Jadwiga and Tadeusz Ksiazyk, two siblings in the Warsaw Apocalypse 1939-1944
In September 1939, German bombs killed more people in Warsaw than the allies did in Dresden. In 1944 during the 63-day Warsaw Uprising, deaths exceed Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Jadwiga and Tadeusz Książyk are two young siblings who experienced the Warsaw apocalypse in 1939 and 1944.
Jadwiga and Tadeusz were the children of Józef and Stanislawa Książyk. We have no documents and no photos of them. Born on 25 October 1921, Jadwiga died aged 23, a few days after the end of the Warsaw Uprising in October 1944. Information is missing about Tadeusz. He was born on 15 January 1925 and he was 21 when he died in 1944.
Józef, his wife Stanislawa and their children were living at 12 Świętokrzyska Street. This street connected Nowy Świat and Marszałkowska, two busy shopping thoroughfares. The building of the Książyk family was located in the same block than the Ministry of Interior. The area was very quiet and rather affluent. Świętokrzyska street was known for its concentration of banks and antics shops.
A few steps from 12 Świętokrzyska, Plac Napoleona (Plac Warecki before 1921) was a large square and an oasis of greenery in the heart of this business district. On each sides of the square, the Central Post Office and the Prudential Tower were impressive buildings much photographed by tourists. The square ended with the rococo building of Wedel, a famous tearoom and chocolate shop.
Between 1931 and 1935, residents had experienced with wonder (and some suspicion) the construction of the Prudential, a 16-storey skyscraper. When inaugurated, the tower was the second tallest in Europe. Erected at the corner of Świętokrzyska Street and Napoleon Square, this building of offices and luxury apartments was attached to Hotel Warszawa. In 1938, a 25-m antenna was installed and the first broadcasting of the Polish TV was performed during the summer 1939.
The last weeks of August 1939 were the last days of peace. Germany was concentrating an impressive number of military forces at the borders, in the Pomeranian and Silesia regions, as well as in Czechoslovakia annexed by Hitler in 1938. The Poles knew that a German attack was imminent. On 24 August, the Polish Government launched an order of mobilization.
The building of the Książyk family on 12 Świętokrzyska street was the headquarter of the Air and Gas Defence League (Liga Obrony Powietrznej i Przeciwgazowej). A picture taken on 28 August 1939 shows people queuing to get protection masks. Other pictures report citizens reading alarming communiqués, training for civilian defence or digging anti-tank ditches.
Still, during these last days of peace, Warsavians tried to overcome the general anxiety with long walks in the parks and sunbathing along the Vistula River. Jadwiga was 18 and Tadeusz was 15. Born after 1918, they only had a vague idea of the meaning of war. With a weather reaching record temperature in Warsaw, the best option was to take refuge in movie theatres. After a long vacation break that had begun on 23 June, the back to school day was planned on 1 September.
The Germans invaded Poland on 1 September 1939. In spite of the fierce resistance of Polish Forces, they reached the suburbs of Warsaw on 8 September. Continuous shelling and a series of heavy bombing targeted hospitals, schools and market squares to break the morale of the population. During "Black Sunday" (10 September), 17 air raids hit the city. During "Black Monday" (25 September), the Luftwaffe deployed 1,200 bombers.
As many other residents, the Książyk family had certainly stored enough food reserves but the cut of water supplies was difficult to endure. The permanent blackout was adding stress to an unbearable situation of fear. The vision of the Royal Castle in fire was a trauma that still haunts the collective memory of the Poles.
On 17 September, the news of the Soviet invasion was a terrible blow. After a 20-day siege and an unprecedented attack by 5 German divisions, Warsaw capitulated on 27 September. When the Wehrmacht entered the capital on 1 October, more than 20,000 people had been killed and 40% of the city was damaged.
The bombing of September 1939 destroyed several building in Świętokrzyska Street. The first part half of the street (between Nowy Swiat and Prudential) was the most damaged. Half the building of the Książyk family was blown away. Protected by the adjoining building, the left part resisted. Against all odds, German bombs missed the targets of Prudential and the Central Post Office.
Most probably, the Książyk family stayed in the half destroyed building of Świętokrzyska 12. Death certificates mention this address for both Jadwiga and Tadeusz in 1944.
During the first two weeks of September 1939, many buildings of Świętokrzyska Street were destroyed beyond repair. In the section between Nowy Swiat street and Plac Napoleona, some lots such as number 1 and 2 were totally wiped out. The search for people crushed to death under the rubble lasted several days, sometimes weeks.
The remaining buildings were weakened. Some of them were preventively evacuated and pulled down. To secure the remaining structures, any element of architecture considered dangerous (balconies, chimneys, gables) was removed. Such precautions can be observed in the pictures taken in 1940. Destroyed parcels were closed with brick walls. Construction materials were recovered from the rubble.
