1. Life in the Soviet Union Paradise
The story of the family of Jan Fedorowicz (Part Five, List One,
Fallen Soldiers1 Page)
as told by his son Zbigniew Jan Fedorowicz.
Stolpin is not a very big place, located about 50 km from Lwow. The population is mostly Ukrainian
with some Belorus. The Polish people were in the minority and their properties, ours included, were located in between
two Ukrainian villages.
There were eight in our family; our parents and the six children who were, oldest to youngest,
Wladek, Anka, Staszek, me (Zbyszek), Genia and Stefka. My father, Jan, spent most of his time working our farm but he
was also a good tailor. My mother, Franciszka, spent her time taking care of the housework, gardening, tending the farm animals
and of course, all of the children.
The Ukrainian people were in charge of the village. They owned the few shops there and had their
own church and recreation center. They used the recreation center for many things, including the training of the "Partezan,"
which I was unaware of until later. There were also two Jewish families living in our village and they owned their own shops
there. The Polish people did not have any shops, churches or recreation centers there; we had to go to the nearest town, Toporow,
which was about 5 km from our village. When I was a young boy I never noticed the hatred between the Polish and Ukrainian
people. I first went to school in Stolpin and had many friends that were Ukrainian. We played together most everyday and I
even spent time at their houses. The school that I attended in Stolpin was open plan, which means that there were several
grades being taught together in one classroom. If you wanted to go on to high school and university you had to go to
the school in Toporow. I remember my first day at school in Toporow. I felt very strange because I didn't know anyone there;
none of my friends from Stolpin were there. The feeling didn't last too long. I had spent only a few days in the school when
the Germans invaded Poland in September 1939. In this year, my brother Staszek was in his second year of high school in the
city of Brody where he lived with our aunt, mother's sister.
It was a very beautiful day. I was playing outside when suddenly I heard a loud noise. I looked
up to see a sky full of airplanes and after about 10 minutes we heard the first bombs being dropped on the city of Lwow. The
bombing lasted for a long time and all the Polish people were very scared.
In a week or so we heard that the Soviet Red Army was coming to help us but we now know what
kind of help they wanted to give us. They crossed the border on the 17th of September and very soon after making contact with
the Polish army they started making arrests and taking away their weapons. It all happened so fast that the Polish army did
not have time to fight them.
During this time, the Ukrainians took over all the Polish institutions and put their own people
in charge. This however did not last very long because the Soviets told them that it was not to be the Ukraine but the Soviet
Union. The Ukrainians were very disappointed with this so they turned to the German army for help; they were hoping that the
Germans would help them create an independent Ukraine.
February 10, 1940
On the 9th of February the authorities in Stolpin gave the order that everyone who owned two
horses had to take a sleigh to Radziechow but they did not tell us why. We soon learned the reason as each sleigh returned
carrying a full load of Soviet soldiers. We all wondered why the soldiers were brought here but early the next morning we
discovered the purpose of their arrival.
We were having a very hard winter. The temperature was between -30 C and -40 C but we slept well
in our nice, warm house. This was to be our last comfortable night, our last night in our own house, and most of all, our
last night as free people. The loud knock at the door woke us up. Outside the door we could hear people talking and dogs barking.
It was very early and the stars in the sky were reflected on the snow-covered ground. Our father opened the door and that
is when we saw the Soviet soldier, coming into our house with his bayonet fixed on his rifle and along with him came two local
people that we knew, one Jewish man and one Ukrainian man. The Soviet soldier gave us orders that we had to pack our things
and be ready to leave in half an hour. The two local men helped pack up our things, clean and dirty, clothes and dishes; everything
went in together. We were also allowed to take as much food as we could so we took what we had and as we were leaving one
of the men put a bag of potatoes on the sleigh but they froze very quickly.
The Soviet soldier was standing at the door during all of this but he didn't speak to us, he
just made sure that no one escaped. When we asked where we were going they told us it was to Radziechow and that we would
be able to come back in a few days. When we loaded onto the sleigh the Jewish man gave us two big coats from our house to
cover ourselves with. As we were leaving everyone felt very sad and almost everyone was crying. I remember even our dog
was howling as though he knew we were never coming back. The dogs were all barking and howling as if they were saying goodbye
We were taken to the local school where the other families had been taken and we had
to wait a few hours until all the families were brought in to the school. Everyone was sitting there waiting, the children
were crying and lots of people were complaining but mostly people were just frightened. Every few minutes the doors would
open and another family would be pushed in and this was kept up until they had taken all the families to the school. The majority
of the families were Polish but there were a few that were Ukrainian.
There were people of all different ages; even sick and elderly people were taken from their homes
and brought to the school. Once every family had been collected, they put everyone back on the sleighs and took us to the
railway station. It was already evening when we arrived at the station at Zloczow and everyone was frozen to the bone. When
we arrived we noticed a row of boxcars on the rails and that, we soon discovered, was to be our ride. They loaded all of us
and our belongings into the boxcars and each one was packed as full as possible. Inside the boxcars there were two wide,
wooden benches on either side, one lower and one higher up for sleeping and in the middle of the car there was an iron wood-stove
for heating. There was a fire burning in the stove when we entered the boxcar but it didn't help much as we were all still
When they were loading us into the boxcars it went very fast. They pushed people in with their
belongings then the doors were closed and locked from the outside. Once the cars were all full and locked the train started
to move down the tracks. Everyone was so tired that most people fell asleep but as there wasn't much room, a lot of people
went to sleep sitting up. Once we started to move, I remember getting into one of the top benches and watching out a small
window until it got dark then I fell asleep.
When I woke up it was daylight outside but the window was coated in frost and I couldn't see
out. I remember feeling very cold and hungry. I tried to figure out why all this had happened but I was too young to understand.
The train kept going that day until we reached Rowno at the Polish border and then the train stopped. We were all wondering
just what was going to happen now. We could hear a lot of voices and noise outside the train and through the gaps we could
see the soldiers running around. We heard another train of boxcars pulling up beside our train and when we opened the door
we saw that the boxcar doors on the new train were open and lined up with the open doors of our boxcars. There were lots of
soldiers standing guard near the doors to make sure no one escaped during the reloading into the new boxcars. These were from
the Soviet Union, a little larger than the other boxcars but they were the same on the inside. The one exception was that
there was a hole cut in the floor as a temporary toilet.
Again, I climbed up on the top bench and tried to look out the window to see where we were going.
As soon as everyone was loaded the doors were closed and locked again and the train began to move. It was so sudden that people
were thrown all around inside the boxcar. It was also the first time we all realized that we were leaving Poland. This was
the beginning of our journey to the Soviet paradise. It was to be a very long and hard journey; we were on the train for 4
weeks. The cold, hunger and lack of sleep took its toll on everyone and by the end of the journey we were completely exhausted
with little or no hope left.
Inside the boxcars it was very dark and cold and there was never enough wood to burn in the stove
to keep us all warm. There were old people, young children and poor people. Some people had lice and it spread throughout
the car so that everyone ended up with it.
Whenever the train stopped the soldiers would open the door and take two people out
to get water. They would then be put back in and the doors locked again. From time to time they would give us warm soup or
a few loaves of bread but not very often so we had to live on what little food we had brought with us. The poorer people on
the train didn't have anything to bring with them so they were slowly dying from lack of food.
When someone died the soldiers would throw the body out, usually while the train was still moving,
and just leave it. The conditions in the boxcar got worse as the trip went on and with no water to bathe or clean ourselves,
everyone was beginning to smell and the lice problem was really bad. By the time our journey was almost over, almost everyone
had lost their will to live.
Finally the train stopped at a station in Kotlas and everyone was told to get out. People were
happy to finally be out and getting fresh air. Kotlas was a small town on the left side of the river Dwina (Droina) in the
Soviet Union. The river was frozen and covered in a blanket of snow and was used as a road for the sleighs. They moved us
from the boxcars to the sleighs. First the luggage was loaded, then the women and children. There was no room for the men
so they had to walk behind the sleighs, each of which was pulled by only one horse. We followed the river for about 100 km
until we reached Permogorskaja Zapadin, our destination, which became our new home sweet home.
This place was completely desolate. We were cut off from the rest of the world and it was not
a place from which we could easily escape. On one side of us there was a wide river and on the other side a huge forest full
of wild animals such as bears and wolves. This is where they built the labor camp for the people brought from various countries.
The camp had three very big wooden barracks, a canteen with tables for people to eat at, a public
bathroom (banea), a police office and jail and a few small wooden shacks which they used for various things like selling bread
and coupons for the other food. There was one Soviet family living there along with one cow and two horses that they
had to look after for the camp. We were settled in the barracks.
Our barrack was very big and built of wood planks but there were big gaps between the planks
and we could see frost coming through them. There was a row of four or five wood burning stoves in the middle of the room
but even if they were all burning at the same time it was still very cold. Along each side of the wall there were iron beds.
When we arrived there it was after midnight already and they gave us some bread but it was already stale and mouldy and smelled
bad. We were very hungry but still we could not eat the bread because it was so terrible. After such a good supper, we made
our beds and went to sleep. Having spent four weeks in the cramped boxcars we could finally lay down to sleep fully stretched
out. If only there were no lice we could say that we had a very nice night.
However we didn't sleep for very long because the police came early in the morning and woke us
up. They told every man and woman to get ready to go to work. Here they had their first problem with us because we told them
that our mother wouldn't go to work because she wasn't well. After a long argument they sent her to the doctor and he gave
her an excuse slip saying that she was exempt because she had a temperature. In the Soviet Union you have to go to work no
matter how sick you are unless you have a temperature. We are not sure how our mom got the temperature; maybe she was just
so scared that it went up.
A little later in the week we had another problem with the police. They ordered all of the children
to be taken to school and that's when I told them that I was not going to their Soviet school. It was located on the other
side of the river and the children who were taken to school stayed there for the whole term and were not allowed to go back
to their parents. The police wanted me to go and they were threatening me with stories of sending me to jail or even shooting
me if I did not go. They were coming every day to try to get me but when I saw them coming I would hide under the bed or out
in the bush. Finally they decided to give up and I got to stay.
My decision not to go to school turned out to be a very good one because I was the one who was
always standing in line to get coupons for the food. The food supply was short and if you didn't get in line soon enough you
didn't get anything at all.
In the beginning they told us that working people would get 500 gms of bread each day and the
children and non-working people would get 200gms. The working people usually got soup and the others, well, it just depended
on what was leftover; sometimes you might get something and other times not.
In the canteen they prepared hot food like soup from fish heads, oat soup, barley soup or porridge
and there was very little, not enough for everyone. In order to get this hot food you had to go on the day before to buy coupons
which they were selling in one of the wooden shacks. Sometimes people would go in the evening to wait through the night for
morning so that they could get some coupons because only a few were sold. Once in a while, you would wait all night in front
of the window and in the morning you would find out that they were selling them somewhere else. They were doing this on purpose,
of course. Then we would have to run around and try to find out where they were selling them and when we would finally find
out, it was too late as they would already be sold out.
In our barracks there were people of all ages, sick and healthy people and some disabled people.
One family had two children, both disabled. One of them couldn't even walk and had to be carried everywhere. They were both
taken away by the soldiers, to the hospital we were told, but later we heard that they were both killed. There was an elderly
couple there, both very sick, and they both died within a few weeks of our arrival at the camp because they had no one to
look after them.
One night I had to go out of our barrack and I saw a man lying there outside the door, dead.
I had to walk past him and I was scared. It happened several times that a person would die and they would throw them out in
the snow where they would lay until someone disposed of the body. That is how we started our new life in the Soviet paradise.
My father, Wladek and Anka went to work everyday while Genia and Stefka were taken to school
and my mother and I stayed behind in the barracks. My father and Wladek were working on the river; they had to push logs up
onto the shore so that they could be tied together. The logs were then pushed down the river and out to sea where ships were
waiting to load them up. Anka had a few different jobs during our time there but in the end she was boiling water for the
people to take for personal use and sometimes I would help her by cutting the wood for the fire under the pot.
In the beginning, the work on the river was close to our camp so the workers could have their
lunch in the canteen and at that time they would get their ration of bread. When the workers had finished their lunch, the
non-working people could buy what was left of the food but there was not much of that so again you had to stand in line and
try to be as close as possible to the front. The bread that we got in the beginning was hard like clay, smelled bad and
was hard to eat but later on it got better and was easier to eat.
Our life was very sad; we were more and more hungry and kept getting weaker and weaker. In order
for us to survive we had to do things that weren't always good, like cheating. I used to make my own food coupons from plywood
or tin and I was never caught. I would sometimes steal food, like potatoes, from the fields. Sometimes I would go across the
river to see the local Soviet people and exchange old clothes and other things we had brought with us from Poland for
food to eat.
Once we received a food parcel from Poland from people who were living in our house. They had
moved there from the west to escape the Germans. They wrote us a very nice letter explaining what they were doing there and
wishing we would return as soon as possible to our house. This parcel was a big surprise because we never expected it simply
because we did not know these people. A lot of families were getting parcels all the time from their families but we got only
one and it was not from our family. In that parcel were several food items and one of them was a package of fatty bacon. This
became our most precious gift. Mother tied a string around it and when she would make soup with potatoes she would dip the
string-tied bacon in for half a minute then pull it out, dry it off, wrap it up and save it for next time. She did this for
a long time until it was all gone.
The first winter there was very harsh for us. We were always cold and hungry because the delivery
of food to our camp was so inadequate that we couldn't buy anything. One time they gave us dry, salted fish. We ate a little
piece then had to drink about two litres of water each. It killed our hunger for a little while. From time to time they would
bring different things to our camp to sell to us, like sugar cubes, sweets, buttons, needles or even vodka. We would buy whatever
they would bring in. If it was sugar or sweets we would keep them to add to our hot water to drink but other things we would
use to trade with the Soviet people across the river. We would buy as much vodka as we could, when it was available, because
it was the best for trading. The local people would give up their last piece of bread for some vodka. This, for the most
part, is what kept us alive.
One time only, I remember that they brought in a lot of bread and you could buy one kilogram
per person but I kept going through the line again and again and bought a lot of bread for us. Unfortunately, the people
who had no one to stand in line didn't get anything.
In March or April my father became ill with an ulcer. They took him to the hospital on the other
side of the river. It wasn't a real hospital but a church that they used to store grain. In one corner they had put a few
beds for a makeshift hospital. It was a very dirty and cold place.
Once when Stef was sick with a temperature the doctor prescribed for her a half liter of milk.
I had to go to the Soviet woman who was looking after the cow to get this milk. I waited in her home while she milked the
cow. When she brought in the milk, she took the cream off the top, poured half milk and half water into a container and this
is what she gave me.
In the early spring they decided to move half the working people to the other camp where they
were cutting trees. Among them were my uncle and his family. After the move we had a better chance of getting in the front
of the line for the food coupons. We were also transferred to the other barrack which was better in that it was separated
into different rooms making it much warmer but the bugs seemed to like the warmth so we had a problem with them coming in.
During the same time they also transferred our working people to a work area about 20 km further
from our camp which meant that they had to stay there all week. They would work for six days and on the seventh day they
would come back to the camp to their families. Sometimes I would visit my father while he was working there. There were two
different routes I could take to get there; the longer way was easier as I could just follow the river, but the shortest way
was to go up and through the forest which I did sometimes because there was always a chance of finding mushrooms or berries
for us to eat. It was scary though because I knew there were dangerous animals there like bears and wolves but I never saw
any because usually, during the day, they stayed deep in the forest.
Once when I was visiting my father, I went into the forest to explore a little bit and found
a lot of mushrooms, the good ones, so I picked them and took them back to the camp with me. The next day I went back
and a little deeper in the forest I found lots of cranberries so I picked them also. On the way back to camp there was a small
store and as I passed by the owner came out and asked me where I had gotten the berries. When I told him, he asked me if I
would pick them for him for his store and he would pay me as much as the working men. I did this for him and on the last day
of the work week, when I finally returned to our camp with my father, I told my mother what I had been doing. The next week
she went back with me and we both worked picking berries and we both got paid. We dried all the extra mushrooms so we could
save them for later and we also dried what bread we had because we knew that our work wouldn't last forever.
During the summer they cleared the land around our camp and ploughed it up. They then gave each
family a bucket of potatoes to plant so that in the fall we would have fresh potatoes to eat. Most families were very hungry
and just ate their potatoes. We also ate our potatoes but first my mother cut off the small section with the shoots and
we planted that part in the soil. We had our own little spot for our potatoes and the rest of the field was for the canteen.
In the fall, when we went to dig up our potatoes, we would sneak into the main section and steal the potatoes from there,
saving our own till the end.
When the Germans started the war with the Soviet Union in June 1941, the conditions in our camp
worsened. We were even more short of food and everyone was even more hungry. It was so bad that some people died from starvation.
This is when we started using the food that we had dried and saved.
Summers in this part of the Soviet Union are short and the winters have no end. Lack of warm
clothes caused a lot of sickness throughout the camp. It was a sickness that caused blindness (actually, night blindness
was caused by a lack of vitamin A, ed.), not completely though. During the day you could see just fine but when the sun
went down everything went black and you couldn't see anything. I also got this sickness. I will never forget it. One day I
was going to get water from the river (it was frozen over but there was a hole in the ice so we could get fresh water) and
although it was daytime, evening was coming. By the time I got there the sun went down and everything went dark. I couldn't
see anything but I knew that we still needed the water so I crawled on my hands and knees and felt my way around to the hole.
I filled the bucket and then managed to get to camp safely. I never went out that late again. In our area the nights
were always very bright with the stars, like daylight at night, but with this sickness it just all turned dark, like having
a blanket pulled over your eyes.
It was early in the morning on the day that everyone was off of work when we were told to come
to the recreation room for a meeting. We were not expecting good news at all so you can imagine our surprise when they told
us that we were free and could do whatever we wanted. They told us that we were their friends and we would go together to
fight the Germans. We were very happy; everyone felt so good that we all started singing the Polish national anthem.
However, the situation in the camp was terrible. There was less food than ever but they told
us that this was because of the Germans. After a few days we had a visit from a delegation from the farm on the other side
of the river. They came to us with a proposition: they wanted to mobilize people to work on their farms. They promised
better pay, a better food supply and better conditions. However the bosses at the labor camp tried to stop us by offering
the same thing because they also needed us to work for them. My father and other families decided to go to the farm to work.
When we got there they gave us a nice little wooden house but it was not completely finished
yet and there still was some work that needed to be done on it. We learned that the people who lived in the house had been
deported and were never able to finish building it. The house had only one big finished room which was used for everything;
kitchen, living and bedroom. On the other side of the house was a big storage room divided by a corridor in between. In the
storage room and attic we found a lot of wood and materials which we used for firewood.
My father and Wladek were working on the farm. They got good pay as promised and our food supply
improved considerably. Here at last we could be rid of the lice. We knew that we wouldn't be staying on this farm very
long because my father was planning to go to the Polish army, which had been created in the south of the Soviet Union, as
soon as transportation could be arranged. In the meantime we were collecting food which we could use later on our journey
to the south.
When we heard about that a boat from Archangelsk was coming, we packed our things and went down
to the boat stop at the river. However the boat came and went without picking anyone up because it was full. They did tell
us that another boat was on its way and that it was practically empty. We waited at the boat stop for another
two days, hiding out in a little grain shack nearby, trying to stay out of the cold winter weather while we were waiting on
the boat. On the third day, the boat arrived and took all of the waiting people to Kotlas where a train was supposed
to be waiting for us.
Upon our arrival in Kotlas we found out that we were too late, that the train had already left
and no one knew when the next one would come. We had to stay outside with our belongings because the inside of the waiting
room was already full of other people. The winter was very harsh and cold but we had to stay there for a few days sleeping
outside on our belongings.
One day I tried to get inside the station so I could take a little nap. I found a small place
to squeeze into but it just happened to be next to a family that had a lice problem. The lice got on me so bad and were eating
me alive that I went back out and never tried to get in there again.
After one week of waiting for the train and not knowing when another would come, we were completely
exhausted. Then we got a proposition from the farm across the river. They wanted us to come over there to work, promising
that when the train came they would let us know and take us back to the station straight away. My father organized a group
of people who wanted to go and we went to the farm.
Once again we had a nice, warm room and once again we could clean ourselves up and get rid of
the lice. Father, Wladek and Ann went to work every day at the farm. Genia and Stef stayed at home with mother while I wandered
around the farm looking for food. I noticed that close to our home was a field where the cabbages were already cut and put
into piles but there was a man keeping watch over them so that they would not get stolen. However, I managed to get a few
of them. When the man was on the other side of the field, I grabbed two cabbages and ran home with them. The man was yelling
and threatening me but he never caught me.
We found out later that the train we were waiting on had come and gone already but the farm people
never told us about it. My father and the others were angry so they arranged their own transportation back across the river
and we returned to the train station to wait. We had the waiting room to ourselves this time as there were no other people
and we only had to wait one week for the train to arrive to take us.
The boxcar on this train was the same as before except that it had three levels of sleeping benches
on each side. There was the same type of iron stove in the middle but it did not have a hole in the floor for a restroom.
When someone had to go to the restroom while the train was moving, the doors would be opened and people would have to hold
them by their clothes while they hung out the door to do their business.
Finally we were off to the south where the Polish army, and our freedom, was waiting for
us. It was really crowded inside the boxcar with very little room to sleep. The only difference about this trip was that the
door wasn't locked. When the train stopped, people usually jumped out to run into the bushes to do their business but they
had to be very careful because sometimes the train only stopped for a minute or so and they could be left behind. Sometimes
the stops would be longer but other times only a few minutes. The man driving the train would see the people getting off but
he wouldn't wait for them. When he was ready to go he just left with or without them.
Our journey from Kotlas to Guzar, Uzbekistan, lasted six weeks and during this time we were given
hot soup and bread only a few times. Those who had brought nothing of their own were very hungry. We were a little bit better
prepared as we had brought the food we had saved up such as the dried mushrooms, bread, potatoes, flour and some shredded
cabbage. It was not that much but due to the careful planning of our mother, it managed to last until the end of our journey.
Throughout the first three weeks of the trip it was very cold but then it gradually started to
warm up and by the time we reached our destination, it was hot. During the trip I remember, one time, being very sleepy but
there was really no where to lie down and sleep. I saw a narrow ledge that was bolted to the side of the boxcar so I climbed
up and squeezed myself onto it and finally fell asleep. When I woke up I couldn't move, my clothes had frozen to the
bolts and I was stuck, so I called for help and some people came to my rescue and pulled me down.
Another thing that happened which was funny, although not at the time, was that when the train
started to go it always jerked and made people who were on the benches fall down. One time a man fell down and landed right
in front of the stove. He grabbed onto it, by reflex, for support and burned himself.
At the larger stations the stops would usually be longer, sometimes all day. People would leave
the train and approach the Soviet people to ask for or buy some food. One older man got off the train and was walking along
the tracks looking for scraps of food that might have been thrown out. He had walked for a long way when the train started
to move and he had to start running. His wife was hanging out of the boxcar, calling to him to run faster and he was trying
but couldn't catch up. The train driver was laughing at this because he knew that he was only moving the train to the other
set of tracks since they planned to be stopped all day but the wife was really scared because she thought that her husband
was going to be left behind.
Our next stop was Samarkand, which was supposed to be our last stop, but they changed their minds
for some unknown reason. It was a nice place. I got off the train and wandered around the town maybe to buy something but
there was nothing there to buy so I went back to the train with nothing. We stayed there for three days before leaving for
Guzar and this definitely was our last stop.
The trip from Kotlas to Guzar took six weeks and was very tiring. We were all quite exhausted
and hungry so we were very happy when they told us that we had reached the last stop and to get off the train. It was extremely
hot outside and since there were no trees to shade us we had to sit out in the hot sun on top of our luggage and wait for
our transportation to arrive. This would then take us to our next temporary stop where we would stay until arrangements to
allow us to leave the Soviet Union were made.
We had been sitting there waiting for over an hour when we saw a long line of donkeys being lead
in our direction, followed by a line of camels behind them. We were told that this was our transportation. They packed our
luggage onto the animals first and then we were put on them as well. I was put on top of a donkey with one of my younger sisters.
When we asked them how far we were going, they told us about 20 km with the hook and usually the hook was much longer than
the number they told us.
We started our journey before noon, passing through the small town of Guzar. Beyond the town
we could see mountains in the distance. They were very beautiful and so white they looked as though they were made of white
marble. The journey on the donkeys was very tiring because it was so hot and the sun was shining down on us. We were all sweating
and still very hungry because they didn't give us anything to eat. I don't know who had it worse though, us on the donkeys
or those on the camels.
When we asked again how far we were going we were told just to the edge of the mountains but
once we got there we didn't stop. We went into the mountain range passing by one mountain after another with no sign of our
destination. They kept telling us after each mountain that we would be there just after the next mountain again and again
until it was midnight. Finally everyone was tired and fed up so we got off the animals and told them that we weren't going
any further that night, that we were going to stop and rest. They tried to talk us into going on by telling us that it wasn't
much farther and that it was dangerous to stay where we were on account of the wild animals but we would not go. They didn't
know what to do so they left us there, returning after half an hour.
They again told us that our stop was just on the other side of the mountain and that we would
have a nice place to rest and food to eat. We heard dogs barking so we knew that this time they were probably telling the
truth. And so it was, for in less than half an hour we reached a small village.
There we were given a nice, big room to sleep in and they brought everyone bread and tea. We
all slept together in the school but they warned us not to go out at night because the dogs are running free and they
are dangerous and might attack us. In the moring we received tea and bread again and we had to get back on the animals
to continue our journey.
At about noon we arrived in another, bigger village where most of the people stayed behind
while six families continued on. It was about midnight again when we arrived at our destination. All six families stayed
in one big room. Everyone put their bedding along the wall on one side and this is where we were to stay for the time being.
The building was built of clay which was both good and bad. It stayed cool inside while outside it was so hot but during
a rain, pieces of clay would fall off.
My father went with the farm manager to get bread for us to eat. Within an hour they had
returned with bread and a scale so that the bread could be weighed and everyone would receive the same amount, a 500gm portion.
I didn't know that at the time and as I was sitting there watching them hand out the bread, I was so hungry that I sneaked
a piece and put it under the blanket. When they got to the end they couldn't figure out why they were short one piece.
The manager went back and brought in a replacement. I didn't tell anyone what I had done because I didn't want to get into
trouble so I waited until everyone had gone to sleep to eat the extra piece. My brother Wladek was next to me and asked what
I was eating. I told him to be quiet, broke off a piece of the bread and gave it to him. He was hungry like me so he didn't
tell anyone either.
Once my father had made all the arrangements with the farm managers, he, Wladek and the
men from the other families went back to Guzar to join the Polish army. That left only women and children on the farm. I was
the oldest boy in the group so I got the job of bringing fresh water to the building. They gave me a donkey to carry the water
but I had to look after it, making sure it had food and water and that no one stole it.
It was about 10 to 15 km to the water source, a small pond, and I had to go there sometimes twice
a day depending on how much water was needed. The donkey had two wooden barrels for the water hanging on either side of him
so he had to carry both barrels of water and me too. After we returned with the water I usually tied the donkey outside our
building where he could eat the grass. One day I noticed a man trying to untie my donkey. I ran out and he told me that it
was his donkey. I told him no, it was mine. He said that he would call the police so I replied "go ahead" and he left but
never came back as he was only trying to steal it.
Before father left us for the army, he told us not to worry about anything as he had made all
the necessary arrangements for our transportation out of the Soviet Union and that the Polish authorities in Dekhkanabad would
look after us and let us know when it was time to go. We were happy staying on that farm because we knew that our father had
taken care of things, would never forget us and that everything would be OK.
I did my job every day, bringing in the water, and I was also on the lookout for food because
the rations that we were given were not enough. We were getting 200 gm of bread, one cup of flour, one cup of porridge, one
glass of milk and sometimes a piece of cheese, per person. My mother would make small dumplings out of the flour and
add a little milk to the water and that is what we ate. I liked it very much but I was always dreaming that I could have a
God must have heard me for one day mother had made the dumplings and I was sitting there with
my bowl, eating. It was raining hard outside and all of a sudden a piece of clay just fell into my bowl. You couldn't get
it out because it quickly fell apart so I just stirred it up in there and ate it.
