- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Marushka (Maria) and Zygmunt Skarbek-Kruszewski.
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 31 July 2005
The following story appears courtesy of and with thanks to Marushka (Maria) and Zygmunt Skarbek-Kruszewski and George (Jurek) Zygmunt Skarbek.
To the people of Warsaw." This heading was looking at us from everywhere. The leaflets were adorned with the German black eagle resting, on the Hakenkreuz.
To the people of Warsaw:
The German High Command wants to avoid unnecessary bloodshed which will mainly affect innocent women and children and therefore has issued the following appeal:
1. The population should leave Warsaw in a western direction, carrying white kerchiefs in their hands.
2. The German High Command guarantees that no-one who leaves Warsaw of their own free will, will come to harm.
3. All men and women who are able to work will receive work and bread.
4. People unable to work will be accommodated in the western district of Warsaw's province. Food will be supplied.
5. All who are ill as well as old people, women and children needing care, will receive accommodation and medical care.
6. The Polish people know that the German Army is fighting Bolshevism only. Anyone who continues to be used by them as a Bolshevik's tool, irrespective of which slogan he might follow, will be held responsible and prosecuted without scruples. This ultimatum is for a limited time only.
A few hours later we saw the first evacuees leaving Warsaw. They walked in groups in the middle of the street. They were just as dirty and haggard as we were. They walked with heavy, tired steps, wiping their sweating faces. They walked bent under the load of their bundles. Everyone was holding a white handkerchief. Leading the group was a woman in a grey coat with a knapsack. In her hand was a stick with a white handkerchief tied to it. Next to her was a young boy leading a goat on a string.
"Where are you going?"
"To the west, we are leaving Warsaw,” came the replies.
"Where are you from?"
"From Polawska Street, from Kazimierzowska Street, from Czerniakow suburb,” the evacuees replied.
"Were you driven out by force?"
"Yes, the ultimatum,” others answered. "What else could we do? Everything, was burnt down."
They passed us, but others followed - from Lakotow, Aleja Szuha, Polna, Pulawy, etc., etc. From behind the fence we looked on, undecided.
"They are right, what are we waiting for? Soon we will be forced to leave. Isn't it better too now?" people were asking each other, looking for advice. Some started packing their things onto handcarts whilst others, still undecided, were seeking other opinions. We decided that Marushka should go outside and try to get some information. She was gone for over an hour. She went to the military offices near our park and, from there, even to a nearby Gestapo office. The news she brought was not good. In both places she was told that the groups of people who did not willingly leave Warsaw would be forced to leave but first the men would be separated from the group. Coming back, she saw near our park a big group of people where men were being separated from their families. Under no circumstances did we want to be separated and so, taking my aunt, Czeslaw and all our things. We went into the street. We saw that our block was still standing undamaged. The brigades starting the fires had not reached our house yet. Only a few people were in the yard. Our flat was undamaged. Auntie's eldest daughter and grandson were alive and would look after her so she decided to stay in her flat. She did not want to follow us into the unknown. What would Marysia, her youngest, think when coming back from the uprising she found the flat empty? She did not realise how hopeless the situation was, or perhaps she did not want to face it? She had raised her family here and she wanted to stay here with her memories as each thing in the flat was familiar and connected with her family. The future did not interest her any more. She would sit here, near the window, in her favourite rocking chair and wait for her children to come home. They had all gone to the war but would return back home to mother. We were unable to shake her decision. In her quiet way she was quite determined. We went to advise her daughter and then we three started on our way to the west.
Marushka was leading with a stick on which was a white serviette upon which previously had stood a samovar. This white serviette was now a sign of surrender. Czeslaw came next and I followed with a suitcase and a rucksack.
We entered Mokotow fields, going towards Wola. In the bushes were hidden some tanks, their barrels showing above shrubs. The soldiers were picking apples from the nearby trees. In the city the fighting continued - here in the fields only occasional bullets whizzed past. In the nearby trenches, German soldiers were standing at their machine guns. We felt uneasy. When we passed the orchards we saw a river of people flowing towards the west. They were coming from all directions of Warsaw. Some went in a single file following some tracks, others in groups cutting through the fields. Near Okecie all the groups joined into one large river of humans. It was an odd procession, formed by the evacuees who were leaving their town to total destruction.
There were women and children, old and young men. Most were carrying or dragging their possessions but some had carts which were dragged along or pushed from behind. We saw exhausted single women who, unable to carry their things, were towing them along attached to a length of rope. We saw wounded and burnt people who carne away with only their lives. We saw a dead Woman on the road to our right, lying on the ground. A small girl and her little brother were trying to drag their mother by the hands while the crying girl kept repeating “Mum, come on .. Mum, come on" We also saw old folks who did not carry anything. They had left in the clothes in which they stood - it was burden enough to carry themselves along. They were walking slowly, stopping and breathing deeply. In front of us were three such old ones. Two thin old men were helping an old crippled woman to walk. As she was partly paralysed she walked very slowly, stepping over the uneven stones. People were passing them, just like a river current passes moss covered stones along its banks.
After one of the bends, the crowd divided. Some continued straight ahead, the others turned towards the right, following a narrow track. We stopped. Where were we going? It was time to think. To the west - the meaning was too vague. To leave the town? Yes, but by which way? Would the Germans let all go? This was the question that everyone was asking. Why were some turning to the left? Where would we end up if we continued straight ahead?
