Warsaw, 24 April 1946. The investigating judge Halina Wereńko, delegated to the Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Poland, heard as a witness the person specified below. Having been advised of the criminal liability for making false declarations and of the importance of the oath, the witness was sworn and testified as follows:
|Name and surname||Stefan Teofil Cichoński|
|Parents’ names||Wiktor and Helena née Malanowicz|
|Date of birth||20 December 1891 in Radom|
|Occupation||chief of the Social Welfare Committee|
|Place of residence||Pruszków, POW Street 11, flat 7|
|Religious affiliation||Roman Catholic|
Before the war, I had worked as a clerk in the Ministry of the Interior in Warsaw. In autumn 1939 I began to work in the Central Welfare Council in Warsaw in the section of shelters for refugees and displaced persons, at first as a secretary, then as a deputy chief and later a chief of the 8th Shelter at Wolska Street 4.
Two hours before the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, on 1 August 1944, I was in my wife’s flat at Dantyszka Street 1, from which we were thrown out by the Germans along with other inhabitants of the house on 8 August. The house was set on fire and burnt down, and we were thrown out to the street by the “Ukrainian” soldiers, without any belongings, with only such clothes as we were wearing at that time. Then a fight over several hundred people from Raszyńska Street and the neighborhood ensued between the “Ukrainian” soldiers and the German soldiers from Wehrmacht, as the “Ukrainians” wanted to take us to the building of the State Forests Directorate to rob and burn us. Later I learned that some people had been burnt that way. The Germans, however, did not want to agree to this, and a fight broke out, shots were fired. Finally, the Germans seized control of our group and led us to Grójecka Street, to the so-called Zieleniak [market], I think it was at Grójecka Street 95 (on the corner with Opaczewska Street). There we remained the entire afternoon, night, and the following day until 2.00 p.m. without food and shelter. On our way there, before we reached Zieleniak, the “Ukrainians” had robbed us, taking away our money, wedding rings, and other valuable belongings. The night of 8/9 August was horrible. Several thousand people were standing or sitting in the market, an area of several thousand square meters, and the Ukrainians were coming once in a while to select young women from the crowd, and then were taking them away to rape them. I witnessed how a young woman (I don’t know her name) did not allow a Ukrainian man to take her away easily, fighting him with all her might. In effect the Ukrainian man shot her as a ‘crazy’ one. I would like to emphasize that there were many people in Zieleniak who had spent five days there without food or water, and no one could leave the place.
On 9 August, the rumor had spread that we would be deported to the Reich. We all wanted to leave Zieleniak, where bullets were flying over our heads and there was terror and hunger, at all costs. In the morning on 9 August a unit of German soldiers arrived, and they began to put people in threes and form groups, which were being directed to the Pruszków transit camp. Groups were being driven in the direction of the West Railway Station on foot. Then we were brought to Pruszków in trains. The carriages were packed tightly, people had to stand very close to one another. It was impossible to sit down. They were surrounded by the German Gendarmerie, so it was impossible to run away. When the train stopped in front of the Pruszków camp, some people tried to escape, but they were caught and joined to the transport.
I arrived in Pruszków on 9 August 1944 at approximately 6.00 p.m. The train from Warsaw arrived there in two hours. The entire transport was led through the 14th and 15th gate to the railway workshops, where the transit camp was, and the train returned to Warsaw to take next transports of Warsawians. My transport might have comprised some thousand people.
We were led to the transit camp. It was organized in the railway workshops, an area of a few square kilometers. People were being put in production halls that had been previously used as foundries or for repairing carriages and so forth. These halls had concrete floors or earthen floors, they were damp and had small widows in the ceiling. Although it was in August, it was very cold there due to the concrete floor. There was nothing to sit on, not even some straw. Later we received a few straw mats, probably brought by the Warsawians from various places in the camp. There was no toilet, people were using the corner of the hall instead or were relieving themselves on the floor, shielded by their close family.
