Joe Jezioranski Autobiography

Autobiography of a friend: Growing up in Poland in the 1930s

My father
The happy years
My years at home
The Polish German war
Life in occupied Poland
The Warsaw uprising
Prisoner of war
Misplaced person
Back to work
British Columbia

Editorial: there’s a lot of explanatory material here; clearly the intended audience was not expected to be intimately conversant with Polish – or even European – culture and history. Someone, not I, has rewritten it – Joe was perfectly fluent in English, even witty, but there was never any doubt that it wasn’t his first language. I have not re-written the re-write, except to repair a few typos here and there. Footnotes, like everything else, are part of the document as I received it.


Scarlet fever

Everything was happening at once. My father bought a house near Warsaw (capital city of Poland). My mother was traveling. My brother got scarlet fever and had to have a nurse.

The house was full of strange people. A fat one used to bring food – must have been the cook. The talkative one used to run from room to room disturbing my toys. The others were strange, except of course for my father who was nice but mostly busy, and my mother who was warm and kind but mostly concerned.

There was not much furniture yet in the house. Pieces were coming from our apartment in Warsaw and the old house at Byki [1]. My brother’s room was mostly off limits and guarded by a white-dressed terror.

Every morning, when I woke up, I waited for my father to begin stirring. As soon as he looked at the clock he would get up in a hurry and hit his head against the sloping ceiling. On the days he did not hit the ceiling I was very disappointed. I liked to hear his excited exclamation. The statement issued was so different than the ones the older kids and our servants used. I always thought that the kind of exclamation people used somehow reflected their cultural background.

  1. Byki is the name of the farm on which my father was born. Originally owned by the Polish Crown with a house built for one of the Polish Queens, it was donated by the Crown to a Polish nobleman who took his name from the name of the farm. The family that owned the farm originally sold it in the XVIII century to one of my forefathers.

Somewhat later my mother would appear and discuss with my father the latest condition of my brother. He was getting worse. More doctors and other strange people. Nobody to play with… They would let me go out, but not before a traumatic experience of dressing up. When finally I was let out, I first watched the marvelous expanse of white snow covering the slope in front of the house. To the right, one could march along the top of the slope to the kitchen, but I had never yet been to the left.

I climbed down the steps and slowly moved through the deep snow toward the corner. I could see now the trees spread out here and there throughout the garden. If I could only reach them… The snow, shallow near the house because it was partially melted by the heat coming through the wall of the house, was deeper as you moved away from the house. As I moved further, the snow was getting deeper. I decided to sort of scramble and jump. After some three or four such exercises, I could no longer see anything but the sky. Did I fall? As I tried to extricate myself I saw even less. I cried and shouted, but nobody came. I sat down and cried a while.

I have to go back, I have to go back! I stood up, reached up and to the side, then climbed backwards. As I lay spread out on top of the soft snow, it supported my body. Since I was not sinking into the deep snow, I was able to roll over towards the house where the snow was packed harder and permitted me to walk back to the door.

My mother was saying good bye to the doctor.

“Did you have enough walking?”

I would not go out again for the rest of the winter. It seems to me that that winter we had the deepest snow – or was it only that as I grew up, the snow did not seem to be as deep?

Our room

Despite the lack of roads and difficult winter conditions, all the furniture finally arrived. My brother was feeling better and was writing a story, “Winter in Mlociny,” with some editing help by my father. My brother was big now: next year he was going to kindergarten.

Now that he was better, my mother went on the rampage: she burned and destroyed all our toys. We were promised two new toys for each burned one, but who wants new toys when all your favorite toys are being eliminated?

We were now quartered together, my brother and I, and my life became very full again. He was the leader in all our games. We had a room to ourselves. Our beds stood at opposite sides of the room, mine under a sloping ceiling. When I stood up in my crib I used to try and reach toward the ceiling, but it was always too high.

“Why am I so short, not like Johnny?” I complained to my mother.

“You are not short, he is just older.” I knew she was not telling the truth. Johnny was always taller and lighter. And smarter, and had better toys, and could read books…

Between our beds there was a double framed window. My brother used to bring a chair to the window, climb on the chair and open a little section in the middle of the inside frame, then blow hard on the outer pane making a round opening in the frozen surface.

“I want to see! I want to see!” I cried.

We had to put a box on top of the chair and bring heavy books from downstairs to place on top of the box. When it was all finished I could see the dense bushes of the Stamirowskis’ garden and the bare balcony of the house where the rabbi always sang his monotonous evening prayer. I could even, by turning sideways, see the empty house and, yes, there it was, the wall of Mennas’ mansion… Woops! I slipped and hung on by dear life to the bottom of the small airing window. I made an awful shout of despair while my brother was trying to make me quiet.

A moment later my mother was holding court and telling my brother what she thought of the precarious arrangement. So now we had to play at the desk, which stood by the window. It was my brother’s rolltop desk, but originally must have come from some forgotten age. It had innumerable little drawers, each holding some of our treasures.

When I was bored, I used to climb all over it and discover different collections in each drawer. Some held unfinished manuscripts of dictated stories (my brother was dictating his memoirs to my mother), others a collection of stamps nicely arranged in books, the pages of which were held together by screw and socket arrangements. Later on when my brother was older, there were boy scout trophies and school prizes, as well as innumerable albums of pictures taken at holidays, meetings, school gatherings, etc.

When this desk finally became mine, I could never match such magnificence. The drawers that held my collections were mostly drab-looking shells or rocks or strings, caps for my pistols or little toys with which I played no longer.

At two corners of the room, there were walk-in closets. The large front one held our clothes which always looked so small and forlorn in the big closet. I was greatly surprised when, during the war, cousin Alka and her daughter Ania were using this room, to see how small this closet looked against the background of their clothes. The other closet, near the window, we used mostly as a prison to hold the guy who lost the battle of cossacks and hussars. My brother kept the key to this one. I could never find it. In time I learned to open the door from the inside. I also learned that the other side of the closet led to the servant’s room, but that is another story more applicable to my later years.

In the morning when we woke up, we would fight over who should say prayers first. The room was cold even after the servant girl started the fire in the glazed stove, which was built into the wall between our room and the staircase. If I decided to play on the floor in my pyjamas, I always played in front of the stove. This game usually involved the lead soldiers, which I hid in the dresser standing next to the glazed stove. Even if the room was still cold, one could see the reflection of the fire in the bottom compartment, which was open until the coal really got hot. The reflection of the fire kept one’s hope alive that soon one’s extremities would warm up.

The house

It was fun to wait to go to the bathroom until my father was being shaved by the barber, who used to come on a bicycle from the village. We could then observe the ritual of my father’s face disappearing behind a huge volume of lather or warm towels. Even more mysterious was the whacking he got all over his face and bald head by the barber at the end of the ritual.

When my brother went to school, the year after we moved into our new house, my favorite play was to turn over a chair, sit on its back and push it along the floor imagining that I was driving a car. I would start at the bathroom door and move to the top of the staircase along the railing, passing on my right the door to the servant’s room and then, around the corner, the door to our room and the door to the attic, all the way to my parents’ room and then back. Most of our chairs carried a worn-out spot at the top of their back as a memento of the game I devised.

When my brother came home, we would get to the stair landing. My brother squeezed between the pillars of the railing and would land on top of the big hutch holding the everyday family dishes which stood in the passage. I complained bitterly that I couldn’t reach down to there from the landing, so my brother devised a rope contraption hanging from the railing of the landing. The top of the big hutch was used as a ship or a castle or a house as the case may be.

The rope gave him an idea to hang a swing affair from the top of the railing and swing over the bottom part of the stairs. When I tried it the first time, I fell down all the way into the front hall and couldn’t say a word for a few minutes. My brother and his friend convinced me that I should not cry as it was not such a big thing. Still, my behind hurt for a few days and I had to be careful how I placed my body in bed.

As you stood at the bottom of the stairs, you saw in front of the stairs the doors to the living room. To the right, the door led to my father’s study and farther along the hall there was the double main door. We, the untidy kids, used the spacious area between the two doors to dump our skis, sleighs, clothes and outdoor toys. I have no recollection of anybody using it for anything else except on gala occasions when visitors would insist on going through the front door.

From the front door on the left there was my father’s study, on the right the living room. Opposite the main door there was a dining room and the passage under the stairs, ending at a door leading to another passage to the kitchen. I believe that the house must have been built with the kids in mind – we loved all those passages. Nobody else could find any use for them.

The first year

In the spring my mother decided to put a high fence around our two-acre garden. This was supposed to help keep us inside the garden, but when my brother went to school a year later and the environment got sort of bleak, I found a way to climb to the top of the garage and from there onto the fence and down the other side.

Our house stood on top of a hill. The upper gate was on the same level as the house while the lower gate was at the bottom of the hill. Next to the lower gate there was a wooden garage, which generally held junk. The gate of the garage led onto the road while the back of the garage was sunk deep into the hill. The top of the garage stood only about four or five feet above the ground at the back. Leaning against the garage wall was a wooden box holding garbage cans and a pile of wood.

Whenever my brother and his friends were playing war, they used the top of the garage as a fortress. As I always tried to participate in those games, my brother would pull me up onto the garbage box first and then to the roof of the garage from the top of the garbage box. In the heat of the battle the warriors would forget about me, and I had to climb down hanging precariously from the top of the garage and then climbing down the woodpile.

After one such encounter, my brother put a box (or a piece of wood, I don’t remember which) at the top of the garbage box for me to climb down. In my excursion I used the box to climb onto the top of the garage and then moved from the top of the garage along the top of the gate and down the wire netting of the fence.

The question was what to do now? Well I realized that I could not go back, since the gates were locked and the fence looked very high from outside (I was only three years old). On the other hand I remembered the trips with my nanny to the store and the candy which was available there. So I trudged a mile and a half to the store. My mother was greatly surprised when the store owner asked on the phone for authorization to give me candy. My parents had an arrangement whereby they paid the bill once a month and the servants got all the necessary items on credit.

The first year was very exciting. Not only was my brother still at home, but also the garden was being laid out, with mounds of earth being moved from one place to the other.

A lawn was placed around the house with topsoil being brought in and laid before the grass was sown. Here and there the ornamental trees were planted: Japanese firs, tall cedars, silver pines and blue spruce. Colorful groups of bushes afforded wonderful places for our forts and play hideouts.

Across the middle of the garden, the gardener planted a line of mock orange bushes. The straight branches of those provided wonderful material for swords, and the row served as a boundary between two different imaginary countries.

As the garden sloped down behind this division, we used the slope for driving down in our wagons and in the winter for sliding down on our sleighs.

At the bottom and to the left there was a hand-driven water pump. A large wheel with a handle served as a swing in those days. As my brother pulled on the side of the wheel I implored him not to let me go too high. When my brother was pulling the wheel, he was not able to pull me up to the top of it, as he was at the time not yet six years old. When the next-door neighbor kid pulled me, I rode up to the top of the wheel, and he held me there for several minutes until my screams finally alerted my mother of my distress.

Even with all the fun and games, I was very bored and depressed during the day when my brother was at school. One day my mother brought a dog home. He was a mutt with a roguish disposition and looks. He had a brown patch over one eye, a large brown circle on one side, and the tail was part brown, part white.

“Who is this dog for?” I asked.

“Why, for you, of course!” my mom answered.

Finally I had somebody on my own level of height, ability and intelligence. He was interested in food, love and mischief – he fit me like a glove. We roamed through the garden together, slept together and when the mealtime arrived I would take my plate to the father’s study – a temporary home for my dog’s box – and we ate together. He seemed to eat faster than I did, but whereas he seemed to prefer the middle course, I could get faster to my dessert. Unfortunately my mother was disappointed in the arrangement.

There came a day when my mother took us, me and my brother, to the movies. I remember it well because it was the last movie that I have seen with Pat and Patachon [2]. When we came home, the dog was gone. I tried to find him but to no avail. My mother told me that he was run over by a car. I cried for weeks.

  1. Two comics of the silent screen era, very popular in Europe. One was very tall and skinny and the other short and fat.

Some months later I saw a dog on the road which looked very much like my dog. A lady was holding tightly to a leash, while a little white and brown mutt was trying to get away, steering in my direction. My mother would not let me investigate. I always suspected foul play there.

A trip to Byki

In the summer my father had to decide what to do with the old house at Byki. During the vacation, we packed our things into my father’s old Chrysler and travelled over the dusty roads to the old house.

My father did not drive. He always employed a driver. Both I and to some extent my brother tried to sit in front with the driver. About the first experience I remember is sitting on the knees of my father’s driver as he turned the car around. I was convinced that I was driving the car. A trip to Byki was all of 150 miles, but considering the state of the roads at that time, it was a major excursion.

I do not remember very much of the old house. The items that impressed me were the long driveway in front of the house and the dark and huge ballroom.

This house was reportedly built for Bona [3], a queen of Poland, and bore a distinct resemblance to some old Italian XVIth century large houses (“the castle,” we called it). Today it is apparently used as a museum.

  1. A Polish queen, wife of Zygmunt Stary (old) and mother of Zygmunt August. Bona, born to one of the Italian nobility, is credited with bringing a number of vegetables to Poland. She also brought a number of Italian artisans in her retinue, who introduced renaissance architecture to Polish countryside.

The long driveway was nice. Old trees on both sides provided a green tunnel which was quite a change from the hot and dusty drive on the gravel-surfaced roads of Poland. The car was an open, cabriolet type of the end of the 1920s, thus giving little protection from the outside environment.

The great hall, or ballroom as the case may be, was moist and dirty. During the first world war it was apparently used to house horses of the German cavalry. A huge fireplace seemed to be intended for whole trees to be placed there, but one could hardly hope to warm the place with it.

My only other memory is of how glad I was to go back. The trip back was even less enjoyable than the trip there. My father was bringing some old relatives with us. The house and the rest of the farm were going to be rented to somebody.

As we later found out through digging in the old family books and papers, this house was bought from the noble family of Jaxa Bykowski during the reign of the first Saxon king of Poland [4]. As were many other Polish noblemen, the family was broke and sold it to great-great-grandfather, who allegedly came from some eastern part of Poland. Now the house seemed to be destined to be sold again. The only person in my family who made a solid attempt at running the farm and thus using the house to a great extent was my great grandfather.

  1. Polish kings were elected by a group of electors. The electorate comprised of all the nobility (ie townsmen and peasants were not part of the electorate). The elections tended to be influenced by powerful lobbyists who presented their favorite candidates. Certain powerful families promoted the Saxon dynasty, which in turn favored their promoters when appointing candidates for senior government positions.

Of his sons one was a jurist, the other (Wladyslaw) an engineer. Of another I am not sure what his occupation was, but I know that we had some cousins.

My grandmother apparently lived in the old house and entertained some. Her life was not very happy. Of nine children, seven died in childhood, mostly due to tuberculosis. Apparently all the cattle in the area were infected. Blessed were those who could not afford milk.

My grandfather (Joseph) started out as a cadet in the Russian Tsar’s [5] guard. As the last Polish insurrection [6] began, the story goes that my grandfather broke his sword and refused his commission. I always worried that he must have hurt his knee very badly in the process. The poor old Tsar must not have been too happy, as my grandfather was alleged to be at the top of the cadet class. History says however that the Tsar survived, and so did my grandfather.

  1. Poland was defeated by a coalition of three powers: Russia, Prussia and AustroHungary at the end of XVIII century. This particular part of Poland belonged to Russia since the Vienna Congress (1815) and was often called Kongressowka (after Congress).
  2. A revolt against the Russian (Tsarist) rule. The insurrection started in 1863 and was defeated by Russian troops early in 1864.

He went on to help Kronenberg [7] (don’t ask me who the heck that is) organize the first Polish insurance company and apparently stayed with this company till his death. He did not get married until late in his life. Since he fell in love with his niece (the Jezioranskis were great for falling in love with somebody – I am not always sure that the reciprocal was true), he had to have the Pope’s dispensation to marry.

  1. Apparently one of the best known industrialists. Organized the first Polish railway and one of the earliest banks (Bank of Commerce) in addition to the WTU.

My father

The family

It seemed to me that my father’s family divided into those who visited us, those that we occasionally had to come into contact with, and those that only my parents knew existed. Of those that visited us, the closest one to me was Aunt Jadwiga. Aunt Jadwiga was the second one of those children of my grandfather that survived. Of course, when she came to visit us at the end of the first year and stayed with us in my father’s study, it soon became obvious that she could not stay long away from the mountains, as she began to bleed from her lungs. She had open tuberculosis. While she was with us, she poured her love (as I said, the Jezioranskis always had to love somebody) onto me of all people. It made me terribly embarrassed. She wanted to stay close to me all the time. She also continually corrected my behavior and prevented me from associating with servants, boys from the village and miscellaneous so-called undesirable people. So everybody was distressed when she had to leave for the mountains except me.

My father arranged to buy her portion of the Byki estate in order that she would have enough money to buy a house in the Tatra mountains [8]. She called the house “Pirlipata,” a name my father found very funny. He wrote a funny poem to commemorate the occasion of the purchase and the naming of the house, and from then on perpetually regretted his sarcasm.

  1. Part of the Carpathian range, the Tatra mountains separate Poland from Czechoslovakia.

The other “close” relatives were the descendants of grandfather’s – or was it great-grandfather’s – siblings. These still belonged to the group that visited us. Apparently one of the women in my father’s family married Mr Paprocki. Konstanty Paprocki, who was my father’s cousin, had three sons and one daughter. I never knew the oldest of the three sons, but Stach and Kazio used to visit us often.

Stach Paprocki was the doyen of the group of family politicians and patriots. I admired his dog, an English setter. I cannot forget that Stach was a great friend of our family, but as usual, that made me very embarrassed.

The others in the group of “great patriots” were two brothers, Andrew and Zdzislaw Jezioranski [9]. My father used to worry continually about their future, for no good reason, as both of them did quite well for themselves. The reason for worry was, however, caused by the loss that their mother incurred after the untimely death of their father. He left them an apartment complex in Warsaw. The first world war having just finished, Mrs Jezioranski was in need of resources and decided to sell the house. Then came the disastrous post-war inflation and she lost all her savings. Apparently as the boys grew up, my father made sure that they were employed.

  1. Writes under pseudonym Jan Nowak.

Kazio Paprocki was a pediatrician and our lives crossed very closely during the second world war.

Paprocki’s uncle, Kazimierz Jezioranski, was an administrator of the Potocki estate. I remember well his funeral, when we followed the cortege in my father’s company car. I remember it because it was the first time I had seen a dead person and it made a greatly sobering impression on this six year old boy.

My father seemed to have an innumerable set of aunts, who were supposed to be visited periodically. Auntie Lucy was blind and lived in an institution. Two “young at heart” sisters – I don’t remember their names – lived in an apartment for which my father paid the rent. The younger one of the two was 92 when I had to visit them and be slobbered all over. Then there was Aunt Agnes who visited us occasionally and could never persuade my mother that she could live with us and take care of us. She insisted that she had long experience. One of the children that she took care of fell out off a balcony, another one was crippled by a falling piece of furniture and the third one taken to the hospital after a food poisoning. Aunt Agnes believed that her experience qualified her to avoid many accidents.

In those early years I never realized that I had a half sister who was already fully grown up.

Clumsy old man

The impression that I had of my father was that he never had a tool in his hand in his life. Some of my mother’s stories related to his clumsiness, especially when he joined the army at the time of the Polish-Russian war [10]. Others related to his conservative dress, inherent pessimism and orthodox outlook on life.

  1. After the first world war, the Polish eastern borders were not defined. A war was waged between Poland and Russia to establish the boundary. At one time the Russian troops approached Warsaw but were repulsed. The defensive battle is called in Poland ‘A miracle on Vistula river’ (the Russians reached the river only to be pushed back into the Russian plains). The war culminated in a treaty of Riga in which the Polish-Russian boundary was agreed upon. This boundary was to be respected by both countries until September 17, 1939 when Poland was attacked by the Soviet troops.

It was impossible to find a subject that my father did not know about. When young, he intended to be a composer. He used to go to a concert at least a couple of times a month; I was about seven when I began to accompany him to Sunday matinees. Most of our house was decorated by original paintings of the contemporary Polish painters selected by my father. His bedside was covered with literary magazines, mostly Polish but some French and German. I could always rely on him to suggest my reading and to criticize the books that I had just read, including the earliest children books. I loved going for walks with him. I bombarded him with questions, which he answered patiently.

In the garden his speciality were his roses. He used to get up early and water and spray them. I walked with him and discovered their names. Roses were planted all around the lawns and behind the mock orange bushes. There were climbing roses on the fence and bush roses in the back garden. Through the French door, one could come out from the dining room onto the terrace. Around the terrace there were polyanthi and tea roses. Water had to be kept in barrels, so as not to shock the roses in the morning.

As the economic conditions worsened and after my father’s sickness, more people were employed to take care of the garden, to pump the water, to prepare us for Holy Communion, etc. The poverty in the village was severe.

My father claimed to be a non-believer, yet his story had a theme: he seemed to have marvelled at the power of the human mind. He was forever reading the philosophers, from Thomas Aquinas to Nietzsche and Wronski. It was an utter happiness to go with him to church. He would select a High Mass in a church with a superb choir (St Ann’s [11] for instance). Of course the excursion to a coffee house after the Mass helped as well. I used to select French pastry and chocolate with whipped cream.

  1. St Ann’s was also the official church for the RC students of the Warsaw institutions of higher learning.


Two years after he bought the new house, my father became very ill. It seemed he had a wound on his toe which would not heal. At first my mother would keep us away from him, but I would sneak into his room and talk to him for hours. My father taught me chess and reading and innumerable card games. I was all of four years old.

After seeing a number of doctors to no avail, my mother decided to ask her relative Dr Brodowski to see my father. Dr Brodowski sent him to an internal specialist who diagnosed my father’s trouble as diabetes. After a series of insulin injections and some ministering to the external wound, my father was able to walk, or rather hobble, around.

Then my parents left to stay in southern Poland while a relative of my mother, Aunt Maria [12] looked after us. My brother was now going to school every day and I complained and moaned about my hard life. When my mother came home for a few days, she decided that it was no use to keep me at home, and arranged for me to go to kindergarten.

  1. Maria Jedrzejewska.

The garden

My father would not stay away for too long, as he felt that the insurance company he was managing was in difficulties. These were the depression years and financial troubles were universal. As I found out later, the major shareholder of the WTU [13], the company that my father managed, decided to sell some of their shares. My father was advising them against the sale as he felt that the German interests were aspiring to obtain a majority of the shares. Despite his advice the Swiss permitted the Germans to obtain the majority holding.

  1. The Warszawskie Towarzystwo Ubezpieczen (WTU, the Warsaw Insurance Company) was one of the largest private insurance companies in Poland.

In addition to his sickness, my father now was unhappily dealing with a demanding new owner. His retreat now was his garden and Mlociny. He began to plant groups of ornamental bushes: Japanese maples, weeping willows, and acacia, golden privets and flowering fruit trees. At the borders of bush groups there lay azaleas and lilacs, and lower he decided to plant bulbs: tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and others.

In front of the house a small pond full of lilies and green bladed plants was surrounded by a rock garden with interspersed pink carnations. Beyond, a wooden garden house with square roof and open sides permitted him to sit with the sore foot raised on a stool. The garden, spacious and picturesque before, now looked lavish and full. Here he rested and wrestled with his office problem while my mother insisted that he take at least one day off during the week.

Things were changing outside our house as well. A group of newcomers – a director of Bank of Poland (Nowak), an inventor of steam regenerator (Stamirowski), two owners of leather factories (Weigle), and head steward of the Warsaw’s racecourse (Bystram), and my father – formed a society for the promotion of the Mlociny environment. Money was solicited and strings pulled to create a system of gravel-covered roads and sidewalks between the houses and a series of storm sewers. Local labour was employed in an effort to improve the depressed economic conditions.

