About ten minutes after the guard change at midnight Lev and Anna made their way toward the ghetto wall on the east side of the city, walked down a side street and alongside an apartment building. Lev removed a wooden cover from the cellar window area and helped Anna inside. Even though it was damp it felt much warmer than outside where it was cold, damp and windy. Lev pulled out a container of soup that he’d taken from Marysia’s and shared it with Anna. He also had a chunk of bread that he broke in half. They needed to sleep but they both were so excited about their plans that they found it hard to sleep. Every now and then they could hear noises above their heads, someone who had gotten up in the night.
“Let’s go back and do it now,” said Anna. “I have a good feeling that things will go well if we do it tonight. I don’t think we should wait.” It was one o’clock. It was risky to go out again. They’d be shot on sight if they were seen by soldiers or police. But Lev, who had a conviction about women’s intuition, finally relented.
They left the safety of the basement, the temperature hovering near freezing, After they arrived in Three Crosses Square they spotted the German patrols. The guards would change at 4 a.m. outside of the barracks. They made their way up and across the square. They walked behind St. Alexander’s Church and onto the west side of the square taking care to keep out of sight of the sentries.
They went over onto Nowy Swiat Street which ran through the square, then past the tram conductor’s hut in the middle near the photographer’s stand where German soldiers would get their pictures taken. They continued past the Deaf, Dumb and Blind Institute, and took a left at the Apollo Theater onto Prus Street. At the end of Prus, Anna and Lev walked left and stopped in the shadows near some bushes from which they crouched behind to study the two sentries outside of the SS barracks across the street.
“Here’s the plan, then,” Lev whispered. I’ll head down the street from where we came and come up around the side of the building. That’s when you’ll see me again. I’ll wait until the guards aren’t looking and then I’ll take them both out. When that happens, make sure no-one is coming. Look up and down the street. Cross quickly. I should have the keys by then and with any luck the doors won’t be locked anyway. I’ll also search them for guns, handguns – we don’t want any rifles, they’re too heavy. Handguns and grenades-all you can get. Okay?”
“I’ve got it.”
“Okay. I’m going. In about twenty minutes you’ll see me along the left side over there. If there is any problem, hold up this shirt as a flag above these bushes. Remember, only if there is danger. In that case, I’ll leave and we’ll meet in the basement.”
“Good,” said Anna who watched Lev disappear.
There was a light illuminating the SS building that might have to be taken out, she thought. She watched the guards as they were laughing and talking in mumbled voices. Then one of them looked at his watch and gestured, then began to make his way around the building. Anna became alarmed. During the two hours that they had watched the guards, the latter did not leave the front of the building. Maybe Lev was right, she thought. Maybe they should have returned at midnight the next night when they would know more about the guards’ behavior.
Ten minutes elapsed. Then the guard emerged from the shadows behind the building and walked along the side of the barracks when someone came from his side and dragged him down to the ground. She didn’t hear a sound. She knew it was Lev. Anna looked up and down the street and then at the remaining guard to see if he noticed anything. He stood smoking his cigarette. His back was to Lev who wasted no time. He quickly stepped up from behind like a cat and took the soldier down without a sound. After looking up and down the street again Anna sprinted across to the barracks. The door was open so the keys were not needed.
Lev removed the soldier’s coat and helmet and put them on. Then he let her in carefully, and whispered, “Find a blanket and place the weapons in it. Tie it tight and fast. Get out quick. Don’t let them hit the floor. They should all be asleep. But be careful to see if there are any guards in there. Go quickly.” Anna crawled along the floor once inside. There were two lights on but they were dim, one on each end of the long hall. Off to the sides were rooms in which the men were sleeping. The building must have once been a school or hospital, she thought, not being familiar with it.
She suddenly froze. Two men down the hall were talking in low voices. She listened to see if they had heard her. No, they were talking about when Russia would invade Germany. They were saying Germany could not win anymore and that they hoped the Americans or British instead of the Russians would be the occupiers of the Fatherland. Anna crawled silently and quickly into the first room alongside bunk beds that were two levels high. Several men were snoring. One turned in his sleep. Nothing unusual. She found holsters hanging on the wall hooks but she needed to stand up to get them. She didn’t open the lockers for fear that it would make too much noise.
