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WARSAW UPRISING OF 1944

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PART 5 - "THEY ARE BURNING WARSAW"

Friday, August 5, 1944, dawned a clear, hot summer’s day. But for tens of thou-sands of Warsaw’s inhabitants, it be-came "Black Friday"

In the early hours of the morning, Reinefarth’s and Dirlewanger’s units had assembled for their first major counterattack. All concentrated on the Wola district: Dirlewanger’s 1st Battalion took up position south of the main street through Wola, Wolska Street [Litzmannstaedter Street in German plans], Reinefarth’s police companies moved up to the north. A few tanks of the "Hermann Goring Brigade" took up positions to provide heavy supporting fire. The Tank-Destroyer Unit manned their numerous large caliber assault-guns, which could snap the Poles’ makeshift barricades like matchsticks. Early in the morning General Reinefarth moved his operations room, a staff-bus, to a crossroad in Wola. He in-tended to make a narrow breach in the Polish defenses through which to advance through the city center, past the Saxon Gardens and as far as one of the Vistula Bridges.

Wola is about three miles from the Vistula; under normal circumstances anyone could easily walk it in an hour. Reinefarth’s soldiers took three days, and by the time they had finished whole streets had been reduced to ashes.

His advance was also intended to relieve General Stahel, the city’s Army Commandant, who had been besieged in his Headquarters since August 1.

"We’ll carve you out as soon as possible, Herr General," Reinefarth had promised on the telephone on August 4. "Don’t be too hasty," Stahel replied. "Wait until you really have enough units together. Better to wait one more day. You know, of course that the principle of concentrated effort, no messing about, applies in this case. too." Reinefarth inquired, "How long can you hold out," and felt somewhat reassured when Stahel, reputedly an exceptionally skilful and intelligent Austrian. maintained "We can hold out here for another few days."

Therefore, Reinefarth also ordered five or six hundred men besieged at numerous individual points not to just defend their positions but, in conjunction with other splinter groups, to attack Polish units from the rear and thereby relieve the front for the "main forces." Admittedly "main forces" did not really mean much in this context. Reinefarth could only mass about 2,500 men in the central sector. Dirlewanger’s 2nd Battalion was still being brought up and could not be mobilized. even by telephone, until August 6.

About 1,700 AK men were entrenched opposite Reinefarth’s sections. They belonged to the crack "Kedyw-Radoslaw" unit, consisting almost entirely of experienced and well-equipped fighters. All the Poles were wearing German uniforms--the camouflaged SS combat outfits from the captured Waffen-SS depot. Both sides dressed identically except for the armbands or berets worn by the Poles. The Poles stood waiting, tense and expectant, behind the Wolska Street barricades and in the cemeteries on the outskirts of the Ghetto ruins. They spent many anxious hours before the Germans attacked, partly because they had no idea how strong their enemy was.

Reinefarth fixed the beginning of the attack for 8:00 a.m. The military objective at this stage could only be to push forward as far as the Vistula, possibly advancing along no more than a single thoroughfare. Writing after the war, Reinefarth described his goal: "At that time it was vital to divide the city into two parts. This meant recapturing one or two streets running through the city as far as the Vistula bridges. On one hand, this would have made the main command and conduct of the uprising much more difficult for the Poles and on the other it would have restored the vital communication artery for sending reinforcements to the Eastern Front, which the uprising had severed."

On the right wing, in Ochota (the southern area of Wola) Reinefarth had brought up [the Russian] Kaminski’s 1,700 men under the Russian Major Frolov. A mere 300-400 Polish soldiers faced them.

Though outnumbered three or four to one, the Poles kept control of almost all their positions until nightfall, Major Frolov’s Russians advancing only 300 yards. Their attack did not begin at the scheduled time of 8:00 a.m.--they were not "ready" until 9:30 a.m. The German Supreme Command observed such nonmilitary behavior with complete amazement. The writer of the War Diary noted with a touch of bitterness and sarcasm "Kaminski’s troops engaged, as planned. Two hours later than anticipated."

Rounding up possible AK recruitsIt would have been better had Kaminski’s unit not entered the struggle at all. Hand in hand with Dirlewanger’s hardened criminals and a few less important and unidentified units, these soldiers used Himmler’s hysterical paper-command to turn Wola into a bloodbath. On August 5, Dirlewanger’s SS convicts advanced about 1,000 yards. In every single street in Wola recaptured by the Germans, even far behind the actual battle line, the inhabitants were ordered to leave their homes, induced by promises of "evacuation." As soon as large groups of civilians assembled on the streets, they were not, however, taken to evacuation points, but were herded together in cemeteries, gardens, backyards, factory forecourts or squares. Soldiers then fired machinegun bursts into the human mass until there was no further sign of movement.

On August 5 no one was spared. Everyone perished, innocents, old men, women and children, too, as well as members of the AK.

The soldiers piled the corpses in large heaps, poured petrol over them and set them on fire. Then the scene of such atrocities was covered with rubble and debris from the ruined houses. Special German troops set all the nearby buildings on fire, and blew up factories and ruins. In the evening, the AK signaled London: "The Germans are burning Warsaw methodically. Many and large fires. Attempts of the civil population to extinguish hem are frustrated by the Germans."

Hospitals in the Wola and Ochota areas suffered worst of all that day. The "good fellows," as Himmler called them, with Dirlewanger at their head, stormed into the wards, shot the sick and wounded where they lay. Nurses, nuns, helpers and doctors suffered the same fate. Even these atrocities were mild compared with those perpetrated in the Curie-Sklodowska Radium Institute. Kaminski’s soldiers occupied the hospital around 11:00 a.m.

The Institute contained only women suffering from cancer. Lying in their beds, they and their nurses were raped and then shot by the drunken mercenaries. The Russians in German uniforms ran amok in a frenzy of looting. They murdered, pillaged and "collected" rings and jewels, watches and gold, they drove the Polish women down into the cellars …

Ninety percent of the victims claimed by any military operation in a large city are civilians. Every military commander must consider their fate in his orders. But, the events in some areas of Warsaw were nothing short of systematic, cold blooded murder without any possible military justification, directed against civilians who had nothing to do with the uprising, who might evenn have been indifferent to it. This involved not merely "slips" by Minor units--on the contrary, Himmler clearly and unmistakably condoned the horrors of August 5 and the following days: "Every inhabitant of Warsaw is to be shot. Prisoners will not be taken; the town is to be razed to the ground."

Finally, it must be emphasized that the responsibility for these atrocities did not rest with the Russians and Dirlewanger’s convicts alone. Regular SS and Police units made up some of the execution squads that played their part in the dance of death on this Black Friday.

Finally: the German military command learned about the executions and atrocities very early on. Some-what anxiously General Vormann, the Supreme Commander of Ninth Army spoke on the "phone with Gruppenfuehrer Reinefarth, temporary commander of the first day, at mid-night: "What’s your situation?"

"We are advancing only slowly. What should I do with the civilians? We have less ammunition than prisoners," Reinefarth answered. Vormann knew what Himmler had ordered, but he did not relish his unavoidable duty. He did not want to be involved in such crimes. He countered: "I’ll make a suggestion, which you should make public. Use some of your propaganda companies for that purpose: Pull all the civilians out of Warsaw. It has to happen sometime, doesn’t it, because Warsaw is to be flattened, after all. Bach-Zelewski is responsible for that, isn’t he?"

Reinefarth confirmed this and Vormann went on quickly, "Apart from all this the Fuehrer told me he could use another million workers."

Reinefarth reported his first-day losses. On the German side there were only 6 dead, 24 badly wounded and 12 slightly wounded. But, when Vormann inquired about losses on the Polish side, Reinefarth said guilelessly "10,000 including those shot."

Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, who was really in command, finally arrived in Warsaw that evening. His first action was to order that the mass execution of the civilian populace should cease forthwith, and that looting should stop immediately.

Evacuation of Warsaw inhabitantsIt now became clear that mobs like those of Dirlewanger and Kaminski could not be halted as easily as they could be started on their destructive careers. News of dreadful and incredible atrocities even filtered through to the Fuehrer’s Headquarters itself. General Guderian later wrote in his memoirs, "What I heard then was so hair-raising that I felt obliged to inform Hitler in detail about it that very evening, and to demand that the two brigades be withdrawn from the Eastern Front."

