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Section 1Memorabilia: Little Homelands The world of parents, grandparents... Family and personal memories...

Family heirloom – Poland – Interviewer from the case – memory from the occupation

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M.B.
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Interviewer from the case – memory from the occupation

At the end of May and June 1941, more and more frequently and larger military transports to the East passed through Warsaw. There was no doubt that Germany was getting ready for a war with the USSR. At the cadet school, we underwent immediate intelligence training and we were given the task of observing transports, identifying units as far as possible, assessing the number of soldiers and equipment passing through. It was an easy and very difficult task. Easy, because there were always a lot of onlookers in the streets during such trips and marches, and another one was not paying attention. However, it was impossible to stand in the street for a long time and remember all the necessary data, and you were not allowed to take notes. I cannot imagine how partial reports were glued together in the headquarters. Apparently, however, they had a very detailed understanding of troop movements.

It is worth mentioning here what we used to “write without writing”: you had to have in your pocket, for example, a handful of pumpkin seeds, in the other a box of matches, squashed to make it easier to remove matches, in a shopping bag or in a briefcase a dozen of the cheapest candies in papers. etc., etc. During the observation, e.g. 10 trucks with infantry, the eaten stone and shell thrown into the bag (so as not to litter on the street), a field cannon – one match taken out of the box and left loose in the pocket, a work of a larger caliber – an unrolled candy, and a piece of paper in a purse as above (by the way, these war candies were so nasty that they could be used many times!). Of course, there were many different combinations and depended only on the ingenuity of the “observer”. The march or passage of larger units was usually assessed by several observers: each usually only three to five different subjects (type of unit, car brands, car markings – symbols -, type of weapons, number of soldiers, vehicles, cannons etc. etc.), each topic at least two observers. In addition, there were also specialists searching for new, previously unlisted, types of uniforms, equipment and weapons.

It was in mid-June 1941. The school year in our technical school was ending. I already had final grades in most of the subjects. For more serious matters, I still had to finish the project from “Machine parts” and an exam in this subject. Difficult due to the extensive material and high requirements of the lecturer.

I had work to do in the city and I was in a hurry to get home as soon as possible. I was walking along Senatorska Street to the Teatralny Square. The square was closed to traffic and a German motorized unit passed through it. It was impossible to cross. I was about to go home, but my curiosity prevailed. All cars: off-road, trucks and passenger cars, as well as artillery tractors were of French production. It was the first time that I encountered such equipment from a German unit.

I stood in the crowd of onlookers and although I was not “on duty” that day, I started to count passing vehicles, cannons, etc. In front of me there was a guy who I would probably not pay attention to, because he did not stand out from the crowd with anything special, but he was taller than me and turned very much, blocking my view every now and then. At one point he took out a cigarette case and lit a cigarette. I noticed that he had a cigarette case with a lighter – the latest occupation “fashion cry”.

I started to look at him because it was the first time I had seen such a cigarette case up close. In a moment he lit the same cigarette again. However, I did not notice that it went out. Soon he threw away and stamped on the barely started cigarette. This surprised me because these days you didn’t do such things; rather, it smoked a cigarette in a cigarette holder to the very end.

In the square, the whir of engines intensified, large tractors with heavy cannons drove up, which I had not seen before. My guy took out his cigarette case again and lit a cigarette; after a while he threw it away and lit another and another. He must have sensed that I was watching him, for he suddenly turned and abruptly backed away from the line of onlookers. He was out of my sight.

I came to the conclusion that further staring is a waste of time, because this route was surely “guarded” by the on-duty observers. I decided to take advantage of the fact that I am in this area and drop by Krakowskie Przedmieście to the pharmacy of Mr. Wendy (Wende?), Where we had a contact box. Maybe they have something for me there. To my surprise, “my” guy was standing at the corner of Trębacka and Krakowskie Przedmieście and lit a cigarette; he threw it out and lit another one. This time I saw him from a distance and against the background of a moving German column. Now everything was clear: the guy was taking photos. He must have had a camera in his cigarette case.

I shared my observations with the officer who conducted intelligence classes with us. He took my story incredulously, though he commended it for paying attention to the details. After a few months, I received official praise from my superiors.

After many years after the war, I learned that the Allies used intelligence cameras during the last war, mounted, among others, in in cigarette cases. However, they were withdrawn as being too easy to detect. Could I have contributed to this?

Here, an explanation is needed for those who do not remember pre-war Warsaw. At that time, there were only three road crossings across the Vistula in Warsaw: over the Poniatowski, Kierbedzia and Gdański bridges at the Citadel. All three were used. Transports from the west, along the Poznań road, continued along Wolska and Leszno Streets, and then through Bankowy Square, Senatorska Street to Teatralny Square, Focha Street (now Moliera), Trębacka, Krakowskie Przedmieście, Nowy Zjazd and Kierbedzia Bridge.

This route was very complicated, but the only one possible for heavy equipment. It was closer and easier from Plac Teatralny along Senatorska, Miodowa, Krakowskie Przedmieście Streets to Nowy Zjazd Street. Senatorska’s exit to Teatralny Square was very narrow, and the right turn into Miodowa – tight and difficult for large vehicles. Therefore, the journey of military transports took place along the quite convoluted route described above.

M.B.

Uninvited guest

It was in the spring of 1943. In the morning I was traveling by tram to the PWST classes (Warsaw University of Technology during the occupation). In the morning, when people were going to work, there were generally no round-ups; however, this was not a rule without exception. Out of habit, just in case, I tried to ride old type tram cars with open platforms at the front and rear, from which you could jump on both sides if necessary, and the observation of the street was much better than from the inside of the car.

That day I also stood on the platform of the wagon. It was rather quiet on the streets, nothing foreshadowed any special “attractions”. The tram turned from ul. Marszałkowska into Nowowiejska and stopped suddenly after driving maybe 50 meters. The street was closed by a cordon of Germans from the side of Politechniki Square. In a moment, a large branch also closed it from the side of Zbawiciela Square. I was somewhat surprised to find that it was the Wehrmacht, not the police. They legitimized all passers-by; they were clearly looking for someone. I jumped to the left side and entered the nearest gate. It should be remembered here that Waryńskiego Street was punctured after the war and at that time it was not possible to leave Nowowiejska Street, which was blocked on both sides.

The Germans’ barrage was slowly but steadily approaching “my” gate. I had my papers in order, the PWST ID card generally protected against ordinary round-ups (practically nothing but luck protected against “special” ones). I was “clean”, because the principle, which was conscientiously followed, was not to bring any incriminating materials to the university (underground press, weapons, etc.). However, I preferred not to check what or whom they were looking for. So I entered the staircase in the transverse outbuilding and looked out at the yard through the mezzanine window. After a good while, I saw the Germans at the gate. So I ran to the top, fourth floor.

There were German voices in the yard. There had to be many controlling.

They were quite calm. After a while, I heard them on “my” staircase. They were hitting the ground floor apartments. There was nothing to wait for. How do I justify my presence in this house? I called the nearest door. There was no nameplate on them.

Nobody answered for a while. There were voices on the first floor. I pressed the doorbell nervously a few more times. A woman about 30 years old opened the door for me. She had a robe thrown over her nightgown. She seemed very surprised, as if she were expecting someone else entirely. “Lapanka in the street, the Germans are searching the house” I recited, scared but also flustered. She looked at me carefully for a moment and asked: “Are you completely clean (in the jargon of the occupation:” do you have “nothing forbidden”?) Are you sure? Then please come in. ” The apartment was modestly furnished, just typical, on the top floor of the outbuilding. My hostess walked over to the window, looked out over the yard and surveyed me once more. “Aren’t you” lame “? I don’t, really; I was going to the University of Technology for classes. “Then undress, but quickly and get into bed.”

At first I was dumbfounded, but voices coming from the yard called me to order. I carried out the command (wish?). I could now see the stranger. She stood by the window and watched the courtyard calmly from behind the curtain. She was shapely, of medium height, dark blonde, hair arranged in a crown. Many girls and women were combed like that during the occupation.

After a long moment, I heard pounding on the front door. She went to the hall, asked in German who was there, I heard the door open and a conversation in the hall. She spoke German well, but with a bad accent. I heard her calmly explain that “she has a visitor; so from yesterday, it stayed stuck, and then a curfew; gentlemen understand he could not go out anymore ”.

She opened the door to the room and entered with a Wehrnacht non-commissioned officer. I did not recognize her – her hair is disheveled, the bathrobe is unbuttoned, the shirt is unbuttoned, and the behavior is polite, but there is no doubt that she is the representative of the oldest profession in the world. The German took my Kennkarte and the PWST ID card from me, said a joke about which he laughed himself, returned my documents, patted her condescendingly on the seat and left, turning back at the door of two soldiers who were just entering.