When I entered the camp with my transport, they immediately began to separate the men from their wives and children, without providing an opportunity to say goodbye or to exchange a few words. As I learned later, men were being deported to the Reich in freight trains – sometimes open, sometimes not. People were being packed tightly, so closely to one another that it was impossible to sit down. During the transport to the Reich it was possible to jump out of the train but only at night and with the risk of being shot by the escorting soldiers. Women with children were being taken to various places in the General Government.
I did everything to avoid the transport to the Reich. The segregation which I have described above took place in the open air. It was carried out by Germans, the SS men who met us in the camp. The crowd dispersed as men were taken to trains and women to the shacks, and another transport from Warsaw was being awaited. At that point I met Dr Bielecka whom I had met with my wife before. She helped us to escape from the camp in the following manner: she gave my wife the white coat of a paramedic (with the risk that the sentry would check her identity papers upon leaving and find out that she was not a paramedic), and I helped a seriously ill person with luggage who had a medical leave get out of the camp. While we were leaving the camp, one of the Gestapo men who must have guessed that Dr Bielecka was helping us, threatened her with deportation to Auschwitz for helping us leave the camp illegally.
We managed to get out, but we were in such a bad condition that my mother, who lived in Pruszków, did not recognize us when we came to her. On the following day, 10 August, I went to see the Central Welfare Council chairman, priest Tyszka, and he appointed me an honorary clerk of the Council. My task was to take down the personal details of those lucky ones who managed to escape from the camp. A few weeks later I was appointed manager of the Records and Information Department of the Central Welfare Council Committee in Pruszków, which was set up ad hoc for this task. The department grew in size to 25 clerks. We made a record, that is, a list of names and surnames of those who managed to escape from the camp in order to notify their families of their whereabouts. This record comprises only some several tens of thousands of names of those people who registered in the camp, and these were usually women and children and few men. The record comprises also a list of hospitals from Pruszków and surrounding places (Milanówek, Grodzisk) up to Modlin, Grójec and Koluszki, where the Warsawians who were released or who escaped from the Pruszków transit camp were being treated. I have those records and I can submit them.
I know that the Germans did not keep any statistics in the Pruszków camp. All letters from relatives, even from Germans and Volksdeutcher, addressed to the camp commander, were being directed by the camp authorities to the Central Welfare Council. Almost the whole of Warsaw went through the Pruszków camp, and it had one and a half million inhabitants during the German occupation.
Apart from the Pruszków transit camp, there were camps in Ursus, Ożarów, and Włochy, but from there transports were being sent to Pruszków. The Germans were organizing those transports, as I have already mentioned, without making a list of names. They were preparing transports of men and healthy young woman to the Reich off the top of their heads. We could learn where the given transport had been taken only from letters sent by the Warsawians from Germany. Such letters, sent to the families in Poland, were coming to the committee in Pruszków. Since that was the case, my department made a record of all the concentration camps in Germany and also of labor camps in Germany where the Warsawians had been sent in 1944. I will submit the records for reference.
It was as a result of that widespread information campaign aimed at contacting families that my department grew in size to 25 employees, and sometimes we worked 20 hours a day.
As for other activities of the Central Welfare Council, I don’t know any details. I know that the Council organized, with the help only of the local community, a camp kitchen that was providing food for the Warsawians. In some periods five thousand dinners were distributed daily, and it was always not enough. The Germans were not providing any food for the evacuated people. The Red Cross was not functioning at that time. On their own initiative, local physicians were visiting the camp in order to provide the evacuated Warsawians with medical aid. I have lists of doctors who came to the camp in that capacity and I will submit them.
There were many sisters of the Red Cross in the camp. The doctors and paramedics tried to save young people from deportation to the Reich single-handedly by releasing them from the camp as sick. There was not an organized action for releasing insurgents from the camp, as although there were many devoted and good Polish people, there were also many weasels, some in paramedics’ coats, so everything had to be done with utmost caution. I know that the owner of the Moszna manor came every day to the Pruszków camp with a pair of horses and a wagon, bringing vegetables for the kitchen. As he was leaving, he always had several young people hidden under the straw on his wagon. His name is Stefan Górski.
