TOMMOROW ALL THIS WILL BE OVER
TOMASZ WINIARSKI: - The first shootings of the Warsaw Uprising were still going off long time before the ‘W’ hour in Żoliborz. Clocks showed 2 p.m. then. What was it like?
BOŻENA MAŁECKA: - I lived on Próchnik street in Żoliborz. From the windows of our flat I saw insurgents who were giving away hidden weapon in paper bags to one another. Simply, being a child, I was sitting completely by accident on the window sill. I was playing with my brother, there was not much entertainment then, or any phones. I was observing the world from the windows. There were eight insurgents there, well, maybe ten. They strewed and shared guns with one another. I was a little child then, so today I cannot exactly say what weapon it was like. A while later, just under the windows of my tenement there fell first shots of the Warsaw Uprising. Today this event is commemorated by a cornerstone built-in the wall. Every year there are ceremonies there commemorating those moments. This year, among the others, a candidate for president of Warsaw Patryk Jaki has participated in them, and there were also soldiers of the Polish Army who were giving off salvos of honour.
Were you aware as a child then that there was coming such a great independence spurt?
My father was in the National Army so, my mum knew that the uprising was going to break out, although it was said about two-or three-day delay. She was going to leave us alone at home and go to our father at work, because they wanted to go to Warsaw to do some make some stocks. And everything went on in such a way that the uprising broke out earlier than in Żoliborz and we stayed at home with our mum – otherwise, as little children, we might have been completely alone during the outbreak of the uprising. It might have finished really in various ways, considering the fact that all in all we spent over 63 days in a cellar of our tenement. It is fearful to think what might have happened to us, if our mum had been far away from us during the fight.
What happened to you after those first shootings went off? What were the next hours like?
Later we simply had to go down to the cellar…
Which was in the building where you lived?
Yes. We spent full two months there. I got avitaminosis, I was swelled and pale because of the uprising, as our mum had not had any food stocks for two months. What we had, we ate very quickly. There were moments that our mum went to near plots and dug up some potatoes there, as it was August. Sometimes she brought a few tomatoes. Later we lived in a kind of a kitchen which I would call as ‘the uprising kitchen’. For example, I ate porridge with worms and nobody paid attention to it. After all, there was war…
Did it occur that some insurgents’ divisions bring you food allotments, whatever? Did you have to get everything by yourself?
No…only by ourselves. Our mum knew where go to this military kitchen – in this way she got some food from our soldiers. On Próchnik street there was a barricade and I saw fighting insurgents there. So, being influenced by those images, in the cellar I played a nurse together with my brother who pretended to be a Warsaw insurgent.
Hiding in the cellar, were you aware that there was a regular war over the ground? Did you hear explosions, shootings?
We were children and were not aware of it completely. We did not understand what had been happening over the ground. Whereas a day before the collapse of the uprising, insurgents came to us saying: ‘We give in, and you must hang a white flag on the building this night’. Somebody climbed the roof and hand a white sheet on a stick. Otherwise the Germans were throwing bullets into cellars and killed people there…Indeed, the Nazis came to us in the early morning. The Germans did not use to enter cellars but stand upstairs shouting that first mothers with children had to come out, and later women and men. Men did not come out as they were not there. They were fighting. Later German soldiers were leading us through trenches to a big pit. Today more or less in this place there is the Warsaw theatre Comedy. We were going along trenches through narrow passages, stepping on bodies of murdered insurgents. We got to a pit in which the Germans gathered local inhabitants. Soldiers were standing on the ground, above the dug pit and were telling us that all mothers and wives had half an hour to go to their sons and husbands. However, nobody moved. Where was my mum to go? Her husband was not there.
Because he was in the National Army and participating in fights…
Yes…He was somewhere near Warsaw fighting. Coming back, none of us, thanks to God, was killed, but I had experiences as a child, when I had walked on those bodies of insurgents…It is impossible to forget it.
And what was happening in that pit?
The pit was very deep, looked like a big pool dug in the ground. On the ground the Germans were standing with rifles targeted at us. My mum thought that they would shoot us to death there. It looked so. She cuddled me and my brother tightly and told us that in a while we would be killed. However, it turned out that death was not destined to us. A half an hour later we were rushed away from that pit and told to go on. We were going along the streets of Warsaw on fire – across Żoliborz and Wola to the camp in Pruszków organized by the Germans in the railway depot. They began to sort us there. Mothers and children were taken onto Polish areas, and young people were sent to hard work in labour camps in Germany. We were transported by cattle wagons in terrible conditions, but the worst was over. I and my mum got to Cracow, to town Słomniki and we were allocated to a mayor there. We were near Cracow from October to April, when we returned to Warsaw allegedly liberated by the Soviets. It was the years 1945. Our flat was completely robbed. Nothing was left. No things, no souvenirs – everything was taken away. We returned to nothing, to an empty flat with the unhinged door. Luckily we met with my father there, and soon my mum went to work. Life began to return to something which was to resemble somehow the prewar normality. In 1946 I received the First Holy Communion….It was how the war ended to me.
When I say: the Warsaw Uprising, what is your strongest experience? Memories which you have in your mind?
