A family memento – Poland – Memory: September 1939 – in search of the registration depot
September 1939 Registration depot
He does not attempt to describe the course of the hostilities, occupation and the Warsaw Uprising. It’s not my strength. They will be rather single pictures from the times of war and occupation, which I can no longer arrange into a chronological and logical whole.
On September 1, my mother woke me up. For a moment I could not understand what was going on and what was the purpose of waking up early, after all, I’m not going to school today. The beginning of the school year was officially postponed a few days ago. Yesterday such a wonderful holiday, and today is the war? There had been talk of the possibility of war for a good few months, but I was not seriously thinking about it.
I finally jumped out of bed, put on my military training uniform, and ran to school. I knew about the postponement of the start of the school year, but I was hoping to meet someone from my classmates and find out what to do. I met, but from the younger classes who were not yet in military training (PW). The principal and any of the “more important” teachers were absent from the school. I knew that our PW unit had some tasks assigned in the event of war, but which, they did not tell us exactly.
I returned home around noon. My father was gone, he went to the hospital to work. The housekeeper brought “from the street” a lot of rumors about our alleged successes as well as about the terrible air raids, the wounded, the killed, fires, ruins etc. In the house you could hear distant bomb detonations and the sounds of anti-aircraft guns and machine guns from time to time.
After lunch, I went to school again. This time, I was able to get information from my classmate that our PW detachment serves as messengers the Central Registration Depot, which was located in the Main Telegraphic Office at Nowogrodzka Street, corner of Poznańska Street. I pulled out my bike and went there immediately.
On the spot, it turned out that my colleagues, who were in Warsaw at the end of August, have been on duty here for several days. I had a ID card for a long time and the details from the detachment file were checked in detail, finally they included me on the list. I was supposed to be on duty on September 2nd during the second (afternoon) shift. I came back home driving through the streets, as if so familiar to me, and so completely different than before the holidays.
The next day I reported on duty at Nowogrodzka Street. The registration depot was located in a shelter, perhaps two floors underground. There were soldiers and civilian telephonists with earphones on their heads. There were about thirty such stands, separated by plywood partitions so that the neighbors would not disturb each other. Individual positions had direct connections with observers located throughout the country, who reported on this route about observed flights by enemy planes. On this basis, decisions were made in the air defense command to announce aviation alerts, as well as to hatch our fighter units.
I do not know if the room in which I worked was the only one, or if there were others besides “mine”. My duties included transferring reports written by telephone operators (files) to the operating department, located in the adjacent rooms. Sometimes I also transferred commands to specific telephone stations.
The activity was rather boring, although there was quite a lot of jogging. In addition to our PW squad, the Central Registration was also serviced by a women’s squad, probably from the gymnasium. Queen Jadwiga.
I managed to be on four shifts – from 2nd to 6th September. I realized very quickly that the military situation was getting worse every day. More and more telephone stations did not receive any reports, and it also happened that German voices were heard in the headphones. We had less and less work to do, but the mood was getting worse.
On September 7th, I was on duty for the night shift. When I came by bike to Nowogrodzka Street, I found an unknown unit of communications troops there. The Registration Center was no longer there. It was not without difficulty that I found out that she was evacuated to Lublin in the evening.
I have not found any of my superiors from PW or from the Headquarters. An officer from the new unit quartered there, when I was asked desperately what to do now, impatiently asked me who I was, what I was doing here, and concluded: theoretically, you should chase your Headquarters, but I doubt you will succeed. You may also be needed here.
In despair, not really knowing what to do with myself, I rode my bike home. It was not an easy task: in almost complete darkness, with streets crammed with troops, refugees and shipwrecked people.
In search of the Registration Storehouse
Our house was in turmoil. I learned that Colonel Umiastowski had announced an appeal by the military authorities on the radio that men aged 16 (I don’t remember which one) leave the city and head east. I found the Rzewnicki’s aunt and uncle at home. The aunt was scared to death, the uncle was partially paralyzed, he was not very aware of what was happening around him.
We packed some essentials and left the house. Only our housekeeper Marynia remained, who said in a tone that could not stand any objection that she would not leave the house anywhere.
It was night. The Kierbedź Bridge and the streets of Praga were incredibly crowded. I do not remember how it happened that together with my father and uncle we separated from my mother, sister and aunt. I remember that I managed to put both older men (my father was 59 years old, my uncle was about 10 years older) on a cart next to which I was riding, or rather trying to ride a bicycle.
In the morning we got to Otwock, where we managed to stay in a fairly decent villa. I waited there all the next day. Driving in the day was very dangerous due to constant German air raids on the Lublin road, the main evacuation route.
During the day, we sat with my father and uncle on the grass in the garden of “our” villa. It was a warm, sunny day. Uncle took off his jacket and lay down on it. As I sat next to him, I noticed something glistening in the grass. I reached out – a golden twenty dollar bill, second, third and fourth next to it. They spilled out of my Uncle’s jacket pockets. A few more of them remained in my pocket. It was an “iron”, or rather “golden” supply for a rainy day, which the prudent Aunt had given to Uncle, without foreseeing spreading the jacket on the grass.
I collected the coins and handed them to my uncle. He put them in his pocket, completely unaware of their value and the inappropriateness of keeping them loose in a jacket pocket. As I found out later, either he lost them all, or someone stole them from him; it was not difficult.
