Kazimierz Klimczak is the oldest living veteran of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising (not to be confused with the smaller Warsaw Ghetto Uprising one year earlier). He gave a very long interview in 2013. What follows is my translation of a few excerpts from it. I broke them up and added the bold titles.
I was born in Ciepłowo near Sompolno [present-day central Poland]. I had six brothers and five sisters. One sister died young, all the rest of my siblings lived but had since passed on. I joined the army in 1936. I graduated from non-commissioned instructors’ school and joined the 67th Infantry Regiment in Brodnica.
1939 Campaign: First Kill
In the first skirmish by a forest, we were separated from Germans by beet and carrot fields and some freshly plowed land. We won the first skirmish thanks to the artillery that had made craters in the ground, allowing us to advance in leaps. My cadet and a couple of my riflemen were killed. Then some German was sniping at us, so I made my soldiers conceal themselves in a thick growth of weeds that separated two fields. We lied low, and these bullets cracked “snap, snap.” When a bullet whistles past it’s harmless, but when it goes “snap, snap,” it means it’s close to your ears.
So we stayed concealed and I wondered, “What is that German behind the tree doing, beckoning us to come out after he had already fired at us.” I grabbed another rifle, zeroed its sights for four hundred meters and took him down. I recognized him [upon seeing the body], he was a pastor’s son. He had deserted from the Polish Army and joined the Germans, hoping that we’d follow his example. When our military police came, one on them patted me on the back: “It’s good that you whacked such a lowlife.” It was difficult for me, because then I got anxious, my hands were shaking, and only a bit later did I regain my self-control. As they say, “Who takes a girl’s virginity or kills his first enemy…” it is very unsettling. It shook me up very much.
1939 Campaign: Wounded
There was a heavy fight in Kutno and my commander, Captain Subocz, told me to set up a post. There would be three observation posts: One, Two and Three. I was in the second one, at the edge of the forest and I asked: “What are my orders, sir?” And he says that I have to hold back the enemy to give our reserve troops the time to develop their positions. It was peaceful, there was a manor nearby.
There was silence, the lady of the manor brought us coffee, bread, we were well taken care of. Then suddenly six tanks appeared. But they were our tanks, meaning that the Germans had already captured our tanks and tankettes and started to push at us. My soldiers rushed to readiness. I contacted observation posts One and Three. Everyone was getting antsy but I said “Steady…” We readied the anti-tank gun that we kept concealed in heavy vegetation. I said “Steady, hold your fire, let them get closer” because they were all asking: “Now? now?” One hundred and fifty meters… Two of the enemy vehicles got bold, the others stayed back under cover of varied terrain. They came out and hid again, trying to provoke us but I kept my cool. I let those two get inside a hundred and fifty meters and told the gunman: “Fire.” We destroyed both tankettes. The German crews jumped out and low-crawled back through the potato field.
And then suddenly, I don’t know where they came from, a German detachment came from behind, one shouted: “Hände hoch!” I yelled “Enemy at six! Fire!” He shot at me, I fell down and I don’t know what happened next. I only know that the murmur of blood is terrible. Then a German stood over me, he was young and I’m not entirely conscious but I think he asked if I am a bandit or something. Then I came-to and an older German said: “Well, well, it’s a polnischer Soldat.” He opened his mess tin and gave me coffee. I wanted to drink it in big gulps because I had a fever and he said, “Don’t drink the whole damn thing.” He took me by the legs, dressed my wound and drove me to a barn. There were a few Germans there. That same lady of the manor came, gave me a drink and something to eat.
Then our troops recaptured this barn, driving the Germans back. Then the Germans attacked again and this barn changed hands several times. In the end, our guys drove the Germans back and followed in pursuit. An ambulance came and took me through Modlin to Warsaw, to Ujazdowski Hospital, where I stayed for a year and a half.
Until 1940, Germans fed us very well at the hospital. We saluted their officers and they saluted ours. We gave each other full military courtesy. After 1940, their troops surrounded the entire hospital and ordered that all of the healthy convalescing officers, almost six thousand of us, be marched into the vehicles outside. But our doctors, along with the German committee, protested that the patients have tuberculosis and must remain at the hospital. This German committee sought a compromise. They had my regiment commander, Colonel Komuniecki, sign a statement. He was recovering from a wounded arm and had been shot through the lungs. They took a photo of him as he signed “I will not harm Germans after I leave the hospital.” Our doctors, these medical men, protected their patients magnificently. Well, some of the officers were taken away, in a total of six cars.
Komuniecki and others I knew at the hospital later led the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. Meanwhile, I co-founded Service to Poland’s Victory [PA: Służba Zwycięstwu Polsce, which was then absorbed into the Home Army or Armia Krajowa].