It was not the best there on the farm but we were happy because we knew that at any time we might
get word from the Polish authorities that our transportation had arrived. We waited a very long time for this news and would
not have heard anything at all if I had not gone to Dekhkanabad to inquire about it myself. There was a Jewish family on the
farm and the father wanted to move his family to Dekhkanabad to live. He asked me if I would go there with him and he would
pay me to take his belongings on my donkey. I agreed and we went there the next day. I went to the Polish authorities
and asked about our transportation out of the Soviet Union. The man in charge there had come down here on the same transport
as us and knew my father. When I asked him about the transportation he just slapped me in the face and told me to go
back to the farm saying that he would let us know when it was time. I did find out however, from some of the other people
there, that two transports had already left. They also told me that if someone wanted to get out of the Soviet Union they
would have to arrange transportation to Guzar themselves, with the authorities in Guzar taking care of the rest.
On my way back to the farm I met some Uzbeks who were taking supplies back to the farm. They
had two donkeys but one of them was ill and couldn't go on. They asked me if I would carry the flour back to the farm on my
donkey, so I did. Once we got there the manager gave me flour and bread as a reward. Mother was very happy when she saw what
I had brought.
When I told our people what I had heard about the transportation out of the Soviet Union, everyone
got very angry and started packing up their belongings to go to Dekhkanabad. Of course, first we had to arrange for transportation
with the farm authorities. This took a few weeks but finally we got a few donkeys which took us into town. When we arrived
in Dekhkanabad we went straight to the Polish authorities and put all of our belongings in the courtyard. Then we waited for
the officials to come out and when they did they were rude to us and told us to leave immediately and return to the farm.
We were all angry so we stayed put. They did not help us at all. We had to find our own food.
One or two days later they took all of the children, Ann, Genia and Stef included, to an
orphanage. I didn't go because I didn't want to leave my mother alone. After a week or two, people started getting ill, coming
down with dysentery or typhoid fever. We also got ill, first me, then Stef. They took us to the hospital where I had a bed
next to the window and Stef was in the bed next to me. They were giving us medicine every day and a little bit of food every
day. After a week or two I began to get better and felt that I could leave, so they let me go. While I was in the hospital
with Stef, I had to feed her and make her take her medicine so when I left she was crying because she wanted to go too. They
told me that if I wanted to take her I could do so the next day. This I did, pulling her out through the window. She was so
weak that she couldn't walk and I had to carry her back to the orphanage. It wasn't easy because I wasn't completely well
During this same period, mother was also sick although she was staying at some other place and
one of the other women there was looking after her as best as she could. Genia was in the orphanage, also very ill, able to
walk but not able to eat or anything. After I brought Stef back to the orphanage, I went to visit with Genia. She came outside
and was standing under a tree in the courtyard, complaining that she was really sick but no one would help her. She looked
really bad, all skin and bones. We talked for quite a long time outside, She complained and cried a lot. It was time
for her to get back into bed and as I was leaving, she acted as if this would be the last time that she would see me. I said
goodbye and went home to get some sleep.
Our beds were outside because it was much cooler than in the little clay rooms. It was around
midnight when I went to sleep. I had a dream that I saw Genia outside under the tree again but then I really wasn't sure that
it was a dream. The next morning, Ann came by from the orphanage to tell us that Genia had died just after midnight. I just
kept thinking about the dream, I believed that I really saw her there that night.
Because it is so hot there, they have to bury the dead as soon as they can so the first thing
that morning they took her to the cemetery. For me it was the saddest day of my life, I had never lost anyone close to me.
I felt so bad that I couldn't go to the cemetery to see her; I wanted to remember her alive and I couldn't bear to go there
and see her dead. I was so sad that I cried all day. I just couldn't believe that she was gone.
It wasn't long after that we learned that our father had also died of the same illness.
From that moment we felt like we had been abandoned. We lost all hope because we were all alone no longer had anyone to look
Week after week, the situation just got worse and worse and no one was helping us. I had to go
around to these people and beg for food or try to sell things for food. The very last thing that we had left was our father's
big overcoat. We kept it till the last because our father liked it but in the end we had to sell it too. I sold it to a very
nice man who gave me 500 rubles for it and also told me that he would give me food if I would go with him to his house. I
went there with him, quite a long way, through the mountains. When we got there his wife was making supper for the family
and I was invited to eat with them. She gave me a big bowl of dumplings and even though my stomach was telling me that it
couldn't hold it, I ate everything. I couldn't just leave the food there. The man also gave me a big bag of flour, a whole
loaf of flat bread and some other things, then he showed me the way back to my camp.
My mother was so very happy when I came back with all these things. Now we didn't have anything
left to sell but fortunately we learned that they were getting a transport ready to leave Guzar so we had to go there. The
Polish Institute arranged for the children to go but the adults had to make their own arrangements. I went into town and found
a man who was going into Guzar with a load of hay. I paid him to take my mother with the money that we made from selling the
coat. I didn't pay for myself because I knew that I was entitled to go with the children, so I went to the orphanage. They
took us on buses to Guzar. When I sent my mother on to Guzar I made sure that she left two days before we did because I didn't
want her to be left behind.
Once we got to Guzar I had to stay in the orphanage. They wouldn't let me leave but I did have
contact with my mother. Before leaving the Soviet Union everyone went to have their hair cut at the barber shop because of
the lice problem. Mother told me that when she went for her cut someone managed to steal her identification and documents.
When she tried, she could not make arrangements to leave the Soviet Union without them. I told her to let me know if
they would still not let her go the next day as I would not go without her. I didn't want to leave her there.
The next day she went in again to talk to the officers. Luckily one of the men there was
another friend of my father's and he asked what she was doing there. She explained that her papers had been stolen. He told
her to come early the following morning and he would arrange it for her, which he did, and she left Guzar that afternoon for
Krasnowock. Three days later we children left for the same destination.
Our transport was the last to leave the Soviet Union. After that they wouldn't let any more Polish
The journey from Guzar to Krasnowock took about two days and nights, travelling through Uzbekistan
and Turkmenistan. In Krasnowock I found mother with lots of other people sitting on the beach by the sea with her luggage.
They were all waiting for the boat to arrive. It was very hot and we mostly just wanted some fresh water to drink. We were
not offered any so I took our last few rubles and bought two litres of water. That was the last money we spent in the Soviet
After a few more days, the boat finally arrived and they started loading the people from the
first transport onto the boat. It was not a passenger boat, it normally carried coal or other cargo, so they loaded on as
many people as possible. The Soviet soldiers were checking documents and identification as people filed onto the boat to make
sure that only Poles were leaving. They would remove people who did not have the proper papers and wouldn't let them board
at all. As the people loaded onto the boat, they were very worried that they might not make it on. They did not want
to get left behind so they were all pushing each other and trying to hurry onto the boat. A few even fell off the planks into
the water. It was a terrible mess.
The next day another boat arrived and we were also taken aboard. I was happy that our mother
had left before us since that way I knew she wouldn't be left behind and would be waiting for us at the next stop.
The Soviet Paradise is Now Behind Us
We had finally made it onto the boat. It did not matter that it was not a passenger boat, we
didn't care, we were just glad to be on it and leaving the shores of the Soviet Union. We were all kept on the open deck as
there was nowhere else for us to go. They had jammed as many people on the boat as they could so we couldn't move. We just
had to sit in the same place for the entire journey. It was really hot sitting there in the sun without any water to drink.
The journey from Krasnowock to Pahlevi in Iran over the Caspian Sea lasted almost three days
and nights. When the boat was approaching the shores of Pahlevi everyone was crying from happiness because we were finally
out of the Soviet Union.
There had been both children and adults on the boat and lots of them were sick from a lack of
water. A few people died on the way and they were thrown overboard because it was so hot that they didn't want to keep them
on board till the end of the trip.
At Pahlevi, the ship could not get close to shore because of the shallow water so they put us
into smaller boats for the trip to shore. When we were finally on land, people were so happy that they started kissing the
ground because they now knew for sure that they were finally out of reach of the Soviet Union.
Tents had been set up for us along the shore by the Polish authorities. Everyone put their belongings
in their tent and finally sat down to rest. They then brought out food and water for us all. We had been there for only
a few days when, one by one, they took us into a line of tents that was the second row in. In the first tent, we were told
to take off all of our clothes and they shaved off all of our hair and threw the clothes away. We were then taken to the next
tent where we got to have a hot shower with soap and clean towels. Then, in the final tent, we were given a new set of clothes,
from shoes to hats, towels, soap, toothbrushes and other necessities. We were then placed in another section of tents behind
a fence, away from the people who had not showered yet. We stayed here for only a few days as well.
I met up with mother in the new tents but it was only for a day as she left on a transport to
Teheran. A few days later they loaded all of the children on buses for the trip to Teheran. I remember sitting by the window
and looking out at the beautiful mountains as we drove by. There was only one stop on the journey, overnight at a very nice
resort. After breakfast we were loaded back on the buses.
I sat by the window again, enjoying the view for a few minutes when the next thing I knew
I was waking up in a hospital. I didn't remember anything before that. It was a Polish army hospital where all of the doctors
and nurses were Polish, located just outside of Teheran. All of the sick people there were the ones that had come from the
Soviet Union. The first day there I got a blood transfusion because I was losing blood. The next night I had to have another
transfusion because I was still losing blood. I was in that tent for a few more days when I was examined by a doctor who then
had me transferred to another tent because I was too sick to remain in the first tent. The second tent was where they kept
the very sick who had little chance of survival.
During my first days there I didn't want to eat or drink anything so they put an IV tube in my
hand. It didn't do any good because my veins were all dry from lack of water and food. They didn't think I was going to make
it but in a few days I started to feel better and I began to eat the food they gave me. When I got a little better I realized
that no one had been to see me. I saw the other sick people have their families visit but no one came to me and I started
to feel very lonely and abandoned.
Finally I was well and they were ready to release me from the hospital. They had to know which
camp I wanted to go to but I had no idea. I didn't know where my family was. One morning, as I was going into the hospital
store, I met someone I knew. She asked me what I was doing and I explained my situation. She said that she was in camp number
three and so I now knew where to go. My mother was at that camp although Ann and Stef were still with the orphanage in a different
Mother was very happy to see me as she knew nothing of me or where I was. She was quite sick,
just lying there, but I was now able to look after her and she got well very fast.
From these transit camps they were sending people to the various countries around the world that
had agreed to take Polish refugees during the war. In order to go on the transports however, you had to be healthy. Once my
mother was well again we picked up Ann and Stef and had our names put on the list to be transported. We left Teheran for Ahwaz
where we had to wait a few weeks for a ship to take us further. No one was allowed to board the ship unless they were examined
by the doctor and approved for travel. It was quite a few weeks more before we were all ready to leave.
From Achwaz, the boat sailed to Karachi in India (now Pakistan). The journey was very dangerous
so we were included in a convoy of ships escorted by Naval destroyers, a submarine and a chopper flying overhead. Our route
took us through the Persian Gulf, which was patrolled by German submarines, so they had to be very careful.
At Karachi, they let us off the ship and we were transported to the other side of town to waiting
tents where we had to sit and wait for another ship. The tents were very nice, having wooden beds in them. That night, when
we went in to go to sleep, we put out all the lights and got into bed. In a little while you could hear people yelling and
you could feel things biting you. When we turned the lights back on, we saw the bed bugs scatter. They were really biting
so we couldn't sleep in the beds. Instead, we went outside and sat there. No one slept that night. The next day soldiers came
by and set up a big tank with boiling water. They dipped all the beds in the tank to kill those bugs. That night we got to
sleep without the bugs bothering us.
After two or three weeks in Karachi, our boat was ready and waiting for us so we went down
to the port and were loaded onto it. We headed to east Africa although this time without an escort. During the first few days,
they brought us all on deck and trained us on emergency procedures. The journey from India to East Africa took three weeks.
The boat was very big but as we were all alone, surrounded by water on the Indian Ocean, it felt very small. We never saw
any other boats but we did see some whales which swam alongside the boat. Other than that it was a really boring trip because
you really couldn't see anything but water and at night we had to go below deck to our beds. We were not allowed to keep any
lights on, because it was dangerous, so all we did was eat, sleep and look at the ocean.
A few times we had an alarm and we had to go up on deck but it was only to test us in order to
be sure that we knew what to do in case the danger was real. At the time though, we didn't know if it would be just a test
or a real alarm.
We were told that we were headed for the port of Mombassa but for reasons unkown to us, we passed
by that port and sailed past Madagascar, finally landing at Dar Es Salaam in Tanganyika, East Africa. This port was shallow
so we were put into smaller boats and transported to shore. Here they put us on a train and took us to Moszy, and from there
we went by truck to camp Tengeru where we stayed until 1948.
For more efficient management, the camp was divided into six groups and each group into four
blocks. The responsibilities of each block were to take care of their own people's food supply, clothing and all other necessities.
Throughout the first months, the food had been prepared in big containers and then distributed to us, but later we received
the groceries and prepared the food ourselves on stoves that were specially built for us. These stoves were built outside
with only a roof over them to give a little shade. Because the cooking area was always congested at meal time I
decided to build mother a nice, small stove, with an oven, close to our house. That made her very happy because now she could
do her cooking and baking whenever she wanted and she did it a lot. We always had fresh bread and delicious cakes to eat.
Our camp had a pet ostrich who liked to run all over and was a lot of fun but he could be harmful
and obnoxious. When people were cooking their meals he would come over and take meat right out of the boiling pot. There were
so many stories about this ostrich. I remember but a few of them.
One day I was sitting in my house by the open windows, with my back to them, while I did my homework.
Suddenly I saw the long neck of the ostrich over my shoulder and before I could react, he snatched my homework and disappeared.
On another day, the ostrich stole a lady's watch the same way he had stolen my homework, through an open window. That ostrich
ate everything, iron, glass or just whatever he found and because of that he made a lot of trouble for the people in our camp.
The camp management decided that he had to go, so they put him on a truck, took him far away
and let him go free, but he returned to the camp faster than did the truck! They decided to try a second time, this time blindfolding
him with a cloth over his eyes, but without success as once again he came right back. Finally, he was sent to the zoo in Nairobi.
Tengeru was the largest transit camp in East Africa with over four thousand Polish residents,
mostly women and children. The location was most beautiful, surrounded on one side by Mount Meru, jungle and Lake Deluti.
The other side was flat, with tall grass and small trees. When the weather was clear we could see Mount Kilimanjaro with its
snow covered peak.
The camp had many different schools; elementary, high school and four technical schools. The
children from other, smaller camps in East Africa who wanted to receive a technical education were sent to our camp in Tengeru.
I completed my high school and four years of music school while there. I was also a member of the Scouts.
During our school breaks, the management sometimes organized outings for us or we went camping
with the scouts. Some of my most memorable outings were our trips to Mount Kilimanjaro, around Mount Meru, an African safari
and a concert in Arushi with our orchestra.
We also organized many outings ourselves, usually on weekends. On one such weekend I went with
my friends to the waterfall. On the way we stopped at an African school and asked the teacher if we could take a photo of
him and his students. It was not easy because as soon as I opened the camera all the children disappeared, but after a few
trials I finally succeeded.
Our camp was home to a beautiful church, built by the people in the camp under the supervision
of our Polish priest. We also had various institutions in our camp such as a library, theatre, cinema, community center, recreation
center and a nice, big hospital built next to lake Deluti.
We were never bored because there was always something to do; swimming in the lake, playing in
the community center or going to the cinema. To show movies they had built a stage outside at the bottom of the hill and the
seats were located on the slope of the hill. However, to get into the cinema, you had to buy a ticket. One evening, two of
my friends and I tried to watch the movie over the fence, because we did not have money for tickets, but we could not see.
So, we climbed a little hill which gave us a good view but we did not realize that we were on top of a termite mound.
However, we did not have to wait long to find out as the termites did not like us being there and chased us away by biting
While I was in music school some funny things happened too, especially in the beginning during
practice. We usually held our practices in the school which did not have any glass in the windows or doors in the frames so
it was easily accessible to the dogs. Many times the dogs would come by and start howling during the practice. This would
drive our teachers crazy. We chased the dogs out but they just kept coming back.
The time we spent in Africa was our happiest time and if only we would not have kept getting
malaria, it would have been perfect. However, everyone of us had malaria and it would come back every year so we would have
to spend two weeks in the hospital.
In 1945, the war ended and everyone was very happy but not for long. We all realized that Poland
was still not free. The Soviet Union was still in control. Shortly after the war ended we received an invitation to go back
to Poland. The representatives of the Communist Polish government came to our camp and tried to convince us to go back. The
people of the camp very angry and shouted them down. Because of the situation in Poland, as far as I know, only two families
from our camp went back with them. The rest stayed at Tengeru camp until 1948.
From 1945 to 1948 the situation in the camp remained the same although people grew a bit apprehensive
as they did not know what would be done with them. However, we were all still under the protection of the United Kingdom so
they gave us a choice of where to go. Those families who had someone in England could go there while the rest had to choose
between Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and the United States. We of course chose England because Wladek and Anka were
We left Africa in July of 1948 on board the ship Georgic which departed from Mombassa and took
us to Southampton, England. The journey this time was pleasant, much better than our earlier voyages. We followed the coast
of Africa, passed through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, travelled through the Mediterranean Sea, past the Straits of Gibraltar,
into the Atlantic Ocean, the English Channel and finally to Southampton. From there we were taken to the Whiton Aston transit
camp. Once again everyone had to decide where to go from there.
We went to Doddington, near Crewe, where my brother lived with his family. After two or three
years, I went to Glasgow, Scotland where I stayed just over one year before moving on to Bradford to stay with my mother in
Anka's house. Later, I bought my own house. After two or three years I moved to London, England where I was working as a project
engineer. In 1960 I married my beautiful wife, Jadwiga Teresa Fialek and August of 1967 witnessed the arrival of our long
awaited son, Richard. We lived with my mother in London until 1974 when she passed away. In 1978 we emigrated to Canada.
2. From Przemysl to the "Children of Lwow"
From Przemysl to Tockoje by Way of Krakow and Siberia
I was born in a village in the county of Przeworsk in 1916 when the region was still occupied
by the Austrians. This county was entirely Polish and that was how I was brought up. I was fifteen years old when my father
purchased a farm situated to the east of Przemysl, to which the family moved. The villages surrounding Przemysl
and especially those to the east of the San River, were Ukrainian and hosile towards Poles. I quickly realized that one would
have to fight for Poland.
I fulfilled my military training obligation during the 1936 - 1937 season with the 3rd battalion,
5th Regiment Podhalanska Rifles (5 pulku Strzelcow Podhalanskich - p.s.p - ), 22nd Mountain Infantry Division (22-ga Dyw.
Gorska). On the 27th of August, 1939, I was mobilized by the Polish Armed Forces and reassigned to the same regiment
and even the same battalion. On the 1st of September, the battalion left Przemysl and was to join up with the regiment
which was in action somewhere near the German border.
Our train moved very slowly and by the evening of the 2nd, we had just passed Krakow, still
headed west. While we slept, the train kept rolling all night long. We could not join up with the Regiment, which may
have already been either destroyed or bypassed by the Germans. In the morning we found out that we were at a small station
west of Krakow and here we were to disembark. The unloading process went slowly because the station did not have
a platform and we had supply cars, wagons, horses and three horse-drawn machine gun carts. A gangplank was assembled
and the carts unloaded while the quartermaster stayed behind to unload the supplies and field kitchen.
The battalion marched in the direction of Krakow, which we passed by on the way to Wieliczka.
To the east of Wieliczka we began to occupy defensive positions but this process was interrupted by the arrival of new orders
directing us to Dobczyce. We marched all night long, bypassing Dobczyce on our way towards Raciechowice. By nighfall
on the following day, we occupied defensive positions at some road crossing.
Before noon on the 5th of September, we were informed that we were surrounded by a large German
unit. We did have two POWs; a motorcyclist, severely wounded by our heavy machine gun, and an officer who had been
checking the bridges on this road to see if they had been damaged. We returned to Dobczyce in a day, in such good form as
if we were simply returning from exercises. Near Dobczyce we stopped in a small wood and our forward patrol brought us news
that German vehicles were on the Dobczyce - Bochnia road.
Both the battalion and company commanders decided that we would follow the Raba River corridor
to the Wisla River, then head for Sandomierz. We made it only as far as the Niepolomskie Forest when we were attacked
by a large German unit. Our battalion commander was killed and the rest of us were taken prisoner.
We were not in great shape as were marched into a barrack in Bochnia. The quartermaster never
did reach us with the supplies and we lived only off of fruit we took from the orchards. We had been there 4 or 5 days before
the mayor and citizens of Bochnia were able to organize a relief effort so that at least once a day we could get a bit to
After a few days we were transferred to Kobierzyn (near Krakow). Here were the cavalry barracks,
now with empty stables. There were already a few thousand Polish POWs there. The Germans did not give us any sustenance at
all. We slept in the horse barns but at night we were not allowed to open the doors in order to take care of our natural
A local countess had a large property nearby (I don't remember her name). She could speak German
and so arranged with the camp commander to allow the local people to feed us on occasion, so once a day we received
a cup of hot vegetable soup and a couple of thin slices of bread with a thin layer of cold cuts in between.
On the 17th of September we learned that the Soviets had invaded Poland, that now we had two
enemies. That same day, a possible opportunity to slip past the fence presented itself. I was successful and found
myself, it seemed, a free man. Home lay 250 km away on the east bank of the River San, near Przemysl, and I had
to get there on foot. The journey took 11 or 12 days. By the end of September, I found myself standing on the east bank
of the river, just 10 km from home. On the west bank of the river stood a German soldier, and on the east bank, a Soviet.
The road bridge was in the water and the railway bridge was off limits to all. One woman mentioned that before the war, further
downstream, there was a river crossing made in boats and that it should still be possible to get to the other side. And so
I found myself on the east bank. The very next day, the Soviets put an end to those crossings and Przemysl became a city divided
We began a life under occupation, living day to day. There were no Soviet soldiers visible in
the streets of Przemysl and it surprised us that the Soviet authorities did not set up headquarters anywhere. No one could
get any information as to where and how we were to obtain the provisions and supplies required for everyday life.
Local supplies ran out quickly to the point that one could not even obtain salt, though there were sources readily available
nearby in Drohobycz and Boryslaw.
Meanwhile, in every locality, some lone administrator opened up an office though no one knew
why he was there or what his job was to be. It wasn't until those people summoned to him during the night never returned home
that we realized that something strange and unknown to us was happening. The first to go missing were the Polish pre-war policemen
(like my neighbour, a corporal of the reserve Military Police who left behind his wife and two young children), school teachers,
farm managers and others who had worked for the government before the war. Every few days an acquaintance or neighbour would
disappear during the night, an alleged or imagined enemy of the Soviet State.
Somewhere at the beginning of December, I too was called out at night and I thought for sure
that I would never again see my home. The administrator greeted me very politely and explained that I had been summoned
as a witness in the case of a neighbour who was accused of beating Ukrainians that had ventured too close to his house. I
tried to explain that this man could not beat up Ukrainians as he was about 60 years of age and that the field in which he
had sown grain for bread for his family lies next to a road used by the local Ukrainians to herd their livestock, and further,
that some 12 to 14 year-old boys were destroying some of this grain and that he therefore had just cause to defend his crop.
The boys knew full well that he could not possibly beat them up as he could never catch them. The administrator declared
that thanks to my testimony, my neighbour, Pupka, was cleared of the charges and the both of us may return home.
On the way out however, he stopped me and said: "You are a 'umnyj czolowiek,' a smart man. My
office is open 24 hours a day and should you have any information for me, please come by at your convenience. I know that
you spend your evenings at various homes and especially at one particular home. What do you do there?"
I laughed and replied: "If you already know this, you know that there is a good-looking 17 year-old
girl there with whom I have spent many evenings for quite a while."
He quickly changed the subject as I realized what his job in fact was and that I now have a "guardian
angel." As he dismissed me he added "You may go now, but don't forget me."
Sometime during November every home received a visit from an clerk who wrote down the names and
surnames of the residents, the names of their relatives both living and deceased and made note of all our plows, weapons,
carts and sleighs, everything but the pitchforks for manure and hay. He assured us that it was just a count of people
We figured that living in villages and growing our own grain for bread, we would be able
to scrape by but the situation in the cities was hopeless. Polish zloty were worthless but no one wanted the Russian
rubles. All of the pre-war factories and workshops stood silent and no one made a move to put people to work and let
them earn a living. No one knew what was happening today or what would happen tommorow.
On the 10th of February, 1940 at 3:00 a.m. there was a knocking at the door. When I opened the
door, I saw the very same Ukrainian administrator who came for me in December. He informed me that I must immediately
team my horse with that of my neighbour Sikora, attach Sikora's sleigh and take this combination to the school in the village
of Nowosiolki Male. Neither my horse nor Sikora's were outfitted for winter travel, I thought to myself in Polish, as I closed
the door and returned to bed. The local Ukrainians for the most part carried out these orders while the Poles tended to do
as I did and ignore them.
However at 5:00 a.m. once again, although much louder this time, there was a pounding on the
door. When I opened it I found myself looking at a long bayonet attached to the rifle of a Soviet soldier. He did not say
a word but forced me back into the house, at the point of his bayonet, without closing the door. Not until he was in the kitchen
and standing in the corner with the two walls to his back and the bayonet at the ready, did he speak: "wsie podnimat
I had to loudly repeat his words and the entire family, still dressed in their night shirts, had
to come into the kitchen. We had to sit in our night clothes by the wall for about an hour when, at approximately 6:00 a.m.,
an officer of the NKWD came in and without uttering a word, went straight into the bedroom and began to pull the mattresses
off of the beds and upturn all of the wardrobes and drawers such that the house looked as if it had been hit by a hurricane.
I continued to think that this was punishment for not following their earlier orders. After completing
his search, the officer opened up his briefcase and took out a large book, read out our names and said: " Wy kak to narod
nie zdiesznyj ukazom wierhownojo sowjeta peresedlenij butietie w drugiji miesta," that is, "as you are not local people, by order
of the Soviet Union you will be relocated to another town." After 15 minutes, a cart was waiting for us. I began to think
that this had nothing to do with the earlier incident but rather part of a greater operation. But why would they include my
74 year-old father and 64 year-old mother who suffered from a heart condition?
After filling the cart with our belongings, we moved off. On the road, we saw our nearest
neighbours driven off in the same way. After one kilometer we came to a crossroads which joined three villages; Nowosiolki
Male, Nowosiolki Wielkie and Pleszowice. As we approached the crossroads, day was breaking but a heavy snow was falling,
driven by a strong wind as if mother nature herself had turned against these defenseless beings and desired to erase any trace
of this crime.
One could not see much in the storm but what one could see was more sleighs and people. Poles
from Nowosiolki Wielki and Pleszowice. A column was thus formed and headed for the town of Medyka. Behind the wagons, followed
mothers with infants in their arms, the old and the ill. Further on we were joined by people from Popowic and Bykowa. It was
8 km from my village to Medyka. How these people made it I don't know. No one had eaten breakfast, the infants had not been
fed, the sick half sat on, half hung from the sides of the sleighs. The cold and wind did not allow anyone to sit, only movement
through through the soft snow gave warmth. The elderly and the mothers with children hung on to the sleighs with their hands
but even this was not simple as no one had mittens. How long could one hold on to frozen wood with their bare hands? The teenagers
helped the elderly and the mothers with children falling in the drifting snow.
During the entire trip, we were accompanied by the "mannequins," the soldiers with their bayonets
at the ready. We made it to the train station in Medyka where a series of numbered freight cars were waiting for us. A few
of them were already loaded with people. I could see a few faces peeking from tiny openings and recognized them as Poles from
the town of Chalubki Medyckie which was closer to the station.
Everything here happened in quiet order with the NKWD officer reading out the names and a soldier
leading each family to its assigned car. Guarding the doors was another "mannequin" armed with a rifle and opening and closing
the doors. My family was loaded into a two-axle wagon with more families shared our fate until there were 35 of us inside.
Others were loaded into the four-axle wagons which held 70 people. The entire procedure took only a few minutes with
the wagons locked or screwed shut such that those on the inside could not open the doors.
