Bombings of Warsaw - September 1939 - from Memories of Jerzy Kajetanski - Part II

Here is a continuation of the excerpts from the memories of Jerzy Kaletanski, the author of very dramatic paintings illustrating the war. You can magnify the picture by clicking into it. Read the previous part September 1939 - from Memories of Jerzy Kajetanski - Part I. Read also the press review by Richard Poremski Images of War by Kajetanski - Graphics of Poland's WW II Suffering.

In a couple of days we decided to go back to the Wola section because it became evident that the outskirts of the city were not as threatened. The telephones were still working here

The night was warm and stifling. We all went to bed. All of a sudden, the roar of a bomber was heard over our heads. My sister who was lying next to me was trembling so hard that I could hear it. The airplane circled for a long time and seemed to be like a menace hanging over our heads. At last he dropped a few bombs and went away.

The darkness forced one to focus on the speck of light coming from the radio. Suddenly a measured, calm voice rang out:

"Hello! Hello! Looking for men to volunteer. There is a whole city block burning between Zielna and Chmielna Streets. Hello! Hello! Men are needed to help with the rescue. A whole block is burning from Zielna Street to Chmielna Street. Hello! Hello!"

We slept in our clothes. The essentials were always packed and ready.

During the day I went into town. An alarm sounded while I was there. I took shelter in the basement of a building. Again I heard the roar of the bombers and explosions. A little old lady who was sitting next to me started praying out loud:

"O Holy Mother of God have mercy on us sinners. Protect us. Hail Mary, full of grace....

The roar of the motors became more faint. They flew off.

"May God make you break both your legs, you bastard, and even break your neck", she finished her pious litany.

The all clear sounded. I made my way toward the Visla River so that I could get to Sulejowek to see Halina to see what was happening there. But the Germans were already approaching from the Praga section and the road was cut off. Warsaw was under siege.

Of the one story houses in the Powisle section there only remained tall chimneys and stoves covered with tile. In the middle of the road there was a wrecked horse drawn wagon from which muddy military uniforms spilled out along with the hay. The horse was dead. I saw many dead horses along the road. There were no shelters for them.

"Everything is going well," says one man to another. Pointing to the rubble, he says, "Look how well it's going. The newspapers are saying that it's going well."

The Germans were bombing Warsaw every day now. Graves were appearing everywhere. They multiplied quickly in front of churches, on malls and on squares. There was no way that you could get human remains to a cemetery. There were no caskets because the suppliers had run out. People were slapping together wooden boxes, or were simply wrapping what was left of the body in a sheet. I saw a grave with fragment of a broken window frame serving as a cross.

We had been staying at Uncle Adam's apartment on Szpitalna Street. There was a store in the building. One day we heard the rattling of a machine gun from a fighter plane. About a dozen people rushed into the store. Among them was a corporal and a private. The fighter ascended and disappeared into the clouds. The corporal went into the street and shouted to the private to have him follow, the latter cringing with fear and shrinking. The corporal went by himself. The soldier took a box of cookies out of his knapsack and started eating them eagerly.

A short time afterward the sound of firepower and the roar of bombers grew louder. Everybody retreated to the dark corridor behind the store for fear of getting hit by shrapnel. Somebody offered the soldier a chair.

"So what's happening at the front?" Somebody asked. The soldier's countenance was grim.

"We walked through bombed out, devastated cities. They are burning, demolishing, destroying. The enemy is coming to destroy, annihilate, murder." He said emphatically.

"We came to our positions and dug in. We waited an hour, then another, and then a whole swarm of them flies overhead. And then they started pounding. Such thundering! And the screams! We're just lying there. I look and the sergeant is dead. I look again and the captain is dead. At first the cavalry ran off. Then we see a lieutenant running, then another one. Then we all started running."

"And our airplanes?"

"Our airplanes?" He looked at us surprised, as if that was the first time that he had heard of such a notion - that such should exist.

"Our airplanes?", he repeated. "Maybe they were someplace else. We didn't see them."

The bombing of the city was getting more intense. Squadrons of heavy bombers were crushing whole blocks. From the detonation of heavy ordnance the stucco cover of buildings peeled off like skin leaving the red flesh of bricks behind. Chimneys pointed upwards along with what was left of roofs and walls, staying up in spite of the laws of gravity, threatening to topple at any minute. The streets were covered with rubble forming barriers several stories high. The unbearable fetid smell of burned objects and the dust from crushed concrete made it difficult to breathe.

For everyone there was only one goal - to save my life. All questions of human worth and dignity were obliterated.

The ripped off front of a building exposed denuded apartments as if the whole thing were a damaged set from a play. In one of the apartments there was a metal bed that was hanging by one leg on a piece of flooring over a precipice several floors deep. Nearby there was a twisted armoire with the doors ripped out that displayed a multicolored array of evening gowns like a set of entrails. In the corner there was a sink with its limbs spread apart as if ready for a suicidal jump. Shelves attached to a brightly painted wall still displayed their china. You could see hanging frying pans and other kitchen utensils as well.

In the neighboring building a bomb had peeld off the front wall, sending it to the basement without touching the roof. On one wall the photographs of movie stars still hung with charming smiles.

At dusk on September fifth a continuous thundering sound was heard from afar. The cannonade was getting closer and closer with the pounding getting more and more intense. I understood that those were strikes from heavy artillery. Anxiety grew with the growing thunder. All of a sudden the neighboring building wobbled from a hit. Window panes tumbled with a ringing sound and plaster crumbled thickening the air. The biting stench of sulfur rushed into the nostrils. I heard a horrifying roar. A red flash came from around the corner and with a simple bang the next hit landed in the street, knocking off the top of the roof. A vending cart which had previously carried wares of fruit was flipped end over end by the gust of air. The explosions were coming in series and were carpet bombing the neighboring buildings. The sound was as deafening as a blow to the skull. The building was wobbling and trembling on its foundation.

Night was coming. The cannonade from the heavy artillery was still getting more intense.

We moved to the stairs, leaving our dog tied to the tiled stove. With each hit the dog jumped on the stove in a panic. Uncle Adam who was hard of hearing, at first said that he couldn't hear anything, but when a missile exploded nearby, he said:

"Oh, I can hear it now."

From the street came the terrified, protesting voice of a woman, "Mister, my apartment, my apartment!"

We went to another building thinking that it would be safer. All the apartments were filled with people so we had to sit on the hallway on the floor. Bone-weary from the trauma of the day, I lay down on the only empty spot on the stairs. My head was protruding onto the stone floor of the hallway, so I put my hat under it. Even though the artillery was pounding in series I fell asleep. But I didn't sleep long. The building shook on its foundation. +++++++

Read the next and the last part: Read the previous part September 1939 - from Memories of Jerzy Kajetanski - Part III.

Titles of the presented paintings by Jerzy Kajetanski:

1. Rescue (right side, top)
2. Slumber (left side, bottom)

Check Polish History and World War II - selection of articles
Among them Images of War - Graphics of Poland's WW II Suffering and World War II in Poland, its Impact on Everyday Life; Personal Perspective

I recommend

The overview of Polish history which was written by Adam Zamoyski and is entitled:
The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History of the Poles and Their Culture

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Poland & Poles in World War II - Books' Selection

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