Chapter VII

Bor's Uprising

The Warsaw uprising was launched by General Bor, commander of the Home Army, on August 1st, as the Red Army was approaching the city. It was crushed by the Germans in two months of bloody slaughter. An estimated quarter of a million people, most of them non-participating civilians, were killed. The Red Army meanwhile fought its way into Praga, the eastern section of Warsaw, and, in the sixth week of the uprising, entrenched itself along the bank of the Vistula. The Germans continued the destruction of the main city on the western shore.

All the long-accumulated frictions between the London Poles and the Russians flamed high over this tragedy. The Moscow press denounced Bor for staging an uprising without correlating it with Red Army strategy or consulting any of the Allied powers. General Zymierski, whose Polish Army was an ally to the Red Army, stated flatly that Bor deserved court-martial for "sacrificing the Polish capital and its residents in the forlorn hope of a political coup d’état. The London Poles countered with the charge that the Red Army had halted its offensive right at the gates of Warsaw, delivering the city to slaughter rather than see the government-in-exile take power. They promoted General Bor, making him commander in chief of all their armies, both in Poland and abroad. A proposal to honor him also with the Virtuti Militarii Cross was prevented only by the opposition of General Lucian Zeligowski, chief of the legion of decoration bearers, who stated that in all history this cross had never been awarded for launching a losing action. Bor, meanwhile, was a prisoner of the Germans, to whom he had surrendered rather than fall into the hands of his opponents among the Poles.

The tragedy became the center of acrimonious comment even on an international scale. There was disagreement between the British and the Russians on the dropping of arms to the insurgents. The Russians held that the arms "would fall to the Germans" since the position of the insurgents was unknown. British and American planes flew long distances to drop small quantities of arms and charged that the Russians “refused to co-operate.” The acrimony persisted when the Russians reached Praga and dropped large quantities of arms to the insurgents themselves. The question was asked: Why didn't they do it before? The Warsaw uprising, like so many acts of the Polish government-in-exile, was sowing suspicion among the Allies.

Some of the issues were explained at General Zymierski's press conference late in September. He stated that General Bor's first and only request for help reached him through Mikolajczyk in Moscow in the first week of the rising and mentioned three places – the Opera, the Polytechnic, and Old Town – as held by the insurgents. "I told Mikolajczyk that it was technically impossible to drop arms to individual buildings. I proposed that Bor give us the co-ordinates of points in woods or fields west of Warsaw where weapons could be dropped in quantities. I never got any further message from Bor. No messengers of any kind reached us from the insurgents until September 12th, when two women from the People's Army managed to get across to us and gave us definite locations. We dropped arms at once and continued until informed that the space was too small to receive deliveries."

Even while we conferred in the spacious rooms of the Polish Embassy, the last events of the uprising took place. We did not know it, but General Bor had surrendered an hour before our press conference began. A few insurgents fought their way out, crossing the river to the First Polish Army with the help of Red Army artillery. Eight o'clock, the hour of our press conference, was the hour set for the covering guns to open up. The Poles were fighting their way over the river while we talked.

The controversy was still sizzling when I went to Poland. Here it was easier to establish the facts.

My friends Stephanie and Jan Wende, not to mention the lads of the First Polish in Praga, knew at first hand how and where the Red Army fought in those disputed days. Colonel – now General – Marion Spychalski was excellent authority on the German Vistula defenses. General Wladislaw Korczyk, commanding the First Polish, knew precisely what help had been sent over the river. So much for the picture on the eastern bank.

For the tale of the uprising itself there were several officers from the insurgents, including a man named Zenon, who was coughing his life out in a Lublin tenement when I met him. Jean Forbert, a girl insurgent, fought in three different parts of town and finally escaped with the last group to cross the river. Two fascinating girls in uniform, Helene Jaworska and Janina Balcerzak, had groped through sewers under the German positions to bring the first messages to the Red Army. A well-to-do mother of Warsaw, separated from her baby by the sudden outbreak, described at length the terrible fate of noncombatants.