The front door slammed, a moment of silence and the hostess peeked into the room. She was fastened with the last button, composed, only the loose hair was the only trace of what was happening here a moment ago. “It’s all over, don’t be silly, get dressed, I’ll be back in a moment.” I tried to talk to her through the half-closed door, but to no avail. Finally, fully dressed, I went to the hall.

“Wait, don’t come out yet, they’re wandering around the yard. At least in the kitchen, let’s have a cup of tea. ” I remember that the kitchen gave the impression of being unused for a long time, or perhaps not developed. A strange apartment, a strange hostess, and a strange kitchen.

The girl looked at me carefully, wordlessly as I drank the ersatz tea. Strangely flustered, I looked at her stealthily. I liked it, she was really interesting with that loose hair. I asked her once and twice. She didn’t keep the conversation going, didn’t ask about anything. After a long moment – she was looking out the window all the time – she said, “You can go out, the Germans are gone; people go in and out through the gate; be careful.”

I thanked her for her hospitality and tea. She cut me off in mid-words, shook my hand goodbye, and almost pushed me out the door. But this is not the end of this story, although its continuation is very different from the classical scheme.

The next day, after classes at the University of Technology (PWST), I bought a few flowers and stood again in front of the door I know on the fourth floor. I straightened my hair, called and… nothing, called again and nothing. So I went down to the janitor to find the language. It was a textbook pattern of a Warsaw janitor: tall, with a black, bushy mustache, quite stout, middle-aged, in synthetic trousers tucked into long boots, a birch broom in his hand. I asked him when it was possible to find the lady from the fourth floor in the transverse outbuilding and gave him the number of the apartment he remembered. The caretaker was surprised: “Nobody has lived there for a long time,” and a long story about the war fate of the tenants of this place followed. How is it possible, I was there yesterday; I started to describe the girl. “You must have made a mistake,” I heard, “either not in this cage, or in a different house, or maybe, sorry, you have just had a small glass” at this point he winced, winked his eye significantly and began sweeping the yard. I went up to the fourth floor again to check the apartment number. Maybe I was wrong, but not everything was right, I just couldn’t understand any of it.

I tried ringing that door several times at various intervals; always to no avail. In the spring of 1944, while walking along Nowowiejska Street, I remembered the described event. I entered the yard of the house and saw an open window in this very apartment. I ran up to the fourth floor and called. An unfamiliar woman opened for me with a child in her arms and a second one holding onto her skirt, behind her was, as it emerged from the conversation, my husband. I found out that they have been living here recently; they fled to Warsaw from the borderlands. They have already been “under the Ruthenians” once and do not want to try a second time. They knew nothing about the previous tenants.

Several dozen years after the war, I learned quite by accident that for some time in this house the function of the caretaker was performed by a major from the Home Army Headquarters and there was a contact point for the higher command.

The apartment I got to during the occupation was most likely this point of contact. By pressing the bell button nervously, I had to accidentally hit the agreed signal, and a mysterious stranger was on duty there that day. I think my unexpected visit caused quite a problem. Presumably, the apartment was considered exposed and the point had to be moved elsewhere.

This is the ending of the story.

M.B.

Sawdust

Before the summer holidays, my father bought coal to heat our apartment (Miodowa 9 m. 5) – its price was the lowest then. In 1939 – I do not know for what reason – he did not bring in coal for the next “fuel” year before the summer holidays. Before the first war winter we were left with the leftover coal, which could hardly be enough for the oven in the gas-fired kitchen. There were still 5 tiled stoves in the apartment and one in the bathroom, all of them fired with coal, the price of which had increased very significantly; there were also serious problems with transport.

One of the patients, whose father apologized for the low temperature in the office, told him about the ones used in the Vilnius Region, from which he managed to escape to the General Government, sawdust-fired stoves used there for heating barns, pigsties and stables, as well as some country houses. On a piece of paper, he sketched the construction of such a sawdust machine.

His father thanked him for the advice, but found it unrealistic: to install a tin stove in a rather elegant apartment with stylish furniture and nice paintings; to where in Warsaw to find the right amount of sawdust needed for a tin furnace ..