In the afternoon, after a long deliberation with the Father, we agreed that our journey together did not make sense. My uncle could practically only go, he was partially paralyzed and although he walked quite fast, he did not keep his feet firmly, and worst of all his reactions were often unpredictable and sometimes at the level of a child of several years. He couldn’t be left alone, so Father stayed with him.
I said goodbye to them, got on my bike and drove towards the Lublin road. It was late afternoon and the sun was setting. I haven’t traveled far. Three soldiers stopped me and, waving a piece of paper, confiscated the bicycle “for the army”. They were without weapons and I think they were on vodka. There was no doubt it was a theft, but there were three of them, and I was the only one… and to spite no one around.
I continued on my way alone. I was without luggage, I only had a small backpack with me and a military canteen by my belt. It was cold at night, I was walking lightly, but the kilometers were coming very slowly, and there were still about 140 of them to Lublin. There was a lot of traffic on the road, troops predominated, there were also a lot of refugees, but not as many as during the day.
After two or three hours of walking, I came across a column of military cars that just happened to be stuck in a traffic jam. Officers, swearing like shoemakers, tried to unload him, but it was not easy. At one point, one of them called to me: “hey junak (the official form of addressing in military training), what are you staring at, help me get these carts out; across the ditch and into the field! ”.
I helped. After that, without asking for permission, I jumped on the chest of one of the brand new Polish Fiat 621 trucks. None of the soldiers protested. The officers sat in the cabs and in the vehicle in front of it.
In this way, I managed to drive about 60 km until the morning. We passed bombed and burnt Garwolin and probably even more destroyed Ryki. Then I saw what the war looked like up close. To this day, I remember the characteristic smell of burnt houses
At dawn, the military column turned left off the road into the forest. They were supposed to stop there for a stop. I ate breakfast with the soldiers, got a good job for the rest of the way, and after saying goodbye to them, I continued on my own. The officer, who became interested in my modest person and to whom I explained the reason for my trip to Lublin, said that he did not know yet where they would be going next; they are waiting for orders right now, but he is almost sure that it will not be Lublin.
I returned to the Lublin road in the hope that I would get another opportunity to drive towards Lublin. However, there were no amateurs for one more passenger. Instead, German air raids began. I cannot say how many times I ran away into the field with as much strength as possible, as far as possible from the bombarded and shelled road. I think I ran more sideways from the road than I walked along it, I think.
After the fourth or fifth raid – and it was still before noon – when the blast of a bomb tore my cap off my head, and people and horses torn to shreds were lying around, I came to the conclusion that further march along the main road was pointless. He is too slow and too dangerous.
I turned right on the first dirt road, walked three kilometers towards the Vistula River and turned left again into a country road, towards Lublin. The road was sandy, but there was minimal traffic on it and there was not a single raid on it until evening – and what for?
In the afternoon, tired and hungry, I turned to the manor buildings visible from the road. The mansion was small, quite poor, and almost empty. On the porch I found a lady of an age difficult to define, if I remember correctly, the cousin of the absent hosts. I asked her if I could buy something to eat. In response, she led me into the kitchen and offered me a wonderful country dinner. I remember to this day that it was a sour rye soup with potatoes and a roasted hen.
I ate until my ears were shaking. My hostess was sitting next to me on the kitchen bench, looking at me and crying. She said nothing, just cried. A little country girl sobbed for company by the kitchen. As the hunger receded, I felt that I, too, wanted to cry. The fatigue was stronger, however, and I rested my head on my arm on the table and fell asleep immediately.
I woke up quite quickly, maybe after an hour, because it was still light. I was terribly pinched because it was not the most comfortable sleeping position. When I looked around half conscious, I saw the hostess sitting in the same place as before, still with a handkerchief to her eyes.
She asked me about my fate during the war. By the way, it turned out that we have mutual friends, of course. She absolutely wanted to stop me. She claimed that there was no point in looking for my unit, that I would definitely not find him, that I was too young to take part in the war, that this farm (unfortunately I do not remember its name) was off the beaten track, away from the main roads and would be complete peace here and that I can wait with her until the end of the (swift and victorious, of course) of the war, that the court is poor, but there is always a place to sleep and something to eat, and clothes for winter will also be found.
Until now, she had been taciturn, now she spoke quickly and without interruption, as if the torrent of her arguments were to protect me from the dangers of further wandering into the unknown and to persuade me to stay. Finally, when she realized that I would not stay after all and would go on, she ran to the pantry for food for me on the road.
I already knew that food was becoming more and more troublesome, so although I wanted to move on as soon as possible, because I felt that I was softening under the flow of her arguments, I decided to wait for the promised pinch. After a good moment she left, carrying a tourist backpack stuffed so that we could hardly fasten the straps together: You have a change of underwear, socks, sweater, here is roasted chicken, butter, bread here, etc. etc.
I was embarrassed by this cordiality and angry at the same time. Until now, I did not have much luggage and it made it very easy for me to move around in all situations. However, I realized that everything I got would definitely be useful to me.
Farewell with torrents of tears and kissed, I finally left. I do not remember the name of the property, nor the name of the owners or the housekeeper, the features of her face and figure are blurred, and at the same time I remember her so well …
It turned out that the opinion about the property’s location away from the main routes was justified. When marching along the country road, I was convinced that I was walking approximately parallel to the Lublin road. In fact, I have drifted far away from her. It had the good side, however, that the surrounding villages were not besieged by refugees and there was no problem with finding accommodation in a barn or buying milk for dinner.