I thought my picture was fairly complete until, at the celebration of the land reform in the little town of Radzyn, I ran into an officer whose personality impressed me even before I knew his record. When I learned that he was Colonel Szaniawski, who – as a major – had led the perilous escape across the river, I immediately adapted my plans to a two days’ stay in Radzyn for an extended interview. His was the most connected story of the rising, since he had fought for four weeks in Old Town and later commanded the People's Army in the northern part of Warsaw at Zoliboz.

What was the general military situation in Poland on August 1st when the Warsaw uprising was launched by General Bor?

The Germans had retreated across the eastern third of Poland, which presents no natural line of defense. They were pouring westward through the streets of Warsaw, creating panic among German civilians and arousing hope among Poles. "The streets were all full of fleeing Germans," said my Warsaw mother. “Tanks with geese and chickens on top of them, cows driven along with German troops, a chaos impossible to believe about these formidable masters. The Red Army came so fast into little towns that we thought of as eastern suburbs. We expected to be free at any moment without a battle.” This was the civilian expectation on which General Bor capitalized.

Military men knew other facts. They knew that the Germans had their main defense line along the Vistula – the widest water barrier between the Dnieper and Berlin. General Marion Spychalski gave me an engineer's view of these German fortifications. His past as a city planner in Warsaw made them clear in his mind.

"Warsaw-Praga was fortified as the keystone of the German defense. South of Warsaw the fortifications coincided with the Vistula. To the north they swerved eastward toward East Prussia through difficult swamps along the Narew River. The ‘Warsaw Shield’ consisted of two fortified belts in the shape of a semicircle east of Praga. The outer belt ran through a series of towns as far as sixty miles away. All of these were powerful fortresses. The inner ring was locked around Praga itself. Between these two rings were numerous intermediary lines. The entire area was a maze of reinforced concrete gun emplacements, broad mine fields, barbed-wire entanglements, antitank barriers. The enemy was sparing neither of concrete nor of iron. All the defenses that our troops encountered from the Soviet border to the Vistula were child's play compared to the fortifications of the Warsaw suburbs."

For taking such heavily fortified centers, encirclement is the customary tactic rather than frontal attack. The Red Army planned to take Warsaw by a wide outflanking from the north and south. “This plan was also drawn up with a view to saving the Polish capital, its buildings and inhabitants,” said General Zymierski. "It was known by the command of the Polish Army whose entire forces were concentrated on the Warsaw front."

Such a plan required considerable preparation. The Red Army's long, sustained offensive had driven two hundred and sixty miles on the southern flank and three hundred and forty on the northern. It was reaching its natural end. Railroads and bridges blown up by the Germans had to be repaired to bring up supplies. Trucks were bringing shells and gasoline three hundred miles from the supply base, using more gasoline than the trucks could carry.

“Our offensive power was spent,” stated Jan Wende who, as a Polish officer, heard the discussions that raged during those weeks. "What army in history of comparable size ever made such a tremendous drive? Everything about the army, the men, and the equipment had to stop to breathe. We might have taken Warsaw without breathing if it had been unfortified; but just as we hit those murderous fortifications, the Germans threw their fresh tank divisions in. What they did to us was plenty!"

“There were eight bridges over the Central Vistula,” explained Spychalski. Four of these were in Warsaw, three were south of the city, and one to the north at Modlin. The entire German retreat from Eastern Poland poured westward over the Warsaw bridges. This caused the Warsaw people to exaggerate the German debacle. They did not see the German reserves in the north coming over the Modlin bridge with four fresh tank divisions driving down on the Red Army's flank." The Red Army, at the end of a long offensive and with overextended communications, was pushed back. Only after difficult and bloody battles lasting for several weeks did it force its way into Praga. "We should have postponed the taking of Praga at this time and taken it later more easily and with fewer losses, had it not been for our desire to bring all possible aid to Warsaw," stated Zymierski.

What was going on in Warsaw while the Red Army fought at its approaches? There was disagreement within the city about when the uprising should take place.

