Anonymous account by Witold Pilecki. Who remembers he fought in Warsaw Uprising?

At 4 am the insurgents of Cavalry Captain Pilecki’s evacuated to the other side of the [Jerusalem] Avenue. The last to leave the ruined redoubt was its commander. He fitted the account of a 13-day period of actions – written in August 1945 in London – into 5 sheets.

The abandoned building of the former Tourist House, at 7/9 Starynkiewicza Square, Warsaw, occupied since the 1990s by the editorial office of the daily “Rzeczpospolita” : from the Jerusalem Avenue side a dirty bronze plaque is attached to the wall:

This house was a redoubt of Free Poland during the Warsaw Uprising, this post was commanded by Cavalry Captain Witold Pilecki, codename “Witold”, a heroic soldier of the Home Army and the 2nd Polish Corps who initiated the resistance movement in KL Auschwitz, where he landed voluntarily to bear witness to the truth.

In 1948, he was judicially murdered by the communist authorities.

In homage to one of the six most fearless people in occupied Europe – the editorial staff of “Rzeczpospolita” and its publisher, Presspublica.

August 2023

Let us go back 10 years.

The former headquarters of the daily “Rzeczpospolita” in Starynkiewicza Sq. in Warsaw. October 2006. Photo: Jerzy Dudek / Forum
Five yellowed sheets

In the autumn of 1993, I received a three-month Home Army scholarship from London, named after Franciszek Miszczak (Captain “Reda”, company commander in the insurgent “Milosz” battalion, and émigré after the war) to search London archives and cover the costs of my stay. I started working in December by looking through the collections at the Underground Poland Study Centre. For me, these were revealing, unknown documents, orders, memories, manuscripts and typescripts. Due to the lack of appropriate shelves, some were placed in cardboard boxes and shoe boxes. Among them, an unsigned report titled: “History of the 1st Battalion of the “Chrobry II” Grouping”. Written in the third person by the author who undoubtedly had to take an active part in the fighting in August and September 1944.

It started with the following:

August 1. During the fighting in Wola, the unit storming the Czajkowski factory in Młynarska St. was joined by two unknown officers, a captain and a second lieutenant. In the evening, via the St Stanislas Hospital, they reach the corner of Żelazna and Chłodna, where another group of insurgents is trying to capture the bunkers and fortifications of the German gendarmerie. In the morning, they both report to the commander of this section, Major “Liga” [Leon Nowakowski] from the NSZ [National Armed Forces], in his headquarters at 40 Twarda St.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE August 2. Major “Lig” organises the defence of the section from randomly located units and individual volunteers. Both officers introduce themselves to the major as escapees from the Auschwitz concentration camp. Captain “Witold” and Lieutenant “Janek” receive an order to form a unit and “clear” the area of the small ghetto, the section of Pańska Street between Twarda and Żelazna, and eliminate saboteurs – “pigeonists” in Ceglana St. They form a unit of 17 volunteers and after completing the task, they leave it under the command of platoon leader “Sawa” [Kazimierz Sawicki] and return to their headquarters at 40 Twarda St.

At that moment, I already knew that I had discovered a document that was invaluable for the history of the Uprising, regarding the participation of Witold Pilecki and Jan Redzej in it. Captain Pilecki was ordered by Major “Lig” Nowakowski to seize the intersection of Jerusalem Avenue (named after General Władysław Sikorski by the people of Warsaw since his death) and Starynkiewicza Square. According to the report, they were supposed to “jam up” the Avenue along which uninterrupted transports ran from Prague through the Poniatowski Bridge, Śródmieście, Ochota to Okęcie. On the morning of August 3, at 7 am., Cpt “Witold” with 2nd Lt. “Janek”, 2nd Lt. “Goliath” (N.N.) and five insurgents headed towards the intersection.