The happy years

I am at school

When my brother went to school, I was lonesome and desolate. Things got worse with my father’s sickness and my parents’ absence. Although I liked Aunt Maria and her daughters, I became very hard to manage. Finally my mother decided to send me to school. I was not quite four years old. Generally one of Aunt Maria’s daughters would take me and my brother to school while travelling themselves to university or work. This duty was taken over by my mother when she came back.

By my second year at school, my brother was eight (practically grown up), and we traveled often by ourselves in the train and tramway to school. The trouble was that the kindergarten finished much earlier than the third grade and I often had to wait, sitting alone with toys and paints and what-not, until he was going home or until I was picked up by somebody.

A day came when my brother was on some school excursion, my mother thought that my father was going to pick me up, and my father was busy. That was the day when I found out that the lady running the private school, full of efficiency and self control, was uneasy when placed face to face with a small child. The whole school was closing. As I was the only entity left, she put me on the balcony of her apartment and went in to telephone my father. I never felt so lonely in my life. Luckily things got sorted out and my mother rushed in to be confronted by an angry school manager.

I was not to be beaten by adversity. I was now more than five years old. I would sneak out after the kindergarten and travel home alone. Since I was always equipped with candy money, I had no problem, but can you imagine the storm that raged when neither the school manager nor my parents could find out where I was? Now my mother regularly waited for me before school was finished, which anyway was an achievement.

I was a great hero the year I went to the first grade. Having spent a lot of time with my sick father, I knew how to read, write, do arithmetic, in fact do anything the teachers could throw at me. Despite being very small, I was also socially overdeveloped, as I spent almost three years in kindergarten.

Near the end of the school year “Marshal” Pilsudski (the Polish dictator) [14] died. The funeral ceremonies were rather enjoyable. My father got us a space in one of the companies’ offices facing the street which was part of the parade route (Krakowskie Przedmiescie). The parade took three hours. Luckily my mother came well-provided with food and tidbits. I sat on a chair placed on top of the desk near the second story window facing the street. I got a big kick out of seeing a number of my friends’ parents walking somewhere behind the cortege. A Roumanian honor guard exercised a parade march which happened to be much faster than the procession. The guard was perpetually catching up to those in front of them. Polish cavalry and horse-driven artillery filled the street with clatter, pomp and circumstance but made the rest of the cortege walk gingerly between the horse droppings.

  1. Pilsudski, originally a member of Polish Socialist Party, aligned himself with Austro-Hungary to fight Russia. He led independent Poland twice, from 1918 to 1922 and from 1926 to 1935, with basically dictatorial powers.

The summer was probably the happiest summer of my life. At the end of the school year my father took my brother for a rail trip around Poland while my mother took me to see her mother in the Polish Tatra mountains. We walked up some easy slopes and bathed in the icy springs. We paraded in the horse-driven carriages with drivers dressed in their native costumes. We sat in the sunny streets of Zakopane eating mountain strawberries and cream. A few weeks later we all gathered to spent the rest of the summer in our garden.

This was the year I was old enough to make many new friends. The huge cherry trees in our garden were certainly a big help in attracting the children of the neighborhood. Sadly there were many girls of my age, but not many boys. For a part of the summer, I enjoyed the friendship of the Nowaks. The girl was my age. Due to an accident in her childhood one of her legs was stiff at the knee. Their mother died early in their childhood. They were looked after by Mr Nowak’s sister who was a very stern-looking character. The attraction of their house, which stood in the low part of suburbia, was a tennis court.

We were “playing” tennis. As none of us could really hit the ball in the right direction, the game meant a lot of running around and chasing the ball. The extreme concentration made us forget our natural needs. As we stopped for a moment Janusz suggested that we go into the bushes. I was fresh from my first Communion and would not do any bad thing. Anyway I was afraid of his aunt.

“No, let’s run to the bathroom at home.”

We hurried and just barely made it into the bathroom on the ground floor. It was fun to try to hit each other’s stream as we emptied ourselves.

“Open up this minute! What are you doing there?” It was his aunt.

“Just a minute! We are almost finished,” blurted out Janusz under strain.

“Open up right now! I want to know what is going on there!” Janusz stepped to the door while I was not able to finish properly.

“What is the meaning of this? Why are you both here? What are you doing?”

Neither of us could answer. Was it not obvious? I thought. How do I tell her, without giving offence?

“You are a bad boy! You should not be leading Janusz astray! Go home this minute!” Now she was addressing me directly.

While going home I tried to work out what I did wrong.

Can’t be the act itself? Surely all people had to do it!

Must have been the crossing of the streams… But how did she know? We were almost finished!

As I got home I was confronted by my mother. She wanted to know all about it. Apparently Miss Nowak asked her to keep me away from Janusz and she was not going to mention it to anybody, but she suggested that my mother have a serious talk with me. Anyway I told her all about it and I asked her whether crossing the streams was really that bad and whether I had to mention it in confession. I did not appreciate her laughing and ran to my room crying.

Anyway somehow we got a volleyball court. Miss Nowak never again talked to me or my mother, but the children continued to play with us and my mother attempted to convince me that I did nothing wrong. I was not sure.

Later on I consulted my brother and our next door neighbor, who went to high school. He tried to explain something which I could not understand at all. The only thing I got out of it that the children were born through the genitals. After having a thorough look at mine I thought it was a joke! No child could be that small.

When I inquired from my mother, she explained that the mother carried the child under her heart for nine months and then God softened her bones to let the child out. Now I knew.

And so the wonderful summer continued. I discovered the surroundings, and found interesting people living in other houses, and going to Holy Communion, learning to speak foreign languages, rummaging surreptitiously through remaining empty houses, riding on bicycles (my brother got a new one and I inherited his tiny two-wheeler), baking potatoes in the ashes, walking through the forests.

Serious business

Now it was autumn and I went to second grade. I sat next to a girl who was almost nine years old and virtually twice my size. Furthermore some of the boys in the “senior grades” made sure they spent the class breaks with her. I was mortified, scared, chicken…

I made some friends. My closest friend was Jacek Szpotanski. We played during most free periods and he taught me many games while I helped him with his early homework. He was a heavy-set fellow, good at sports and any outdoor activity. As he grew up he became a muscular handsome boy with a lot of inherent aggressiveness. Although we were very close while in the same school, a few years later when we met at the swimming pool it was my brother who recognized him. He was active in the underground later, but I have no idea what happen to him after the Warsaw Uprising. Another friend of mine was Kotek Plucinski. Kotek was a much lighter boy, rather quiet and shy. I remember very little of either of them. Somehow my teenage years when I felt very lonesome made me drop all my early friends.

Kotek Plucinski had a birthday party, where I found out some people lived in dark-looking apartments, but could have fun nevertheless.

Now the other party was different. Jacek Szpotanski’s father had a factory of plumbing equipment. When his birthday came we were invited to his big house at the shore of the river on the outskirts of Warsaw (Saska Kepa). We were to sleep overnight. When I went to the bathroom it appeared that there two places where you could empty yourself. I decided on the unusual one, thinking that the usual one was for the “heavy” stuff. When I tried to flush, I discovered that there were two taps instead of a normal handle. Undeterred, I turned on the tap on the left and received a heavy shower! This was my education about what the bidet is all about.

In the morning we had a pillow fight. I seemed to be getting the better of Willie, a heavy fellow, son of a cigarette manufacturer, when all at once I was attacked by his sister. Turning around, I grabbed her and pulled her to the floor. While I sat cross-legged holding the girl on the ground, Willie sat on my neck bringing my head with full force to the ground.

A month later the vacations started; the garden was full of flowers and early fruits. I bent over to pick up a strawberry and fell over in pain. My spine had a crack on one of the middle-placed vertebrae. I did not eat strawberries for the next twenty years.

My years at home

Out of school

I was placed in a cast reaching from my shoulders to my legs. My mother stayed with me constantly. I could have all the chocolate and ice cream I wanted. The first weekend I developed a severe pain in my stomach. I insisted that the only doctor that could save me was my godfather, Dr Brodowski. He was married to my mother’s first cousin. When he came, he decided that my pain was due to overstuffing with sweets, and cut a big hole for my stomach in my body cast. The pain subsided. I remained convinced that he was the best doctor in the world.

My mother would stay with me most of the day. She cried and worried. I could not understand her sorrow. My brother explained that she used to be married before and had a daughter. In the separation proceedings the family of her husband gained the custody of her daughter, because my mother married in Switzerland during her studies and was still under 21. Subsequently her daughter died of complications developed after influenza. Furthermore the doctor who treated me told her that I likely would never walk again.

My feelings were mixed. At first I felt sorry for my mother. Then I felt sorry for myself. Then I felt curious.

I decided to try to walk. As soon as I was left alone in the summerhouse, I slipped down from the bed. Boy, was this stuff ever heavy! I crawled first. I felt OK. Then I raised myself slowly, propped up by the bed. Soon I was walking in the garden playing with my friends.

I spent most of the summer in the cast, but everybody was nice to me and organized the games in such a way that I could participate. Near the end of the summer, I spent a lot of time listening to the Olympic Games in Berlin. I became an expert on light sport.

Even when my cast came off, my mother insisted that I spend the year at home. She hired a live-in tutor, but she was not very lucky in choosing the right kind. The first one was a drug addict. The second one was a girl who did not like the arrangement of looking day-in, day-out after a rambunctious 8-year-old. The third one was my cousin (my mother’s sister married Mr Kobylecki and had three children) but it turned out that he had to spend more time on his own studies. Finally we settled on a gentleman who lived down the dusty road behind the Mennas’ house. He gave me lessons in the morning, when I usually walked to his house.

I liked going to his house. I enjoyed meeting his neighbors: an old asthmatic retiree with a bagful of stories about the old times, a couple of retired hookers who plied me with candy, a woman painter with great aspirations (she sold us a painting of our house for the outrageous sum of 20 dollars), a foreman in the chocolate factory (Czarnecki) whose wife was an ex-emigre to Germany and whose daughter was the most beautiful girl in the village.

The dusty road ran straight into the forest. I often trudged along into the forest, but it seemed to be endless. One time the boys in the village told me that somebody hung a dog on a tree in the forest. I never found the dog, but I came home tired and was closed in the attic as a penalty by my father. That’s when I discovered a lot of old interesting stuff was stored there. I used some of the old clothes to dress up for my games.

I spent a lot of time digging in the library in my father’s study. I decided to reorganize the shelves. I found that the books were in six languages: Polish, German, French, English, Latin and Russian. A lot of classical authors were in a number of languages. Shakespeare, for instance, was not only in English, but translations existed in German and Polish. Whereas some books were well read, some complete works of known authors seemed to have been not used very much. I was not surprised to find the complete works of Voltaire (300 volumes) basically unread, but I wondered who was rereading a well-stained Lessing [15] in German?

  1. One of the major German poets.

I found a well-stocked section of Polish literature. I especially enjoyed reading Prus, Kraszewski and Korzeniowski [16] (Joseph Conrad’s uncle). I was not impressed with the modern Polish writers, possibly because I could not understand them.

  1. All three were well-known XIXth-century writers of Polish prose.

I discovered some documents and old picture albums in my father’s desk. I was unable to identify most of the old daguerreotypes. Who knows what stories they may have contained?

As the summer came, my mother insisted that my father take a long holiday. He went this time to Montecatini [17] in Italy. We all enjoyed his letters full of descriptions of Florence and the art of the renaissance. My father had a great aptitude for languages. Wherever he went, he would learn to speak the native language. And so this time he added Italian to the languages that he could converse in.

  1. A well-known Italian health resort near Florence in Tuscany.

The depression was coming to a close, at least for the district that we lived in. Some time before, a road was built linking Warsaw with Modlin. The building of the road infused a fair amount of economic wealth into the area. Now an airport was started on our side of the city.

Mlociny settlement was beginning to grow again. Many houses that had stood unoccupied for years were now bought and people were moving into them. To the east of our house, behind the cross on the hill, a couple of houses had risen. The boy who lived there was famous for his escapades with his father’s car. He was driving it around the development and was caught by the police and reprimanded – he was only twelve years old. Five houses that bordered on our property were now all occupied, one with multiple families. In the forest to the south, the leather industrialists (Weigle brothers) built two three-story mansions. They had two daughters, one of whom became my play companion. Close to us, between our house and the small woods surrounding the farm house, a house was built in which Marian Gliwa lived.

He was my bosom friend.

Back to school

I guess I was declared to be healthy again. My father was concerned that I was getting too lazy and good for nothing (nothing has changed, you see) and I was being sent to school. I followed my brother again, and was enrolled in the Lutheran high school (gimnazjum Reya). It turned out to be a great mistake. The class students represented most of the Polish minorities. The year spent at home made me a lot more accustomed to the children of the Polish working class, whereas the children in this school represented a mixture of affluent city dwellers.

I felt out of place. I found that among the children of the German group, the Jewish group and Polish merchant group there were a few who did not seem to belong and were persecuted by the others. I was especially sorry for a boy, I believe his name was George, who was the son of an officer. The others seem to continually play practical jokes on George and beat him in a corner. I undertook to defend him. The result was an alienation from most of the kids in the class.

Age of discovery

My problem was that my brother was the best student in his class, for a couple of years now, while my results were rather mediocre. I felt very much alone.

My father’s office was within walking distance of the school. Occasionally I would walk to his office, trying to find solace in his company. Mostly I found that he was too busy to see me. I had to rely on myself. I explored the city and found many interesting people and places. Sometimes I would ask my parents where they would be at a particular time and arranged to meet them.

I also found that I could get into my father’s office when he was not there. I found a drawer in his desk which was locked. After some experimentation I opened it and found some juicy French books, held there in order that “the kids” would not get to them. After checking with my brother, I found that he had already discovered and read them but was not impressed. Anyhow I could not understand most of the stuff.

That year, two of my mother’s relatives died and we had to attend the funeral. I found the dead bodies lying in state almost as sobering as my first experience. Much less impressive than looking at a funeral of some dignitary.

My loneliness caused me to spend more time with our servants. I found that the young one was very lonely herself. She suggested exploring our bodies, but at that age I did not find it overly exciting. On the other hand my mother got rather upset about the business and the servant was thrown out (how unfair – might have been useful later).

I found that if I took the bus at a particular time, I was travelling with Marian, who got on the bus at Bielany. I got very friendly with him. We played immediately after coming home. His parents did not like him to stray too far away from home, so we usually played in his garden. He was my best friend. He was taller and heavier than I, but in all games I seem to be the leader. Marian was always quiet and liked remaining in the background. What attracted me to him was that he was always ready to drop anything he was doing to be with me. He made me feel very comfortable and important. I saw him for the last time when I visited Poland after the war. I cannot say why I never wrote to him.

In the winter I found that I had a sister, Alina, whom I had never met. She was a great hit. For one, she was big. Then she was engaged and her fiancé skied better than any of my friends. Finally she brought gifts for my birthday. My birthday was in January and people normally forgot to give me gifts because it was right after Christmas.

That year there were two weddings. Well, I was not invited to my sister’s wedding (shame, shame!). Zosia had her wedding in our house. I can hardly remember how she looked like. The thing I remember about her was her personality: always willing to be helpful, unassuming and gentle. Zosia was an “extension” of our household. She was my mother’s niece and everybody felt sorry for her because she was born after my aunt left her husband. I could never understand what was so regrettable about it. Anyway many people came for the wedding. In particular my grandmother, who stayed with us for a while.

At the end of the year, I was hospitalized for appendicitis, which gave me some additional status with the neighborhood kids. During my convalescence, my mother, my grandmother and I played a lot of bridge. Sometimes we even had a fourth player.


I listened to the radio a lot. A couple of years before, my father had been caught on the train from France when the Germans marched into the Ruhr district [18]. I listened to the news about the war in Spain when I marked the advances of Franco on a map of Spain. I listened to the news of the Italian army advances in Abyssinia and the news about the Anschluss [19]. Now Czechoslovakia and Munich [20]. Peace in our time. It sounded worse than war. Mixed feelings about Polish army in Cieszyn [21]. My brother was in the same class as the sons of the Polish chief of general staff. Stach Paprocki was some political bigwig. Somehow politics were getting into my life.

  1. Ruhr district, administered by France after the treaty of Versailles, was the first of Hitler’s acquisitions after he became the German Chancellor. German troops marched into the district in 1936 without any opposition.
  2. Anschluss was the name given by Hitler to his annexation of Austria in 1938.
  3. A treaty, promoted by the conservative prime minister of Great Britain, Neville Chamberlain, ratified the German annexation of Czechoslovakia, proclaimed as the last German annexation. Chamberlain proclaimed that the agreement assured peace in our time.
  4. Cieszyn – a city originally allocated to Poland by the Versailles treaty – was annexed by Czechoslovakia during the Polish-Russian war of 1920. Poland took advantage of German annexation of Sudetenland to take back Cieszyn in 1938.

Summer was full of parties. Our garden so beautiful resounded with the joyful voices of so many friends and relatives. The depression was no more. People had money, cars, time… Life was so beautiful.

There was something that bothered me. I often played with the kids who were older then me. Now that I was ten years old, the girls stopped playing with me, or at least seemed to enjoy playing with my brother who was fourteen. I decided that you cannot trust girls.

When I went to school again, I asked my mother to send me to the same school that Marian went to. Still he was one year ahead of me.

I found that the school at Bielany was quite different from the prestigious Lutheran Gimnazjum. Here a single teacher taught most of the courses, which made for a more intimate relationship with the students. I felt more secure.

At the beginning of winter, my niece Barbara Zaremba was born. Despite being small, she looked surprisingly like a human being. We visited Zarembas in their nice new apartment.

For Christmas my parents decided to go to a resort in the mountains. As far as I was concerned the trip was a washout. Pompous personalities: a general, a district officer (wojewoda [22]), a sub district officer (starosta) and some commercial big wigs, were forever discussing the political situation. Radio was often turned on to catch Hitler’s or Chamberlain’s speeches. A storm was in the air.

  1. Literally a leader of warriors, originally in feudal times was an official who led the knights from a certain district. In modern times, a district officer.

When they went home, my parents decided to leave me at the resort, but at a different house. This was a children’s rest place (a “pension” they called it). I rather enjoyed the winter sports: skiing, tobogganing, etc, but was very happy to get back home after a month of staying in that place.

Of the stay in the resort I remember the best a whole day’s excursion to the top of one of the neighboring peaks. As one of the youngest children in the group, it took me two hours longer to get down to the bottom of the hill.

It was also the first time that I encountered a girl who was telling me that I was very smart and handsome. I did not know what to make of her. Still I found the experience pleasant if puzzling.

In the spring Danuta Nowak broke her leg. I felt so sorry for her I used to go and read to her. This was very satisfying until the day that she asked me to kiss her. I could not decide to go and see her again.

The school had a very relaxed atmosphere. I was making many friends, but I still liked Marian best.

Last summer

All year long my brother was involved with the boy scouts. He was always very good at concentrating on achieving excellence in the desired field. After achieving success in getting a number of badges, his sleeve looked like the chest of one of Napoleon’s marshals. A further effort in the development of his expertise resulted in becoming an Eagle Scout. In line with this achievement he was going to spend the summer in a Boy Scout camp.

As the summer approached, two events foreshadowed the approaching war. In the spring a bingo was played in one of Weigle’s mansions. Edward, one of the leather industry scions, married a German lady. As we were gathering for the game, Mrs Edward Weigle listened to the German radio, which described the alleged atrocities perpetrated on poor German settlers in Poland. Few people took notice of such propaganda, which was generally assumed to be untrue. This view was based on observation of treatment received in the local area (at least a third of my brother’s high school class was made up of German-descent city merchants). Mrs Weigle, however, was listening with tears in her eyes and made everybody very sympathetic to her sorrow. We quickly forgot about the incident, when my father won the major prize for the evening: a giant fruit basket. The basket must have lasted us a couple of months. It was the first time I tasted many tropical fruits: pineapples, kiwi fruit, mangoes and many others.

The other event was my mother’s name day. As usual, all our friends gathered for the occasion. Although there were many guests, some of them were dressed in uniforms and the absence of others was explained by emergency reserve training. The discussion also turned to the German ultimatum, financing of arms, and the French and British guarantee of the Polish borders.

While my brother readied himself for the Boy Scout camp and fantasized about the international Boy Scout jamboree, which was going to be held the following year, I became jealous and made my mother promise me a trip to various family haunts during that summer. My father was to spend his leave in southern Poland on the Roumanian border. So during this final summer before the war, each of us went his own way.

We traveled with my mother first to the Beskid Mountains [23], where my brother was sleeping under a tent in the wilderness. I had an impression that he was not enjoying it as much as advertised. Still, one can stand a lot when one is fifteen. On the day we arrived he was the designated cook and kettle washer. He told us he could see us for only a minute as he might be “occupied” for most of the evening.

  1. Beskid mountains are a part of the Carpathians. They form a major part of the boundary between Poland and Czechoslovakia.

From there we went by slow trains, winding around the Polish mountains, to Zakopane in Polish Tatra mountains [24], where both my grandmother and my aunt lived. This was my second trip there, and this time I could climb mountains better than my mother. This was a source of wonder and satisfaction to me and the source of shortness of breath for my mother. My grandmother owned two beautiful, large houses in town and all the rooms were rented out. She claimed she was too busy to wander and should be excused on the basis of her old age. My aunt was earning her living by giving lessons to sundry high school pupils. So she claimed that her sickness and a series of contracted lessons, did not permit her to chase mountain goats. Although I felt elated at my new-found freedom, I soon became lonely and bored.

  1. A short range of mountains on the border between Poland and Czechoslovakia. Characterized by tall peaks and deep mountain lakes, has a number of well-known resorts.

Now we travelled north to my mother’s family’s place. I always heard a lot about it; my mother spent a large portion of her childhood on her grandfather’s farm, while her parents appeared to be somewhat at odds. My feeling about the farm was somewhat like the one of early settlers in Texas. Everything was so big and so primitive.

The trip involved going by train to a tiny country station followed by a three-hour trip in a horse-driven carriage. I would have been bored to death if it had not been for my mother describing the features of the countryside. Even then I found it very tedious.

My mother recounted numerous stories of her childhood. Her grandfather was apparently not only a very skillful farmer but also a rather shrewd businessman. The farm to which we were going was originally obtained as a dowry in his second marriage, but it was heavily loaded by debt and mainly consisted of unusable marshes. In time he paid the debt and increased its size, while also increasing the amount of land that was either arable or a valuable forest stand. At the time we visited it consisted of over 4000 acres with only 40% unusable land. It was now owned by my grand-uncle. At one time my great grandfather hoped that my mother would marry the new owner, but she found him a great bore, and so did I. Although rich, he was impossibly tight. It appeared that almost every year on the farm was a bad year, if one listened to him.

When we finally came to the house, we found old Sztembart grumbling that we forced him to use a pair of his horses to bring us over, while they were needed for the harvest. My mother asked how many pairs did he have? It turned out he had 38 pairs and luckily none were sick that day. Still, each pair was needed. So she asked him, why he did not buy more? Apparently that would require increasing the size of the stable. And why no tractors? That would require spare parts, etc.

Old Sztembart had two sons. Both of them were studying agriculture. The older one left home as soon as he got a job, and never spoke to the old man again. The old guy was rather happy about it, as he did not have to give him any money.

The younger one was smarter. He suggested to the old man that he put a series of ponds on the wet part of the farm. The old guy agreed to give him a part of the useless marsh, but refused to give him money. So the ponds were built through a bank loan, which the young guy got without any difficulty, considering the old man’s age (he was nearly seventy). Now, the sale of fish populating the ponds was bringing more money than the farm. The old guy continually claimed that the young one cheated him. But like father, like son; the young one would not give him a penny, claiming that the loan needed to be paid in full.