Colonel Leon Rawicz of the "Security Corps," an armed force affiliated with General Bor's Home Army, left Warsaw as the representative of "several hundred Polish officers" who disagreed with Bor on the time of the rising and wanted to get word to Premier Mikolajczyk, then in Moscow, to postpone it. He told of the discussion in the officers' circles. Some held that the rising should start when the Red Army was within thirty miles, others when the Red Army reached the Vistula line along its entire length, still others when the Red Army had secured bridgeheads west of the Vistula, north and south of Warsaw. All these officers took it for granted that the rising would be made in agreement with the Red Army command and with the many different Polish partisan "armies" inside Warsaw. Bor's failure to make contact with any of these possible allies was what caused the Security Corps to go over to Zymierski's new Polish Army.

On General Bor, representative of the London government-in-exile and chief of their Home Army, falls sole responsibility for the timing and method of the rising. Neither the Red Army nor the other partisan armies in Warsaw were informed in advance of the plans. The Germans apparently sensed that something was in the air, for they strengthened their guard on the Vistula bridges and began to mine them, a few hours before the rising began. Months later in Lublin people were still debating why Bor called it at this "suicidal time." Some attributed it to "orders from London," others to "the same obsolete military strategy that led to Poland's downfall in 1939"; still others suspected the presence of enemy agents in Bor's staff, not perhaps in direct control but capable of influencing the plans.

That there were some "orders from London" hardly admits of doubt. The rising synchronized with Mikolajczyk's first visit to Moscow, which he timed on his own initiative. Plenty of evidence exists on what he discussed there. Even to us correspondents he showed a lack of interest in Lublin and a hope that he would soon be in Warsaw. Spychalski, who took part in those Moscow talks, told me that the Prime Minister of the government-in-exile "was evading the Lublin Poles and demanding to be taken straight into Warsaw by the Red Army. When informed that Warsaw would be taken by encirclement, which, considering the enemy fortifications and counterattacks, would take considerable time, he turned white and was obviously quite disturbed. It was plain to us then that he wanted to be put in Warsaw with the Home Army so that he could by-pass our Lublin Committee entirely."

The rising began in midafternoon of August 1st. Different people learned of it in different ways.

"A powerful explosion took place in the heart of the city; a bomb in the German commandant's office was the signal." This was the description given me by an engineer. To a Warsaw mother it began with “an air-raid alert.” Jean Forbert, sturdy girl partisan in Wola district, knew only that "shooting in the streets began."

Major Szaniawski, commanding an underground detachment of the People's Army in Warsaw, thought little of those first shots. "Shots were rather common," he told me. He had finished work at four o'clock in the afternoon and gone home to dinner. Neither he nor any member of the People's Army had been informed of Bor's plans. "A friend came and told me there was a rising. I started at once for my post, but I could not even cross the street because of heavy German fire. After several vain efforts, we went into the cellar and cut through the walls into the adjoining apartment house. For forty-eight hours we were cutting through walls and dashing from one building to the other to reach our mustering point. Finding nobody there we went on to Old Town – Stare Miasta, the old market place not far from the river – picking up men along the way."

Jean Forbert also made her way to Old Town from the western part of the city. "When the shooting began my father and mother were two miles south of Wola at Ochota. I couldn't get to them. Then I tried to reach my detachment. I was three days dodging through the streets and crawling close to houses. There were many corpses already. Finally I reached Old Town, got a white-red arm band and became a soldier. There was great enthusiasm at first. Home Army bulletins announced that the Red Army was crossing the Vistula and already fighting in Warsaw. But in ten days the Germans burned Ochota, bombed Wola into silence, and then came on Old Town from all sides."

A well-to-do Warsaw woman went with her husband to have tea with her parents in a big apartment house about ten minutes away. She left her two-year-old baby at home with its nurse. "We were all having tea when the ‘alert’ sounded. We went down from the sixth floor and found some thirty young men and boys with arm bands and pistols and one tommy gun in the lot. I don't know how they got there, perhaps they were trying to reach the bridge. But the Germans had the house already surrounded and were shooting at it from tanks.

"We stayed in that house three days. There were five hundred people, mostly women and children, for the men never got home from work. There were just those thirty fighters with hardly any ammunition. It was wonderful to see someone at last hitting back at the Germans, and yet it was terrible, for it was so clear that they couldn't succeed. On the third day came the end. There was no ammunition and the German planes were right over the roofs dropping bombs. The Germans put mines under the walls and prepared to blow us all up. Somebody raised a white flag. A woman ran out and brought back terms of surrender. The men had to come out on one side and women and children on the other. They said the men would be shot.

"We all came out in the rain, forgetting to take coats and handbags. We could only think that our dearest were being torn away. It was heart-rending when those young fighters lay down with their faces to the pavement. One was a boy not over fourteen. He could have hidden his arm band and pistol and nobody would have taken him for a fighter. He was one of the first to lie down to die. They were all shot but I think their heroic acceptance of death saved the rest of us. The Germans had their victims. They didn't kill our civilian men. It hurts me to think those boys' mothers will never know of their heroism. All their identity papers were false."

All over Warsaw a million human beings were pitched into this inferno, innocent and unprepared. In the first days, scattered fighting went on in many parts of the city: the downtown district, the western areas of Wola and Ochota and Mokotow, and three regions nearer the river – Zoliboz in the north, Old Town in the center, and Czernyakow further south. From the first hour the Germans were able to isolate these regions from each other. By the third day they had combined tanks, planes, infantry in a systematic destruction of Warsaw. They blockaded the city, stopping food deliveries. They cut the water mains, and fired into queues waiting at the few wells. They held open squares and thoroughfares under fire from multiple-barreled mortars and heavy siege guns. Bombers circled low, dropping incendiaries and demolition bombs, wrapping the capital in flame and smoke. House after house was blown up with all its residents.

Our Warsaw mother, driven from her parents' apartment house, tried for nearly a month to reach her baby who was ten minutes away. She took refuge in cellar after cellar until each shelter had in turn been fired and its people either killed or driven on. She was always "dancing on the edge of death." Several times she saw her own apartment house from a distance but was never able to reach it.

"They drove us through a wall of fire to the National Museum. The prettiest houses in Warsaw were burning on the Third of May Allée! A detachment of Ukrainian nationalist SS stood us against a wall, saying it was time to shoot the women now. After fifteen terrible minutes we found it was just their little joke. Four thousand of us were held in the Museum cellars four days without food, water, or sanitary facilities – imagine what the cement floor was like in a couple of hours! We were 'hostages'; the Germans proclaimed that we would all be shot unless the rising stopped. When I got out alive I believed in miracles!

“The upper floors had all been burned over one cellar where I stayed three weeks. We were all starving there. Seven people were killed the first week trying to get vegetables from a garden in the yard. A six-year-old boy was shot in that garden; he was wounded at first and lay on his back moaning. Every time he moved the German took a shot at him. We saw him die and couldn't get to him. Nobody in that cellar was fighting; we were only looking for food. When the Germans got around to it they set our cellar on fire again and drove the people over the river to the Pruszkow concentration camp as slaves. We passed through Praga in the dark and I managed to escape.” In the four months since she had had no news of her baby.

At first practically everyone took it for granted that the rising had been agreed upon with the Red Army. Knowing that they themselves could not hold off the Germans, but expecting help from moment to moment, they fought with superb heroism. All the armed partisan groups in the city, of whatever political complexion, immediately joined in the fighting, handicapped as they were by lack of preparation or warning. An estimated twenty-five thousand of the Home Army and seventy-five hundred of the People's Army took part. Unarmed civilians joined in. People turned streetcars over, tore up rails, threw furniture out of the houses, and knocked over newsstands to make barricades. Girls attacked German tanks with bottles of gasoline. Small children carried messages between houses. Slowly and bitterly came the realization that there had been no co-ordination of plans with the Red Army, from which they were still separated by the strongest line of enemy fortifications in Poland.

Lack of planning seems to have marked the uprising from the beginning. Accounts differ as to whether the insurgents held any strategically important locations at any time. One engineer told me that they held for a time the telephone exchange, the power plant, the post office, and the Polytechnic Institute. Zenon, a sergeant in the People's Army, charged with rancor that "Bor took places of political rather than of military value – the city hall and the local police stations – so that he would be the government when the Red Army came." The Germans at all times held the bridges and the Warsaw citadel. There is no evidence that the Home Army even tried to cut the communications behind Warsaw by which German reinforcements were rushed. Months later in Lodz I learned that the local Home Army commander thought of going to the relief of Warsaw – his function might have been to cut communications – marched out a distance, and then came back.