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The subsequent detailed description does not agree with later accounts of other participants of the fighting in this area. They do not mention the officers “Witold” and “Janek”, claiming the seizure of the Railway Station Post Office in Żelazna Street by themselves. But the anonymous author’s description is more accurate than their account. “Witold” and “Janek” with several insurgents attack the Post Office. From the report:

The Germans leave the building, running towards Starynkiewicza Square. They leave several cars in the yard with their tyres and engines shot out. [the previous day they were shot at and damaged by the unit of cadet Marek Moliere “Molmar” from the 4th Home Army Grouping “Gurt”].

The Railway Post Office sits above a railway trench. Inside the trench, insurgents from another unit (“Gurt” Grouping) attack a train. The Germans flee along the tracks towards Zawiszy Square. The locomotive breaks away from the wagons, which are under fire, and, gaining speed, passes under the Railway Station. Captain “Witold’s” unit throws equipment out of the windows, barricades the tracks and fires at three tanks on the viaduct. The tanks retreat into the Avenue.

Captain “Witold” and Lieutenant “Janek” jump across the Avenue under fire and take over the Tourist House. They are immediately approached by several insurgents who have been hiding for two days in neighbouring houses and cut off from their parent units at “W” hour [5 pm]. The captain’s unit already consists of eight people. They jump towards Lindley [street]. Two insurgents are killed by machine guns located in Starynkiewicza Square and Filtry, and the third is wounded.

The five of them take over several buildings in the quarter of Nowogrodzka, Lindley, Sikorskiego Avenue with offices – the Tax Chamber and the Military Geographical Institute [WIG]. They hang a Polish banner on the roof of the latter. It causes furious fire from the Germans, who are confused. They don’t know what forces have taken over the buildings and are cutting off their only east-west communication route.

At this time, a several-man unit led by cadet “Molmar” jumps through Sikorskiego Avenue. It attacks and destroys several bunkers from the Tourist House, killing 14 Germans and capturing a lot of weapons. In the afternoon, Cadet “Molmar” is ordered to return to his own area [Miedziana-Towarowa Streets].

Captain “Witold” and Lieutenant “Janek” organise the defence, dividing the captured area into two parts. The Captain creates fire positions in the Tax Chamber with fire on Filtry, Starynkiewicza Sq, Koszykowa and Nowogrodzka Streets. Lieutenant “Janek” strengthens the WIG and is preparing to capture the District Office [85 Sikorskiego Avenue, a building that still exists today], where several armed German officials and the starosta have barricaded themselves.

A dozen or so insurgents led by cadet “Roman” make their way from the Railway Station Post Office to the captured buildings. They are joined by two second lieutenants, “Lek” and Ebłowski, as well as Cadet “Blaszka” with privates “Lubanowski”, “Bomba”, “Bum”, “Rogala” and “Bender”.

On the same day, Lieutenant Drabiński, Cadet “Tadeusz” and Platoon Leader “Sawa”, who after clearing Ceglana St of saboteurs and German sharpshooters, reported to the captain. The rest were detained in the quarters at 40 Twarda St. The adjutant of the commander of the newly formed group forbade reinforcement of Captain “Witold’s” outpost, considering it lost.

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Lieutenant “Janek” goes to 40 Twarda St. in person to present the situation in the captured quarter. He returns alone, but with a different pseudonym, as Lieutenant “Ostrowski”. In the evening, he attacks the District Office with ten men armed with two rifles and three pistols. To no avail.


On my return from London, I invited several people to confirm the account, pseudonyms and names of people fighting to defend the WIG and District Office redoubts, presented in the anonymous author’s account. The meeting was attended by: daughter of the late Captain Pilecki Zofia Optułowicz, who, after reading the anonymous report, was to determine whether the writing style was similar to her father’s, and Jan Wróbel, in the Uprising 2nd Lt. “Jerzy” and nurse Krystyna Namojło-Dąbrowska “Grażyna”. Somewhat later, Jan Wróbel provided me with a written report from Janina Grabska-Brzezińska “Wisła”, “Janka”, a nurse-liaison officer and commander of sanitary patrols of the platoon defending both redoubts.