Inside the wagons there was a stove in the centre with a bucket of coal and on either side of
the car, a double row of planks for sleeping on. The second set of doors were closed in such a way that they could not be
further opened yet they were not completely shut either. Instead, the gap was filled by a six to eight inch
wide board in which a hole had been cut and a funnel (the type one would use to fill bottles) inserted. This funnel had
a neck of about 2 inches in diameter and was to serve as our toilet. The eldest in our wagon was my father at 74 years
of age, the youngest was a 6 week old baby. In between, all ages and both sexes. An 18 year-old girl had to use the toilet
in front of 20 year-old men. The Soviets had turned us into livestock.
While we were being kicked out of our homes, people took whatever was in front of them or whatever they
could get their hands on. Someone brought a loaf of bread, others bricks of butter or a hunk of meat but others brought nothing
save for their children and themselves. On that first day we all shared what we had. That night we were given 400 grams of
bread per person with even the infants getting a full portion. This is what we survived on until the 11th of February when
we were thrown another 400 grams of bread and a bucket of water.
The train left Medyka at dusk. We all knew that the ony direction possible was east. At the small
town of Sadowa Wisnia, closer to Lwow, the train stopped for a very short time as a few more wagons were added. On the morning
of the 13th of February we stopped at Tarnopol where even more wagons were added. There was still daylight when I made out
the sign that read Podwoloczyska. Goodbye Poland, goodbye to our beloved homeland. All of the adults burst into tears and
once the mothers began to cry, so did the children, not even understanding why everyone was crying. Not many of these children
returned to understand this sentiment.
On the morning of the 14th we reached Harkow. A few wagons at a time were opened and we were
ordered to take the bucket as we were going for food. Two people per wagon were allowed to go and we were lucky as we had
two buckets in our wagon. We returned with one bucket full of soup, although it was difficult to determine exactly what kind
of soup it was, and the second bucket full of Kasha although none of these contained any fat, but they were warm. We
also received another ration of 400 grams of bread.
Our transport train of 80 cars continued in an easterly direction. It made a stop at the small
station of Komarczaga on the 27th, 250 km east of the River Jenisa in central Siberia. It is unbelievable to think of what
awaited us there. I will only say that our fate was no different than that of any of the other residents of this huge country.
Only death liberated one from the fear of what tommorow would bring and brought freedom.
The outbreak of war between the Germans and Soviets brought hope to the Russian people that the
tyranny would come to an end while for Poles the hope that we would be freed of the shackles of the N.K.W.D (Narodnyj Komisarjat
Wnutrijnych Diel). Even the Russian people could not understand that this government within a government needed to know not
only what people were saying but also what they were thinking.
Our hopes were realized towards the end of August in 1941. We were free. We were informed
that a Polish army was going to be organized on Russian soil and that we could join as volunteers. From the sparse
news printed in Soviet newspapers we learned that the foreign embassies had been moved to Kujbiszew and so we determined that
the Polish embassy must be there too. We three brothers decided that our 65 year old mother and 20 year old sister would stay
behind until they heard from us. We left to find the Polish army and mother supported our decision. By then, our 75 year
old father had already been "free" for one year and he remains there to this day.
On the 13th of October, 1941, we left Ungut Maly, our "guest quarters," which had been offered
us by the thoughtful N.K.W.D. Although we had not officially organized anything, news of our plans reached the ears of people
not only within our own community of Ungut Maly but also as far as Ungut Wielki where there were even more Polish families
than at Maly. A few people from Maly joined us and, as the road passed by Wielki, a few more eager people were waiting to
join us on our trip. There were in the end, 21 of us.
After two days of walking we arrived at the nearest railway station, Komarczaga, where we were
sold tickets to Krasnojarsk. The trans-Siberian train stopped only at the larger stations and one had to buy tickets for it
at those stations. We did not understand that, what the Russian people called the "Wiesci Sowieckiej," the trans-Siberian
trains were reserved only for the privileged few. Rabble like us were expected to travel on freight trains.
At Krasnojarsk, we waited in the ticket line for two days only to find out that there were no
seats left. On top of that, there was no store where one could buy a piece of bread. On the third day, the station's N.K.W.D.
representative took an interest in us, took me aside and informed me that one was allowed to spend only one day in Krasnojarsk
while we had already spent three. I told him that if they would sell us the tickets we would leave immediately! "I do
not sell tickets" he answered. I replied back, in perfect Russian: "If you want it, we can leave today." One hour later we
had our tickets although it took the train five hours to arrive. When we boarded this fancier train, we realized
that it was rolling empty while countless people were standing in lines at stations everywhere.
The first class cars also had a restaurant car. Second class passengers had to survive on
their own food supply but our trip took seven days. We finally arrived in Kujbiszew and located the Polska Opieke Spoleczna
(Polish welfare office) where we were able to obtain a hot meal and the longed-for bread. We then located the Polish embassy
which directed us to the 6th Lwow Division being formed in the town of Tockoje.
With the 6th Armoured Regiment, "Children of Lwow"
2nd Armoured Brigade, Polish 2nd Corps
This unit was born in the town of Tockoje, U.S.S.R., in October of 1941, by order of General
Kasprzycki. A Lwowian, Major Slepecki, was designated our "father" and commander.
Major Slepecki reserved for himself the right to choose his men over and above the efforts of
the recruiting committee. He wanted to interview personally each and every volunteer. The original plan was that every member
of the unit was to be a Lwowian. When it became obvious that there were not enough recruits from Lwow to form even a
company, the plan was expanded to include all of the men who came from the province of Lwow.
The battalion that was formed was designated for special duties, as an independent unit "batiarow
lwowskich" ("Rogues of Lwow"). The actual name of the unit was the 6th Battalion Reconnaissance and Diversion "Children
of Lwow," 6th Lwow Division (6-ty Batalion Rozpoznawczo Dywersyjny "Dzieci Lwowskich," 6-ta Dywizja Lwowska).
In the last days of November a group of 20 volunteers arrived from the Krasnojarksi Kraj (Krasnojarsk
Autonomous Region in the U.S.S.R.). Some of them were from the province of Tarnopol. They were only 17 or 18 year-old
boys. Major Slepecki, realizing that he could not flesh out a battalion with men just from the province of Lwow, accepted
them all. It no longer mattered where one was born. As of today, they all became rogues from Lwow. At that point, one of them
unravelled a a bundle, which contained all of his belongings, and pulled out a real German automatic pistol complete with
a magazine of ammunition. This pistol was carried to Siberia by this young boy all the way from the town of Medyk, near Przemysl.
Handing it over he said "Take this to the Polish Army, I can't go because I am ill." He didn't look ill but a few months
later he died of tuberculosis. Because of that, from the moment he accepted these young men into the unit, the commander
of the battalion "Dzieci Lwowskich," wore on his hip, a real fire-arm.
Other than that one pistol, the battalion, indeed the entire 6th Division, was not provided
with any weapons during its stay in the USSR. A few rifles and machine guns were loaned to us from the 5th Division,
just so we could know what Russian weapons looked like.
After our departure from the Soviet Union and following our arrival in Iraq, the entire 2nd Polish Corps
underwent a complete reorganization. It was decided that a brigade of tanks was required. There had been a 4th Armoured Regiment
in Poland before the war and so it had been reborn in the USSR early on. However, as there had been no chance of obtaining
materiel for an armoured unit in that country, the regiment departed the USSR in the spring of 1942 and was now
based in Palestine. With our arrival in Iraq, the 4th Regiment rejoined us from Palestine. The only question now was
where would another 2 regiments come from?
It was decided that the 1st Ulan Krechowieckich Regiment would be converted into a tank regiment.
There was no other independent unit to draw from within the Corps. The "Dzieci Lwowskie" was only a battalion, but then again,
with a bit of fleshing out it could be brought up to regiment strength. It was important that the age of the battalion members
did not exceed 20 years. If you count those who added a year or two to their age back in Russia, the cut off age may
have even been 19.
That's how it was in November of 1942. The 6th Reconnaissance Battalion received a new name:
the 6th Armoured "Dzieci Lwowskich" Regiment of the 2nd Armoured Brigade. For sure they were children for the joy expressed
by the group was truly that of children. The irony was that instead of Slepecki we got Swietlicki as a commander.
We were sent on courses for officer and non-com officer instructors. They were held at the Royal
school of the British Army in Cairo. Until the spring of 1943, the regiment had sufficient numbers of instructors from various
disciplines to school the tank crews, tank commanders, radio operators and drivers. We recieved our first vehicles and 3 tanks
per squadron. We then moved to near Kirkuk where we received a full complement of tanks of the English Valentine type. These
tanks were already outdated even though they had just come off the assembly line. The engine was under-powered for the tonnage
of the tank and the length of the caterpillar track and the it was not very manouverable.
The armament consisted of either a two or six pound cannon and one machine gun. The Germans already
had tanks of the Pantera class carrying 88 mm guns. In comparison, one could say that we were to go into battle with an air
gun against a Mauser. The entire brigade received this type of armament.
In October of 1943 we loaded the Valentines onto trains, provided for us at Kirkuk, to ship
them off to Basra. We thought that we would then be loading them onto ships since only the commanders and drivers were
travelling with them. The entire brigade, together with the entire 2nd Corps, was moved to Palestine. In Basra we found out
that the Valentines were staying put until the base command made sure that all of the soldiers had their driver's licences.
We had to arrange for as great a number of various vehicles as possible and we were held up in Basra until a sufficiently
large convoy was organized with the required allotments of food and fuel, so that we could get to Palestine.
We arrived in Palestine before Christmas. Upon reporting to our units, we saw that the regiment
had aquired a full complement of American Sherman tanks each of which was equipped with a 75 mm cannon and three machine
guns. It required a crew of five, held one hundred cannon shells and an undetermined number of rounds for the machine guns.
It was powered by two diesel engines with synchronized gear boxes and a satellite differential which shifted during turns. The
speed on roads was 30 mph. There were two radios; set A had a range of up to 10 miles while set B had a range
of one mile for communication within the platoon.
In the New Year we arrived in Egypt. We knew that the 2nd Corps was occupying positions
on the front line in Italy. The question was, would we be joining them? Finally, after our stays in Asiatic Siberia and the
Middle East we would be back in Europe! So close to Poland.
Easter was spent at the feet of the Sphinx. We then were finally loaded onto a train
bound for Alexandria, although not the entire crew just yet, for now the commander and driver. The balance of the crew was
loaded onto the Batory at the port of Ismail. The tanks were loaded onto ships in Alexandria. The Polish 2nd Brigade and the
British brigade's tanks were all mixed up on the variuos ships. This was an intentional safeguard so that in the event of
our "taking a bath" those "bathing" would include only a few of each regiment or squadron. The Mediterranean Sea behaved well
towards us for the most part although past Sicily we were forced to spend another night in the hold as the sea washed
everything off of the deck that wasn't held down by steel cables.
Finally we touched down on European soil, then waited for the equipment to be unloaded. We were
off to Neopol (Naples). The spring season was in full swing and after 2 years in the desert, we delighted in a beautiful
and verdant Europe. We had to quickly begin to "parlare italiane," and "amore poco poco." In the Soviet Union, every
soldier thought only of how hearty the soup would be at lunch that day and one could not find a woman anywhere but here, "mama
mia," so many "signorinas belle e bellissimas" and "amore piaciere."
Our idyll did not last long however as our trucks brought many boxes of real ammunition! For
the cannon and machine guns, one thousand boxes and help yourself to whatever amount you desire for your tank. Take as much
as you can jam inside. We sat and stood on our ammunition.
On the 17th of May, "arrividerci, signorinas," the crews got into their tanks and hit the road
northward bound. We knew that units of the Polish army, though bloodied, were holding their positions at Monte Cassino. "Dzieci
Lwowskie" were to attack the second line of defences at the town of Piedimonte, which lay on the flank of St. Lucia.
We began our attack in the afternoon but our christening in battle and lack of experience led
to losses. By nightfall we had lost 2 squadron commanders and 21 dead and there were wounded and burning tanks still
on the battlefield.
After dark we attempted to reorganize but at dawn the Germans laid down mortar fire on our positions
and there were more wounded. The worst of it was that our "father" Swietlicki lost his foot and the Regiment its commander.
The Brigade commander, "grandpa" as we called General Rakowski, had to make a lightening fast decision: to pull the Regiment
out of action or name a new commander. He chose Major Motyka to take over the regiment's command.
Major Motyka was a non-commissioned officer who gained an officer's commission but had never
attended any advanced military training school. He had been a captain in the "Dzieci Lwowskich" from the day of its genesis.
Known as Felek, it took him a day on the battlefield to appoint new squadron commanders and their seconds, then he led
the Regiment in a further attack.
This time the objectives were achieved and only then did we find the time to replenish the unit
with more men and materiel. We then received orders to move to the Adriatic sector.
The Regiment was truly manned by children. During the replenishment of our manpower, we
accepted a number of 16 and 17 year-old boys from the cadet school into our ranks. The squadron commanders are officers who
at Piedimonte were 2nd lieutenants.
For the next battle, the "Dzieci Lwowskie" moved out of their camp at Loretto. The goal was to
take Castelfidardo. This time there were no mistakes. The Regiment advanced quickly and with great fire from the starting
line, destroying the German artillery. The very next day the Regiment occupied Castelfidardo.
The 1st Regiment Krechowieckich Lancers did not take part in the battles at Cassino. Now they
were attacking to take the town of Ossimo where German units countered with tough resistance. "Dzieci Lwowskie" performed
a flanking manouevre to the right of Ossimo in a bid to have the Germans give up their postions. We sustained losses in both
men and materiel. All of the damage had been done by German artillery as we did not encounter their tanks or anti-tank guns.
Once again, a quick replenishment and the Regiment was moved at night to the right flank of the
Polish Corps as we entered into the battle for Ancona. The "Dzieci Lwowskie" Regiment and a regiment of British Hussars quickly
encircled the German positions such that in two hours we had achieved our objective without any losses, but destroying five
German tanks before they even had a chance to get into the fight.
As I was in one of the lead tanks, I can give an example of the reports and orders that could
be heard on the radios:
Lead Tank: "Celina, Dorota, Barbara, German tanks on the horizon!"
Felek: "Boys, for Piedimonte!"
Felek: "One is on fire! A second one is on fire! Third one is on fire! Fourth: enemy retreating...!"
One of the German tanks hid behind a screen, but we got him soon enough.
In one of the stranger moments, a German first aid medic drove right up to our positions
to collect her wounded, almost right under my caterpillar tracks. We let them pick up the wounded, then they drove off casually
as if there was no war going on around them.
Following our complete and efficient encirclement of Ancona, "grandpa" drove up
to visit the Regiment at our forward positions. No one would have paid any attention to him had he not arrived in a Jeep with
his general's ensign flying. He stopped at the house where Felek had set up quarters. There was no "Guard, at attention!"
for there was no guard. Someone yelled out "Attention!" Our commander heard this and came out of the building to report:
"General Sir, Major Motyka repor..." but he was interrupted by General Rakowski who said: "Colonel Motyka." Felek did not
get it and attempted to correct the General: "Major," but Rakowski repeated "Colonel Motyka!" Colonel Motyka later recounted:
"I had been a major for less time than I had been a private but as a colonel they gave me soldiers to whom I did not have
to give orders."
Our next battle was for Rimini followed by an advance in the area of Bibiena Arreco and
the occupation of our winter positions by the River Segno. Here we stayed quite bored until April of 1945. To be sure, the
Germans fired artillery and mortars at us, mostly at night, thereby disturbing our sleep. On the other hand, there was
wine, wine, wine; full barrels in the cellars.
The local Italians had been evacuated from the entire front line. The front line soldiers didn't
drink alcohol and the boys didn't know which wine in which barrel was the best. Someone sent some back to the artillery and
supply units, which then sent up trucks to fill up with this wine as if it were our own. The sad thing was that there were
no signorinas or senioras, e nienty amore...
Towards the end of April, 1945, our next attack was across the River Segno. In the lead was the
British tank brigade whose sappers threw up "Bailey" bridges under cover of the tanks' flamethrowers. This allowed the 2nd
Polish Armoured Brigade, the "Dzieci Lwowskie" included, to press on with the attack.
Heading at a pretty quick speed in the direction of Bologna, we crossed the River Quaderno where
we were held up by German artillery firing into our positions. We suffered destroyed tanks, killed and wounded. It was hot
and we were at a standstill. Some of the tank crews got out of their machines. Another shell landed and killed a sixteen year-old
soldier. And then all quiet, as if the war had come to an end. When I heard on the radio that Bolcio had been killed, I cried
for the first time. He had been in my platoon for a while. I treated him like a son. He was so well behaved and friendly and
he had to be killed by the last shell of the war.
We approached Bologna without a shot being fired. Two days later, the German army in Italy surrendered.
The 6th Armoured Regiment "Dzieci Lwowskie" was awarded the Silver Cross "Virtuti Militari."
Polonia in France funded the cost for a standard for the Regiment. After demobilization in England, the standard was
donated to the Sikorski Museum in London. I had been a soldier of the "Children of Lwow" from its organization to its disbandment.
3. Growing Up Wasn't Easy
Flashbacks on My Life Between the Years 1920- 1955 (Excerpts, edited)
Andrzej Wieslaw Debicki
At the age of ten, I passed the required State Entry Examination to a secondary school (gymnazium).
Happy years they truly were. I graduated from Stefan Zieromski High in 1938. Shortly after, I exercised my option to do my
obligatory military service of about one year's duration. I could have taken the other option, i.e., get a deferment and go
to a university of my choice.
In September 1938, I joined some 800 other fellows at the Military Academy for Artillery Officers
(Reserve) in the town of Wlodzimierz Wolynski. On completion of the prescribed ten months training, I joined the prestigious
artillery unit, the 5th D.A.K. (Dywizjon Artylerii Konnej - Horse Artillery Battery) at Oswiecim near Krakow. It was July
In August, the 5th Horse moved out for their annual field manoeuvres with several other cavalry
regiments of the "Krakow" Brigade, operating in the Lower Silesia area.
As ordered, we got busy preparing defensive lines, i.e., obstacles, deep holes and trenches,
quite unusual preparations for the highly mobile type of unit that we were. Ironically, we were not aware of the
situation to the west of us. The military took orders and did not listen to loose gossip. Then live ammo was issued and we
sensed that something serious was brewing.
At dawn on September 1, 1939, our lines were attacked and breached by the German Panzer units,
forcing us to retreat. In the ensuing melee with enemy tanks and infantry all around us, I lost contact with my unit and,
in spite of my efforts, I remained lost with several other of my men, one of them with a bad shrapnel wound in his leg. I
was able to find a Mobile First Aid truck and the medics took him off my hands. I resumed my search for my unit, but to no
avail. Nobody was where they were supposed to be.
Our orders were, in case of separation, to head for the town of Lublin and report to the Military
Authority for reassignment. Without wasting any more time searching, I made my way as ordered. From there my new orders took
me to the Cadet-Officers' Artillery Reserve School in Wlodzimierz Wolynski. There I met most of my instructors from
the 1938-39 course who had reassembled to start the 1939-40 course.
Towards mid-September, the school's guns were rather busy providing heavy fire in support
of our troops fighting the advancing Germans from the direction of the city of Lwow.
September 17 brought us the knockout news that the Soviet Red Army had crossed our eastern border
and was advancing westward on a very broad front, taking prisoner hundreds of thousands of our troops caught in the process
of reorganization and regrouping to fight the Germans.
Only a few isolated major units elsewhere were able to offer fierce, albeit futile and short-lived
resistance to either of the two aggressors. Our situation was hopeless and any further resistance suicidal. The troops' morale
was shattered by the treachery and every effort was made on the part of our officers to make them behave with dignity. On
orders from General Smorawinski, the senior officer in the area, we laid down our arms and surrendered to the Soviets.
On September 21, a long, silent column marched out of Wlodzimierz with the officers at the head
of it, followed by the rank and file. I was with the officers. Under the armed guard of foot soldiers and tanks, the column
moved slowly north towards the Rowno railway station, reaching it two or three days later.
During this march, feverish, cold, hungry and half conscious of what was happening around me,
all I cared was to be with somebody I could trust, like my school officer-instructors. However I noticed a new face, belonging
to a Cadet-Officer according to his rank insignia, who talked to me in the familiar language of the people from the Tatra
Mountain region, the "gorale." He kept talking about dropping back, away from the officers' group and joing the rank and file
marching to the rear. He was saying that the officers would be kept in prisoner of war camps for the duration of the war,
but he was certain that the rank and file would be released and permitted to go home much earlier. In spite of his thick accent,
he gave me the impression of being a well educated "goral," and somehow I began to trust him. Next to him was his friend,
also a Cadet-Officer, bearing a remarkable resemblance to Jesus Christ. He too urged me to drop back and the sooner the better.
So, eventually I relented, and after some time, by gradually dropping back, we'ed found ourselves among the rank and file,
quietly removing our rank insignia to blend nicely with the soldiers. These two and I became fast friends from that day on.
The goral's name was Wladek Tylka, from Zakopane. His tall, lean friend was Andrzej Hawel.
Eventually it would become known what fate awaited some of our officers. General Smorawinski,
Captain Jozef Gasiecki and Lt. Mieczyslaw Wielgorski were murdered at Katyn while others disappeared without a trace.
The First POW Camp on the Other Side of the Border
At Rowna we were herded into boxcars and taken east. Cold, hungry and angry, after a few days
of a totally disorienting ride, we arrived at a small station where we were told to leave the train. At once, we noticed the
absence of our officers! So, Waldek's prediction proved right, at least for now. From the railroad siding where the train
had stopped, we were marched off towards a camp consisting of long, low barracks, the whole area fenced off with barbed wire,
but no watch towers. It was, obviously, an empty army camp. By now, I had recovered from the fever of the past few days, but
was far from happy. Somewhere along that train ride a "boyets" (Russian infantry soldier) had noticed my wrist watch and promptly
made an offer - an onion in exchange for the watch! I was so hungry that I gave it to him and soon bit into the onion with
gusto. But what really made me mad was that my stomach soon rebelled against the onion and I found myself without the onion
and the watch!
To the constant shouting of "davay, davay," we were all eventually housed. We met two
new faces, Michal Warejko, a student of mathematics from the University of Warsaw, and young Witold Skibinski. These two hit
it off splendidly, both being enamoured of maths.
Hunger was very much on our minds. Night and day we felt its pangs. We found ourselves thinking
about food, talking about food and dreaming about food. And it became quite obvious that our captors were not going to keep
us happy by filling our stomachs with food. One slice of black, clay-like bread and a bowl of lukewarm vegetable soup a day!
We slept on bare floors, using our coats for blankets and boots for pillows. With so many bodies
under one roof, about one hundred, we were not too cold at night. It was November, 1939.
There was no program for us. In the beginning, we were left to our own devices, until the shipment
of hammers arrived one day. These were given to us and collected from us every day after work for the duration of our stay
there. We used them for breaking large stones into smaller ones, piling them into small pyramids along the highway we worked
on every day, thus earning our bread and soup (no butter!). That highway was a very busy one in those days, used by the homeward
bound Soviet troops after the cessation of hostilities in Poland. Endless columns of horse-drawn wagons mainly loaded with
loot filed past us. And loot they did! Everything down to the proverbial kitchen sinks and toilets. The latter (so we heard
later) were often mistaken by these primitive anthropoids from the Asian Steppes as a kind of water fountain, poorly designed
of course, for they had to kneel down to have a drink, and the water ran too fast for them to catch any. The loot kept flowing
out of Poland until there was practically nothing left to loot. All the time the transports continued, the drunk "boytsy"
kept on looting our country. They looked so pathetic with ladies' hats on their heads, coils of sausage hanging around their
necks, pianos, furniture, everything they could dislocate and carry away. And we were just sitting there by the roadside,
seething with powerless anger.
In the camp, I began to learn about the other faces of real life. I learned about the existence
of an insect called "the louse" when I tried to draw the attention of a fellow prisoner in front of me waiting for food rations,
that something whitish was crawling along the collar of his tunic. How they all laughed! I must have looked so pathetic and
so innocent. Well, I had never heard of, let alone seen, a louse before.
The days were empty and dull and I was hungry, very hungry. Some excitement came from the news
reaching us now and then from the "outside." It was carried by our people bringing in needed supplies to our kitchen from
the depot somewhere in town. These people, "our" people, were Ukrainians and Byelorussians who could converse with the local
The news was not news, just gossip. With the year soon ending and Christmas approaching, everybody
loved to speculate about the chances of being released to join our families back home. Silly but true. We grasped at any straw
of hope to keep us going. Surprisingly, the news was never of a political nature. That was under the strict control of the
powers that be.
There were numerous loudspeakers throughout the camp, blaring either martial music or Soviet
propaganda which we very quickly learned to ignore. It was easy for us as we did not speak the language but the Ukrainians
and the Byelorussians did, and they, too, seemingly lost interest.
This business of "reliable" news was, on the one hand, keeping our hopes up, but, by raising
them too high, on the other hand, would cause a severe letdown when proven baseless. Later on, we would learn about the
"Soviet News" - strictly Party controlled propaganda. Not what the people would like to hear but what the Party wanted them
to hear and believe in. We would soon learn to be less gullible and less trusting and this lesson served us well. This was
not Poland, so as time went by, life was busy teaching me a lesson almost every day.
Soon I found that I could get along with a lot of different people, not completely, but without
causing any crisis. First, I learned to listen, then to be very careful of what I said, then not to trust everybody and finally,
not to judge a person by his appearance. For example, Wladek, Andrzej and I knew full well that we were not the only ones
disguising our true ranks. We did not know for sure but we suspected a few others of being officers.We were also aware of
some men brown-nosing to curry favours from the Russians. They were dangerous men and not to be trusted, although some of
them looked so harmless. Among these, prominently visible were some Jews and some Ukrainians too. The former exuded hatred
towards anyone and everything Polish.
"Pick uo your things and come out," the guards yelled and then we knew: The Transport! We felt
elated for no other reason than we were going somewhere. Soon the elation evaporated and speculation took over. Where? In
what direction? Suggestions abounded in spite of past experience indicating the futility of it. The "where to" weighed heavily
on everybody's mind while we endured the counting, the frisking, etc. When that was all over, the guards issued the warning:
" a step to the left or a step to the right will be regarded as an attempt to escape and the guard will shoot without
warning." And we were on our way to the railway station where a long, long train consisting of boxcars and one passenger coach
for the guards was awaiting us. The loading went quite smoothly, so many "fives" counted off and crammed into each boxcar.
Hurried along with the "davay" we scrambled aboard to get the best seat in the house, close to the little window on the upper
Once settled down, we started to look around the car. Its interior was equipped with things the
passenger cars did not have. There were iron bars on the four little windows in the four corners of the car. There were two-tiered
bunks to lie down on and a top-flared tube resembling a funnel, exiting through a hole in the car's side wall. This Russian
invention was called a "parasha," "the loo."
Hunger and cold were our constant companions on this trip into the big and mysterious unknown.
Our train kept going, taking its time, in a general southeasterly direction, It stopped here and there, whenever and whenever
it seemed to please, without any apparent reason. Sometimes, during these stops, food was distributed: black bread, sometimes
thin soup or lukewarm water and once or twice salted herrings, adding more thirst to our misery.
When the train came to a stop and did not move on for several hours, we knew that we had arrived
at our destination. Eventually, the door swung open and a curt "Come on out with your things," confirmed our expectations.
On wobbly legs, we marched after the group from the boxcar ahead of us. It was a slow march,
so there was enough time to look around. We were inside of what looked like a permanent army camp with several brick buildings,
all of it surrounded by a barbed wire fence, but no watch towers. The white-brick construction of the mainly two-storey buildings
added nicely to the neat appearance. Nice place, we all agreed.
A short railway spur ran into the camp and ended at the far end. All around the camp we could
see factories and big foundries belching forth clouds of yellowish-brown smoke.
We were assigned to a room, three men to share two beds (with mattresses!) and soon fell into
a daily routine. The three daily meals, seved in aluminum plates and cups, each consisted of one slice of black bread, one
cup of tea and one ladleful of cream of wheat, and were eaten in the dining hall, called by us "The Casino."
It was obvious to us that the Russians tried hard to impress us by treating us in the civilized
way most of us were accustomed to. We were not only surprised but pleased and even had a kind word to answer to the guards'
questions about the food. "Harosho" (OK), we would yell back in unison. Here we felt the protection of the Geneva
Convention at work. The guards, all Army men, were quite polite but firm. Soon we became accustomed to forming a column of
five abreast for the daily count, and to the standard warning: "a step to ..."
Soon we were made to work for our keep in a vast stone quarry, where hundreds of Russian workers
were busy swinging heavy sledge-hammers to break big chunks of rock into smaller pieces, which had to be loaded onto small
steel wagonettes running on rails. The blasting was done after work had finished for the day.
On our first day at work in that quarry, we became quite frustrated at not being able to break
up the large rocks. We were swinging with those heavy sledge-hammers with all our strength to no avail. The Russian boys had
great fun laughing and joking at the "polskiye pany" (Polish gents) who were too weak to crush a piece of rock, which
they could break up with one easy blow! They let us go on this way for some time, our hands blistering while our tempers approached
the boiling point as we had nothing to show for our efforts. Eventually the Russian boys took pity on us and explained the
secret: to first examine the rock and then strike a blow in the direction of the grain.
The work was hard and the pressure to produce was considerable. To this we responded by
sabotaging the production through clumsily operating the wagonettes resulting in derailments.
One day the powers that be moved us to another area which proved to be a sweet move as we did
not have to work hard or fulfil any quotas. We just had to be there, move about and look busy. We were on general
duties in the area of a new rock crushing plant.
Here too, we would carry on with our little schemes to defeat the almighty USSR by small acts
of sabotage. And we managed to somehow get away with it in spite of the presence of some Ukrainian and Byelorussian POWs,
not to mention the Jews who had turned informers. The latter were a particular problem. They formed a very tightly knit little
group, small but potentially dangerous. The slightest provocation would trigger their anger and denunciations to the Commandant,
who in turn, could take any action against the alleged perpetrator he deemed appropriate.
The Barges and Kotlas, Komi ASSR
The spring of 1941 finally came around and with it new hopes and new speculations based on rumours,
nothing else. We all knew it, but we also enjoyed it. And we hoped against hope for lack of anything better to do.
Then one day we heard the guards shout those electrifying words: "Come out with all your things."
Sleepy and blurry-eyed, we collected our miserable possessions and went out to join the others in the assembly square. Bleary-eyed
or not, we noticed right away that something big was about to happen. There was a train inside the camp, meaning only one
thing - Transport!
Soon more guards appeared, without guns and wearing blue overalls. That was strange and alarming.
Soon frisking began. This was done quickly and in a very professional manner. These were not the clumsy "boytsy,"
but the dreaded NKWD men (State security police).
By watching them work we soon learned that almost everything, personal effects included, was
subject to confiscation - knives, big and small, pens and of course, watches. Wedding rings they would leave alone. I had
in my pocket a gold signet, my mother's gift to me on my graduation. Aside from my life, it was the last thing I was willing
to give up. Carefully I watched how the bloody thieves went about frisking, where they looked for hidden things, and I could
see that there was no safe place on or around my person! They searched very thoroughly the bodies of some, the rucksacks of
all, dumping their contents out, even our precious water canteens, pulling out the stoppers and pouring the contents
Then suddenly an idea flashed through my head - try your finger tips. Place the signet at the
first joint and wrap it in a soiled rag. In two seconds I had a piece off my shirt, soiled it under my heel, placed the signet
on my finger and wrapped it right, then soiled it some more and waited. When my turn came, I was frisked very thoroughly,
standing in front of the man with my arms outstretched, my hands completely out of his peripheral vision. And he missed it!
A small victory, but a victory nevertheless.
The frisking over, they counted us twice, then ordered us to get in the boxcars. We were packed
in there like sardines. Bogdan, like a cat, jumped into the car in order to secure the much preferred window places for us
on the upper level. Another nice looking young fellow asked to join our group and we agreed. Zdzich Swierczynski from Krakow turned
out to be an excellent addition, honest and industrious in every way. Later on he would supply me with fresh fruits, rosehips,
containing the much needed vitamins to fight the ever present scurvy, which, thanks to him, I was spared altogether.
This time the train just turned north and kept heading north. During the stops, the guards distributed
food rations and water to drink. There was a new development in the guards' routine; during these stops, some of them would
walk the full length of the train on the roof tops of the boxcars, banging with heavy mallets. We never found out why, perhaps
to keep us awake or check for dislodged roof planks.
After days of travelling, the train stopped and we were ordered out and lined up for the count.
And there was yet another frightening, new surprise - the guards had dogs with them, held on leashes, big, viciously
snarling german Shepherds! What a crushing blow to our frayed nerves and weakened morale. Where were we? What was going to
happen to us now? Wladek's constant reminder that "it was going to get worse before it got better" met with a terse "Oh, shut
The march began. Some time later we arrived at a very large camp with many watch towers. We found
out later that there were actually several camps, separated by barbed wire fences and passageways, the towers manned
by armed guards. These camps, or rather enclosures, were full of people, herded there like cattle in pens, all in civilian
clothes or more accurately, rags. Between the pens wide passageways provided the space for herding the human cattle
in or out of the camps.
There appeared to exist segregation by sex, the men kept separate from the women, but this was
not always the case. Later on we met mixed brigades working in the taiga, mainly cutting down trees and clearing shrubs. Our
presence here caused an uproar in the women's pens, while the men watched us with silent indifference. The women however,
went berserk! Most of their shrieks were lost on us but the gestures and body gyrations were explicit enough for us
to catch on. This was quite a frightening and disgusting display. There were mature men among us who too, were deeply shocked
by the near animal, frenzied behaviour of these women, an explosion of passion bordering on insanity. I was numb with fright
and have never seen anything like it since, the poor wretches.
Long after the shrieks died down, I could still hear them ringing in my ears, see the contorted
faces and the madness in their eyes. We were all to a greater or lesser degree shaken by this experience but somehow managed,
eventually, to calm down.
About that time, Witold and Michal came back from a scrounging expedition with long faces and
empty hands. There was no food anywhere to be found. But they had learned the name of this camp and its place on the map of
the twenty year-old Soviet penal system; Kotlas, the main transit centre for convicts in this area. Through this centre would
pass every convicted person to begin his or her "social rehabilitation" or "political re-orientation," or those whose sentences
had been served and were returning to civilization. The place had been appropriately nick-named "The Gate to Hell."
The days at the camp were spent on searches, compilations of lists of names and counting,
counting, counting. It soon became clear to us why they were doing all that. At this point and place, the jurisdiction of
the NKWD ended, and another paramilitary organization took over the responsibility for our safety and welfare. Their authority
extended over a vast territory north and north-east of Kotlas and the Ural Mountains (so we were told), which appeared to
be the Komi region of the ASSR.
Three or four days later we were on our way again accompanied by armed guards, some with dogs.
This time, the usually ignored warning of "a step to the left... the guard will shoot without warning," took on a different
feel. These new guys looked as if they would do it at the slightest provocation.
A few hours later, we arrived at a river landing where several barges were moored. Had I known
what had happened to our officers' group from the artillery school, I would have had a heart attack. They and many, many thousands
of officers were transported from here to the open sea and the barges were then scuttled!
The guards were all around us with guns and dogs. It looked pretty grim. Urged on by the guards'
shouts, we boarded the barge and went below decks. There, in semi-darkness, we could make out the outlines of bunk beds. We
crawled in, dragging our things with us, unable to sit up for lack of headroom, keeping a watchful eye on one another in order
not to get separated. Making the best of a bad situation, we slowly settled down.
It was not long before we began to feel thirsty. We perspired greatly as the air was getting
very heavy and hot. The thirst soon became a major problem judging by the cries for water. Oddly enough, the guards complied
and water was brought in from above. It was water from the river though, and as I recall, Bogdan pleaded with us not to drink
it no matter what. As difficult as it was to say no, we took Bogdan's advice and it saved us from getting sick with diarrhoea.
Bless his soul!
The others did not care and suffered the consequences in a very nasty way in a matter of a few
hours. Cries to be allowed up on deck were growing in number and volume. But the hatches were firmly "battened down" - closed
tight by the guards and nobody was allowed up. The men were in pain and in need of relieving themselves. Soon pandemonium
broke out, men were out of control. Some could not hold it any longer and were forced to relieve themselves right there where
they were. The air became foul, the stench unbelievable. It went on and on. We lost any sense of time. To us down there it
seemed like ages. And when all hope for a response from above was gone, the hatches opened and men, in groups of ten, were
allowed to go up and clean themselves. With the hatches open, the foul air followed the men and breathing became a little
The passage between the bunk beds was filled with the sick, queueing up for the trip upstairs.
In the darkness it was impossible to see their pain-contorted faces, and thank God for that. A miserable lot they were indeed.
And a stinking lot they were too, perhaps grateful for the darkness preventing them from being recognized. But did they care?
I doubt it. They were past caring.
Our group did well thanks to Bogdan's warning. Our stomachs were quite empty and so were our
bladders. We had no physical urge to go, except of course, for a breath of fresh air, and to wash off the sweat. Our turn
came eventually. Wladek, T and I went together and helped one another to wash in the water hoisted in buckets from the river,
the Dvina River; its water so refreshingly cold that it left our skins tingling. It was a wonderful feeling! We looked around.
It was so beautiful up there, the air fresh and crisp, with thick forests covering the bank nearest to us. We could not
see the far bank because of the low lying fog. We all took turns on deck and felt much, much better for it.
Exactly how many days and nights the trip took we could not figure out. And we did not care,
either. And hungry, oh boy were we hungry! We felt completely empty mentally and physically weak. But not sick; being young
and basically in good health, we strongly believed in a quick recovery given a day or two of rest.
Then the barges came to a landing and soon the off-loading began. What a sight we were. Worn
out, filthy and unsteady on our weakened legs. But we were out of that hell hole, in the open and on solid ground. Anything
was better than what we had been through over the past few days and nights.
But again the guards went swiftly about organizing us into marching columns, counting heads very
carefully. Under these conditions deaths would not likely be uncommon. After the usual warning, on we marched, more and more
convinced that they would not hesitate to pull that trigger. We marched through a mostly wooded countryside until we eventually
reached a camp.
It was not a typical, Soviet-style camp. There were huts instead of barracks in a place resembling
a summer camp. Indeed it had a name, a "konny dwor" or "Horse Park." Being near the head of the columns, our group
was able to secure accomodation in one of those huts, or log cabins, if you will. The inside had but one facility - beds without
matresses to accomodate people in transit like ourselves. And there was something very unique and interesting there. Every
available space on the bunk beds, the walls, the ceiling, even the floors, was covered with names, addresses, dates, messages
and even short poems. The poor wretches like us, passing through, wanted to leave some trace of their existence for those
who would follow to discover, and perhaps to pass on to their relatives and families at home, that they were here and alive.
Cries of despair, messages of hope and love. It was heartbreaking. But, to our relief, we found no names of persons we might
have known. Whether this was a good or bad thing, we did not know.
The next morning was bleak and drizzly. Following the usual ceremony of counting, the days' food
rations were given out - 3 cubes of sugar per head! After the usual warning "a step to the left..." we were off.
The march was fairly uneventful. Prisoners continued to toss baggage away into the bushes
as they decided that it was not worth it to carry the extra weight. By late afternoon, the guards brought the column to a
halt. Again we came close to a bunch of huts and dilapidated shacks, surrounded by barbed wire but no watch towers. Again,
as with the previous camp, it stood unoccupied, awaiting our arrival. This time it was our turn to spend the night under cloudy
skies and in the rain. Zdzich, always alert and curious, found a little shelter, just big enough for two - a disused outhouse
with the door off its hinges. To keep Zdzich company and not being too keen on spending the night out in the rain, I
volunteered to join him, and on that dislodged door we slept, hugging each other firmly to keep warm. The smell was unpleasant
of course, but compared to the hold in the barges, everything else smelled like roses! I had come a long way to adapting to
Early next morning, following the usual routine, we continued on. That day however, proved fatal
for some of the older, weaker men who simply could not keep up the pace, or ran out of strength altogether. We heard five
shots fired somewhere far behind us. The guards' usual warning took on a new dimension. They were dead serious. And hearing
the shots had a miraculous effect on the over-burdened men, steadfastly refusing to part with their earthly possessions. Whatever
they may have been carrying with them all this way was now of questionable value with life itself on the line. The bundles
kept flying wayside in ever increasing numbers as the prisoners shed their burdens. Our strength too, was taxed to the limit,
but being young we managed somehow.
At dusk, we reached what looked like a large depot - rail ties, lumber and other building materials
lay in piles. Soon the news spread that this was the end of the march, the March of the Damned, as I later used to call it.
Damned or not, we were happy to get the weight off our tired feet and rest. To that, another pleasant surprise was added;
we were going on by rail. Soon enough the loading started, and it was the flatcars this time. We sat there with our legs dangling
and arms linked so as not to fall off the moving train. The train was of the narrow-gauge kind and chugged along fairly slowly
so there was little danger of our falling off and we quite enjoyed the ride in spite of our fatigue, thirst and hunger.
Czibju, Komi ASSR
The next stop was the end of the line. We were ordered to get
off. In the dusk we were able to see what was around us. It was another depot, much larger than the previous one, and quite
new in appearance. We were surprised by its newness and its apparent "friendly looks" thanks to the log construction of every
building. Wladek Tylka and I were immediately reminded of home, Zakopane, where log construction was extensively employed.
For a moment we felt homesick.
The building of the railroad through the northern wilderness
towards Workuta and the Arctic Ocean must have had a reason. The reason was the crude oil, floating copiously on the rivers
Izma (where we were then) and the Peczora. No drinking water from this river without boiling it! The lesson we learned on
the barges was too fresh in our memories to be forgotten. But we were faced with a greater problem; we were not allowed into
the new camp. Instead, we were led away to a large meadow on the bank of the River Izma, and told to make ourselves comfortable.
Just like that. So we went into a huddle and decided on a line of action for the following day. The night we were to spend
sitting around our things, keeping warm the best we could, conserving strength for the morning and the task ahead of us tomorrow.
As soon as there was enough light, Bogdan and Wladek K. went
looking for sticks and branches. Wladek T. and I got busy cutting the sod for the sides of the structures we were about to
erect while Zdzich coordinated the work. Witold and Michal helped the best they could, giving useless advice most of
the time. Very quickly we built two little shacks to house three persons each. Wladek T., Zdzich and I in one, Bogdan, Wladek
K. and the sleezeball Cwierciakiewicz in the other. Having finished our work, we decided to go to the river for a good wash,
badly needed after all that strenuous work. We all went except sleezeball Mr. C, who offered to stay and tend to the
fire and generally keep an eye on our things.
We returned from the river to find our "home" totally
collapsed, all of belongings buried under the grass and dirt, with Mr. C. nowhere in sight. I was rather frantic about my
signet, still wrapped in a piece of cloth, which I had hung from the central post supporting the roof. It was not there. Nothing
else was missing except my signet. We suspected Mr. C. but I could not do anything drastic. I found out much later that it
was indeed he who had stolen it.
Things were quickly brought back to "normal" and we concerned
ourselves with the affairs of the day. There was not much to get concerned about, however. The Soviets let us just sit there
around our campfire and cook whatever we could find. Berries, leaves and grass were it, so we sat there and felt rather miserable
but determined to make it to the next day somehow. That stuff we were cooking tasted bloody awful, but it was the only food
we could offer to our shrunken stomachs.
But we knew that eventually "they" would come for us, and "they"
did. On the third or fourth day of camping, a small group of Russian officials and guards from the main camp arrived,
asking for volunteers for work on the railroad. Soon a dispute erupted, rather heated on our side, about the food situation.
Our men stuck to their guns, demanding food before going to work. But the Russians calmly informed them, that in the Soviet
Union, "one works first and eats after." A stalemate of sorts ensued, soon broken by several Byelorussians, Jews and Ukrainians,
who agreed to go to work the next day, and they did. When they came back to our camp after work, loaded with all kinds of
goodies, the initial resistance to accepting the Soviet Work Principle petered out, and the next day, many, many more went
to work. Sensing victory, another delegation from the main camp came out that evening. This time, they acted swiftly. We were
ordered to line up, and the Russians proceeded from one man to the next, individually asking each one, eyeball to eyeball,
whether or not he was willing to work the next day. When they were through asking, there were but five of us left, (Zdzich,
Wladek T., Witold, Bogdan and myself) who had said No." By plan, Andrew and Wladek K. were to go to work and share their bounty
with the rest of us. But it did not work out that way.
Isolated from the main group and a little confused, we were led
by a guard towards one of the watch towers and ordered to sit down. It was already getting dark, the time that mosquitos come
out of their hiding places in the bushes. And come out they did, as if by a prearranged signal, attacking the five of us.
We tried to chase them off, slapping each other, killing a few, but within minutes we saw the futility of it all. And the
boodthirsty monsters, the size of bees, kept coming at us in hordes; an unbelievable sight, unbelievable torture. The monsters
were all over us, in our ears, mouths and eyes, stinging through our clothing and getting under our collars. Not ten minutes
had passed when we started yelling "yes, yes" and capitulated. So ended the last protest against the ground rules around here.
Commies 1, Capitalists 0.
The very next day, instead of going to work, we were ordered
to form a column, five abreast as usual, and after the usual warning, we marched off that hospitable meadow. Several miles
later, we came to a small camp, unoccupied, waiting to "welcome" us. Counting heads preceded our entry into the camp through
a big gate adorned with the slogan "Work to the Success and Glory of Communism." "Well, we will see" said Bogdan the Sailor.
He was the bravest of our gang, and fearless too. I really admired him for that.
In this camp of Czibju, we stayed several weeks. There were about
300 of us, divided into several gangs, or brigades, of about 30 men each. Our main objective was to build a railroad from
Czibju to the North Sea, through Uchta and Workuta. The pressure from the Soviets to complete the job was great and the work
The spearhead gangs cut down trees and set them aside for others
to cut into three-foot long lengths, later to be fed into the furnaces of the train locomotives, as there was no coal. The
gangs that followed cleared the ground of all kinds of roots, brush, etc. which was subsequently burned. After them came the
gangs who levelled the cleared space. Other gangs moved the soil and shaped the sides of the railway track bed, work
which included the driving of long spikes into the sloping sides to hold the soil in place. Next came the gangs preparing
the base for the ties onto which rails would eventually be nailed with heavy plates and spikes.
The work was essentially manual and not too heavy, except that
the quotas set for these preparatory jobs were, under the existing conditions, simply unattainable! This was true especially
during the winter months with the deep snow and numbing, freezing temperatures. The failure to fulfil the quota and the percent
of work done relative to the quota would determine the amount of food earned by the individual worker. The work-reward relationship
was directly proportional, which meant that the lower the production, the smaller the reward (in terms of food, etc.).
The tragedy of such a situation is obvious. A worker weakened
by hard work, with not a shred of hope for things to get better, produced less and less, at the same time receiving less and
less food. When he reached the end of his ability to produce, he was invariably branded a "refuznik" and permanently
assessed the "straf" ration, which gave him all of 300 grams of bread and, maybe, some hot water. This was a slow
way to kill human beings.
By far the hardest, least rewarding work was up front, while
the best and most rewarding was at the very tail end, where the rails were laid. Up front worked unskilled labour while at
the tail end, the labour was highly skilled. And we understood that skill was well rewarded all over the Soviet Union. The
reward system was divided into several levels:
LEVEL 1 was for 100% quota and over; this meant 1,200 grams of
black bread, thick soup of the day with some vegetables and sometimes bits of meat, the privilege of a weekly shower,
of buying some biscuits at the local canteen, and of getting one's underwear deloused at shower time. A sustained high production
gained for the entire gang the privilege of occupying the best barrack available.
LEVEL 2 was for less than 100% quota but more than 50% of it;
this meant 800 grams of black bread, a thinner soup of the day without fat or meat, no biscuits, irregular shower privileges,
in all a distinct drop in privileges but still at a sustainable level for strength and health. Most of the men were staying,
by hook or by crook, at that level.
LEVEL 3 was for less than 50% of quota; this meant 500 grams
of black bread and a watery soup of the day, with or without much of anything swimming in it. This was really a semi-starvation
diet, the beginning of a slide down into deep health troubles.
"STRAF" LEVEL was for those who, for various reasons, could not
meet the quota, or for those who fell out with the administration of the camp, and it meant a mere 200-300 grams of black
bread and some warm water.
To complete the picture, one further special LEVEL must be mentioned.
It was a level strictly reserved for those who maintained, at the expense of their own health, by almost superhuman efforts,
production levels in excess of 150%, and occasionally even higher, than the required quotas. These were few, mostly Ukrainians
and Byelorussians, but no Poles. Their names and the attained percentages were posted daily on a board at the entrance of
the camp for all to see. They were called "Stakhanovites" and in the Soviet Union, they were referred to as the "Heroes
of the Soviet Union." Unbelievable, but true. Among us there were a few, such as Joe Polucas, but they did not last very long.
So in Czibju camp, the first day was spent on organization. Men
were allowed to form gangs of their own make-up, and I think our little group was very lucky indeed. Bogdan got a job at the
Power Station, a real plum of a job; indoors, no guards, no quotas to worry about. Wladek Tylka, who was always fond
of horses (his father operated a hackney carriage in Zakopane) joined the drivers' brigade (otherwise 100% Byelorussian) with
a special assignment; he would be delivering boiled water to the brigades at work. He too was very pleased with his fate;
fresh air, no guards, and the quota per day was two trips, one in the morning and one in the evening. Zdzich landed a peach
of a job as a roving inspector of sorts, free to move about the work area and no quotas. The best! Good luck was also with
me. I got "drafted" into the railroad brigade, a group of our own men who had been employees of the Polish National Railways,
called up during the general mobilization in August 1939, for the main purpose of repairing the bomb-damaged sections of the
railroad system, in order to keep the traffic flowing, during the September war. What luck! What a team! They were not only
good at their work, they were a decent bunch of fellows; good natured, honest and clean. Pretty soon our brigade would be
regarded as the best in the camp. With me was Wladek Kordylewski, a solid chap in every way, and I was glad to have him around.
Poor Witold got a very rough deal. He ended up with a bunch of
total strangers and for some reason, was ostracized so he kept pretty much to himself. But he was in the same camp
as the rest of us, so we would keep an eye on him. However, over a relatively short period of time, Witold became a loner
and withdrawn. He ceased to care about anything and neglected his personal hygiene which, even in the existing conditions,
was not acceptable to a lot of men. He simply stopped caring and would not listen to us.
Michal and Andrzej were lost in the shuffle and ended up in another
camp a few miles away, so we mangaged, at the very least, to keep in visual contact.
Since our brigade consisted of experienced railway workers,
it did not take them long to catch on as to how to get the most and the best for the least. These men managed to
oragnize our work very effectively.
It is important to understand how the system worked. It all started
with the quotas being out of reach of the average man, often sick, always hungry, cold and weak. One had to be smarter than
the oppressor to get a little bit of something for nothing, and the only way to get that was by cheating, or padding the work
reports a bit. Not too much, because once caught cheating, it meant curtains for the one who got caught or for the group as
In general, in the Soviet Union, cheating was an essential
part of life, but it was also very risky and dangerous; it carried a severe sentence of 15-25 years in labour camps. The heavy
penalty was often used as a vehicle for getting rid of a trouble maker for a very long time, and with it, for a lifetime,
went the stigma of "Enemy of the Soviet Union," the most dreaded punitive paragraph in the Soviet Penal Code. It was also
an effective way of providing the State with cheap labour!
For those already in the camps, any new sentence would be tacked
on to the existing sentence!
The practice of padding everything was known as "tufta."
There was a very popular saying that "Russia stands on tufta," which was true. It reigns supreme all over the country.
In our case, it was a clever disposition of workload by assigning some of the manpower to ancillary but essential jobs, thus
spreading the workload over a smaller number of workers and by doing so, giving them a higher percentage of the work done.
In this way, we were assured of work production over 100%, thus meeting the requirements for LEVEL 1 rewards.
My railroad brigade consisted of quite ordinary, yet wonderful people, experienced railway men, each
one an individualist, but smart enough not to lose control. In this team there was no serious friction, just the occasional
argument. The harmonious relations were, to a great extent, maintained by the proper attitude of our brigade leader, Cpl.
Tomsza, whose ability to make the Soviets see and approve of his opinions and decisions, was recognized and admired by the
Some of the men I came to know better than others, men like Staszek Sekula, a lawyer with a faraway
look in his eyes, perhaps trying to picture the little daughter he had yet to see. He never did get his chance as he was killed
in action on the Italian front in 1944; Gutek Deja, a likeable fellow, shy and gentle, with whom I used to converse in German
to preserve my fluency in it; Gutek's pal Marian Dylong, a clever machinist, good natured and cheerful; Mietek Szymanski,
a veritable wizard with his penknife and possessed of an uncanny ability to fix anything.
Mietek once operated on the eyeball of his fellow train conductor, extracting a miniscule piece
of cinder lodged in it. He once set the broken ankle, twisted 180 degrees, of our team mate, right in front of our eyes, at
work in the -45C temperature. During the following winter, with that penknife, he carved a set of chessmen and the box with
the chessboard squares, which he later gave to me.
But the most impressive personality was Mietek's father-in-law, Szczepan Rozek, a man well into
his fifties, also a train conductor. Szczepan was a man everyone looked up to for counsel. He was a stabilizing factor in
every dispute or difference of opinion. He was wise and considerate, slow in his actions and thoughts. It was he who spread
his protective wings over me. He was like a father to me. Quite often Szczepan, Mietek and I prayed together in order to prop
up our sagging morale, and we felt much better for it afterwards. The intensity and power of his faith was contagious and
left an indelible impression on me. It was my second Confirmation in Faith.
Life in the camp was mostly subdued, devoid of extremes. We were simply overworked, underfed
and too tired to generate any serious interest in anything. There were no books to read, no movies to watch and any newspaper
brought into camp was immediately snatched up, by those who still smoked tobacco, to be cut up into small squares for
The only available radio receiver was in the camp office and broadcast propaganda supplied by
the political commissars, in other words, nothing that could be of interest to us, the POWs. So we set up our Information
Centre, where world-shattering news was discussed on a daily basis. The place was very busy, and visited daily by everybody.
That's right, the local latrine, where the news was born and the news was killed, but between the two a lot of hot air was
exhaled! The news was brought by fellow POWs who, like Bogdan at the Power Station, came into contact with people coming in
from other regions outside of Komi, namely, the railroad engine drivers. But the news, as usual, was just gossip until June
Once the initial organization period was over, we settled into a daily routine. Up at 0430 hours,
breakfast at 0600 hours, leave for work at 0700 hours and return to camp generally at 1800 hours, then supper and off to bed.
We did have a short break for lunch, about 30 minutes or so, enough for toasting half the daily ration of bread at the fire.
The other half of the bread ration was usually consumed at supper.
Despite the northern latitude, the summer was very hot, although short. The local saying summed up
the regional climate: "The year is comprised of ten months of winter and two months of summer." The hot weather
and hard labour worked up a great need for a drink now and then, but the drinking water was delivered only once a day. Having
forgotten the lesson learned on the barges, men would drink whatever they could find and hope for the best. Some were
lucky, some were not. Those that were not lucky added to their misery by visiting the bushes where millions of mosquitos and
billions of black flies were waiting to attack them and their exposed private parts. Some people never learned. One could
pick out those sick ones by the branches they were carrying to fend off the ferocious insects.
The mosquitos, and more so the black flies, were so bad that the Soviets issued us with work
gloves and head nets in order to protect us, so we could spend more time working and less time fighting off the beasts. Oddly
enough, there were no incidents of malarial sickness. Inasmuch as the head net gave adequate protection against the mosquitos,
it failed miserably in protecting us against the very small but pesky black flies. But, a nice gesture on the part of the
One day the kitchen personnel started to dish out some kind of potion that did not meet with
enthusiastic acceptance from the men in spite of serious assurances that we would benefit from drinking it. Men wanted to
know what it was that tasted so - odd, to say the least. The cooks explained that it was a mixture of pine needles, yeast
and various herbs they did not recall the names of, and that we were supposed to drink it "because it was good for us." Right
off the bat it got the name, from the ammonia-like smell, "horse piss," and was summarily ignored. Not me, however. Although
I was not crazy about its taste or smell, since it was not rationed, I could get as much as I wanted. So I indulged, hoping
that it would do what the cooks tried to tell us, that is, keep the omnipresent scurvy at bay. Very few men did what I did,
but when the scurvy hit the camp about six months later, it was too late for them to do anything to combat it.
At that time, in the summer of 1940, the supplies were quite satisfactory and to some extent,
varied. For instance, there was a white fish which came in big, fat slabs of meat, smelling of salt and ammonia, but
which after soaking in water, tasted really great. There were heavily salted herrings in thick, green grease, requiring a
good scrubbing to get the grease off and two to three days of water-soaking to get some salt out of the meat. And here again,
I became a great fan of these fish and ate as much as I could, without causing stomach upsets. The men seemed completely unaware
of the nutritional value of fish, and the results of their ignorance were not long in coming.
First came night blindness. It became so severe that those not affected by it were designated
to lead long lines of blind men to and from the kitchen both in the mornings and the afternoons, like kindergarten kids out
for a walk, hanging on to a rope, with a supervisor in the lead. On other occasions, they were on their own, groping around,
tripping over people and objects standing in their way. I was one of these leaders, thanking Providence for the wisdom not
to ignore the fish, the potion, etc. Some of us, mainly those with previous boy scout experience, realized the importance
of supplying the body with vitamins, knowing fairly well what was good and what was bad and should be avoided.
Soon the days became shorter and the nights colder, a sure sign of the approaching winter. The
transition was amazingly rapid, to us, at least. Zdzich showed up with a capful of frost-shrunken, prune like rosehips. Oh,
what a treat! "Russian dates" we named them and enjoyed them while they lasted. And when that vitamin supply ran out, I started
my clandestine visits to Kazik's dispensary for a tablespoonful of cod liver oil. Everything helped to the extent that there
was not a single blemish of any kind on my body, no hair loss and my teeth did not wobble at all!
And then, before we knew it, winter came. It was snowing almost every day, and night too. The
camp thermometer showed the temperature falling slowly, but every night to a new low. We were wondering about work and had questions:
Would we be forced to work in those Arctic conditions? If so, how many hours? What would be the rules (if any) regarding the
lowest temperature at which we would have to work?
Soon came the answers and we did not like them at all. We would have to go out to work no matter
what the outside temperature, and the hours would remain unchanged, except on days when the temperature dropped below -45
degrees Celsius and was expected to fall further. On these days, and there would be many of them that winter (1940-41), we
were taken off work in the afternoon at the -50C degree level and by the time we reached camp, the thermometer would often
indicate -55C. Later that winter, the lowest night temperature recorded was -63C. Wow! The good news was that there was no
wind. Had there been any wind at all, who could tell what would have happened. I still shiver sometimes recalling those nights
and the way we felt about the coming morning and another day out on the railroad site.
I should describe our clothing. The top three brigades, and ours was one of them, were issued
cotton-padded jackets and pants, caps with ear flaps, and the most envied and priceless articles in this climate, high felt
boots. The boots proved themselves by giving the feet complete protection against frostbite.
As for the remaining brigades, they had to rely on their original army uniforms, overcoats and
boots. They were, in most cases, in good shape, thanks to the fact that at the time of general mobilization, these items were
brand new and of top quality. For the walks to and from work, to keep warm, the men would wrap themselves in blankets, rags
or whatever was available.
In the middle of that terrible winter we were cut off from the supply depot. For about two weeks
we ate oats taken from the horses' feed supply. And we still had to work every day. During that period, I suffered a nasty
frostbite to my face and hands, for which I blame myself. No one is correct 100% of the time, and I did not think about what
I was doing until it was too late. But it proved a minor discomfort after all, thanks to the ample supply of Vaseline from
Kazik's dispensary. It was itchy as hell when we were inside the barrack but somehow, I did manage to bear it without grinning.
After that episode of frostbite a much greater calamity happened to me,
namely a sinus infection. My sinuses got plugged up solid causing unbearable pain around the eyes, nose and forehead. I was
not ashamed to yell and moan because I could not help it. It was that simple. The pain was excruciating and nobody, not even
Kazik, could do anything to alleviate it. So I was left alone at camp and nobody bothered me as long as I kept yelling.
After two or three days came relief from one of the Byelorussian "horse brigade" drivers. I was to sit as close to an open
fire as my skin could stand it and stay there as long as I could stand the heat. And that would cure me for sure, he said.
And it did, indeed! Within about 15 minutes or so, the puss clogging the sinuses started on its way down and out of my head,
bringing immediate and total relief. Three cheers for folk medicaine, simple but effective! But just the same I kept on yelling
for another two days whenever I noticed anybody from the office approaching our barrack. The Russians were superstitious.
They feared the unknown, and were afraid of people who behaved abnormally. So I preyed on their ignorance and managed to stay
in camp a little longer. After all, I thought, if I did not look after myself, who would?
About the time of the trouble with my sinuses, the mystery of the signet ring took a happy turn. I
overheard a conversation between two Byelorussians about a gold ring with a blue stone. The name of its owner was mentioned
and I made a beeline to his quarters right away, and after a short conversation he handed the ring back to me with these words:
"Here it is, take better care of it." I did not ask any questions about who and how. I was just happy to have it back and
I felt somehow, whole again.
Because of the heavy snowfalls and low temperatures, our brigade was used to perform jobs other than railroad
building, so it was not essential that the team remain at its full complement. One day, Alek Choinski, the surveyor, came
over to claim me as his assistant, just for a couple of weeks or so, he said. So, happy as a lark, I joined Alek. I carried
the long surveyor's stick for him while he lugged the theodolite. Alek was good company, afraid of nothing and nobody, sure
of himself and safe behind his perfect Russian language, which served him well in his verbal duels with the guards while outside
the camp. He was able to outperform the guards in the swearing duels that would erupt now and then, leaving them with
their jaws hanging open in awe. Alek strongly believed that there was nothing more awe-inspiring to the average Russian than
the size and originality of one's swearing vocabulary. The larger the vocabulary, the greater the respect gained, and Alek
outdistanced them by a mile, at least! And more importantly, this superiority helped keep the guards off his back. He loved
to practise it from time to time, but only on the guards. With us, he was a gentleman, as polite and gentle as a teddy bear.
Alek started me on learning the Russian language, the clean and cultured one (the other one I picked up
just by listening to his verbal barrages), by bringing scraps of newspaper or pages torn out of some books he had the good
luck to come across. He talked and I listened and memorized by repeating. We made very good progress and that made us
both quite happy. Alek was a patient teacher and I was an eager student.
The exceptionally fine weather added to our feeling of happiness. Every day the sun was shining brilliantly,
the snow stayed dry and fresh looking for many days, and it was so light you could make it fly by merely breathing a little
harder. The snow flakes, large and hard-frozen, were like mirrors reflecting the sun's rays to the extent of blinding us.
The air was absolutely still. Nothing moved, even the snow stayed put on the branches, sparkling like millions of diamonds.
The White Birch trees around us, majestically silent and beautiful, created a warm and friendly environment. I was no starnger
to the beauty of winter scenes from our Tatra Mountains in Poland but this was truly a Wonderland! And it made us forget where
and what we were. What a sweet dream it was while it lasted. Unforgettable.
Winter was now slowly coming to an end. The sun stayed up longer and we felt its warmth on our backs. I
rejoined my brigade, but kept in touch with Alek. Soon our camp's population was moved up several miles north to a new camp,
vacated for us by the taiga-clearing gangs working ahead of us.
Uchta, Komi ASSR
That camp was even newer than the previous one, and our brigade was, once again, allocated
one of the best barracks, obviously just completed. That meant - lice free! It featured double bunks with access on each side.
Quite an improvement on the continuous type so common in the camps throughout the "convict world."
A few words about lice and the delousing process. There were two main and inseparable factors
in the life of a convict; bread and lice. One could not live without bread and one could not get rid of lice. They were everywhere
and no power on earth could kill them because the available equipment was unable to generate steam hot enough to do so. So
the delousing process, as it existed at our camps, made the blood suckers not angry but mad, and the next time the owner
of a shirt, or any other piece of attire, put it on, they would rush to attack with a vengeance for disturbing ther peaceful
existence somewhere in the seam or fold of the garment.
But there was a brighter side to the delousing process. Some of the dirt, sweat, etc. was
washed out of our undergarments. You must understand that we never, ever dared to fully undress for the night. This was a
simple precaution to prevent things from walking away for good. Boots were kept under our heads in lieu of pillows. Some men
would even tie the laces around their necks. Boots and bread were the two most precious and sought after commodities.
With the days getting longer, we were slowly getting rid of the demoralizing effect of the long
Arctic nights. There was no news coming in, not even a ghost of gossip to latch onto, to divert the crushing effect of feeling
isolated, forgotten and lost in the darkness. These were the moments when Szczepan, Mietek and I used to sit on Szczepan's
bunk bed and pray. We were praying for something to happen to save our sanity before it was too late. But there was nothing except
the same old cursed call at 0430 hours: "Get up for work," every day, seven days a week. Had God forgotten that we were there?
How many of us believed that He had. But Szczepan was deeply convinced that He had not forsaken us and that soon He would
send us a message. And He did send us His messenger - the sun. Life came back to our half-dead eyes, our backs straightened
up, our faces turned up to greet the friendly, warm sun. New hope entered our hearts, our spirits soared and smiles returned.
Hoping against hope we were waiting for something to happen, and happen it did.
The German-Soviet War
In the summer of 1941, news reached us of the invasion of the USSR by Germany, and that the Germans
were soundly thrashing the Reds on all fronts. We cheered the erstwhile enemy together with the Russian convicts, wishing
the invaders all the luck in dealing a mortal blow to the Red regime.
The guards, obviously aware of the change in our attitude, doubled the security. The camp administration
followed with leaner food rations and longer working hours. Now we worked 14 to 16 hour days. Spies were out, busy looking
for any agitators or saboteurs among us and within a short time, the lethargic atmosphere changed to a cautious wait-and-see
Now that one line was complete in our sector of operations, we were working on the second, parallel
line. Traffic on the "old "line was slowly increasing with the winter season ending, but pretty soon after the war, it significantly
picked up in volume. Watching from our barrack windows at night, we saw long trains, composed of boxcars and flatcars, heading
north, filled with people. The flatcars were packed with what looked like people wearing uniforms, huddled together tightly
against the chill of the nights. Soon the confirmation came from Bogdan - they were German soldiers, now POWs like us. Our
sympathies went out to the poor wretches, freezing if not already frozen, to death. The nights were still very cold and according
to Bogdan's sources, they were wearing mostly summer uniforms. We hated the Reds even more for that, as we did not want to
see more cruelty to human beings. We were very sensitive to it. It is interesting how people's feelings change and we wondered
if the Germans felt the way we did.
But we had to go about our work as usual. An incident occurred which typified the frequent
abililty of humans to be resourceful in desperate conditions. In this case, Wladek Kordylewski and I were ordered to offload
an 80 ton, roofless boxcar full of rough looking tree trunks, most likely to be used as telephone poles to line the railroad.
The quota was one car per two men per day. Fine, but how to get the logs, often more than 40 feet long and about two feet
in diameter at the thick end, over the eight foot high sides with our bare hands? My heart sank as low as it could possibly
sink as I visualized our names on the board at camp listed under the title "Refuzniks" and reduced to 300 grams of
bread per day; LEVEL 3 or lower.
It was getting cooler every day, so it must have been August or September when one day we were
NOT aroused at 0430 by the hated "Get up to work" command. The camp was peaceful, no guards outside the gate, none of the
usual yelling and swearing so characteristic of the work day routine. It was strange and even eerie. Soon after breakfast,
there was a call for us to assemble on the camp square where a group of important looking strangers was waiting for us with
the camp's administration officers. They announced, with smiles, that we were free!
They then informed us about the agreement between our Government-in-Exile in London and the USSR,
to release all Polish POWs held in prisons or in labour camps, in order to form an army to resist "our common enemy," the
fascist, Hitler. We were going to be transported out of that area as soon as possible and taken to an area south of Moscow
where the Polish Army had already begun to assemble under the Command of General Anders.
We did not have to wait too long, although every minute seemed like hours. We entrained at Czibju
Station and headed back to Kotlas, now under a "nominal" guard. Everything after that experience in the North, was quite crazy.
For instance, we gave the NKWD a cheer or two. Imagine that, cheering the scum of the earth.
Our treatment at the hands of the Soviets had certainly been in accordance with the Geneva
Convention, that is, we were fed and clothed, but we had to work hard for it. We were not tortured or brutalized, but we were
used as cheap, forced labour. The odd incidents that took place on the march in to camp, such as the shooting of the
stragglers, were the exception. Threats were made thousands of times, but generally not followed up. Once permitted, we were
allowed to correspond with family in Poland so that they knew their fathers, brothers, sons and husbands were, at least, alive.
Others, such as the thousands of officers murdered in the forests of Katyn, were not as lucky, and I was in no way pleased
with the Soviet system as a whole.
On the Way to the Polish Army in the USSR
Our journey south was uneventful but filled with elation and high hopes. The guards were there,
not to harass us, but rather to add an official touch to the convoy. The doors of the boxcars were left open during the daytime,
and closed, by us, at night to keep in the warmth. There were no more head counts except for one at the gate of a camp we
eventually came to, although this was when we were being transferred over to the Polish side. That put a stamp of reality
on the whole "Dream of Freedom," as we did not trust the Russkies further than we could throw them. As it turned out, the
camp was totally in Polish hands, the only Russian guard was a back-up, sort of, at the main gate, which remained open all
Soon, to our greatest joy, came our own staff officers led by Lt. Col. Nikodem Sulik. We gave
them a thunderous and rousing welcome. The Colonel announced the formation of the Polish Army under the totally Polish
command headed by Gen. Anders, recently released from the infamous Lubyanka Prison in Moscow. Col. Sulik aksed us to behave
in the proper military manner and with dignity, and above all, not to forget where we still were. He ordered us to show
our true ranks and names to those whose job it was to make lists of all present. We were surprised by the number of officers
who were among the ordinary soldiers. There was even one major, and I would not have guessed it in a million years.
A few days later we were joined by a large group of officers and cadet-officers released from
internment in Lithuania, now under Soviet occupation. What a difference in appearance, posture and state of health. They looked
like the pre-war officers used to look - neat, clean-shaven, boots polished, insignia in place. And us? Good Lord, a
band of ragamuffins at their worst; shaggy and long-haired, like scarecrows.
In our little group, we realized that the moment to say goodbye was not far off and we were saddened
by the thought. Once the lists were posted, we all went our separate ways; Navy, Air Force, Infantry, Artillery, Sappers,
Medical Corps, Signals, etc. The first to go was Bogdan who left with a group of Navy men for England to join the Polish Navy
units that had managed somehow to avoid capture or destruction in 1939. A big, long hug, a firm handshake and the usual "take
care of yourself," and Bogdan was gone (eventually to settle in Australia after the war). I was assigned to the artillery.
Soon the rest of us, those who were able-bodied, left by train for an unknown place further south.
My parting with the railroad gang was emotional, especially with Szczepan Rozek who meant so much to me. We all shook hands,
hugged and slapped each other on the back, promised to keep in touch and went our different ways, but with the same ultimate
direction in mind; Poland and home.
Some did not make it though. Stas Ezman was killed at Monte Cassino. Staszek Sekula, shot through
the chest, died instantly somewhere in Italy in 1944, leading his platoon. Witold did not make the transport because of his
broken leg. Leaving camp, I saw him leaning heavily on his crutches, tears streaming down his face. He made it into the Corps
later on, though, and served the entire campaign with the Signals Battalion. He came to England with the rest of us in 1946 then
returned to Poland.
The train was moving fairly well this time. Military transports were given priority. Nice to
enjoy some privileges for a change! We passed through a place called Buzuluk where General Anders had his temporary headquarters,
then we passed through a much bigger town called Kuybyshev and kept on going until we reached a small station called Tockoje,
somewhere around September, 1941.
At Tockoje we found a tent camp surrounded by forests, a picturesque place
for camping in summer. Soon we discovered that it was indeed a summer camp for the Red Army. There were very few permanent
huts but lots and lots of tents with double roofs, and they were dug in, meaning that persons entering them would step down
to reach the floor level. In other words, they were holes in the ground, approximately 15 x 15 x 5 feet in size. In those
tents we spent the better part of the winter of 1941-42 (4 months) before we moved on to warmer climes further southwest.
Meanwhile, we had to make the best of it since complaining would get us nowhere, and besides, it was wiser to keep a low profile
than to further aggravate the Russian authorities since relations were not too friendly at best. So we suffered in silence,
like the good boys we were supposed to be.
Fortunately, we were too busy getting organized, helping the sick new arrivals
to get better, making our domiciles habitable and warm by installing home-made stoves made of discarded metal barrels, building
higher sides for more protection against the wind, cutting and stacking wood for the stoves, etc. In other words, we were
really busy. We did find time to attend lectures and instructions in artillery tactics and related subjects.
The regiment I joined was the 6th Lwow Field Artillery under the command of Lt. Col. Czeslaw Obtulowicz.
The regiment was a part of General Michal Tokarzewski's 6th Lwow Infantry Division. There were also three infantry
batallions in the division, the 16th, 17th and 18th plus the usual support services. Somewhere in the vicinity, the 5th Division
was also getting organized along the same lines although we, at our level, had no contact with it. My first immediate superior
officer was Lt. Jan Niepokojczycki, who happened to know my father quite well. What a dashing officer he was. Born in Georgia,
at the foot of the Caucasus Mountains, dark of complexion with slanted eyes and a gorgeous smile, he was truly a prince among
men. Unfortunately, he was not an artillery officer and was replaced as soon as true "guns" became available.
The make-up of the units was in a constant state of change as new men continually arrived and were
placed in a unit only to be moved back and forth, and it continued thus for some time.
One day that winter, I pulled a large bundle of rags from a deep snow bank near our tent. On closer
examination of the bundle, I found a human being inside that heap of dirty rags, wearing a face that I thought I had seen
before, but I could not be sure. Then the face spoke one word: "Jedrek?" and I knew who he was. He was Cadet-Officer Edek
Wojciechowski from the 5th Horse at Oswiecim. We were together rather briefly at the front line before the September, 1939
German invasion of Poland. Edek was so emaciated and weak that he could not go any further and he was only several feet away
from the warm tent that was our office at the time. He was one of those civilian "spies," arrested and sentenced to
15 years of hard labour in the northern regions of the Komi ASSR. Quite a number of others like Edek managed somehow, on their
own, to reach our army. How did they do it? It remained, mostly, their secret or they did not remember, travelling those endless
roads half dazed, exhausted from lack of food and sleep and weakened by the cold they had to endure. Most of these new arrivals
were in the final stages of exhaustion, almost dead on their feet. But they kept coming, reporting for duty! Like Major Marian
Siewinski, who came all the way from the Kolyma region, the most dreaded, isolated death trap on earth, where men were dying
by the thousands working the gold mines, standing in icy water, ankle deep, for hours every day. Knowledgeable people were
all in agreement regarding the conditions on the Kolyma Peninsula: not too many came back to tell others of their ghastly
We were also blessed with a few ladies, who joined our regiment as canteen staff, reading room attendants,
sick-bay nurses and so on. Sometimes the positions were the products of the C.O's imagination as they strove to keep these
civilians under our army's care, having to justify and legalize their presence in our units in the eyes of the Russians. One
of the first ladies to join our regiment was Marysia Podobinska, a lovely lady in her mid-thirties. Soon after, she was joined
by some more ladies, who , of course, were all warmly "incorporated" into the 6th.
The agreement with the Soviets had specified the exact number of personnel to be recruited into the
new Polish Army. Based on that figure, a corresponding number of rations was to be released. These rations, almost always
slow in arriving and often in quantities below the agreed level, had to be stretched very thin in order to feed the ever increasing
number of our people flocking to join the army from all directions; the influx had swelled well beyond the agreed
upon number of 44,000.
The restriction created untold tragedies at the field offices where men and women would arrive only
to be told that there were no more "vacancies," and that they would have to await further developments. Imagine telling
that to a man at the end of his rope, like Edek, and there were thousands of people in this situation, begging to be accepted.
In order to cope with this impossible situation, scouting parties were sent out to forage for food. This
in turn , caused a strong reaction from the local population, themselves hungry, but often willing to share their meagre supplies
with us. They called in the NKWD, who demanded that foraging be stopped forthwith! And it was, almost. So we went a little
hungry, but we were happy to share our rations with the others. To compensate for that setback, we decided that if we were
to be hungry, we should at least be warm, so we took up axes and saws and started cutting trees for our little tent stoves.
This helped tremendously to boost our spirits and morale. By the time we left in February, 1942, most of the forest had been
The Christmas of December, 1941 was celebrated in a truly Polish way, with singing, crying and a few drinks.
It was made a truly memorable occasion mainly thanks to the presence of our "ladies," who added that extra feminine touch
to the festivities. We really felt like one, big happy family again, for a little while, at least.
By the end of January, rumours started making the rounds about an impending move further south to warmer
climes. In early February, we picked up our things and went to Tockoje station where the train stood ready to take us south.
Tockoje bid us goodbye with a brilliantly frosty -42C. We were happy to leave, expecting better and warmer days ahead. Little
did we know what awaited us.
The relatively short period we spent here was rich in events, affecting the communal as well as the individual
lives of many.
At the railway station at Jakobak, we saw a shocking example of Russian wastefulness resulting from the
centralized system of government. All around the station there were big piles of snow-white cotton picked and delivered to
the collection point as ordered, but with no protection against the elements, the cotton fibres had been allowed to rot.
There were several big trucks, with no tires on them, rusting away to the complete indifference and apparent apathy on the
part of the local Uzbeks we glimpsed on the way from the station to the campsite a few miles away.
The campsite, a fairly large area of flat, grassy land and few permanent structures, did not generate
too much enthusiasm in our men - no trees, only empty space all around, inhospitable.
Our first impression proved right and we could say, in retrospect, that nothing good happened to us while
at Jakobak. The first few weeks were not bad, but soon the heat was pouring down from the skies upon the roofs of the tents
housing the troops. It was quite impossible to breathe inside the tents during the day and the tents were the only shelters
offering protection against the murderous sun. Something had to be done fast to protect the men. Polish ingenuity took over,
and in a few days the troops had that protection in the shape of African-style huts without walls, providing protection both
against the sun and the heat. With the huts in place, the daily routine was reversed; troops would rest during the day and
"play soldier" at night. But all that ingenuity proved powerless to hold off what was destined for us. Weakened by the heat
and a series of reverses, the 6th Field Artillery Regiment was by July, flat on its collective back.
First came an attack of dysentery caused by contaminated water from the only available source, the river.
When this epidemic was over, malaria, typhoid and other lesser ailments followed. There was hardly anybody unaffected by one
thing or another.
Boredom was another malady which was coupled with anxiety over the Soviet obstinancy regarding General
Anders' request for more food rations and a relaxation of the restrictions imposed on us by the Soviet authorities. There
was also the constant worry that the Soviets would change their minds and decide to cancel our freedom. Their sometimes threatening
attitude led our Headquarters in Szachrisiabs to order intensive night marches, with several pounds of weight in the backpacks,
to toughen up our weak muscles. We would need all our strength should push come to shove and we had to "run for the hills"
- in this case to the Pamir Mountains - to escape another enslavement. We would probably never make it but the thought of
it toughened up our posture and firm resolve.
Little could our Command do to help fight all these adversities. Our hospitals, overcrowded as they were,
took care of the seriously sick, while the walking sick remained with their units. The boredom was something else. One
night, a strong detachment under my command managed to "borrow" one of the rusting trucks we had spotted at the Jakobak
Station when we first arrived, for training purposes. After all, we were going to be motorized, if and when the equipment
became available. But most of our men knew nothing about combustion engines, their maintenance or even how to drive a motor
We had a rotten hard time of it but we did manage to get one of those tireless behemoths to camp and hide
it. The elation was shared by all but it was short lived. The very next morning, two NKWD officers came to the camp to arrest
the perpetrators of this major crime against the Soviet State! Unbelievable. But as time went on they became frustrated because
they could not decide who was responsible for this heinous crime and therefore, whom to arrest. First they wanted my hide,
but my immediate superior officer, Lt. Andrew Cieszewski stepped in saying that it was he, who gave me the order so then they
wanted him. But at that point Captain Jerzy Stypulkowski took the responsiblity upon himself only to be reminded by Colonel
Obtulewicz that the order came directly from him and no one else. The Russians were so obviously confused by this type of
defence, that they decided to withdraw and take the matter to a higher level, that is, our HQ in Szachrisiabs, where the case
was eventually dropped. But they did take the truck back and returned it to its graveyard where it could continue to rot while
benefitting nobody. What a pity.
Another big problem for us were the Polish civilians who naturally flocked to the Army in the thousands,
hopeful of help and sustenance, and eventually the possibility of evacuation from this terrible land of the Soviets.
For some time now, on orders from the top Command, scouts were dispatched to various points in the
area occupied by the Army with the purpose of collecting information, rendering financial help where needed and preparing
a list of names of those who were Polish citizens AND Roman Catholics. I was one of those scouts, given two men, a horse-drawn
wagon and a considerable amount of Russian Rubles to dish out. I visited every kolkhoz (collective farm) within 30 miles
of my appointed centre and what I witnessed during my work then would fill volumes. Our people there lived like cattle, in
sub-human conditions, without work, without help, without food, chiefly relying on help from other Polish families in contact
with their families in Poland who sent money, food and clothing parcels, or the money obtained from the various items sold
to the Uzbeks, or exchanged for food.
My "office" was swamped with crowds of bedraggled creatures, begging to be registered. There was a strong
belief that the registration and their name on the list I was compiling meant sharing the fate of the Army, its protection
and their salvation. When I dropped the bomb that ONLY Polish citizens of Roman-Catholic creed need apply, a near riot erupted.
It was beyond their comprehension that the religious distinction would slam the door shut in their faces. They strongly proclaimed
to be Polish citizens, some even falsified their religious affiliation in order to get their names on THAT list. Perhaps
it was not known by them that the lands they had lived on in 1939 had been taken away from Poland and incorporated into the
Soviet Union as a number of Soviet Socialist Republics. The Ukraine and Byelorussia were now part of the Soviet Union
and the Soviets considered Jews, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, etc. to be Soviet citizens and therefore not eligible to join
the Polish Army. In fact, the Soviet authorities expressly forbade the Polish Army from recruiting "their" citizens.
But try to reason with a drowning person. They would not and could not understand it and accept it. There
were endless attempts to bribe me by husbands offering their young wives, or their attractive daughters, some offering gold,
diamonds or money. But I could not be swayed. I had my orders and I stuck to them. True, I was tempted many times over, but
I did not give in to them. All that, however disturbing, was nothing compared with the almost sacrilegious feeling I had of
playing God with these people's lives. Who the hell was I, Jedrek Debicki, age 21, to pass the sentence of life or death on
these people who were here, in the USSR, by the act of an evil regime and not of their own free will? On many occasions I
felt so bad about it, that I had seriously considered giving all the money away and running off. In the end, the Polish Army
did manage to evacuate thousands of non-Poles with them.
After that ordeal, clean of conscience, albeit in mental turmoil, I made my way back to camp two weeks later.
I was, quite surprisingly, still enjoying good health, nicely tanned and interested in everything and everybody around me.
And there were a lot of things around our camp. As I mentioned before, we were surrounded by our civilians, mostly women and
children, who depended to a great extent on us. To show their gratitude, they offered various services, such as laundering
men's clothes, repairing socks, etc., anything to try and make themselves indispensable, for which the men, hungry for women's
attentions for so long, were very grateful indeed. And they showed it too, by generously rewarding the ladies with whatever
they could spare.
One of these young ladies caught my eye one morning delivering clean laundry. We talked a while, then she
invited me for a modest supper at her place next day. She also happily mentioned the fact that she was already on THE list
as a family member of one of our sergeants. This fact brought a sigh of relief from me as it meant that I would not be badgered
to get her name registered for the evacuation. The news about the impending evacuation out of the USSR was travelling fast
and wide. We, at the regimental level, knew nothing about it but the civilians seemed to know everything!
So, the next day, with permission from my superior officer, Lt. Andrzej Cieszewski, and the reminder to
be available for funeral services at 0600 hours the next morning, I took off.