The one we really felt sorry for was the old man’s daughter, Louise. She lacked nothing but interest in life.

Things one did not lack at the farm were food and space. In front of the house there was a big lawn and flowers and in the back there was a huge garden. A lot of produce from the garden was sent to the village to those who worked in the fields. Most of it appeared on the table.

The house was spacious. The central part was occupied by a big hall, behind which you saw a dining room, which was the lightest part of the rather gloomy, dark old house. On the left of the hall there was a study, and on the right a large family room with a real mish-mash of old furniture. At night the house was lit by kerosene lamps, which appeared almost anywhere; some were hanging from the ceiling, others stood decorating various tables, consoles and cupboards. Generally the house looked lighter at night than during the day.

Most of the bedrooms were situated in the right wing of the house, while the left wing held the kitchen and servant quarters plus various utility rooms.

Through the back doors of the house, one moved into the back lawn and then into the bushes. Well, really into a veritable forest. Inside this forest there was a pond large enough to have a couple of boats tied in to its shore.

At one time, somebody brought a lot of decorative flowers and planted them around and in the pond, but now all vegetation grew helter-skelter in different parts of this wild garden. It was a great place to play in.

No matter how early I got up in the morning, all the people had gone to work in the fields. They were not back until the evening. So I wandered exploring the farm further and further. In front of the house, beyond the gate, the wide road split, producing a secondary country road. That road led to the outbuildings. I found the carriage house with an interesting set of vehicles.

There were at least three narrow seats on wheels. You could sit on them like on a horse or sideways. I found that these were used to carry people to work. High wagons with an empty space behind the front seat were apparently used to carry cargo. There was a number of carriages with a high seat for the driver and sometimes one, sometimes two seats facing one another. There was a hansom cab. Finally there was a big enclosed vehicle with a very wide window in front and spacious seats inside, there were also high seats for the driver and a couple of high seats in the back. I found numerous storage spaces inside and discovered that the main seat could be folded out, in hide-a-bed fashion. I played in different carriages for a while.

Beyond the carriage house a series of barns were either full of stored grain or empty. Apparently farm animals were in the fields. Puffing noises directed me to an area where threshing was in progress. Wagons full of wheat or whatever were arriving, and stuff was packed at one end into storage sheds, while at the other side, people were pulling the stuff back down and feeding it into a machine with a voracious appetite for the grain. Further along the way, a pair of horses was walking in a circle, driving another machine, which cut the straw into little pieces.

Leaving the area, I walked towards the village, where dirty kids were playing in the mud. I could see no grown-ups. Some houses seemed pretty nice, others looked pretty dilapidated. Having described the scenes to my mother later, I caused a minor disturbance, as she complained to her uncle that little money seemed to be spent on accommodation improvement in his village. Apparently all those houses were owned by the farm and were rented out to the people living in them.

Next day was set aside for the fish harvest. I found that there were five ponds; the highest one holding fresh water, the lowest one being emptied to permit gathering of the fish into a waiting vehicle brought by the buyers of the carp harvest. Those in between held fish of different ages and sizes. It was amazing how many fish there were in the lowest pond. One felt sorry for the multitude of fish going to the market. I wondered who would eat all the fish. I hate carp!

Where the ponds were, the country looked bleak and desolate. My mother claimed that when she was a child nobody could walk there; it was a treacherous marsh. For miles around one could see only flat wet land. Flowers gave relief to the emptiness of the view. Far away in the distance one could see clumps of birches and poplars. The trip, at first interesting, became tedious when I realized that we had to wait until the transaction was completed. Under my mother’s guidance, I explored the marsh, jumping from one soggy rise to another. This provided only minor relief from boredom. We had to wait until all the fish were stowed away in barrels and the fishmonger paid.

Next day Louise came from Warsaw announcing her engagement to some officer, a sure sign the war was coming. When the old man found out that the officer was penniless, he had a fit. Anyway Louise was going swimming every day almost at dawn and I tagged along.

The river (Narew) was about a mile and a half away along an old dirt road. One had to either row a boat across the river or go downstream past the river bend. I loved the second place, because one could watch a herd of cattle being controlled by a shepherd dog.

There were many dogs on the farm. The hunting dogs generally slept lazily during the day – I wondered how they could ever raise themselves to hunt. The house dogs were hanging around people (mostly me) during the meals. My mother continually admonished me not to feed them during the meal but the poor things had such mournful eyes. I used to sneak a bit of meat to them now and again. Occasionally this would cause a big fight for the scrap, and the dogs would be shut away in the room next to the kitchen. Their protests could be heard throughout the house.

One particular dog, a water retriever, would always tag along when we went swimming (or at least when Louise was swimming – I waded). The dog would disappear as soon as we left the farm, but he would reappear when our boat was half way across the river. He would then catch up to us before we reached the other shore and insist on getting into the boat and making us all wet. I was glad that the dog was with us, as Louise was daydreaming when she was not swimming. The only way I could make her talk was to ask her questions about her fiancé. Couldn’t do it when my mother was with us, as she considered it impolite.

Despite many trips, I never learned to swim. I could float some, but was too chicken to go for the real stuff.

Soon the visit was over. We had to go home for my brother’s birthday (Aug 15). It was a gala affair. All his friends:

  • Haftke, the bright Jewish boy who always competed with my brother for the top of the class honors,
  • Poznanski, who claimed that we were Jewish as he was,
  • Schiele, the only son of the largest Polish brewer,
  • Schaffner, a stiff son of a German merchant,
  • Oleszko, a friendly kid always in Boy Scout uniform,

and all our neighbors – Bystrams, Nowaks, Romanowskis, Weigles, Piaseckis, even my friend Marian. At night there was dancing (I hated it – all girls were too tall). Parlor games – some were quite tolerable, but I don’t remember them any more. It was nice to be home again. In two weeks school was going to start. We had to use the time to re-acquaint ourselves with the kids of the neighborhood, run around the countryside, go to the movies…

Warsaw was strange, frantic, busy. There were announcements of practice air raid alarms, gas masks for sale, army maneuvers. My father was still in the southern Polish resort Truskawiec. He was coming home soon. He called to tell us that he could not get tickets for the train until the next week.

The radio beamed its news. More illegal border crossings by German patrols. British special envoy to go to Moscow. Sunday Aug 27th, my father called again. Trains now delayed more than eight hours. Polish trains pride themselves on never being late. We went to Mass at Bielany. School only days away now. Saw some of my classmates at mass. Everybody had a great vacation.

Monday Aug 28th. More news: German foreign minister flew to Moscow. Special bulletin: USSR and Germany signed a pact of non-aggression. Why would they do that? Suggestions to build air raid shelters follow. Mother went to meet the train from the south, but came home exhausted and irritated. The train was full and ten hours late. My father was not on it. Went to play tennis with Nowaks. Mr Nowak had not been home over the weekend.

Tuesday Aug 29th. Mother asked us to help her bring home a 100 lb bag of flour and 40 lbs of salted pork.

Took us hours to get it. So many people in the little stores at Mlociny; I have never seen so many people. My mother tried to call the railway station in Warsaw, but could not get through. She was agitated and wanted to go to meet my father. I asked to go along. When we finally got to the station (suburban buses were late – imagine that!), the train was going to be late sixteen hours. We went to see some friends, but everybody was so busy, we went to the movies. We saw Snow White, it was great.

Still waiting at the station. Trains all packed with people hanging outside. Near midnight now, the train finally came. We almost missed my father but he found us. Outside the station big crowds watching some announcements displayed on the round announcement posts. While we waited for the taxi, we heard paper boys shouting the headline: Mobilization of Polish reserves. My mother said, “Thank God you got home before this was announced.” This was the morning of Aug 30th.

I woke up late. Nobody home. I played with Marian all day. We dug a couple of holes in his garden, made it look like a car. Mr Gliwa was leaving for service in the army as a veterinary surgeon. I took Marian home for dinner. Mother had some friends over, they were all talking a mile a minute. We stayed out of their sight. When I went to sleep they were still talking.

Aug 31st. Only a few days left before school. Everybody busy. We went for a hike in the woods and did not come back until dark; nobody noticed. Even the servants were congregating at the store and discussing the political situation.

I decided to get up early and run to see Marian. My brother was asleep after the first meeting of the Boy Scouts for the new school year. We went digging in the garden, changing our car into a plane. Put in boxes for the radios, drew controls on the wet sand. Overhead, planes were buzzing in tens and hundreds. We looked up.

“Must be another practice air raid,” Marian said.

Guns were sounding now and the sky was full of small black spots.

“Look at the small ones chasing the big ones,” I said.

We heard rumbling noises of multiple explosions. Then a plane in flames was falling down. We looked at one another and ran into his home. The radio was on and a man was shouting in foreign language. Marian’s mother was standing in the middle of the room holding Anna, their servant, in her arms, Anna was crying.

“Germany attacked Poland this morning,” Mrs Gliwa said.

I ran home.

The Polish German war

The distant fight

It was Friday and Father was due home soon. All fathers were due home soon. Some, however, were reporting for duty while others were already fighting at the front. Other fathers were deciding what to do next. My father came late. He was organizing protection for the company buildings and property. He also made sure that the company cars were delivered to the mobilizing depot and prepared a plan for possible emergency salary distribution.

There were three attacks on Warsaw that day. We listened to Hitler’s impassioned speech on German radio and on Polish radio and got the first taste of war propaganda. Polish radio was being continually interrupted to pronounce items like, “PE 46, AJ 27 general alert; DA 18, HO 72 full alert.” Apparently the country was divided into sectors and these announcements advised appropriate sectors of Poland about the oncoming air attack.

Saturday there was a big gathering of neighbors and friends at our house. Some friends arrived from Warsaw. In fact this was the last time we saw many of them. It was a sombre occasion. News were not good. News was broadcast much more often than in peacetime. I had a map of Germany and tried to define where the Polish forces were advancing.

There did not seem to be any such places. My brother suggested that we use the Polish map; I felt that this would be construed as a betrayal of Polish national feeling. My brother thought I was stupid.

Sunday the air attacks intensified. More planes were falling from the skies and I cheered the fighters on until my brother suggested that the majority of the falling planes were Polish. Later on he admitted that maybe there was something to cheer about, as most of the Polish planes were destroyed on the ground; the planes falling in flames were at least fighting. We did not go to church. I felt dejected.

Finally late in the day there really was something to cheer about. Both England and France declared war on Germany. Now Germany could be defeated soon. I felt very hurt when my father suggested that this war could take five years or more. It was encouraging that none of our neighbors seemed to agree with him, but I did not like the idea of my father being so wrong…

Monday was supposed to be the first day of school. The bus did not arrive. My father got a lift to work from Mr Nowak, who as a director of the Bank of Poland, kept his car and the bank’s car. I did not feel very good about it – was it not unpatriotic? All planes appeared to carry crosses on their wings now; I thought that Hitler was supposed to have the swastika as his symbol. Anyway, where were the Polish planes? Antiaircraft guns still boomed but much less often; on the other hand the air alarms appeared to be more frequent. Did we not destroy a part of the German Luftwaffe? At night we watched the glow of fires over Warsaw. The fires seem much closer than five miles away. Father did not come home that day.

Father came next day in the afternoon. He had to walk from the last tram stop, about two miles. People were leaving. The Nowaks left on Tuesday in two cars. They asked my father to join them. He declined. Bystram left with his family, leaving his sister to guard the house.

After one more excursion to Warsaw, my mother insisted my father stay home; there was not much point in going to work. By the seventh of September, advance groups of the German army were operating south of Warsaw. During the lull between bombing, the roads were full of people moving east.

The weekend of the ninth and tenth was very sad. We listened to speeches by Mayor (of Warsaw) Starzynski imploring people to leave the city or assist in building the defenses. One was not sure whether he wanted them to stay or to leave, but at least he wanted them to do something. We wondered what had happened to the Polish government. There did not seem to be any coordinated command.

Monday my father stayed home at my mother’s insistence. Although most of the stores were closed, the bakery was open in the morning. We bought baskets of bread and distributed parts of loaves to tired and hungry travellers along the road. We saw isolated groups of Polish soldiers moving east. Going backwards? What happened to the front? Apparently it collapsed. We almost got hit when the low-flying planes began strafing the roads. Many wounded. The Post Office and railway storage shed were made over into hospitals, but there was no doctor at Mlociny. We tried to load the wounded onto horse-drawn carts and send them to Warsaw. Many of those that could not jump into the ditches got killed in the strafing. Mother insisted we stay home now.

Wednesday the thirteenth. During the night, a German tank moved through Mlociny, stopping on the dirt road in front of the house where my ex-teacher lived, apparently to repair a broken track. We, the kids, investigated the grooves made by the tank. The day was quiet. At night, one could see heavy artillery projectiles passing overhead appearing like low-flying falling stars.

The electricity was cut off on the sixteenth.

Next day was the third Sunday of the war. The sun shone brightly in the sky. I went to see Marian in the morning and had just came back home. My mother was cleaning the house. One of our servants decided to go to Warsaw, where she had some family. In the kitchen a few stragglers were eating soup and bread. All at once the house shook with a nearby explosion. As I ran to the window in my room I saw a squadron of Polish cavalry being pursued by heavy artillery fire. The horses were in full gallop, for the most part escaping the slaughter. One or two bodies remained, along the road in front of Marian’s house. One horse was galloping without a rider, with his entrails hanging out. I could not forget the sight for a while. The war had come to Mlociny.

Mlociny under siege

The dead soldiers were buried quickly. People were afraid that the artillery fire might come back. We waited for something to happen but the day and night were quiet. Another day passed. There were not even any stragglers moving to the east. Some men from the neighborhood came in asking for food and stayed the next night.

The night of the eighteenth reverberated with the sound of gunfire. Somewhere close by a battle was raging. We huddled together in the living room to flashes of explosions and small-calibre gunfire. I woke up in the morning to find Polish soldiers everywhere. There were horses in the lower garden, and soldiers along the fence were digging in. My mother and the cook were cooking huge amounts of soup, throwing in whatever was left of our vegetables in the basement. This went on through the whole day.

I made friends with the sergeant, who spent most of his time watering horses. He showed me some of the loot they had won from the Germans during the previous night. Most of it were Polish arms which the Germans had won previously from Polish troops. He offered me a bayonet of the Polish National Guard, which looked like a little sword. I hung it proudly on my belt and walked around with it the whole day.

Around five o’clock, the artillery fire started. The Polish officer in charge told us to stay home, preferably in the basement. My mother hated to stay downstairs and so we wandered into the kitchen. All our neighbors and the stragglers were gone, including our cook, who seemed to have mixed very closely with some of the soldiers. As we sat in the kitchen amid the constant noise of the battle, it grew dark slowly.

I fell asleep despite the constant noise, only waking up when our house and/or garden were being hit. Towards the morning the sounds of the battle receded.

I woke up late. It was completely quiet. Occasionally one could hear the distant sound of explosions, but compared with the previous night it was a quiet morning. There weren’t even any sounds of passing projectiles. I thought, “Where is everybody? What is happening?”

Something was poking into my side; it was the bayonet. The lower gate clanged. Somebody was walking into our garden. Must be the Polish soldiers, I thought. I ran into the dining room and saw my father walking out onto the terrace. German soldiers were standing there pointing a gun at him. As he spoke to them in German, they began to concentrate on questioning him. I was scared out of my wits. I had to get rid of the bayonet. I ran into the hall and deposited the bayonet under the table.

Having assured my father that he would be shot if any Polish soldiers were found in our house, two of the Germans made my mother walk in front of them throughout the house while the other two kept pointing their guns at my father. Our garage was on fire; apparently they had found a Polish soldier hiding there. My father was led away. My mother, my brother and I were told to sit down in the dining room.


The house was filling up with the soldiers. Nobody paid any attention to us. It was getting close to noon. I wanted to go to the bathroom. I asked my mother what should I do. She looked around and selected a man with some insignia on his sleeve. She asked him to let me go upstairs. He looked me over and decided to permit me to go upstairs.

When I came back the soldiers began to dig into any food that was left from the previous visitors to the house. One of them found a jar full of cherries fermenting with sugar. He was picking out the cherries with his knife and spitting the stones out on the floor. My mother was none too happy. She asked him whether he would like a plate to spit the stones into. He told her to keep her mouth shut when she was in the presence of the victors.

She asked him whether the victors were taught by their mothers to spit stones on the floor, and the soldier flew into a rage. He stepped forward holding his bayonet towards my mother’s chest. Fortunately the soldier with the insignia on his sleeve shouted at the other soldier. He told him not to behave like an idiot, then assailed my mother with a stream of abuse.

It may have developed into further unpleasant discussion, but for the officer who came and told us to be ready to move out in half an hour. My mother asked whether we could take something with us and he said yes – whatever we could carry, as we may be walking a long way. The officer took the soldiers away.

My mother helped us to pack a few things into a personal bag each. We used our school bags. She took things that fitted into a shoulder-strap bag, then filled a suitcase with some food. Then the officer was back urging us to move out. A column of women and children was forming along the main street. We wondered whether all the men were taken to the same place that we were going. As we joined the throng of people we saw the bodies of four men on the hill below the Stamirowskis’ house. My father was not among them. One of the bodies was that of my former schoolteacher, another was a straggler who had stayed in our house two nights before.

We speculated as to the cause of these men’s being shot. My brother suggested that they may have been double agents. By this time we had heard many stories of German agents disrupting Polish lines of communication and doing other acts of sabotage.

The march to the west was a nightmare. Throughout the countryside one could see the results of the battle. Mutilated bodies of Polish soldiers and horses were all along the ten miles of our march. Trees damaged by the artillery fire were pointing their broken stumps towards the sky in accusing sorrow. Broken vehicles interfered with our progress. Not many people cried – the shock was too great. Our escort of two soldiers marched us into a village called Kepa Dolna and let us stay there. The villagers took five families to a house. They were very generous.


Some people slept in the barn. We were privileged to sleep in the house, six of us to a bed (we shared it with the Romanowskis). I don’t know what made us so privileged unless it was my mother’s money. My father called my mother a socialist in white gloves. She always stood up for common people rights, unless she had to sit next to somebody who was not properly washed and dressed. Apparently in her younger days she had been a very active socialist. She even knew some people who formed the socialist wing of the pro-government which was later formed in Lublin. I loved my mother very much.

I loved her so much I even agreed to wash behind my ears in the ice-cold water from the well situated in the middle of the yard of the little farm where we were housed. I stayed close to her all the time we stayed on that little farm. Of course I could not forget the sight of the road filled with the dead bodies nor the broken trees. But most of all I could not forget the mutilated bodies of horses. Some people took advantage of all the horse meat available and cooked it for supper.

My brother and Tom Romanowski bought a pig, which we had our meals of for a few days. They also procured a horse and wagon from somewhere. They came with the news that Poland was now at war with Russia as well. The farmer advised them to stay close to the village, as Kepa Gorna (the next village) was a village of German settlers who already made their presence felt. The Kepa Dolna leaders were all taken away and imprisoned; nobody would see them ever again. I stayed close to my mother.

My dreams were full of violence and gore. I was sure my father was dead now. I was sure all my friends were dead now. I played with the farmer’s dog, keeping my eye on my mother’s movements.

We left for home in the wagon that my brother and Tom procured after we heard that Warsaw had fallen. The road was cleared now. All the men from the village worked most days burying the dead and clearing the debris. I don’t remember much of the journey home, except that I tried not to look at the places where I remembered the signs of the battle.

The taste of defeat

When we came home we found the house deserted. The German army had moved into Warsaw and temporarily we were left alone. We brought some food with us and found the flour my mother had bought in the last days before the war. My mother was setting up the housekeeping in the kitchen when a new group of soldiers came in and requisitioned our house. We were permitted to stay in one room upstairs. No sign of my father.

The place was full of soldiers now, who seemed to spend most of their time learning to goose-step on the meadow between our house and the farms of Rentelaer and Lomnicki. They looked silly and menacing at the same time. Groups of four soldiers were marching shoulder to shoulder, turning around in a single line and returning to their previous position, then turning around on command. There were so many of them that the voices of sergeants (or Feldwebels, whatever) sounded like a chorus. Usually cows were using this meadow and I hoped that the goose-stepping Germans were having a lot of trouble with cows’ manure.

I was getting resigned now to the bleak life ahead. I still could not look at the road where we observed the bloody battlefield, but I started moving around the countryside and meeting some of my old playmates. Anything to get away from the goose-stepping mob. But I could not get away from the fact that my father was still missing and the place was full of “victors.”

Near the end of October, two soldiers came in to our room (the rest of the house was occupied by the Germans) and took my brother away. My mother was frantic. Her entreaties to the original two were of no avail. She decided to ask Mrs Edward Weigle to help her to obtain my brother’s release.

I was very depressed at the thought of pleading with the “victor” but accompanied my mother anyway. Was it curiosity, protective feeling, fear of losing her – I really don’t know. Anyway we walked that mile in sorrowful silence. We found Mrs Weigle entertaining a large group of senior officers in a very boisterous atmosphere. She invited my mother to her study and listened to her sympathetically. She went out to talk to her compatriots and soon came back with a piece of paper and instructions which led us to the Warsaw highway and a large group of boys (most of the men were still away) working at clearing the war debris from the road. My mother got my brother back home.

Obviously the whole escapade was rather unnecessary, since all the boys came home eventually. But it did impress me – my mother’s concern, Mrs Weigle’s sympathy. As it turned out, she was soon to stop fraternizing with her own compatriots and marry a Polish industrialist, while her brother-in-law, whose family had been settled in Poland now for many generations, became a Volksdeutsch [25] to save his factory from being taken over by the German government.

  1. Volksdeutsch was a person who claimed and was accepted as a descendant of a German family. Other persons acceptable to the German Reich were Reichsdeutsch, a German citizen; and Eingedeutsch, a person who signed an intention to become a German citizen if allowed to do so.

We found out later that all these preparations were being made for the victory parade, attended by Hitler, which took place in early November in Warsaw. A week after this “momentous” (for the victors, anyway) event, we were sitting in the evening by candlelight, confined to our room, when my father walked in. He looked haggard and tired but was otherwise unhurt. He remarked afterwards that he remembered with tenderness the moment we all rushed to embrace him, Mother and my brother from his front and I from his back for the lack of room. He felt tender and guilty about my second-rate position while I felt rather stupid, but I loved him anyway. Somehow the world was getting back together again.

Father decided to go to his work after staying at home for a couple of days. At first he would return home every few days, but it proved difficult. There was no transportation yet and he had to walk all of 9 miles. My mother suggested that he make up his inner office into a bed-sitting room, and he stayed in his office then for much longer periods of time. When he came home, he would be a source of news for us.

Tom Romanowski retained the horse and wagon in which we all had come home from our exile. At first the horse had the time of his life, as he was kept in the garden where he nibbled on all the greenery. Later on, Tom had to procure fodder for him. He made some excursion with my brother and established a bit of a black market, bringing food and fodder from nearby villages. Many farmers soon provided lively competition in that trade.

It was getting colder now; at night there was frost. In order to get wood for the stove in our room, I had to walk through the kitchen to the woodpile at the side of the house and to the coal stored in the basement. German soldiers were cooking food for themselves in the kitchen and, one day, they told me to get lost. I would not give up until they chased me out shouting abuse, while I answered back. My mother told me to stay in our room and not to show myself. Still, with the lack of wood, it was getting very cold in the room.

A couple of days later, the German officer who commanded the troops brought a peace offering: a plate of sandwiches. He started out by admiring my mother’s ability to talk German, and went on admiring our library and the picture my father got as a gift from the German owners of the company he managed. He also told her that he was in Poland during the first world war. Though he deplored our situation, he asked us not to use the dry wood nor our coal, putting the blame on the high spirits of his SS soldiers. We could, however, buy wood outside and create another pile if we liked at the front of the house, where we would not be likely to interfere with the “victors.” So the bottom line was that I lost the war again. What upset me the most, was my mother claiming that the officer was not as bad as the soldiers; I could not stand the “victors.” After all, using our house, our fuel, our books was a form of robbery.

All Poles remember the day that their feeling about the victorious Germans turned from a dejected feeling of submission and despair to active opposition and hate. For most, the day (Oct 27, 1939) when the Germans killed 140 innocent people at Wawer near Warsaw was that day. As most people know, on that day two German soldiers engaged in a brawl and one knifed the other. Subsequently the Germans pulled out the people out of the nearby houses and shot them in full view of the rest of the population, who were made to watch the performance.

For me the cutting of the top of our silver fir in front of the house was the act that turned the tide. In order to decorate the officer’s table for Christmas, the soldiers decided to cut the tree which had been planted by my father and which we had watched grow throughout our nine golden years of peace. They did not cut the whole tree, only the top of it, thus leaving the deformed stump to remind us of their uncaring abuse.

Rebuilding our lives

The German command organized the clearing of dead bodies, the removal of debris and the movement of troops, as well as new marking of the roads, very early. They also supplied their army with everything it needed. Taking away anything that was locally available was a good supplement to the transportation required to feed, dress, house and amuse the army. Nobody paid any attention to the needs of the local population.

After Christmas I was surprised when my father came with Alina (my sister) and her husband. They brought gifts for my birthday. I was quite impressed. Unfortunately later on that year all Polish soldiers who came home had to first register and later on were taken as prisoners to Germany.

This created another priority and one which was organized slowly. Some ex-soldiers wanted to join the Polish Forces in France and thus travelled surreptitiously into Hungary or Roumania which were still neutral. Most of them got interned in those countries after crossing the border. Others found a way west; this was called the underground train. One of our neighbors, Mr Stamirowski, disappeared that way.

Proclamations were posted which prohibited ownership of guns, radios, motorized vehicles, communication businesses and agencies, etc, all under a penalty of death. As we soon found out, this was not an idle threat. All commercial undertakings needed to be approved by the local government, whatever that was. Still, one had to live, so little attention was paid to the proclamations.

Farmers had nowhere to deliver their produce. Of course originally it was assumed that it needed to be available for disposal by the army, but which Polish farmer cared about the needs of the German army? People had nowhere to buy produce. Thus a lively black market soon developed. New proclamations soon prohibited transportation of food and advised population to wait for food distribution, which turned out to be sporadic at best. Still, shopkeepers applied for authorization to be official food distribution points. Once such a permit was obtained, the black market through the distribution points flourished. Even German soldiers seemed to take advantage of this arrangement.

Soon there were less of them. In January all front-line soldiers moved out without much notice. The war was moving elsewhere. Instead, small detachments of police and party officials began to appear.

The most essential business for the occupational authorities was the organization of the police, whereby in each detachment of the old Polish police there soon existed both official groups of the criminal and secret German police. In addition troops were organized from the German settlers in Poland. Those were called security police and turned out to be the most cruel and dangerous.

All officials, people of note, sports figures, were arrested. These were originally replaced by the German military and later by the so-called general government composed mainly of German settlers and some imported German “talent.” We did not have to wonder for long what would happen to the arrested people. Trains began to move through Mlociny early in the new year to take the prisoners to Palmiry, where they were all shot. After all, concentration camps could not be built in such a short time. The “lucky” ones who survived the first onslaught were given priority to go to Auschwitz. Jews were ordered to carry yellow bands at first, later changed to official white bands with the star of David.

Still it was very hard to convince the Jews that we knew, that their lives were in a grave danger. The rabbi continued to sing his prayers even with all the German army around him until one day he was taken away by the Gestapo (secret police).

Winter came in with a vengeance. So one of the first industries created was glazing. Many of our friends became overnight specialists in fitting out windows with plywood. Glass, if available, was very expensive. The second industry was wood delivery. First the broken-down trees were cut, then all trees were subject to becoming fuel supply. Nobody cared about forest destruction – first things first.

As most of our fuel supply was used up by the “victors,” we had to buy wet wood. All ceilings in the house soon were showing signs of moisture. I remember travelling to school on my skis. The roads were covered with beaten snow and most of the vehicles were horse driven and carrying wood to Warsaw. I tried to hang on to one that was passing by. Usually the driver would aim at hitting me with his whip but often one could escape his attention. Coming home it often was so cold that I felt like lying down and going to sleep. It was not until I lived in Canada that I encountered such freezing and windy weather. The winter of 1939 destroyed most of our fruit trees and my father’s roses. It is probably just as well that he had to stay now in his office due to the lack of transportation.

With all the destruction, the homeless presented a social problem. Some well-meaning citizens organized a relief organization. A transportation agency of the relief organization was housed in my father’s office building. It was somewhat dangerous to become known as an organizer, as most of the people with initiative were likely to be shot. Somehow in the first year the Germans permitted some organizations to exist; they still had hope of finding a Polish Quisling. The relief organization tried first of all to assist in the billeting of the homeless.

And so most of the houses from which people emigrated in the first days of war became occupied by the people whose houses were destroyed by bombs. I was amused, when during my stay in Australia ten years later, one of those people tried to convince me, that if only the communist got out from Poland, common people would welcome the emigres with flowers and kisses. I rather thought that it would be very difficult to return to one’s own home.

The relief organization also provided some clothing and food. In Poland, as in most poor countries, stealing of such materiel by the officials was a very serious problem. Most neighborhood people trusted my mother and she became the secretary of the relief organization. Now she was so busy I seldom saw her at home. She found time, however, to plant potatoes and beans in our garden which helped us survive that year.

She found that she had to watch everything that was donated for the homeless and refugees, as things disappeared fast. She used to tell us some horror stories about the poverty of some of the people she was trying to help. For instance one of the families, with eight children, had only one pair of pants. All ten people were alternating in using them in order to get some fresh air. The rest of them tried to cover themselves with two donated blankets on a donated bed. The mother had the priority for the pants as she used to earn food money through prostitution.

My mother fought very hard with other officials to obtain bed and blankets, as the God-fearing officials did not want to help to legitimate prostitution in our midst, especially as the major customers were German. In the process of trying to help others, my mother contracted dysentery. Now we were the recipients of charity. Two women, both of whom used to be our servants, came to cook and help with the care of my mother.

The school year was supposed to have started at the beginning of the Polish-German war. Many school principals were arrested. Those who were not and teachers in general began to organize schools. The occupation authorities permitted only primary education. Soon up to eight grades of primary schools were operating. Permission for eighth grade was soon revoked.

My brother was supposed to go to 4th level of Polish high school, which was equivalent to 10th grade in the US. Mrs Wilkanowicz, who had a son of my brother’s age, arranged for secret lessons to be given to the two boys and others. Originally they could only get a math teacher who lived in Mlociny to give them lectures in math, physics, chemistry; and Mrs Wilkanowicz gave them lectures in Polish. Later some itinerant university professor gave them lectures in Latin and Greek while a neighbor taught them English. I participated in the last, but was soon left behind and had to be taught separately.

Mrs Wilkanowicz had a young daughter whose husband was a prisoner of war in Germany, and for some reason my brother seemed to baby-sit for her very often, which was curious since there were very few places where she could go; or he would go to play with young Wilkanowicz when young Wilkanowicz seemed to be away. I asked my mother why he was going so often to the Wilkanowiczes and would never take me with him. My mother laughed and said, ”Blood is thicker than water.”

I wanted to know what she meant. She promised to explain providing that I leave my brother alone. She kept her promise, and I did temporarily. Anyway my mother soon convinced him to stay with my father in Warsaw. At Mlociny there were a limited number of people he could continue studies with.

During my mother’s sickness and long convalescence I often stayed overnight with my friend Marian and began to feel a certain attachment to his family. Mr Gliwa was a veterinary surgeon and was mostly away from home attending to animals. Some unkind people claimed that he preferred animals to his wife – she was not what one could term a beauty.

The household also included a servant, who came from the same district as Mr Gliwa and was a permanent part of the family, and Mrs Gliwa’s brother, who used to be the director of the Polish Bank in Gdansk and seemed to have got out from Gdansk during the war – quite a feat. It was almost sure that he would have been shot if he did not escape from Gdansk, as most of the old Polish officials ended up in Palmiry or a concentration camp. I liked listening to his stories about the two societies living side by side in the Free City before the war. I remember his story about the Town Council which ruled the Free City. Curiously enough there were seven Polish delegates, all bearing German-sounding names, and seven German delegates, all bearing Polish sounding names.

The persecution of the Jews was imminent, but in the meantime the occupational authorities needed to identify who was a Jew. Under penalty of death one had to identify to the fourth generation or a particular portion of his blood, if there was a Jewish forefather. I wondered: what happens if a pure Aryan receives Jewish blood? My teacher who had a long nose was made to take off his pants to prove that he was not a Jew and I would not pass such an inspection – my foreskin was cut off for medical reasons – so there you are. Lucky for me that the Germans did not decide to make everybody walk without pants on (under penalty of death, of course).

In any case, the noose on the Jews began to tighten. A ghetto was formed in Warsaw and the Jews from the surrounding area were resettled into the ghetto. Warsaw had before the war a large Jewish population (about 300.000) most of them, especially orthodox Jews, preferring to live close to the main temple. I can no longer remember where it was, but the area where Jews lived was in the north-west part of the city, bounded by the old city, the north leg of the railway line, Wola, and the city center. By the time all the Jews from the area were moved to the Warsaw ghetto, there were well over a million and a half people living there.

In 1940 they lived in relative peace, and despite warning from us and other well-meaning Polish people, most of them would not think of trying to escape anywhere. One of the Jews that we personally told about the threat apparent after the news of treatment of the Jews in Germany, which was well publicized before the war, was our shoemaker. He claimed to have no money to go into hiding. So he became another one of my mother’s charity projects. Everybody had to have new shoes! She even obtained leather from Weigles, who, except for Mrs Edward W, were now Volksdeutsche. I was really ashamed of her dealings with them. All this to no avail. The little shoemaker, his wife and five children all ended up in the Warsaw ghetto.

In 1940 there were still tram cars with a yellow stripe which the Jews could use to move around a limited district (in fact two districts, since ghetto was split originally). They even operated some businesses. Of course people who dealt with them could expect harassment from the Sonderdienst – special service of the security police – but this was all in the day’s work.

Within a few months, an official arrived from Münchener Rückversicherungs Gesellschaft [26] and suggested to my father that he reports his “Aryan connection” – basically become a Volksdeutsch. The owners of WTU had a lot of respect for my father and wanted him to be the Treuhänder for the company. All large businesses in General Gouvernement (GG – a part of Poland which was not totally annexed into Germany, das Reich) had to have a Treuhänder who was responsible to the GG for the operation of the business. Father declined the “honor” saying that his “Aryan connection” was too slight to deserve it. Still the owner tried very hard to avoid giving him an external Treuhänder. Very late in 1940, the Germans from Latvia were returned to the “Vaterland” and one of Münchener Rück Latvian associates (Mr Magnus) became the Treuhänder and a minister of the GG, a very powerful dude indeed.

  1. Münchener Rück, as it is often called in short, is the largest German reinsurance company, and today probably the largest financial company in West Germany.

Well, 1940 somehow drew to a close, and what a disastrous year that was. Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, France, all fell under the shadow of the swastika. I swore never to place little flags on my maps, never to play with toy soldiers, never to play police and robbers. Anyway I was practically grown up, almost thirteen.

Something was going on at the Bielany airport. New roads were being built, and more planes arrived every minute. One day, two officers walked in and looked at all the rooms in our house. Before they left, they gave us 24 hours to leave the house. My mother, weakened by her sickness, resigned herself to packing a suitcase and leaving. Not I. I walked all the way to my father’s office, about four hours in all and told him about our plight.

He called a dispatcher in the relief organization and obtained two horse-driven platforms and eight men. We arrived at our house at 7:30 am. One platform loaded, left before noon. We were almost ready to leave with the second one when the two officers came back. Was it all for nothing? I was so happy when they only demanded that two tables be left, and allowed us to take the rest of our possessions. We moved into a part of Dr Brodowski’s large apartment and the next phase of my life began.

Life in occupied Poland


Again life became very nomadic. Our furniture was stored in my father’s office, we lived in my godfather’s apartment, my brother lived with my father. Originally my mother was still exhausted after her long sickness and we had no facilities for cooking. My godfather’s wife (who was also my mother’s relative) cooked some of our meals. Her name was also Maria but she was not the lady that looked after me in the early part of my life. They had a daughter who had just completed her matriculation (in a secret ceremony, as high schools were strictly forbidden). I think this was another one of those things that could incur the death penalty, but then who cared? If Hitler won we were all going to go kaput anyway.

Warsaw’s population was growing by leaps and bounds. The southern part of Warsaw was designated as the German section; before the war this area housed many government buildings, embassies etc. In the central part sprouted an enlarged ghetto. Jews from all over Poland were being transported into it. Poles from the western part of Poland had to declare themselves as a kind of lower member of the Reich, I forget what it was called. The low quality of their status did not exempt them from serving in the German army, unfortunately.

Of course if one did not want to be a low-quality member of the Reich, one had to get out. These people could go wherever they wanted within the GG, and a lot of them chose Warsaw. After all this was the capital of Poland (not of GG – the capital of GG was Krakow). Even in the Polish section of Warsaw, buildings which used to house the Polish government now displayed the ugly stylized German eagle holding in its paws a swastika.

A current Warsaw joke, referring to this sign, had it as a prediction that the Polish eagle would rip the swastika with its talons.

In order to keep appropriately designated areas uniformly populated, Jews were evicted from the German and Polish sections and Poles from the Jewish and German sections. The better stores were turned into German stores. With much of Warsaw destroyed by the war and the Polish and Jewish populations now reaching a million and a half each, the place was packed.

Other places that were packed were Pawiak prison, which now housed only political prisoners (criminals being moved to Mokotow prison), but also the remaining coffee houses. You may be surprised to know that Warsaw enjoyed coffee houses long before the “flower generation.” Of course there was no grass yet, but there was bimber or samogon, which was a home-made wodka.

The German occupation had no laws against drinking, pornography or prostitution. There were more prostitutes on the streets than ever before. Equal Rights were also extended as far as going to concentration camps or being shot, women and men were treated alike. A standard way of people selection by the authorities was to surround an area of town and surround with troops. People contained in the area would have their documents checked and be appropriately selected for prison, concentration camp, forced labor in the Reich or release. This method was called Catching (Lapanka).

In addition SD patrols wandered through the street and shot so-called “criminals” on sight. Anybody who the SD believed was on their political enemy lists was subject to be shot that way. If the wrong person was shot, it was just too bad. While one was walking through the streets, one often heard people walking in the opposite direction saying “Lapanka” or “Careful.” It was advisable to turn back if one heard the warning.

My days were full. I had to travel to school changing streetcars three times. Streetcars were neither reliable nor accommodating. They were overcrowded. School ended about two or three o’clock, but by the time I got home it was closer to five. My father ate his meals at a restaurant started by a religious order of Wizytki. They had a place at Theater Square (Plac Teatralny). Originally the eating place was intended only for the members of the order but now the ladies considered it charitable to feed many lost souls who had nowhere to eat. The price of the food was very reasonable and the supply of the food to the restaurant was helped by the connections of the Polish Church.

My father’s salary, very generous in peacetime, became rather inadequate. Slowly, things were being sold. My mother’s jewelry went first, then my father’s painting collection. Then some books (these brought next to nothing on the black market). One day my father went to Byki and sold the old place. Good riddance, I thought – but he had tears in his eyes.

During the school summer break I was bored. All at once, from being very busy, I had nothing to do. My mother was still not well, my father tried to reorganize the WTU Insurance Company in the very strange new environment, and my brother took advantage of the irregular conditions to finish matriculation rather early in his life.

I roamed through Warsaw, finding out a lot more about the city than I knew before the war. I enjoyed the river. On the left side there was a beach and boats for rent. I used to rent a kayak and row up the river, somewhere up to Wilanow where the old king Sobieski had a palace, now occupied by some official German institution, with the owner (I believe one of the Platers), confined to a single room. After some minor exploration on the shore, I would let the river carry the boat, sometimes precariously close to the Poniatowski bridge, tempting fate (approaching the bridge on the river was another of those things penalized by death!). I got to know most of the amusement parks, even those now designated as German areas. Well, it was fun to tempt fate.

My mother got concerned about me after listening to the stories about my excursions. Consequently she arranged with my godfather a trip during the later part of the year to Brodowski’s farm in the Bilgoraj district. This was a medium-size farm, about 150 acres or so, but it was well run and lay in an area where the soil was good. The farm was really run by three Polish ex-officers who were hiding from the Germans during the day and leading the partisans at night.

This kind of activity was not appreciated by the Germans. Near the end of 1943 a number of German divisions surrounded the district. All men and women were evicted, with some killed and the others taken to work in Germany. Young children were separately treated. They were sent to Germany to be distributed for Germanization. A whole railway truck of those children, while passing through Warsaw on the way to Germany, was stolen by the underground organization and distributed to Polish families throughout Warsaw. During my stay in the Bilgoraj area it was relatively peaceful. There was a balance of power: days belonged to the Germans, nights to the partisans.

It was again harvest time, but this time I could participate. This included chasing girls during lunchtime. I had no idea what to do when I caught one. My thorough observation of others convinced me that the process was rather hot and sweaty, although it seemed to produce a lot of gaiety. I tried to learn horse riding but was unnerved by the brutes holding me in a sort of disdain. They seemed to have been always going wherever they wanted to, not where I directed them.

I am lost

When I got back home after the vacation, I tried to go to school conspiratorial style. Since high schools were prohibited, many schools met in private homes. The one I chose was taught by ex-teachers of Rey HS, since I attended that school before. As before, I did not fit in. This time, poor George, who was a pushover when I attended it last, was a hero because he had family links with the underground. Every boy attending the class was seeking his favours. I was not going to lick his boots. Pride was always my downfall.

Since we had to move from one end of the city to the other while attending classes, a lot of hanky-panky went on in the streets of Warsaw. One game was to climb into the destroyed houses. This is when I found out that I am prone to space sickness. I was not to be outdone by my classmates and sometimes climbed to the top of the fourth story building and marched along the crumbling wall of the bombed or burned-out building shell. Occasionally, in order not to jump, I had to close my eyes.

The other game was to taunt the prostitutes. Of course when they got mad we had to scatter. Knowledge of the surrounding area was of great value if you did not want your head bashed in with a makeshift blackjack (they used to carry a weight in their purses). When I got hit once, I couldn’t move my arm for a week. Although I kept up with the fun and games, I got so sick of the group I was with that I stopped going to classes around Christmas.

About that time, my father got permission from the Treuhänder to move us into the WTU office building. We lived on the fourth floor. Below us there was a transport office run by a Volksdeutsch; next to us lived a retired couple in a small apartment. I got to know the couple very well, and, through them, many of the occupants of the apartment house. Across the staircase there was an empty apartment. Later on a manager of another insurance company moved in. He was evicted from his apartment by the expansion of the ghetto.

The ghetto now was enclosed by a wall and was guarded by Latvian auxiliary troops. These, like many Quisling troops, were even more cruel than the Germans. At one point the streetcars from east to west were moving through the ghetto, without stopping in that district. I observed the brutality of the ghetto guards and often wished the Latvian guards dead – not very Christian, what? I stopped feeling Christian. My lack of belief in anything made me very unhappy. I saw no purpose in life. I hated especially the people around me; they seem destined to hurt one another. I guess I reached puberty. I don’t know how anybody can remember this period of their life fondly. I hated it.

I travelled often to Mlociny to see my friend Marian and on one of these trips I found out that the German troops had moved out from our house. I guess by now they had advanced far enough into Russia to remove some of the air troops from Warsaw. We were one of the lucky ones. There was little to steal from our house. Houses where furniture and utensils were left for the Germans, were now empty and vandalized, probably more by the local population than the German army. We had to contend with human excreta on our parquet floors. I wondered why the people did it – did they not have bathrooms in their houses? My mother said, “Many poor people don’t.”

So we cleaned the mess and repaired any damage done. But we were settled in the city now and it made sense to try and keep the family together, so my mother rented the house out.

Hope returned to our lives, although I did not feel its blessing until much later. My family brought me out of my depression.

I think that my brother was a really impressive person. We now lived together in the same room and when he was home I could observe him. His life was full of activity. He attended a number of (secret – higher education was not allowed for Poles) higher institutions of learning, all lectures being given in private homes. In time he had a degree in languages, with stress on Polonistic studies, which was very popular with the girls, or at least it seemed to me that his class was full of them. He spoke fluently in English, French and German.

As a matter of fact his German plus his ability to converse with people got him out of trouble a couple of times: he was arrested twice and somehow talked himself out of getting imprisoned. He also obtained a commercial degree before his demise, but his real love was philology. I asked him once what use was this stuff and he tried to explain that religion and philosophy really describe the character of people. Well I was still lost after this explanation.

When he was settling to bed, he would surround himself with books in many languages (even including Sanskrit). He would read a book for ten to fifteen minutes and then grab another one. I asked him why he did not finish reading the first one. He would say: one, he would get bored with it; two, he had to absorb the stuff that he read. So how could he read something else when he was absorbing it? Well, that was different; the new book was on a different subject. Whereas I borrowed books from the public library, he obtained access to the university library. One of his professors knew the German custodian of the university.

My mother was always worrying that all these illegal activities under the nose of the Germans would get him into trouble, but in fact it was quite something else that proved to be his downfall. I discovered one a day a pistol under my mother’s gown and the game was up. My mother had to tell me about my brother’s involvement with boy scout groups (or SS – Szare Szeregi as it was called). The pistol was used in teaching the members of his platoon how to use the weapon.

At my insistence, he involved me as well, and in BS at that, which was the middle age group of Szare Szeregi. He was a group leader in BS, and also a substitute member of GS – the famous platoon S which was a regional group of “Small Diversion,” a group which used to destroy communications around Warsaw (railways, roads etc).

In order to have papers, he had to work, and so my father’s counterpart gave him a job in his insurance company, where he would do work on a more or less piecework arrangement – when he finished his part he could leave. His boss claimed that he did more than two other guys. Finally his social life appeared to be extremely busy. If it was not for the curfew imposed on Warsaw, it would certainly interfere with his other activities. Even then he often stayed out for an overnight party, and spent hours in the evening talking to various people (or should I say girls?).

He wrote some great love letters. I read many of the rejected ones out of the wastepaper basket. He had a great talent for writing; two or three of his short stories were accepted to various underground literary journals – I wonder if many people read them. In any case I began to wish I could emulate him. But then of course my brother’s standards were a bit high…

When I felt inadequate there was always mother, who tried to mend my broken wing. She used to say that maybe I have no ability to go beyond primary school, which infuriated my brother (no Jezioranski could be that stupid!) and caused him to try and tutor me some. Still I could always run to my mother for protection from life since she seemed to have a soft spot for me.

My father got sick. His long-term sickness was very similar to diabetes and he had to inject insulin every day.

Apparently he injected some air into his leg muscles and had an internal infection. With his chronic condition, healing was very slow, so I found some use for myself in attending to him: reading books, playing chess with him and listening to his stories. My father had many favorite stories. They could be divided into types, ie language changes, literary, foreshadowing, business tricks, historical events and musical anecdotes. To recount stories of different types may take a long time.

One example of language story was one about the place he saw in Czechoslovakia called “Hodovla Divok” which apparently was a high school for girls. In Polish this would mean breeding of girls of ill repute.

