Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

wanda

Wanda Traczyk-Stawska, in center, fighting to repel Nazis from the ruins of Warsaw's main post office in 1944. Photo by Mateusz Skwarczek/AFP/Getty image from private archives of Wanda Traczyk-Stawska

Be Quiet You Stupid Boy: On the Terrible Price That Had To Be Paid

Abby Zimet

With the scary crazy still unrelenting - a smirking Bannon fomenting chaos, a deranged Flynn spewing "stupefying" claims about demon sperm, stolen elections and "one religion under God,” the Former Guy doing his wrathful, vindictive thing - we look for succor to Wanda Traczyk-Stawska, unflagging 95-year-old Polish activist and veteran of the Warsaw Uprising, who 78 years after fighting against fascism is still resolutely fighting - "I am a soldier" - for women's, teachers', migrants', LGBTQ and disability rights in the name of a still-elusive, more just world. Just 12 when the German army invaded Poland at the start of World War ll, Traczyk-Stawska joined the resistance and became a soldier of the Home Army at 17, undertaking acts of sabotage under the pseudonym "Doughnut." When the Germans ordered 100,000 men to dig fortifications around Warsaw in late July 1944, she says "all Warsaw's residents understood" what was coming: "Even those who were indifferent - because there are always indifferent people, who didn't care what was going on as long as they had food and (could) get some sleep -  even they understood this time they would not get any sleep." With the August 1 launch of the Warsaw Uprising, the war's largest military effort by resistance forces against German occupation, she became one of 50,000 fighters to take up arms against the Nazis, and a rare female with a machine gun. "Our uprising was an outbreak of despair," she says. "We were all aware of how it could end."

As to her and others' youth: "The Uprising was proof of how much mothers loved their sons and daughters." Though they were "always waiting in fear for their children to come home, they didn't cry when we went, (they) didn't try and stop us. They knew that our dignity was the most important thing for us." Over 63 days of savage fighting, nearly 200,000 combatants and civilians died - including 40,000 men, women and children in one massacre - and vengeful Nazis reduced the city to rubble. Afterwards, Traczyk-Stawska survived four German POW camps before Polish forces liberated her from a camp in 1945. Returning to her ravaged country, she graduated from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Warsaw and went on to teach at a school for disabled children for almost 30 years. Still deeply attuned to the injustices around her - "As St. Paul said, love is paramount" - she fought for the rights of those kids and their mothers: "I saw mothers who, sweaty and pale from exhaustion, brought their children to our school, ensuring their education and place in society. I felt it was my duty to take these mothers' side. I don't understand how there can be money for propaganda, and not for the weakest citizens."

She never joined a political party, but she became involved in multiple social justice issues. On teachers: "I can't stand by and do nothing when teachers are being disrespected. For my generation, (it) was thanks to them that we had and still have a moral backbone." On abortion: "(In the war), women were granted the same rights as men...Now the right (to) a decision that belongs to us, whether we want to be mothers or not, has been taken away from us." On discrimination against the LGBTQ community: "I can't watch what we fought for in the uprising being lost...There have been homosexual people since time immemorial, (and) we deny them humanity in the 21st century? Where are we heading? Soon we'll be breaking people on the wheel." On the harsh treatment by Poland's right-wing government of vulnerable migrants trying to cross the Belarus border and often being left to survive on their own - and recalling seeing Nazis "entertain themselves" by firing at babies - "You can't abandon a child in danger." Speaking to young people - "They are the same as we were then. They have self-esteem, they are critical thinkers" - she remembers one boy who pointedly, patiently stayed behind and watched her. When she asked why, "He answered, 'Can I touch you?' Because concrete things are extremely important in the teaching process. And I am such a concrete thing."

Meanwhile, her "life's mission," the last order she received, is as head of the Social Committee for the Warsaw Insurgents Cemetery, bearing the remains of almost half the wartime dead found in the city's ruins. As a teacher who insists on historical fact, she notes a Museum of the Warsaw Uprising is fine, "but it has one fundamental flaw: It does not tell the whole truth." In its canals, where children play and "they all want to fight in the Uprising, let there be rats, feces in them." At the cemetery, "That's where the truth is...the terrible price that had to be paid. We want this cemetery to be a cry across Europe (to) ensure there will never be a war again." Today, she fights to support Poland's membership in the EU, citing "what 1939 was like," when Poland stood alone against Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union: "We'd end up like a fly against an elephant." At a recent pro-EU rally, tiny and frail on stage in her resistance beret and armband, thus did she thunderously call out a right-wing heckler. "Be quiet, stupid boy!" she bellowed, uncowed having long ago learned there's nothing new under the authoritarian sun. "You lousy bastard!" Later, she said she'd been "furious. I got up on stage to speak of the Poland of our dreams...a Poland that is kind and tolerant." For her trouble, she got death threats from neo-Nazis. But last week she also won the Warsaw Citizen of the Year 2021 plebiscite, honoring women who have made a special contribution to Warsaw, with a record 51,000 votes. "I call on women to fight for your rights relentlessly," she said at an event honoring her. "The future of our nation depends on you." Above all, "I came to remind you what price you have to pay for the loss of freedom."

"We are all very old, on the verge of death...We no longer have the strength to take a stand. All we can do is weep. Well, not everyone. Me, I'm not used to crying. I was a soldier." - Wanda Traczyk-Stawska about the veterans of the Warsaw Uprising.


Abby Zimet

Abby Zimet

Abby has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, she moved to the Maine woods in the early 70s, where she spent a dozen years building a house, hauling water and writing before moving to Portland. Having come of political age during the Vietnam War, she has long been involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues. 

Rights Groups Decry 'Farcical and Corrupt' Verdict as Myanmar's Suu Kyi Sentenced to Four Years in Prison

"There are many detainees without the profile of Aung San Suu Kyi who currently face the terrifying prospect of years behind bars simply for peacefully exercising their human rights."

Jake Johnson ·


Campaigners Warn of 'Wave After Wave of Variants' as Long as Vaccine Apartheid Remains

"Omicron is with us because we have failed to vaccinate the world. This should be a wake-up call."

Jake Johnson ·


'Utterly Obscene': Just 8 Pfizer and Moderna Investors Became $10 Billion Richer After Omicron Emerged

"Pharma execs and shareholders are making a killing from a crisis they helped to create," said one justice campaigner.

Jon Queally ·


Ilhan Omar Calls Kevin McCarthy 'A Liar and a Coward' for Refusing to Condemn Boebert's Islamophobia

"This is who they are," said the Minnesota Democrat. "And we have to be able to stand up to them. And we have to push them to reckon with the fact their party right now is normalizing anti-Muslim bigotry."

Jon Queally ·


'Congress Must Act': Bernie Sanders Demands End of Filibuster to Codify Abortion Rights

"We must pass legislation that codifies Roe v. Wade as the law of the land in this country. And if there aren't 60 votes to do it, and there are not, we must reform the filibuster to pass it with 50 votes."

Jon Queally ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo