Despite having spent 80 years of its outbreak, World War II remains a great source of fascinating stories and, in some cases, still full of enigmas.
Warsaw in the autumn of 1944: a ghost city
One of those stories is set in the ruined city in which the formerly beautiful Warsaw was converted after the heroic Uprising carried out by the Polish resistance in 1944. As revenge against that rebellion, the Germans were thoroughly employed in the destruction of the capital of Poland, which was converted into a ghost city. Recall that between 150,000 and 200,000 inhabitants of Warsaw were killed by the Germans or died during the fighting in the city. Many others managed to flee from that hell in which he had witnessed scenes of a horror and horror difficult to describe.
According to Polish historian Katarzyna Utracka, in 1939 Warsaw had 1.3 million inhabitants, “ranking the seventh biggest city in Europe, ahead of Rome or Madrid.” However, when the Red Army arrived in the former Polish capital in January 1945 “saw no cheering crowds though as Warsaw was then inhabited by only 22,000 residents, who settled mostly in remote parts of the western side of the river.” Utracka also points out that the central area of Warsaw was still deserted, “with only several hundred ‘Warsaw Robinsons’, who chose to remain in hiding.” Among those ‘Robinsons’ there were even Jews who managed to survive the Ghetto Uprising of 1943. One of them was the famous pianist Władysław Szpilman, whose story Roman Polanski told in his movie “The Pianist” (2002). It was among those ruins that a German captain, Wilhelm Hosenfeld, found him, of whom I already spoke to you here.
The mysterious Ares that appeared a few days after the end of the Uprising
There was another ‘Robinson’ that, unlike the cited pianist, is still surrounded by mystery today. He became known as Ares, nickname he took from the Greek god of war. An appropriate name, because for months he devoted himself to harassing the Germans alone, carrying out bold ambushes and propaganda and psychological warfare operations. Marta Tychmanowicz points out that what little is known about his history, which is mixed with the legend, began on October 10, 1944, eight days after the end of the Uprising, when several German soldiers were resting in the rubble, during the burning of houses on Poznan Street: “Suddenly, a brown suitcase fell from the window of a neighborhood house. After a while, a loud explosion threw bricks. Three soldiers were killed.” Tychmanowicz points out that the other soldiers fled, but after a while they returned to try to find the author: “They didn’t find anyone, but they observed the inscription ‘Ares’ on the windowsill.”
“Ares is a ghost”, a graffiti warned to the Germans
Tychmanowicz points out that on another occasion, Ares dragged the body of a German soldier to a regular meeting point for the SS members. He left a note next to him: “This is what awaits all of you in Warsaw.” On another occasion, the mysterious character made a graffiti with this text: “Ares is a ghost, not matter, you have no reason to look for him.” This peculiar form of psychological warfare began to take effect, and Tychmanowicz comments that German morals began to falter: “One night, Ares appeared around the barracks and began to emit sounds like an alarm siren through a tube. He shot the confused Germans who were running out of the barracks like a duck hunter …” However, shortly after they started chasing him and almost managed to capture him, getting hurt, “but he jumped into the canal at the last moment. He left for several weeks, apparently healing his wounds,” Tychmanowicz adds.
A patefon and an amazingly emaciated man
In December 1944 Ares returned, appearing on Bracka Street in a very original way: he put a patefon in the window of a building and played a record of military marches. When the Germans arrived at the scene, they found a puppet that represented Hitler, hanged, next to the inscription “Kaput.” There was an explosion and the building’s facade came over the Germans. Unable to capture him, the Germans decided to ally with another of the great enemies of the ‘Warsaw Robinsons’: hunger. They began placing poisoned food in the places where Ares appeared most frequently. At the end of December 1944, a German patrol found an amazingly emaciated man among the ruins. Unable to escape, the man hid in the rubble and began firing his weapon at the Germans, reserving the last bullets to take his own life.
A mysterious figure whose identity remains an unknown
Today, Ares’s real name is still unknown, and some even consider him an urban legend. Marta Tychmanowicz thus summarizes the figure of that mysterious man: “He took revenge alone. He manifested the presence of Poles in the demolished city.” The exploits of Ares were preserved in the memory of ‘Warsaw Robinsons’. In the 1960s, Wacław Gluth-Nowowiejski, a former combatant of the Polish resistance, interviewed several of them and embodied much of what we know today about Ares in his book “Nie umieraj do jutra” (Don’t die until tomorrow), published for the first time in 1975 and that continues today to be reissued in Poland. Whoever he was, Ares represented the indomitable spirit of the Poles and their eagerness to never give up, even in the most adverse circumstances. Serve this post as a tribute to that ‘ghost’.
Main photo: frame of the film “The Pianist” (2002) by Roman Polanski, which tells the story of one of the ‘Warsaw Robinsons’, the Jewish pianist Władysław Szpilman.
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