An example of a literary story would be one that he had to listen to from a man who wanted to insure his farm with my father’s company. The man said that he was a great hunter. One day he hunted boars in the woods on his farm. A boar came out of the woods and was running toward the hunter. He shot the boar but only wounded it. As the boar charged toward him, he jumped and grabbed a tree branch above his head. Unfortunately the branch broke and here he was sitting on a speeding boar, facing the boar’s tail. He hung on to the tail and managed to stay on the boar. As the boar sped through the forest, suddenly it passed another boar which also carried a passenger. He recognized the passenger as his friend count Jack Whats-his-name. So he shouted, “Hello, Jack, have a good ride!” Sort of a Münchhausen type story.

The foreshadowing story was one called “Möbelfabrik” – anyway I guess I will not tell any more of my father’s stories. My father had a great writing talent and had at one time written a series of stories for the newspapers, but of course my ability falls short of his expertise.

We spent the summer in our house at Mlociny. It was almost like old times. Besides our family there were Alka Paprocka and her daughter, Louise Sztembart, and miscellaneous guests. I was pleased to renew acquaintances with many of the kids in Mlociny. I was happy during this summer. Not so the people to whom we rented our house: they had to contend with a large influx of people and with the influx of many rambunctious kids (me and my friends).

One day we fought a mock battle between two groups which extended from the garden into the house. The entrance and the passage were literally covered with potato fruits. Potato fruits are little green balls which appear on potato bushes shortly before the harvest. Mrs What-you-ma-call-it (the lady we rented the house to) walked into the passage and announced that she had had enough of that and she would see what she could do about it. Having been challenged in front of my friends I replied that she could whistle, this was our house. Well, this meant war.

The first part of her campaign was the appearance of the underground literature which was dropped at our door every morning. Although we received some of the same literature, through my brother’s connections, accepting such delivery from strangers spelled trouble. We devised therefore a way to throw it out immediately into the garbage shared with the tenants. Apparently this stopped any follow-up and a second stage of the attack developed.

Mr What-you-ma-call-it worked for the local labor office (Arbeitsamt). One day I received in the mail a summons to the labor office with the request to show proof of my employment or be prepared to leave for forced labor in Germany. I was fourteen.

My mother told me to stay at home and immediately left to talk to my father. He decided to ask for an audience with Dr Fischer, head of GG for Warsaw (nothing like going to the top). What was more remarkable is that he was actually granted the audience. In his discussion with the governor, my father did not question the necessity of obtaining labor for the Reich, but pointed out that the quality of work may be enhanced if further schooling in a trade were permitted. He also pointed out that the age of the potentially identified worker (me) was not consistent with the likely goals of the Reich and since, as the request stated, I was to be a part of the quota for the district, he believed that there may be some higher quality human material to fill the quota. Dr Fischer told his assistant to look into the matter and find out why a youth was chosen rather than a mature individual. And so I had to find a trade school, seemingly to improve my ability to work for the Reich (pfui!).

Now I am found

By the time our vacation finished I was ready to go back to school. It turned out that Warsaw City Schools came up with an idea how to cater to exactly my problem. One attended a school with a name like Carpenter Educational and this meant 8th grade. The year after, one attended Fitters General and it was the 9th grade and so on. In fact I went to, what before the war, was called the 3rd City HS but now was called the 3rd City Trade School on Sniadeckich St. I was conditionally accepted to the Carpenters’ class, but had to prove that I could cover material missed through my truancy the previous year.

I worked hard at the new challenge, with my brother continually at my elbow telling me that if I did not make it, I would be a disgrace to the family and all that. He showed me a whole shelf of prizes earned by my Aunt Jadwiga, by my father and by himself, which resided proudly in our library. There was not really much fear that I would get a Carpenter prize but still… Anyhow, I passed somehow.

In fact I felt at home in this class. It was apparently known as the most misbehaved class in the Warsaw district. Our class teacher was Zosia, and a grand lady she was. She happened to put me in a group with the brightest kids in the class, but also next to a rather dense, huge, apelike fellow. He had a great memory. One had to tell him what page the answer was on, and he would tackle any question of the teacher. Of course sometime we would give him a wrong page just for variety, and some teachers were terribly put out that the answer did not relate to the question. His nickname was Mammoth. When I went back to Poland in 1945 I travelled in a streetcar, and, lo and behold, here was Mammoth telling everybody of his great achievements in the underground. So I called him by his nickname and told him to stop reading from a certain book of widely published memoirs. He did not recognize me as it was dark and the streetcar was not lit.

My greatest friend was Stan Kossak. He had a fantastic talent for drawing, especially horses. I was sure he will become another painter like many predecessors of the same name. I was all the more impressed as I could not even draw a straight line. He lived on Dworkowa, almost next to the infamous German SS stronghold. I hope he survived the Uprising.

The class was not only unruly but out of control. Most of the students now belonged to the Underground and often carried prohibited literature, training material, and even guns into the classroom. Teachers not only had to contend with this mob, but were also active in the Underground themselves and often were arrested. We lost two of our best teachers that way.

A teacher had to be acceptable to the class to give a lesson. One means of getting rid of an unwanted teacher was to read aloud during the lecture; remove the little bleed-out tap from the steam heater, whereupon the steam would produce a whistle through the hole; congregate in one corner of the classroom with the back to the teacher, or even start a fire in the middle of the classroom. It is no wonder that the school had a hard time finding teachers for our class. Probably the main inducement was the need to have papers acceptable to the occupying authority. After all our class was supposed to be the training ground for the slaves of the Reich.

1943 will be remembered as the year of the lost hope but found determination for the Polish people. That year begun with the tragic death of General Sikorski, who represented the single unifying force and hope for the Polish people. Since I am not a good student of Polish affairs during early 20th century, Sikorski was a great enigma to me. Since he participated in forming an organization parallel with Pilsudski in 1909, why were the two constant enemies? And since they were enemies how come Sikorski became chief of the 5th Army during the Polish-Russian war in 1920? The only part I understood is his exile after the unfortunate civil war of 1926. How then, after formation of front Morges he suddenly becomes a head of the Polish emigrant forces? Well, anyway he was a great statesman and a rallying force for the Poles during the dark days of the war. The Germans proudly announced his death through the loudspeakers throughout Warsaw, even though previously they have not admitted the existence of the Polish government in London.

To further depress the Polish population, the commander of the Underground army (Grot-Rowecki) was caught by the Germans and despite a mobilized effort of the Underground, not recovered. He was subsequently tortured and murdered by the “victors.”

The last of the sad events of that year was the ghetto uprising. All through the winter one could smell the stench of the crematorium on Gesia street. Germans were in such a hurry to kill off the remaining Jews that in addition to daily trains leaving for Treblinka and Majdanek, the extermination camps, they were killing the Jews right in the Warsaw’s ghetto. People were so used to the Jews going without protest to the slaughter, that the ghetto’s uprising took everybody by surprise – well, it took me by surprise, anyway. Apparently it must have been a great surprise even to the population of the ghetto.

Years later I met a merchant in Ottawa who claimed to be a member of the Jewish Council (administering the ghetto under the German occupation). He told me that the ghetto uprising was German propaganda and such event never took place. He was very offended when I described to him the part of the fight that I observed and told me I must have been mistaken, and what I saw was not what I believed. Still whatever anybody believes, over a million Jews disappeared from the Warsaw’s ghetto and some of them were last seen with a gun in their hand.

Those events put us all in mourning but also created a resolve to get back at the occupier. At least this is how I felt. And so during 1943 I devoted myself wholeheartedly to small diversion as the SS (Szare Szeregi) action was called. I don’t suppose my efforts amounted to much, but for once my heart was there.

I was attending the simulated commando training twice a week and did all the minor efforts to annoy the occupier: plastering walls with literature, changing directional signs, painting PW (Polska Walczaca) signs on the walls. My favorite literature was “Hitler said…” followed by all the things the great Führer uttered and which did not come to pass. This item was not only printed in German but confused the occupier to the extent that they did not take it down for months. The idea was to put it in obvious places where the Germans congregated. I remember I plastered one on a guardhouse and another on a public sign in the area designated for Germans only.

The occupier replied in kind. Now for reprisal, 100 to 700 people were shot at the location where some German was allegedly hurt or killed. The prisoners of the infamous Pawiak prison were brought to the place of the execution. For some time now it was a practice to steal or take away guns from single German soldiers. Two of the boys in my brother’s platoon decided to take one by stopping a German soldier and holding him under a gun.

Normally a soldier would give the gun away, because he could always buy one from his friend coming from the front. In fact many in the underground would buy such guns from soldiers needing ready cash. This time the German was obstinate and tried to grab his gun and shoot the assailants. In the skirmish they had to shoot and kill the soldier. The standing order did not permit such unilateral action, without a distinct order of a superior. The penalty for such action was up to and including death.

Thus the boys were prosecuted by the Polish underground. It was touch and go, but with my brother’s defence the boys got away with a penalty of a house arrest. They could not leave their house except to go to work for six months. I always wondered whether they really obeyed, but then I am a cynic.

I was very proud when I was asked to tutor the boy next door. Who, me? I couldn’t believe it. After all my troubles with leaving school and all. But my grades that year were really good. And somehow Mrs Sliwinski believed in me (or did my mother talked her into it?). Now I had my own money which I promptly spent on pastry. I love home-made pastry, and this was the type now being sold in the stores – after all everybody had to find some additional way to make money.

Mr Sliwinski, an insurance executive, was evicted from his old apartment when the ghetto was consolidated and the Poles who lived on the territory designated for Jews were told to leave. He was very happy to obtain an apartment from WTU, by the order of the Treuhänder. In order to express his gratitude, he invited the Treuhänder and my father to supper at his new apartment. A leftist underground paper devoted a scathing story about the fact, noting “…we wonder who licked whose…” Mr Sliwinski was incensed. An officer of Polish reserve, active slightly in the Underground and the president of Polish Hunt Club at one time, he was not going to pass it up. My father advised to cool it. He identified the writer and demanded that an honorary court be held to decide on the merits of the case.

The court decided that this was a case of minor slander. But what was to be done? The paper could not retract as it would pose a danger to Mr Sliwinski (from German police, who would now know his relations with the Underground) and he did not want any other recompense. As usual my father had a point, and as usual his listeners were not as logical as he was.

My brother completed his officers training with some partisan groups in Chojnowski Forest, and I continued my commando training without leaving home. We had now many armaments at home, as well as a radio receiver and information distribution center. Occasionally the demolition platoon S would have a meeting in our house with all the trimmings, banging with his boots on the ceiling of the Volksdeutsch below. Why we were not arrested, I really don’t know.

These were crazy, pathetic, desperate days. So many boys died. I remember when Schiele’s name appeared on the list of people to be shot in the streets for some reprisal or other. He was a single son of the owner of the largest brewery in Poland. His parents were willing to give the whole brewery away to get him off the list. But his case was too well known. Money-grabbing as most of the official German policemen were, they would not touch this case.

While the posters with the lists of hundreds of names were appearing daily, so were the verdicts and executions of the German officials by the Underground court. Three consecutive commandants of the Warsaw Police were executed by the Underground for their crimes against Polish population. Besides shooting hundreds of political prisoners in the streets, the German command penalized the city by a monetary retribution. Everybody had to pay a dollar, I believe. No sooner the money was gathered and placed in the bank, than the Underground stole it away.

This occasion caused me a bit of trepidation. Right after the robbery I found myself in the square surrounded by the German police and the army detachment. People in the square were being searched and subject to an arrest. I was carrying training manuals and could not be searched or would finish up in prison or worse. I was very small for my age. I decided that I may play a stupid kid. So I went to the corner of the square where three Germans were manning a machine gun, sat down on my haunches and started to investigate the machine gun. The German in charge grabbed me by the neck, gave me a kick in the rear, and told me to scram. So I ran away from the square holding my behind and crying. Other Germans had a good laugh and so had I, despite the soreness in the rear.

Normally I carried different armaments which were used in our training. One day it happened that my brother came to inspect our squad which was meeting in the old city. He insisted on taking the gun used in the training. I could not object to the order of my platoon commander.

As I got home, a patrol of security police was marching, moving through the square. I had to ring at the door, as the office building where we lived had a private entrance. As the patrol approached, the door opened, I was admitted and the janitor was locking the door when the glass was broken by a spray of bullets from the submachine gun. Then the door was pushed open. The janitor was spread out on the floor and I quickly turned raising my hands. I was held under the gun, searched, my papers examined, asked why I ran away ahead of the patrol.

I explained that I did not run. That this in fact was my home. Please check the papers. That this was a normal way of entering the premises. After a while they let me go. It took me a while to relax (like a couple of weeks).

And so the painful 1943 came to a close. What else happened? Alina visited us, coming from the mountains. She had changed. She was now a strong, steadfast, resolute but somewhat sad woman. I enjoyed her visit but did not have a chance to tell her that I love her.

Kazio Paprocki died. Alka and her daughter moved away somewhere.

My brother won a bottle of champagne and a coffee cake from his present girlfriend. They had a bet. He claimed that the war will not finish in 1943. All my brother’s ex-girlfriends attended the party. His friends and the squad leaders of his group: George, Henry and Bolek. This kind of fraternizing was strictly forbidden, since it may lead to too much knowledge about your co-conspirators. In my brother’s case it led to too excess of friendliness. I was excluded from the festivities and was a bit hurt. After the party my brother announced that they were getting engaged. She was a beautiful girl and a singer to boot. His friends considered her unlucky. Two of her previous boyfriends were killed in action. I think that she had a look of a tragic beauty.

My father took piano lessons. This caused me to take the piano lessons as well. Of course his were refresher lessons. He wanted to be a composer once. He loved to play with his friend who played a violin. I took the violin lessons as well. Never learned to play a darn thing. My brother’s girlfriend was a reasonable piano player and used to sing occasionally to my father’s accompaniment.

My mother sold the house at Mlociny. How else could we live? Anyway…

The time grows short

We sat now every evening listening to the radio. This of course like a lot of other things was punishable by death but we already “died a thousand deaths.” The news were good. Monte Casino. Landing in Normandy. Russian troops marching into eastern Poland. Suddenly London signalling for uprising by AK in the Wilno district and Lwow? Lwow was a weak point of the Polish Underground. We recalled losing a number of our friends back in 1942 and 1943. Ukrainian troops aligned with the German occupier were murdering all Poles. In fact we had a boy in our platoon whose parents were killed while he was hiding under the floor of the house.

We were sitting one day in the apartment next door. Mr and Mrs Sliwinski were waiting for a call from her sister who lived in Lwow. It finally came through. Yes, she can hear the artillery. Are German troops and others moving west? Moving? What do you mean moving? They are running like scare rabbits. Any fighting in the city? Dangerous to talk about it, more like killing… Can you move here? Much too late, we are very uneasy… Sadness.

Tense, hot summer. All at once I noticed girls and women.

I had a crush on the girl bringing milk everyday. I flirted with her and waited every day for her to appear at the door. She had beautiful dark hair and green eyes. Helped her with pouring the milk and sort of hung onto her rather than the milk, giggle, giggle… My father thought I had good taste, whatever that meant.

I managed to visit Marian at the beginning of the summer. Boy, all the girls in the neighborhood got so big and pretty. They were wearing skirts which ended half way between hip and knee, sort of nice… We put records on an old gramophone and danced. I was self conscious. Didn’t dance since the children parties. But I soon forgot about the embarrassment. I was engrossed in the daughter of our old shopkeeper. Other girls were laughing, “Why don’t you take him home, Marge?”

“You must be hot, Joe. Why don’t you and Marge take a skinny dip in the pool?” I was embarrassed again. I decided I must go dancing more often.

Warsaw was plugged up with the troops moving west. Hungarians, Roumanians, Vlasow’s Russians, Cossacks. Finally Germans as well. One could not cross the street at main arteries. Nighttime Warsaw was bombed again. Russian bombs were falling on Polish houses. Don’t they ever bomb German establishments?

My brother was trying to get us assigned to the staff battalion. In the meantime we got our duties defined in case of the uprising. I spent a lot of time examining the routes in and around Ochota. This was where I was supposed to be a runner between different combat groups. Over most of the area towered a big block (Dom Akademicki) at the main square (Plac Narutowicza). It was solidly fortified. Bunkers at all corners and a fortified penthouse. My specialty was communication. I identified the manholes through which all the wiring was going in and out from the block. It would be very difficult to get into them unless one got in before the uprising. I reported my findings.

If I had to run to the next district? Best way was along EKD railway tracks. The view was shielded from most of the buildings occupied by the Germans. There was no way to get into the water filtration station without the major battle. The uniform factory was not a significant target.

Lublin fell to the Russians. Pro-Russian government formed in Lublin. Uprising in Wilno. We will be putting a proclamation on the walls of Warsaw. A proclamation preceding a potential uprising. Do I want to be a part of the group distributing it, or do it myself? I will do it myself, Bolek. Bolek is my squad leader.

OK, here is the stuff. Some pamphlets to distribute and the stuff to put on the walls. Be careful, you are vulnerable when you are carrying the glue, try to put it down from time to time. And move fast. OK, Bolek.

My area was not far from school. I decided to walk through the side streets until I got there. I put my glue and brush in a school bag. Other stuff under my arm, so that I could drop it fast. I started with the side streets and move towards the main squares. Put some on both guardhouses leading to the infamous German area, housing Police and SS. Put it on all main advertising posts despite now moving traffic. People were gathering at the tram stations. I distributed the pamphlets moving in and out from the places utilized by public. Pinned some on German trucks waiting for the convoy to form. Jumped on the moving streetcars and threw some into the inside of the car. I was done. I rushed home, watching for anybody following, changed streetcars. Walked a couple of blocks. The doors of the office building were already open. It must have been close to seven o’clock.

My brother was coming down the stairs carrying his bike. “They have caught Henry and his group. I am going to see where they are taking them.”

I couldn’t say anything. Grief took hold of me. I knew Henry and the other guys. “When are you coming back?” I shouted.

“As soon as I find out.”

I never saw him again.

When Joe goes to war

By noon I burned all the remaining literature and somehow notified the head of Radiowo (our group). His name was Zdzislaw [27]. He told me to keep away from all the others. Well, I knew that – it was the first commandment of the conspiratorial life. What could I do with arms? I just hid them deeper in the junk storage in the offices below. There was no way I could take them out easily.

  1. All members of the Polish Underground were known by a pseudonym rather than their proper name in order to avoid easy identification by the occupier. My brother’s commander’s pseudonym happened to be Zdzislaw.

For days now it was murder to get anywhere. Troops were continually moving through the main artery going east to west. Suddenly there was no more troops.

Mother was trying all possible channels to find out where did they take my brother. No luck. Even the Germans were in disarray. Russian troops were within twenty miles of Warsaw. Somebody called relatives across the river and talked to Russian tank commander instead. We tried to go to the side of the railway station where the prisoners for the concentration camps were loaded on the trains.

A boy from my squad came. I did not expect him. He was my final contact, the one that had to tell me about the uprising. This was it then. Only now I knew that there was no hope to get my brother back. I was crying as I retrieved the rifle and the pistol. I wrapped them the standard way: rifle in broom sticks and brushes, to look like painter utensils and the pistol somewhat like a book. Then I changed my mind. I put the pistol in an empty paint can. Mother watched and gave me a school bag full of food. She sprayed some paint on the school bag. I think I kissed her good-bye. Never said anything to my father…

I was on a streetcar. Lots of people with all sorts of similar packages. People were giving me knowing looks. Why we were not all arrested God only knows.

I got to my destination without any problems. They let me in quickly. Somebody was watching the street already. They were very happy with what I brought. They gave my arms to combat guys who did not all have arms. I was supposed to be a runner. Very soon it turned out I was needed to watch the German factory across the street. At 4:30 pm my new squad commander brought a grenade. And that was it.

The Warsaw uprising

First strategic position

I suppose for many, Warsaw’s uprising was full of heroism, the smell of battle, the joy of freedom. I was not one of those. I was full of feeling of disaster, frustration, fear and learning to survive. Of course, I went into the uprising full of mixed feelings of guilt, fear and pain connected with the loss of my brother; but that did not completely explain the other negative feelings I had.

As I sat in the small room, facing the uniform factory, I kept thinking about my brother and the boys he was trying to “save.” It was probably the first time that I began to understand the wisdom and the depth of forethought with which my father approached most of the problems. I think if we let him know our problems, he generally had a very realistic view of what was going to happen, but a realistic view was certainly not popular in Poland; will it ever be? So what was I doing, sitting cross-legged at the window facing the bunker, occasionally peeking from behind the drapes on the window at the menacing absence of any movement? And what great heroic acts was I going to perform should the Germans decide to attack? – a very doubtful event.

Why was I, trained to become a runner between parts of Warsaw, now a great defender of a small insignificant room? Yours is not to reason why…

One ironical fact escaped me until much later when I met the boy (or man) whom my brother ran to save: it was his room that I was sitting in. But this fact is just curious, not really significant.

As the evening wore on, my new commander came and gave me an order to barricade the window. I thought that this was the least logical action one could take. I could hardly defend the window with my one grenade as it was; a barricaded window would not only prevent the grenade from being thrown, but also advertised the intention of the occupants to the Germans.

My commander’s opinion differed from mine: he envisaged the assistance of some unnamed troops. I did not continue the argument, and got a pat on the back. We were apparently protecting the escape route of our troops attacking the water filtration plant. As the morning approached, it became obvious that this group was thoroughly defeated. It also became apparent that we were split from the other part of Ochota, and efforts started towards the morning to combine with the other part were not successful. We were told to pull out. And so finished my first uprising encounter.

Another evacuation

The route we moved out on was very familiar to me. I had explored it in my training. We walked past the uniform factory walls to where the street passed the EKD (suburban electric train line), then along the railway line, as we hurried to put as much distance between us and the site of our defeat. At the front of our group there was a small group of combatants who were relatively well armed. At the back a similar group followed our steps.

As the dawn was breaking, suddenly an order was passed to fall down. It turned out that an EKD train had been sent from the suburban site (Grodzisk, I believe) to find out whether transportation to and from Warsaw was still possible. This train permitted a much faster evacuation. Unfortunately, only a part of the group would fit into the train and so I was one of those left behind. As we continued marching, now more hopeful of getting out unscathed, an observation plane appeared in the sky – things were not as rosy as it had seemed originally! The train did come back to pick us up, and rapidly transported us to Tworki. It was impossible to move any further, as other stations were guarded by the German troops.

As we got out from the train, we were greeted by the sound of battle to our right. We were told to move and join the battle. OK, so move. Soon it was apparent that the firing from the front was not the only one. Somebody was firing from the right. Hey, this was not in the plan! As I dropped down after running for a while, I took stock of the situation. A heavier gunfire now was coming from the back and I noticed some vehicles moving to our back on the left.

The likeliest point of survival was in front and to the left. I never ran so fast in my life. In the meantime, I was trying to figure out how I could preserve my life with the famous single grenade I was equipped with. I regretted for the first time that I had parted with the weapons stored in our house. The lesson of never parting with your weapons was not lost on me for the rest of my “heroic” days.

I could discern now a small wood in front and to the left. This is where I was going. The observation plane continued sputtering above. The woods turned out to be trees bordering a creek. A couple of armed guys were standing across the creek and urging everybody coming to cross the creek over a bridge span, the surface of which was removed. God, did I have to walk on this narrow beam! Could I crawl? If I looked down I would jump. Still more and more people were coming towards the bridge… When my turn came, I ran as fast as I could in order not to have to look down.

Now I was safely across and running towards another forest on the left. A substantial group of conspirators was forming here. I noticed George, one of the section leaders in my brother’s platoon. I was able to exchange a few words with him when, within a few minutes a man came up and gave us a speech. Apparently we had to move fast, back across the EKD rails and west. He needed everybody armed with him. Those that were unarmed could go with him, but he asked that as many of us as possible separate from the main group in order to reduce the danger of being detected. The larger the larger the group was, the harder it would be for the armed men to defend it. George said, “I don’t trust him. I am going by myself. Want to come along?” I weighed my chances.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“I know some people in Konstancin.” In the opposite direction, I thought. Most Germans will be chasing the large group. And I know George slightly.

“OK. I will go with you.” One can only do things if one is alive – to hell with heroism.

We walked. And walked. And walked.

Soon it began to rain. We both ate the food I brought, soggy and unappetizing, while walking. We saw some transports carrying German soldiers, but they did not bother with two kids walking towards what could be construed as the Russian front. We saw many empty bunkers prepared for the coming fight with the Russians.

Finally Konstancin, but this was not the place I used to know. A relative of my mother, barrister Wilczynski, had a beautiful villa in Konstancin. He was well known for his court action on behalf of “Rudy” Radziwill and also as a vice-president of Warsaw. He was killed by the Germans, and his daughters were experimented on in Ravensbrück [28]. His garden was lovely. I remember the peaches, which were unusually large – I had not eaten such large peaches until I came to the US.

  1. Ravensbrück was a notorious concentration camp near Berlin, where medical experiments were performed on female political prisoners.

Well, this was not it. We were received by a woodsman who lived near Konstancin and belonged with heart and soul to the communist party (GL [29]). I can’t complain about his hospitality: he fed us and let us sleep in his house. He tried to persuade us to leave our erroneous ways and join the only enlightened way before it was too late. I got sick of it and about the second day made some sarcastic remark. George was furious. When we got to our room, he told me not to be stupid, to keep my mouth shut. He was right after all. Then he continued to tell me that I was a difficult child and he only tolerated me because of my brother, and he knew I would make life difficult for him. How was he going to organize himself with such a load on his back (meaning me, I suppose)?

  1. GL or Gwardia Ludowa was the name given by the Polish Communist Party to its armed underground forces.

I couldn’t sleep. I thought long and hard. I could not stay with George if he felt that I was interfering with his plans, whatever they may be. In the morning I told him that I had decided to leave. He tried to talk me out of it. He even said that if it was an apology I wanted, he was willing to apologize. I thought that a question of that type was another indication that we would not get along. And I left.

I am going to my mommy

I kept walking towards Warsaw, looking at the distant smoke and worrying a bit about food. I had a little of the food my mother gave me. After all the rain the other day, it was a mess. Smelled bad too. I was coming to Wilanow. As I turned the corner, I saw Germans on the road. Too late to turn back, I had to talk to them.

Where was I going? Why? Where had I come from? My theme was going home. My mother was there. Had to see my mother. My mother’s house might be on fire. They told me I couldn’t see my mother and I started whimpering then. What’s the matter with you, kid? I have to go home. My mother is there. Have to see my mother. They sent me back to where I came from.

I went back. After a while I figured out how to go around them. Carefully scanning the area to the left and to the right, I moved into the fields. The worst part was when I had to cross the road. Still I did not see any other soldiers. I walked fast across, running may be suspicious. No problem. I walked for another three miles without meeting anybody. I was walking now along the street in a densely populated area, going towards the sports complex. Suddenly a voice in German stopped me in my tracks. The Germans were in a bunker at the corner of the sports complex. I swore silently.

We were back to the same thing. Where was I going? Why? Where had I come from? My theme again was going home. My mother was there. Had to see my mother. My mother’s house might be on fire. They told me to go back three miles. So I went back half a mile and then west half a mile and north. After another hour or so, I heard Polish voices shouting at me from across the street.

Unfortunately, I ignored them and continued walking. Somewhere close, a machine gun was firing repeated salvos. What is he firing at, I wondered. I looked right: an open field toward Dworkowa street. I looked left: the wall around the factory was showing the impacts of bullets flashing around me. They are shooting at me, I thought. I turned around and ran. Moments later, I felt a hot flash in my leg.

I ran into the house from which somebody had been shouting before. Now they were swearing at me and telling me off. I looked at my leg slowly getting redder.

“I think I am hit!” I said. They directed me to walk to the first-aid station about a block away.

Hospital of heroes

I was cleaned and bandaged and put to bed. I couldn’t sleep. I was in a big room full of beds, most of them occupied, most of them by people shot from Dworkowa as I was. This on a street (Nabielaka) which bordered the open field at the bottom of Dworkowa (between Grottgera and Promenada). Opposite to my bed, a man was complaining about his leg. Apparently he had run a quarter of a mile on a broken leg. Most of the nurses were busy trying to make him comfortable. I was envious.

A young girl came and asked, “Do you need anything?”

“Yes, somebody to tuck me into bed.”

She looked at me thoughtfully. “Are you hurting?”

“Only in my soul. I can’t find peace. Will you stay with me?”

“I will come back later.”

She came back after the lights were out. Now I slept well. When I woke up I felt like a big hero. For some reason, I was moved to the basement.

When the nurse patrol came back from a search for the wounded, they all came down and asked me what I was doing walking towards the city. I explained. Then the head nurse (Mrs Skotnicka) came and talked to me. I felt very important, I was treated like a great hero. I felt in love. The object of my affection was the daughter of Professor Rose who used to live in one of the villas close by.

I was there for three days. There was a commotion at the door. Four Germans walked in, one in front with a submachine gun at the ready, then a major and another soldier and finally the last one, continually looking over his shoulder. The major had a rifle with a telescopic sight on one shoulder and a machine gun on the other, also a submachine gun across his chest. I had never seen anybody with as many guns on him. He continued looking at the men in all the beds. I could not understand the significance of the visit at the time. Later on, I worked it out. The major was a sniper, and was looking for somebody whom he had wounded and believed to be taken into this first-aid station. After the inspection of the men he turned to look at the girls in white. He shook his head.

“Are those all the nurses?” he asked.

“All on this shift,” was the answer.

He did not find what he was looking for.

I had such fun flirting with a beautiful girl from one of the expensive looking villas nearby. But after the major’s visit, she and many other girls disappeared, even Miss Rose. Mrs Skotnicka returned from the patrol alone. She asked me whether I could walk and took me to her apartment across the street. She told me to stay home. She invited some friends; we played bridge and poker. I won a lot of money. I met some young girls who made me feel like a great hero and a handsome man (?) to boot. Slowly it dawned on me what was happening. Mr Arbuzow, an insurance executive, lived across the street. He knew my father. It was a friendly conspiracy to keep me out of trouble. I must admit that I had a wonderful time.

My external wound had healed, but I was troubled. There was news of the SS burning Pulawska street with the people inside the houses, news about the major fight on Chocimska (almost next door), and then the house next door burned by a German patrol. The women were keeping a watch over me at night. I met a girl who went to the same school as my brother. Her fiancé was killed in battle. She never recognized me. I don’t think she noticed very much of what went on around her. Her deep hurt was apparent to everybody. I dreamt about my brother.

Next day I walked out. I moved across the gardens of a nearby expensive housing development. I was trying to go down towards the main artery (Belwederska) and cross it. I was close to the main artery, when I was stopped, this time by a Polish voice. I stayed with the encountered Polish patrol until night and then we moved across the street.

We joined the company from which the patrol originated and I was taken to the company commander. He interrogated me in the basement of the building for a couple of hours. The basement housed a lieutenant, a sergeant, and three girls (apparently the girls’ official duties were to carry the messages to other groups). Except for the sergeant I never saw them leave the basement until we left the building, almost a month later.

I was assigned to the squad which took care of the defense of the main artery towards the burnt-out factory across the street.

Positional battle

At first we went on patrols, occasionally reaching deep into the area towards the river, through Lazienki Park and almost to the sport complex. We lost a couple of men due to sniper fire. I thought about the well-armed major.

We also ventured in between the villas and along the streets. One day we were moving along the street with young Paul in front. Paul volunteered to go on every patrol. For some reason, he hated staying in the building occupied by our company (I can no longer remember what it was called, I think O2); I believe he was afraid of being killed by a bomb. The leader of the patrol was armed with a submachine gun, the rest of us with rifles. Anyway we were coming to the corner of the street when all at once a German patrol appeared at the corner. The leaders of both patrols seem to have fired at the same time, but whereas Paul was facing the Germans, the German patrol was moving in a direction perpendicular to ours. Two Germans fell, the others ran back to the corner, while we moved quickly towards the wall. For a minute or so there was a silence, interrupted only by the sound of the receding steps of somebody’s boots. The Germans decided to move back.

“Let’s go back,” somebody suggested.

“I am not going to leave those weapons on the ground,” said Paul. The wounded German was still moaning.

“I must attend to this man too,” said the nurse.

“It is only a German. Do not expose yourself,” said Paul.

“Nevertheless, I have to help him,” she said.

Somebody moved and said, “Wait, I will have a look.”

As soon as he began moving towards the corner, the second German who lay quietly on the ground, started shouting, “Nicht schiessen, nicht schiessen! (Don’t shoot)!”

We told him to get up and come closer. He came with his hands raised in the air. Paul lifted his submachine gun, “I will shoot the bastard.”

“Don’t be stupid, Paul,” somebody said, “put your gun down.”

Now we were all pushing him away. The German watched carefully and kept coming closer. One of us moved decisively to meet him. There were no shots from around the corner. The nurse moved to the wounded German. We helped her to sit him up and take his jacket, sweater and shirt. Wlodek kept the sweater while dropping other items of clothing on the ground. The nurse couldn’t do much for the wounded soldier. He was bleeding from multiple wounds and seemed to have lost consciousness. We left him at the corner and turned back.

We had the guns and the other prisoner. The nurse tagged along with some reluctance. Finally she said, “I have very few bandages.” The man was dying anyway…

There were many dead bodies in the area between the houses occupied by the Germans and the houses occupied by the Polish forces. Neither group could bury them. They would have to be carried away, and the snipers were busy on both sides. Still we wanted to know the identity of the bodies. Most of them were in some stage of decomposition. None of the guys were brave enough to dig into the pockets of dead bodies, accept for an older nurse who now became our “body identification expert.” I saw her many times wiping the maggots off her hands after digging through smelling and often fire-blackened bodies. The burnt bodies were especially plentiful in the areas where, after a skirmish, the Germans had moved in. It was often their first act: to burn a house without letting the inhabitants out. In the early days many inhabitants of those houses died an awful death. Later all the inhabitants would move away when the battle started, or even before.

I was sitting at my window when a large group of people appeared at the corner opposite to our house on the other side of the open space (corner of Grottgera and Belwederska).

We did not know what to do. It seemed like the Germans were going to move the Polish population in front of them and attack our position. A patrol was sent through the ruins of the factory and behind the line of moving people. A skirmish ensued. The patrol claimed to have attacked and destroyed a tank or an armored vehicle which was behind the line of people, and pushed the Germans back. We were rather uneasy when night fell, but nothing happened.

It was impossible now to cross the main artery (Belwederska) without being shot at. A tunnel was dug under the street and the patrols moved through the tunnel to the other side of the street. The job of patrolling was divided between the different platoons. We went on patrols only at night now. One day the sergeant selected four men and sent them to the house next door to face the field dividing us from Dworkowa. Apparently this was supposed to be a light duty, as only lightly wounded were selected to go there. I was selected as I gotten shot through the leg again, my second injury.

Food was getting scarce. At first there was soup, I suppose made by the people in the basement, and even bread sometimes. Later we mostly lived on tomatoes, which grew in the little gardens next to the small houses. One improvised sometimes with other vegetables from the same garden. Unfortunately this created the need for a quick bowel movement, often when one was on patrol or exposed to the enemy. There was nothing that the guys were more afraid of than being shot when one had to go to the toilet. Of course toilets did not work any more. In the battle for the pump station we lost and had to give it up. The Germans shut off the water.

As we guarded against the German attack or patrol from Dworkowa, down along the Promenade, the most vulnerable spot was the terrace. The Germans had the mortar trained on it. We used to hang out a piece of clothing and move it by string to cause a fury of shots causing minor dents in the surface of the terrace. Unfortunately despite our warnings, one of the new replacements decided to view the German stronghold from the terrace and was killed in the process.

Most of the time, when my turn to watch against German attack came, I would watch from among the bushes next door. The Germans had a hard time spotting anybody within the long hedge of bushes surrounding the ruins of the villa next door. I would taunt them by sending an occasional shot into one of the fortified windows. One had to be careful, however, as they would move their mortar fire all over the garden, hoping for my untimely death. They might also support it by sprays of heavy machine gun fire. I don’t know why, but my diarrhea would always come at dusk when I could not see if anybody was coming.

They kept me in this boring position for nearly two weeks. When I came back to my squad, the situation towards the lower part (now called Sielce) had changed considerably. Our sister companies were pushed back not only from the water pumping station but also from Chelmska.

I remember one night patrol when we moved across the street and tried to explore the area. Most of the villas turned out to be occupied by the German troops. We settled down in the bushes in front of the villas. As I mentioned before, Paul went on every patrol, so when we settled down he fell asleep. He was supposed to watch our flank. We were afraid of just such an occurrence, so one of us was continually moving from one member of the patrol to the other. In front of a house there were two clumps of bushes. Paul was lying in one clump. We stole his gun while he was sleeping, as a joke, but placed another man in the second clump. Occasionally you could hear an exchange of words in German from the front room or balcony of the house. The main part of the patrol, two guys and a girl, were sitting on the other side of the fence watching this and three other houses, which we suspected were also occupied by the Germans. All at once Paul crawled back. “The dirty … Germans stole my gun. I am going to go and kill…”

“How could they steal your gun, Paul? Didn’t you shoot one of them.”

“Never mind, give me your gun. I am going to walk into this … house and kill the … German that took my gun.”

“Are sure that is wise, Paul? They may steal the other gun from you.” We were all laughing now. Paul was furious. He smelled the rat finally.

“Who took my gun?” he almost shouted.

We had to warn him to be quiet and restrain him by force from throttling one of us, whom he identified as the likely joker. After some persuasion he agreed to withdraw closer to our base and go to sleep.

Soon there were no patrols. The Germans occupied the house across the street with a minimal fight. We had inadequate strength to lose too many men and still needed to protect the path towards Sadyba and a likely exit from Warsaw.

The fight now concentrated on preventing Germans from crossing the main artery. We were so close to the enemy that the heavy artillery fire and even mortar fire were all falling behind us. There was no longer any need for snipers – we were all sniping at the enemy troops. Neither side could move an inch for a few days.

There were many wounded. To get them back to the hospitals we had to cross the open field behind us, now under almost constant turmoil from explosions of grenades directed there by German heavy weapons. When we finally got to the first line of first aid stations, we would be sent further back. There was no more room in any hospitals. Our main hospital was bombed daily by the Germans, despite the red cross on the roof. The doctor in charge got so mad one day he moved all the wounded Germans to the partly destroyed top floor.

We were coming back from taking a wounded man up the hill when we met George. Paul as usual was in a hurry. I told him to go ahead – I would catch up with him. George was dressed in the German camouflage suit and carried a schmeisser (type of a German submachine-gun), quite an impressive little fighter. I asked him what he had done since I left.

Apparently he joined the partisan groups in the Chojnowski forest, participated in a couple of battles with the withdrawing German troops, and moved with a whole battalion to occupy Sadyba (the southernmost part of Warsaw). They were now under heavy German pressure and would likely lose the area. He was on a short rest from the fighting. I told him what had happened to me and we parted with a certain amount of distance between us.

When I reached the open field portion, a Stuka [30] plane was coming from across the river. I ran as fast as I could toward a house standing in the middle of the field. The plane dipped and sprayed the field behind me with bullets. I had barely reached the house when I noticed that the pilot was turning around. I waited a moment until he was committed to a partial dive and then ran around the house. It was lucky for me that the Stuka plane did not have a machine gun in the back. The pilot tried again banking the plane in a circle. Obviously he was hoping to get me to commit myself to the direction I was going. I stood still.

  1. Stuka (JU87) was a two seater dive bomber.

He had to come back somewhat and start a downward descent. He was shooting almost before I started running, but his bullets went far to the right. I ran on the left side of the house. As soon as I turned the corner, I could see him turning up and around, so I went back where I was before waving good-bye to him. I was sure now that he did not have any bombs left. This time he climbed, and flew towards Okecie airport. I was very proud of my way of outwitting the great Luftwaffe.

When I came back, Col Daniel and Col Waligora were visiting our outpost. Waligora cut an impressive figure despite the smell that he carried with him. He had come recently from the old city through the sewers. Apparently one of the senior officers in the old city later became the head of the Underground under the Russian occupation and laid down Polish arms to the Russians in the Chojnice forest. I doubt very much that he survived subsequent imprisonment and trial. At the time he had a group of seasoned soldiers from the Parasol battalion of GS, the oldest group of the Boy Scout organization. They were famous for their efforts throughout the occupation and also the Wola [31] and Old City campaigns of the uprising. Anyway apparently Waligora was now (or seemed to be) directing the operation of the Mokotow section of the Warsaw uprising.

  1. Westernmost part (district) of the city of Warsaw.

They appeared to be concerned about the passage that led from our to the German side under the street. The problem was that whereas the Germans were sitting right on top of the tunnel, we had to move through the ruins of a destroyed little house to get to the tunnel opening from our side. They needed volunteers to put explosives in the tunnel on the German side. A young warrant officer, who usually sat in the basement and did not show up anywhere in the fighting was to lead the affair. For the purpose of this story I will call him Alfons. I was not pleased with the leader, but volunteered anyway. Paul did also.

We had to carry an unexploded “cow” shell. A “cow” or a “wardrobe” was the name we had given to the German rocket launcher (Nebelwerfer). The shell carried about 1000 lbs of explosives to its destination and was propelled by a small, solid-state rocket. The unexploded shell had to be carried down on a stretcher, which we normally used to carry the wounded. During the night we moved it into the ruin of the house at the corner, always closer towards the tunnel. The warrant officer decided to stay at the entrance, covering our retreat. I was sent to the other opening of the tunnel, and Paul and two others pushed the shell through the tunnel. It was dark. I moved with a beating heart into the open space on the other side of the tunnel. I was still moving when a voice above me said in German, “Frank, do you have a cigarette?”

I felt a significant lump in my throat and it kept throttling me with each beat of my heart. I sat with my back against one side of the ditch and my feet pressing against the opposite side. How could he not have heard the noises I made? I sat there for ages while behind me: swish, puff, puff – the shell continued on its way towards me and certain disaster. I could not see the glow of a cigarette: the German could not have been as close as I thought. Swish, swish, puff, puff – closer and closer. I almost jumped when Paul tapped me on the shoulder.

“Move in closer,” he whispered.

“There is a German above me,” I despaired.

“Move in closer.” He had no pity.

I moved sideways. One step. I looked back. Paul was motioning with his hand: further, further. Oh what the hell, let them kill me – I thought. At least now I was within reach of the end of the ditch. The German, if he jumped down, would be within a step, no more. Then I could let go with all the bullets I had in my Colt 45; he would not survive. Clang above me. Clang behind me. Paul got the shell against the cable running parallel to the building and could not lift it over.

He motioned me to help him. I shook my head.

“Come on,” he said. I had to help him to shut him up. As we got the shell higher, the rocket part dug in into the ground. We did not have enough strength to lift the shell bodily. We rested there. The other helper went back and brought an unexploded artillery shell. We dropped this one even closer with a bit of a clang. We all listened now. All quiet on the Western Front. Above us the Russian observation plane was making its rounds and the German anti-aircraft guns were trying to bring him down. Every so often the pilot would shut his engine and glide a while. I had to sit another tortuous ten minutes while Paul attached a grenade to the front of the artillery shell and attached the rope to the pin of the grenade. I was so frightened I no longer felt anything. If the German came down it would be a relief.

“Psst!” He was beckoning me. They were all finished. I motioned him to go. I sat for another couple of minutes and then moved back. The warrant officer was full of authority now. Told us to run back, he will pull on the string and follow. The explosion happened after we were inside the house where our troops were stationed. We sat at the entrance to the house and waited for the warrant officer. He was running for his life. All hell broke loose. The Germans were firing at random. Grenades exploded on the street and against our building. Our side answered in kind. I felt I had to go to the bathroom. So much for being a great hero.

One day there was great excitement. Among the noise of a large group of heavy planes passing by and anti-aircraft fire, a multitude of parachutes appeared in the sky.

“It must be the Polish parachute brigade,” somebody ventured. The heavy machine gun squad moved into position on the staircase. The staircase was normally not occupied because of the clear view of Dworkowa bastion. This time however we did not worry about exposing ourselves. We had to cover the landing troops.

“Hold on to my feet,” the machine gunner said. True enough, as he started firing, he was sliding back on the slippery surface of the staircase. Really there was nothing to shoot at. In the early days the Germans would expose themselves occasionally, but we had now our guns well trained into possible spots. Dworkowa kept deathly quiet. We could see the parachutes clearly now.

“This is an arms drop. There are no people coming down,” Wlodek said. “Do not waste your ammunition.”

Dworkowa began answering now. We tumbled down the staircase among ricocheting bullets. Nobody was hurt.

“What poor shots these SS men are,” said Wlodek.

It seemed like some parachutes were coming quite close, but the majority drifted into or beyond the German lines. At night we moved through the open field trying to find any stray chutes. It was a clear night and every fifteen minutes the Germans would send up a flare. How stupid to be so precise, I thought. I could time the flares and made sure I was sitting down before the next one went up. Somehow it was pleasant to be in the open field. Waiting for the flare, I lay down and looked at the stars. Same stars at Mlociny and Zielonka and on Jasna St. My home. Where are my parents now? Where is John? I felt very sad. And up went the flare. We found nothing.

Next day we woke up dejected and watched the field and the street in front of us. We heard the rumbling of the tanks a long way away. We sent a runner to bring the PIAT (British anti-tank rocket launcher) crew down. The tanks would stop and fire into our windows and below. Holes appeared in the walls of the building. We were moving in and out of the front rooms. One could determine when the tank was pointing its gun at one’s window and move back inside the building. I was shaking.

“We need somebody to draw the fire out,” said the PIAT gunner.

“I will go with you.” As always, Paul on the ready.

“Some of you must stay here and draw their fire.”

Here was my excuse. I stayed. The PIAT crew moved into the old ruins below our house, on the corner of the street. They fired once with no effect. The tank paid no attention to us on the upper floor now; he was concentrating on the ruins. Hey, there was another tank moving faster behind the first one and the troops marching right behind it. We concentrated on the troops. They were certainly more vulnerable. The first tank was immobilized, the engine was smoking. We were too late to hit the first German jumping out. The fire grew very heavy. The Germans were covering the escape of the first tank crew.

The PIAT crew came back but Paul was left behind. There was no way to go into the ruins now. The Germans had attacked them from both directions and our other platoon was preparing for a counterattack. The second tank was right behind the first one, supporting the Germans in the ruins.

We were relieved in the morning. A squad was formed from the rest of our platoon. We were told to move back to the house in the open field behind our recent positions and possibly cover our company’s move to the resting place. Sounded ominous.

We got to the house before daylight. No plane chasing me around the house this time. Relatively quiet. We posted two men at the windows toward Dolna and the rest of us played poker. Somebody brought food. What luxury. I was winning heavily until it was my turn to stand guard.

As I leaned at the small table and watched through the window, I was surprised. Every so often the Germans would try to cross Dolna. Were we not defending the backs of supposedly our road toward Sadyba? Well it was no longer ours for sure. I trained my gun at the street crossing and waited. Here he is. I fired, he dropped. There was one more try and then no more.

The Germans were firing in all directions. They had not yet figured out who was pinning them down. I called out to my friend in the other room.

“Did you see the Wehrmacht crossing Dolna?” He did not notice. He was watching farther down towards Huculska.

By the time my shift ended, we were relieved again. Our company had moved to a house on Wiktorska street to have a rest. We joined them and slept a while.

The rest area

When I woke up there was nobody there and it seemed very quiet. The room was full of light; it must have been about midday. I walked to the staircase and was surprised to see daylight above – half of the apartment complex was destroyed. As I moved slowly through the rubble, I met Wlodek coming up.

“Thank God you survived. We could not wake you up. You were lucky to be in the part of the building that was not bombed.”

“I guess I was lucky at that.”

There was no water. We asked the people in the basement where to get water. There was apparently only one pump close by. They loaned us a bucket when we promised to share the water with them. It took us three hours and two bombardments in the meantime to get our water. While we stood in the line-up, the Russians dropped a bag of rifles close to the pump. The rifles were useless. Dropped without the parachute the stocks were all broken. There were no bullets in the bag and the caliber of the Russian rifles was different from our Mausers [32].

  1. Rifle used by the Polish as well as German army.

Next day I decided to visit Aunt Jedrzejewska. She lived on the same street further on. I found her easily. She was crying when I came. She was dressed in black.

“I am glad to see you alive!” she said.

Her younger daughter has been interred the day before. Her daughter had formed a kitchen where people could donate their saved food supplies and where all and sundry could get a meal. She had been killed by a bomb while cooking a meal. Aunt Jedrzejewska’s older daughter was in a concentration camp. So that was it for this family, and many others shared her grief. I told her my story and she wished me luck. I did not know what to say in return. I could not wish her luck, could I?

On the way back I met my “friend” Alfons the warrant officer, with his arm around professor Rose’s daughter.

“Hi, this is my girlfriend. Oh, you know one another. Well, let’s hurry up, there is not much time.” They disappeared into our rest place. I kept on walking. On side streets the entries to the sewers were open. A girl runner was entering one of them. The planes were coming back. I got through the gate into one of the houses. When the bombs fell close by I turned back. A set of bombs destroyed the house behind our quarters. We ran to dig the people out. Most of them were in a bad state. Some were dying while we were digging. Our sergeant was coming towards us. “You guys! We are moving to a new position.” We ran upstairs and took our guns.

“To hell with this rest and relaxation!” said Wlodek. “I am not coming back here.” This unfortunately turned out to be a prophetic statement.

The last stand

We walked west a long way. Well, a long way by the standards of the Uprising. If you crossed three or four streets, that was a long way. Crossed Odynca and into the ditches running toward some houses standing in the field. These were our westernmost positions. Beyond those there was a field and then Rakowiec held by the Germans. As we moved through the ditches we had to backtrack to let the wounded pass. Around us we could hear and fear heavy artillery fire and some mortar fire.

We moved into position by night. Somebody was going to get potatoes from the open field. He asked for volunteers. I decided to go with him. After a short walk toward the German lines, he indicated that I should stay behind while he penetrated the area where the Germans were dug in. We crawled through the open space. He motioned me to stay down. He moved still farther. In a while he returned with the potatoes.

“The best ones are behind the German lines,” he said. He ventured once more. When he came back we had two full bags. We crawled back.

“Stay down!” A rocket lit up the sky. We lay still. All at once the sound of winding up rockets filled the air. I was counting them. Normally there were five German rockets; this time I lost the count. These were not German “cows.” Tremendous explosions rocked the earth. They were a fair way to the south. A moment later the sky was full of the glow from the fire. We had to wait a long while. I fell asleep. After some time my comrade nudged me and we crawled fast toward our lines.

Near dawn we had potatoes with onions. They tasted better than anything I had eaten before. I forgot that I had not eaten for the last couple of days. My position was in the room on the second floor. Whoever was there before me had placed a mattress on top of the dining room table and rolled another thin mattress at the window side of the table. It was the best shooting position I had ever seen. I lay on top of the mattress and watched the dawn breaking. One could hear the whining noise of engines in the distance. The noise was heavy. I could see a cloud of dust rising to the right of my field of vision and moving to the left of our position. An officer with binoculars stood in the doorway.

“I think it’s a long column of tanks,” he said.

“Good luck!” I thought. “What are we going to do against a convoy of tanks?” I wondered when they would appear. Still could see only dust. Before I saw the tanks, German artillery began to soften us up. There was no point waiting at the window. I knew they would stop when the tanks got closer. I moved inside the apartment. The building shook with the explosion of artillery shells. Red dust was so dense you could not see the outside in broad daylight. I sensed rather then saw Wlodek standing next to me.

“What the hell are we going to do?” I asked him.

“You are OK. You can almost see your window. I must get to my station.” – He was placed at a hole in the wall from some previous shell. The artillery fire was moving farther back. I saw the tanks now, about two hundred yards away, with the troops hanging on the metal ladders attached to the top of the tank. I took aim at the guy near the top and fired. The tank fired back. More dust. I had to hit the rifle against the wall to open it up and hit it again to close it back with the shell now inside the chamber. The rifle was all gummed up with dust.

“I must move into position,” I said.

The officer observing the approaching tanks lowered his binoculars and looked at me thoughtfully. “OK. I will tell you when the tank aims the gun in your direction.”

Well, except that there was at least thirty tanks in view. We forced the Panzer grenadiers to get off the tanks. They were hugging the earth now or moving behind the tanks. I could still see some of them when they jumped up and ran. After about three shots, the officer shouted the warning. I moved back quickly, but Wlodek did not get there and it was his position that got two shells one after the other. We dragged him back. The nurse and the stretcher were right behind us. His belly was a mess. The nurse pulled his German sweater off.

“Take it, Joe,” Wlodek mumbled. “You may need it.” It was end of September. The nights were getting cold.

I put it on to keep him happy. They carried him down the staircase. I climbed back on my mattress. Now I was mad. I used up my magazine and reloaded. I had to smash the rifle against the side of the table after every shot to open the breach. The tanks were about thirty yards away, but behind them there were more tanks. Our fast firing kept the line of the supporting troops down. In my fervor I did not hear any words of warning. All at once I was flying through the air. Somebody was shouting, “Help, help!”

I could only see red. The guy wouldn’t stop shouting. Then I realized it was me. I crawled through the door. As I was sliding down the staircase, another shell exploded above me. I couldn’t move my left arm, blood was pouring down my face and my trousers were wet. I stopped for a moment. Did I pee in my pants? I turned to look at my legs. I couldn’t see anything. Somebody was coming up the steps. A nurse.

“Are you badly hurt?” she said, wiping my face. I could see now. I tried to stand up. I could stand and I managed to walk.

“I have to get my rifle.”

“You stay right here. We will get your rifle later.”

More shells exploding above us. They pulled me to the basement. Wlodek was lying there on a stretcher. Through the opening in the wall you could see the ditch leading out from the house. You could also see the artillery barrage somewhat beyond the ditches.

“We’ve got to get those guys to the hospital,” the nurse said.

“Leave as soon as you can,” the officer said and started climbing up again. We moved along the ditch as the artillery fire moved deeper and deeper into our lines. Wlodek was unconscious. We moved a few steps at a time. Wlodek died before we got to the next line of houses. I couldn’t see again. The nurse tugged on my shoulder then wiped my face. We walked for what seemed like a long while.

I remember we stopped somewhere to leave Wlodek’s body. Somebody put a makeshift dressing on my head. They had a difficult time sticking it to my skin until somebody found a razor and shaved a part of my head. Soon the piece of cloth was soaked with blood and stuck to my head somehow. There was no bandages or time to cover my leg wounds. Anyway my socks stuck to my leg now. We slept in some friendly basement. During the day we had to move again amid shells falling everywhere and streets now covered by heavy machine-gun fire.

I was shaking despite Wlodek’s sweater. Some woman offered me a lambswool jacket. I did not want to take it.

“I have no use for it now. Do you prefer that some German will take it?” she asked.

I put the jacket on but was shaking nevertheless. Must have been the shock. As we kept moving north some groups were entering the sewers. I wondered whether I should join them. I noticed that a large group of people was waiting to enter the sewer. I wondered what would happen to my leg wounds if I entered the sewer. I spent my last night on Wisniowa in the basement. When I woke up and walked out, German tanks were at both ends of the street and SS men armed with Sten guns were moving from house to house gathering the people and leading them away.

“So much for the big airdrop!” I thought.

Prisoner of war

Laying down the arms

As I walked along the streets just recently travelled under fire, my head and leg wounds hurt more. I think my body was trying to give me an excuse for my defeat. We were led to an open space somewhere toward Malczewskiego St. A large number of people already stood there. A couple of German soldiers were guarding us as well as a mound of grenades dropped by the Polish soldiers. One of the grenades (a British gammon, we used to call them) was lying on the ground with its tape unwrapped. I was watching it. With a bit of a pull on the tape it may explode and set the whole pile off. I noticed that each approaching group aimed some grenades at the gammon, a suicidal attempt. I guess this was the expression of feeling that permeated the group: “Why don’t we all die now!” You may call it Polish Romanticism.

Well, I thought, the whole thing started as an act of desperation for me and so it may finish. But the grenade did not explode and we were not all killed. All that happened was that another phase of my life started. That’s why I can write this story: God divided my life into chapters.

This was a day of walking. First we walked to the end of Raclawicka. In the open field, they fed us soup and bread. There was nothing to eat with, but somebody soon found a pile of old German tins, which passed from hand to hand. The line-up for soup was ended prematurely, by the “grand arrival” of the victor himself Gen von dem Bach, who gave us a speech about the great goodwill and grace of the German nation and Adolf Hitler who fed us – the bandits and insurrectionists – and would even allow us to become prisoners of war. All this while a group of army photographers and film makers were taking pictures of the scene. Revolting. By now both the soup and bread had been magically removed. And we walked again.

This time we walked a long time. I fell asleep many times while walking, and so did many others. As soon as some man walked into you, you knew he was asleep and you propped him up gently and led him back into his place within the ranks. Sometimes one had to do it repeatedly. Occasionally we had to catch a guy walking away from the ranks – he could be shot if he strayed too far. Once in a while a warning would be heard from the accompanying guards.

I thought about walking away, but we had seen no sign of life anywhere around. Pruszkow. We walked all night.

I slept on a cement floor. Somebody was shaking me. You better get in line – they are distributing food. You had to be there to get it. When they finished distributing it, that was it. We tried to organize the reception and distribution of food, but soon the trains were taking people away.

I don’t remember quite how, but the next thing I remember we were in the transit camp (was it Skierniewice?) and I was in a hospital bed. The big room was full of Poles from the uprising, Poles from the Berling Army [33] and Russians.

  1. General Berling was the commander of the Polish Army formed by the Soviet Russia. The Berling Army fought side-by-side with the Russian Army from the great battle of Kursk to the battle for Berlin. Gen Berling disappeared soon after the Warsaw uprising. The folklore has it that he tried to help the AK in the uprising despite distinct Russian orders to the contrary and was removed as a penalty for disobedience.

The wounded prisoners were attended to by a doctor who was a prisoner himself – this was a standard practice in the POW camps. Each morning, a Russian doctor – they sometimes called a butcher, at other times a saint – would come along. He only examined me once – took my bandages off. Told me to keep my wounds in the open and tell him if they swelled a lot. Was he going to bandage them again? He does not have many bandages.

One guy next to me had a chest and stomach wound. After examination, he bandaged him in the same bandages.

“Bad sign,” the man on my right said. “This man is going to die.” He did, two days later.

The man behind was trying to hide a bad leg wound. One day the doctor spotted him and took his blankets off despite strong resistance. The man had gangrene. They took him away. He came back amid shouts within an hour minus his leg. It was hard to sleep in that place. The moans and shouts were difficult to bear, considering the state of your own health, both in the physical and the mental sense. I think I was there more than a week. I began to have a lot of respect for the doctor. Many people were improving despite the rough treatment. Many people died, with not too much sympathy. There were new patients ready to take the place of the dying almost immediately.

One day we were told to walk to a train. There was no objection if some who were not wounded too badly carried the more heavily wounded. Some were helped by the orderlies of the doctor. The train was filled with the soldiers from the uprising and some loose spots were filled with Berling Poles. Before we left we got three packets of crackers.

There were twenty-one beds and a stove in the middle in our carriage (if a cattle truck can be called a carriage). One of the beds was reserved for our guard, a poor specimen of the super-race. He looked about sixty and walked with a sort of a wobble. During the journey he slept longer than anybody else in the carriage. In stretches the train would move fast, then it would stop in the middle of nowhere and stand there for hours.

We had a man in our carriage whose hand was mutilated by a piece of a grenade. The Russian “doctor” tried to clean up his wound but he found it very difficult to extract all the pieces of shattered bones from the center of his hand. Thus the hand continued to ooze with pus. Maggots got into his wound. It was the doctor’s method to leave the maggots in, as they tend to reduce the quantity of pus and therefore reduce swelling. But the patient feels the maggots moving in his painful wound. Furthermore no pain killers other than aspirin were available. The wound, now infected for weeks, stank horribly. The stench and moaning was driving us bananas. His nickname became Little Paw.

Half of the wounded could not get up from their beds. When the train stopped, it was possible to get some water occasionally. We had to carry the water from the side of the train to the heavily wounded.

I thought about running away, but I never gathered enough heart to do it. Neither did any others. Then again I did not care much to be in occupied Poland any more. I was afraid of the Russians as well. I did not know whether any of my family had survived. What a set of excuses! I guess I just wasn’t man enough. There were many opportunities. The train moved through forests and countryside, and by the poverty of the villages one saw, I could swear we were still in Poland. Thoughts, despairing thoughts. Always: what was it all for? Could I have done anything to stop it?

The third night we came to Berlin. Our train stood at Ostkreutz while the late suburban trains were whizzing past at what seemed like a hundred miles an hour. We were tired, hungry and dejected. The guards brought a kettle of hot water. There was nothing to put in the hot water, so we waited for the water to cool down. We had only two old tins from German preserves. The sirens began while we waited. The guards left the kettle and ran to the air-raid shelter. Those of us who could walk got out of the train and observed the bombing. Some cheered. How sad, I thought. The raid took a long time. We left before dawn.

The guard left our carriage unattended – he could not stand the stench from the wound of Little Paw. Some guys now regretted that they did not run away. Sort of crying over spilt milk. Magdeburg [34]. Another air raid. I fell asleep.

  1. A German city situated halfway between, and to the south of, Berlin and Saxony.

Altengrabow [35]

  1. German cavalry barracks situated near Magdeburg which were used as a POW camp in both wars.

The carriage was beginning to empty out. Badly wounded first, then those that could walk but had to be helped. Finally those that did not need help to jump down. It was time to wake up. A Polish doctor or first-aid man was sorting us out. He sent some straight ahead or to the right. Others had to wait. I was in that group. I did not need an immediate operation or any significant hospital care work.

Each prisoner had to go through a registration procedure where all his documents were taken away and each man was informed that he would instead be identified by a number. Mine was 45294. We were informed that this was Stalag XIA [36], that our wounds will be attended to by doctors who themselves were prisoners, and that subsequently we would be assigned to an appropriate place. It was a clear autumn day, rather warm for the middle of October. Around noon the planes started moving along the sky. Hundreds, maybe thousands.

  1. Stalag stands for a standard camp. This kind of POW camp held all soldiers who were not officers. Doctors and chaplains often volunteered to serve in a Stalag. I am not sure about the numbering of Stalags. Stalag XIB did exist. I think it had something to do with military districts.

“Berlin again,” somebody said.

The planes seemed to cross each other’s paths. Near the end lighter planes dropped down and rocked their wings. Their pilots obviously knew the location of the camp.

Late in the afternoon it was finally my turn. For the first time all my wounds were not only cleaned but properly bandaged. I impressed the French doctor with my broken French and he talked to me for a minute. Hundreds were still waiting, so he bid me good-bye.

I was sent to a sort of transit barrack. The authorities were reorganizing the camp to keep the new Polish prisoners somewhat apart from the others. Morning saw our first inspection. We were woken up at dawn and had to line up and shout our new numbers while a soldier checked each number on a list. Then a group of goons walked along our line and picked on some unsuspecting person and violated him somehow physically. I was one of the men picked out. The soldier who picked me out ripped my pants and told me to throw my upper garments on the ground. For the rest of the year I had a difficult time keeping my pants together. I noticed that the goon was walking with a heavy limp indicating a serious leg wound. On his shoulder the insignia proclaimed: Leningrad [37], and another below the first one: Warsaw. Momentarily I felt rather proud that Warsaw got the distinction of being a difficult battle for the Germans. Then I felt ashamed of feeling proud. Everything seemed so futile.

  1. Leningrad was surrounded by the German forces for over three years. It was later given a “hero” status by the Russian government.

Our barrack was surrounded by a double fence. Inside there were two rows of boards arranged in two tiers along the wall. We were supposed to sleep on them. Unfortunately the space was inadequate. Some of us had to sleep on the floor.

The food was horrible. The worst was a soup which seemed to be made of sticks, The sticks were so hard it was hard to bite through them. There was little else but sticks in the soup. The daily portion consisted of a fifth of a pound of bread (made mostly of sawdust), an eighth of a tin of meat, soup once a day and coffee (a black concoction somewhat bitter) once a day. You could not die on it and you certainly could not live on it. It was not until we were moved to permanent barracks (after about two weeks) that we could do anything about our food supply.

About a week after we came to Altengrabow, a transport of AK (Polish Underground Army) from Zoliborz [38] arrived. They were placed in a different compound, but we could see them across two fences. I found out that many of my school friends from Bielany were in that transport. That is when I found out that most of them belonged to the Polish Nationalist Organization (NSZ). They described the battles on that side of Warsaw: the battle for the railway line and the river shore and the way out to the outskirts of town. I also found out that many of my classmates had died in those battles. The transport from Zoliborz stayed only three days in Altengrabow and then all my friends were sent to another Stalag.

  1. Zoliborz – name of the city area in Warsaw. Contained some of the more modern apartment complexes.

Soon after, we were moved to our permanent quarters.

Now matters improved slightly. Many prisoner groups decided not to take the food supplied by the Germans. Poles and Serbs and some other national groups having food parcels from abroad decided to donate the standard kitchen food to us. In normal conditions, prisoners would share their parcels with the newcomers; in the case of the AK, there was too many of us coming to the camp at the same time for the older prisoners to share their Red Cross parcels. So the best they could do was to permit us to draw their daily food rations from the German kitchen, which few of the old prisoners wanted to eat anyway.

Once moved to our permanent quarters, we could move around certain portions of the camp more freely. Some prisoners engaged in camp commerce, selling items they had brought from Warsaw for food and cigarettes. Of course the thing to do was to buy those items from one another and sell them at a higher price to old prisoners, then do the same in reverse with barter items obtained in exchange.

My method of supporting myself was to walk to the sport field, which lay in our area of the camp. Most English prisoners and some of the others were walking around the field at about 6 am. They all walked in a clockwise direction, thus I walked in the counterclockwise direction. I greeted each oncoming soldier with “good morning.” Most often I would get an answer “good morning.” Occasionally the man addressed would stop and start a conversation. I would normally give him a sob story and be rewarded by an offer of a cigarette. I had a stub prepared and would light the stub while pocketing a whole cigarette. An hour of walking would result in between five and ten cigarettes. In the evening I would go to the Russian compound and buy potatoes from Russian prisoners who had stolen them while working.

At some point I had enough cigarettes to buy a packet of 10 cigarettes for 11 singles. Now I was in business. I could buy some valuable item for the packet of cigarettes and sell it to a French prisoner at a profit. All this because of my knowledge of languages. Of course my knowledge was sort of deficient, but what was important is that it impressed the guys that I was able to converse with them in my broken English or French.

The place we lived in was hardly a palace. It used to be a stable for the German cavalry. All stalls had been removed and three rows of boards supported by 2-by-4’s placed at 6-ft intervals extended the length of the building. Each man had a 2-ft wide space (or less) for himself. Lice dropped from the upper to the lower layer.

In order to keep clean, one had to have a utensil with which to wash himself, wait his turn to get water from a single tap for the barrack of about 1000 men, and find enough time to perform one’s ablutions. If one needed to cook or heat the water, one built a contraption from three or four powdered milk tins; one tin for a tiny fireplace, one tin for the housing of a fan, one tin cut up to form the fan blades. The fan axle was made from the milk tin opening key. The band around the tin was wrapped onto the key and a piece of string or rubber (if you had it) connected it to the handle which was placed in a support made from other metal bands. The handle was made from another opening key. The whole contraption was placed on a board, which had to be “procured” from somebody who worked in a carpentry shop. As one turned the handle, the fan turned much faster and blew a stream of air on twigs placed in the little furnace or stove, thus causing it to create a high heat stove to cook an item placed on top of the stove. One cooked potatoes in about ten minutes with only a small supply of twigs.

Before the end of November, I managed to be sick and therefore moved to the hospital where one had a bed and all. Unfortunately it did not last long. One day all the boys under seventeen were sent out to a work place (Kommando) and I was not considered sick enough to be retained in the camp.


The journey was relatively fast, and by night we were unloaded in an unfamiliar place. No food all day. We were marched through town and deposited in a factory, in a dark room. We felt all around and found some food on the table in a series of small utensils. It tasted good. We later found out that we had been placed in the management dining room at the Billeter Works. The food was left-overs of the managers’ supper. This was the end of the second shift and at midnight we were marched with other prisoners to a camp. However we were not placed in a prisoner-of-war camp but in a civilian prisoner camp. The civilians were people gathered from occupied territories and brought to work in the German Reich’s essential industries. Those included farms and any industry which had incurred a shortage of labor through the mobilization of young Herrenvolk (the German supermen serving in the army).

Now finally somebody decided that we deserved some food. Our guard selected one of the boys (Zygmunt) and took him to the kitchen. He brought us each a sandwich. It later turned out that the kitchen issued one and a half sandwiches each, but the temptation was too great and Zygmunt ate six sandwiches on the way (there were twelve of us in the group). The boys were incensed and were all for executing prison-camp justice and beating Zygmunt up. I objected strongly and told the boys that they would have to beat me up as well. Somehow the others grudgingly relinquished the idea of punishing Zygmunt.

We were placed together with a number of civilian Polish men from different areas of Poland. The attitude of these men was definitely antagonistic. We tried to find out why. They had been told that we were criminals caught red-handed with arms in our hands terrorizing the civilian population in Poland. Our protests were of no avail. The older civilians said that they were already told that we were likely to feed them a story of being freedom fighters, but that we have caused the demise of many people in Warsaw. It was hard to contradict that the uprising did cause the deaths of many civilians. Our explanations became too involved for the peasant sons of Poland and we remained the bandits from Warsaw. It caused us grief and sorrow, but somehow in the days to come we decided to convince the older Poles that we were not bandits. I do not think we ever succeeded. It was just another of the spiritual blows administered by the enemy.

The next week was important and crucial in our Billeter saga. We were first taken to the factory at 5.30 and introduced to our work. Since we were all under seventeen, we were to be trained as machinist apprentices. This was a privileged job and further alienated us from the other Polish men. None of them had light work of that type. They worked in the foundry, in the yard, or as loading and unloading personnel – all very heavy manual labor. We were all wounded, however slightly, and received treatment in the first aid room in the management building. Our co-workers wanted to know why we hob-nobbed with the German managers. They were not completely satisfied with our answers. We worked a six-day week twelve hours a day. On Sunday we were exhausted. As light workers, our diet was much lighter than that of our compatriots. Our great hunger and scrounging for any scraps made our compatriots ashamed of us. They laughed at our efforts to find food in the surrounding fields. All farmers’ sons, they knew well that November was too late to find anything useful in the field – all produce was now stored in the appropriate storage on the farm.

Early Sunday morning we were called to the camp commandant’s office. He wanted to identify an interpreter. Although my German was the best in the group, I refused to be so identified. Today I think that my action made little sense but at that time I wanted to have nothing to do with the Germans. One of the boys, Wladek, volunteered.

Wladek had difficulty understanding the camp commander and often I would suggest to him, what was said. It would irritate the officer no end that I mumbled often something after he stopped speaking. He would hobble toward me with a whip in his hand and shout, “Halte schnautze, du lausbub Polacke [39]! You must wait to speak until you are asked to.”

