The children of war -- we remember them from the snapshots: that 10-year-old kid bundled up in a man's campaign jacket, a grenade at his belt, patrolling the streets of Warsaw; that urchin in the Maquis who dropped Molotov cocktails on Nazi tanks; those little ones we only heard about shoved out by desperate parents through the slats in the cattle trains head for Auschwitz . . .
Somehow, it is hard to imagine them grown up. They are part of a legend, and most of them will always be just that, just heroic memories. But a few turn up. One of those cattle-car girls was found by some Poles who prospered and came to America and sent her to college. Where she became as Amercian as anyone else.
And the little Freedom Fighter from Warsaw grew up to be a 50-year-old architect with a Knights of Malta rosette in his lapel and an international career that he runs from his home in Orlean, Va.
"My father was the mayor of Warsaw when the Germans came in 1939," said Julian E. Kalski. "I grew up in those years, I was 10 when it started."
He has written a book, "Dying, We Live," a diary, with photos and maps of Warsaw, of the Ghetto walled in by the Nazis, of the old city and suburbs where the 62-day uprising was fought by an army of boys, women and old men against the tanks of the German Army, and their field guns and Stuka dive-bombers.
Friday, Sept, 15 -- The Germans have came in their dirty gray-green uniforms and helmets, carrying rifles . . . The noise of their motorcycles on the cobblestones shook the streets.
At first young Kulski was too busy growing up to notice much of what went on around him, except when the house was bombed ("the staircase is covered with dirt and slivers of glass which crunch under my feet"), or a friend lost an arm folling with nitroglycerin.
"We picked up shells and made our own weapons," Kalski recollected. "We went wild. There was no school. We went around after curfew tearing down signs and misdirecting traffic and things like that. Finally my father sent me away before one or the other of us got into trouble.He sent me to live with my scoutmaster, Ludwik Berger."
Berger was the leader of the youth resistance forces in that part of the city. The Polish boy scouts were to form the backbone of the Children's army.
Kulski became a courier for Berger. He roamed the city, even at night, when he had to dodge German patrols. Once at a rail siding he saw a train just back from the Russian front.
Through the frost-painted glass we saw row upon row of bunks covered with motionless bodies swathed in white, heads in white turbans, arms and legs wrapped in bandages and propped up or suspended in traction . . . some still wearing parts of their combat uniforms . . .
Blindfolded, he was guided into the ghetto by Jewish partisans. He had to change to rags or he would have been spotted instantly on the ghetto streets, for the Jews were in the last stages of deprivation.
On April 19, 1943, the surviving Jews attacked a Nazi tank, two armored cars and a force of 800 SS men who had slipped past the wall to exterminate them. This was the battle of which Jim Hersey wrote in "The Wall." The Nazis virtually burned down the ghetto in their rage to wipe out the resisters. The last survivors took to the sewers.
Monday, May 10 -- At 10 a.m. today the cast-iron sewer cover at the cover of Prosta and Twarda Streets was pulled off, and a group of Freedom Fighters came out -- incredibly, some still carried weapons -- in front of astonished passersby. They were loaded into two waiting trucks of the Underground Army and taken to the woods outside the city.
Later Kulski was captured and beaten, but after two weeks in Pawiak prison he released through his father's intervention. He was still only 14. He had been scheduled for removal to Auschwitz. His underwear was covered with names and addresses of other prisoners' families to whom he later wrote.
"That was when I started my real work." he said. "I was in a fury over the things I had seen in Paviak."
He took to killing German soldiers for their weapons. He experimented with homemade bombs. Berger was captured and killed, but the struggle went on. Everywhere in the streets, from lamp posts, from iron balconies, from trees, hung the bodies of Warsaw citizens executed by the Nazis.
The uprising itself began Aug. 1, 1944. The red and white flags of Poland suddenly appeared from windows.
For two months, the ragtag force fought the mechanized German army. When someone was shot the person behind him grabbed his rifle and stepped in. Kulski lived a kaleidoscopic existence, sometimes half-delirious from fever, battling with whatever weapon came to hand, whether a pistol or an antitank gun.
I took a position in the ruins opposite a large Tiger tank, and my first misstle hit the right tread of the tank, inmobilizing it. I saw the large gun slowly turning, finally pointing straight at me. I knew I had to get him this time. The second shell blew a large hole in the center, and flames shot from the tank.
As resistance ended, the fighters were taken west by the Germans, retreating from the Russians, were recaptured by the Allies, and eventually Kulski was adopted by some British soldiers and flown to Scotland.
Moving fast as usual, the youth put himself through school in Ireland, studied at Oxford, moved to Yale, where he took his architecture degree, returning in the '60s to Warsaw Institate for his doctorate. He brought his parents to Virginia, though his father continued to spend half his time in Warsaw, dying in 1976 at age 83.
Kalski, a specialist in urban and regional planning, taught at Notre Dame and George Washington universities, still has a post at Howard University, is a consultant to the World Bank for 17 countries. Among his recent projects were coordinating an important restoration project at Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, and overseeing a major housing project, in Bangladesh.
Warsaw, which was all but leveled during the war, has been rebuilt. The old city has been restored and looks, he says, almost the way it used to.
And the sewers, he was asked. Are the sewers still there, the famous sewers that saved so many Polish lives?
His eyes lit up. He smiled a curious smile, a boy's smile.
"Sure," he said. They're there. They're ready."