I wandered all evening until midnight. I slept in the barn and moved on at dawn. Around noon, my legs refused to obey. In the village, I entered the nearest farm and asked the farmer if I could drink water from the well. Of course he allowed. I drank, undressed and washed with cold well water. I was about to reach into my backpack for my enormous supplies. when the hostess carried a large clay pot of curdled milk and a bowl of potatoes with cracklings. I ate, thanked me and heard in response: “bless you, sonny, bless you”.
I rest on this farm for about two hours. I waited out the worst heat and headed towards Lublin. I still had over 50 km to walk. Two days of walking. When I was leaving the village, I was stopped by a non-commissioned officer of the gendarmerie and he gave me his ID (like all young people who did not work, I had only a school ID). He did not like my non-Polish surname very much.
He asked me several times who I was, where I came from, where I was going, etc. Finally, thinking for a long time, he gave me his ID card, looked into the backpack and waved his hand: you can go.
Only after a good moment did I start to wonder what a lone gendarme could do in a remote village with no military troops. The guy seemed very suspicious to me.
Until dusk I did not walk more than 10 – 12 km. I decided to sleep that night. I didn’t have much strength to go on. Hospitable peasants offered me a night in a cottage. However, I preferred the stable. Less stuffy and more pleasant.
The next day, from the morning, I was lucky. From the neighboring farm, the farmer was going to pick up his son, a soldier, who was wounded during an air raid on the Lublin road and was lying at a roadside dressing point. Someone kind notified the father. I took with him.
We rode hard, the horses were good, only the two of us on the cart, some blankets and some provisions; side, dirt roads quite hard. My carrier stopped in the village in front of the road, where his wounded son was supposed to be waiting for him.
Lublin – Kovel
Around noon I found myself again on the Lublin road, about 15 km before Lublin. Again, the same familiar sight: crowds of refugees on carts, on foot, on bicycles, rarely in the car. Lots of soldiers, from time to time a tight army unit. I joined this crowd and tried to march towards Lublin
The Lublin highway was even more crowded here than on the section where I said goodbye two days ago. We had several aviation alerts – thankfully false. It is difficult to describe what happened during them, especially since the area along the road was built up with small suburban houses, kennels and fenced off with numerous fences
I suspect someone was causing the false positives on purpose. At that time, the road was deserted and it was possible to move on it almost without any obstacles. Almost, because there were still carts, carts, often abandoned bundles, etc.
After two such alarms, I did not fall for the third, also false one. I then walked about a kilometer in quite luxurious conditions before the road was full again. I did not run away from the highway also during the next alarm. This time it was a real alarm. But I was lucky, the planes did not throw bombs, but shelled the fields next to the road. I waited out the raid lying in the ditch, hidden behind a thick tree. I heard distant bomb blasts but did not see them.
I preferred not to wait for the next wave of planes to arrive here with bombs. I turned onto the nearest dirt road and walked away from the road at least a kilometer. Across the copper and field paths I walked a little cross-country to Lublin, already visible on the horizon.
I was not far from the city when the heavy air raid on Lublin began. It lasted for about an hour with short breaks. The airmen also fired on rural buildings and clumps of trees in the outskirts of the city. However, the bombs fell only on the city and the road.
At that time, I was on a dirt road between sparse, poor suburban houses, some of which were still under construction. One of the low-flying planes shot at these houses, luckily to no avail.
In a moment you could see a sequence of bombers coming from the city side. Apparently after completing the task. In a ditch not far from me was an old man with two young children. Seeing the approaching planes, he jumped out of the ditch with them and hid into the nearby concrete well rings. I ran in the same direction and “took” one of the adjacent circles. One and only bomb fell from the planes, and it was on the open field. I have no idea what they were aiming for, because there was literally nothing in the vicinity of the blast and there was no living soul.
A bomb, not of very large caliber, exploded quite far away from me; probably 100 meters, and maybe even further; but exactly on the axis of “my” concrete circle. The echo inside him was terribly strong. I felt a sudden blow to my ears and felt as if I had been hit with a solid club on the head. I have already survived bomb blasts of much closer and greater caliber, but to no such effect.
I stepped out of the concrete circle staggering like a drunk. I was surprised and scared. I saw the blast clearly, and by the time the pressure wave hit me, I realized it was a small caliber bomb.
Po dobrej chwili dopiero doszedłem jako tako do siebie i podszedłem do moich sąsiadów, gramolących się z ich kryjówki. Z przerażeniem stwierdziłem, że nic nie słyszę. Zarówno stary jak i dzieci coś mówili; widziałem, że poruszają ustami, a ja słyszałem tylko szum i bełkot. Nic nie rozumiałem. Na szczęście minęło to po kilku minutach. Ból uszu czułem jednak długo. Przypominał mi się jeszcze wiele razy przy różnych okazjach. Podobny szok przeżyłem podczas Powstania Warszawskiego. Wtedy był to wybuch pocisku z granatnika tuż za zakrętem rowu łącznikowego. Zakręt ten ochronił mnie przed odłamkami, ale fala uderzeniowa zrobiła swoje.
It was afternoon. Smoke of fires was blowing over Lublin. I was wondering whether to go now or wait until the night. I decided to wait, but after an hour I couldn’t stand idleness, I threw my backpack (a bit lighter, because the food was depleting quickly) and headed towards the city.
The road was longer than I had expected and I found myself in the city at dusk. There were bombings everywhere. Some houses, or rather their remains, were still burning down.