Resistance Movement and Reprisals
I am sorry that I will say this, but we killed — that is, our entire underground organization killed — three thousand informants over the course of the Occupation. It was a serious thing. And the Germans then retaliated and carried out their executions. I remember, here on Marszałkowska Street they brought out those loudspeakers and boasted about their execution of hostages. Then they announced that Polish bandits had just assassinated a great son of the Reich, SS commandant and chief of police Franz Kutschera,* therefore forty people were to be shot in reprisal. They also said that several people will be hanged along a row of balconies for show. Then someone in the crowd shouted “Poland has not yet perished!” We all ran away because a mass arrest was imminent.
And these two Gestapo officers on Szucha Avenue stopped two of our boys, who were nineteen- or twenty-years-old. Those boys wore these white raincoats and carried handguns underneath. One of the Gestapos tells them: Ausweiss, bitte (“ID, please”). They gunned down those two Germans and took off on foot and the crowd, in turn, scattered away from them.
*[PA: He refers above to the February 1, 1944 assassination of SS-Brigadeführer and Generalmajor Franz Kutschera. He became SS and Police Chief of the Warsaw District in September 1943, immediately stepping up terror measures against civilians, including an increase in public reprisal-executions and street round-ups. The assassination is fascinating to read about. To be young and… blood stirs. The famous hit is described here.]
1944 Warsaw Uprising: Euphoria
INTERVIEWER: Let’s go back to the moment of the outbreak of the Uprising. Do you remember this moment?
Yes. The uprising broke out at Zero Hour, at five or six in the afternoon. This little liaison girl, her name was Luśka, notified me that I am to report to Wola District. If unable to make it there, I am to report to the closest unit. I was one of the insurgents who was authorized to command men. At Kutno [in 1939] I commanded a small unit, a larger one in the Uprising.
The uprising was to last only three days. God, what enthusiasm there was. People shouted from windows, waved flags, sang “God Bless Poland” (Boże, coś Polskę). Germans fled, stayed clear of us. The Uprising was supposed to last three days, but then the Russians stopped in Praga [PA: east bank of Vistula River] and the Germans returned. My God, and it was sixty-three days of hard fighting.
INTERVIEWER: What were some of your responsibilities as a leader?
You must first develop esprit d’corps among soldiers and trust those soldiers so that they know who’s leading them. Because if the commander doesn’t have good soldiers, he will die, everyone will die. I won my soldiers’ confidence. When I called for volunteers to go on a patrol, everyone wanted to go. I personally picked: “You, you, you.” I went to a strict school and I was a tough commander. I said: “If you do not like it, you can leave. This is voluntary service. You see how well the civilians treat us.”
Then we regrouped downtown on Działdowska Street. We constructed a good barricade there, everyone helped build it. They pulled up sidewalk panels, stacked the refrigerators, piled up anything they had and built that barricade. Even an old man came to me saying, “Boss, here are two bottles of gasoline, kill those Hitlerite devils.” And Germans could not take that barricade, because as they attacked, our people leaned out and bang! bang! bang! and the Germans fire back bang! bang! bang! but their bullets were deflecting off the structure, our barricade was unbeatable. Then the Germans decided that they have to use some kind of ruse. They rounded up about 150 civilians and rushed them at this barricade, and tanks followed.
We had earlier acquired this grenade launcher. I was familiar with it because I had previously trained on it. We had seventy pieces of ordnance for it. Real firepower. You plant it on the ground, set its level for the right distance, the two legs were extended and a projectile was dropped in. It was a good weapon, almost like a mortar launcher. [My commanding officer] gave me one projectile and said that two hundred meters is too close, I took the second missile and he says, “Good, fire!” I fire and that tank got damaged, probably slipped off its track and retreated. All of the hostages came came over to us. We saved a hundred and fifty people.
Mercy For A POW
I can tell you of how our patrol brought in a captured German sergeant. His name was Józef Janeczko. They found him asleep from exhaustion. They put a bayonet to him, brought him to me with his ammo belt, grenades with handles. And I ask him, “Master Sergeant” – that was his rank – “how many Poles have you killed?” He replied in Polish: “I swear, I fired but I did not kill anyone.” And I asked him, “How did you learn to speak Polish?” – “I have a Polish father, German mother.” I told him, “Say Our Father.” He crosses himself in front of me and recites the prayer. Then asks, “Are you going to kill me?” And I say, “No.” He says, “You will kill me. But I will tell you one thing, I have such a beautiful wife and two daughters. If you kill me, my wife’s face will haunt you, you will not sleep.” And he showed me a photo of his wife and two daughters, it grabbed my heart.
