Extracts of Warsaw Boy
( From Chapter 27. Goliath!)
When it came, the blast was enormous. It ripped through the cellar. I felt the heat of it on my face. The carbide lamps hanging from nails on the wall flickered and died. Great dust clouds billowed from the ceiling, and I started coughing. Around me men and women were also coughing. Some shouted and moaned. But I felt a strange sense of relief: I hadn’t been imagining things, after all, and those who had ridiculed me were fools.
Then, over the din, I started to hear bursts of machine-gun fire and explosions from above. I had to get out, and pushed my way towards the staircase leading to the ground floor. Two others from my platoon, also coughing, were doing the same thing. They were white with dust, and I realized this is what I must look like.
‘Everybody out! They’re attacking!’
This was a tried and tested tactic that the enemy had been employing since the fighting in the Old Town: exploit the Goliath explosion to get in among us and finish us off. I rushed to the ground floor, fled across the debris -covered courtyard and saw my good friend Wacek, whom I had first met in a Latin class. He was letting off short bursts with his sub-machine gun, firing slightly stooped and in a professional manner, never more than four or five rounds at a time.
‘Upstairs, for God’s sake, fast!’
Stumbling over several corpses on the staircase, I reached the second floor - or what was left of it. The Goliath had collapsed the middle section of the building and half of it had tumbled down. Smoke was still trailing over the street below. From the other side of the street, enemy soldierswere running towards our building firing their weapons from the hip.
There were grenade explosions and more machine-gun bursts.
‘Banditen, Hände hoch!’ came the usual cry from below.
‘Fuck your mother!’ I heard behind me. In German as well, which was impressive. (Sometimes we shouted: ‘Hitler is a dog fucker.’ We thought this was pretty good too.)
I turned my head and saw a man from our group, a butcher in peacetime, firing a big Russian heavy machine gun while one of the boys from our squad held the ammunition belt and fed it into the breech.
‘For God’s sake, fire!” someone shouted at me.
I lay down on a pile of rubble, took careful aim at one of the approachingfigures and squeezed off a shot. To my amazement the figure fell over. It was rare to be that successful with a first shot.
‘I got one!’ I shouted.
‘Shut up and keep shooting,’ said somebody, probably the butcher. ‘You’re not at a fucking funfair.’
I struggled to work the bolt of the dusty rifle, eventually succeeded in ejecting the empty casing, and fired again. Once I had finished the five-bullet clip, I reloaded and used the next one up. By this time I had run out of targets. I believe several of my shots were as effective as the first one.
Apparently, all the upper floors were in our hands. From below us came the sound of competing bursts of automatic fire ‒ Stens and Schmeissers – and confused situation reports. First, someone shouted up that some of the Germans were still holding out in a corner of the building. Then, we heard that they had been thrown out of part of the cellar. Finally, the shooting subsided and an officer came up to tell us that all the remaining Germans had withdrawn. We were ordered downstairs to help clear the rubble, because there were wounded combatants stuck in the cellar.
Mietek and Lidka were already there. She had a rough bandage around one of her hands and later admitted to a cut across her abdomen that had to be treated, but she was desperate to try to reach the people in the cellar. We all were. We could hear some groaning, and there were occasional shouts for help or pleas for water. I thought of the silent boy, sucking at his orange peel and staring at the ceiling. Frantically we pulled at the rubble with our bare hands, but every time we excavated a hole more rubble closed it. It was useless…
I was a week short of my sixteenth birthday. Never for one moment did it occur to me that I was in any danger of missing it.