It wasn’t easy to find the city’s headquarters. They knew nothing about my registration depot. They couldn’t give me any information; even whether such a unit passed through Lublin at all. Besides, they didn’t have time to talk. At least several dozen officers also tried to obtain some information. PW Junak did not want to bother. Furious and desperate, I sat down on the wall, the remnants of the square or the garden fence, took bread from my backpack, spread it with lard from court supplies and began to eat.
We left Lublin at night. We were a bit lucky. We caught a motorized anti-aircraft artillery unit. We managed to get to Piaski Luterskie. Not far, but always.
Riding on the chassis of the p-flight cannon, keeping its barrel under the arm, was not the most comfortable, but in our conditions it was a luxury and an extraordinary opportunity. In Piaski, the aviation battery left the road, the service started digging the cannons next to the bridge at the fork of the road (to Chełm and Krasnystaw).
“My” airmen concluded that they would not catch up with their unit, because they did not even know where to look for it. They reported to the battery commander who happily took them in.
I didn’t know what to do now. My acquaintance with two young officers lasted only a dozen or so hours, but I became very close to them, they were nice, friendly and kind. They treated me, a sixteen-year-old boy, as a friend and did not feel the difference between years and military ranks. I would love to stay with them, but I still felt that I had to get to my registration office at all costs. So I have to keep looking for her.
It was completely bright, there was another beautiful, clear day. I saw a signpost on the road: Krasnystaw 24 km. At this point, a revelation: after all, uncle Mietek – my godfather – changed with a pharmacist from Izbica near Krasnystaw. He gave him his old and prospering pharmacy “Pod Orłem” in Warsaw in exchange for his provincial. Aunt (mother’s sister) led to this unusual change. Uncle in his old age became a heavy alcoholic. My aunt was terribly ashamed of it, hid it from her family and friends, and considered going to the “lost” province as the best option.
My aunt and uncle greeted me incredulously that it was really me, but very cordially. Finally, I was able to take a bath, had a normal dinner, and slept for the first time in a good few days in a normal bed and clean sheets.
The next day, after a rich breakfast, in clean underwear, with a large supply of food in my backpack and a handful of silver coins for 5 and 10 zlotys, received from my uncle, I headed towards Chełm Lubelski.
I don’t remember the trip from Izbica via Chełm to Kowel at all. It was about 120 km in total. I had to drive up a lot of the way, rather by car than horse-drawn cart. No traces of it remained in my memory. The German air raids had to be less frequent and less bothersome, because I don’t remember them either. Nowhere on the way did I find any traces of the registration office.
Backwards turn (search for the Log-in Warehouse is over)
I found myself in Kovel late in the evening on September 16. I remember that I spent the night in a building, probably a school building, in quite tolerable conditions. The next morning, from the radio displayed in the window, I learned about the entry of the Soviet troops.
Most people refused to believe it. They believed that this was yet another gimmick of German propaganda. During the break between the radio announcements (probably from Lviv) I got to the receiver and was allowed to turn its knobs. I caught some Romanian station. The journal concluded with a summary of the news in French. Unfortunately, there was no doubt about it.
The fugitives and the military wondered aloud what to do now. For me, the matter was clear – as far as possible from the Bolsheviks. My parents experienced a revolution in Russia and barely returned to their country with their lives. Father participated as a doctor in the campaign of the 20th year. I had enough information on what to count on under the red occupant. How much strength in my legs I moved back. A group of a dozen or so young people spontaneously gathered and came to the same conclusion. Mostly students and high school graduates who, like me, have been looking for their units so far. I was the youngest among them. On the way there were still single people who, like us, had no doubts about the direction of the march.
We all regretted that September 17th found us so far from the Romanian border. We were absolutely sure of the final outcome of the war and felt it was our duty to keep fighting.
The fight against the Germans was still going on. We knew Warsaw was defending itself. So we considered it necessary to get to the capital as soon as possible, if we do not have the possibility of getting to Romania and further to France. France, according to generally prevailing opinions, will soon smash the army of Nazi Germany.
It was a good thing that we were walking in a group and, for that, armed. Almost all of us had rifles abandoned by soldiers. a lot of ammunition and hand grenades. There was even one sniper rifle with a scope.
In the neighboring villages, the Ukrainian peasants – so far generally only not very kind – were now showing open hostility. The sight of a disciplined, armed group, partly in military uniforms, partly in civilian clothes, and whom it was not known who represented, effectively suppressed hostile gestures. We were shot at several times, but always from a distance, and probably rather to make us lose the desire to enter the village than to provoke a possible fight.
We spent the night in haystacks in the fields, always setting up solid posts. We were guarded by a stray dog, a very nice mongrel and, more importantly, very vigilant. It was probably the best of all our guards. There was no trouble with the food. We had a lot of military canned goods, and in Polish villages we were offered milk, potatoes and bread, and there were also eggs and cheese. As I approached Lublin, there were more and more Polish villages. Local peasants indicated how to avoid Ukrainian and… German villages, because even those inhabited by German colonists found their way around this area.
We were walking very fast, luckily I was a good walker. We managed to drive up on peasant carts several times; later we asked for a boat; generally to good effect.
On the third or fourth day of the return march, we found ourselves in Piaski. We were stopped there by a patrol of the Lublin Volunteer Battalion and led us to the command. We were treated there with a highly patriotic speech (fortunately short), after which almost all of our group expressed their willingness to join this battalion. I received a military coat – it was very useful because the nights were getting colder – and a pouch. Until now, I carried rifle ammunition in my pockets and in a haversack. This sparked a scream of terror from the professional platoon who dealt with us.
A few hours later, the battalion was already fighting the Germans. The fight was short and we forced a large column of motorized infantry to retreat. They left a dozen dead in the field, which they could not collect, as well as crashed and burned cars. We also took prisoners, we obtained a lot of weapons and ammunition.
According to the testimonies of the prisoners, the Germans did not know about the existence of our battalion and were convinced that there were no regular Polish troops in the area any more. Our surprise attack from the flank and then from the forehead came as a complete surprise.
The battalion was perfectly armed, mostly with collected abandoned weapons; including heavy machine guns, grenade launchers and even one light anti-aircraft gun. We also had a lot of ammunition. The cars of the German column fell into a hurricane fire. The sight of a German unit entering an accidental (I think) ambush acted like a drug on us. The soldiers acted as if they were exercising. It was really a great satisfaction to see the “invincible army” be hit with a show, run away in panic or put their hands up in the air.
The battalion commander ordered to pursue the enemy, but the Germans jumped away from us and organized a defense. There was no point in attacking a much stronger opponent in the falling darkness. Especially since we knew nothing (or little) about any meals they might have received.
So we changed the direction of the march. I think we were walking north. Along the way, our spy came across a unit of German artillery. So we were behind the Germans. A column of cars and tractors with guns “spent the night” on the road, obviously surrounded by densely spaced checkpoints. They must not have felt too confident as they were not risking an overnight stay in the village.
We managed to get quite close. We opened a violent fire, and then with a loud “hurray” we launched an attack. However, we did not reach the road. The insurance, well entrenched, blocked the foreground of our attack with machine gun fire so effectively that the commander gave the signal to retreat.
This attack cost us about a dozen dead and a lot of wounded. Apparently, the losses of the Germans were also serious. We managed to safely shoot most of the column vehicles on the road, and one of the machine gun nests was captured. Unfortunately, we didn’t have sufficient reconnaissance before the attack and we didn’t know where the other nests were.
We walked around the column and hid in a dense forest. A stop was ordered. We were very tired, the wounded needed treatment. It was already quite clear. During the morning, the “Storch” intelligence plane flew over our camp several times. It flew so slowly and so low that it was possible to knock it down without the slightest difficulty. After all, we were superbly armed with the German weapons we had captured the previous day.
However, we were absolutely forbidden to open fire without an order, to make fires, and to go out into open glades in the forest. As the platoon commanders told us at the briefing, the point is to get to the help of Warsaw, which is still fighting, and not to shoot down one reconnaissance plane or shoot a few Germans from a patrol.
In the afternoon we closed our bivouac and moved on; I have no idea in which direction. We quickly encountered German patrols. They were clearly looking for us. We jumped deep into the forest. After dark, we tried to avoid the Germans. Unfortunately it did not work. We were surrounded. We got under the dense, harassing fire of grenade launchers; all forest ducts were shot with machine guns. We had some pretty serious losses. The situation was getting hopeless, especially as it was getting closer to dawn.
The battalion commander decided that further fight was useless and sent parliamentarians to the Germans. In the morning, most of the soldiers laid down their weapons and went into captivity. The commander – Captain Pawłowski (or Piotrowski) – reportedly committed suicide.
I didn’t feel like capitulating. When the order to stop fighting arrived at my platoon, at the same time allowing individual soldiers to attempt to exit the encirclement individually, I didn’t think for a moment. I asked who else was trying to get out on their own and I was amazed to see that only a few of the large group of soldiers, so far disciplined and very good fighting, came out. One or two more joined later. The rest were utterly apathetic and despairing.
The oldest in our group – sergeant major – asked: who knows this area? No one. So we go in twos, each two in a different direction and hello; I’ll see you at a parade in Berlin.
I was a companion of an active soldier from Kielce. It soon turned out that he did not mean so much to fight the Germans as possible, but to return home as quickly as possible. “Because you understand that, the potatoes have to be dug up, and the woman is alone at home with the kid …”
I was honestly outraged by this attitude, and when my companion got lost (I don’t know whether or not on purpose) along the way, I didn’t even try to look for him. I went on on my own. I had no idea where I was; I didn’t have a map. In the pocket of the PW sweatshirt I had a school calendar with a small map of Poland; she could not be of much use to me. It’s good that at least I had an ordinary scout compass with me.
The forest was getting thinner and thinner. The Germans, who supposedly surrounded us on all sides, were neither visible nor heard. After walking a few kilometers, I decided that there was no point in wandering alone at night, in a completely unknown area. I can run into the Germans unexpectedly, and they won’t be messing around with a single soldier. I can also find the remnants of our troops, who may also react differently at night.
I picked up a small haystack in the field and buried myself in it. I wrapped my coat around myself and fell asleep immediately. It was still dark when I woke up, but on the road nearby, you could hear the movement of carts and quiet conversations of people. I looked carefully: it was difficult to pinpoint exactly what was happening on this path. After a while I heard childish voices. This large group of refugees was wandering nearby. I stuck my head out of the hay and softly whistled once, after a while, several more times. The wanderers stopped indecisively, conversations died down, and so did the children.