Isolating the small separate groups of insurgents, the Germans wiped them out one by one. Three places held out longest: the downtown area, containing the headquarters of the Home Army; Old Town, the historic ancient market place; and the northern district, Zoliboz. I have no reports from the downtown area, none of whose fighters escaped eastward when General Bor surrendered. Graphic details of the Old Town and Zoliboz engagements were given me by participants.

When Major Szaniawski reached Old Town in the first week of the rising, he found some thirteen hundred armed men all told, including the Home Army, the People's Army, and smaller units of the Polish Socialist Party Battalion and the Union of Young Fighters. They held an area about half a mile square inhabited by nearly one hundred and fifty thousand unarmed people. Every street was crisscrossed with barricades. Every house became in turn a fortress. Steadily the Germans tightened their encirclement, reducing Old Town house by house. The major estimates that at least fifty thousand people perished in Old Town alone.

"It was bright August weather, but you could not see the sky for smoke during the day, while night was like day because of the fires. German planes were right over the housetops strafing and bombing. One big apartment house after another toppled into the street and the cellar, burying the screaming people. When things got desperate the younger officers of the Home Army began to talk of communicating with the Red Army. We of the People's Army were long since anxious to do this, but the Home Army had the only radio. Finally their commander agreed to send a joint message asking for help. All the fighting organizations in Old Town signed it. We gave it to the Home Army commander to send. Next day I learned that it had gone not to the Red Army but to the Polish government in London in code."

"Did any of the British supplies reach you by plane?"

“They tried to help us in mid-August. Five planes dropped pistols, grenades, and antitank weapons into Old Town at night. The gesture was heartening but the quantity was small. About three nights later they came again. This time the Germans were ready for them with vicious flak. A British plane was brought down on Podwala Street in our area, killing one pilot and wounding the other so that he died in our makeshift hospital. That time most of the supplies fell to the Germans. A month later some eighty Flying Fortresses came over at four in the afternoon, flying very high, thirteen to fourteen thousand feet. The sky was full of stuff attached to parachutes but it was so high that the wind carried most of it to the Germans or across the river. I saw it from Zoliboz. We had been wiped out in Old Town!”

Old Town fell on August 28th after four weeks of fighting. Jean Forbert gave a bit of ghastly detail of the last day when "the house fell on her." Some forty persons were sheltering in the cellar when four stories came down.

"I was knocked flat. A lieutenant fell on top of me, but the timbers pushed his head into the sand so that he couldn't breathe. He moaned 'Mother, Mother' and died. He lay on me for hours, but the timber above him kept the rest of the building off. I had one hand free enough to brush away the stones and sand that kept sifting around my face. A man close by went mad and yelled that he had arms and would kill us both. I tried to tell him not to but the dead lieutenant pressed me so that I could not talk. The man didn't shoot because he couldn't move to get his gun. Our friends dug us out ten hours later and said we must leave at once by sewer for Zoliboz."

The insurgents by this time had become specialists on Warsaw sewers; they were the only connection and means of escape. Smaller pipes were barely a yard in diameter. Here people had to crawl and drag each other along. Some "super-sewers" were seven feet high; one could walk erect in them. The chief difficulties here were the darkness; the rounded slippery bottom, and the sewage itself which was of varying swiftness and depth. Sometimes it reached the knees, sometimes the chest, sometimes it was rapid enough to sweep people off their feet in the dark. There was also danger of being lost in the underground maze. One man who escaped from Warsaw by a main sewer to the Vistula told me that just where it dipped down to the river the sewer became clogged to the roof. Knowing the outlet was near he dove through the muck into the open river.

The Germans quickly learned that the Poles were using the sewers. They heard people passing underneath manholes; then they threw down grenades or gas bombs. It will never be known how many people died in those sewers. The jamming of sewers with corpses hampered Warsaw's reconstruction after the city was freed. One big sewer in the southern part of the town was blocked by bodies of a thousand people, gassed by the Germans in trying to escape.