Gradually pressing up against the wall she raised herself and took several pistols. She needed a blanket. There wasn’t an extra one available. Not even a sheet. So she took a pair of trousers off the wall hook and tied knots in the legs near the feet. Slowly, she slid the weapons into the legs. Someone turned and said something. “Shut up and go to sleep,” another soldier complained. Anna went to the next set of bunks but fearing that four men instead of two had a chance to see her if she stood up she decided to go across the hall. Slowly she dragged the trousers with the weapons across the floor. She had to find grenades which she would especially need if she were seen. Two grenades into the first two rooms and another down the hall might give her adequate time to escape. But she had never used a grenade. She knew a pin had to be pulled. That was all.
27 TREASURE TROVE
A similar scene greeted her in the next room. Again she went to the first set of bunks. All seemed to be sleeping. She found an ammunition box and tried to open it but couldn’t figure out how. She felt around with her fingers until she realized she had to pull out the two latches. It made a slight noise that jarred Anna’s senses. It seemed to resound throughout the barracks. Panic gripped her. She held her breath. The men were still sleeping. She lifted the metal top of the box. Inside were several grenades and a smaller box of bullets. Gradually, silently she transferred them to the trousers while carrying the box by the metal handle. It was heavy. She decided to find a few more guns and get out. This she did.
She left the treasure in the middle of the floor and crawled. They were on the wall in the holsters just like in the previous room. What about more ammunition? She found no more and decided that they would have to make do. Tomorrow they could try to get more bullets in the Praga market but by then the Germans would have the heat on everyone in Warsaw. No they’d have to get back into the Ghetto first chance. The fascists would be angry that they had been outsmarted by Poles or Jews. There would be tremendous heat. Anna was about to leave when a soldier got out of bed and abruptly left the room. He didn’t see her. But he was swearing to himself about something. He must have struck his toe on the box. She decided to move out and dragged the now heavy trousers across the floor hoping the soldier would not return for another minute or so.
Once in the hall with the cache of weapons Anna stood up and opened the door and left the building. The dead soldier who was on the ground was gone. Lev had dragged his body around the side of the building. There was a pool of blood. Despite what he said earlier about rifles, Lev gave Anna one of the two rifles and he strapped the other behind his back and took the trousers.
They ran toward the square and, as they approached it, they heard the barracks alarm and dogs. “Where did the dogs come from? Were there dogs inside?” Lev asked as they ran as fast as they could. He grabbed both the box and the heavy trousers and tossed her his rifle. The sentries in the square no doubt heard the alarm. Anna and Lev had to get across the square to get to the ghetto wall. They went around the church on the north side and, throwing caution to the wind, they bolted across the remaining sector of the square. Then they heard the shots and soldiers barking orders to halt. Anna crouched on the ground as one soldier came running and she shot him. She reloaded, got up and ran. Within minutes they were at the basement. Lev crawled into the cellar window first and Anna slipped him the weapons.
They were both dead tired. It was three a.m. Soon, they’d have to get the weapons over the wall somehow. The sounds of sirens and shots were heard outside and soldiers’ feet running toward the ghetto. Grenades then exploded and a firefight inside the ghetto began. “Almost like it was planned,” said Lev. “What luck.”
“Yeh, they think we escaped over the wall,” said Anna. That night, before Anna slept, she reflected that she had never experienced that kind of terror. Even now she could hardly believe that she had broken into an SS barracks with dozens of sleeping soldiers. The soldiers would be in the street tomorrow and it was important that she and Lev sleep a couple of hours before making their attempt to reach the ghetto.
She thought of the two soldiers who had lain on the ground. She knew Lev had killed them but she did not ask him about it. Then she wondered if she had killed the soldier who came running. And she reflected on the act and the man. Did he have a family? Was he young or old? A Nazi or just some poor luckless schmuck? He made one groan and fell. He was dead, she thought. “I killed a man.” They had placed the weapons in the coal bin which was a large wooden box. She wondered where they would hide if the soldiers came. Then she heard the dogs and the thump of soldiers stepping in the street near the wall.
“Lev we need to hide!” Anna said.
“Get into the bin with the guns, I’ll find another place,” said Lev.
Anna immediately got in the extremely tight space and shut the lid. Then she heard the tap-tap-tap sound of boots descending the stairs. Anna could see their flashlights through the cracks in the wooden bin. She could hardly breathe and didn’t dare make a sound. Her heart pounded so loud that she thought it could be heard. So this is what it felt like, she thought, extreme tension. Don’t breathe.
She had to focus on just controlling her heart beat and breathing, afraid they’d hear her. Would they open the bin? The men were now completely silent, listening. The air was suffocating. The beam settled right on the top of the bin …”
Categories: Comrade Anna