I got out of the haystack and walked over to the wagon, the last one in a group of five or six. On the wagon, the remains of poor possessions, a few children, a woman and a man. They were clearly scared. “Military Lord, run away from us. The Germans pick up individual soldiers and small groups that have not been captured and reportedly shoot them. By the way, also civilians. They do not want to check the documents and lead individual prisoners to concentration points. ”
The escapees were convinced that there were more soldiers nearby, and I was sent for reconnaissance. After a while it became clear that I was alone. The woman in the wagon began to whimper under her breath and regret that the Germans would soon shoot such a kid. Fugitives from the remaining wagons approached. They sincerely regretted me, but asked me to separate me from them as soon as possible. I received not very precise information about the immediate vicinity and German branches.
The column of carts drove away, and I was hesitant to return to my haystack or to go to the fore-lodge mentioned by the fugitives, where a small detachment of our army was supposed to rest. It was starting to turn a little gray. I decided to go in the indicated direction to look for the forester’s lodge. I went across the fields. The forester’s lodge was supposed to stand on the edge of the forest looming on the horizon. After half an hour it was completely bright and my way was blocked by a small stream. Small, but still too wide to be jumped over. Its shores were slippery and boggy, the dawn was very chilly. I didn’t want to go galore. I decided to look for a narrower place that could be jumped over. I had been walking for a long time along the meandering brook and still hadn’t found a suitable place to jump. On the other hand, in one of the meanders in the bushes, I found milk cans immersed in water. The cautious farmer thus cooled the milk from the morning milking and protected it from unwanted amateurs. He just didn’t foresee that I would travel this way. I took out one of the bubbles, drank some perfect, fresh milk .. I took the leftover bread out of my pocket, ate it, drank again “in reserve”. I poured the water out of the canteen and poured the milk into it. Walking further along the brook, I found a footbridge nearby, which allowed me to go to its other side.
After about an hour of slow walking through the fields, I saw a lonely little farm. It turned out to be the gamekeeper’s lodge I was looking for. Admittedly, it was standing not at the edge of the forest, but at a fairly large distance from it, and instead of an army unit – only three soldiers and … three refugee carts. The same ones I met last night. They split up with the others for reasons I no longer remember, and took a roundabout route to the forester’s lodge.
The soldiers came from various divisions and parts of Poland, but all were “censored” (after high school graduation) and I got along with them immediately. They were quite well versed in the local situation and did not have the slightest desire to be captured by the Germans. They logically reasoned that there are still centers of resistance in Poland: Warsaw, Hel and some others. It is our duty to reach one of them, and if it fails, join a partisan unit or create such a unit and, teasing the Germans as much as possible, await the Allied offensive, which must start in the spring, or rather before frost, at the latest.
The old gamekeeper urged us to bury the weapons, dress up in plain clothes and join the fugitives. We couldn’t decide to give up the weapons. Endless discussions were interrupted by the gamekeeper: he brought a can of gun grease, rags, and a canvas sheet. We disassembled the rifles, cleaned them, packed the barrels with stiff grease, greased the bolts and ammunition. We wrapped everything in greased rags and a tarpaulin. There was also an old wooden box in which all this load could fit, and roofing tar, which we painted the box inside and out. I don’t know if we did everything professionally, but certainly with heart …
We took the chest with a ruler of a gamekeeper to a forest nursery he had indicated. We dug a deep hole in its driest (or so we thought) part, lowered the box into the dug hole, covered it with a piece of tar paper and carefully covered it. One of us suggested that we put a cross in this place, so that a small mound would pretend to be a lonely grave. However, we came to the conclusion that it would be better to cover all traces.
We were just starting to return when we heard the whirring of engines from the side of the forester’s lodge. It was too late to run away or hide in the woods. We were undressed to the waist (the day was quite warm and we worked hard), our soldiers’ uniforms were not visible. We dispersed around the shovel nursery, and before the Germans reached the winding and sandy road, we were digging up the young trees. It was an initiative of a nice blonde man from Łódź – a typical urban crook. As it turned out, none of us had any idea what this digging was supposed to be like.
One of the SUVs drove up to the edge of the nursery. We agreed in advance that in such a situation I, as the youngest, will try to get along. So I went towards the unexpected visitors. Three Germans kept the vending machines ready, and the fourth asked me in the purest Polish who I was and what I was doing here. I was completely stunned and for a moment did not know what to say. I had prepared a few sentences in German beforehand. I knew the language quite briefly: I understood a lot, there were problems with speaking. I replied that I was a fugitive from Warsaw, that I got lost with my parents and that I was working here for food at the gamekeeper’s house.
My new buddies were pecking the ground a little further away, and a ruler horse tied to a stake in a nearby meadow was calmly nibbling at the grass. Our clothes – military coats, jackets and shirts – lay somewhere among the nursery trees. The German said something to his comrades; they hid the slot machines. One of them reached inside the wagon and threw a can of canned food (Polish!) At us. At the same time, he shouted to me: you have runaways, you don’t have to work off these canned food.
The car drove away. We pretended to work in the nursery for a long time until all the cars rolled out of the lodge and disappeared on the horizon. I returned to the forester’s lodge with a ruler and brought my friends’ clothes. Their owners returned on foot when I gave them the agreed sign that the Germans were gone.
It turned out that we were dealing with a Wehrmacht unit, in which mostly Bavarians and Austrians served, and who spoke Polish fluently – was Czech. According to the opinion of the gamekeeper and his wife, they behaved perfectly properly.
Later, we had heated discussions with my new comrades whether it was possible to speak of decent Germans at all. We have not come to any specific conclusions. It was hindered by a solid dinner that the gamekeeper’s wife had set on the table. Immediately after lunch, we set off on our way to Warsaw. The march was very tiring, it was hot and stuffy, a storm was brewing.
