We were fighting a losing battle in Old Town. By late August,
it became obvious that, despite the many successes we had
enjoyed, the Resistance fighters had little chance of victory. The SS
arrived and kept us completely blocked in. Warsaw was consumed
in flames. Cut off from the rest of the city and the remainder of the
Resistance forces, we had to find a way to escape to City Center.
Our superiors told us that escape was the only way to survive, and
that the only way to escape slaughter was to travel through Warsaw’s
Resistance forces had been operating in the sewers for some time.
The endless, twisting tunnels ran back and forth beneath the city
and provided excellent cover for Resistance agents.
"Could you ever stand up down there?" I ask.
"The passages were only a few feet wide, and some were tall
enough to walk upright. But in places it was just three feet high or so.
Many people had to be physically whipped at the top of the manhole
to make them abandon their backpacks so they wouldn’t get stuck
in a tunnel. There was a great system set up down there because
all traffic had to be ‘one way.’ We were so careful; it wasn’t until late
August that the Nazis finally caught on that we were using the sewers
so effectively to communicate and travel through the city. The Germans
were reluctant to enter the sewers, and instead, in an attempt
to end the traffic of Resistance fighters and refugees, had resorted to
dropping grenades down manhole openings, raising the water level
to flood us out, and pouring in poisonous chemicals. They also had
posted guards at strategic exits. Fortunately for us, their efforts had
been mostly in vain because we had a pretty good communication
system down there."
"What was it like realizing you were losing the battle, that you had
to resort to going into the sewers?" I ask.
"It was a difficult thing to take in, for sure, but in the weeks leading
up to our escape it had become a sort of unspoken truth. It was
a sad fact that everyone in the unit had come to know, but no one
wanted to admit. My buddies were furious when the order to retreat
came through. Many among us saw the decision as an insult to the
thousands of men and women who had already been killed in defense
of Old Town. We had all suffered losses, and to just give up
and concede the loss of a district that many of us had grown up in
was devastating. And to be forced to sneak out through the sewers
like rats added insult to injury. But we knew we had no choice. We
wanted to survive.
"We stuck it out as long as we could, but the situation became
hopeless. Warsaw had become a city of graves. We had run out of
space to bury the dead.
A Note from the Editor:
Thanks to Rita for this excerpt from her new book “Quiet Hero” about here dad and his involvement with the Polish Resistance. To find out more about this book or make a purchase please click here