Veteran Interviews – Wanda Witort

Wanda in front of a portion of the Warsaw uprising memorial in Warsaw, Poland

Wanda Witort was born in Warsaw, Poland December 23rd 1929. She lived a very interesting childhood as her father was a Colonel in the Polish army serving with the Polish government’s version of the Pentagon or General Staff before the war. Col. Witort served directly to the Minister of War in Warsaw. Wanda’s youth was spent in the care of her grand parents and close relatives in the small town of Lowicz about 80 miles outside of Warsaw.

When Germany invaded the family knew they needed to get out of harm’s way. Col. Witort would be on duty constantly and so from September 1st on Wanda would not see her father for another seven years. The family was evacuated to a secluded spot just outside of Wilno, Poland. Here they were able to remain until that area fell under the fateful Soviet occupation in the fall of 1939. Shortly thereafter while the now 11 year old Wanda was playing at a friend’s house the NKVD deported her immediate family to Siberia. It was only by the grace of God that she was not taken as well. After this horrific and tragic event Wanda was smuggled to her Aunt’s house in Warsaw. Her uncle had been an officer in the pre war army and having escaped capture, joined the fledgling Armia Krajowa (AK), or home army. The apartment where Wanda was now living was a hot bed of AK activity.

During this time secret AK meetings were held under the guise of “playing bridge.” That was the code name to let other AK members know that plans were afoot. It is interesting to note that after Col. Witort’s escape from Poland he became active in the Polish government in exile under General Sikorski first in France and then in London. Written communication with family in occupied Poland was impossible. He and others however were able to send packages through Portugal into their home country. These parcels did not have written letters but did contain an encoded cargo. A shipment of almonds was meant to signify that the sender was alive and well. Wanda and her family therefore looked forward to the packages from Portugal hailing her father’s well being.

While her Aunt’s apartment served as a make shift head quarters, Wanda became involved in various AK message and courier duties. Although still young by today’s standards the now 13 year old volunteered to carry messages and other parcels through the closely guarded streets of Warsaw. Nazi death squads were common place and the city’s residents lived in constant fear of the Gestapo. Wanda did not consider herself especially brave, she was merely doing a job for her country. She and others her age could not be talked out of helping. It seemed a matter of course for everyone to do what they could against the German oppressors. She even remembers at one time carrying a large, posh purse which contained an AK produced bomb to be used in sabotage.

During the fateful Warsaw uprising which lasted from August to October of 1944, Wanda continued her courier duties. She remembers the feeling of betrayal at seeing Soviet troops stop at the suburbs of Warsaw in Praga. Despite the communists initial invitations to revolt, they offered no help to the beleaguered city when within easy reach. Good providence kept Wanda from harm or capture. There were however many harrowing experiences during those dark times. Wanda most vividly remembers constantly being hungry. As the end of the uprising came Wanda and family were able to temporarily avoid forced evacuation by the nazis because her grandmother was being cared for by the Polish Red Cross and local nuns in a convent. She was very lucky as many of Warsaw’s inhabitants either ended up in prison or work camps.

Once her grandmother had recuperated enough to travel, the family once again made their way back to Lowicz. There was little time however to settle in. While there the German authorities began to round up all children of age useful for slave labor to ship them via train further into the Riech. At the train station Wanda’s Aunt was able to produce a bottle of Polish vodka and persuaded the German guard to look the other way while Wanda made her escape. Soon she was back with her family. The war was winding down and the Germans were on the run. She spent the remaining few months continuing her education at the hands of local nuns.

In 1946 the war was over but the struggle continued in Poland. The Soviets had already begun to install their puppet communist regime in Warsaw. It spread it’s tentacles throughout the country. At long last Wanda’s father was able to contact her from London. She had to escape Poland as quickly as possible as the Soviets were hunting down members of prominent prewar families whom they had already not dealt with at Katyan. With the help of her father’s connections Wanda was able to escape yet again through Czechoslovakia ending up in Meppen, Germany where she was reunited with her father. It had been a long seven years.

From Germany Wanda and her father moved back to London where she was subsequently married in 1951 and emigrated to Toronto, Canada in 1952. In 1958 she, her husband Jerzy and their two children moved to the United States.

Symbols Gallery – Click on either image for more details

Another large view of the memorial in Warsaw