We encountered more and more groups of unarmed soldiers trying to get to their homeland, clusters of civilians with bamboo and children, and suspicious types who looked like ordinary thugs. We all regaled us with amazing news, “absolutely certain” but contradictory. However, alarmingly repeated information that the area to the Vistula was to be occupied by the Bolsheviks. Despite the tiredness, we decided to go in her direction as much as possible. The number of refugees on the country side road was constantly increasing. The columns of horse-drawn carriages and crowds of pedestrians were also visible on other roads.
The next day, very early in the morning, after an all-night walk, we reached some highway. The crowd thickened. After a while, it was impossible to go any further. It turned out that the Germans had set up a checkpoint here and were checking the papers; they detain soldiers and officers. It was too late to withdraw. German gendarmes and soldiers were walking around the farms, they were also visible in the fields behind the village houses.
The control was rather perfunctory, but the Germans detained all the uniformed. This time I regretted wearing the PW uniform. Resigned, I sat down on the wagon in which several soldiers and civilians were already sitting, and waited for my turn. The inspection was carried out by field gendarmes with characteristic plates on their uniforms.
They ordered the soldiers to go to the side, to the field, where a large group of them was already sitting; the civilians were ordered to go on. With me, they didn’t know what to do. They did not know the PW uniform; They turned the school ID card in all directions trying to find out what it was about. They were surprised by my German surname and the fact that I was the only one in this large group of people that I could communicate with them without much difficulty. They asked several times who I was and what I was doing here. I replied that I was a student, I was running away like everyone else. After a while, an officer approached us, asked how old I was, I answered truthfully that it was 16th. He looked at the school ID, where was the date of birth 1923. And what month are you born? I don’t know what made me feel, but I replied on December 16 instead of January 16. The officer laughed and said, “Well, you’re not 16 years old yet; do not make yourself serious. We don’t fight with the children, go home ”.
This answer surprised me completely, I was convinced that they would take me to a prisoner of war camp. The officer walked away laughing, and I stood next to the wagon on which my backpack was lying and looked at the crowd of prisoners in the field, among whom were my newest companions somewhere.
I woke up when the gendarme handed me back my school ID and the completed form, which stated that I had been released from the prisoner of war camp and had the right to go to my place of permanent residence. He boomed at me to keep me going and not stopping traffic. I jumped on the cart to get my backpack. “This is your car?” I heard. Without thinking, I said yes, father. The gendarme told me to get out of the car. He stated that such beautiful horses would be useful to the German army and pointed to a cart next to it, drawn by two small horses. Take this car and be glad you won’t be walking.
I didn’t need to be told twice. I untied the reins from the peg in the fence, threw the backpack on the cart, cut the horses with a whip and ride. They were strange horses: chestnuts, small and quite emaciated. But they were not ponies or little Hutsul ponies that I know so well. Such misfortune poor people. However, they ran quite briskly with the empty car.
The car was empty for a short time. After a dozen or so minutes, I had ten passengers and a whole mountain of bundles. This is how, by the grace of the Germans, I became the owner of a cart and a pair of horses. After a few kilometers, I ordered a stop. I unhitched the horses and set them on the meadow; judging by its size, courtly.
I had trouble with my “passengers”. Almost all of them wanted to go in a different direction and had a completely different opinion from the others about what to do now. It was impossible to fulfill the conflicting requests and, fortunately, the number of passengers decreased quite quickly. I did not know these sites at all. I heard contradictory messages about the possibilities of crossing the Vistula River from the local farmers and hikers I encountered. News repeatedly repeated that the Germans allegedly did not let the bridge in Puławy.
This way, on the third (probably) day, I got to Wisła, about 10 km above Dęblin. In the village I learned that there is an old ferry nearby, which you can cross and that – so far the Germans are not guarding it. The information was accurate. The ferry was, but very old and small. Only one car could fit on it. It was not a classic ferry pulled on a rope, but an antediluvian crypt, which after the crossing had to be towed up the river to reach the same place from which it set off on the way back.
The water level was low; the crypt was scrubbing the sand with its flat bottom; the horses were nervous, and so was I. Fortunately, I had no more passengers, save for the two boys who weren’t classic “runaways”.
The crossing was very troublesome and at the same time costly. I paid 20 zlotys in silver for it, which was a very large sum for pre-war relations. I think that a few weeks earlier I would not have paid more than PLN 1. I worked hard at this, because there were serious problems with getting the horses onto this crypt, and even more with going to the swampy shore.
Overnight near Warka
Avoiding Kozienice, I headed for Warka and Grójec. I knew that I still had to cross the Pilica River. I remembered from pre-war bicycle trips that there are bridges on the Pilica in this area in Warka and Białobrzegi. I preferred not to use the latter, as it was situated on the Warsaw-Kraków route and was certainly very well guarded. Warka, on the other hand, was on the sidelines and I thought the crossing would be easier there.
I traveled through the Kozienice Forest without any adventures and after spending the night with very hospitable hosts, I arrived in the evening of the next day to a village located a few kilometers before Warka. I preferred not to risk driving at night – the curfew was already in force. I stopped, as before, in the village of the farmer, whom I asked for directions and the situation in the area. The host was welcoming but terribly inquisitive. He asked me where I was going from, where, etc. He easily realized that I was not a farmer’s son, nor a farmhand carrying a cart that served as a submarine. He surprised me by asking if I had papers for the horses and the cart. I had never heard of such papers before. He stated that when crossing the bridge, the Germans control everyone and seize those who had appropriated other people’s property, e.g. a cart with horses. I told him that I have a certificate of release from “captivity”. That’s very good, but where do the horses and the cart come from?
