Home Army / Warsaw Uprising
Zakrzewsk Annaa, code named “Hanka Biała”(24 Dec 1925 – 11 Au 1944)
Warm summer day, beautiful river scenery, gorgeous girl.
The scene in this photo may reflect a carefree teenage girl's life. Even if it was like that, it was only for a very short period. The image was taken during times when teenagers matured really fast and nothing was taken for granted, especially when you were a member of an underground army, just like the girl in the picture.
Her name was Anna Zakrzewska, code named “Hanka Biała”. This photo's date and location are unknown, but we can assume it was taken somewhere in occupied Poland, probably around 1943 and 1944. She is only 17 or 18. Yet, despite her young age, she was already involved in the Polish underground resistance. She was a member of the Grey Ranks Assault Groups (Polish underground scouting organisation) and served in the Home Army’s Directorate of Diversion (Kedyw). “Hanka Biała” completed a military course and was trained as a medic.
In July 1944, she participated in military drills 60km east of occupied Warsaw in the forests near Wyszków. Perhaps this photo was taken there? At that time the Home Army “Operation Tempest” was in full swing. It was carried out to stand as allies and hosts for the approaching Soviet troops, in the hope that the political and propaganda considerations, as well as the support of the Western Allies, would force the Soviets to respect the sovereignty of the Polish civil authorities. The summer of 1944 was the last summer for “Hanka Biała”.
The Red Army soon approached the Polish capital, and the Warsaw Uprising broke out on 1 August 1944. Thousands of Poles, including really young ones like “Hanka Biała” went on a desperate fight to liberate the city after years of brutal German occupation.
Another warm summer day in a burning city, a dead girl.
Warsaw, 11 August 1944. The elite Radosław Group of the Home Army is about to retreat from the Wola district. “Hanka Biała” is a messenger. She must pass the retreat orders to the “Felek” platoon of the “Rudy” company.
On 11 August 1944, Zakrzewska was killed along with many other soldiers of Battalion Zośka, which was then engaged in combat with the German forces in the Wola district of Warsaw. Work as a courier was extremely hazardous; other women of Rudy company who were killed during the uprising included Stefania Grzeszczak, Dorota Łempicka, Zofia Kasperska, and Zofia Krassowska.
On 8 August 1944 Battalion Zośka had seized a school building and taken the defending Germans prisoner. The Germans counterattacked, and the battalion held the school for three days. The nurses of the battalion kept a lookout for the enemy, distributed orders, ammunition, and meals, and cared for the wounded. The battalion was forced to evacuate the building, and Zakrzewska left with the others. During the evacuation, they were forced to cross some open ground. It was at this point that Zakrzewska was struck by bullets, probably from a machine gun, and killed. A soldier of the Home Army who was with her when she died, reported the circumstance of Zakrzewska's death to her parents, Irena and Jan.
Zakrzewska was posthumously awarded the "Cross of Valor".
A Home Army soldier Stanisław Sieradzki, code-named “Świst” recalls:
“At one point I hit something with my wounded right forearm. It was “Hanka Biała”. She no longer needed help. She was lying on her stomach, her head turned to the left and her hair sprayed with blood. It was probably a series from a machine gun. Her open mouth was filled with blood and ground. This sight of “Hanka Biała” I will never forget. After all, an hour earlier she had pulled me from my combat position on the second floor of the school corridor on Spokojna Street. From this window, I was observing the Catholic cemetery, from where I fired at the enemy who was also aiming at me. At that time “Hanka Biała” was cheerful, as energetic as ever, lively. And now on this cursed field, she lies, calm, motionless. Expecting to march out, I thought of Hanka. I saw her sad face. The question arose in my mind: 'Why did Hanka have to die so young, after all, she was only 18 years old."
2024 marks the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, the pinnacle of the Home Army’s “Operation Tempest” and one of the most tragic episodes in Polish history.
Source: Institute of National Remembrance FB page
Copyright: Institute of National Remembrance