The village she lived in was on the railway line so I walked along the tracks very comfortably. As I arrived
at my destination it was getting dark. The young lady was waiting for me with a nice, cool lemonade. We sat and talked for
a while, and when it became too dark to sit outside, we went in and sat down to a truly gourmet meal with all the trimmings,
a candle and sweet, heavy, delicious Uzbek wine. I could not believe my own eyes, and her explanation that most of this spread
came from the Uzbek lady she was renting a room from, somehow did not quite convince me. No matter. Soon I was so wonderfully
full and happy thanks to, I was sure, the sweet AND potent wine that worked its magic on me. One small wonder was that somehow
I had left the table and found myself in her bed, with her snuggling up to me sweetly. How I got there, I really did not remember,
it must have been the wine. It had been so long since anyone had been so nice and so close to me. I let myself drift away
in this tender state of total surrender.
But somewhere at the back of my mind was the funeral at 0600 hours. My colleague from the class of 1938-39,
Cadet-officer Czeslaw Swital, had suddenly died of typhoid fever and I was to lead the honour detail. My lady friend knew
this and around midnight helped me out to get started on my way back to camp. A kiss, an embrace, a "Thank you for everything,"
and I was on my way.
I chose to return to camp by the same route along the railroad tracks, aware of the possibility of getting
lost in the darkness since my head was still buzzing and my sense of direction somewhat muddled. Soon I found the tracks and
my confidence was greatly restored. The night was bright, the stars were out and the air was pleasantly cool. I felt good.
But not for long though. Something was not quite right. Distressed by this new and unexpected development, I decided
to rest a while and review the situation. But not being in motion brought back the drowsiness and soon I was overcome by sleep.
A sixth sense told me to lay my head on the rail, thus giving me an early warning of approaching trains. I must have dozed
for longer than I originally intended to because it was already getting brighter and dawn was not too far off. I had to hurry!
Trusting the early hours against not meeting anybody, I took off my pants and got underway on the double.
But on approaching the camp's perimeter, I glimpsed the funeral procession just leaving the camp. Too late! Well, sure as
hell, I was going to get my ass in a sling. But when reporting to Capt. Stypulkowski, my answer to his stern "What is your
excuse, Cadet-officer Debicki?" was a full, graphic account of last night's events. I thought the Captain was going to split
his sides laughing. He understood youth well and I loved him for it. All he said to me was "You will learn, you will learn."
Sometime in July, our "Old Man," Col. Obtulewicz, whose own wife and daughter were with him in the camp,
announced the arrival of three young girls, brought from Kazakhstan to enlist in the Army with a temporary assignment to canteen
duties at the 6th Arty Regt. "And keep your hands to yourselves" he growled with the usual twinkle in his grey eyes. In Colonel
Obtulewicz, the girls found more than just a protector, they found a father. One of these young ladies, the shortest, the
plumpest but the prettiest was Hanka Zwierzanska, who became my future wife. In January of 1945, the Colonel gave away the
bride to a young, dashing commander of the First Troop of his Regiment, Lt. Andrzej W. Debicki.
Hanka reached our camp after several days of travelling by train from the small village of Urdzhar, east
of Lake Balkhash in the Kazakhstan SSR. The entire Zwieranski family had fled their home in Tczew in north-western Poland,
ahead of the German invasion, during the earliest days of September 1939, for fear of being arrested and imprisoned by
the Nazis. Driving across the country they found accomodation with their family in Lwow, in south-eastern Poland, only to
be arrested and deported by the Russians in April 1940.
Hanka's father, Jan, had been arrested by the NKWD and imprisoned somewhere in the USSR. He did not return
to his family in Kazakhstan until 1942, barely alive, having endured interrogations, maltreatment while in prison and typhoid
fever. Until then, the fatherless family had been brought to a farming/herding kolkhoz at Urdzhar, where the living conditions
during the enforced exile were deplorable: food was hard to get, the small communal building had no windows, the summer heat
was intense and the winters icy. Above all, there were the daily orders: Work! Work! Work! Soon they, the urbanites, became
proficient sheepherders and users of hoes, pitch-forks and spades.
When Germany attacked the USSR in the summer of 1941, the Polish exiles were, in theory at least, freed
from compulsory work and allowed to move around, so Hanka's family moved from the Kolkhoz to the village of Urdzhar. When
the news about the reborn Polish Army reached them, it was decided that the young boys and girls must leave immediately and
try to join, with the rest of the family members to follow. Unfortunately, the Travel Permits of the remaining family, issued
in their names by the NKWD and essential to carry in order to avoid re-arrest, were sold to the highest bidder by the unscrupulous
representative of the Polish Authority who was handling their distribution. Left behind at Urdzhar, without the much needed
help of the younger ones, both of Hanka's parents died of starvation and sickness. The girls had no way of knowing about it
until much later. Janka, the youngest sister, survived and was repatriated to Poland in 1946.
Towards August 1942, our situation generally worsened. The merciless heat drained our strength, the incidence
of malaria was alarmingly high and rapidly rising. At the same time, the civilian population around all of the Army camps
was growing in numbers, further reducing our share of the food rations. In some camps, the situation became desparate. But
Providence was with us because in early August, orders to get ready for evacuation came down from Corps HQ. In three days,
we were moving by train and the destination, for once, was known to everyone - the Soviet port of Krasnowodsk on the Caspian
At Krasnowodsk came the last frisking by the NKWD, searching for Russian rubles and taking a final
headcount of those departing the "Land of Sunshine and Everlasting Happiness." We were then finally left on our own.
But before the transport ship arrived three days later, Mother Nature decided to give us a taste of
what we would have to put up with later on in the lands of Iraq, Egypt and Palestine; the sand storms, called "hamsin"
in the Arab world. For two days and nights, one of these storms kept us rolled up in our blankets like mummies, trying in
vain to keep the fine sand out of our eyes, ears and mouths.
On the third day of waiting, the ship "Zhdanov" came in and the embarkation of troops began. What a depressing
sight they were. Human skeletons, walking, crawling, sick on stretchers, some too sick to crawl calling for mercy, begging
not to be left behind. And nobody was. The ship was filled to the gunnels and then some. Somebody with a sense of humour said
that this scene reminded him of the River Styx, the boat overflowing with the dead, with only Charon the Ferryman missing
from the picture and the direction of the final destination of Hades reversed. But it did not matter anymore. We were
finally and irrevocably, irreversibly out of hell. The day was August 3, 1942, and we were floating on the Caspian Sea.
Our collective thoughts however, were for a long time with those civilians we had to leave behind after Stalin closed the
borders to further evacuations, who because of the whim of a tyrant, had the doors to freedom shut in their faces.
(N.B. the port city of Pahlevi is now known as Bandar-e Anzali)
At the port of Pahlevi, on the Iranian shore of the Caspian Sea, we were expected, not by any high officials,
but by ordinary, local people. The shadow cast by the mighty USSR over its neighbours was quite obvious. There was no fanfare.
But the people were ever so friendly, perhaps because they expected to sell us a lot of goods. So they peddled their goods, mostly
food, knowing how hungry we were. And we did not disappoint them. We behaved like children let loose in a candy store.
We ate anything and everything, paying for it with money and with our stomachs, which refused to accept so much food so quickly.
But we did not mind, not at all.
Our men, for the first time in long months of involuntary fasting could now indulge in alcohol, disregarding
warnings from our medical personnel. The Arab vendors were peddling a poorly purified alcohol drink called arak that,
when drunk in excessive quantities, would cause a person to go blind. The degree and duration of the loss of sight was directly
proportional to the quantity imbibed. Some of men did go through that experience, and swore off liquor forever. But not for
long I would guess, knowing our men's love of alcohol, any alcohol.
All in all, those two or three days on the beach in Pahlevi were very enjoyable. We swam, played games,
built sand castles or just did nothing and luxuriated in the feeling of being able to do whatever without anyone objecting.
As usual, the good times did not last long. The transport trucks came and it was time to move on again,
to leave the friendly shores of the Pahlevi beaches, with all the hawkers, hookers and thieving children. The pleasant memories
followed us around for a while.
The route to Iraq on the first day led through rugged mountains. Kazvin was the first transit camp and we
needed the rest badly after the hair raising experience of the descent into the valley. To say "reckless driving" would be
an understatement. Some drivers would switch off their engines to save fuel (cheap bastards), thus relying on their poor brakes
for speed control, which often meant no control. Two trucks failed to negotiate the curve, lost control altogether, went
off the side of the road, and over the precipice, with no survivors. These were Persian transport companies doing business
the Persian way. We had no say in the matter. It made no difference to their driving habits if they were carrying, sacks,
drums, cattle or people.
The destination of the second leg of the three day drive was Hamadan, where for the last time, we saw Russian
border guards with their machine guns, manning the road block marking the southern limits of their territorial dominance in
this part of the world. Orders were out to hold our tempers for just one day longer in order to avoid any unwanted incidents
involving Poles and Russians. The hotheads were told to keep their lips well buttoned up, or else! I was sure that applied
to all of us, including the two chaplains in our convoy!
The third leg ended at a camp near Kermanshah, where we were told to brace ourselves for the fourth and
final leg through the desert. "Plenty of water" was the order of the day and was it ever needed. The hot and dusty day taxed
our strength to the limit. We got off the trucks at a place with the official postal address of Kizil Rabat, Iraq. The distance
covered from Pahlevi was about 500 miles.
Kizil Rabat, Iraq
Here in the Iraqi desert, life began to move at a fast pace, perhaps too fast for some. The desert climate,
hot in the daytime, cool at night, was somewhat easier to bear than the one we had endured in Uzbekistan. Here we were looked
after by people who cared and understood our situation and the need for good food, proper for the climate and our condition,
excellent medical care, with modern equipment and medications in a limitless supply to meet any emergency, proper clothing
to suit the climate, and so on. All that made life quite pleasant and worry-free. But despite all of that, it was not the
climate for us, malaria-ridden as it was. We needed a complete change, but before that was possible, we had to get fit, be
trained in modern warfare and then get shipped off to war, Europe perhaps. And here in the Iraqi desert, malaria not only
persisted in bothering us but spread far and wide at an alarming rate. It caught up with me while on a training course at
the British base at Basra. Our medics kept pumping Mepacrine tablets into us, to keep us on our feet, but kept losing ground
to that cursed sickness. The military hospitals were full of our men who, after their discharge, were directed to special
centres for recovery and from there, back to the units, only to find themselves back in hospital felled by renewed attacks
of malaria. A truly vicious cycle it was, but training had to go on, and it did at all costs.
The British supplied us with everything we needed, especially in the weapons department. Of course, we had
to be trained how to use them properly. With their help, we were making good progress, and our hopes, despite the raging malaria,
were high and the troops' morale very high, too.
Soon we entered the final stages of our training and the deadline for our total war worthiness was announced;
the end of 1943, and we meant to keep to it at all costs.
Meanwhle, on a more personal note, life was becoming fast flowiing, exciting and suddenly filled with love.
Over the time between Jakobek and Kizil Rabat, my feelings towards Hanka changed from friendly to flaming love. Hanka was
now part of the large military organization called the Auxiliary Transport Service (ATS), and she posted to the Field
Canteen Service, a branch of the ATS. Her camp was quite close to ours, so it was possible for us to meet almost every day.
We took walks in the desert and quickly discovered that we were meant for each other and so, began to plan our future life
Because of the close proximity of the "Canteens" as we used to call the girls' camp, many of our eligible
bachelors (but not necessarily only the bachelors) focused their sights upon the girls of their choice. Many of these acquaintances
ended in marriage.
Hanka, like myself, needed a pal she could depend on, someone unlike me, who would be around all the time.
She found one in the name of Halina (Halszka to us) Motoszko (later she would become Mrs. B. Olech). They became fast friends,
so fast that their friendship, and mine too, has survived to this day (1998).
When Hanka and I could not be together, we would write letters to each other or fill pages and pages in
our diaries to be read together, later. These were the happiest days of our lives together.
At about that time, our 6th Division became the 5th Kresowa Division under the command of General Nikodem
Sulik. This change doubled our able-bodied strength. And we were in good company since the arrival from the African front
of the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Brigade of Tobruk and Marsa Matruh fame. This Brigade soon became a Division of equal strength
to ours and became known as the 3rd Carpathian Division, General Duch commanding.
While in hospital due to another bout of malaria, I had a surprise reunion with a colleague of mine from
the School of Artillery (1938-39), one Tadek Budzich who had seen action in Africa with the 3rd Carpathian. What a pleasant
surprise. Tadek, still a Cadet-officer, looked fit as a fiddle, suntanned and smartly dressed in his desert outfit. What a
difference in health there was between those of us who had endured Russia and those who had missed it and been in Africa.
And from Tadek's tunic hung the medal most coveted by every Polish soldier - the Virtuti Militari Cross! We
spent hours shooting the breeze, reminiscing about about "old times." After the war, Tadek emigrated from England to the U.S.A.
Years later, in civilian life, I found his name on a patent application for an automatic clutch invention.
Soon, our days in Iraq came to an end. We were closer to the "fit to fight" category and were gradually
being relocated closer to the jumping-off point, which we learned later would be Italy. But meanwhile, our next move was to
cross the Jordanian Black Desert and enter Palestine, with our final destination being an area between Rafah and Gaza.
Now this was what we really needed for the restoration of our health. The Mediterranean climate suited us
beautifully, and the speed of recovery was amazingly fast. The land was filled with Arabs and Jews, lovely Sabra girls and
their not so friendly boyfriends and we spent our money at the shops. We were surprised by the great number of Jews speaking,
or at least understanding Polish - about one in three that we met. We had to remind ourselves that there had been about 3
million of them in Poland in 1939.
Intensive drilling and training in modern mechanized warfare was approaching the final stages. Soon our
Army was poised for the jump-off to join the Allied Forces already fighting in Italy. The 2nd Corps was to become a part of
the famous British 8th Army under General Harold Alexander, later Lord Alexander of Tunis, and eventually the Governor General
With the 2nd Corps about to leave Palestine, every effort was being made to make sure that the younger generation
was left in good hands and benefited from it. Education for all age groups was the number one priority. Hanka needed
two more years to complete her High School level, so she and hundreds of other boys and girls, were enrolled in Polish schools
of various levels throughout Palestine to give them a good education, at pre-war standards, and a fighting chance in their
lives later on. Hanka was very anxious to get that diploma and with it be able to enrol at the University of Beyruth
in the Dentistry Department. Her dream never came true as she wound up marrying me instead.
So while I was getting ready for war, Hanka went to school at Jenin, later relocated to Nazareth. We reluctantly
accepted this new development as inevitable though we resented the separation. It was quite painful, but it had to be
so, our only chance of building a solid base for our future together.
Quassasin and Alexandria, Egypt
By December 1943, the 2nd Corps was at full strength. We were ready for action at last. The advance parties
were gathered at the port of Alexandria while their mother units were stationed near Quassasin.
My malaria loved me so much that it would not let go of me. I suffered an attack of fever and shakes while
awaiting the embarkation of the advance parties I was a part of. But my determination and fistfuls of quinine tablets somehow
helped me keep it under control and my condition was not noticed, so when the signal for the embarkation came, I was
there, ready to go. I remembered that the best cure for malaria is a change of climate, and I was determined not to allow
this opportunity to slip through my fingers. So I sailed for Italy and away from malaria forever. It never hit me again.
Somehow, I went through the whole campaign without suffering any injury, not counting having two teeth extracted
by a medical doctor, despite numerous opportunities to get hurt and brushes with the Grim Reaper that were too close for comfort.
It was simply not meant to happen.
The campaign began with a small engagement with the enemy at the Sangro River that lasted two or three weeks,
after which we went off the line into reserve. By the end of April, we again moved up closer to the front line not very far
from Monte Cassino, already famous for hard fighting. There we took over the gun positions from the Free French early in May.
It was a very unpleasant place to be, exposed to the enemy observers, and down in the valley with the mountains towering practically
all around us, we felt naked. The valley was saturated with Allied artillery of every calibre imaginable, and we knew
that the enemy had the coordinates of every battery accurately plotted on his maps.
Our gun positions were carefully camouflaged, the daytime traffic kept to a minimum and so on, as we tried
to pretend that we were not there. It didn't work. In one day, my battery received 76, 105 mm calibre shells right smack upon
the gun position with the result that three of our four guns were put out of action (but replaced within two days) although
no one was hurt thanks to the addition of an extra couple of layers of sandbags over and above what the French gunners had
placed upon their dugouts.
The night of the main Allied attack against German positions came on the 11th of May, 1944, and found me
on top of Monte Castellone as a forward artillery observer. This experience I will recount in greater detail.
Seven Days on Monte Castellone
Before the Battle: April 22 - 29, 1944
In order not to have any personal things that could identify a soldier if captured, I left my diary at our
gun positions (GP). In spite of that, I was somehow able to scribble a few notes about the more thrilling moments to enable
me to arrange them in proper sequence in my diary later.
On April 22nd our regiment, the 6th Field Artillery, was to move into the GP vacated that evening by the
Free French unit. The road we had to take to reach the destination was bad enough during the day but was a nightmare in the
dark. Previous reconnaissance made during the day proved totally useless at night. However, thanks to the Military Police
(MP), both Polish and English, we managed to make our GP safely and before daybreak. Failing to do so would have had unimaginable
consequences as this was the only road leading to the Cassino area and had to be kept open to keep the heavy traffic moving
day and night. Needless to say, the road was shelled frequently and any vehicle that had the misfortune to get hit was immediately
pushed off the road and over the precipice. At night the traffic moved slowly, bumper to bumper, but in the daytime the MPs
cleverly directed it at varying intervals to enable greater speed to cover the exposed areas which were vulnerable to German
observation and shelling.
On the morning of April 23rd my four guns were safely (?) in place, camouflaged, and the men in their dugouts
were resting after the harrowing experience on the road the night before.
Later on I had a good chance to look around the valley and what I saw took my breath away. We had heard
some horror stories about the exposed GPs and the towering mountains surrounding the valley which gave the enemy a perfect
view of our positions. We were the proverbial "sitting ducks" ready for the enemy's pleasure.
Soon it had become obvious why we were so crammed in. There in the valley the Allies had assembled over
800 artillery pieces. There was little elbow room left.
The enemy was well dug in, occupying all vantage points, giving them the best possible defence, which so
far had proved to be impregnable. The weirdest feeling was the impression that they could see right into our dugouts. We couldn't
shake off this feeling no matter how hard we tried, in all the time we were there. To give us some protection from observation
a smoke screen had been provided as it had been for the infantry to give it a chance to be resupplied with food, water and
ammunition, but it didn't help much. Smoke or no smoke, the Germans had their own systems and timetables for the harassment
of our troops down in the valley and on the slopes of the mountains already in our hands. During the battle itself, some
18,000 smoke candles were used.
The dominating mountain was Monte Caira with a number of lesser mountains such as Passo Corno, Monte Castellone
and many more in the area. Slightly to the left of our GP was Monte Cassino and the Abbey, or rather a gruesome pile of rubble
with one wall still standing, a painful testimony to this senseless barbarism. I could see part of what once used to be the
town of Cassino, another pile of rubble, completely destroyed, and around all that devastation were the trees, leafless
and burned by shellfire, stretching their stumps skyward as if praying for mercy. My first reaction was to compare it to the
picture on the cover of Emily Bronte's book Wuthering Heights. Very eerie.
Our 2nd Battery of four guns, the very popular "25 pounders," had been allotted a very bad location close
to a bend in the road. It was bad because the bend is on the map and is thus more easily identified by its coordinates.
This road served as a supply route and was very busy, especially at night, attracting enemy fire and interrupting our sleep,
not to mention being a dangerous threat to our lives. Soon we found how much the Germans liked this bend in the road. They
kept up the shelling day and night, sometimes a single shell, sometimes several. They knew that we were there and it was a
matter of time before we caught their attention and got clobbered. Sure enough, they discovered our position on the second
day and lobbed one shell which hit our #1 gun, destroying its mechanism but fortunately, hurting no one. But the following
day they shortened their range and lobbed a few shells that landed close to where my dugout was, with one shell exploding
close to the entrance, throwing a lot of dirt inside. Again, no damage was done. We were beginning to believe we were lucky
and hoped that our luck would last. The troops were getting a little cocky, saying "Shucks, I wasn't afraid at all," and getting
careless too. That had to be stopped before it went too far.
Meanwhile, the Fire Control Centres (FCC) were very busy checking and rechecking their targets and the timetables
to be followed on a signal from the Artillery Group Centre (AGC) on the attack day and hour not yet known to us. From the
general plans we knew about a massive artillery barrage to be laid down on the German defence lines prior to the infantry
advance, but that was all we knew at the GP level.
On April 29 we were again chosen for target practice by a German howitzer (105mm) battery. Several shells
landed in the vicinity of my dugout. My companion and battery commander, Lt. Jan (Janek) Urbanec happened to be playing his
little mouth organ and never missed a note. He would later brag that the shelling never bothered him at all. I didn't believe
him then, but later had several occasions to change my mind about him. He was a cool one indeed.
During the shelling, I was comfortably stretched out on my camp cot, having placed my helmet over my feet
which were closer to the entrance and more exposed to shrapnel. We could feel the earth tremble and hear odd bits and pieces
falling on the roof of our dugout. A little too close for comfort for me but because I had ordered extra sandbags placed at
every dugout, I felt confident that we had adequate protection against the 105mm shells. The heavier calibres, such as the
155mm, would be another story.
Some of the men had problems with their nerves during and following the shelling. Our GP officer, 2nd Lt.
Kazik Baczewski, had a really hard time and soon was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, though he was the one we had expected
to be a tower of strength. A whimpering officer is a bad example for the troops. His dugout partner, 2nd Lt. Tosiek Bartoszewicz,
took it all rather well. He was quiet and cool and slept a lot (one way of handling fear). Our leader, Lt. Urbanec, kept shooting
his mouth off, telling us that he wasn't afraid at all. Bull! I don't believe there was a single one of us who was free of
fear, including myself. It was a matter of self control.
Yesterday, I wrote to Hanka, just a few words to tell her that I loved her very much. I tried to tell her
not to worry about me, that I was still all in one piece and was looking forward to seeing her soon. What a miserable little
letter but it was all I was able to say, hoping she would understand. And she did. It was a blessing to have a dear person
like Hanka to "talk" to, to bolster my spirits in these times of stress and uncertainty.
April 30, 1944
We had beautiful weather those last few days. I was wearing shorts and sunning myself in a sheltered place
away from those spying eyes in the mountains all around us. I suspected the Germans were doing the same thing because the
daily shelling seemed to have eased up a bit.
I was not too happy about things in my unit today due to a falling out with Tosiek. It was bound to happen
sooner or later because he was resentful of me due to my background. In spite of the harsh exchange of words, I did hope that
it would clear the air and things would come back to normal. There was no room for personal animosities when we had a
war to fight. I had the sudden urge to get away for a little while, so I grabbed a motorcycle and went to visit Halszka and Marysia,
Hanka's two closest friends, just to talk and maybe get some goodies from them. They had no goodies but we talked a lot. Halszka
wanted to know everything about Kazik and Marysia everything about her Czesio, the regimental MD. With empty hands, but otherwise
happy, I went back to my unit. Unfortunately, instead of peace and rest back "home," I found Teodor (2nd Lt. Teodor Urbanowicz)
waiting for me, anxious to share his worries about his fiancee, Jagoda, who was taking the same course as Hanka in Nazareth.
Half listening, half asleep, I wasn't very helpful. He left and I hit the sack.
May 2, 1944
I spent most of the day at the Command Post (CP), going over the targets, timetables, etc. Lots of talk
and loud laughter and too much bad language to cover our nervousness before the big event.
May 4, 1944
This was a sad and miserable day. Alone with my thoughts and Hanka's photo in front of me, I was trying
very hard to hang on to more cheerful thoughts about our wonderful times together, trying to picture her at school and in
the dormitory. But the pictures faded away in the face of the present reality. Truthfully, I felt wretched, even though from
my position I had a view of the road, the mountains and the valley. It didn't do anything to make me feel any better.
I didn't care anymore that the traffic on the road was being shelled more than usual. I didn't care if they hit me sitting
on the slope. I just didn't give a damn! I wished that I could have Hanka by my side. Bloody war!
Today brought a bit more excitement. The finishing touches were added to the general plan for the artillery
support in our sector which calls for a six hour barrage, moving left to right, then reversing itself, then moving forward
then back again to form a blanket cover over the whole area of the German defences. Six hours! Considering the amount of artillery
pieces multiplied by an average firing rate of 2.5 rounds per minute over a period of 360 minutes, one can get a fair idea
of the power of the support. That's 800 guns x 2.5 rounds/min x 360 minutes = 720,000 rounds! Could any troops remain battle-fit
after that kind of punishment? I hoped that they would either run or surrender and the whole thing would be over. We would
know in a few days.
Some more details leaked out of the regimental HQ today. Among them were the names of the two artillery
observers who would be supporting the ground troops: they were Lt. Urbanec and myself. I had the feeling that Jan (being of
higher rank as I was a 2nd Lt. at the time) would be assigned to the commanding officer of the troops we were supporting and
I would be the front line observer at the Observation Post (OP) on the very top of Monte Castellone. Rank has its privileges
and always has had.
The OP was on the right flank of our Polish sector. To my left was the 5th Kresowa Division (5KDP) and to
its left and facing the Abbey, the 3rd Karpacka Division (3DSK) and to its left, the 13th British Corps. The Polish forces
were occupying a sector which was a deep bulge into the front line so we were at risk of not only fire from
the flank but also from behind!
Also on this day, three letters came from Hanka, three letters together. Oh what joy! Three letters full
of love, hope and more love. She was praying for my safety, assuring me of her firm belief that all would be well, and looking
forward to a wonderful future together. With these letters, yesterday's bad mood simply vanished. The magic of love!
Waiting for the Battle to Begin: May 6, 1944
So I'm the one. The top of Monte Castellone will be my home for the next seven days. Jan goes to the infantry
unit command as our liaison officer. He seems to be disappointed. There is more glory at the OP but there is also a good chance
of getting your arse shot off or getting blown off of the mountain.
I'll be leaving for the OP at 21:30 hours with one radio operator and two telephone operators. We are
all excited and nervous. I try to ease the tension by saying silly things to make them laugh. I only partially succeed. Our
vehicle, an American Jeep lovingly nick-named "Lazik," takes us to our first telephone exchange. From there we proceed on
foot, a steep climb right from the start. There is moderate artillery activity and some machine gun fire, from both sides,
just to make things more interesting. In the darkness trigger fingers get very itchy. About half an hour later we reach our
second telephone exchange where we pick up a guide to lead us to our final destination, the OP. He's sure of himself, so it
seems. In spite of the late hour, we are hot and sweat profusely, especially the guys carrying the heavy radios. Soon we are
wet through and through, literally swimming in our own sweat. It's as hot as blazes with no breeze. Nothing is moving. In
spite of the heat I feel surprisingly fit and well. Just a few months ago I was popping quinine pills to stave off malaria.
This is my first real fitness test. So far, so good, but will it last?
In about 30 minutes we reach the cavalry HQ, the unit we are supporting. Our Captain is there and gives me
some very general instructions, bringing me up to date on the local situation and we're off again in the direction of the
OP. The path gets steeper and steeper. Climbing gets slower and harder. We are out of breath and have to take frequent breaks.
After about ten minutes our guide is obviously and hopelessly lost. Now what? Blundering about might be deadly. There
are mines all over. Paths had been cleared of them and marked with white tape for safety but those had been shot up by enemy
fire and thrown about, no longer marking clean ground. Luck was with us when we bumped into a corporal who knew the way to
the OP and offered to be our new guide. He could not lead us all the way though so eventually he left us to continue the rest
of the way on our own. Soon we found ourselves in an area full of our own troops and some of them were able to direct us to
our OP where we arrived more than two hours late.
The "resident observer," Cadet-officer Tomasz Plodowski, was impatiently waiting for us. He looked very,
very tired after his seven day stint. In the morning he's going to show me the targets and generally introduce me to the routine
at the OP. A thought flashed through my mind: will I look like him after my seven days up here? Perhaps. During Tomasz's stint
there was no large scale action in this sector, but I'm here for the main event. Right now all we care about is getting
some rest, leaving Tomasz in charge until I can take over in the morning. Too tired to do anything, all four new arrivals
collapse on the ground of what seems to be a natural cave, cavernous, dark and smelly. Awfully smelly, a stinking hole in
fact, but it looks solid and safe. We hope. The entrance to the cave, which serves as a shelter for our team, looks away from
the enemy, which I consider an advantage. This is not the actual OP. To get to the actual OP we had to crawl on all fours
some 25 metres up the mountain without any natural cover for protection. Before drifting into an uneasy sleep, I made a strong
resolution to clean up this pigsty first thing in the morning.
