If my father was still with us, thanks to the shortwave radio under the bed, we would have been well aware of the fact that the Warsaw Uprising was being planned and where and when it will begin. Without him, however, absorbed by the effort to free him for the money, my mother gave up the practice of listening to it. Therefore, when I left with my dog for a walk on the morning of August first, I was the first person to notice a barricade, which was erected on the street next to our house.
Joyous young men and boys, many my age, wearing white and red armbands informed me that the Warsaw Uprising had begun. A few minutes later Mother and I found ourselves in the basement of the house next to ours where we officially became volunteer soldiers of the Home Army unit, Vigry. We selected our pseudo names and signed a formal looking, small yellow officially stamped, cardboard pass with the stamp of Home Army on it. “We could use your dog to help us look for people under the rubble ” Said the Lieutenant looking at the my Shepherd John. “Of course, he would be delighted to serve” I answered happily, “and be a volunteer in the Home Army as well”.
We have also become instant Celebrities when we divulged the fact that in our apartment we had pistols, ammunition and a short wave Radio. The two new young recruits went home with us to help us carry the equipment. Mother was happy to offer all of it knowing, that father would certainly very much approve of it. The Lieutenant asked mother if she perhaps was a nurse. A few doctors had volunteered but we have no nurses as yet, he said”. “I’m not a nurse, but I took the course given by the Red Cross a few months ago so perhaps I could help in the meantime. “I will do it”, she added quickly “but only if my daughter could be my assistant”. I was absolutely delighted. I felt like someone who, after five years of drowning, suddenly receives a breath of fresh air. In the Little Note My father asked us to take care of each other, and it seemed to me that now we will have a chance to do that and to take care of others as well.
Doctor Bentkowski asked mother to assist him during an operation, and as she told me later, he taught her how to number the instruments so that she would know which to give him when he needed them during the operation. The doctor asked me to become a private nurse of Kubus, a boy scout in Vigry, he was younger than I and was the first patient of our hospital. Somewhere on the barricade on the first day of the Uprising a bullet has penetrated his skull and made a little round hole in it. He was either unconscious or slept all the time and only once in a while called his mother. My duty as his private nurse was to give him water every hour and to make sure that he did not lie in a wet bed. Doctor Betkowski came once every day and changed his dressing. Once when he came, I was using a special container called the duck, because it looked a little like one. Doctor Betkowski noticed that I became red as a beet when I was doing the procedure and he told me about the Hippocratic Oath which all doctors and nurses must learn, and that they promise to forget about themselves when they are helping their patients. When the next day Doctor Betkowski came again and removed the dressing, I asked if I could look into the hole. I tried to look and to my amazement I did not see any blood. All I saw was a gray mass with some tiny red veins. I asked the Doctor if Kubus has a chance to live and received an answer that probably he does, but that he may be paralyzed. And to my question if the hole will ever grow together, I received an answer that no, but that after the war a little gold plate will be made from pure gold to cover the hole. I immediately decided to contribute the gold from my key to my patient’s scull.
For all of us in the vicinity of the Old Town, the most macabre incident which we witnessed during the whole Warsaw Uprising happened on the 13th of August. It started when a few young boys ran into the hospital to invite us to take a ride on the German tank they managed to capture and move to our side of the barricade. My mother stopped me in the last moment by grabbing my hand as I wanted to leave the safety of our hospital shelter to see the tank. Suddenly there was the loudest explosion anyone has ever heard and after it a complete silence. We thought that perhaps an explosive bomb had fallen on our house and while holding hands ran to the middle of the street toward it, with the dog running next to us. It was his howling, the loudest I have ever heard which stopped us and we looked down at him. We were standing in the middle of ashes and completely burned bodies of dead people. Those were everywhere. We managed to get back to the hospital screaming all the time. There were very few wounded people. The explosion instantly killed 400 people and all that was left of them was the sickening and overpowering smell of burning flesh. The next day when we finally got into our apartment on our second floor balcony, a hand detached from the body was found by John who was with us, and hauled like crazy when he found it.
(That smell was one of my recurring nightmares for years and I was to smell it again on 9/11/2001. My neighbors would hold their noses and I may have been one of the few people who knew what the smell which was overpowering Manhattan really was, and why there were so few people wounded by the explosion).
My own saddest and most deeply felt moment of the entire Warsaw Uprising happened on the 27th of August when we were told that we must leave the Old City and go through sewage canals to Midtown and, that we can take with us only the wounded who can walk by themselves. There was in our midst one very brave young girl who knew her way through the canals, had taken many groups before us and volunteered to take us to Midtown. She described what the canal looked like and since it was in some spots one meter deep, children had to be carried and dogs could not go in at all. Suddenly my whole world was going to collapse. My patient Kubus would have to be left in his bed to be shot, and my dog John would have to be left in the apartment. There was no time, we were given ten minutes to appear at the entrance of the canal.
No, I will not go, I screamed at mother, as she attempted to pack our knapsacks. You must, or we will be killed here, think of your father, what he would tell you to do, was her answer. Please lock the dog in the apartment. I cried and did as I was told. As I run down the steps I heard his crying and as his body hit the door time and time again, I run back and released him. The two of us passed my mother and were told at the canal hole in the sidewalk, to wait. Mother went in first and I went after her and with my face turned up my eyes and the eyes of my beloved dog locked for the last time. It took two people to keep him from jumping after me into the canal. My darling John, I whispered, Please look for me in Midtown. You always knew where to find me. You know everything and you will find me.
After one hour in the canal I fainted from the terrible stench. Mother gave up one of the knapsacks and carried me on her back for the second hour until we emerged in Midtown on Marszalkowska and Chmielna. She could not straighten out her back for one week. Kubus was killed in his bed on the 28th and John never found me. People who saw my sadness told me that Germans liked dogs like John and may adopt him. No, never, not my dog, he was a volunteer in the Home Army and once even rescued a child from under a rubble. Besides, he hated Germans. I began to think, after a while, that perhaps he managed to attack some German who tried to befriend him, was shot, and died a hero’s death.
For the rest of the Uprising my sadness never quite left me. Hopelessness was in the air and hunger became a gnawing pain. The Russian forces could be seen across the river and the Germans determined to destroy all of Warsaw were sending Katiushas which made terrible noise for twenty seconds before they hit their targets. I used to almost faint from fear while waiting to find out if the shelter I was in, was their target. It was during those 20 seconds of not knowing, that I held tight to the Gold Key in my pocket. It helped me, and because next to it in the same pocket I had a piece of very old and very hard, end of a bread, which I learned to sock on like a baby socks a pacifier, somehow I could forget about the pain of hunger and say to myself, this too shall pass.