“We had to watch the bombs being dropped on our homes” | European | News and current affairs from across the continent | DW

As soon as she wakes up, Wanda Traczyk-Stawska enters her living room and turns on the television. She’s been doing this every morning since February 24, 2022, as if it were her duty. The 95-year-old wants to know if the Ukrainians are still fighting against the Russian invaders. She wants to be with them even if it’s only from her couch.

Traczyk-Stawska knows all too well what combat is. During the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, the young woman was 17 years old and a member of the Polish resistance fighting against the German occupier. In an interview with DW, she tries to recall the sounds, smells and tastes of that terrible time. Sometimes she closes her eyes and speaks more slowly as if trying to savor every word.

Wanda Traczyk-Stawska was a member of the Polish resistance in 1944

“In the first days of the war, I saw the Germans shoot a baby,” Wanda Traczyk-Stawska tells us, lowering her head. “Before that, I couldn’t have imagined that people could be so mean.” That’s when she decided she wanted to be an adult so she could fight too.

“I hate war. It’s the greatest madness of humanity”, underlines Traczyk-Stawska. But for two months now, she has been confronted with her horrors. “I would rather be dead and not have to go through this, but since I’m still alive, I feel compelled to fight. And I can only do that by appealing to the world: Help Ukraine!”

Ukrainian sky

Traczyk-Stawska remembers well the feeling of having no support in the war against the Germans. She remembers 1944 by the fact that the skies over Ukraine are still “open”, that is, no-fly zones have not been agreed or established.

“We had no air defense at all back then. And you can’t shoot down a plane with a machine gun. Without defence, we had to watch bombs being dropped on our homes. That’s our biggest trauma .”

Agnieszka Popiel smiles at the camera in front of a white background

Agnieszka Popiel is a psychotherapist and psychiatrist at SWPS University

“What is happening right now is a huge burden for people who survived World War II,” says Agnieszka Popiel, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist at SWPS University in Warsaw. The professor co-directs the University Clinic for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and traumatology is one of her fields of specialization. His university has set up a helpline for people who have fled the war in Ukraine – and who still feel in danger and may be worried about loved ones or have lost a loved one.

Nightmares with monsters

Stanislaw Walski also had horrific experiences during World War II. He was born in 1933, the year Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. “The Russian invasion tore my psyche to pieces. After all the atrocities I experienced during World War II, I thought: This can never happen again. But, unfortunately, there are times time of sick people who feel compelled to go to war,” he told DW in a phone interview.

Today, the 88-year-old lives in Wroclaw. Walski participated in the city’s “No More War” initiative at the Depot History Center. It presents short films in which people who lived through the Second World War denounce the conflict in Ukraine. In his video, Stanislaw Walski recounts being deported to a camp at Neumarkt in der Oberpflaz in Bavaria, Germany, when he was 11 years old. For years he was gripped by the same nightmare. Inside, he was floating in the air and monsters were trying to grab him by the legs.

Stanislaw Walski, wearing a dark gray suit, shirt and tie, stands in front of a plain background

Stanislaw Walski was deported to a German camp at the age of 11

“I think the psyche of the little boy I was at the time was unable to bear the sight of all the corpses. The sight of people who threw themselves into barbed wire fences,” Walski says. He also remembers sounds and smells – and the ever-present hunger. “It was unbearable. If a fly flew into my mouth, I didn’t spit it out, but swallowed it.”

Age makes old memories more vivid

Psychotherapist Popiel points out that older people often remember what they experienced when they were young much more intensely than events from the recent past. “At the time, the experiences were strongly embedded in their memory, later, when their strength wanes, it happens less and less frequently.” This is why the memories of our youth come back more vividly.

Woman lighting candles at a monument commemorating the Warsaw Uprising

The conflict in neighboring Ukraine has revived memories of the Warsaw Uprising

The psychologist explains how people unconsciously build a defense mechanism: Anyone who has experienced something terrible stores concrete stimuli such as sounds, smells or images to prepare the body, so that it can protect itself in similar situations. in the future.

“The Germans are too hesitant”

“I often hear people say that we were an unusual generation. It’s not true. We were like people today,” says Wanda Traczyk-Stawska. During her interview, she told us several times that she would advise Ukrainian women not to stay in Poland, which had become a frontline state, but to flee further west.

“I know these women think of their husbands who are fighting in Ukraine. They want to stay close to them. But that’s wrong! For the men who stayed, it’s important to know that their wives and children are in security.”

Infografik Flüchtlingsbewegungen Ukraine (Stand: 19.04.22) EN

The World War II resistance fighter is grateful for the opportunity to speak directly to the Germans. “I want Germany to try to bring peace to the world. There will be no peace as long as there is war. The Germans are too hesitant.”

At the end of the interview, Wanda Traczyk-Stawska resolutely declares: “If I were a little younger, I would fight with the Ukrainians now. The Polish veteran stresses that the people of neighboring Ukraine must never give up. She is convinced that they will win: “Because, like me, the people there know what freedom means and what human dignity is.

The article was originally written in German.

Mary I. Bruner