89 Books about Poland | Polish War Graves in Britain
At dawn on 1 September 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland. The capital city Warsaw was bombed. For the 16 year old Stanislaw Likiernik the shaking of his Warsaw home from the blast of a bomb was his introduction to war.
On 6 September a Polish government spokesman broadcast to the capital urging all able bodied men to leave the city and re-group on the Narew-Bug river line. Stanislaw left Warsaw for his childhood home of Garwolin, 60 kms away. There he met up with his father, a Polish Reserve Officer, and they crossed the River Bug. Suddenly a warning was shouted: German tanks could be seen. They were captured and taken prisoner by the German army. Released they decided to head back to Warsaw. They arrived too late to continue the fight. On 27 September the capital had surrendered.
Stanislaw Likierniks' earliest memories were of life in the garrison town of Garwolin. He remembers the officers of the First Regiment of Horse Riflemen with their shiny swords and ringing spurs.
...the army presented a handsome, almost Napoleonic sight. Splendid uniforms, well-kept horses, celebratory parades. Balls in candlelit ballrooms would end at dawn with the majestic White Mazurka. This world of my childhood belonged more to that of War and Peace than to the twentieth century. (p. 12)
His father was a Polish Army Officer and had taken part in a cavalry charge against the Germans in the 1st World War. He had also fought and been wounded in the 1920 Polish-Bolshevik war.
Warsaw Under the Germans
After their return to Warsaw Stanislaw and his father decided to try and get to France where the Polish Army was being reformed. However, before they could escape, Stanislaw's father was arrested by the Gestapo and taken to Germany.
Stanislaw remained in Warsaw and in September 1940 had a lucky escape. He was arrested in the street by the Germans. A German officer though released him because he was under 18. That day the Germans arrested 30,000 men and sent them to the camp at Auschwitz. Stanislaw vowed then to do something to fight back.
He eventually found his way into Kedyw (Directorate of Sabotage), part of the Polish Underground resistance movement. Stanislaw joined a unit which was planning to blow up a German train on its way to the Russian front [Nazi Germany had attacked the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941]. The act of sabotage took place on 27 September 1943. Explosives were placed on the railway line and a passing train was derailed. Stanislaw rushed to the train and threw petrol bombs at its load. He came under fire but was happy to have accomplished the mission. The commanding officer of Stanislaw's Zoliborz Kedyw unit was Stasinek Sosabowski, the son of General Sosabowski, Commanding Officer of the Polish Parachute Brigade in Great Britain.
On 1 August 1944 at 5pm the Warsaw Uprising began. The Polish Underground in Warsaw launched an attack on the occupying German army and took control of parts of the city. The initial objective of Kedyw was to take control of the German Army stores in Stawki Street. The Zoliborz detachment of Kedyw joined forces with the Mokotow and Wola detachments and attacked a small SS unit guarding the building. They shot dead several of the SS and captured the stores of flour, sugar, cereals etc.
Stanislaw's detachment of Kedyw was then ordered to attack a German police barracks in St Zofia's Hospital, Wola. The commander of the unit Stasinek Sosabowski looked out of the third floor window of a house next to the hospital to assess the situation. A shot rang out and Sosabowski was hit in the head. The bullet damaged his sight in his good eye. He could no longer see and was evacuated to hospital.
The Kedyw detachment attacked the police barracks. Stanislaw heard a loud explosion. A grenade had been dropped on them from the top floor of the building. Wounded he was taken to a makeshift hospital.
I was left on the stretcher for an hour waiting for a surgeon...he started pulling out the shrapnel. Without anaesthetic. These fragments were well embedded...I swore abominably...during the rising I was treated in a grand total of seven hospitals...the nurses still wear the halo of my gratitude and remembrance. (p. 117)
The attack on the German Police barracks failed. The Germans launched a massive counter attack in Wola. The SS slaughtered the population of 80,000 to 100,000 people, mainly women, children and old people in the district.
Stanislaw left the hospital and rejoined his unit in the Old Town defending the John of God Church. They defended the Old Town for twenty days.
...endured...constant artillery fire...and...aerial bombardment. The Germans...had the sky to themselves; the Red Army was stationed just across the Vistula, but not a single Soviet fighter challenged them...The civilian population survived in the cellars as best they could. (p. 124)
At the end of August the order was give to abandon the Old Town. How to escape? The devastated streets or the sewers? They chose the streets. Stanislaw's unit reached its starting position the Bank Polksi on Bielanska Street. They tried to escape but came under heavy German fire. They took cover in a burnt out house. The attempt to break out had failed.
Stanislaw was shot in the buttock by Ukrainian SS. A flesh wound. He and others did eventually manage to escape.
...marching in tight formation across the Saski Park in the direction of the Polish line. We wove our way between the the enemy's positions and dug-outs. What saved us were the German camouflage jackets and helmets captured on the first day of the Rising which we wore now, with the Polish red-and-white armbands tucked away safely in our pockets. (p. 133)
Others escaped through the sewers.
They walked up to their waists in the stinking mess...Wounded and exhausted men and women would fall and drown...It was a nightmarish journey, but it saved many lives. (p. 135)
Stanislaw made his way to Czerniakow, beside the Vistula river. He was met with incredulity.
"Why the hell have you come here? The German attack on Czerniakow is imminent". "You should have stayed in the centre, you fool!" (p. 137)
The Germans attacked and Stanislaw was wounded by a shell. He fell into German hands but managed to convince them he was a civilian. He was evacuated on a stretcher and ended up on the pavement in Szucha Avenue, across the road from Gestapo HQ. Later he was moved into the Gestapo cellars where his wounds were treated by a doctor.
On 2 October 1944 the Warsaw Uprising was over. The Polish Home Army (AK) surrendered to the Germans.
After the war was over Stanislaw managed to leave Poland at the beginning of 1946 and met up again with his father in Paris.
Stanislaw Likiernik died aged 94 on 17 April 2018.
Extracts from By Devil's Luck: A Tale of Resistance in Wartime Warsaw on the Warsaw Uprising 1944 website.