On August 1, “Janka” had seven sanitary bags ready in her flat at 14 Lindley St., a building just off Starynkiewicza Sq., and two pairs of stretchers in the basement. She did not manage to reach the meeting point of her “Technopol” squad in the tenement house at 22 Leszno St., because before 5 pm shots were heard in the street. Three injured men and one woman were carried into the stairwell. “Janka” asked her neighbour, Dr Zdzisław Skotnicki, for help. He ordered the injured to be taken to the nearby Infant Jesus Hospital, of which he was the director.

Young people who could not get to their places of concentration began to gather in nearby houses. “Janka” Grabska-Brzezińska wrote: “Lieutenant Józef Ebłowski contacted me and gave us weapons purchased from the Germans in recent days. He kept it in the couch in the apartment. He also expertly started organizing the platoon, so we entrusted him with command”. A few hours later, the platoon thus organised took over the Military Geographical Institute in Jerusalem Avenue. The platoon adopted the name “W.I.G”.

From “Janka’s” report: At the WIG, we acquired huge rooms for the installation and quarters. There were large quantities of petrol from which they immediately began to make incendiary bottles under the direction of 2nd Lieutenant. “Lek” [Bolesław Niewiarowski]. On August 2, a real kitchen was established, run by Mrs Natalia Braunowa “Renata”. Together with the medic “Ryszard” [Ryszard Dąbrowski] and the master of pharmacy Gromski, we established a well-equipped sanitary point. From that day on, the acquisition of a free-standing building at 85 Jerusalem Avenue, housing the Warsaw-Wieś District Office and some of the city’s District Office departments, began. The actions were led for two days by 2nd Lt. “Lek”, commander of the 1st squad, who was later wounded twice. His squad was taken over by 2nd Lt. “Jerzy”.

The officer’s daughter Zofia Pilecka-Optułowicz at the opening of the exhibition “Rotmistrz Witold Pilecki 1901-1948”, organised in 2015 by the Warsaw branch of the Institute of National Remembrance. Photo: PAP / Jakub Kamiński
“Jerzy” Jan Wróbel confirmed the words of the author of the report. Mrs. Zofia Optułowicz, after carefully reading the content of the anonymous report from London, said with complete conviction that it was written by her father.

Ten days of fighting

From Witold Pilecki’s account, description of August 3 continued as follows:

Due to the lack of mines, Captain “Witold” suggests placing large cans of Sidol, found in W.I.G in front of the barricade on Sikorski Av., which Lieutenant “Ostrowski” accepts with humour and which they perform together. The captain personally placed them in front of the barricade. From a distance they looked like anti-tank mines...

In the District Office, when the staircase is captured, 2nd Lt. Ebłowski and Private “Romek” are killed by grenades, three others being wounded. After locking the Germans in the upper floors of the District Office, Lt. “Ostrowski” entrusted further action to 2nd Lt. “Lek”, leaving himself and strengthening his position inside the W.I.G. At 3 pm three German tanks, moving along the Avenue from Marszałkowska St, in the face of the barricade, stopped in front of the W.I.G. and visible “mines” and, firing, but unable to make the Sidol mines explode, they retreated and, still firing cannons and machine guns at the W.I.G. building, turned into Chałubińskiego and Nowogrodzka Streets., where at the corner of Nowogrodzka and Lindleya they were met with shots from the unit of Captain “Witold” (one tank was set on fire with a bottle filled with petrol, platoon leader “Sawa” kills a Panzergrenadier). The tanks drove away towards Narutowicz Sq. (…)

In the afternoon, the tanks advance from Marszalkowska St. through Jerozolimskie Avenues, concentrating near the Central Railway Station in a strong column of 79 tanks and armoured cars; they decide to pass by the W.I.G. After approaching Chałubiński Avenue, the column covers the W.I.G. building and the barricade with a hail of shells with the intention, among other things, of causing the “mines” to explode.