A dry military account of the sewer route from Old Town to Zoliboz was given me by Szaniawski. "It was about two miles to our destination. The first pipe was of medium size, somewhat more than four feet in diameter. We had to bend over to walk and the filth came up to my chin. We all had pistols and thought we would shoot ourselves if it got any worse. We came soon to a larger sewer where the going was easier. When we passed under the German posts by the Danzig railway station we had to be especially careful. Here there was a manhole where the Germans could hear splashing in the water and throw down grenades. We went in small groups so that the splashing would be less."

Jean Forbert didn't want to enter the sewer. "I was dazed from being under the house and besides I had tried that sewer before. Twelve of us had gone into it, but only six got past the manhole. The Germans threw grenades and I had to wait all night with bodies brushing me in the water, until we could signal our friends in Old Town to pull us out. I didn't want to go again but my friends just jerked me along.

"Ours was the last detachment to leave Old Town. We were about one hundred and fifty. I was the fifth in line. We held to each other at first because there were many side canals and we might get lost. At the manhole we went separately, sixty or seventy feet apart, as fast and as quietly as possible. It was forbidden to speak or to strike a light. Nobody could tell what was happening to anybody else. The first man stopped some distance beyond the manhole and waited until the others struck against him in the dark. It was hard to keep your feet on the curved slippery bottom. You could even miss your direction except for the current. I got through all right because there was not yet much noise in the water. After about thirty had passed the Germans heard and threw grenades; this divided our group and the others went back toward the downtown section. That direction was very difficult, for the sewers were barely three feet high and they had to drag people; they took our hospital that way.

"Beyond the manhole many side sewers poured in and the water was high and the current strong. It came to my chest and to the necks of some of the shorter people, knocking them down. We held hands again here and helped each other along. At Zoliboz our own people were standing at a manhole lowering ropes to haul us out."

Zoliboz, where the last stand was made, had at the beginning of September, according to Szaniawski, some two thousand fighters of the Home Army and a small group of the People's Army. "There were of course tens of thousands of unarmed civilians all around, so I drew them in and trained them. Soon I commanded five hundred men of the People's Army. We fought side by side with the Home Army men. Good feeling grew between the men and the younger officers of both armies defending the same barricades. The senior officers of the Home Array remained cold to us.

"The Home Army waited every night for help from England. They put out signals in Wilson Square on orders radioed from the London Poles; night after night they burned their flares in vain. Their radio officer came to me often saying: ‘What's the matter? They've said several times that they would come and they haven't come.’

"At first the Home Army resisted every suggestion that we contact the Red Army across the river. Finally their commander in Zoliboz, Lieutenant Colonel Zywiciel, agreed that we should send two messengers, one from each of us. The Home Army, being larger and nearer to the river, was to give the technical help for crossing. All night they took the messengers in different directions. In the morning they brought them back, saying that it was impossible to pass them through the German lines. I decided to act alone. I charted a roundabout way through the sewers and told two girls of the People's Army: 'If you can reach the Red Army within four days we may yet be saved.' They left on September 10th. Within two days we had the Red Army's answer."

The drama of the Red Army reply was burned into the mind of even this veteran fighter.

"Shortly after lunch on September 12th, a plane came over, looped twice very low, and dropped three parachutes with duplicate letters: –

Greeting to the heroic fighters of the Warsaw Uprising! Your messengers arrived. We now know your location. Set tonight a triangle of three fires on Lelevela Square. If you have electricity you may use electric lights instead. If this is clear and agreed, set a signal at six P.M. by sewing four sheets together and placing them on a roof.

"We put our signal on one of the houses of the Fourth Colony. At six a Red Army plane came over, circled several times above our signal, and went back.

"The supply planes began coming at nine, as soon as dusk fell. More than two hundred of those little ‘ducks,’ slow U-2 biplanes skimming above the housetops, dropped stuff right into our hands without parachutes and went back for more. They kept on until dawn. Some swooped so low that the pilots could yell to us. One called ‘Zdorovo boitsi – good going, boys.’ Another promised ‘See you tomorrow.’ They threw mostly food the first night. We were starving but we grumbled: “Why don't they pass the ammunition?” The next night they dropped tommy guns, antitank weapons, hand mortars, and quantities of supplies. The Germans kept shelling the square and killed many of our men who were picking up the stuff, but the Red Army help kept on. In ten nights they dropped more than a thousand tommy guns, three hundred antitank guns, two hundred and fifty hand mortars, and the necessary ammunition.

