WARSAW’S MERMAID (Warsaw Uprising – August 1, 1944)

After the Warsaw uprising, as the citizens returned to the city’s ruins, they saw that one monument survived – it was the Mermaid, the city’s symbol. It stood proudly at its assigned post, right on the front line, which spanned the Vistula (Wisła) River. Around it were ruins and trenches connected by a string of barbed wire and steel. The girl-fish figure did show signs of war with bullet holes, but it was still standing in one piece!
Towards the end of the 1930s, the city’s president announced a contest for the design of the Mermaid statue. From the received submissions the work of sculptor Ludwika Nitschowa was selected.
In August of 1939, the monument took its place on the Kosciusko Shore Boulevard.
The artist used a model of a fit grown woman, Krystyna Krahelska. “This was a typical Polish beauty, full of grace but at the same time representing the Slovak character and strength,” supposedly stated the president as he admired the cast for the monument’s head.
Who was this unique girl with so many interests, unusual talents, and beautiful character? – She was of noble blood, a scout, a poet, and a lover of folk song and dance. Her special musical talent and beautiful voice allowed her to work for the polish radio, where she sang songs from her rich repertoire: Polish, Byelorussian, Ukrainian, and Russian. She earned a degree in the field of Ethno graphics from the University of Warsaw.
Defending the capital, September relocations, constantly changing addresses to prevent being arrested. During the war, these were all part of life for the “Mermaid”. From the beginning of the conspiracy she was part of  the whirl. But she found time for the underground literary-artistic life. Her poems and songs were popular. They helped in battle and brought relieve. She sang and played on the piano the forbidden songs for her friends of the conspiracy. These were poems with music: “Sad river” – a lullaby about a buried weapon and ever so popular marching piece written for the boys of the “Baszta” company of the Home Army:

Hey boys put the bayonet on your weapon
Who knows, if its tomorrow, two days from now, or today
When the order will come, that we need to go right away

On August 1, 1944 at 5 PM the Warsaw uprising began. 40 minutes later a bullet hit her. She laid face down in sunflowers. With three bullets in her lungs. There was no hope. She died the next  morning, August 2. A bottle was tied to her hand for identification – Krystyna Krahelska, a.k.a. “Danuta”, nurse. She was buried in a courtyard.
Her poems and songs magically brought unusual strength to the 63 day fight for freedom. Even with the common sense of the older generation, the song was stronger – “Hey boys put the bayonet on your weapon…”
To this day, the statue of Warsaw’s Mermaid stands staring into the constantly flowing Wisla – for more than 60 years.


The well-armed movement of the Home Army and the people against the German invader was aimed to free Warsaw and to re-establish rule over Poland before the entrance of the Red Army. The decision to start the uprising on August 1, 1944, was made by the Commander of the Home Army, General Tadeusz Komorowski-Bor.
During the first four days, the uprisers took over several districts of the city and held them while German reinforcements arrived. After the brave battles of the Home Army against the stronger German forces with no assistance from the Red Army (per Stalin’s orders) signed the act of surrender on October 2. The losses were far greater than anticipated. From the 50 thousand Home Army fighters, 18 thousand died and 25 thousand were wounded. Among the civilians, the casualties were estimated at about 150 – 200 thousand. After all fighting ceased; the Germans evacuated the remaining 500 thousand Warsaw citizens. After which, they systematically destroyed houses and public buildings. The center of the city was 80% in ruins; overall 60% of  Warsaw was gone.
What to end with? … Probably only words from an unknown poet:

O city of mine!
O sacred Warsaw!
I bow timidly,
To Your walls,
Because in every boulder is a tear.
And someone’s red blood can be seen.

Dr Elżbieta Ulanowska
Translated by Monika Glazar

Forum, 7-8/2003