Kinderszenen is a book whose two interwoven themes are the author’s childhood experiences, and scenes of slaughter from the Warsaw Uprising, in particular one incredibly bloody incident, caused by a booby-trapped tank that was planted on the insurgents by the Germans. Rymkiewicz describes this event gradually, scene by scene, over the course of the entire book, citing the contradictory accounts of witnesses and enriching it with a series of other scenes of cruelties inflicted on the insurgents by the German troops to stifle the national liberation upsurge.
The child Rymkiewicz was in those days does not know much about the historical events that are going on around him. Most important for him at the time are his encounters with animals – cats, horses, tortoises, crabs, and also the hare from a naturalistic novel by Dygasiński that his mother reads to him. But ultimately the fate of animals is a background for the fate of people and for their senselessness deaths. We could say that on the one hand Rymkiewicz perceives the biological aspect of the Polish-German combat, while on the other he is searching at any price for some higher meaning for all this mass death and destruction, finally coming to the conclusion that the rationality of the Uprising emerges from the fact that it was a form of opposition to the German insanity of murdering – the Polish insanity of fighting in defiance of any sort of political or military calculation of forces. Therefore the idea of the Uprising is only defensible when we look at it from the historical viewpoint of long endurance, where this spillage of blood paid off, because, by force of its symbolism, it sustained the Polish will to resist and the desire for independence. Rymkiewicz writes pointedly on principle, and makes judgements that will raise objections. So it is sure to be this time too – not only because of his uncompromising defence of the Warsaw Uprising, but also because of his attitude to the Germans and their role in the history of Poland, today’s history too. And so, like all Rymkiewicz’s previous books, Kinderszenen is sure to prompt a new national, maybe even an international debate.
- Jerzy Jarzębski
The Ammunition Car Drives Into Kiliński Street
There are several versions of the route travelled by the armoured ammunition car on its way from the crossroads of Senatorska Street and Podwale to the spot where Kiliński Street runs off Podwale towards Długa Street. According to accounts gathered by Ryszard Bielecki (in his book “Gustaw” – “Harnaś”) from soldiers in the “Gustaw” battalion who were defending the barricade closing off Podwale from the Castle Square side, at about 4 p.m. two soldiers appeared there with an order to take the vehicle into the heart of the Old Town. General Bór Komorowski went up to the window of the Raczyński palace and saw the ammunition car “at high noon”. The account given by Hanna Malewska, a novelist who knows very well what history is and how it should be treated, and thus someone who especially on matters like these is entirely reliable, says that the ammunition car – Malewska defined it as “a small tow-truck” – appeared in the Old Town at noon. “It was noon, silence from the Germans, then all of a sudden Podwale was alive with shouting and cheering… Children, women were surrounding the tank, or rather small tow-truck perhaps, clearly only just captured, and four laughing soldiers were driving it down the street.” So the two soldiers who appeared by the barricade on Podwale at 4 p.m. to take the ammunition vehicle away from there and drive it to Kiliński Street seem a little doubtful, their time too. The order that the two soldiers cited seems equally, or maybe even more, doubtful – according to Bielecki, the order was not issued in writing, nor is it known who, which commander issued it. Moreover, its content is not known, so nor do we know where and for what purpose the two soldiers were planning to take the ammunition car from next to the barricade. Therefore it seems justified to suppose that it never existed at all, that there might not have been an order. Somehow the fact that the order may or may not have existed didn’t bother the soldiers from the “Gustaw” battalion (there were also officers from the “Gustaw” in the vicinity) and they agreed to hand over the vehicle. The barricade was taken down (probably just a small part of it), the two men who had or didn’t have the order got into the ammunition car, inspected its interior and drove off along Podwale towards Kapitulna Street. The surnames of two, even three of the soldiers (because there may have been three of them) are known, though not for certain, and so is the pseudonym of one of them. Captain Lucjan Fajer “Ognisty” (meaning “Fiery”), deputy commander and operational officer for the “Gustaw” battalion, claimed that there were several soldiers and that they were from his battalion – “mainly from the ‘Little Eagles’ motorised company”. … However, the route they chose is entirely unclear, because among the many accounts of this matter there are some that either cannot be reconciled with each other, or that it would be very hard to reconcile. Perhaps they could be reconciled somehow if one were to accept that the ammunition car spent a long time touring the streets of the Old Town, moving from place to place, returning to places where it had been earlier, and looking for the place where it should ultimately stand – right by the gate of the house on Kiliński Street. From Lucjan Fajer’s book one might conclude (“And so they drove down to Kiliński Street”) that the ammunition car drove along Podwale towards Kapitulna Street and, quite quickly, without stopping anywhere along the way or turning aside at all, drove into Kiliński. But that seems to me very unlikely. On the basis of various insurgent accounts, Ryszard Bielecki presented the ammunition car’s journey in an extremely roundabout way, and as having been extremely roundabout. “The little tank drove down Podwale to Kapitulna Street and turned right into Piekarska. Across Zapiecek it drove into the Old Town Marketplace…. From that moment on the armoured car’s journey took on the character of a victory parade. …the tank moved from the Marketplace along Nowomiejska. It got to Freta, and there it turned left. The drive went on for quite a long time, because they had to take down several barricades along the way.” As one can guess, having turned left into Freta Street, the ammunition car then went (that is, it would have gone, as we do not know if it actually did) along Długa Street towards the main entrance to the Raczyński palace. However, this version too seems rather improbable. But of course anything is possible here. … Let us add to this yet another version of the drive that plainly contradicts the one found in The March Through Hell, and which is given in Antoni Przygoński’s book, The Warsaw Uprising in August 1944. Namely, this author claimed (on the basis of some accounts whose authors he does not reveal) that the ammunition car did indeed drive along Wąski Dunaj “towards the Old Marketplace”, ” as Father Tomasz Rostworowski advised, but drove “down Wąski Dunaj into Kiliński Street” – and that means (or so at least one can suppose) that it drove into Wąski Dunaj from the Old Town Marketplace or from Piwna Street. So if the ammunition car turned from Wąski Dunaj into Kiliński or, vice versa, from Podwale into Wąski Dunaj, and did that in order to drive into the Marketplace, then perhaps it couldn’t have driven into the Marketplace via Piekarska and Zapiecek. Nor, having turned into Wąski Dunaj, on its way from Castle Square (as it would seem from Captain Fajer’s book) could it have driven from Podwale straight into Kiliński. All this is extremely unclear, the streets get mixed up, merge into each other, intersect in a different order – different from the real one. As if it were a journey in a dream. As I’m saying, maybe it was touring, turning back, turning off and going round. Maybe it was going round the barricades, turning off before the barricades, circling around them. Circling darkly around its own death.
Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones