NOTE: This overview of my recent discoveries at the Polish Underground Movement Study Trust, Studium Polskiej Podziemniej (SPP) got so long I am publishing it in three separate posts. Here is part II. During the German occupation of Poland during World War II, the Polish Underground Army worked in secret to resist, sabotage, and fight against the Nazis. Another name for the Polish forces is “AK,” short for “Armia Krajowa,” or “Home Army.” I talk about the soldiers as “the partisans;” in Polish sources they are also called “konspiracja,” “the conspiracy.”
The file at the archive of the Polish Underground Movement Study Trust, Studium Polski Podziemnej (SPP), contained the same verification questionnaire I had from my mother’s papers and so much more. On the envelope itself is the following identifying information:
Information on the envelope containing Mama’s papers at the SPP
I ‘ve learned how to decipher all of this. Here’s what it means:
Cadet Bereda-Fijałkowska Maria
2.785/46 [record #] “Renata” [her pseudonym]
26. VI 1922 Wilno [birth date and place of birth]
Central Command division V/Women “Zadra” courier
Uprising: after the fall of the Wola district of Warsaw
“Koło” Group-liaison officer [the names of her units]
The documents inside the envelope confirm Mama’s service and rank in the AK [Home Army], as well as her receipt of the Cross of Bravery. She submitted her questionnaire on March 9, 1946, her commanding officer confirmed her claims on April 15th of the same year, and the official report was completed the next day on April 16. The final report says the head of the Polish Army himself, General Bór-Komorowski, confirmed her receipt of the Cross of Bravery. Here is what looks like his signature on the document:
General Bór Komorowski’s signature verifying Mama’s service in the Polish Home Army. It looks like he wrote “Stwierdzam (I confirm) 16/IV 46” above his signature. Note the “gn” for “generał.”
Mama started military training in middle school, gimnasium, at the Klementyna Hoffman School in the mid-1930s. She continued training in high school, liceum, and entered the Underground in June 1941, right after finishing high school. She took courses on how to be a courier, the organization of the Underground and of the German military, as well as marksmanship, topography, and first aid. She was in “Zadra” Group, part of the women’s courier corps in the 5th Division of the Central Command. She delivered encoded communications, money, and oral messages on the routes between Warsaw and Krakow, Radom and Skarżysko-Kamienna. In these latter two places, she acted as a go-between for the partisans in the surrounding forests and Central Command in Warsaw. From 1942-4, she also worked as an instructor training other women to serve in the Underground.
When the Warsaw Uprising began on August 1, 1944, she was with her unit “Zadra” in Wola, a district to the northwest of downtown. A handwritten note on her typed questionnaire says “wounded on route from Wola to the Old City.” The handwriting is different from Mama’s distinctive, almost calligraphic style, so somebody else must have added it after Mama submitted her answers.
The archivist Krystyna Zatylna said that the heaviest fighting in the first days of the Uprising was in Wola. Mama was lucky to have survived. By August 8, 40,000 civilians died in Wola.
The Home Army regrouped in the Old City. Mama got separated from her unit and joined “Koło” group. She is referred to here as a “liaison,” “lączniczka,” rather than “courier,” “kurierka.” Both terms refer to people entrusted with delivering critical information. Initially, however, she worked as a medic on Długa Street. When the Germans pushed the partisans out of the Old City, they escaped to the City Center, Śródmieście, via the sewers.
Document dated September 9, 1944 that allowed “Renata” to travel through the City Center during the Warsaw Uprising.
The file contains two papers dated from the Uprising. No doubt Mama brought them with her to London to help corroborate her report. These tattered notes—physical proof of her service—must have been very precious to her. The first, on a third of a piece of paper that has deep creases from having been folded many times, is dated September 9, 1944. It states:
I assert that cadet Renata is a liaison of “Koło” Group. The conditions of her service require movement within the region between Savior Square and Napoleon Square.
The note is signed by the Chief of Staff of “Koło” Group, Major Krynicki. The document contains a round stamp with a crowned eagle in the middle surrounded by the words “Motorized Transport Brigade, “Brygada Dyspozycyjna Zmotoryzowana.” Mama must have shown this note at barricades on the streets so the AK soldiers would let her pass. Savior Square and Napoleon Square are in the City Center, which means she retreated through the sewers before September 9. I can, however, imagine her dodging Nazi bullets as she ran across the barricaded Jerusalem Street carrying messages from Napoleon Square to Savior Square. These names would sound good in a poem. Too bad I’m not a poet.
The second paper dates from October 3, 1944, the last day of the Uprising. Signed by Colonel Bolesław Kołodziejski, the commander of “Koło” Group, it is titled, “Provisional certificate (to be exchanged after the war for official recognition).” The text reads:
I confirm that “Renata Lewandowska” was decorated for her activity during the Uprising from August 1 to October 3 1944 with the Cross of Bravery for the first time.
Based on: the personal confirmation of the head of the Warsaw Corps of the A.K. Brigadier General Montera and his assistant Colonel Wachowski, as told to the commander of “Koło” Group during the last days of the Uprising.
“Montera” was the code name for General Antoni Chruściel, who led the Home Army (AK) in Warsaw during the Uprising. Kołodziejski was also a code name. Elsewhere in the documents, Mama writes that his real name was Zygmunt Trzaska-Reliszko.
Mama writes that she was promoted twice; in September 1944 she became a cadet, plutonowy podchorązy and in October she was promoted again to ensign, podporucznik. It looks as though the Verification Commission could only confirm the first promotion. A handwritten note on Mama’s questionnaire says they weren’t able to contact her commanding officer from “Koło” Group to verify the second promotion.
Also in the file are two statements written by the commander of the women’s branch of the 5th division of Central Command (V.K. KG) Major Janina Karaś, dated April 15, 1946. In them Karaś, also known as Karasiówna, confirmed that Mama earned the rank of cadet in “Koło” Group, and was also granted the Cross of Bravery for her service. Clearly, the Verification Commission contacted Karaś to corroborate Mama’s claims on her questionnaire. One of Karaś’s statements reads:
As the chief of the V.K. [5th Women’s] Central Command I certify that in the course of her service as a courier, “Renata” Maria Bereda Fijałkowska distinguished herself on the route Warsaw-Krakow and Warsaw-Skarzysko-Radom with bravery and decision to take risks. Traveling with German false papers she carried money, mail, and oral orders /for example related to the order for [Operation] Tempest. She earned the Cross of Bravery for her service.
Operation Tempest, “Burza,” was the code name for the beginning of the Warsaw Uprising. In other words, some of the messages Mama carried between Central Command and the partisans in the forest involved critical details about the Polish Underground’s battle to free the capital city from German occupation. I’m reminded of something the archivist at the Warsaw Uprising Museum kept repeating when I showed him Mama’s verification questionnaire two years ago: “She must have been very high in the conspiracy.” He couldn’t find the exact connection, but I believe I have it right here.
Krystyna Zatylna helped me put the pieces together. The forests around Radom are where the so-called “cichociemni,” “the quiet unseen” soldiers parachuted in from the West, bringing messages and money from the Polish Government in Exile for the leaders of the Underground in Poland. I believe Mama was given these items from the cichociemni and carried them back to Central Command in Warsaw. It fits with stories she sometimes told, and it fits with the seven-page report she filed with her verification papers. And that will be the subject of the third part of this blog post.