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Modernism: Representations of National Culture

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter III. Literary representations of the “national character”

Stones for the rampart

Aleksander Kamiński

Texte intégral

1Title: Kamienie na szaniec (Stones for the rampart)

2Originally published: Warsaw, Tajne Wojskowe Zakłady Wydawnicze – Komisja Propagandy Biura Informacji i Propagandy Komendy Głównej AK, 1943

3Language: Polish

4The excerpts used are from J. Gorecki [Aleksander Kamiński], Stones for the Rampart. The Story of Two Lads in the Polish Underground Movement, with a foreword by Percy Hugh Beverley Lyon, M.C., M.A. (published as the 12th volume of Polish Boy Scouts’ and Girl Guides’ Library, London: Polish Boy Scouts’ and Girl Guides’ Association, 1945), pp. 58–68.

About the author

5Aleksander Kamiński [1903, Warsaw – 1978, Warsaw]: writer and propagator of scouting. Kamiński spent his childhood in Ukraine, after which he studied history and archaeology in Warsaw. In the inter-war period, he was one of the leaders of the Polish scout movement (Związek Harcerstwa Polskiego, the ZHP). During the Second World War, Polish scouting continued its activity as a clandestine organization – the ‘Grey Ranks’ within the Armia Krajowa (Home army, thereafter AK). Kamiński worked for the AK, being responsible for ‘small sabotage’ operations as well as for information and propaganda activities of the Warsaw division. The main agenda of the underground Polish state serving this purpose was the Biuro Informacji i Propagandy AK (Information and propaganda bureau of the Home Army), led by Polish intellectuals, among which many, such as Tadeusz Manteuffel, Aleksander Gieysztor and Stefan Kieniewicz, became prominent historians in the post-1945 period. After 1945, with the exception of the Stalinist era (1948–1956) when Polish authorities banned the scouts and installed a Soviet-type pioneer movement, Kamiński worked for the ZHP and lectured on pedagogy in Łódź. After 1956, he published books about the German occupation and the small sabotage operations as well as works on pedagogy and scouting. His impact on the national literary canon is restricted to his bestknown book, Stones for the rampart.

6Main works: Antek cwaniak [Tony, the smart] (1932); Książka wodza zuchów [The book of the Scouts’ chief] (1933); Kamienie na szaniec [Stones for the rampart] (1943); “Zośka” i “Parasol” (1957).


7During the Second World War, Polish lands were under the occupation of Nazi Germany. This implied that certain groups within society were to be eliminated, first and foremost Europe’s largest Jewish community. At the same time, German troops and the police virtually decimated the Polish intelligentsia, aiming to reduce the country to a source of forced labor. The entire cultural and political life of the country was abruptly put to a halt. The Polish underground government resisted the German regime not only through various military activities, but also through propaganda (addressed to Polish society, Western public opinion and even to the Germans). It also succeeded in uniting most of the political spectrum (with the exception of the communists) and unifying party militias in a quasi all-national ‘Home Army’. Kamiński’s text represents one of the most successful attempts to popularize the idea of resistance in Poland and the West.

8The unusual trajectory of this book is even more striking if we take into consideration the circumstances of its publishing. Kamiński wrote ‘Stones for the rampart’ in 1943. The book was published as a samizdat, and republished in 1944, winning considerable popularity despite lacking the means of normal marketing. The excerpt included here is from its first English translation from 1945, with a foreword by Hugh Lyon, headmaster of Rugby School. It is striking to see how the initial idea of scouting was reinterpreted by Kamiński: the scouts were praised for their fidelity towards the ideals of the movement, for which they were ready to fight and die.

9While ‘Stones for the rampart’ tried to reinterpret the very idea of scouting according to the experience of war, it also drew upon important traditional features of Polish ‘Romantic’ patriotism. It raised the question of young men’s sacrifice for national values, while displaying important traces of romantic messianism. The title of the book is a quotation from a poem by Juliusz Słowacki. A short fragment contains the outlines of the whole story:

“I implore the still living not to lose hope,
But, when the time comes, to go forth to their death
Like stones thrown by God upon a great rampart.”

10The outlook presented in the book is also connected to the debate on the meaning of the 1944 Warsaw uprising, fought predominantly by young people and teenagers. After its suppression, the organizers faced strong criticism, whereby they were accused of “shooting with diamonds,” referring to the sacrifice of the nation’s young elites in the name of inconcrete, unrealistic aims and spiritual values such as honor and freedom. At the same time, the political leaders of the uprising were criticized for their apparent indifference to the fate of Warsaw’s civilians, suffering not only from heavy fighting in the city but also from the brutality of the German and collaborative Russian units suppressing the resistance. At the same time, the uprising triggered an unofficial cult that reached its peak at the beginning of the twenty-first century, receiving eventually state support and uniting the right wing of the political spectrum along its symbolic heritage.