"Two radiomen from Rokossovsky's staff were also dropped for liaison. Two others from the First Polish Army managed to get through by the river. They were quartered with the staff of the Home Army and radioed our needs to the Red Army. We got the artillery support we asked for. Red Army planes also cleared the sky of German aircraft. A battalion of the Polish First even crossed the river to help us. They succeeded in taking a narrow strip near Marymont, outside the levee. I only learned of it on the third day, for the Home Army was on that side of Zoliboz and beyond them a line of German posts. I immediately urged the Home Army commander to make contact with the First Polish. He replied that Rokossovsky radioed not to move. I did not believe him, but I could not ask the radioman, whom he kept almost like a prisoner. Two days later from a high observation post in Marymont I saw the Germans turn artillery against that narrow strip held by the First Polish and destroy them all."

After smashing the First Polish battalion, the Germans came from all directions on the Zoliboz insurgents. From north, west, and south they attacked with artillery, tanks, and infantry, driving the defenders eastward toward the German machine-gun posts between them and the river. "We fought all day of the twenty-eighth and lost about half of our men. We held on the north and west but the enemy broke in from the south, driving along Mickewicz Street to cut us in two. We had no longer even space to set out signals for Red Army planes. Everyone knew that we had come to the end.”

That night the two commands met together. Zywiciel of the Home Army proposed “to fight from house to house until the end.” Szaniawski opposed this as useless suicide, saying, “We needn't die to the last man. We can cross the river to the First Polish Army.” The younger Home Army officers supported him. The Red Army, when asked for help, replied with the details of its proposed support with artillery and boats.

In the swift playing out of the drama's last act the conflicting purposes of the two commanders became sharp and clear. According to Szaniawski, the crossing was fixed first at 9.20 on the morning of September 30th. "At 10.30 I asked Zywiciel why it was not taking place. He replied that strong winds made impossible the necessary smoke screen and that it was postponed to 8 P.M. At 7 o'clock Colonel Wachnowski of the Home Army's staff appeared in Zoliboz with an order to surrender. Sergeant Zenon of the People's Army asked him how he got there. The colonel first said that he drove over, but then caught himself and said that he came through the sewer. However, he looked spick-and-span. After a short talk with us he went off in the direction of the German positions and soon returned; it was plain that he had gone to consult the Germans.

"Zywiciel called together all the commanders and read the order to surrender. All the younger officers protested. Some even wept, saying: ‘We've agreed with the First Polish, let's go.’ To this Zywiciel replied that the Germans had broken our code and had set up such strong opposition – tanks, barbed wire, mines, machine guns that ‘not even a mouse could get over, let alone a man.’ This convinced them. Even I believed him – that perhaps not a man could get through. But we of the People's Army were doomed anyway, for the Home Army's terms of surrender got prisoner-of-war status only for their own men, leaving us to be slaughtered as outlaws. Death either way was probable. So I brought no pressure on my men; I told them that I myself would try to cross the river. Forty-eight decided to go with me.

"The Red Army artillery began at eight punctually. Zywiciel hurried to me and said: ‘Give back the radioman to wire Praga to stop the artillery.’ Then I exulted, for I knew now the Germans hadn't broken the code or they wouldn't need our radioman. We still had a chance then. I told him: ‘Tell your German friends to send the word.’ We went down Digasienskiego Street towards the river.

"For an hour the Red Army artillery pounded the German positions between us and the Vistula. Then the fire divided, making a corridor, and we went through. There were just two enemy machine guns that hadn't been silenced; they opened on us from a hundred feet; they got twenty men before we put them out of commission. They wounded a kid of thirteen who attached himself to our forces; he grabbed my hand crying: 'Daddy, don't let go!' I helped him along to the river. He's in our Polish Army now.

"We reached the river ahead of schedule. The boats weren't there. We found a leaky canoe and put a girl in it to hold our things; then four of us swam over, pushing the canoe. On the other side we met soldiers bringing boats. I told them where to go; in an hour they brought everybody over. Forty-eight men left Zoliboz with me; only twenty-eight got through. But we could have brought the whole three thousand we planned – fifteen hundred fighters and fifteen hundred civilians – with the loss of that same twenty."