I said, “Sergeant, I will not kill you. Hand over your weapon.” He then said, “My name is Janeczko.” – “And what did you do in civilian life?” – “I was a builder, I installed windows, I worked on a construction site. My father taught me Our Father, I used to pray it.” He told me all this and then I told him: “I am now going to escort you toward a German position and let you go.” – “But they will kill me because you disarmed me, I surrendered. I have nowhere to go.” Well, so I talk to our quartermaster. “Chief, take him in, he’s half-Pole, half-German, Józef Janeczko is his name. Have him work for you.” Just before he’s taken away, Janeczko says to me: “Commander, you have my ID card and personal documents. If I survive this, I want us to meet.” I wrote letters to Germany after the war but I never found him or learned his fate.
Vlasov’s Division numbered three thousand soldiers [PA: collaborationist Soviet elements under German command]. They were “Mongols” [PA: slang for Asiatic ethnics of the USSR], they were butchers, what they did with the civilian population. They robbed, raped and every woman they raped, they killed – it was the Vlasov Army. Germans handed them the Ochota District. There were fewer of them in Wola District, but it was a slaughterhouse. Fifty thousand died in Wola, because there was this choke-point as people tried to evacuate. [PA: he is referring to the Wola Massacre.]
And then there were such soldiers who had a saying that if you don’t kill six Poles, you can’t have breakfast. They were Russians, Vlasov’s Army. I have not seen such thugs like Kaminski’s group in my entire life. They were… no conscience, nothing, only drink, rape, rob… As to Kaminski himself… Germans finally offed him. Kaminski’s men were scum without a heart, without human feelings. When I speak at schools today, I always tell young people to never arm those who have no heart and are killers and only want to kill, rape and murder. Those are people without honor.
I will give one more such a case. A man came to me and said, “Kill me,” and I asked, “Why should we kill you?” – “Because I don’t want to live.” And I ask, “What is the reason for that?” – “Because two drunks broke into my home, they took watches, jewelry, they took everything and now they are raping my wife and daughter because she did not want to give her necklace, and you’re just sitting here.” – “How many are there?” – “Two,” he replied. I said to my men, “Who will go with me?” Every single one of them wanted to go, everyone. Everyone raised his hand. I said, “No, two of you will go.” Here they are in this photo…
I took these two and told them: “Listen, when I say: ruki v vyerh, [PA: ‘Hands up!’ in Russian] and they reach for their weapons, fire at will.” Well, we walked in. They had raped that man’s wife, but they did not rape his daughter because she had such tight underwear and she twisted her legs, and he had a rifle slung on his back. Those two scumbags were filthy, their clothes… So I shouted: RUKI V VYERH! They go for their guns, and my boys sprayed them with bullets. I returned that jewelry, that’s all.
INTERVIEWER: Have you ever captured German soldiers?
Yes, but I respected German soldiers very much [PA: my grandfather said the same thing]. I felt that they… For example, I was once in Częstochowa and an entire German company was going to the Eastern Front and they were all in church, they had set their rifles aside and cried. I felt sympathy for them — that is to say — for the Wehrmacht. But these other villains [PA: the SS-men], those fosterlings of Hitler, to them we showed no mercy.
There were seventeen of them in this industrial building. The Wehrmacht soldiers shouted: “We surrender! we surrender! we don’t want to die here!” There were two Gestapo agents among them. One of our sergeants brought a [unclear], made a hole, lit a barrel of tar, and the Gestapo men disguised in soldier uniforms came out. [PA: unclear to me what he said there; maybe that the two were smoked out of a hiding area], and the Wehrmacht soldiers said, “It’s them. Look, they have these letters here, take them.” Yes, we executed the Gestapo men in accordance with regulations. The Wehrmacht soldiers said: “Five of our men are buried here because we have long wanted to give up, but the Gestapos didn’t let us.” Wehrmacht was such that they went to war because they were forced to, but some were Catholics, there was a lot of it. Well, I’ve already told you everything.
A Fellow Centenarian Insurgent
The Old Town got it bad. I know a priest at Świętego Jacka Church right here, he is now over a hundred years old. He once told me that he was a chaplain in the Old Town during the Warsaw Uprising. He said:
“When those Mongols entered the church and we no longer had guns, our soldiers tore legs from chairs and bashed their heads. And I looked up at Christ on the large crucifix above the altar and said: ‘They will knock you down too.’ So I walked up to the crucifix, put it on my back and carried it to safety, saying ‘Lord Jesus, let me live a long time and I will look after you, because you were once wounded too and now you are whole.'”
And that priest recently told me:
“You see, I’ve already made it to 102 years of age. I eat herrings, onion, a little garlic. I live well, I have conversations with you, and I was the chaplain who carried this Christ to safety. When I ride a tram these days, I say a prayer for the Insurgents. When I wake up at night, I say a prayer for the Insurgents.”