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Knights of Malta ArmorialThe Order of Malta in Poland

Wilanów—A Palace at War


Anna Branicka-Wolska, the last resident of  The Royal Palace at Wilanów in Warsaw talks to Teresa Stella-Sawicka of her World War II experiences in 1939 and during the Warsaw Uprising 1944.

Anna Branicka-WolskaThe young Anna Branicka

In 1939 the Polish Army and the army hospital were stationed in Wilanów Palace, but when German forces arrived, the Polish Army had to move out, leaving some of its wounded behind in the hands of the remaining Polish staff. I was still living there with my sisters and aunt and often helped out at the army hospital. On one occasion, I had to bandage such a wounded screaming man, then I had to feed him with a thick broth and vegetable soup called ‘eintopf’, mostly, the patients had to be tube-fed, they couldn’t talk so could only give written instructions. I was very affected by the human suffering—‘ludzkie cierpnienie’—but the hospital really saved so many lives. 

 Another duty was to bury the dead and we had to dig graves with my sisters and the remaining servants, as all the men had gone to war. One day, we had a badly wounded man, he turned out to be related to the famous Polish actor, Węgrzyn. He was covered in blood, begging desperately and repeatedly for his confession to be heard and asking for a priest. 

 We all felt he had some great sin to confess but there were no priests and we didn’t know what to do. My mother’s sister, Mrs Dynowska, under terrible pressure from the mortally wounded man, decided to hear the man’s confession, but covered her ears as she didn’t wish to listen to the confession of a dying man. She felt she had to given him his last wish, and then made the sign of the cross over him. He died shortly afterwards and we buried him in a shallow grave behind the stables. Several months later, his wife came to us and asked to collect the body. He had only been buried in a sheet. He had to be exhumed and the body was taken away. 

 Later when the Germans overran Warsaw in autumn 1939, they occupied Wilanów Palace and my family had to go down to live in the cellars where we continued to look after the sick; eventually the Germans took the remaining wounded to another military hospital.

 In 1944, when the Warsaw Uprising ended after 63 days, Stanislaw Milewski-Lipkowski, the Director of the Knights of Malta Hospital evacuated the whole hospital himself, and in a final act of defiance against the Germans, dressed in a Maltese Knights’ choir gown, holding the Knights of Malta flag, led out his team right in front of the waiting German Army. The Germans had great respect for the order of the Knights of Malta and consequently he was unharmed. Stanislaw Milewski-Lipkowski was one of the bravest men I ever knew. 

Anna-Branicka-2Anna Branicka-Wolska, 2009.After the Warsaw Uprising collapsed, Home Army soldiers were taken to a camp at Pruszków which had barracks and was surrounded by barbed wire. I was with my mother and sister, and desperately trying to find my father and fiancé in other camps. The Germans’ policy was to take the strong ones to the camps and let the weak ones go to Milanówek, just outside Warsaw. 

 Before the war my family only occupied the right wing of the Palace as living quarters, since the rest of the Palace was already a gallery and museum.

 Years later, at a wedding, Adam Zamoyski and Tadeusz de Virion suggested that I become a Dame of the Order of Malta, as there was only one other Dame in Poland, the Princess Hapsburg who lived in Zywiec. I was only the second Dame for five years, now there are five of us.”

Anna Branicka-Wolska by Teresa Stella-Sawicka



First to Fight


Excerpt from First to Fight: Poland's Contribution to the Allied Victory in WWII.  ISBN-13: 978-0955782442.