Monday, 1 August 2016

Godzina W remembered - a day of emotions

An early start to get to the house where my father lived before and during the war - ul. Filtrowa 68. As it happens, it was in this very building that General Antoni Chruściel 'Monter' gave the order to begin the Warsaw Uprising at 17:00 (Godzina W/'W-Hour') on Tuesday 1 August 1944. There was a laying of wreaths by the commemorative plaque on the wall. My father was asked by journalists whether he knew that General 'Monter' was operating out of the same building. He replied that his brothers did not know that he was in the conspiracy - a soldier of the Home Army (AK) - and he did not know that his brothers were in the conspiracy. Such was the discipline.

My father's story - first visit to Warsaw in 40 years, 93 year-old AK Warsaw Uprising veteran, who lived in the same building in which the historic order was given - meant that he gave as many TV and radio interviews in a half an hour as I do in a week. In the background is a small shop, which my grandmother ran before and during the war.

The ceremony on ul. Filtrowa marked the first of a day-long series of events commemorating the outbreak of the Uprising.

Below: my father and his niece Marynka inside the courtyard at ul. Filtrowa 68 (where Marynka and her husband Jarek still live). So many memories from his childhood.

Below: the medals belonging to my father's late cousin Basia, who died last September. She fought with AK and was buried with full military honours - a band, three rifle volleys over her grave. AK veterans are treated with the utmost respect by the Polish military and Warsaw's city authorities.

We caught the bus to the next location (my father travels free) - Plac Piłsudskiego - for the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the main wreath-laying ceremony (below). On the way, several young men came up to my father to shake his hand and thank him, on the bus, walking to the venue, at the venue. My father pointed out that they were all educated in Free Poland (ie post-1989) and the Warsaw Uprising was no longer a taboo subject in school history lessons.

Below: my father meets Her Majesty's Ambassador, Jonathan Knott, who had just laid a wreath on behalf of the British Embassy.

Below: by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The two of us were last here together exactly 50 years ago - August 1966. I remember the marching band playing De Sousa's Liberty Bell.

After a visit to my office to introduce my father to my colleagues, we met up with Kazimierz Możdzonek, my father's comrade from Batalion Odwet, and went to Powązki military cemetery to visit the Odwet memorial. From the unit, over 600 strong, 237 perished during the Uprising and its aftermath.

Finally, shortly after Godzina W, a wonderful thing happened.

For many years, neither I nor Marynka could find the grave of our Uncle Józef, the youngest of the three Dembiński brothers. He fought with Batalion Miotła, and died on 1 September 1944 of the wounds he sustained in fighting around ul. Czerniakówska. His grave had been marked by a cross of silver birch - we visited it 50 years ago, and have a black-and-white photograph of it. But since then, the grave markers have been replaced with concrete crosses. I've been here twice looking for a birch cross, and failed. Moni (seen here behind my father laying flowers) took matters into her own hands, went to the cemetery director's office - and despite this being the busiest day of the year there, they happily printed out full information about the grave, its whereabouts and the deceased. Moni found it without any difficulty.

For my father, a great day. He was treated with such respect by the people of Warsaw, and visitors - people of all ages, Poles who felt they owed him a debt of gratitude for his courage and fortitude. He was heard by many people who wanted to hear his story.

Here are the bare facts of his participation in the Uprising.

Tens of thousands of people attended today's events across Warsaw. The message of the Warsaw Uprising to Poland's foes is simple: Poles have fought and died for their freedom and independence - try to take it from them - and they will fight you. With determination. No other capital city anywhere in the world has risen up and held an occupying force at bay for anywhere near as long as 63 days. The legend of the Powstańcy will live on in the hearts of successive generations of young Poles. And will make putative invaders think twice.

This time three years:
Godzina W commemorated in a more civilised way

Godzina W four years ago (2012)

Godzina W five years ago (2011)

Godzina W seven years ago (2009)


Anonymous said...

Thank you again for sharing it. So moving.

Paddy said...

Brought tears to my eyes as I read it, must have been an extraordinary day.