I would like to add that the official releases from the Pruszków camp by the German doctors mattered only ad hoc, until release, as later the released person had no proof of it. In effect, during many round-ups of Warsawians (who had their Kennkarte from Warsaw) which were being carried out by the Gestapo in Pruszków and surrounding places, many times those people who had been previously released thanks to the efforts of the Polish doctors had to come back to the camp. I know a case of a woman from Warsaw who, hiding from the brutal round-ups of the German Gendarmerie, spent 12 hours in a sewer hole.
At the end of September and at the beginning of October 1944, when the weather was most challenging, there was a week in which some 40 thousand people went through the Pruszków camp every day. It was in the period when von den Bach decided to finish with Warsaw. The transports were only being reloaded in Pruszków, people were often being transported in open coal wagons to the Reich, without food or clothes, in the rain. Apart from the “evacuated” Warsawians, the prisoners of war – the insurgents of Warsaw and its surroundings (Kampinos Forest) – also went through the camps in Pruszków, Ożarów (in the cable factory) and Skierniewice (in the sawmill). I know that in the Pruszków camp, for two days they were not being treated as veterans but very severely, and they were deported from Pruszków in wired and sealed carriages. Nobody had access to them, their families could not see them. Only on the third day, shortly before departure, the Germans allowed the Polish doctors to provide those agonized soldiers with medical aid and food. During the first two days of the soldiers’ stay in Pruszków, no one was allowed to enter the shack where they were being kept, so no one could give them any food. The majority of the soldiers did not know that they were to be treated as veterans, and upon handing over their weapons, when they had nothing to shoot with, almost all of them believed that they were going to be executed, as it had been the custom of the Germans at the beginning of the Uprising.
How many people died in the Pruszków camp, I cannot tell. I know, however, that the Central Welfare Council was handling the funerals, so some death registers must be available in the Pruszków churches.
The report was read out.
Warsaw, 2 May 1946. The witness in this case, citizen Stefan Teofil Cichoński, in addition to the testimony of 24 April 1946, submitted to the files of the OKMW [District Commission for Investigation of German Crimes of the Warsaw City] IV/1:
a) the list of the people deported to the Reich who sent letters from the camps in search of their families, from August – December 1944;
b) the list of people as above from January 1945;
c) the list of residents of the shelter for elderly in Zaława;
d) the list of residents of the orphanage in Końskie Browary;
e) the list of children from the orphanage in Giełzów;
f) addresses of camps in Germany;
g) the list of residents of the Retirement Home in Odrowąż;
h) a postcard from the Reich;
i) some statistics from the work of the Records and Information Department of the Pruszków Delegation.
The above listed documents, numbered in accordance with the above list, were appended to the files of the OKMW IV/1. Witness Cichoński submitted them for reference for an indefinite period of time, asking for return after use.
SOME STATISTICS FROM THE WORK OF THE RECORDS AND INFORMATION DEPARTMENT OF THE PRUSZKÓW DELEGATION
41,815 families went through the Pruszków Delegation, which constituted 100–120 thousand of the inhabitants of Warsaw.
There were 120 labor camps in the Reich.
There were 30 POW camps.
1,954 people wrote from the Reich in search of their families from August to December 1944; in January 1945, 2,175 people. From August to December 1944, 10–12 thousand inquiries came from people looking for their relatives.
In total, 789 children were entered into the records in Pruszków. Hospitals where the sick were being treated: Okęcie, Konstancin, Skolimów, Piaseczno, Grójec, Piastów, Podkowa Leśna, Milanówek, Grodzisk, Żyrardów, Skierniewice and Łowicz.
102 doctors and 122 sisters of the Polish Red Cross worked in the Pruszków camp. During the high famine, the kitchen distributed approx. 5 thousand meals a day. In total, the displaced people received 478,871 meals. In the period of displacement of the Warsaw inhabitants, 244,474 people, 19,253 adults and 5,221 children, remained in the care of the Delegation, receiving emergency aid (dry rations, fuel, clothes, sheets etc.). The Delegation’s emergency room and a health facility gave 10,874 instances of medical advice and dressings at that time.
Over 500 answers were received and given every day.
2 May 1946