"Don't go straight ahead, the people from neighbouring houses said. "There the Germans are locking everyone up in camps. The narrow lane to the right leads to EKD (a small electric railway line). There is a chance to catch a train there but the Ukrainians are guarding it,” the locals informed. The Ukrainians were a terror to all of us - it was better to avoid them so the majority continued straight ahead. We did the same.
The locals were sitting, on benches in front of their houses, This part of the city was not included in the uprising. They looked at us with compassion. From the windows we were given apples - at the gates, tomatoes. In the streets women were distributing milk. They also had plenty of buckets of drinking water.
We all tried to avoid large, through-roads, keeping to shall side streets. Turning into one of these streets, we suddenly heard rifle shots. The procession stopped and immediately dispersed being fences and buildings. We were from Warsaw and accustomed to shooting in streets. After a few moments we saw a crowd of people running back. The first reached us.
"Run, the Ukrainians are shooting and hitting people with rifle butts, herding all to the highways,” the fleeing people yelled. We started to run - towards the highway. Behind us the shooting continued - screams and curses and yells in Ukrainian. Reaching the highway, we had to stop. We could not run any further with our luggage. Many left all their things and escaped with their lives. Those who did not run were beaten mercilessly. Bleeding people were climbing the high embankment. Many hands and faces were torn, their clothes were covered with blood. Women were not spared either. Some were lying on the embankment - they were massacred in a horrible way. These degenerate Ukrainians stopped at the highway shouting obscenities and waving their rifles. These servants of the 'master race' dressed in S.S. uniforms, these hunting dogs of Himmler were now dividing between each other the loot left behind by the fleeing evacuees which was there for the taking.
We continued on our way. Depressed and apathetic, we kept on the highway, being afraid of the side streets. At the end of the town we were stopped by a German patrol.
"Halt: It is prohibited to go further."
We were all directed into the yard of a sawmill. On the street corner stood German S.S. men, ready to shoot. There was no way out. In the large yard there was already a very big crowd. Nurses from the Red Cross were dressing the wounded. In the yard were some German officers.
Tired, we sat down on some planks awaiting our fate. We were caught - we could not even return. There were rumours that the Germans would separate the men from the rest. It seemed very likely. There was a large percentage of young, able-bodied men in the crowd. The Germans could easily assume that these men were insurgents and, in the best event, treat them as prisoners of war. After resting for a while, our energy started to return and we decided to try something and not just wait. During the five years we had been together, I could not now imagine wandering alone separated from Marushka. Holding hands, we had survived many critical moments together. We would not loosen our grip. Holding Marushka's hand tightly, I had an idea. "What about our travel order which we received in Lithuania? Couldn't we make some use of it now? The destination was stated Modlin. You could say that you were on your way to your formation through Warsaw, being the nearest route, when the uprising stopped us in Warsaw."
Marushka went to the two officers standing near a car. They talked for a few minutes. Marushka showed them our documents. After a while they waved to us to come nearer. The officer holding the documents asked "Which one is Kruszewski?" Marushka pointed to me. The officer, still holding the documents, ordered us to get into the car without giving any explanation. This took us by surprise. We were staggered. We started to explain that our relative, Czeslaw, was with us, that he too was from Lithuania and that he had to stay with us. The officer refused. We were ordered to get into the car immediately as he was in a hurry. We hesitated, trying to think of something to say. A soldier standing beside the officer took Marushka's suitcase and put it in the car, telling her to hurry. We sat down in the car, the soldier next to us, the officer at the steering wheel and next to him another soldier with a short automatic gun. There was no time even for a farewell from Czeslaw, nor time to take our remaining things from him. The car passed the gate and turned towards Wolska Street. We passed a cordon of soldiers who were guarding the evacuees. The streets were empty. In the fields were Ukrainian patrols.
We started to feel very uneasy. It was all so unexpected. Where were they taking us? And in a car guarded by two soldiers. What could be behind all this? We looked at each other, full of questions. We were afraid to speak to each other. Maybe they thought us German? After a few minutes we were in Wolska Street where the car was stopped by military police. They were standing around a truck which was blocking the road. The officer of our car got out, telling us to do the same. Taking our things from the car, we intended to thank him very nicely and to disappear. But he had other intentions. He gave our documents to some noncom and told us to jump into the truck where some soldiers were already sitting.
"You will go to Modlin,” he informed us and returned to his car. Soon our truck was also on its way. Now we were even more worried. Why were they treating us like prisoners? Why didn't they return our documents? What would happen if they started checking on us and our false statements? We didn't know anything about Modlin. We had concocted a string of lies and now we were caught in the net.
When we came to the boundary of Great Warsaw, our car was stopped at a military check point. An officer of the "Reichswehr" checked our documents very thoroughly and asked Marushka about particulars regarding the travel pass being issued for Modlin. She replied with further, very plausible lies. We passed the check successfully. The truck was on its way again. The highway was wide and on both sides large chestnut trees gave deep shade. The wind was warm - it smelled of fresh fields. Our eyes rested on ripening crops waving in the light wind. On the horizon was dark smoke from burning Warsaw.
'This story was submitted to the People’s War site by BBC Radio Merseyside’s People’s War team on behalf of the author and has been added to the site with his / her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.'
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