I took a sketch of a sawdust from my father and together with a friend from school sets we drew a very simple structure of the furnace. A friend had an uncle who worked in a large carpentry workshop in the suburbs of Warsaw, and he told him that you could get sawdust there for free, you only had to pay for transport.

My father’s patient was also the owner of a small, but run for several generations, sheet metal factory in the Old Town, my father showed him our “construction” drawing and asked him what he thought about it. The foreman looked at the drawing, wrote down some dimensions and after a week or 10 days, he came to my father with the news that the sawdust is ready, checked, warms up perfectly and already has several customers who ordered such devices from him. He checked whether our tiled stove to which the sawdust was to be connected had a good “cug”. He gave the prototype to Father and installed it in our apartment for free, for a good idea. He already had customers in the line for sawdust.

In the corner of the dining room, on the side of the parents’ bedroom, there was a large stove of dark cherry ornamental tiles, with a tiled shelf above the fireplace that opened onto the room. The door was removed from the stove, a piece of metal sheet was placed in front of the open hearth to protect the floor, and a sawdust was placed on top of it: on three short legs a cylinder made of quite thick sheet metal, slightly over 1/2 meter in diameter and about 90-100 centimeters high (I do not remember the exact dimensions). At the bottom of the sawdust (from the side of the room) there was a rectangular opening for air inlet and for inserting something like a dustpan for the tiny pieces of wood needed to light the stove. After igniting the sawdust, sliding in and out the “scoop” allowed to regulate the air supply and the intensity of sawdust combustion. On the other side of the sawdust there was a hole for exhausting the exhaust fumes. Welded to it,

Inside the sawdust, a metal ring about 8 cm wide was welded around the perimeter of the sawdust, above the opening for the “dustpan”, but below the opening for the exhaust fumes. On the ring stood a sheet metal cylinder (called by the foreman a “sawdust basket”) with a diameter smaller than the internal diameter of the sawdust by about 5 – 6 cm and lower than it, also by a few cm. At the bottom, the basket had a round bottom with a hole in the center, approx. 8 cm in diameter. In the upper part of the basket, two handles were welded to facilitate the insertion and removal of the basket from the sawdust, which was closed from the top by a flat sheet metal cover. These handles ensured concentric positioning of the inner cylinder (“basket”) in the sawdust “basket” sawdust. After inserting a long wooden peg into the hole in its bottom, sawdust was stuffed, tamping it strongly as it was poured on.

“Packed” with sawdust, after removing a wooden peg, it was placed in a sawdust closed with a lid. You put some small pieces of wood into the dustpan, light them up and slide the dustpan inside the sawdust, making sure to leave a gap for air to flow in. After a few minutes, the sawdust ignited in the hole left by the removed wooden peg and burned gradually from the center to the edges of the basket. By inserting and removing the empty “scoop” into and out of the furnace, the intensity of combustion was regulated. The contents of a well “loaded” basket burned (depending on the regulation) from about 8 to 16 hours.

Almost simultaneously with the sawdust, a two-horse platform with a large load of sawdust appeared, which found its way into our basement without any major problems.

The ceremonial first firing of the furnace went without any problems; sawdust stuck in the basket ignited in the hole (after removing the peg needed for whisking them) literally after 2-3 minutes; the sheet of the sawdust and its lid warmed up instantly; the stove did not smoke, it reacted very quickly to any changes in the intensity of combustion, and on its flat cover you could put a large pot full of constantly hot (or even boiling) water. After a few days of systematic heating, the tiles of the huge tiled stove – used only for exhausting fumes – were lukewarm around the clock. Our kitten discovered it and immediately appreciated it, making herself a lair in an unused… fireplace.

Even in severe frosts, the sawdust efficiently heated a very large dining room and, through the open door next to it, also the parents’ bedroom.
Daily removal of ash and filling the “bin” with sawdust in the basement, bringing it to the 2nd floor was quite burdensome and required the participation of two people. Not so much because of its weight, but because of its large diameter and the need to hold it by two handles. The full-time carriers were: the author of this text and our housekeeper or my older sister. The sawdust served us faithfully during 5 hard, war winters.

Before the war, hard coal for heating stoves was imported to our basement every year for over 20 years. During this time, a lot of coal dust accumulated on the basement floor. We tried to add it to the sawdust that was being loaded into the “basket”. The addition of fine coal – even in a very moderate amount – caused excessive heating of the boiler, which is dangerous for the environment.

M.B.

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