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Liveblogging World War II: September 18, 1943


Julian Engeniusz Kulski: Dying, we live: The personal chronicle of a young freedom fighter in Warsaw (1939-1945):

‘Dawid’ and I were now tired, hungry, and exasperated. We left the streetcar in the middle of Krasiski Square. As we walked around the square, the first signs of life were a couple of sanitation workers who were putting up a barricade around a manhole, in order to descend into the sewer.

A German patrol walked past us with guns slung down toward the pavement. A few civilians began to enter the square on their way to work, and now and then a military truck lumbered by.

Suddenly, we noticed a tall German sergeant in full combat uniform, loaded with knapsacks, getting on a streetcar for Zoliborz. He must have been on his way to join his unit at the Russian Front. At his side hung a beautiful pistol, a German Parabellum, encased in a shining leather holster.

Now that we had spotted such a weapon, it drew us like a magnet and we followed the sergeant onto the streetcar, going to the rear platform while he went to the front. The streetcar began to fill up.

When we reached the Warsaw – Gdansk Station stop, many people left the car and started to go down the curving concrete staircase leading to the station. One of them was the German sergeant, so we followed.

Looking around, we noticed three other German soldiers leaving the first car. They all had rifles, but did not seem to be in a hurry and were not paying any attention to us.

We ran quickly down the stairway and sheltered in the tunnel under the viaduct, ahead of the crowd. What we intended to do would take us only a few seconds, but every one of them counted. We knew we had to disarm the sergeant before the other three Germans descended the stairway. We barely had time enough to take our guns out of our pockets before the sergeant appeared, with a crowd of people behind him.

When he was about two meters from us we faced him and said, “Arms up quickly, or we will shoot.”

He was obviously a seasoned combat soldier who would rather give up his life than his pistol. As he saw the muzzles of our guns pointing at him, he began to move slowly backward and instinctively started unfastening his holster.

Seeing this, we warned him once more, “Arms up, or you will die!” He ignored this. As we got closer to him, we could see his hand on his pistol and his finger on the safety catch.

There was no time to wait — it was either him or us. Quickly we raised our guns to eye level.

‘Dawid’ fired first.

We saw the German momentarily lift his arms in the air, and then he fell forward on his face. He died instantly.

The roar of the shot was still in our ears as the other three German soldiers ran out of the stairwell. There was no time to take the pistol from the body of the sergeant. We had to save ourselves. On one side were three soldiers and at the base of the viaduct were the German SS policeman, guarding the wall of the Ghetto.

Luckily for us, the frightened crowd began to run toward the station platform, and the Germans, thinking we were in the crowd, tried to stop everyone by firing. In the meantime, we made a run for it along the base of the viaduct embankment. When we were halfway along the grassy slope we heard rifle bullets whiz past us.

We turned and ran over the viaduct road and streetcar tracks, and down the opposite embankment. Then we crossed the open area on the street leading away from the Ghetto guards, and found refuge in the park behind Bonifraterska Street. From there, after catching our breath, we made our way to the Old City, and merged with the crowds on the Old Market Square.

Amazingly, we were safe. But to steady our nerves, we went into a small bar for a glass of vodka.

Then we returned home, by a circuitous and lengthy route to cover up our tracks.

On the way back, people told us we had better not go near the Warsaw—Gdansk Station as the Gestapo and German SS police were around there stopping streetcars, searching and arresting all passersby.