I was so ripped off that I sold him a cart with horses for 25 zlotys before I went to sleep. They were worth at least 250, but he convinced me that he was my benefactor, because horses have no documents and he saves me from prison, if not at all from being shot.
Later, I wondered many times how I had fallen into such a nasty trick. It was probably not only because of my age, but also because it was the first time I had encountered such cunning and cunning, after countless proofs of human kindness and solidarity. I just didn’t think there could be people. for whom the national defeat does not prevent them from doing good business.
How many of such people I met later … It is worth adding that he was a rich farmer, he had a very decent farm and nice brick buildings.
The next day, I crossed the bridge in Warka on foot. Strong German checkpoints stood on both sides of it, but they did not detain anyone and did not identify anyone. The carriages passed unhindered one after the other in both directions. I found out in the town that in the previous days soldiers in uniform had been identified and that if they had no documents confirming their release from captivity, they were arrested. However, no one has heard of checking horse documents.
A digression here. After returning to Warsaw, before the tram communication was restored, horse-drawn platforms were running around the city, transporting people for a fee. One day, in Aleje Jerozolimskie, in front of the now non-existent Main Railway Station, I saw a pair of horses, identical to “mine”, but harnessed to a platform, not a cart. The coachman was a stranger. It was not my “benefactor” from Warka. I was a horse owner for only a few days, after which there were still many different impressions. I couldn’t have sworn they’re my horses, but they are remarkably similar.
I stopped in the street, went to them. I could not call by name because I did not know their names. So I said to a random passer-by: look what funny little horses. The guy looked at me like I was crazy, but both horses turned their heads towards me. At the same moment, the coachman, already having a full set of passengers, shot his whip and the car started moving. I’m not sure, but I guess they were my horses.
In the evening, very tired, I got to Odrzywoko, an estate near Grójec, where I was on vacation several times before the war and where my younger friend from Rey, Wojtek Grobicki, lived. Mrs. Grobicka was glad to see me. There was a gloomy mood in the house, however. The news has just arrived, as it turned out to be false, that her older son Jerzy, a cavalry officer, had died during the war.
In the manor house, apart from Wojtek Grobicki, I found my friend from Rey, Dzidek (Olgierd) Wilczewski. On that day, or maybe the day before, he came back to Odrzywoek, just like me, from his war journey. We were in Odrzygłek for 2 days. Mrs. Grobicka wanted to keep us longer and at least feed us a little, because we were both tired and very emaciated. The anxiety about our families, about which we had no news, prevented us from enjoying the hospitality for a longer time. In addition, a German unit was quartered on the farm. This forced neighborhood was not pleasant, although they behaved reasonably correctly.
We returned to Warsaw in the first days of October. We traveled from Grójec by a narrow-gauge railway (choo-choo), the running of which has just been restored after the end of hostilities. The piston was terrible. The wagons were overcrowded with returning refugees, as well as with vigilant traders who were going to Warsaw with food, which was still lacking there.
As far as I remember, the queue did not yet reach its “station” on Puławska Street, more or less at the height of Park Dreszera. She had stopped at least a kilometer earlier. Then you had to go on foot. A nice part of the road to me on Miodowa and to Dzidek on Dobra by Nowy Zjazd. The march was exhausting not only physically but also mentally. The bombed and burnt houses made a terrible impression. Entire parts of streets and buildings ceased to exist. In places it was difficult to recognize where we were. In addition, a horrible corpse smell everywhere.
The Theater Square made the biggest impression on me. The Grand Theater and the National Theater are burnt down, all the houses around are shot and burned down. Numerous graves in the squares and lawns. It is hard to believe that there was a city center here, that there was lively traffic here. From Teatralny Square, we walked along Senatorska Street. We walked past my “court” Italian ice-cream shop. Nothing was left of it. I couldn’t even pinpoint where this great ice cream was once sold. The house was burned down and partially demolished. At the intersection with Miodowa, all four corners were burnt, and whole fragments of houses ceased to exist. I looked towards Krakowskie Przedmieście – there was not a single house left. In the direction of Długa – the same.
I remember Dzidek’s words: “if your house looks like this too, we are going to see me on Dobra, but there is also a small chance: it’s only 100, maybe 150 meters from the Kierbedź Bridge. I was already determined to go on with Dzidek, but I looked again at my house and did not want to believe my eyes. Through the rubble, the sign of the pharmacy of Magister Dobrzański was clearly visible. If there is a sign, there must be a house. We ran together as fast as we could through the rubble of the street.
Miodowa 9 was the first undamaged house on this side of the street from Krakowskie Przedmieście. Incendiary bombs caused a fire several times, but it was always possible to put it out in time. On the other side, as far as the eye can see in the direction of Długa – all the houses are burnt or torn down. I ran three stairs to the second floor. The doorbell did not work, there was no electricity yet. I knocked vigorously, Mom opened the door for me. Everyone is alive, the apartment is intact. Only a few panes flew out of the windows – unbelievable, but still real. I will not describe the greeting, because I cannot and do not remember very well.
Dzidek was of course also greeted warmly. Parents already had news that his home on Dobra also survived and that his parents and sister are safe and sound in Warsaw.
Komunikator galerii GA.PA - pole zmysłów - propozycja do wspólnego przemyślenia