While doing research for my current theater project—a stage adaptation of Günter Grass’s iconic novel “The Tin Drum”—I came across the tragic story of 10-year-old Erwina Barzychowska.
Erwina was the daughter of the caretaker at the Danzig post office, where he and his family lived in an apartment. On September 1st, 1939, World War II notoriously began with the German invasion of Poland. In light of this, the post office’s Polish staff planned their own act of resistance, gathering together a small arsenal of weapons and transforming the post office into a fortress against the Nazis. Günter Grass captures this episode in his novel.
During the post office battle, which began in the early hours on September 1st, 1939, the caretaker’s family hid in the basement and cared for the wounded. The SS, however, flooded the basement with gasoline and lit it on fire. Erwina Barzychowska survived the attack, but died 7 weeks later due to severe burns. The post-battle photograph showing her small, severely burned body being carried out of the post office quickly became a symbol of German cruelty towards the Polish people.