SHOOT-OUT BY THE ANCIENT BELFRY
Our orders were to sabotage the German war effort at any opportunity. In the town there was a warehouse in which all the butter produced in the local creamery was kept for weekly shipments to Germany. Removing a few hundred kilos of butter from the already troubled German economy seemed as good a way as any. Foodstuffs like fats had at that time a very high market value and were almost unobtainable to the starving Polish population.
The local post commander gave his permission for the raid on the warehouse although with certain reluctance. That particular action carried not only an additional element of defiance but also of danger. The warehouse that we were about to clear out was located in the immediate vicinity of our parish church rectory. That rectory and surrounding buildings were converted into a virtual fortress for the platoon of German gendarmes. There was a mobile company of "Shupo" 29 only fifteen kilometers away so the gendarmes felt fairly safe, beating people at will, extracting financial contributions from the local merchants, and occasionally killing some of the last remaining Jews whom they hunted with the help of dogs in the cellars of their ruined homes. Our idea was to undermine that feeling of impunity and to make the gendarmes feel under siege every night when they could not count on any help arriving before day break. It was a cold and dark evening in January. The streets were empty and not a flicker of light visible; the curfew and total black- out were brutally enforced by the occupiers and just a bit of light could invite an indiscriminate shot in the window.
Early in the evening we secured the keys to the warehouse from the manager of the creamery located just outside of town. Now, as silently as possible, the main group of about eight young men with a horse drawn wagon were getting into position just beside the corner entrance to the warehouse. Just ahead of them two of us secured the operation: Manius (Rydzewski) covered the open expanse of the market place with his automatic and I, with "sten" 30 submachine gun, had the task of stopping any Germans who may emerge from the gate of the rectory where they were stationed. The distance from that gate to the warehouse at the corner was about fifty meters along the wall of the same building. On the opposite side of this narrow street was the high wall of the parish church enclosure with the ancient belfry almost opposite the warehouse.
Slowly, without making any noise I advanced about half way towards the entrance to the enemy quarters and settled there to wait. It was not the most prudent move on my part, but I had to be some distance ahead of the operation to secure it.
It could not have been more than five minutes... there were foot steps at the gate... and, in almost total darkness, a faint outline of an approaching gendarme...Slowly, noiselessly, without losing sight of the enemy I backtracked to my starting position beside the belfry and there ... on the edge of the sidewalk, with my sten at the ready on my right hip... I made my stand... and when, in a few seconds, the Hun was about in front of me across the narrow street... I yelled: "Halt! Hände hoch!" ("Hands up" in German). Three rapid flashes of his pistol followed by the ear splitting thunder of my submachine gun... I could see a sudden up flinging of the gendarme's hands as if in a belated gesture of surrender and in a kind of half turn he crashed against the cobblestones of the street. In a second I was kneeling on his back,tearing the pistol from his still clutching hand. In the brief moment of stillness following the shots I could hear the gendarme's blood spilling on the street from a bullet- punctured neck artery. And then all hell broke loose again...A noisy commotion at the gate... some gendarmes running to the rescue and "Manius" persuading them to stay put with half a dozen pistol shots. They were falling over each other in the gateway in a desperate retreat to safety. I did not have time to unbuckle my victim's belt....so I just gave a hard tug and the stitches let go. Almost automatically I felt the gun holster - it was buckled down.
In the cruel accounting used in those bitter
days our action was only a limited success: one gendarme shot and his friends
too scared togo out at night from then on. On the negative side we did
not get the butter and the next day theShupo from the neighboring town
brought up ten prisoners and executed them in the market square in retaliation.
30 Excellent weapon, a
marvel of simplicity in its design. Its replicas under the name of "Blyskawica"
(Lightning) were produced by the students of the Underground Engineering
School in Warsaw.