Aleksander Kamiński’s Stones for the Rampart is a faithful, journalistic report of how the resistance movement formed in Warsaw during the German occupation.
The book was published for the first time in 1943 by the underground press. It tells the story of young conspirators’ training and ways of harassing the enemy in actions of small sabotage, diversion and armed fights. The author, historian, educator and scouting instructor focused on the lives of three exceptional subordinates: Rudy, Zośka and Alek.
Like stones thrown by God upon a great rampart
They met and became friends in the Stefan Batory middle school at the 23rd Warsaw Scouting Team Pomarańczarnia (Orangerie – the name was chosen because of their scarves’ colour), during a holiday in the mountains. After passing their high-school graduation exams, they were to begin university studies which was – at least officially – prevented by the beginning of World War II. As active scouts they swore an oath to the ‘Grey Ranks’ – a secret organization of the youngest volunteers that was a part of the underground structures fighting occupation.
Słowacki’s cult, which had its roots in the heritage of Piłsudski and his legions, was prominent among the Grey Ranks. It’s evident in Kamiński’s book title, which is taken from the poet’s verse:
I implore those 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.
[Juliusz Słowacki, My Testament]
Aleksander Kamiński knew his protagonists personally, which is why he describes them in such an emotional and vivid way – and probably why following generations of readers are so deeply affected by his story. It is one of few books from school's reading lists read without the feeling of being forced. The experiences of the three curious, intelligent boys, competing between each other in their interests and achievements, who became adults in times of extremely difficult challenges, is presented simply, with no pathos or big words.
The most important words for the Polish scout – fatherland, study, honesty – were not only engraved on rulers, but also practiced in everyday life. It was not elegant to manifest them in conversations. Metaphors and big words only appeared when used for illustrating effective methods of action, during tactical lessons.
Rudy, Alek and Zośka all belonged to the intelligentsia and were thoroughly educated.
Rudy was the nickname of a blonde, freckle-faced boy, a talented mathematician, Jan Bytnar. He was a scoutmaster, commander of the Grey Ranks, second lieutenant of Home Army, and took part in the sabotage actions of the underground Wawer organization. He was born on 6th May 1921 and was killed by the Gestapo on 30th March 1943. He was honoured with the Cross of Valour.
Zośka was Tadeusz Zawadzki, scoutmaster and group leader of WST during the war. He was a great organizer, strategist and leader, commander of the Grey Ranks in Warsaw, second lieutenant of Home Army. He was born on 24th January 1921 and was killed in Sieczychy on August 20th 1943. He was honoured with the Virtuti Militari Cross of the 5th level and twice with the Cross of Valour.
Alek was Aleksy Dawidowski, vice-scoutmaster, a participant in the Wawer action, leader of a GR team, Home Army sergeant, the first one to receive a Virtuti Militari Cross. He was born on November 3rd 1920 and was shot dead on 30th March 1943.
The most thrilling part of Stones for the Rampart is the description of the famous Operation Arsenal. When Zośka and Alek learn about Rudy’s arrest by the Gestapo, together with their friends from the Grey Ranks, they decided to free their friend from a prison van travelling between Pawiak and Gestapo’s abode on Szucha Street. The commanding officer was second lieutenant of the Home Army, Stefan Orsza (privately: Stanisław Broniewski), scoutmaster, and later on – the chief of the Grey Ranks.
Freeing Rudy and 25 other prisoners from the Germans was one of the most spectacular actions against the occupants in Warsaw. The boy, cruelly beaten, died four days later, with his friend Zośka by his side. Alek died on the same day – he was shot during the operation.
Stones for the Rampart is a non-fiction book. Some of the information were taken by Aleksander Kamiński from Zośka’s diary. Both in the first (1943) and the second (1944) edition of the book, the protagonists’ and the author’s names were changed for safety reasons. Only in the third edition, published in 1946, the protagonists (apart from Rudy and Alek) bore their real names and nicknames. The book was also published in London and in Italy in 1945.
In 1949 the Polish Scouting and Guiding Association was closed and Kamiński’s books withdrawn from literary circulation. After 1956 Stones for the Rampart returned to bookstores and libraries and soon became a classic of Polish literature for teenagers.
Aleksander Kamiński (January 28th 1903 – March 15th 1978) was one of the creators of the scouting movement, an authority and co-founder of Grey Ranks, editor-in-chief of Biuletyn Informacyjny – underground Poland’s biggest magazine, the chief of the Information and Propaganda Bureau of the Home Army and the lieutenant of the Little Sabotage Organization Wawer. In 1950 he lost his job at the Łódź University. Eight years later he was assigned the chief job at the Cathedra of Social Pedagogics. Kamiński wrote books about the history of Polish youth organizations and stories about later fortunes of Grey Ranks heroes, immortalized in the book Zośka i Parasol. Aleksander Kamiński dreamt of the ‘ideal of a respected Poland’. Victimized in Stalinist Poland, he never gave up, always faithful to his ideals from when he was a scout: service, courage and unselfishness.
He was posthumously recognized as Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem on 5th May, 1991.
Author: Janusz R. Kowalczyk, February 2014, translated by: N. Mętrak-Ruda, December 2015.