses were less able to help the wounded. Or dress their wounds. They were only able to move them from cellar to cellar. Even not on stretchers any more, but in blankets. And it was so for next days, nights of the Uprising. Without respite.
Moving the wounded from cellar to cellar finished when the Germans closed the ticks of the siege. It was 18 September, when Janina Chmielińska ‘Chmiel’ with her insurgent friends was imprisoned in the German ‘boiler’ by soldiers of Wehrmacht and SS and the Vlasov soldiers. The Germans were shooting at wounded insurgents to whom nurses had given injections a moment earlier. Insurgents and nurses were coming out of cellars and crannies with raised arms. Some of them with the signs of ‘the Red Cross’, others without them. The Germans shouting: ‘Raus, schnell, weg….’, were kicking, slapping their faces and were shooting at insurgents. Also girls. Liaison officers. Nurses. Young couriers. During a few minutes they killed nearly forty people. From the troops ‘Siekiera-Kryska’ and others. – It was a terrible manslaughter in the quarter of the streets Okrąg and Wilanowska – sister Chmielińska mentions. – We went out onto the backyard dazzled by the sun. One of the Germans was kicking a girl into her belly. She seemed to be a liaison officer from the Old Town. Beautiful and young. A moment later he shot her….They shot with much scream, as if they wanted to shout down something. The bodies of our friends were lying in front of us. Somebody wounded was still hardly breathing. Another group of people were chased out of cellars. I was paralyzed with fright. Surprised? Shocked? The Germans, fed up with this single shooting, put us against a wall, and there was a firing squad in front of us. I grabbed my friend’s hand. We were strongly holding each other. I was not afraid of anything. Only two obsessive thoughts were attacking me: that it would hurt and that she wanted to shout: ‘Poland has not died yet!’ Suddenly I felt a jerk. A German soldier grabbed my hand and pushed into a crowd of people being taken out of tenement houses. I also jerked ‘Urszula’, that is, Halina Czermińska-Żelaziewiczowa. Aha, I thought, they are going to shoot us at our backs. Because they often did so. But they didn’t. It turned out that we were going with the crowd. I do not know even today how it happened. It is obvious that God directs our lives, but I still find it difficult to understand why one of those Nazis jumped out of a group of the Germans standing near the firing squad and grabbed my hand…The others were killed. I was really shocked that I was alive. Later we were chased with civilians to Frascati Street. The Germans were throwing bread at our feet. It was a strange symbolism for us, which I could not understand. Later they chased us through Pola Mokotowskie. It was 24 or 25 September. I got with the crowd to the West Railway Station at first, and later to the camp in Pruszków.
After signing the capitulation of the Uprising, Janina Chmielińska got to work in the German casino in Cracow. He ran away from there and got to Ożarów near Warsaw, where her father had already been. After the war, concealing the fact that she had fought in the Warsaw Uprising, she started her studies at the Department of Polish studies at the University of Warsaw. After some time, she moved to studies of psychology and pedagogy. During the third year of studies she joined the convent of the Ursuline sisters, being a few hundred meters from the Warsaw University. In 2008 the president of the Polish Republic Lech Kaczyński, awarded sister Chmielińska with the Cavalier Cross of the Order of Poland Renaissance.