11The book was based on a true story. Kamiński describes various clandestine activities of his younger friends. The central theme of the story refers to the attempt to set free a young fighter from a German prison. The attempt was successful but Rudy, the imprisoned partisan, died at the end of the operation. He had been tortured but had not betrayed his friends. The story was filmed in the 1970s but the actual protagonists, who had not survived the occupation, could not comment on its artistic version.

12After 1945, Kamiński’s book shared the fate of other works of the noncommunist underground. In the first years of communist rule, it was criticized for glorifying stupidity and the manipulation of young, inexperienced people by the ‘reactionary’ political leaders of the underground state. Afterwards, during the entire Stalinist period, any public debate on this topic (among many others) was silenced. Together with the Polish scout movement, the book was legalized after 1956. From that point, it served as one of the main Polish narratives of the Second World War, appealing to sentiments of national heroism as well as contributing to symbolical self-victimization. Until recently ‘Stones for the rampart’ was compulsory reading, however, due to its questionable artistic quality and notorious didacticism it never attracted voluntary readers. The conservative turn of the Polish public discourse in the early twenty-first century brought it back to life, together with an extensive evocation of the symbolic heritage of the wartime underground state.


Stones for the rampart. The story of two lads in the Polish underground movement

14Now everything was ready. Near the intersections of Bielańska and Długa Streets, amidst the crowd of passers-by and idlers, none but a practised eye would have distinguished three detachments of the Polish Armed Forces. Two armed with grenades and revolvers, the third with bottles of petrol. In ruined houses near by were a few tommy-guns. Out in the center the young man who was in command of the operation kept his hand in his pocket, on the butt of his loaded revolver. Five o’clock was approaching. It was the first time the young man had found himself in such a situation, and he was anxious, not at the prospect of the coming fight, but because he saw that the lad who was stationed down the street to give warning of the approach of the van was standing with his back to the point he was supposed to observe. But suddenly the lad on look-out turned quickly round and began to wave his hat. The leader put a whistle to his lips and gave a short sharp blast, noticeable only by those who were waiting for it. [...]

15At that moment the prison-van came by. The driver evidently grasped that something was afoot, for he stepped on the gas and tried to turn along Nalewki. But it was too late. Young men leapt in front of the van, the crash of breaking bottles was heard, and in a moment the bonnet and engine were a mass of flames, which spread with lightning rapidity to the driver’s seat. The driver instinctively jammed on the brakes, and the van skidded to a standstill under the arcade of the Warsaw Arsenal. A couple of Gestapo men leapt from the burning seat, and an SS officer rushed up from the direction of Nalewki. It was just there that Wojtek’s party of grenade men were posted. The SS man managed to draw his revolver and shouted something in German. But Wojtek slowly and calmly took aim at him and fired. The German fell dead.

16The men who had leapt from the van began to fire nervously and inaccurately; they were answered with shots from the Polish side. A sharp burst of fire came from the gun in the ruins. At the end of a few minutes three figures in German uniform were lying in the roadway, one of them in flames. Wojtek opened the door of the van, and the prisoners, dumbfounded at first, now made a rush to get out, trampling on the half-unconscious young man who was lying on a stretcher. Not till the whole body of 25 miraculously liberated prisoners had extricated themselves from the van did anyone notice Czarny, crawling on all fours from under the benches.

17“There he is! There he is!” a joyful shout went up.“There’s Czarny!”

18Filled with joy and excitement as they were, they failed to notice the greenish-yellow color of Czarny’s face, his fallen cheeks, the great pouches under his eyes, his blue lips, and his large, wide-open staring eyes. They took him on their shoulders and carried him to their waiting car. He groaned with pain. The car moved off, while his friends, still paying no attention to the rescued man, reloaded the magazines of their guns. Only when this was done did they turn smiling to Czarny. He looked at them with his great open eyes. A smile lit his face despite the cramp of pain. He took his friend’s hand in his own and held it fast. His own hands were black and swollen. “Stach!” he whispered. “O Stach, if you only knew!”

19The intersection of streets in front of the Arsenal was empty—completely empty. […] And on this scene of one of the most noted achievements of the Polish Underground Forces looked down the ancient walls of the Warsaw Arsenal, which had witnessed Kościuszko’s Insurrection and the November Rising of 1831.

20The various sections of the detachment, which had rescued the prisoners, left the scene of action by various streets. Wojtek at the head of his grenadethrowers went quickly along Długa Street in the direction of Miodowa Street. They passed the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, now housing the German Arbeitsamt. In the door were a few German officials, who had heard the firing near the Arsenal and had seen a portion of the action. When Wojtek was twenty paces away they opened fire.

21“Get under cover of the wall!” Wojtek shouted to his men, while he himself took a grenade from his pocket and rushed straight for the doorway. He heard the swish of bullets. When he had all but reached the gateway he felt a violent blow in his stomach. So violent that he doubled up, turned round, and fell on the sidewalk. He felt his clothes with his left hand and found them wet with blood.