May 7 and 8, 1944
Tomasz and I leave the cave at first light to look over the targets. It's not going to be easy. Thick fog
is swirling around and covers the ground down below. I can sense how eager Tomasz is to leave and get off this mountain while
it is still safe to do so. He picks up his things, wishes me good luck and is off.
The OP is a small, roofless stone structure like most buildings in Italy. It offers no protection from mortar
shells which have high and steep trajectories and are used most successfully in mountainous terrain. When fired at a target,
they drop onto it straight from above without warning. Tomasz informed me that he had the misfortune to be shelled twice,
the shells falling all around the OP in a ring but not one fell inside. Bloody scary it was. The French, here before us, dug
a very narrow slit trench large enough for a single person. This afforded no protection to which the dead body of a French
officer still awaiting removal and burial attested. Nice company, thank you. But one gets used to it if one lives long enough.
Because of the morning fog, I have time to think about improving the safety of the OP. As any movements
here appear to attract shelling, I decide to rearrange the large stones on the back wall in such a way that it will be difficult
to see any movement. I'll do that tonight while the team down in the cave is busy with some serious housecleaning. Right now
I have a splendid opportunity to study the prevailing winds, their direction and velocity. My main purpose here is to provide
our assault troops with an extra smokescreen to protect their positions. But from what I have seen this morning the task is
not going to be easy. There are many small valleys and passes through which the fog constantly moves. The problem is how to judge
the air currents and use them effectively to confuse the enemy, but not our own troops, with smoke. I know I'll have to find
the right places to lay the smokescreen thus modifying the elaborate plans prepared by Regimental HQ. The plan looks good
on paper but will it work in the field? Who knows? If it doesn't, I'll have to improvise somehow. It's not going to be easy.
Please God, help me!
May 9, 1944
Cadet-officer Marian Gawiak joins me during the night. I'm very pleased to have him around in situations
like this as he is cheerful, courageous and always ready to help. The weather is similar to yesterday's which gives us more
opportunities to study the air currents. Slowly I'm beginning to develop a safe way of moving about, keeping low to give the
impression that the OP is unmanned and abandoned, but I'm probably not fooling anyone as this is surely the best seat in the
house. In any case, I'll continue to do nothing likely to invite mortar fire if at all possible. I am soon to find out how
wrong I was. Mindful of my resolution, I move stealthily from one porthole in the stone wall to another, studying the terrain
laid out in front of and below me. It appears to be broken up, with steep slopes and lots of small gullies, and is very rocky
and rugged. Marian keeps low too. He sits on the ground and entertains me with the latest stories of his exploits with the
young Italian girls. They are funny due to the language difficulties for Marian, which obviously presented no obstacles whatsoever.
Action was his forte. I only half listen to his stories but they provide a necessary relief and soothe my nerves, helping
me to forget the potentially deadly reality of our situation.
From time to time I pick a target from my list of targets and fire a few rounds to determine the air currents.
Suddenly we are rudely interrupted. Plop-plop, bang-bang, plop! Mortars! The shells land around but not inside our hut. Thank
God! They didn't get us, not this time. We are sitting ducks no matter what we do or think - 5 shells, 3 duds and 2 bursts.
So this is what mortar shells sound like. Sneaky things. They come down straight from above without warning. We have no protection
against them. I don't like it, not one bit. The thought of one landing inside the hut is downright scary. I must get some
sandbags around myself so that if the shells find their way into my "castle," only a direct hit on the top of my head
will hurt me. I have to wait for darkness. We'll get bags and fill them with dirt. This week is definitely going to be no
My knees and elbow begin to object to the rough treatment they get during the crawl from the cave to the
OP, with many more trips to go. I must get some rags for cushioning but where from? Off the dead French officer? Not bloody
likely! I must remember to take some provisions with me to the OP to reduce the number of trips.
But what about the call of nature? I'll have to train myself for nightly excursions only. But can I last
that long? I'll try anyway since my life could depend on it. Daytime relief is out. Too dangerous. This is probably what bothered
Tomasz and contributed to his exhaustion. He suffered all day, every day for 7 days. That's no good. I have to find a place
to do our "thing" safely for as long as we are up here. I will look for this place at night.
May 10, 1944
We get another taste of mortar shelling today. Fewer duds and more bursts but again, no harm done. With
more protection from the sandbags around me, I feel a little better, a little safer. Who am I kidding? Myself, of course.
Just trying to shore up my morale, my courage and above all, to save face. I know that I'm being watched by my own men. They
expect me to behave like an officer is supposed to behave in the face of danger. It gives them confidence in his leadership
and judgement where their very lives are at stake.
We are not alone here. There is also an officer from the infantry in charge of a mortar platoon, 2nd Lt.
Cz. K., a P. Eng., a specialist in shipbuilding in peace time. He is exceptionally efficient at his work, cool and cheerful.
Unfortunately he's being replaced by another officer, a school teacher in peace time. He doesn't look too hot.
There are some general and unreliable rumours about the "push." It appears that it will take place on the
11th of May. That's tomorrow. I'm glad it will happen while I'm here at the OP. Meanwhile there's another change in my backup.
Marian is going down and Cadet-officer Adam Kostecki is joining me. Adam is more mature than Marian, a serious and reliable
man. Glad to have him aboard. The tension is building up, one can feel it, and one can see it on the faces of the little group
up here. I have received no instructions from my Commanding Officer (CO) but they will come in time, I'm sure.
In the meantime, I'm trying to enjoy the peace and quiet of the spring nights, sitting alone at the OP,
thinking of... Hanka. Thinking about those wonderful times with her under the star-filled Iraqi sky relaxes me and takes my
mind off of this stressful situation. I hope it will enable me to meet what tomorrow has to throw at me. The stillness of
the night is interrupted occasionally by bursts of machine gun fire from both sides and some artillery fire, mostly ours.
The Germans must be saving their ammunition for bigger things. Smart.
May 11, 1944
This is it! Today is the day the offensive starts. The exact time I don't know yet; it's kept secret for
as long as possible to avoid tipping off the enemy. The main thrust will be to the left of me. The troops on my right will
launch a mock attack, creating a diversion with a lot of noise but little artillery support. The cavalry officer is talking
about heavy U.S. Air Force involvement along the entire front in support of our advance. It's a very serious moment for me
to be involved in such a gigantic effort by the multi-national forces. I hope I'm up to it.
Today is not much different from previous days with its normal artillery and mortar activity. I too am trying
to do the usual, calling in for our artillery to send a few shells over to the German mortar positions and other targets.
Nothing out of the ordinary all day long. I am anxiously awaiting nightfall and "zero hour," the time the barrage is to begin.
There is some excitement during the day, when a single artillery gun suddenly opens fire on our infantry.
I have a hell of a time to even approximate the range and the direction of firing because of the echo effect caused by the
surrounding mountains which makes the sound come at you from many directions thus making triangulation difficult, if not impossible.
It would be easier to locate at night because the muzzle flashes would give away its position. Later, it did fire many times
that night but there were no muzzle flashes! They must be using flashless gunpowder. I am helpless and furious. I want to
help the guys under fire and at the same time show them what I can do but, alas, I can't do a thing. Just to have the "last
word" I have several likely areas shelled from areas selected from the map. Whether it is effective or not I will never know
but we did not here further from them today.
Finally, late in the evening, the word came: "Zero hour is 23:00 tonight." Hurrah! Right away I get busy
placing more sandbags around mefor better protection against mortar fire, but I am still without overhead protection. I'll
have to pray that the mortar rounds land anywhere but on top of my head. If they do, the end of one Polish artillery officer
will be quick and painless. So be it. Long live Poland!
Now I think about my boys down in the cave below the OP. Up here I'm relatively safe and protected but they
won't enjoy such luxury while they are trying to keep our communication lines open at all costs. That means going out to look
for severed telephone lines among the hundreds of identical wires running from the front line to their command posts (CP).
We do have a radio inside the cave but it is not the most up-to-date model. Our radio operators are human and can make mistakes
so the onus still rests on the good old telephone.
I have company at the OP tonight, a mortar man and also a cavalry officer from the unit my regiment is supporting.
My orders are to lay a barrage some 400 metres in front of the cavalry regiment's front lines at 01:00 hours. They are going
to fake an attack but are not going to advance. Its just to keep the Germans occupied and aware that they may be in for a
surprise. Personally I'm skeptical, but orders have to be followed regardless. My companions keep asking me if this barrage
so close to their positions, with its low-flying shells, will clear our heads safely. I reply that I don't know and we'll
have to wait and see. Not too happy with my answer, they stop asking questions.
It is 22:45 hours. Tension is building. Our troops are poised for the attack on the slopes facing the valley.
One can feel their presence: a mass of humanity soon to be thrown forward to be shot at, wounded or killed. I feel guilty
sitting here relatively well protected but this is my job. In order to do it effectively, I have to be alive.
"Zero hour" arrives at 23:00 and the first to fire their great guns are the heavy artillery from away back
behind the smaller calibre guns. A second or two later, pandemonium breaks loose. The valley suddenly fills with light, the
air overhead is full of thousands of shells, each with its own characteristic whine, ranging from the piercing high pitched
"ppheew" of the smaller calibre to the "shshshwwwshswsh" of the heavy ones. Behind me, a sea of fire, changing night into
day. In front of me, a truly spectacular fireworks. What an unbelievable sight! Being in front of over 800 guns, I'm exposed
to the continuous booming noise which makes talk impossible. We are reduced to sign language.
I go berserk. I keep egging them on to fire more and more, to sock it to the bloody bastards, to give them
Hell! I soon have to give up shouting as I lose my voice and can't hear myself anyway. I must have lost my senses. I find
myself out of the OP, next to the the other two. We are all behaving in the same crazy way. For the time being it's safe as
there is no answering fire from the Germans. They have taken shelter in their safe dugouts and are likely playing cards, waiting
for the barrage to cease. Now it's time to calm down and start behaving like an officer again.
Gradually I simmer down but I continue to egg on our artillery to give the enemy more and more punishment.
Now I can safely scan the area in front of me, without being shot at, as well as the terrain to my left where the main action
is going to take place. There is actually very little to see due to the smoke from the explosions. Only the peaks of the lower
hills are visible. Even the shell bursts are no longer visible, smothered by the smoke. Soon even those that explode closer
to my position also become invisible.
The intensity of the fire slowly lessens. The slower rate of fire saves the guns from overheating. They
have been firing steadily for over an hour now, at a rate of from four to two and soon down to one round per minute. Some
guns are taken out of action to give them a chance to cool down and for the crew to get a little rest. After all, this shelling
is scheduled to last until 05:00 hours. Then the bombers are to come in. Will they be accurate enough not to bomb us? From
above, with all the smoke, they will be able to see nothing.
Two hours of constant noise makes me tired and sleepy. And bored! Suddenly I can hear German Spandaus (rapid
firing machine guns). Are our troops advancing? The firing seems to be coming from the 3 DSK sector facing the Abbey. In this
pandemonium, it's hard to tell.
There's a cry for a medic from my left, shortly followed by more cries for help, then several flares light
up the sky in the 5 KDP sector. A red flare means "Danger" or a request for an artillery barrage to protect or repel an attack
on a predetermined sector of supported troops. This is crazy! Who is attacking? The Germans can't possibly have left their
entrenched positions where they are invulnerable. Looking to my left where our troops are supposed to be poised for the attack
at 06:00, I can clearly see many shell bursts. By God! They are under enemy fire, either from ahead, from the flank or from
behind. From all directions! I don't know. There's so much noise I can't tell. What's happening? What a mess! What a
bloody awful mess!
Suddenly a major from one of the units under fire runs up roaring at me: "You s.o.b. you're killing my boys!
Stop it! Now! Now!"
I manage to answer: "They're not our guns, major sir. They're the Germans'."
But he's out of control: "Stop it this instance, you killer!" he yells.
Now I'm getting pissed off: "Sir, I can't do anything to stop it. Our Fire Centres are carefully checking
every artillery unit at this very moment, both within our Corps and the British too. This is not our doing. I'm certain of
May 12, 1944
The red flares keep going up all the time, there are cries for help coming from all directions. I'm not
as calm as may have seemed. The major is still raving at me. Now he is pulling a gun on me! Holy Mary, Mother of God, help
me! Help comes immediately from the other two OP officers who place themselves between him and me and try to calm him down.
Slowly, very slowly, the poor fellow turns away and vanishes into this terrible night. That was too close for comfort. I hope
I'll never look down the wrong end of a gun barrel ever again.
I found out later that it was the 14th Infantry Battalion that got clobbered and had to be withdrawn and
There is still a great deal of machine gun fire on my left from both sides. Our guns are slow with a "clak-clak-clak"
sound but the German Spandaus go "prrrrrrrrrrt-prrrrrrrrrrrt-prrrrrrrt." The mortars are busy too, and our artillery is still
maintaining the original plan though firing at a slower rate. It seems to me that our troops are advancing or trying to but
I thought that they were to advance following the air bombardment after 06:00 hours. What happened? Perhaps the unexpected
shelling from the flanks and behind forced the divisional commanders to change plans and give orders to advance. But this
is only what I think, sitting on top of the mountain. I'll find out more about what really happened after the action. I hope.
Strangely, I have an uneasy feeling that soon I'm going to get my share of enemy attention, either in the
form of mortar or artillery fire. With this premonition in mind, I check carefully how to function best while under fire.
Within a quarter of an hour or so it comes, almost from behind me and slightly to my right. It's artillery fire, with its
flat trajectory. This I prefer to the mortars with their vertical descent. Now I'm worried about my men in the cave below
us where the shells could enter directly since its entrance faces the direction of the incoming fire.
Boom! And another one. This one is almost a bull's eye. The next one was high , two more were very close
and the sixth one over my head and into the German positions. Now I have a couple of minutes reprieve before the next series
of six rounds. Quickly I make a call to my Regimental HQ to report the situation up here. The CO comes on the line asking
me to determine two things - where are they coming from and where are they landing? I report that in the din it's impossible
to pick up a single gun report (the explosion as the artillery cannon fires a shell) or even a number of them but
that they seem to be coming from behind and from the left of our own gun positions. Before the Colonel can comment on that,
the next shelling of my OP begins, some falling below and some flying overhead. The line goes dead. My lineman goes out to
repair it. When the connection is restored I talk to the Colonel again. He tells me that in his opinion the enemy is trying
to put me out of action or make my job difficult. Difficult, try impossible! All I say is "Yes, sir" to which he replies "Good
luck, Lieutenant." After my reply of thanks, he hangs up just before the line is hit again.
Now I know the game and the stakes involved. But I'm stubborn. When there is a chance to get down to the
cave safely (?), my two companions head out, while I stay on. "You want to be a dead hero," they say as they leave. Somehow
I feel better without them around. I can call aloud to Hanka and no one can hear me. Calling her name gives me strength and
courage, soothes my nerves. I can think and function more effectively.
Now I feel a lot better. In between the shelling my thoughts go to my three communication men down in the
cave. By superhuman efforts and frequent line repairs, they keep the line open to the Regimental Fire Control Centre. In the
last hour or so, the line has gone dead several times and each time, knowing that they will be under fire out there, they
never hesitated and took turns at the dangerous work. Russian roulette! What a great sense of duty. If I get back, I will
recommend them for medals.
Here I must confess to gross dereliction of duty in the face of the enemy, I dosed off. Most unprofessional
but understandable under the circumstances. This bliss lasted about an hour or so, uninterrupted, undisturbed and refreshing.
It's now close to daybreak. The mortar man comes up from the cave and tells me that the barrage will soon
stop and at 06:00 hours the bombers are supposed to arrive. But something has gone wrong. When 06:00 hours arrives, our artillery
is still maintaining a fairly decent rate of fire. It's 07:00 but still no bombers. At 07:45 there are still no bombers and
the artillery fires continuously. What's going on?
My thoughts are on the gun crews. How tired they must be but they have done a magnificent job. Now it's
past 08:00 and I am ordered to place a "flat barrage" in front of our cavalry units. I don't know why but I follow orders.
It lasts three minutes and as soon as it's over comes the return fire, aimed right at me. This time it's a single, high velocity
gun, placing its shells all around me. Some "wheeeeeeeeeets" over my head end up in the valley hitting their own lines. By
now I'm getting used to this kind of shelling because, even if it's on target, it explodes on the ground spraying me
with dirt and stones. Last night and this morning the mortar fire has shifted away from me, possibly onto the poorly
protected infantry. They are even more vulnerable than the OP.
I've been under steady fire since 07:00 hours and now it's close to 09:00. In spite of all this shelling,
my telephone lines are still intact. It's a blessed respite for my boys down below. The cavalry boys on the other hand have
no relief from the rear shelling. They still blame our own artillery for the short range shelling and for killing and wounding
their comrades. I learn to ignore them, tired of repeating that it is not us but the Germans who are firing at them. They
just won't listen.
Soon I have another chance to speak to my colonel. I report my practically hopeless situation, that I'm
useless to the regiment and so on but what he says renews my spirits, that is, to just hang on and that it can't last forever.
And I do keep hanging on, getting tired of the noise, dust and constant explosions around me.
Just as I was starting to feel better about the situation there came a message from the CO of the cavalry
requesting me to commence laying a barrage. I look through my peepholes down into the valley where the cavalry want the
barrage, all the time wondering why the request hasn't been routed via our liaison officer, Captain M. This request is crazy.
I haven't been given their exact positions. I don't know where exactly they want me to lay the barrage. Besides, I can't see
a thing in front of me. The valley is filled with swirling fog mixed with gun smoke. Visibility is a big fat zero.
For the first time, I'm really scared. I'm helpless, can see nothing and can't defend myself. The only thing
I could consider if the Krauts (slang for Germans) attack in my direction and overrun the OP is to
call on my own battery and bring our fire down on myself. It's heroic and has been done before but...
Miraculously, my telephone line is still working. I can hear Teodor and Janek and sometimes Wacek B. All
are working feverishly to locate the rogue gun that is making my life so interesting. All in vain. My OP is NOT on anybody's
target list; therefore it is not our gun. It is a German gun, most likely the famous 88mm beauty. Meanwhile it is making my
life Hell. All of a sudden I can detect a change in the noise pattern. There is a new heavy element, likely caused by German
heavy artillery, and the heavy detonations (shell explosions) come from the 5th KDP sector. Poor fellows! Our
infantry soldiers are completely in the open and unable to dig in because of the rocky terrain. The heavy boom-boom-boom again
comes from behind our positions. Before the battle, air reconnaissance reports located German heavy artillery positions around
Biaggio and Belmonte with some lighter artillery units around Terelle. These units are now in action against our troops. What
a bloody, bloody mess!
Enemy artillery fire is pouring onto our positions from all directions. It is impossible to distinguish
theirs from ours. I feel certain I know where this single high velocity gun is located but is it ours or theirs? Whenever
it fires I can, with some degree of certainty, isolate its position by its signature sound. By looking ahead at the area
where the shells are landing, I am able to trace their trajectories back to their origin. At one point I become confused as
there are, not one, but four shells flying over my head. What are these four guns doing? They seem to be in an area where
the cavalry wanted the barrage laid to close the entrance to the gorge right in front of them. Maybe. Why didn't they tell
me about it? It's all so confusing. Is this the way battles are fought?
Meanwhile that single gun continues to make my position miserable. It's been going on for almost four hours
without let-up. Four hours waiting for a direct hit that will put me out of action for good. Quite a strain on my nerves but
so far I've been lucky. The shells have landed either below the OP or over it in the gorge. God only knows why and it's His
secret. This reminds me of an old Polish saying when they went into battle against the Tatars or Turks, the infidels: "Fortuna
variabilis, Deus miriabilis" freely translated as Luck is changeable, God is inscrutable. Funny the things that come to mind
at times like this.
Our guns have been firing for the last ten hours straight. What a gigantic effort this is.
News reaches us that the attack has bogged down, that our troops have suffered heavy losses and are unable
to advance but are not retreating from what they have gained. They are under constant artillery fire from practically all
sides, pinned down and exposed to mortar fire, shot at by those murderous Spandaus whenever they make the slightest move.
They are exhausted, thirsty, hungry and low on ammunition. They will have to wait until nightfall for any relief. What a position
to be in!
I wish my companion from the mortar platoon could either control his obviously frayed nerves or get the
hell out of here. He's cowering in the corner, protecting his head with his arms every time a blasted gun sends a round overhead.
I am scared myself but am somehow able to control my own fear. I feel sorry for him at times but now he's getting on my nerves. He
must of read my mind because during a break in the shelling he scoots down to the cave. Good. Now I am alone, but not for
long. Here comes his replacement, a young cadet officer of course. That's what young men are here for; they have stronger
A peek at the situation in front of me reveals nothing but smoke and fog swirling around, moving north,
being met by easterly currents. I begin to wonder about my role here: to control and direct a smokescreen for the protection
of our troops. The plan looked fine on the drawing board at the Fire Control Centre a day earlier.
I have not been informed about the situation in front and to the left of us but I can sense what is going
on. For instance, when the cadet officer from the mortar platoon tries to move sandbags, he draws a long blast from a machine
gun and barely manages to duck in time to avoid being hit in the head. We haven't been shot at from that direction until
now, thus confirming my uneasy feeling that we are being more closely watched by the Krauts.
With the increased shelling of our OP, the telephone lines get hit often and need frequent repairs. The
men are almost dead on their feet. To ease the pressure on them, some attempts have been made to send men up from below whenever
the lines need repair but when the shelling gets too close, they have to turn back or lose their lives. On top of everything,
one of the shells explodes very close to the cave's entrance, filling it with a cloud of dust and dirt and putting the radio
out of action. Luckily, no one was hit.
At times I have no communication at all. If I order the men to repair the line as shells are landing
near them, it will amount to certain death. I take my time, leaving the decisions to the men themselves. I'm sure they will
do the job when conditions improve and they don't let me down. I am very proud of them and tell them so. They are very pleased.
Around noon a miracle happens. THE gun stops shelling us for good. Now that we can breathe more easily,
my first thought is: "Thanks Hania, my love, thanks to you I'm still alive. I love you. Stay with me my darling, you wonderful
May 13, 1944
Our guns are still firing away. How much longer can they last? How much longer can the men last? No one
has answers to these questions, not until we leave the front line and go south for a well deserved rest and to lick our wounds
both physical and psychological. Right now I am dead beat and ready to retire down below to the cave for a rest. It has been
a long vigil. Adam comes up and I leave the OP. I haven't slept for three nights, not counting that hour on the 11th during
the main barrage. I manage to get down safely and immediately fall into a deep sleep, waking up four hours later, fresh as
I wake up to a breakfast prepared by Corporal Bronislaw Karalus, the radio operator. After breakfast I slither
up to the OP to relieve Adam. Checking the situation in front of me and finding that nothing has changed, I relax.
After a while I'm at the peepholes again. To my great surprise and amazement I see a German soldier coming
up over the crest of the hill right in front of me, stopping there, looking around as if he were checking the weather. Then
he unbuttons his pants and relieves himself facing us. The cheek! Is he nuts or something? Then he does up his pants and sticks
his behind at us and slowly disappears down the valley. What an amazing spectacle. Surprisingly no one shot at him although,
I'm sure, many watched his foolhardy act.
There is less activity on the front now. Both sides are exhausted. There is some activity in the British
sector where some air support is visible. There are rumours of hand to hand fighting. The only thing I can testify to is that,
judging by the intensity of the enemy fire, there is increased activity in that sector.
Tonight Teodor is coming up to relieve me sometime after 20:00 hours. Our troops try to make some gains.
I get busy with some artillery support but due to the darkness I can't see anything. Shortly before midnight, poor Teodor
staggers in, his face pale, drained of blood and colour, complaining about his heart being ready to quit on him. Half an hour
later my men and I leave the cave. What took us hours to get up takes under 40 minutes to get down. Sweaty, hot, unshaven
and famished, but deliriously happy to be back in one piece. With a happy yodel from me, our band rides in. For us it is over,
After Monte Cassino
We found out later that the awesome, opening, 6 hour artillery barrage through the night of May 11
and 12 (and, for that matter, all of the subsequent shelling), had done little damage to the well dug-in defenders. When
our troops went forward to the attack, the Germans and their weapons simply came out of their hiding places and instantly
pinned down our troops with murderous machine gun, mortar and artillery fire. Our men stayed pinned down for the rest of that
day of the 12th of May, until the closing darkness enabled them to either withdraw or dig in. When the battle ended on the
18th, I had a chance to see the bunkers in which the German defenders had endured the barrages. Nothing short of an atom bomb
would have destroyed them. Rocks, sand bags, railroad ties and steel I-beams
further protected the bunkers.
After Monte Cassino the character of the war changed. The front line kept moving as we advanced and the
Germans and Italians retreated. Fighting was fierce, with the German defences cleverly thought out with the terrain very much
in their favour. Endless rivers, canals and mountains made the defence easier, creating many problems for our advancing troops.
But advance we did, slowly but surely.
When the hostilities came to a temporary standstill around Christmas, 1944, our regiment dug in in the area
of a small town called Brisighella, near Faenza. During this hiatus, an important event in my life took place. Hanka and I
were married on January 18, 1945, in a large church, with guns firing a salute (in the general direction of the enemy). The
bride, attended by her best and oldest friends as bridesmaids, Halszka Motoszko and Marysia Podobinska, was given away by
Col. Obtulewicz. Majors Kikal and Stypulkowski stood by me as ushers. Thanks to Halszka and her mysterious abilities (with
help from her future husband, Captain Bronek Olech) around the Divisional HQ, we had the pleasure of listening to some very
fine music provided by the Divisional HQ military band. After the ceremony, the newlyweds retired to an upstairs room at the
house of a local "contadino" (farmer) for a seven day honeymoon. After that, back to the grindstone.
The spring of 1945 found us near Ancona, fighting the Gothic Line, the last serious German defence line
in Italy. Once we overcame that obstacle, the Corps moved on towards the city of Bologna and the canal before it called Gaiano.
Here, with help from the British, who provided several of their flame-throwing tanks called crocodiles, our men could more
easily flush the defenders out of their holes. The U.S. Airforce meanwhile, dropped hundreds of small anti-personnel
bombs on OUR most forward battalions poised for the attack. Nothing boosts one's morale like "friendly fire." The see-saw
battle raged for days, no holds barred. It was brutal on both sides until on the fourth day, it was all over, our boys the
My involvement was, as usual, with the front line platoons and our armoured cavalry. "Old Man" Obtulewicz
was very pleased with the part I had played in this battle, which turned out to be our last engagement of the war.
On May 8, 1945, Germany surrendered unconditionally, and a few weeks later I found myself in front of our
chief, General Anders, who pinned a Virtuti Militari Cross to my tunic.
Ravenna, Cervia, Milan and Naples
Our next orders were to perform mopping up duties more in the character of occupational than fighting forces.
For example, the area around Bologna was very Communized, and to keep the lid on the Italian Communists our troops, with their
known sentiments towards Commies, were kept there in full view.
But something else, more important by far, was heavy in our hearts. In the Yalta and Potsdam Treaties, Britain
and the United States, our Allies, gave one half of our country's territory to the USSR to form the new republics
of Ukraine and Byelorus. This territory is where our homes lay. It was shocking. It knocked out the Corps and the morale of
our men plummeted. Only by superhuman efforts was an open rebellion against the British army averted. We all felt the same.
After all that fighting alongside the British and Americans, we were sold into slavery by our own allies. What a tragic situation.
Our 5th Kresowa Division, made up mostly of men from the eastern part of Poland who had barely survived
the gulags and prisons of the Soviet Union, almost fell apart in anger and frustration. We officers had nothing, absolutely
nothing to offer our troops in terms of regaining their confidence and trust in our Allies.
