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Kaia, Heroine of the 1944 Warsaw Rising

Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm

Kaia, Heroine of the 1944 Warsaw Rising tells the story of one woman, whose life encompasses a century of Polish history. Full of tragic and compelling experiences such as life in Siberia, Warsaw before World War II, the German occupation, the Warsaw Rising, and life in the Soviet Ostashkov prison, Kaia was deeply involved with the battle that decimated Warsaw in 1944 as a member of the resistance army and the rebuilding of the city as an architect years later.

Kaia’s father was expelled from Poland for conspiring against the Russian czar. She spent her early childhood near Altaj Mountain and remembered Siberia as a “paradise”. In 1922, the family returned to free Poland, the train trip taking a year. Kaia entered the school system, studied architecture, and joined the Armia Krajowa in 1942. After the legendary partisan Hubal’s death, a courier gave Kaia the famous leader’s Virtuti Militari Award to protect. She carried the medal for 54 years. After the Warsaw Rising collapsed, she was captured by the Russian NKVD in Bialystok and imprisoned. In one of many interrogations, a Russian asked about Hubal’s award. When Kaia replied that it was a religious relic from her father, she received only a puzzled look from the interrogator. Knowing that another interrogation could end differently, she hid the award in the heel of her shoe where it was never discovered.

In 1946, Kaia, very ill and weighing only 84 pounds, returned to Poland, where she regained her health and later worked as an architect to the rebuild the totally decimated Warsaw.
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Lexington Books
Pages: 232Size: 6 1/4 x 9 1/2
978-0-7391-7270-4 • Hardback • May 2012 • $90.00 • (£60.00)
978-0-7391-9053-1 • Paperback • March 2014 • $39.99 • (£24.95)
978-0-7391-7271-1 • eBook • May 2012 • $39.99 • (£24.95)
Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm is an independent scholar and the author of twenty-three books, including The Roots Are Polish.
Foreword by Bruce E. Johansen
Introduction: The Message of Isaac B. Singer
Chapter 1. Poles in Siberia
Chapter 2. The Szemiot-Iljin Family
Chapter 3. Zaysan at the Foothills of the Altaj
Chapter 4. 11 Months by Train from Siberia to Poland
Chapter 5. Poland, Bialystok
Chapter 6. Vilnius
Chapter 7. Warsaw, the 1930s
Chapter 8. Outbreak of the War
Chapter 9. Zamosc
Chapter 10. Warsaw under the German Occupation
Chapter 11. The Hubal Soldiers
Chapter 12. Arrest of Modest and Death in Auschwitz
Chapter 13. “Buzzard”, a Hubal Partisan
Chapter 14. The Organization
Chapter 15. The Warsaw Uprising
Chapter 16. “Thank you, I have a lollipop”
Chapter 17. Eastbound Journey to Bialystok
Chapter 18. Arrest
Chapter 19. NKVD Camp 41 in Ostashkov
Chapter 20. Back from Ostashkov
Chapter 21. After the Return
Chapter 22. Marek Szymanski
Chapter 23. Inprisonments: the Lublin Castle and Wronki
Chapter 24. Released, then arrested again
Chapter 25. Finally, back to normal?
Chapter 26. Rebuilding of Warsaw
Chapter 27. Trips and Travels
Chapter 28. Poland’s Attraction: Kashubia and Sudovia
Chapter 29. Communism in Poland
Chapter 30. Marek, the Loyal Hubal soldier
Chapter 31. Friends
Chapter 32. Animals and Pets
Chapter 33. Major Hubal’s Virtuti Militari Cross
Chapter 34. Farewells
Chapter 35. Marek's Death
Chapter 36. Poland Independent, Poland Westernized: Fears and Anxieties
Chapter 37. Departing
Appendix: Images of Siberia and Warsaw Uprising
A moving and compelling account of what heroism entails and what suffering can be endured for the sake of a higher cause.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, Johns Hopkins University and Center for Strategic and International Studies; former National Security Advisor to President Carter

In the clutter of books arguing the propriety of the Warsaw Rising, whether it should have taken place or not; in the avalanche of statistics and strategies, the flesh and blood people who lived through the heroic trauma are often overlooked. Ziólkowska-Boehm is a fine writer in the grand tradition of reportage established in Poland by her mentor, Melchior Wankowicz and her friend, Ryszard Kapuscinski. This sensitive and moving portrayal of Kaia deserves a place on the same shelf with Miron Bialoszewski's inimitable Memoir of the Warsaw Uprising.
Charles S. Kraszewski, Kings College and The Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences

In pages of striking contrast, Kaia moves from a colorful, nearly idyllic life by Polish exiles in southern Siberia earlier in the last century to the graphic horrors of Nazified Poland—and then to the moving aftermath of loss and recovery.
Stanley Weintraub, author of "The Last Great Victory: The End of World War II, July–August 1945"

Kaia’s memories, excellently recorded and commented on by Aleksandra Ziólkowska-Boehm, give the story of her happy childhood and early architectural work in interwar Poland; her active resistance to Nazi occupation; Soviet imprisonment; and of her part, as an architect, in the rebuilding of Warsaw in postwar communist Poland. It is also the story of her husband, Marek Szymanski, deputy to Major 'Hubal,' commander of a Polish Army unit, who refused to surrender in September 1939. Hubal’s Cross of Military Valor served Kaia both as a talisman for survival—and as a key link to her marriage. This is a 'must read' for all those interested in the history of World War II as it played out in a country fatefully placed between Germany and Russia.
Anna M. Cienciala, University of Kansas

I read Kaia, Heroine of the 1944 Warsaw Rising, I always believed that Siberia was only a terrible place of suffering and dying, where very few of the expelled people survived the primitive conditions and harsh climate. For me, it was an eye opener to read about the role played by exiled Poles in places like Irkutsk and other Siberian cities and about those who went there voluntarily to participate in the building of the trans-Siberian railroad, as well as numerous Poles who became prominent Russian scientists, engineers, and writers. Kaia’s description of her heroic actions is so lively and masterfully presented that I felt like I was going with her from place to place, witnessing the wounding and death of several fighters and following Kaia through the underground canals. I liked very much the large number of photographs of participants.
Karl Maramorosch, Rutgers University

At the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising Kaia provides a vivid description of the valor, fright, and bravery of the workers. For 63 days they fought, avoiding death at all costs. Some were not that successful, with many slaughtered on the streets or tortured in jail. These interviews were provided to the author many years later, but still vivid in Kaia's mind. She is even able to provide humor in the grotesque conditions. The People's Republic of Poland was established in 1945, but a state subordinate to Soviet Russia. Many trials were held, in full mockery of justice, resulting in deaths or life imprisonment. This book provides a personal view of the struggle of Poland and its people to overcome the horrors of war. Kaia is a symbol of hope for the future of Poland—her undaunted faith in the freedom of man, her bravery in helping others and her love of life. A heartfelt book.

Polish American Journal

The author quotes some of the research literature but there is a greater focus on quotes taken from the testimonies of participants of the Uprising and linking these comments to Kaia’s own recollections...The book tries to preserve as much of Kaia’s life as possible for posterity and is also a celebration of Polish heroism and a testimony to Polish suffering...Ziolkowska-Boehm has created a moving testimony to her friend, whose biography is woven into the history of Poland in the 20th century.

Reviews in History

Note also the social history implicit in the narrative. The friendships and the collegiality of the young men and women, the unquestioned equality, their mutual respect and affection; the value attached to education; the high spirits combined with a strong will; the love of freedom and the commitment to their society. It was a very special generation and Kaia is an inspiring example of it