22His mind dwelt for only a fraction of a second on his wound, and then concentrated on the doorway, from which more shots were fired. “They will do for all of us if we don’t fight our way through,” it flashed through his head as he realized that retreat towards the Arsenal was impracticable. He took out two grenades from his pocket, unfastened the safety catches of each in turn, and hurled them into the doorway. The noise of the explosions, and shortly after the groans of the wounded, showed that they had reached their mark. [...]

23Wojtek did not realize how seriously he was wounded, and in what danger he was. He felt pain, it is true, but his state of mind was so bright and cheerful, and he thought of Czarny’s rescue and the successful action so exciting, that he wanted to talk about it increasingly. Moreover, he was very pleased with himself. Those two grenades thrown into the Arbeitsamt doorway must have settled a number of Germans, and had opened the way for his men to escape. It would have been pretty serious if they had failed to fight their way through.

24The doctors who were called in looked grave after making their examination of the patient. An immediate operation did not lead to any improvement in his condition.

25Yet Wojtek still felt bright and cheerful. Despite increasing pain he was merry and full of life. He was constantly receiving visits from friends, or near relations, or Zosia. [...]

26His temperature rose and he grew very weak. When he was alone with one of his family he asked for his purse. From one of its side pockets he took out a little card, on which Zosia had written the prayer Wojtek liked most.

27“Who puts himself under the guardianship of the Lord and trusts Him sincerely with his whole heart may boldly say: ‘God is my refuge. I shall have no fear.’”

28Wojtek listened to the words of the Psalm and smiled. It was hard to believe, but despite his sufferings Wojtek continued to feel very happy.

29Death? It was most improbable that this time it would pass him by. But if it came—it must come. Let it come quickly. He was quite ready to receive the Angel of Death. He had thought of her already so many hundred times that he was always ready to receive her. He had become accustomed to her, and looked on her as a friend. He had played his part. Had played it as well as ever he could. That was the most important thing. And besides, he was on such friendly terms with God.

30“Hallo, how is Czarny going on?” he asked in so weak a voice that Zdzich had to bend over to hear.

31It was plain enough that the end might come at any time. The news spread with lightning rapidity among his friends, in whom it produced a feeling of depression and almost of despair. Their dearest friend was leaving them and they were helpless.

32Wojtek lost consciousness—and passed. He had understood now that the drama of his life was reaching its end. He had understood, but had not ceased to smile. What a marvelous play it had been!

33Meanwhile in another part of the city Czarny was lying amid his friends. Those around him changed from time to time: his nearest relations, or his friends; but one person never left his beside, and that was Stach. Czarny’s condition was dreadful. It had been difficult to undress him and get him to bed. He could not bear to be touched. [...]

34“I had one moment of great satisfaction at Szucha Prison.” said Czarny. “That was when the examining Gestapo man shouted at me: ‘You Polish bandit! Why do you look like that?’ and then turned to the others and went on in German: ‘He has the face and expression of a born bandit.’” [...]

35Hours and days passed. After a time the truth, which all strove to dismiss from their minds, became too evident. Czarny’s condition left no hope. Czarny died.

36When the end was near he was too intelligent not to realize that his fate was irrevocably sealed. […]

37Once when he felt a certain temporary relief, a short interval free from pain, one of his friends began to recite the poem “Jubilee,” about how it will be in ten years’ time; but Czarny stopped him with a smile: “Slowly, fellows, quietly!” and waved his hand.

38Presently he said: “As we’re talking of poetry, Janek, repeat those marvelous lines of Słowacki’s ...

39Silence fell, and Janek, striving to control his voice, recited Słowacki’s “My Testament.” Czarny held Stach’s hand in his own and repeated in a whisper with blue lips that most wonderful verse:

“I implore the still living not to lose hope,
But, when the time comes, to go forth to their death
Like stones thrown by God upon a great rampart.”

40Czarny and Wojtek both died the same day. […]

41In requital for the torture of Czarny during his examination, the Staff of the Underground Army ordered the “liquidation” of the two Gestapo men who had most distinguished themselves by their brutality: Schultz and Lange. […]

42Our story ends here, although underground activities go on, and the struggle is continued. Inexorable justice is slowly but irrevocably bringing its avenging hand to the throat of the Criminal Nation, and to those of the beasts in human form who for centuries have composed the morally undeveloped German community.

43But although underground activities are going on, although the friends of Wojtek and Czarny and tens of thousands of their comrades in arms have scarcely yet begun their reply to the enemy’s vileness and bestiality, this story must for the time being be brought to an end. A story of high ideals of Comradeship and Service, and of people who exemplified them in their deaths, as they had done in their lives.

44Translator not indicated

© Central European University Press, 2010

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