Jean Forbert was one of the four that swam the river. She supplies the detail that she reached the other shore "dead beat in nothing but a wet chemise." Excitement kept her awake while they took her all night from one staff headquarters to another – "just wrapped in a big army coat while that chemise was drying, but they gave me things everywhere till I had a full uniform" – to tell about the uprising and its fate.

General Wladislaw Korczyk, some ten weeks later in Praga, summed up for me the passionate and bitter interest that the officers and men of the First Polish showed in Jean's account that night. For weeks they tried to help their fellow Poles across the river. He claimed they were prevented chiefly by General Bor's aloofness. "From first to last he avoided contact with us."

I went to Korczyk at Stephanie's suggestion for an account of the attempts made by the First Polish to help the Poles on the other shore. No signposts led to his quarters. They were only a mile or so from the front-line positions. I found them through a phone call by Spychalski, which directed me to a mud road and a waiting Polish officer and at last to a bunch of small, dilapidated cottages. Inside, in a comfortable, efficiently arranged staff office sat a solid man with two stars, a zigzag ribbon, and a chestful of decorations. He had come all the way with the Polish First and was preparing the final drive to free Warsaw and set the Polish standard in Berlin.

"When the Warsaw uprising broke out we were forty-five miles south of the city and on the opposite shore, with the German fortifications between. General Bor made no attempt to inform us either before or afterwards. As we fought our way into Praga, all that we could tell from observation posts was that there was fighting in a few small, scattered points on the opposite bank. We couldn't tell where were the Germans and where the Poles. Only when those two girls from Szaniawski got through to us did we know the positions. They brought word not only about Zoliboz but about the central downtown area, which communicated with Zoliboz through sewers. At once we dropped supplies to both places and liaison men to Zoliboz with full radio equipment. They were ordered to contact all insurgent forces, whether of the Home Army or the People's Army, and communicate their needs.

“We fulfilled requests when sent. They said: 'Send artillery' and we sent it. They said: ‘Repeat, or send it more to the left’ and we fulfilled their desire. Yet not once did they tell us their plans or even who was sending the instructions. They expected to give orders to the Red Army without telling us who gave the orders. We did not even know whether Bor himself was in Warsaw until the Germans announced him as their prisoner.”

“How could you know the requests came from Poles and not from Germans?”

"Easily enough. Our radiomen were with Bor's officers in Zoliboz. They told the requests from the center of the city. They never told the names of their commanders or what they intended.

"We made many attempts to cross the river to help the insurgents. From a military standpoint these attempts were foolish; the conditions were incredibly bad. But we could not leave Poles fighting Germans alone. Despite the bad conditions we might have enabled the insurgents to hold some areas if we could have attained joint action. All these attempts failed because Bor's men avoided contact."

I asked for examples. He gave them. "We made a landing at Czernyakow. We found there about one hundred and fifty Home Army men under a Colonel Radoslaw. They were hungry and without ammunition. We supplied their needs. Two days later without telling us, the colonel withdrew his men at night by sewer to another district. The military results of his desertion were not serious but it showed his attitude. In the central area some of our forces actually succeeded in breaking through to the downtown district. We never heard of them again. Several times we tried to fight our way to areas held by the insurgents. They never tried to fight towards us. Often it seemed to us that they were withdrawing, but the clearest case is the one I gave.

“What a waste of life there was in Warsaw," the general concluded. "Pistols against tanks. Young boys heroically offered their lives and were thrown away when they might have been beating the Germans with us. And a city of more than a million broken and scattered.”

"That's what I call high treason," judged a young Polish officer in the river-front positions. "To call a rising without correlation with one's allies, to throw a million defenseless civilians into it, to wreck Poland's capital, to surrender men and supplies which might have reached other Polish forces over the river, and to surrender on terms that doomed the men of the People's Army loyally fighting alongside the Home Army to outlaws’ death."

We looked across the Vistula where the smoke was still heavy over the city which the Germans – using the rising as pretext – had for three months systematically destroyed. I cannot hope to reproduce the bitter contempt with which he added: "And for that the London Poles made Bor their commander in chief!"

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