Even Gruppenfuehrer Fegelein, Himmler’s Chief Deputy and Hitler’s "brother-in-law" confirmed, "Yes, indeed, Fuehrer, they really are villains."

From all this, it became obvious that real military activity had been kept to a minimum on August 5. Some units even invented tales of wild struggles and surprise attacks to divert attention from their own meager advances. For example, when Kaminski’s Brigade signaled Reinefarth to inform him of their military failure, they tried to excuse it by making exaggerated demands for help which carried the implication that fierce resistance was the cause. "5th August, 1944, 1530 [3:30 p.m.] Kaminski to Reinefarth: Bandits entrenched with area of Machorka Factory. Further attack only after mopping up this area .. 1612 [4:12 p.m.] Reached Machorka Factory. Heavily occupied and defended by bandits. Area fenced in by high wall. Urgently requested explosive and incendiary material."

Reinefarth and Frolov would have been very surprised, if they had known that Ninth Army Command was keeping a careful watch on all tactical radio communications with Kaminski’s Brigade, because they had found this unit suspect from the very beginning. What Ninth Army thought of the Rona units’ "success" can be clearly seen from an entry in the War Diary: "One regiment ("Kaminski") advancing from the South towards Reichsstrasse [Jerozolimskie in Polish] had boozed its way as far as the Machorka Factory."

Just because they mistrusted this wild rabble so much, Ninth Army had stopped the engagement of their 4th East Prussian Infantry Regiment in Jerozolimskie-Allee. They wanted to avoid a clash between regular front troops and these demoralized marauders. It had been hoped, in higher quarters, that the simple numerical superiority of Frolov’s Russians would crush the Poles from the western side of the Allee. As we have seen, this failed because the Rona Brigade was, in the words of the War Diary, "plundering instead of advancing."

A single energetic combined thrust from both sides onto Jerozolimskie Street could have established almost immediate contact between the German troops advancing from the Vistula Bridges and those commanded by Reinefarth. In fact this thoroughfare was not captured completely until September, although it was almost handed to the Germans on a plate on August 5. Had they captured the area then, the Germans could have split the rebels up into pockets one month earlier. The pillaging and slaughter of August 5 was fatal for the Germans, and not only from a purely military point of view. From this moment the Poles fought all the more fiercely and fanatically, causing them to order that several categories of German prisoners to be shot. The terror continued to escalate and this in no small way contributed to lengthening the uprising and to the increase in losses on both sides.

Reinefarth himself had to accept responsibility for the military fiasco of August 5, because he had passed on Himmler’s ill advised command and also distributed the troops wrongly. He now did his utmost to ensure the success of the August 6 attack. He was able to send in several hundred reinforcements, and these he divided into "assault groups" North (Wehrmacht units), Center (Dirlewanger, the Azerbaijan units, Police and Military Police) and South (Kaminski). Tanks were also available again--captured Russian T-34s and Panthers belonging to the Hermann Goring Division. However, the most valuable support came from the Luftwaffe [Air Force]. In the course of the morning thirty machines took off from Warsaw’s airfields. In successive flights they dropped incendiary and explosive bombs in the area of the attack (the streets of Wolska and the Jerozolimskie-Allee). The stukas placed their explosive charges and mine-bombs accurately in front of the North and Center Groups, their 1,000 lb. bombs sweeping away entire barricades at one stroke and blowing great gaps in the Polish pillbox lines. This shattered the Poles’ communications, as well as creating chaos in their defenses.

Then Dirlewanger’s men arrived. They knew exactly what was at stake and they had nothing to lose. "If you retreat or fail," they had been told, you will be taken from the probationary unit and sent back to the concentration camp. If you are captured, the Poles will shoot you." But, though they engaged in heavy combat, suffering dreadful losses, they advanced only slowly. The brave Poles defended each street, each house and even each floor to the bitter end, but they were forced to give up one building after the other. Every bullet, for them, was precious; the Germans were lavishly equipped with ammunition. When the defenders were forced from the roofs into the cellars, Dirlewanger’s mob had no need to follow; they had only to wait until the flamethrowers advanced. Flames up to fifty yards long seared into the cellars; burning oil smothered the least sign of resistance 
 

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