In the W.I.G., 18 men under the command of Lieutenant “Ostrowski” (two “Polish Stens”, three machine guns, five pistols plus bottles of gasoline) decide to take an offensive action... In the attic, Lieutenant “Ostrowski” together with the newly arrived Captain “Witold”, cadet “Blaszka” and Private Burne, target working infantrymen and Panzergrenadiers through the windows, killing several of them. The infantry decides not to enter the building. After removing the “mines”, the armoured column finally broke through the “barricade” made from Sidol, three burning tanks, and the bodies of soldiers, moving away towards Narutowicza Sq., in turn coming under fire from the Tourist House.

In the following days, the defence of the quarter defended by the “W.I.G” platoon continued. On August 5, Witold Pilecki noted: “At 1.15 pm Lt. “Ostrowski”, still personally leading the action against the starosta, is mortally wounded by a shot from Chałubiński St and dies an hour later with the words . This is how a brave officer – Janek Redke from Oświęcim – died.

Witold Pilecki’s friend’s real name was Jan Redzej. Together they escaped from the Auschwitz (Oświęcim) concentration camp on the night of April 26-27, 1943.

A plaque commemorating Witold Pilecki at 7/9 Starynkiewicza Sq., Warsaw, where the Redoubt of the Free Poland, which he commanded, was located during the Uprising. Photo: Mateusz Opasiński – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia
On August 13, at 2 am, Capt. “Proboszcz” Jan Jaroszek, chief of staff of the “Chrobry II” Grouping, gives an order to the WIG-District Office-Tax Chamber units to withdraw to the other side of the Avenue, to the Railway House at Żelazna St. From Witold Pilecki’s report: “The last point of the task entrusted to Captain “Witold” and the late Lieutenant Janek was executed. WIG-Tax Chamber units dominated Starynkiewicza Sq., preventing the movement of enemy motor weapons for 10 days”.

At 4 am the insurgents of Cavalry Captain Pilecki’s evacuated to the other side of the [Jerusalem] Avenue. The last to leave the ruined redoubt was its commander. He fitted the account of a 13-day period of actions – written in August 1945 in London – into 5 sheets. Without them, the history of the fights for WIG, District Office, Tax Chamber and Tourist House would remain poor and incomplete.

The idea of two Macieks

One day in 2002, Maciej Łukasiewicz, editor-in-chief of the daily “Rzeczpospolita” and creator-founder of its Saturday-Sunday supplement “Plus-Minus”, invited me for an interview. I had been a partner in the supplement since the days of Dariusz Fikus, the first editor-in-chief of “Rzeczpospolita” after its 1989 renewal. After returning from London, I printed fragments of the history of the Warsaw Uprising, described by Witold Pilecki. I had previously published it in the London-based “Tygodnik Polski” in the issue of January 15, 1994.

In the editor-in-chief's office, I found Maciej Rosalak, a columnist at “Rzeczpospolita”, and a friend of Maciej Łukasiewicz from their joint work at “Kurier Polski” in the 1970s until the outbreak of martial law. My fellow editors suggested immortalising my discovery in the London archive with a commemorative plaque. I accepted this idea with enthusiasm. There was a ceremonial unveiling of the plaque, followed by a banquet with the participation of the Captain’s daughter and many invited guests.

Both Macieks have gone, I’ve been to their funerals. What remains is the neglected, dirty plaque and a burning candle beneath. And there remains TVP Weekly with its editor-in-chief, Dominik Zdort, who ran “Plus-Minus” after the death of Maciek Łuaksiewicz. I hope that this article will manage to reach Readers in Poland and in several dozen countries around the world. If the Weekly disappears, history will certainly neither forget nor forgive its liquidators.

– Maciej Kledzik

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by Dominik Szczęsny-Kostanecki
Main photo: Prayer for the Warsaw Insurgents in front of the monument commemorating the battles on Krasiński Square, 13 May 2012. It was attended by participants of the Captain’s March, which passed through the streets of Warsaw on the 111th anniversary of the birth of Witold Pilecki. Photo: PAP / Rafał Guz
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