Under the German occupation, violent roundups for deportations and arbitrary executions were a permanent threat. The Jewish population was gathered into the Ghetto, an area surrounded by a wall and located on the other side of Marszałkowska Street. During the summer 1944, in retaliation to the Uprising, the Germans killed 50,000 people in the Wola suburb between 5 and 12 August. They also massacred 10,000 people in the Ochota district from 4 to 25 August. These war crimes are a Genocide against the Polish People but the perpetrators were not prosecuted in 1945.
After September 1939, schools, academies and universities were closed. The population of Warsaw suffered from food restrictions, water shortages, power cuts and no heating. Ration cards provided only 150 to 300 grams of bread per person per day. German authorities ruled a daily food intake of 400-600 calories for adults and 350-550 calories for children. Most activities were related to the desperate search of essential products (soap, candles, thread, coal...). Public transports were limited and residents had to walk long distances, increasing the risk of being caught in a roundup.
Moving to a safer place was the best option for many but Józef and Stanislawa did not leave Warsaw.
The neighbourhood of the Książyk family became a battlefield of the Warsaw Uprising. During 3 months, from 1 August to 2 October 1944, Jadwiga and Tadeusz was trapped inside one of the epicenters of the resistance against the German occupants (maps below). The only way out was the underground water canals. Still, in spite of the ferocity of the combats, life was going on. A photo taken in July 1944 pictures young combatants relaxing in a water pool of Napoleon Square (previously a flowerbed), with the Prudential Tower and Świętokrzyska Street in the background.
Jadwiga and Tadeusz were engaged in activities related to the Uprising. We don't know the detail of this engagement. Most insurgents were younger than 25, some of them even younger than 15. Girls were in charge of logistical support and medical care but many of them were also combatants, sharing common determination and courage.
Tadeusz was killed during unknown circumstances and the official register does not mention the day of his death. Jadwiga died on 8 October 1944, 17 days before her 23rd birthday. The official register mentions 10 Szpitalna Street as the location of her death. Most probably, Jadwiga died from serious wounds received during the last days of the Uprising that had ended only 6 days before.
Some 16,000 insurgents and 200,000 civilians were killed during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising from 1 August to 2 October 1944. During 63 days, the Poles launched a desperate offensive to liberate the city from the German occupants. The Warsaw Uprising was a heroic and tragic event that remains a unique landmark in the History of World War II.
The Prudential Building has a special role in this tragedy. During the September bombing, the windows of the Prudential Tower were blown up but the edifice was not crushed. For the next 5 years, Prudential remained a sad landmark in the skyline of Warsaw.
On the first day of the Warsaw Uprising (1st August 1944), insurgents of the "Kilinski" battalion entered Prudential and successfully waved the Polish white and red flag at the peak of the building, sending a strong signal of hope and pride. But this success was soon crushed by German forces. On 28 August 1944, the Prudential Tower was destroyed during a fierce Battle. German forces fired more than 1,000 shells against the building. The pictures of the explosion became one of the symbols of the martyr of Warsaw.
The photo below pictures with much details the half destroyed building of Książyk family. In the immediate aftermaths of the Uprising, the Germans destroyed the center of Warsaw. 75% of the area was blasted or set in fire. Unexpectedly, the building of the Książyk family survived this systematic destruction.
Jadwiga and Tadeusz have their names written on a column in the Warsaw Insurgents Park. 93 columns remind some 60,000 victims of the German savagery during the Uprising. This beautiful park is next to the Insurgent Cemetery. The visit of thse two places is a moment of intense emotion.
75 years later, the identification of victims of the Warsaw Uprising is still a work in progress. Many people were buried in collective graves. Many were unclaimed by family members, themselves killed or gone away. In 2014, the Museum of Warsaw Uprising has opened a department dedicated to collecting information about the victims (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Hundreds of photos were taken during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. They picture thousands of young combatants who are facing death with a smile. Jadwiga and Tadeusz are among these anonymous heroes. We hope that our researches will one day find their smiles. Therefore, anyone with information about Jadwiga and Tadeusz Książyk is welcome to contact us (email@example.com).
Today, the impressive building of the Ministry of Finances is located at 12 Świętokrzyska Street. The former number 12 is now number 14, the location of our favourite bookstore (Książnica Polska Księgarnia na Świętokrzyskiej). Szpitalna Street has lost number 10 and ends with number 8, the beautiful reconstructed building of Wedel.
In September 1957, Napoleon Square, became the Warsaw Insurgents Square (Plac Powstańców Warszawy). This decision of the Communist authorities was interpreted as an opening signal from the Gomulka government. After a decade of denial, the Heroes of the Warsaw Uprising received a national acknowledgement of their courage.
Jadwiga died just a few steps away from this square that was renamed in tribute to the sacrifice of the Warsaw population. May the cherished memory of Jadwiga and Tadeusz stay forever in our hearts ■
Marie-Jeanne C. Ksiazyk (Paris) and Włodzimierz Ekstowicz (Warsaw)
August 2019 - 75th Commemoration of the Warsaw Uprising