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The Bunker

by Charles Goldstein

Bibliographic information

TitleThe Bunker
AuthorCharles Goldstein
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2001


In August 1944, the Warsaw uprising, set in motion by the underground Polish army led by Bor-Komorowski, was nearing its end. Among those who had participated in that uprising were Jews who had somehow survived the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto rebellion and had been living in places of concealment inside or outside the ghetto, or masquerading illegally as Poles.

“In these last days of the battle,” writes Charles Goldstein, one of the Jews who took part in that 1944 uprising, “the Warsaw insurgents have stopped resisting seriously. They know that are going to surrender to the Germans, that all the combatants will be taken prisoner.”

“The fate of the Jews is quite different. They are killed on the spot buy the Germans.”

The building that was Number 8 Franciszkanska Street had been held for many weeks by a Jewish unit. Six men and one woman comprised that unit. They succeeded in escaping the roundup and massacre of Jews that followed the Warsaw uprising by hiding in a bunker carved out of the debris of that shattered building. Inside the darkness of that bunker they built a strange kind of life for themselves, all the time waiting and hoping for the advent of the Russian army.

Charles Goldstein was one of those seven Jews. From about September 1944 until January 1945 he lived with six others under inconceivable conditions. Yet they survived. How they managed this is told in The Bunker, a quietly magnificent account of seven people who created a small world of dignity and humanity in the face of awesome horror.

About the Author 

Charles Goldstein ---

Charles Goldstein was born and raised in Poland. He emigrated to France in the 1920’s and was active in the French Resistance during the Second World War. In June 1942 he was arrested by the Germans and sent to Auschwitz. In October 1943, he was sent together with other Jews to Warsaw, to clean up the ruins of the ghetto. The Bunker follows upon these events.



















The following night when Joseph makes his way into our bunker followed by his three friends—preceded by Daniel, who went to show them the way—his first words are:

“God in heaven! It’s quite a palace you’ve got here.”

Our bunker has been decked out for a celebration. Today Haskel did not go with the others to search in the cellars. He said he did not feel well. But when we came back from our foraging expedition, we found a narrow table pushed against a wall and near the table, a bench.

Haskel made the table and bench out of some planks which were piled up in the bunker to serve as fuel for the fire. Using a stone, he removed all the nails; then he fastened two planks together, added another plank at each side, nailed it all together—and our table was ready.

“When you have guests, you’ve got to make the house look nice,” Haskel tells us.

We are all in such high spirits that we do not even feel we are in a bunker. Hannah is flushed with emotion, as befits the mistress of the house, who wants the meal to be successful and pleasing to the guests. Samek hovers around her, somewhat solemn, helpful, an agreeable smile on his lips.

Daniel does not understand Polish, but the happy expression on his face speaks for itself. Of all the four, Joseph is the most garrulous. It is he who introduces his friends.

“The little one over there is called Wozniak. He’s a carpenter. He lived quite near here with his mother who died when the city was being bombed during the insurrection. The tall one over there is called Antek. He used to work in the fields with his father in a village near Warsaw. He left his wife and child there, and he came here to help us drive out the Germans. The one with the cough is called Kazik; he seems to be an intellectual.” And Joseph adds, laughing: “It’s only thanks to him that we’re alive. He never stops praying. Let him pray as much as he likes, all well and good. But I must admit that he was a great help in thrashing the Germans.”

Hannah, always the perfect hostess, invites everyone to take his place, and the party begins. For each one Hannah has prepared a little cake made with a handful of the flour found in a cellar mixed with a little water and cooked on hot bricks. Then she places on the table a saucepan full of “soup”—that is to say, hot water in which here and there a few bits of pasta, made with the same flour, float. Hannah announces proudly that the water from which the soup is made came from the spring that was discovered the night before. We wish each other a speedy liberation, and our thoughts fly across the Vistula toward Praga and the Red Army.

Joseph, who has remained pensive for a moment, exclaims: “Aie, such a celebration, and not a single drop of brandy.”

“We’ll make up for it,” Isaac consoles him, “when we get out of here. Then we’ll get drunk, good and proper!” “Yes, we’ll get drunk all right!” Ignace repeats. “We’ll have to, so as not to go out of our minds when we see all the ruins.”

“We’re having a party tonight!” Hannah retorts, almost angry. “Tonight at least don’t think of the world above us; let’s just be happy we’re here.”

So we begin to enjoy our soup, which is really hot, and Joseph compliments Hannah several times on her good cooking. Hannah blushes a little, but she is very pleased. We are all in high spirits. We are like relatives gathered together for a family celebration. The bunker resounds with our laughter. The soup and the little cakes are much appreciated. Every face reflects the party mood.

We listen to our new friends, who tell us about the fighting during the insurrection. Although this is not a new subject to us, we listen to them with interest, for each one of us has lived through these moments differently and has reacted to these events in his own way. So, in imagination, we once more live through this unforgettable time.

Little Wozniak tells the story of the battle he witnessed. As he speaks, he gesticulates in a lively manner, not only with his hands but with all his body, as though he is fighting again.

“When our group first attacked the German detachment stationed near us in Freta Street, it was nearly five o’clock in the afternoon. It was the first of August, a Tuesday, I think. The Germans were so taken by surprise that they hardly put up any resistance. Some of them ran away and probably fell into the hands of another group of insurgents who were quite near, since the insurrection broke out at the same time in all districts of Warsaw. Many Germans surrendered immediately. People came out into the streets to see what was going on. Some of them were terrified and went back and shut themselves up indoors. Others joined our ranks. They helped us barricade the streets and alleys which led to the Vistula. Our group was sent to the corner of Sierakowska Street, where we joined other groups and began to get ready to attack Danzig Station. The first night was calm, and the next day many streets were in our hands. The population was jubilant. Groups of musicians wandered around the town, playing their instruments.

“Very late at night, after a whole day of preparation, we began to approach Danzig Station on many sides at once. We were already very close to it when, abruptly, sustained gunfire stopped our advance. After two hours, we had to withdraw with heavy losses. But—a strange thing—once we had drawn back, the Germans did not pursue us. We learned later that they were fortifying their positions near the Vistula so as to be able not only to make a stand there but also to go on the attack.”

“The population’s joy was short-lived,” interrupts Joseph. “The fourth day of the insurrection, the Germans showed us what they could do,” Wozniak went on. “From their airplanes they threw leaflets which called on us to surrender. Naturally, we didn’t. The fifth day they threw down leaflets again, renewing their call. Then they employed their old, tried-and-true method of turning one part of the population against the other. Certain planes flooded the town with special leaflets in which they threatened the population with reprisals, and at the same time they advised them not to let themselves be led by the Jews and Communists who had escaped from camps and taken command of the uprising.

“This time nobody was taken in. This was because we had really seen them—these Jews in their striped prison clothes right out of the camps—we had really seen them fighting beside us and falling like heroes. No one thought of surrendering,” affirms Wozniak, almost shouting.

“Then they started bombing the city, destroying it, beginning with the Old Town.

“Once,” continues Wozniak, lowering his voice, “I ran home after such a bombardment to see my mother. I found the house in ruins and all the people who lived in it buried underneath, including my mother.”

He turns away from us and quickly, so we will not notice it—for he doesn’t wish to spoil our festivity—he touches a finger to the tear running down his cheek. He forces himself to smile, but the atmosphere of gaiety is already destroyed. It is sufficient to say only one word and thousands of mothers rise up in the bunker and stand in front of us. Then the bunker becomes a bunker again.

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