The 1944 Warsaw Uprising (not to be confused with the smaller Warsaw Ghetto Uprising one year earlier) took place 74 years ago. Today marks the anniversary of its collapse, 63 days after Zero Hour.
Kazimierz Klimczak (pseudonym “Szron,” or Frost) is the oldest living insurgent. He is a career soldier: rank of Sergeant during the Uprising and a commissioned officer post-war, retired as Colonel. Below are excerpts from his recent interview with a journalist, a pleasant young woman.
It’s fascinating to me to hear a participant in a historic event tell his story to an audience, of which most of whom weren’t even born until half-a-century or more after those events. There is inevitably a gap between their recollections and the filtered history learned by the subsequent generations. Some of us, or our children, might live to the age of 105 and keep a sharp mind. Will society tell a partly-false narrative, in good faith or otherwise, about things we remember differently? In fifty or seventy years, how will we talk about the Trump election or what we did during the events of 2019?
Transcript of the above video, my translation:
KLIMCZAK: I’m 105 years old, I can walk, I remember everything. I read without glasses and my hearing is good. First, I was a “criminal.” Then I was a “lackey of the London government.” And now, I’m a “hero.” The most loyal soldiers I had was during the Warsaw Uprising. I tell you, Miss, [chokes up] so many were killed.
JOURNALIST: Those were brave boys. They were boys, right?
KLIMCZAK: The oldest was 23 years old. Most of them were 17 or 18 years old. One was twelve. He’d run through alleyways, bringing me field reports. Those young people, they said: “This is our courtyard, this is our house and we will defend it.” I told them, “This is my creed: God, Honor, Fatherland — with those words we go to battle.” And that’s why we were a good unit.
My orders were to take charge of a street barricade. But it was in poor shape… some junk, a wardrobe, a dresser and such. So I went to the buildings on that street and told all of the people living there, “Listen, we have to make it stronger. It’s your security and mine.” So they carried down their refrigerators, washing machines. Laid dirt on it, and built that barricade.
JOURNALIST: Was it the Działdowska Street barricade?
KLIMCZAK: Yes, Działdowska. I even slept at the barricade. They brought me soup, bran pancakes,
JOURNALIST: Those were people you became close with. When they were dying, you had to come to terms with that.
KLIMCZAK: It hurt. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep. The worst was burying the fallen.
JOURNALIST: They were buried wherever it was possible?
KLIMCZAK: They were buried in parks, wherever. Today’s youth doesn’t appreciate this. But you should pray for the insurgents because they gave their lives. If people had been opposed to the Uprising, it would have been bad. But none were against it, everyone was steadfast. They shared food, they shared everything. “Luśka” (pseudonym) brought me supplies.
She was killed. Ripped in two. Luśka was my messenger. She’d bring me pancakes, cooked vegetables. I ordered my men to bury her with her body put back together. They tore off the sidewalk panels, dug a hole and covered her with sand. Luśka … No, no, I don’t want to keep on talking because I have dreams at night about those things. Sometimes I don’t sleep because I see those images.
I saved a German once. He surrendered his pistol to me, he said in Polish “I swear I didn’t kill anyone, I was just firing into the air.”
JOURNALIST: Was that Mr. Janeczko, the half-Pole half-German whom you saved?
KLIMCZAK: Yes, Janeczko, he was a building contractor. I told my chief, “Let’s put him in the cellar, he’ll peel potatoes there.” I later tried to find him in Germany.
JOURNALIST: You weren’t able to?
KLIMCZAK: I wasn’t… People were so united during the Uprising. I never met a person back then who told me that the Uprising is unnecessary, but now that’s what’s being said. But had the Uprising never happened, you wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t be here.
JOURNALIST: Colonel, when did you finally feel that Poland is free?
KLIMCZAK: I felt it back then, when young people stood together as one.
JOURNALIST: Really? During the Uprising?
KLIMCZAK: [Smiling] Yes. It was a different Poland. It was a generation that was raised in the spirit of the 120-year Partitions. My best commanding officer was “Hal.” He called me in before he was killed and said “My friend, if you survive the war, speak at schools.” And so I go to schools and sometimes discuss things with young people. They ask me, “If there were a mobilization, don’t you think that we would also take up arms?”
JOURNALIST: Would they? Do you think they’d fight?
KLIMCZAK: Yes, they would because dire circumstances bring us together. Poland is united in times of hardship but afterwards, everyone just goes off and looks out for himself.
End of transcript
Although the Warsaw Uprising was an apocalyptic event that resulted in the murder of an estimated 150,000 – 200,000 civilians and the compete destruction of the city, combat operations weren’t one-sided in one respect: combatant casualties. Specifically, the combined numbers of killed, missing and wounded is at approximately 20,200 for Armia Krajowa insurgents vs. 24,000 casualties suffered by German armed forces.
Klimczak gave a very long interview in 2013 (in Polish). It gives a vivid picture of things day-to-day. I’ll translate a few excerpts from it in the next post.