The weeks spent in Ravenna and Cervia were full of cautious speculations regarding our future. The beautiful,
albeit deserted, Adriatic beaches were almost lost on us. Milan offered very little in terms of excitement, except that it
was in Milan where the orders came to return the equipment, trucks, guns, etc. to a depot south of Milan to be crushed into
scrap. We wept. The feelings of hopelessness deeply penetrated our minds and souls as we came to terms with the fact that,
what friends and relatives had survived the war in eastern Poland were now to be lost once again to the Soviet system, and
that we would not be able to return home.
In September 1946, we left Milan by rail transport to Naples where we boarded a ship to Southhampton, England
and in 1947, Hanka gave birth to a daughter whom we promptly named Barbara after the Patron Saint of Artillery men. We emigrated
to Canada in 1955.
4. In Memory of my Father Antoni Lubniewski
by son Steffan Lubniewski
My father was born on October 29, 1918 in the village of Malmygi, parish of Kurzeniec, District of Wilejka,
County of Wilno to parents Feliks and Weronika (nee Buter). As a young man he worked on his father's farm while apprenticing
as a fitter. He lived through World War Two and settled in England.
Antoni managed to save a large number of documents and memorablia from that era.
Please CLICK HERE to view a selection of items from his collection.
On April 13, 1940, at 3:00 am in the morning, he was one of eleven family members, parents included, who
were forced at gunpoint by the Russian NKVD to abandon the family farm. They were all transported by sleigh to the local railway
station where they were loaded into cattle wagons, with up to 40 persons crowded into each wagon. The doors were then
shut and they were locked in.
This trainload of Poles was deported to Pawlodar in Kazakhstan. The journey took 18 days and many old
people died along the way.
Antoni, his brother, his brother's wife and his sister were then forced to work in the gold mine at Magkain.
If you did not work or did not meet your assigned quota, you did not get bread. Many starved to death.
Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, Polish prisoners in the prisons and
gulags of the Soviet Empire were officially released on the 30th of July, 1941. Antoni and his brother were
among those released and they intended to join the Polish Army being reformed on Soviet soil in Buzuluk.
Eventually Antoni was able to get away, leaving the rest of his family behind, marching across Russia for three
weeks until he arrived at Panikienda-Ugawoj on March 22, 1942.
He was initially posted to the 1st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment, 10th Infantry Division. The
evacuation of Polish units from the Soviet Union had already begun. Antoni's unit crossed into Iran and thereby came under
British Command, in Antoni's case, as of April 1, 1942. The unit was then transferred to Palestine, by way of Iraq, arriving
there on April 29, 1941. Antoni was posted to the Reserve of the Commander-in-Chief, Polish Army in the Middle East.
With the reorganization of the Polish army, Antoni was transferred to the Workshop Company, 3rd Carpathian
Infantry Division, effective August 18, 1942. He trained with this unit in Iraq, Palestine and Egypt, before being shipped
off to Italy, serving in it until June 20, 1944 when he was reassigned to the Light Aid Detachment (Type A), 6th
Lwowska Infantry Brigade, 5th Kresowa Infantry Division.
On December 11, 1944 he was reassigned once more to the 10th Wolynska Rifle Battalion, finishing his war
service at the headquarters of the 4th Wolynska Infantry Brigade, 5th Kresowa Infantry Division, with the rank
of lance corporal.
He had participated in the entire Italian Campaign and was awarded the Polish Commemorative Monte Cassino
Cross and the Bronze Cross of Merit with Swords as well as the British medals, 1939-45 Star, Italy Star, Defence
Medal and the 1939-45 War Medal.
Antoni was transferred to England with the Polish 2nd Corps and while resident at the Whitley Camp, Sheffield,
was honourably discharged on December 4, 1948.
After going on a training course for the National Coal Board, he worked at the coal face down the Thorseby
Colliery at Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire, until his early death on February 23, 1968 at the age of 49.
Antoni met my mother, Myra Jephson, one of 10 children in a coal mining family, at the Forest Town Miners'
Hostel. They married and started a family. I was born in Clipstone Village and went to work down the Clipstone Colliery straight
out of secondary school. After 24 years, I am now retired.
One uncle, Edward Matulewicz, married my mother's sister. He had been a sergeant in the Polish 1st
Armoured Division. My father's brothers, who were also in the Polish 2nd Corps, did not stay in England. Piotr went back
to Poland while Kazimierz emigrated to Argentina.
5. Private Edward Jurczenko
Edward Jurczenko was born to parents Julian and Jozefa (nee Nikolaj) on September 3, 1922 in Stojanow,
district of Radziechow, county of Tarnopol (now Ukraine).
While residing there and apprenticing as a locksmith, that part of Poland was occupied by the Soviet Union
following the September 17, 1939 invasion and because he was Polish, Edward was deported to the Soviet Union in 1940.
Although Polish prisoners in the Soviet Union were officially released on July 30, 1941, Edward could not
enlist in the reborn Polish army until March 25, 1942. He was posted to the 28th Infantry Regiment, 10th Infantry Division.
Together with the Polish Army units, he was evacuated to Iran, crossed the Soviet-Iranian border and came
under British command effective April 1, 1942. He was transferred to Palestine, via Iraq, arriving on May 7, 1942 where he
was posted to the Reserve of the Commander-in-Chief, Polish Army in the Middle East.
On August 11, 1942, Edward was transferred to the Reserve Centre and seconded on a training course to the
Army Training Centre on the 17th of that month.
On April 3, 1943 Edward was transferred to the 7th Light Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment. He served in
the Middle East until the 2nd Corps was shipped to Italy, participating in the Italian Campaign until the end of the war.
The entire 2nd Corps was then transferred to the United Kingdom. Edward arrived in England on July 27, 1946.
He enlisted in the Polish Resettlement Corps (PRC) and served in the United Kingdom until his discharge on August 20, 1948,
on absorption into industry.
CLICK HERE to visit a gallery of Edward Jurczenko's photos and documents.
6. 2/Lt. Jozef Klimczak, 1st Polish Armoured Division
Fighting in the September Campaign (1939) against the German and Soviet invaders, Jozef Klimczak escaped
Poland and rejoined the Polish army reforming in France.
Following the fall of France in the summer of 1940, Jozef managed to evacuate to Great Britain
where he eventually began to train with the Polish 1st Armoured Division, reaching the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and commanding
an anti-tank platoon.
The Division served in Normandy within the operational command of 1st Canadian Army (General
Crerar), effective August 1, 1944 until May 8, 1945. At various times during the European Campaign, Jozef served alongside
troops of the 2nd Canadian Corps (Lt. Gen. Simonds) or the 1st Canadian Corps (Lt. Gen. Crocker).
Jozef was first wounded at Estrees-la-Campagne in France (August 11/44) then for
a second time at Noord Bosch, Belgium (October 2/44). Following this second wounding he was flown to the United Kingdom to
recover in hospital.
CLICK HERE to visit Jozef's document gallery.
Following his recovery, Jozef attended the London Polytechnic and later, Edinburgh University, following
which he began a successful career in his profession.
7. Karol Rybczynski
War Memoirs, 1939 - 1942
(Translated by son Stanislaw Rybczynski)
Translator's note: My father, Karol Rybczynski, was the owner of two grocery stores (one of which also served
as a wholesale distributor) in Lwow. He also operated an export/import business exporting dried mushrooms by the wagon-loads
to Germany, Switzerland and France and exporting ergot in 5 kg. packages to pharmaceutical companies in Germany, Switzerland,
France and England. He used to import, in season, Jaffa oranges from Palestine and prunes and raisins from Yugoslavia. He
also owned the exclusive distribution rights for all of southern Poland for coffees and teas packaged by the Viennese
firm Julius Meinl, which is still in existence today.
Father was very active both politically and socially. In addition to being a city counsillor on behalf
of the National Party, he was also vice-president of the local Association of Polish Merchants and Industrialists, vice-president
of the War Invalids Association and Chairman of the Catholic Action - Cathedral Chapter.
Our house in Lwow stood at No. 10 Chorazczyzny Street, not more than 60 yards from Akademicka Street. It
was a two story (using the European system of counting stories) stone building. The ground floor housed three street level
stores: a custom men's tailor, a ladies' hairdressing salon and an electrical contractor. We occupied almost the entire first
floor (one story above street level) comprising 3 very large rooms and a balcony facing the front and 2 very large
rooms facing the courtyard, also bathroom, foyer and the kitchen. There was also a gallery running the width of the entire
back facing the courtyard at the end of which was the stairway used by the tradesmen with access to the kitchen. There was
also another toilet, with access from the gallery, used by our maid. One room and a kitchen and toilet were rented by a widow
who lived there with her maid. On the second floor, one above ours (the 2nd story above street level), there
were two apartments rented to a drapery merchant and a doctor. The building was the property of my father. On the ground floor
facing the courtyard there was a small apartment occupied by our concierge. Today the building stands unchanged but neglected
and the stores have been converted into apartments.
On September 22, 1939 I did not open my office and issued instructions to my managers not to
open my two stores. I went to the Polytechnical Institute, which was converted into a field hospital, in which was confined
my younger son Tadeusz, age 16, graduate of the new type of secondary school. He was wounded in both legs by shrapnel fragments.
My son was taking part in the defense of Lwow in a company of scouts and was wounded outside the school of St. Mary Magdalen
after his company was retired from Kortumowka Hill in Kleparow (a suburb of Lwow).
From early morning there were rumours that Gen. Langner, commander of the army corps defending
the city, was faced with the decision to surrender the city to the Bolsheviks in order to avoid any further loss of life,
and he decided to do so; the Soviet Army was supposed to enter the city in the afternoon. On the basis of that, I decided
to bring my son home. The chief doctor of the hospital, Dr. Gruca, gave me permission to remove my son from there. I
then asked the drivers of a few military ambulances which were standing in the courtyard to drive my son home. Regretfully,
they all refused. I then turned to some people I knew, who were standing in the street (the street was quite crowded) asking
for help in carrying him home on a stretcher, which they gladly offered and for which I was grateful.
After bringing my son home, the first thing I noticed from the balcony of our apartment, was
a taxi with a red flag driving along Akademicka Street, full of Jewish youths waving their arms with revolvers in their hands
(it was still before the entry of the Bolshevik army). Shortly afterwards, a small pick-up truck full of young Jews armed
with shotguns and and hand grenades, stopped in front of the office of the Association of Reserve Officers, which was opposite
our apartment. At that time, the office was being used as the command post of the civil guard with General Jedrzejewski in
charge. The young Jews jumped out of the truck, rushed inside and after a while, came out leading two or three persons with
them. I had no chance to see who they were since it all happened so quickly. I had to retreat from the balcony and from the
front windows since another group of the "Red Militia," comprising mainly young Jews, was marching along the street pointing
their guns at our windows.
After about an hour or two, the Bolshevik military trucks started rolling along Chorazczyzna
Street, where our house was situated, towards the Citadel. They were full of armed soldiers with their guns aimed at the windows
of the houses they were passing. That night we did not sleep a wink. The following morning, four armed "militiamen," all Jews,
came into the apartment demanding that I hang a red flag on the balcony. I did not feel I could do it but the retired Major
Henek, who fled with his wife from Cracow before the advancing Germans and found refuge in our home, started to calm me down
and said that he will do it for the sake of peace and safety; he took our Polish flag, tore away the white half and hung the
remaining red half on the balcony.
Next came the order to reopen my stores irrespective of whether I had anything to sell or not.
The following day I opened the larger store, the one that comprised both the wholesale and retail operations, and the lines
started to form immediately. I left my personnel in the store and went to the Office of Food Supply at City Hall, which was
set up the day the war started, to ask permission to travel outside the city to buy supplies for my stores, chiefly flour
and gruels. In the office I found other wholesale merchants, all Jews, since I was the only non-Jewish wholesale merchant
in Lwow. There, I received a directive to apply to the chief Bolshevik commissar who had set himself up the day before in
the Head Regional Office; I think his name was Belov. All of us went there, where we found a delegation of bakers which had
been waiting for its turn for about 5 hours. Finally we were admitted to see Commissar Belov who was sitting surrounded
by ten other "comrades" all with caps on their heads, smoking evil smelling cigarettes and tossing butts on the floor or carpets,
and spitting as well.
One of our group named Galiger, who could speak Russian, presented our pleas, namely a document
permitting us to purchase food supplies from the flour mills and the peasants, and to transport the purchases back
to Lwow. At the same time we requested that the Soviet Army officials facilitate our activities. The Commissar listened and
told us that he will give us the permits to travel but we must sell the produce at the same price they were sold at before
the war, irrespective of the price we pay for it. He also told us that he was surprised to see line-ups in front of the stores,
since in the Soviet Union there were no such line-ups. In a few weeks, he would give us permits to travel to the Soviet Union
to buy all the supplies we needed so that the shelves in our stores would be heavily laden with goods and all the line-ups
will disappear. How the situation in the Soviet Union really looked we found out later! I was convinced that he was lying;
unfortunately I could not tell him so.
A few days later I was informed that the permits had been issued and that they had all been given
to an old wholesale merchant, quite rich, named Wittels. I went to his apartment. The maid opened the door and left me in
the ante-chamber while she went to inform her employer of my arrival. She left the door of the room partly ajar. I could
hear bits of the conversation which included the following: "high time that Poland met its fate. Polish politicians in Parliament
and in Municipal Councils always criticized the Jews, now we Jews will pay them back." After a while Mr. Wittels came out
and told me that there is no permit for me. Most probably, he did it on purpose because I was always an inconvenient competitor,
a thorn in their side; until a few years ago, they had a complete monopoly in the wholesale grocery trade. In this way, I
had to once again apply to the Commissar and I received the permit three days later.
After getting the permit, I traveled the country around Lwow and succeeded in bringing in two
railway wagons of flour, one of which was stolen after being unloaded at the Central Railway Station, although I had directed
them to Lyczakow Station. A few days later I took another trip and managed to purchase five railway wagon-loads of goods which
this time arrived in order and I sold them all at low prices, for example, flour at 40 grosze/kg, beans and peas at 70
grosze/kg, coffee compound at 1.60 zloty for 10 cubes and many other items at pre-war prices. As the result of my having
obtained these supplies, there was a continuous line-up in front of my store that stretched all the way to City Hall
Square (about 1 km).
During my stay in the country I noticed that 80% of the new officials appointed by the Soviet
authorities were our Polish Jews. I did not take part in the so-called "referendum," which was organized to approve the incorporation
of the Polish territories, that the Bolsheviks had occupied, into the Soviet Union, since I was not at home at the
time. My wife and older son, who had just turned 18, were forced by armed soldiers to go to the polls. There again, under
the watchful eyes of the armed soldiers, they were forced to vote "yes." On that day I was in Truston, in the Tarnopol region,
where in the market square I heard many Ruthenians, speaking in their language, complaining like this: "Now we are going to
have Ukraine, we don't want such a Jewish Ukraine, we wish we had Polish rule again." A few hours later, NKVD soldiers
came to the market square and arrested most of them. The population, so-called "Ukrainian," was overwhelmingly against
Bolshevik rule. It was so in September and October 1939. What their attitude was later on, I do not know.
At the end of October I returned to Lwow and was informed by one of my friends, retired Major
Zabniewski, that during my absence, on orders from Soviet officials, a meeting had been convened of the Polish War
Invalids Association, of which I was a member, and for a time its vice-president. At that meeting, a Soviet official suggested
that since all private businesses are going to be confiscated, a co-operative should be set up, operating from my main store,
with the Association as its nominal operator. Someone then suggested that I should be its manager.
In response to this suggestion a Polish born lawyer, Mr.
Allweil, who co-operated with the Bolsheviks, got up and opposed this suggestion then pointedly asked how come this City Councillor,
elected by the National Party, is still at liberty; high time that he should be in prison. A Soviet Commissar, attending this
meeting, apparently made a careful note. Major Zabniewski, repeated this story to me when I met him again in Teheran.
It is obvious that the note made by the Soviet Commissar
had its effect. On the night of November 10/11 at about 2:00 a.m. in the morning, the bell rang in our apartment. Our maid
opened the door and two NKVD officers barged into our bedroom and, quite politely, asked me to get dressed and go with them
for an "interview." They watched me carefully as I got dressed and, when I was saying goodbye to my wife, tried to calm her
down by saying that I should be back at about 7:00 in the morning. They escorted me downstairs and out into the street
where they told me to get into a Soviet ZIS limousine and drove me to Pelczynska Street where the headquarters of the
NKVD was set up as soon as they had occupied the city. (Translator's Note: Zis limousines were Soviet copies
of American Buicks.)
The same two characters who were so politely asking me to come for an "interview," turned into
devils after entering the room into which I was ushered. In addition to those two, another three entered and they all started
shouting at me, calling me "you damned Polish nationalist, blood sucker, exploiter of the proletariat, leech on the body of
the working people, etc." They were waving their fists in my face and hit me a few times. I have to add here that I was a
member of the Polish National Democratic Party and was elected the city councillor on that party's slate. I was working on
the party's economic panel.
They requested that I tell them all about my activities as the party member and councillor, which
I refused, telling them that I am not obliged to tell them what I did in Poland; only the Polish authorities can make that
request. My refusal infuriated them. They demanded that I give them the names of all persons that I know; again I refused,
knowing full well that it will infuriate them even more and that it won't help my cause. My continuous refusals made them
more and more furious. Finally, they left the room, except for one who came close to me and demanded, roaring in my ear, to
declare whether I shall give them the names or not. I told him that in my profession I encountered many people without necessarily
knowing their names, since I do not ask eveybody I meet what is his name. In response, he hit me very hard in the face with
his fist. I got up from the chair and somebody else, who had come into the room in the meantime, hit me a few times on the
back with a rubber truncheon, while the one who hit me in the face, now kicked me in the genitalia; I lost consciousness.
They brought me around, pouring water on my face, and quite innocently asked me what had happened.
I did not answer and they started demanding that I answer their questions and threatening that I will be shot or allowed to
rot in prison. This lasted until about noon of the following day when a Soviet prosecutor came in and ordered that I should
be taken to prison. They took me to Leon Sapieha Street to what had formerly been the Polish Police Command Office with a
temporary jail adjoining it. I was thrown into this jail and remained there for three days after which I was taken to what
was formerly the Polish Military Prison in the suburb of Zamarstynow.
Whilst in jail on Leon Sapieha Street, they did not give us (there were about 20 of us) anything
to eat. Fortunately, I had some money on me and they gave us permission to give money to the Soviet guard who would make a
list of our needs and brought us bread, sausage and tea. The prices he charged us were outrageous. I have to note here that
during the last war (WW1) I took part in the defense of Lwow in November 1918, and was wounded. The bullet damaged
some discs in my spine, the result of which was that I had to wear a Hessinger steel corset and use a cane. After a few days
I had a high fever and pain in the back and testicles (where I had been kicked). I lay on the floor, since there were no beds
or bunks in the cell, and could not get up. They brought in a doctor who told them that I should be taken to hospital. I lay
there on that floor for three weeks and it was not until the 1st of December that I was taken to the prison hospital
in Brigidki, which was the city's main prison.
In this prison hospital I was kept until mid-May 1940, attended to sporadically by Dr. Zygmunt
Sternberg from Belz, but there was very little he could do for me. He prescribed calcium but they did not give me any. With
this type of malady, it is important to have good nourishment but in the Soviet prison it was very meagre: 1/2 kg. of black
bread and a thin soup every day, no tea or coffee, just hot water and even that was rationed. All of us, and there about 20
of us on this ward, were always hungry.
In addition to the physical suffering, I was tormented morally. Some of the NKVD guards were
very rude, calling us by offensive names. They referred to Poland (and to our Polish government officials) as the "Bastard
of Versailles" and how now that she is divided between Germany and the Soviet Union, she will never rise again. We had to
listen to that, not being able to respond. Once, I told them that the war has only just begun and what
will happen in the end only the future will tell. I was told to shut up.
In that hospital with me were, among others, the following who survived: generals Anders and
Sulimirski, colonels Janicki and Antoni Rozwadowski, Dr. Szczepanowski from Lublin, lawyer Marecki from Lwow and major
During the second half of May I was taken back to the prison cell from which, after a three week
stay, I was brought back to the hospital. I was then kept in the prison hospital until the end of June, at which time I was
once again taken back to the cell. On the 10th of June, 1940, about 20 of us were taken to another cell which, as it turned
out, was to be the transit cell for prisoners ready for transport. The next day, after a shower, the first since my arrest,
disinfection and a very thorough personal search, we were put in a covered truck and taken to the railway station; it was
only then that I understood that they were taking us out of our city of Lwow.
Our train left the station 13 July 1940. It consisted of about 40 cattle wagons with about 40
persons in each. Some of the wagons were left behind in Kiev, another lot in another city the name of which I cannot remember,
and the rest of us, about 500 persons, were taken to the city of Konotop in the administrative district of Sumska. (Translator's
Note: Konotop was a town of some 60,000 people, located about 150 km. north-east of Kiev.)
There were with me, among others, retired police inspector from Lwow, Lukomski; retired director of the
Lwow Police Commission, Reinlender. In the hospital cell in which I was placed, were the following who died during our stay
there: professor of the Cadet Corps School, captain Walter Jakob; retired Chief Justice of the Appellate Court in Poznan,
who had been living in Lwow, Villaume; retired Justice of the Appellate Court in Stanislawow, Dzerowicz; country squire Feliks
Cienski; director of the Cadet's Corps in Lwow, major Eugeniusz Wawrzkowski; owner of the Haussman Passageway, Mr. Haussman
and many others the names of which I cannot remember. (Translator's Note: The Haussman Passageway was the early version
of the shopping mall, a number of stores in a glass covered passageway.)
In Konotop the interrogations started again, individual confrontations, always in the middle of the night.
The interrogators were at times beastly rude, at others polite but, unlike in Lwow, it was without the use of physical force.
On February 22, 1941, I was taken in front of a so-called judge who announced my sentence: 5 years of exile in Uzbekistan.
He told me that the reason I received such a light sentence was because of my disability which made me unsuited for penal
work in camps in Siberia. Thus, I must say, I was very lucky not to have been transferred to one of those notorious camps
I was then transferred to a prison in Moscow where I shared the cell with col. Edward Perkowicz, director
of the Agricultural Institute in Lublin, Januszkowski and prince Konstanty Radziwill from Kaunas in Lithuania. We were kept
in Moscow prison for 3 weeks whence we were sent to Tashkent where we were kept for another 3 weeks in the most horrible conditions.
It was a transit prison, where they kept the worst of the Soviet thieves and bandits before sending them to Siberian camps.
They kept us all in a very large courtyard, subdivided by brick walls into 3 or 4 sections. Those Soviet
thieves used to jump over the walls and rob the political prisoners of their clothes and anything else they could lay their
hands on. Thus, our Polish group had to keep a continuous watch so that we would not be left naked. There
were stories going around that one night the thieves killed one of the guards and threw his body into the latrine.
From Tashkent we were sent, as before in cattle wagons, to Chardzou on the Amu Daria River where we stayed
in the local prison another 3 weeks. After that, we were loaded on to a small river boat, used for carrying the cotton and
other goods, and after a 5 day journey, we reached Urgench in the administrative district of Chiva. In Urgench we were kept
in the local prison for only 24 hours, after which we were given a document stating that we must not leave the town and that
we had to report to the NKVD every 14 days. With this document and 30 rubles in hand, all the things they took away from me
in Lwow, except clothing, were lost. (Translator's Note: Chardzou is a port on the Amu Daria River and a railway station on
the Krasnovodsk to Tashkent line.)
I was told to go find work in order to make a living. There is a slogan in the Soviet Union "Those who do
not work, do not eat." A night's stay in a very modest and dirty hotel cost 5 rubles; to stay in a so-called Chazkhan (a public
place where there are 20 cots side by side in one room) cost 2 rubles per night. The result was that we had to sell such pieces
of clothing which were left to us in order to feed ourselves. Furthermore, even if and when we could get work, we would not
be paid until the end of the month. Thus I sold my fur-lined overcoat for which I received 500 rubles and this kept me going.
I was released from prison 14 June 1941. I felt terribly weak and starved, yet in spite of this, I did not
seem to have any appetite. A very sympathetic Russian woman, originally from Moscow, who was deported here in 1932 (her
husband was sent to a camp in Siberia) and was now a manager of Gostarg (Government office managing food supplies), took pity
on me and offered me a job as a bookkeeper at 350 rubles per month.
Urgench is a town in Uzbekistan with a population of about 20,000; mostly Uzbeks with some Turkomans and
a sprinkling of Russians who occupy all the important positions. Uzbeks are a race between Mongols and Turks, their language
being a dialect of Turkish. Over the centuries they were very devoted Muslims but now, with religion being officially forbidden,
most of them pray and practice their religion in secret. What must have been a beautiful mosque at one time, has now been
converted into a museum of atheism.
The climate is dry and sub-tropical with virtually no rain in summer and light rain in the winter with
temperatures getting down to close to freezing. The town is situated on the Amu Daria River which flows northward into Lake
Aral (aka the Aral Sea), a salt water body. It can be reached only by way of the river, Lake Aral being 400 km to
the north and Chardzou 500 km to the south and that is the way we were brought in here.
In times past, there used to be caravan trails crossing the desert but under the Soviets all that has vanished.
The town is very drab with unpaved dusty roads and single story adobe buildings with some official Communist buildings in
red brick. In the immediate vicinity, the locals grow cotton on government operated farms using irrigation from the river;
they also grow some fruit and rice. Beyond, there lies the Karakum Desert to the west and the Kysylkum Desert to the east.
On the whole, it is a depressing place but a lot better than the prisons I have gone through.
After 2 weeks I was sent to sit in for a cashier in a local outdoor restaurant, who was taken ill. I felt
a lot better in there since I was given a free supper. There was a live orchestra playing every night from 5 to 10 p.m.
Some time at the end of July, while I was sitting in the cashier's booth before the arrival of the clientele, the orchestra
started its concert with "The First Brigade," the song sung by the Polish legionnaires during the first world war and whose
political party had been in power in Poland since 1926. I was flabbergasted. I could not understand what had happened; maybe
it was some Soviet song played to the same tune and the band leader did not know where it came from or, maybe he wanted to
show me some sympathy. Although I was in opposition to the legionnaires in Poland before this war and did not particularly
relish listening to "The First Brigade," in this instance I got up and listened to it standing at attention.
Next day I told my Polish ex-prisoners about this and we were all wondering what it all meant. We were hoping
that some changes would take place, especially so since the news stories filtering in from the German-Soviet front were bad.
The Germans, who had invaded the Soviet Union at the end of June 1941, were making great progress; they
had occupied Lwow after a few days and I felt that my wife and sons will probably be safer under the German occupation.
After a few days we read in the local newspaper that there was a pact signed between the Soviets and the
Polish Government-in-Exile in London and that all Polish prisoners and deportees were supposed to be freed. We were overcome
with joy and this added to our pleasure on hearing how the Germans were beating the Red Army on the front. Our belief was
that when the German Swastika and the Soviet Hammer and Sickle will kill each other off, Poland will rise anew stronger than
before. The younger among us began to enquire where the new Polish Army was being formed. Some even went to the Wojenkommat
(Soviet Army Recruiting Office) asking to be sent to the Polish Army; some of the older ones did the same.
Put simply, a great enthusiasm and hope got hold of all the Polish men and women in Urgench. After a few
weeks, the NKVD started to issue "udostoverene," documents stating that we were Polish citizens and according to the amnesty,
we were free to live in the Soviet Union (with quite a few restrictions).
Unfortunately, not all of us received one and I was among that group. Those of us were then called in by
the NKVD where the interrogations started anew. When it came my turn to be examined I told them that on the basis of
the "amnesty" all of our so-called crimes are supposed to be forgiven and, as Polish citizens, we are not obligated
to answer any questions unless we broke a Soviet law since our release; we are only obligated to the Polish authorities. To
my surprise, the NKVD major just smiled and said that he will write down my point in his report, which he did, and I
signed it. He then said that this protocol and my complete file will be sent to Moscow and when the answer comes he will let
me know. Thus, I did not receive my "udostoverene" document until early in 1942.
A month after my interrogation, the head of the local branch of the NKVD, a colonel, called me to his office
and said that he wanted to meet me personally and talk to me. I realized right away that this must be a ruse and that I must
be very careful of what I say and how I act. Our talk commenced with praises; that they have a great regard for me being such
a zealous Polish patriot.
(At this point, the recollections abrubtly end)