I have a few such memories which remained in my mind. At once I recall those first shootings when I saw insurgents giving out weapon to one another. Other memories is a moment when after many weeks of our poor diet we found an old crust of bread. It was lying on sand, in the ground, very dirty. Despite that, I and my brother were fighting about who was to eat it. That dirty, dry crust of bread! Imagine how strong hunger we must have had. We were very hungry and longing for the bread taste. I also have very personal memories. A day before insurgents came to us with information that we should give in, my mum said: ‘Children, I have nothing to eat to give you!’ I said: ‘Mum, do not worry, as today I have had a dream about Our Lady who told me that everything would end the next day…’. And it happened so, indeed! I consider it as a great grace, which I received. I will not forget those words said in my dream by Our Lady: ‘Do not worry my child, everything will end tomorrow’. And those were prophetic word – in the evening insurgents came to us with information about capitulation and next day everything was over.
The greatest victim of the Warsaw Uprising were civil people. Hence there are allegations that a decision about causing it was wrong, and that spur was an unnecessary suicide of the capital city. Others emphasize that Warsaw inhabitants were fighting for freedom and dignity. What is your opinion on it?
I consider is as great heroism of young people….I did not see it at all, I spent two months in the cellar and I only used to come out into the staircase, for a while, to be in the open air. Later when we were rushed away from there, across Warsaw in fire then – from Żoliborz to Pruszków, and I realized then what the scale of that destruction, that tragedy was. After all, as a child, I saw the whole city in rubbles, in fire, and around lots of lying dead bodies. I have had it registered till today. A terrible feeling.
Although you were one of the victims of the uprising, you do not have any pretences to people who are responsible for it. No, no… even on the contrary. I respect insurgents. I have been praying for them till today. 1 August, this day, this hour ‘W’ will always be a great experience for me. If somebody does not respect this anniversary– either in Warsaw, or whole Poland – of one does not want to pay tribute to all insurgents, standing on attention, when sirens start honking….will be a man without any honour.
After the war, when there was the Soviet occupation, you took part in rebuilding the capital city.
Yes. Then I attended a ballet school. The Grand Theatre was completely destroyed and we, as students of the first years in 1949, were helping in cleaning it from rubbles. I was walking on those rubbles, and we were passing over bricks to one another. As for cleaning Warsaw off rubbles, I mainly took part in the works at the Grand Theatre.
For years insurgents had been waiting for dignified commemorating their fight for freedom…
The greatest commemorating the Warsaw Uprising 1944 was opening the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising in 2004 by the president of Warsaw Lech Kaczyński then. I often visited it with my family, telling my grandchildren about history and my memories, which I told you about in my interview. This great museum is a great and beautiful honour paid to sacrifice which Warsaw insurgents had paid.
Why did we have to wait so long for this museum?
Not all groups wanted to cultivate remembrance about the Warsaw Uprising. We must go back to the beginning - to the moment when Warsaw was betrayed by its executioner – the Soviet Union, the second one after the Third Reich. The Russians showed their severe meanness. They were standing on the others side of the Vistula and did not arrive with help to insurgents fighting with the Nazis, although whole Warsaw had been hoping for it. In my opinion, it was a huge disgrace from the Soviets. They were waiting till whole Warsaw would be burnt and then they would invade the city. What liberation was it?! Getting into captivity. One occupation changed into another one. The communists did not pay tribute to insurgents – they were promoting the opinion that this spur had been unnecessary. Whereas I remember that thanks to real patriots the ‘W’ hour has always been worshipped.
The uprising ’44 was the greatest historical independence spurt against the Germans. No nation did something similar during the Second World War.
Precisely. They are generally considered in the world today as a great independence spur and great heroism. After all, veterans of the uprising are still alive. I think that they deserve great honour and glory. I am glad that although some of them have live till now when military distinctions and national honours are given to them.
A lot of veterans of the Warsaw Uprising live on the lowest pensions today. They do not have enough money to buy medications or food. They are such heroes about whom the political system did not want to remember for years. Some of them were evicted from their flats during the so-called wild reprivatization ….How to comment on it?
This is a scandal and disgrace for politicians, who have tolerated this state of things for years. I consider it as…well, I do not want to use bad language here, but only such ones come to my mind. During the wild reprivatization tenements worth a few million zlotys were taken over for symbolic amounts of money. We owe insurgents not only honour and worship but also particular money so that at their old age they could have guaranteed dignified life!
Are you proud of being an inhabitant of Warsaw?
Yes, I am very proud. I have lots of memories related to this city. Some of them are connected with the uprising but not only. I am trying to pass over them to my grandchildren because I am getting older like other insurgents and what we experienced, saw and heard cannot be ever forgotten.
What would you like to tell young generations – as a person who experienced the war atrocity?
First of all, that peace must be among people. People must try to talk to one another and be in agreement together, not solve their conflicts with force or violence. I would like to tell them not to attack one another -here I mean the whole nations and wars which are fought among people. I have the best example of it behind our eastern border. There is a war there, begun by Russia attacking eastern areas of Ukraine. Lots of pacts are concluded, as well as agreements, which are not later kept. Because in today’s world honour means less and less. Unfortunately, rulers such as Władymir Putin supported the war and in the international arena they pretend to be silly who do not want to reach an agreement, etc. War is also hunger. Today I understand starving people. I have an image in my mind of that dirty crust of bread in the ground, which I and my brother really wanted to eat. Like St. John Paul II used to call for – never ever war!
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 32/2018 (12 VIII 2018)