Warsaw, 5 May 1948. Judge Halina Wereńko, a member of the District Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Warsaw, interviewed the person named below as a witness, without taking an oath. Having been advised of the criminal liability for making false declarations, the witness testified as follows:
|Name and surname||Józef Ratajczyk|
|Date of birth||10 March 1904 in Warsaw|
|Parents’ names||Ignacy and Anna, née Białowąs|
|Citizenship and nationality||Polish|
|Occupation||employed as a bricklayer|
|Place of residence||Warsaw, Bartycka Street 7, flat 1|
At the time of the Warsaw Uprising I lived in my own house in Siekierki, at Bartycka Street 7 in Warsaw. During the uprising, Siekierki was held by the Germans. I heard that the commander of the insurrectionist forces in Siekierki, Janowski, had been shot dead by chance by Ukrainians on 1 August before 17.00, when he was returning from town with orders concerning the involvement of his group in the uprising. Even before the uprising, the school at Gościniec Street 53, near Bartycka Street, had been occupied by a German unit. During the night from 22 to 23 August a detachment of Ukrainians arrived at the school.
I don’t remember the uniforms of the soldiers from this detachment.
On 23 August at around 10.00 the Ukrainians dispersed amongst the houses, announcing that all of the men from Siekierki must gather in the school at Gościniec Street, and that they would be deported from Warsaw for labour. Men who failed to comply with the order and who remained would be shot. I went to the school with my son Zdzisław (born in 1927) and cousin Marian Grzelec (currently residing at Wilanowska Street 6), employed at the ’Sosnowski’ company on Sielecka Street in Warsaw. The first group of men that gathered in the school numbered approximately 150, and they were led out by SA men (in yellow uniforms) to the Gestapo offices at al. Szucha 25.
We three came in the next group, numbering some one thousand men, and the SA men led us through the pumping station at Czerniakowska Street 124 to the Gestapo building at aleja Szucha 25. I later learned that, once we had been taken away, a third group of men was also marched off to the Gestapo offices from the school in Siekierki.
At the Gestapo building we found that the first group had been divided in two – one had been taken in the direction of Mokotów, while the other I saw there, for they were standing in the courtyard in front of the coal shed. In the Gestapo courtyard (aleja Szucha 25) our group was handed over by the SA men to SD officers (they had death’s heads on their caps and uniform collars, black badges on their collars and lapels, and the letters ’SD’ low down on their sleeves). These were mainly officers and non-commissioned officers. They checked our documents and immediately proceeded to segregate us, but I don’t know on what basis we were being segregated. I had the impression that we were divided into two groups at random, for both groups contained people who were employed and unemployed. I, my son, and Grzelec were allocated to the first group, which accounted for more or less one half of all those detained. We were first led to the rear of the Gestapo building, and then inside, where we were placed in cellars and cells, the so-called tramcars. There was no one present there when we arrived. We were very crowded. The other group of men was led to the shooting range at the back of the building. Next day in the morning we were visited by the SD men, who selected some 10-15 men, as they said, for labour. Suddenly, an SD man demanded two men for work. I then stepped forward together with Grzelec, instructing my son, Zdzisław, to stay and look over the bundles that we had brought from home. The SD man led Grzelec and myself to the first floor of the building, where we cleaned the living quarters occupied by the SD men. Next, having completed out task, we were sent to the courtyard to wash a motorcar. In the courtyard I met Antoni Porębski, a Pole (my childhood friend), who in the years 1939, 1940 and 1941 had lived at Nowosielecka Street 8 in Warsaw, and prior to the uprising at Litewska Street (I don’t remember the number).
Since 1939 or 1940 he had being working at the Gestapo as a chauffeur’s assistant. I heard a rumour that Porębski died in 1945, but later Marian Czuba, an employee of the Waterworks and Sewage Authority, told me that somebody had seen him in Warsaw in 1947 or in the beginning of 1948 on Czerniakowska Street. At that time, in 1944, Porębski told me that the part of our group that had been left in the courtyard had already been shot, and that their bodies were being burned. Saying this, he gestured towards the demolished wing of the building of theChief Inspectorate of the Armed Forces, which was adjacent to the open-air kindergarten. And indeed, we could smell the characteristic whiff of burning human bodies. Porębski also told me that our group would – as he put it – ’be turned into soap’, and that we had been followed by a third group of men from Siekierki, who would also be shot. At around 17.00 an SD man took myself and Grzelec back to the tramcars, which were suddenly empty. At the entrance, in a room near the stairs, I saw some scattered bundles. I did not recover my belongings. Only later did my son, Zdzisław, return with a few other men; it transpired that they had been at work. We stayed in the tramcar for two weeks, after which we were sent to the camp at Litewska Street 14. In this camp we calculated that only 32 of the men who had left Siekierki with us remained.
Apart from ourselves, some 20-odd civilian men were kept in another cell (tramcar) at the Gestapo offices, and they told us that they were being used by the SD to burn the bodies of civilians who had been murdered en masse in the ruined wing of the Inspectorate building located near the open-air kindergarten. I didn’t know the surnames of any of these men. Later, while in the camp at Litewska Street, I heard a rumour that this group was executed by firing squad, and their bodies incinerated in the abovementioned building.
Two or three days after our arrival at the Gestapo building, Grzelec and I performed cleaning chores, and thereafter were sent to work on the premises of the Inspectorate and in the open-air kindergarten, where mainly we would unload ammunition from trucks. My son was being taken for work in the open-air kindergarten from the day that we arrived at the Gestapo building, that is, 24 August. We worked in this way for more than two weeks, that is, for the duration of my stay at the Gestapo building. For the first time all three of us – Grzelec, my son and myself – were taken to the premises of the Inspectorate, where we were ordered to unload shells (large ones) form a truck standing near the wing of the Inspectorate that had been destroyed in 1939, from the side of aleja Szucha.
At the time only upper part of the building was destroyed, the walls were still standing. The exits had been boarded up. From the side of the interior courtyard, more or less in the middle, three boards with a nailed-on crosspiece, obviously used to climb, were set against the ground floor window. From the courtyard, one could enter the cellars. At the time I would hear bursts of light automatic rifle fire and individual revolver shots coming from the building.
Working on the premises of the Inspectorate for two weeks, I saw how groups of civilians from Powiśle (Szara Street and others) and smaller groups from around the city were led to the Gestapo building. Groups of men numbering at least a dozen or so were led into the building, and after a while I would hear shots. On five or six occasions I saw men’s clothes being thrown out of the window on the side of the open-air kindergarten (the third or fourth window from the side of Aleje Ujazdowskie ) some time after leaving the group and hearing the shots. The clothes landed on wagons handled by men from the group that slept in the tramcar. They had to pull these wagons towards the camp at Litewska Street. I later saw the clothes at Litewska Street.
Once when loading these clothes onto a truck at Litewska Street, I took one of the jackets. In one of the pockets I found a written piece of paper with a request to notify the owner’s parents; an address was given, at Gęsia or Nalewki street, and a surname that I don’t remember. I destroyed the slip of paper. The group of prisoners from the tramcar who collected the clothes told us that the SD would lead those brought in to be shot into a room on the ground floor, and order them to take off their clothes for the purpose of a body search. The next they were led into another room and shot dead from behind. The clothes were thrown into the open-air kindergarten. The bodies were burned on the spot. A hole had been made in the floor in the middle of the building, which served as an entrance to the cellars, and through it in October 1944 I saw ashes.
The bodies were being incinerated by the group of prisoners whom I would meet in the Gestapo cell. During the period of my stay, the murders intensified towards the end of August, that is, five days from that on which I started working on the premises of the Inspectorate. In those days I observed that groups numbering from a dozen or so to 30 men were brought in four or even five times a day. Later on, both the number of groups and the frequency of their arrivals decreased. The executions were performed by SD men who wore dark green veils that covered their faces from the helmet down. I saw one such group of executioners when they were entering through the door closer to aleja Szucha, as if going to the cellars of the ruined building, while at the same time an escort was bringing in a group of condemned over the boards set against the window.
I saw how the executioners left following the shooting, which had commenced immediately after the victims had been brought in. These were the same SD men with the veils. They were armed with light machine guns and wore helmets. They entered in three pairs, and in each pair one had an automatic weapon while his companion carried an ammunition box. I don’t know their surnames.
As regards the surnames of the Germans whom I met during this period, I remember only that of the chauffeur with whom Porębski drove. He was an SD man – Linders or Lindes. Another SD man went by the surname of Taube. Porębski showed me an SD officer, I know neither his rank nor surname, who would send groups to be executed; I cleaned his room on the first floor, or to put it more precisely, on the mezzanine of the Gestapo building at aleja Szucha 25, to the left of the stairs.
Before 15 September, the majority of SD units left aleja Szucha for Sochaczew. Only one unit was left in the building at aleja Szucha, and individual executions on the premises of the Inspectorate took place until the end of September. I orientated myself by looking at the columns of yellow smoke rising above the destroyed wing of the Inspectorate.
Before the departure of the Gestapo, that is, before 15 September, I was sent together with my son and Grzelec in a group of 15 labourers to be at the disposal of a Schutzpolizei detachment at the camp at Litewska Street. Towards the end of October my son, Marian Grzelec, and I were taken from the camp as part of a group of some 30 labourers and led to the building of the Inspectorate, to the place where before I had seen the rising columns of smoke. I saw that an area of some 4 m of the floor to the central heating channel in the middle of the ruined building, between the columns, had been smashed in; the channel contained ashes and small unburnt bones reaching up to the level of the ground story floor. We were ordered to scatter the ashes with shovels, and throw iron tracks and rubble on the top in order to cover the ashes. We worked for one day.
Three or four days later I saw that the building had been blown up, and from then on – to the present day – it has had no wall from the side of the courtyard and columns surrounding the spot where the bodies were burned. I saw numerous traces of bullets on the internal wall behind the columns, parallel to Aleje Ujazdowskie. Money and identity documents were strewn on the floor, and I saw war-time identity cards.
At this point the report was brought to a close and read out.