Warsaw. Monument to resistance fighters
The sculpture showing a resistance fighter hauling himself out of a manhole commemorates those who used the sewer system during the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944. Jan Rossman 'Wacek'an officer in the command of the Polish Home Army 'Zoska' battalion at the end of August, 1944 made a passage in the sewer system from the Old Town to the Zoliborz district to evacuate the wounded from the Old Town and obtain supplies of ammunition from Zoliborz. After the construction of the sewer dam by the Germans between the Old Town and the Zoliborz district, he commanded the demolition unit which blew up the dam. Until the end of the Uprising, he was in the Zoliborz unit responsible for sewer communication. The following information is taken from an article by him, "In the Warsaw Sewers" which appeared in the monthly magazine Mowia Wieki No. 8/20 in August 1959.
Warsaw’s sewer system was designed by an English engineer William Lindley towards the end of the 19th century.
Jews used the sewers during the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto in 1943. An SS and police commander for the Warsaw district, General Jürgen Stroop, wrote in a report dated May 16th, 1943 that to prevent an escape to the sewers, the sewer system underneath the Jewish housing district was flooded. Jews hid in the sewers and an organized system of cellars, bunkers, and passages scattered throughout the ghetto. Every passage and bunker had access to the sewer system. He claimed that the sewer system was used by the Jews to cross to the Aryan side of the city.
During the uprising in 1944 it was used as transportation for the military and the civilian population, as well as a place of combat. The remaining defenders the civil population of the Old Town disappeared through the sewer system under the eyes of the German occupiers at the end of August 1944. Around 6,000 people were able to retreat to Warsaw’s downtown district, and about 1,000 to the Zoliborz district. General von dem Bach took some time to recognize the usefulness of sewers as a means of transportation and communication but “sewer paranoia” soon developed among the German forces in Warsaw who lived in constant anxiety that resistance fighters might come out of the sewers unexpectedly and strike at German positions from the rear. General von dem Bach never managed to convince his soldiers to descend into the sewers and carry on the struggle there.
Germans resorted to throwing grenades down the manhole covers. In the Mokotow district they also pumped poisonous gas, probably carbide, into the sewers. The sewer system remained the domain of the Polish underground fighters for the duration of the Warsaw Uprising. Jan Rossman took part in several crossings, using the sewers in the Zoliborz district.
On 29 August, 1944, General von dem Bach wrote In his report to the Commander of the 9th army, General Vormann, that newly formed resistance units infiltrated into the city through an intricate system of sewers and underground passages. In reality, the sewers were used to evacuate the crews from the Old Town and Mokotow districts, and to maintain communications. There was also an attempt by a squad from the Old Town to launch a rear attack out of the sewers on the Germans stationed at Bankowy Square.
There is an important sewer junction under the Gdanski Railway Station where the main sewer lines of the city converge at a depth of about 12 meters. The Germans must have been aware of traffic between the Old Town and the Zoliborz district as they sometimes threw grenades down the manhole cover above this sewer junction. They would lower a listening device down the manhole to pick up sounds. This forced the groups moving through the sewers to act with great care. Not only was there no possibility of using flashlights in the sewers, but conversations were forbidden. Columns moved step by step over the rounded and slippery bottom of the sewers, one hand resting on the person in front, the other placed on the wall of the sewer for balance. Such passages could last for several hours. Under the dangerous manhole cover under the Gdanski Railway Station it was necessary to pass quickly one person at a time. During the night of August 25th to the 26th, the last columns made the crossing from the Old Town.
The Germans began erecting a heavy dam under the manhole cover on Muranowska Street. The purpose of this dam was to stop all traffic in the sewer, and to significantly raise the water level in the sewers. The insurgents planned to blow up the dam using demolition charges. Once clearance was given, a three-man patrol reached the dam, coming from the direction of the Zoliborz district. Three kilograms and a timing device were placed on the dam, and at the given hour the detonation took place.
The Germans only used the sewers to a very limited degree to transfer collaborators, ethnic Germans, and Ukrainians back to the city. These people would come back to the German-held territory and mingle with the exodus of the city’s populace. The insurgents would carefully check identity papers and scrutinize every individual encountered in the sewers. The main entrances to the sewers were guarded by the resistance.
I am indebted to Katherine Dunhill for this information.