Fall of Warsaw - September 1939 - from Memories of Jerzy Kajetanski - Part III

Below is the last part 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 II. Read also the press review by Richard Poremski Images of War by Kajetanski - Graphics of Poland's WW II Suffering.

On the next day we returned to Uncle Adam's apartment because it was impossible to continue to be in that crowd.

There began to be air raids during the day, and the artillery fusillade continued at night. The whole operation was directed toward the center of town. The Germans were systematically demolishing whole city blocks.

After a few days we decided to return to the Wola section because it became evident that the outlying sections of town were less threatened. Telephones were still in service here so we called my cousin Jasio who invited us over to his house.

We walked there over glass shards from broken windows which crunched under our feet like frozen snow. It was quite a distance and we were all exhausted especially my mother and my sister Jadzia. The heavy stench of burning irritated our eyes and choked us. Artillery shells flew over our heads and shrapnel exploded. We were carrying suitcases and what remained of our food.

Jasio and his wife had an apartment in a house which housed a nursery school. We could breathe a little better there. It seemed that this house, surrounded by greenery was a quiet nook.

The sound of pounding and what seemed like a sustained thunderclap came from the center of town. Quite a few evacuees gathered in the basement. They were even from Bielsko Biala.

Nearby there was a Polish battery with a few guns that were shooting at the German positions. I was there with Jasio when a German reconnaissance plane appeared. The antiaircraft artillery started shooting at him but to no avail. Soon after the Germans started aiming their shots at the battery, but they overshot and the shells fell on the houses. I saw how a few hits created yawning holes, out of which poured thick black smoke. We had to duck with the next wave of shots. The shells fell into the same holes, making them bigger. Pieces of masonry and iron spewed out.

While we were running back to the house, we suddenly heard hoof beats. Two frightened horses were running, pulling a carriage behind them with one smashed wheel. The horses turned in full gallop and the cab smashed against a house. The horses disappeared down the street.

The German air force had bombed the waterworks. People collected the last of the water in bathtubs and various containers. There was a small well in the neighboring courtyard. I already heard the noise from afar as people were arguing over access to the well. The ones causing the most trouble were the soldiers insisting that they had priority. They took water not only for themselves but for their friends.

"For a cutlet he brings water to the cook. Hey, where is you belt? It's a good thing you didn't forget your pants!" they taunted.

"I'm going to arrest all of you", railed one of soldiers.

They brushed him off with laughter.

Having been trampled by many feet, the clay dirt in front of the pump dissolved into a puddle. Dozens of hands tried to push their containers to the well by force, breaking jars and bottles in the process. The fighting over this precious water was so absorbing that the only thing that brought the people back to the senses was the sound of flying shells near by.

I walked up to the pump and tried to establish some order. Oddly enough, the people listened to me and started coming one by one as I pumped the water. The line that formed extended into the neighboring courtyard.

Suddenly bombers appeared in the sky and the people scattered scattered. I filled up my bucket and hid in the basement.

We were running out of food. We still had some dry bread, rice and groats. Somebody told me that a bakery was still in operation on Mokotowa street. I made my way there.

I walked by Kercel's Square, commonly known as "Kercelak". Before the war it was an outdoor marketplace. You could buy everything there: groceries, clothes, radios, even books and paintings. They had just about anything that would sell, some of it of rather dubious origin. It was a very popular place.

I found the square empty. The shelling and fires had consumed everything, even the pavement, leaving only a layer of ash. Packs of dogs of various breeds wandered around, their hair dirty and matted. Women rummaged for anything useful amid a cloud of white ash from burned up paper.

At the street corner next to a dead horse there was a group of people toiling with knives cutting out pieces of meat from the fallen body. Not too far away lay a horse skeleton, having been denuded from its skin and meat. A little white dog cuddled up inside the ribcage, against the horse's splayed entrails. It looked as if he were in a cage. There was a very sad look on his face.

It was rough going to Mokotow what with the piles of rubble. There was a humongous line at the bakery. Even though I had little hop of getting any bread I got in line. After about an hour enemy planes appeared in the sky. There was no alarm. The people scattered in fear. Only the bravest remained in line. I got to the door of the bakery, but I was able to buy only one loaf of bread. With that costly prize I returned to my family.

On September 17 my father called me over to the radio, saying that there is very important news from The Soviet Union. A female voice speaking in impeccable Polish said that The Red Army had crossed the Polish border in order to liberate the fraternal nations of the Ukraine and Belarus from Polish oppression. I was crushed by this news, because I realized that the fight for Poland was hopeless.

Warsaw was fighting desperately.

On the twenty - ninth of September, on Friday, at about 7 am, a massive number of bombers appeared and covered the sky. Some started sowing the city with a hail of incendiary bombs which fell on the roofs with a soft rustling sound and set them on fire. Sheets of smoke slowly spread over the azure sky. The snapping sound of burning homes mixed with the whistling and the thundering of thickly falling heavy bombs, and with the discharge of artillery, creating an authentic hell. Dive bombers hurled themselves almost straight down with a bloodcurdling howl. They dove time and time again. It was evident that the enemy aimed to crush the defense of the city with a massive attack.

That was the worst bombardment that we experienced. It lasted the whole day. At night the air raid ended and the artillery started performing, covering the city with shells. Warsaw was burning.

In the morning the artillery stopped pounding and a complete silence came over the city. It was almost irritating. Nobody knew what was happening. People came out of shelters and basements. They filled the streets and walked through the rubble and the barricades.

German fighter planes were flying low at this time. I understood what had happened. Warsaw capitulated.

It was very difficult to conceive of that fact. I felt myself choking.

Polish soldiers appeared in the city, grouping themselves into divisions. It broke my heart to see them throwing down their rifles and their helmets. I saw one soldier smash his rifle against a streetcar track.

While striking his boots with a riding whip, an officer turned to the townspeople and said:

"Well, now, ladies and gentlemen, you will finally have some peace, but as far as what's going to happen to us, then I don't know."

That day in the evening the soldiers started marching off to P.O.W. camp. They walked in columns of 4 without their belts. It's weird how the lack of a belt changes the image of a soldier. They marched off singing, "Jeszcze Polska nie zginela..."

Throughout Satuday they took down the barricades. That was one of the conditions of the capitulation.

That day we finally returned home.

On Towarowa street there stood two freight trains which were mobbed by people. They grabbed whatever they could but first of all the foodstuffs. I saw how one man was running with a sack on his back and another ran up to him, slit the sack with a knife, and held a bowl to catch the flowing sugar.

Coming back home at night I tripped over somthing. I leaned down to discover a couple of fish lying on the sidewalk. I took them home. They were smoked. We had a good dinner.

On Sunday October first I went with my father to Wegierska St. On the way we saw the German army marching into the capitol. The occupying forces were marching into Warsaw from all sides. There were few pedestrians on the street, only at the exits of the city there gathered a greater number of spectators.

German gendarmes were already standing in front of the crowds.

"Look at them. Look how big and fat they are, and they told us that they are thin and ragged"

The band played a march. The soldiers were parading. Artillery rumbled over the pavement. A young storm trooper received the parade. He stood in a theatrical pose with his chest puffed out arrogantly. He raised his hand, and greeted the divisions with the party salute.

Titles of the presented paintings by Jerzy Kajetanski:

1. Upheaval (left side, top)
2. Resignation (right side)
3. Troop Movement (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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