  1. This phrase contains a number of abusive expressions which are not easily translatable in another language. Halte means hold, schnautze refers to an animal mouth. A very loose translation would be “keep your trap shut” or simply “shut up.” Lausbub is a lice-infected urchin. Polacke is a deprecating term referring to a stupid Pole, similar to “pollack” in Chicago.

Then we would look into one another’s eyes with a measure of hate. The commandant had lost his leg in the Polish-German war and hated Poles more than the other prisoners. I must say that he never hit me or mistreated me physically, other than shouting at me. Still, the thing that I remember most about the German military and other officials is that they always shouted. I often wondered whether they were capable of communicating in a normal tone of voice.

The commandant wanted us to sign a paper stating that we wanted to be treated as civilians. We did not know what to do. I was very much against it, while the majority of the boys did not seem to mind. Wladek originally expressed our reservations to the commander. He got mad and told us he would keep us standing to attention for as long as we refuse to sign. After about an hour he started taking Wladek and another boy to the side and trying to persuade them to sign. At some point one of the boys agreed to sign. This was the beginning of the collapse of the common front. Most of the boys did not see any good reason for not signing anyway. I decided not to act individually and signed as well.

I suppose my reluctance to sign did not have a really good reason. The main reason for the commandant’s insistence was a question of accommodation and somewhat one of intimidation. Once we signed he could treat us the same way as the other Poles who were not prisoners of war.

Whereas we were not able to become friendly with the older Poles, I soon made friends with the Belgian prisoners of war and French civilians who also worked in the Billeter Works. The Belgians often fed me at the lunch hour. They were now well supplied with Red Cross parcels and would often invite me to share the meal with them. As for the French, I got particularly friendly with Marceau Chiampi, a French secret-service agent who came to work in Germany to escape potential investigation by the Gestapo.

Marceau showed me a number of ways of improving my diet – we were more or less all starved due to undernourishment during the uprising and subsequent poor treatment in the POW camp. One way was to get to a German restaurant and order a standard meal. Such a meal, consisting of vegetables with some sauce, did not require the provision of ration coupons which of course we did not have. We had to be careful as eating such meals was not permitted – we were lower-class citizens. In general we were supposed to wear an identifying mark – a yellow square containing the letter P, for Polish – and the meal would be refused. In order to get the meal we had to remove the P.

Prisoners from the west – Danes, Dutchmen, Belgians etc – did not need to wear identifying marks and were allowed to eat in the restaurant: they were the higher class citizens. People from Russia had to wear a mark proclaiming OST and were even lower quality than Poles. Of course there was no recognition of the existence of Jews at all; they were so low they were not even classified. As I understand it, Jews were to be exterminated first of all. Later our turn would come. The western nationalities were to be kept as servants of the super-race.

My friendship with the foreigners and my escapades were noted with much criticism by the older Poles. I was warned that they knew that there are a lot of criminals among those nationalities. As I mentioned, our explanation of being freedom fighters had not been accepted, especially by two big fellows called Jasio and Wojtek. Wojtek especially was extremely strong and intimated that we must listen to him. Still trying to be friendly I pointed out that my friendship with other nationalities did not seem to hurt his lifestyle. He said that if I did not listen he would throw the Frenchmen out if and when he came to visit me. I told Marceau of the threat, but it appeared to challenge him. The next Sunday Marceau appeared with a swagger at our sleeping quarters. Both Jasio and Wojtek moved toward him. “You have to leave,” Jasio said.

“And why would I want to do that?” replied Marceau.

“ Because you don’t want to get hurt.”

“No,” agreed Marceau, “but I am sure I will not get hurt. Nor will anybody who is my friend.”

The next moment both big Poles jumped on a much smaller Frenchman, but he seemed to avoid both of them. Next he sent one sprawling by a hit across his back and tripped the other one toward the window. Jasio was first to get up and only succeeded in getting himself in a painful arm-lock while Wojtek’s attack was blocked by Jasio’s body.

“I will let you go,” said Marceau, “if you promise to leave me and Joe alone. I have no quarrel with you if you have none with me.”

And so it ended. We never became friends with Jasio and Wojtek although I apologized for the grief I caused them. They told me they want to have nothing to do with me.

I soon found another source of food supplement. On the road to work we had to walk through the whole west section of town. I noticed a field with rows and rows of little hills. I asked one of the men going to work what it was.

“Don’t you know? That is where the potatoes are stored. You guys don’t know anything.”

I found a bag thrown into the garbage at work. On the way back I wandered into the field and dug into the soft earth. Under a layer of straw, I found the stored potatoes and filled the bag with them. I was cooking the potatoes on the stove provided for warming our quarters when Jasio stopped by. “Where did you get the potatoes?”

“Would you like some, Jasiu?”

“I am not going to have potatoes that you robbed somebody of.”

But a couple of days later he consented to have some, without thanking me for them. It seemed that a truce had been agreed upon.

Billeter works

It was hard to walk to work two miles or so, especially as the work started at 6 am. It was even harder to come back home after 6 pm. Originally work itself was not too bad. We were supposed to learn to be fitters or machinists. Billeter Works was supposedly well known for the manufacture of large machines to work on metal: lathes, mills, and especially shapers. The Billeter machines were designed to work on large pieces of metal. A picture showing their largest single shaper – over 100 ft long – hung in the offices. This machine had been produced in 1938 for Stalingrad of all places.

During our training time, which lasted only about six weeks, we worked in a special area learning to use various tools. There was only room for less than twenty people to be trained at a time and most of the machines with which we were supposed to produce our “models” were one of a kind. In the middle of our training, a dozen or so German boys started training in our area. These boys were probably 2-3 years older than we were.

They were, of course, acting very superior and thus invited resentment and active obstructionism from us. At the time that they came, the German forces had mounted an offensive which is generally now called the Battle of the Bulge. This offensive puffed up the German youth even more and depressed us some. Whereas we were working on an innocuous project, the Germans got involved in the production of arms. Up to this time Billeter Works produced only heavy equipment; thus the only war materiel that was produced was intended for heavy armour: tanks and such. As western Germany was both under attack of ground troops as well as under heavy bombardment, the factory began to produce rifles as well. These were the semi-automatic Mauser type, which were to match the American M1 and M30 rifles. The German boys felt very important producing parts for the rifles and felt that we should not interfere with their work.

One day as I was sitting and drilling some part or another, a German boy came and told me to shove off. I pretended not to hear him. After shouting louder a couple of times, he got irritated and tried to push me off the machine. I was prepared for this maneuver and hung on with both my feet and one hand to the machine and the other hand to my seat. The German could not dislodge me.

“Be careful!” I said. “This machine is in operation. You may get hurt.”

He went to see the training instructor. The instructor was another cripple. I believe he had only one leg and one arm. He came and asked why I did not move when told to do so.

“I did not hear him asking (!) me to move,” I said. “And anyway I was trying to finish my piece.”

I was told to move whenever a German needs to use the machine. This of course gave me an excuse to do nothing when a German was using the machine. Now I aimed to always need the machine when a German was using it. This was observed by the Germans and the instructor, but no mention of my behavior was made that day.

Our dressing room was behind the dressing room of the German boys and we had to walk through their room to get out. As we were dressing, it was obvious that the Germans were waiting for me to walk out. I prevailed on all my friends to leave, in order to avoid a mass battle. As I walked out from the dressing room, all the German boys moved to block my way.

“Apparently it takes twenty older Germans to beat one Pole with a wounded leg,” I said.

“Leave him to me,” said the boy with whom I had interfered in the shop. I was disappointed; I had hoped that the boys would be shamed into leaving me alone. There was nothing for it but to battle with the boy, about a head taller than myself. He was already jumping around and punching me lightly here and there.

OK, I said to myself, I am not going to win this way. I moved close to him and grabbed the lapels of his jacket. Now I was being pounded in the face, but because of the close quarters, my opponent could not really take a proper swing. I pushed him toward an overhanging radiator and began to pound his head against the metal. We moved back and forth: when he punched me, I let the bodies sway away from the radiator and when he was taking a swing, I pushed him hard against the radiator. His body provided most of the momentum, but his face told me he was beginning to hurt.

“You have had enough?” he said. I decided to go along with his face-saving maneuver and said, “Yes.”

“I hope you will behave yourself in the future.” I moved through the door unopposed. Next day the boy missed work. After the weekend he was wearing a cap to work, but would not say anything about the fight. I did not either – this was dangerous business.

Nevertheless, the training instructor decided we had had enough training and I was the first one to be moved to work on the floor. I was put to work with an Italian prisoner (a fitter). We communicated in broken French and German. Our job was to even out the top plate of a Panther tank to within one mil. The Italian fitter was a master at cheating. The measurement had to be taken with a steel bar placed across the plate in three directions, and along the whole length of a 2-meter bar, there could not be a difference of one mil. The evening of any surface irregularities was done with a scraper, which had a piece of Widia steel attached to it.

The way to cheat was to pack paper under the bar at the low spots. Of course it had to be removed very fast under the eyes of an inspector. The fitter would always finish the job himself as he was not sure I was adept enough at both scraping and cheating. I moved often to talk to other men working on the floor, while the Italian was finishing the job.

I talked to Belgians and Englishmen and Italians. The floor foreman noticed my wanderings and came one day to tell me that I am supposed to do what the Italian tells me, not wander around. In my apology I mentioned that the Italian wanted to do the final touches himself. The floor foreman was pacified. Next day I asked to go to the nurse to get a new dressing for my leg, and the foreman gave me the permission but wanted to know how come I could communicate with so many nationalities – Poles were not allowed to be educated. This caused me to give him a lecture on underground schools in occupied Poland completed by a sarcastic statement on German inability to control the so-called “inferior” people. I think that the whole speech went past him, as he probably could not understand my broken German. Still, I felt better.

Some days I took our tools and wandered into the tool shop on the pretext of sharpening the tools. Marceau worked in the tool shop. He was working as a precision toolmaker, the trade he learnt in Germany. We talked about many things – he was a very knowledgeable person. Other days I would visit German Communists, who had to eat in a separate dinning room watched by a party member. They were tolerated because of their skills, but probably did more damage and sabotage than the foreign workers. I asked one of them why was it that he always milled the gun sights crooked.

“Well, it is for the Volksturm [40] anyway. They are too old to see the sight properly and can’t shoot straight,” he said with a smile.

  1. Near the end of the war, German authorities formed a Home Guard of all the men able to carry guns in the Fatherland. Since all the able-bodied men were already in the army, the Home Guard (Volksturm as it was called) comprised of very young, very old and the infirm.

Most of the time I ate lunch with the Belgian prisoners. They fed me the best tidbits. If I did not wander a bit, I would be very tired after a twelve hour shift. Still I had to be careful, as many foremen were critical of my work.

My father performs a miracle

While I was still in Altengrabow, I wondered how I could get in touch with my family. I figured out that the easiest way was through Aunt Jadwiga who lived in the mountains (Zakopane-Olcza) and thus was somewhat isolated from recent events.

In the early days of December I got a letter from Aunt Jadwiga. She described the fate of my father who was working in Krakow for WTU, the fate of my brother who was in GrossRosen concentration camp. My sister Alina and her family were doing fine in Raba Wyzna, my father had spent some time with them, and, she wrote, my father would tell me about the rest of the family. Well, the important part of my family omitted was my mother, and the way she was omitted told me that she was dead. I walked out from the dining room where I was at the time and walked crying and praying for half of the night. This was the first time I had prayed for a while. Somehow I had lost faith in the power of my prayers, but when real sorrow struck, I turned to God. My father’s letter came a week late and confirmed what I had already surmised. My mother never liked to go to the basement. She died when a German bomb destroyed the WTU building. After my mother’s death, my father spent the rest of the uprising with Mr and Mrs Wegielski who had introduced my parents originally after the First World War.

A few weeks passed. One evening we had just come home from work when one of the guards came in and said, “Your father will see you in the commandant’s office.”

At first I thought I did not hear him right. Then I got worried that somehow my father got arrested or sent to work in Germany. It turned out that he had asked his Treuhänder whether he could do something for me and my brother. Although the Treuhänder was very sympathetic, he said he could not do much, since we were both involved in criminal activities against the Reich, but he could help my father to see us. Well, thank God for little mercies! My father did want to see us. And the Treuhänder, a minister of the GG [41], got him a special permit to go and see us.

  1. General Gouvernement (GG) was the name the German Reich assigned to the part of Poland not included in the Reich or the Eastern Territories.

He came to see me first, as he thought it would be easier to get permission to talk to a prisoner of war than to a prisoner of the concentration camp. The next day was Sunday and I was permitted to spent the whole day with him. I cannot describe the joy of this day. Even today I have to cry while I am writing this. I think that this day also taught me to glorify God again.

I laughed with my father when he told me the story of his travels. Since he had a special permit and was a foreigner, he had travelled first class. A German in his compartment got into discussion with him and at one moment asked, “What branch of the party are you in?”

After my father’s explanation that he was not in the party and in fact was a Polish citizen, the German did not speak to him again. It was funny because it presented the unreality of the situation.

As I found out later, my father was right about the difficulty which had to be overcome to see my brother. My father got to GrossRosen, but was not allowed to see his son. Somehow, however, my brother got wind of his visit. My brother was already in the hospital. He was able to run out and watch our father walk out of the camp. My brother’s exertion made him contract pneumonia. Considering the hardship of the subsequent evacuation, he would have died anyway.

My father was very concerned about my leg wound, which caused my leg to swell to twice its size. Shortly after he left, he wrote a letter to Billeter. This letter caused the examination of my wound by a specialist and subsequent hospitalization and treatment.

The comforts of life

I was lucky to spend a large part of January and February in the infirmary. Finally my wound, now properly treated under doctor’s orders, began to heal. As a matter of fact I had four wounds now, since my leg had become ulcerated through improper treatment. All it needed was a bit of sulfa and proper dressings every day.

In the meantime the weather turned cold. The infirmary was heated, but the fuel for our barrack was on very low rations. My friends found out that there was coal just across the fence, at the Junkers plant, and decided to “procure” it. Unfortunately the guards noticed that their barrack was the warmest and found it was heated with coal. No coal was allowed for the barracks. The guards identified the source of the coal and the commandant came and told my friends to carry it back to the pile through the hole they had made in the fence. The commandant stood at the door and gave each carrier a hit with his cane (he had an artificial leg). When George’s turn came, he walked very slowly until he reached the commandant and then ran. The poor commandant fell on his arse trying to hit George. George decided to stay outside for a while.

My stay in the infirmary was somewhat spoiled by the companion I had. For most of the time, he talked about various ways to have sex. He tried to convince me with very illustrative descriptions why oral sex is superior to natural and insisted that most of his French compatriots were of the same opinion. I was trying to tell him that there are other interesting subjects, but it only caused him to call me a prude. I gave up.

Late in February I went back to work. Soon afterwards we received Red Cross parcels. The commandant called us in to tell us that he would distribute our parcels to all the prisoners in the camp. We insisted that the parcels were ours, and that if we decided to share them with others we would do it ourselves. He claimed that he had the power to distribute them to whoever he wanted. We said that if and when he showed us the authorization from the Red Cross to do so, we would go along with him; in the meantime we would like to have our parcels. He delayed our parcels for a week. We wrote a letter to the Red Cross. He delayed the letter.

In the meantime Aschersleben, the town in which we worked, was bombed. In the middle of the day an alarm sounded. As usual, while everybody went to the air raid shelter we walked up onto the factory roof. A group of planes was flying high. This kind of scenario happened often. Planes from allied bases in Italy often flew over Aschersleben towards Berlin. This time the planes turned around and a dozen or so dropped their bombs on Aschersleben. For some reason we were excited. I guess we still looked for revenge for the German ravaging of Warsaw and other Polish cities. The air alarm was still on and the security guards stayed in the air shelter. We ran toward the area bombed and walked along sightseeing. We ignored the cries for help. I am ashamed of our callous behavior.

The day after the bombing we were issued our Red Cross parcels. Soon afterwards a parcel arrived from my father. I was crying as I opened the parcel. The Old Man had sent me Kielbassa and pork fat and crackers – such food was the price of gold in Poland. I wondered where he was then – Krakow was already in Russian hands. We were well provided for now. We had Nescafé (for a tin of which I obtained twelve loaves of bread), cigarettes (for which I obtained new pants to replace my ripped ones), tinned powdered milk (which we mixed with cocoa and water and ate by the spoonful).

On top of this bonanza, Zygmunt began to work in a bakery. Remembering my defence when he stole the sandwiches, he would steal Wehrmacht vacation ration coupons and give them to me. I often shocked the German bakers walking into the bakery and asking for a dozen rolls. A vacationing SS man was issued four for a week! This behavior was also dangerous, but the Germans were now subdued – the war was near its end. We shared some of our spoils, but not that many. We still resented the early reception received from the Polish civilians with whom we lived.

March was full of air alarms. Allied planes were flying low now and finally found the railroad station and Junkers plant. We found that there were many Polish women working at Junkers and visited them at night. Some had been taken from Warsaw. We took food and cigarettes to them. I remembered especially a mother and daughter. The girl, about sixteen, was bored and really happy to see somebody her own age. The mother, very strict, wanted to know our family background and all. At the time I was rather annoyed. Today I think of her as rather pathetic and probably acting as a mother should. Toward the end of the month, rumors of evacuation began to circulate.


In early April, small allied fighter planes were buzzing constantly above the camp and the factory. Little work was being done, as the constant alarms interrupted work very often. More German soldiers appeared. An American truck full of tires drove in north of our camp and was stopped by a group of German soldiers who were dug in on the side of the road coming from the west. A plane plant dropped a bomb on an ammunition train standing at the south side of the camp, and caused it to catch fire. The resulting explosions of shells destroyed our washroom and caused many barracks to be pierced by pieces of shells. Strafing of the Junkers plant next door to our living quarters was a daily occurrence.

One day a guard arrived at our room and told us to get ready for evacuation in the afternoon. We did not want to be evacuated. We moved through a hole in the fence to an open field. Once there we began to argue. George and Zbyszek wanted to walk toward the oncoming front, while I, always cautious, suggested we wait nearby until the situation became clearer. Most of the guys wanted to stay with me. George and Zbyszek left while we wished them good-bye. We never saw them again.

The rest of us walked to the park. The park was on the other side of town. We moved among the bushes and decided to wait. We were worried when it started to rain, but it turned out to be a short shower. The night was lovely and warm. The next day we enjoyed our freedom in the park. During the day a very heavy air raid hit some place to the west. As I later found out, over a thousand bombers had virtually destroyed Halberstadt [42] after some Volksturm soldiers fired at the entering Patton [43] armored troops.

  1. Halberstadt is a German city, situated north of the Hartz mountains; population was more than 100.000. Presently part of the East Germany (German Democratic Republic).
  2. The third US Army, led by Gen Patton, spread its armored divisions from the south of Germany to the central Germany where I was held a prisoner of war.

In the afternoon, German artillery and mortars began to take positions in the park. The place could be dangerous! We decided to go back to town. We spent most of the night in the deserted main street. In the morning, an air raid. We moved to the outskirts of town just as the bombs started falling on the main street. The raid extended into the morning. We saw barricades being built near the stretch where we were sitting and decided to move closer to the camp. As we left the road, light bombers laid a layer of surface bombs along the road. Maybe the safest place was our old camp.

We stayed in the deserted camp for a while. I decided to walk west in the morning. The other boys felt safest staying put.

I left camp about 4 am. As I walked along the outside fence, I met one of the foremen from the factory. He wanted to know where I am going.

“I am going to see my girlfriend,” I lied.

“Oh, a bit of ladies’ man, eh? You work fast!” he said. He told me to be careful because the troops were in the area and showed me where the outposts were. His assistance helped me tremendously. Now I knew how to navigate between the outposts.

I kept my head low and moved between the furrows in the field. This took me in a northwesterly direction. After about an hour I began to crawl over to the next furrow in a westerly direction and then kept walking. Finally I struck a road which seemed to move to the west. I walked along the road, but in the first rays of light I noticed it had been travelled by tanks recently. Should I get off this road? No I decided, this could be German tanks retreating or American tanks advancing. Soon the country road met the highway. The sun was shining brightly now and the road was climbing up.

Soon I was walking through the forest. There was a clearing. As I approached the clearing suddenly I saw that the clearing had been man-made and there were anti-aircraft guns standing in the middle – a bit of a fright until I saw white flags decorating the guns. So I kept marching. I reached a crest in the road and there below me was a group of vehicles with white stars on their engines, looking exactly like the truck full of tires which was stopped by the German soldiers.

Thank God, I am safe, I thought.

Misplaced person

Lost in the wilderness

The jeep drove over a couple of hills and stopped in front of the barn. “’Raus!” [44] the noncom said, pointing to the barn with his rifle.

  1. A short version of a command “get out” in German.

We were all lined up inside the barn and a young American lieutenant talked to a person at a time in broken German. Where do you come from? What did you see on the way? Did you encounter any troops? Where are you going? Why? When he began to question me, I tried to answer in English. He could not understand.

“I wonder what language he is speaking in,” he said to his sidekick. After one more try, I tried my broken German. This was better. We both knew we could understand no more than an occasional word, but it did not matter. If you spoke English, then he would have liked to understand all words. He was glad to have found a Pole, told me there was a camp in Halberstadt [45], told me he thought I could get there before night if I walked fast. Good-bye and good luck!

  1. A German city of over 100.000, situated north of the Hartz Mountains in Saxen-Anhalt area.

The day was bright and I enjoyed my walk. I walked fast. There was nobody around, but the birds were singing, the sun was shining, and I was free at last. Every so often I would break into a run from the sheer joy of it all. Just think – no more superior race, no more fear of imprisonment, no more killing. Maybe even food. How stupid, I did not ask the Americans for any food. There was nothing to eat in sight. I decided to try and address the first group of Americans that I found on the matter of food. There was a village in sight. I moved faster.

On the side of the road, a whole column of tanks. I decided to stop at the third one. I greeted them. We talked a while. These guys at least tried to understand me and got a big kick out of my broken English. Where did I learn it and all that. Where is Berlin [46]? But no food. After a while I realized my approach would not work. I walked away. All the soldiers were inactive and strangely subdued. The radios inside the tanks were blaring a description of something that sounded like a speech. I did not realize that this was the day when Roosevelt died.

  1. In the last weeks of the war all US troops and in particular Patton’s third army, wanted to get to the capital of Germany before the Russians took it.

Then I spied, a few tanks away, a couple of GI’s eating from a tin. “Have you got anything to eat?” I asked.

“Eh? What do you want?”

“Eat, eat. I am hungry.” He looked at me searchingly. A smile danced in his eyes. He jumped into the tank and appeared at the turret.

“Here, catch!” It was a packet of K rations [47]. I thanked him but could not bring myself to say any more. I was ashamed.

  1. There were two types of food rations that the US troops were carrying (at least as far as I was aware at that time). C rations were suited for distribution of hot food, but K rations served as emergency rations. Tank forces in particular had boxes of K rations inside their vehicles. A box of K rations was a balanced diet, rations containing some protein and some carbohydrate and fat. It contained cigarettes and chocolate, which generally were the most valuable exchange items. One could often find a packet of K rations, from which a soldier took out cigarettes and chocolate, thrown away at side of the road.

I walked fast again. This time I was running from the site of my embarrassment, but I guess it was worth it. The K rations tasted wonderful after my fast. I saw a figure walking in the distance and decided to catch up to him. It turned out to be a man with a Polish soldier’s cap on his head. I addressed him in Polish. He spoke with a southern accent, must come from Galicja [48] I thought. He told me he was sick of serving the Germans on a farm and was going to relax in a Polish camp in Halberstadt. So here again was the confirmation that I was going in the right direction.

  1. A district of southern Poland.

Now I had to slow down a bit. The man did not feel like hurrying. I was considering whether to stay with him. Apparently he knew where the camp was and also knew Halberstadt. He claimed that the camp was run by his friends. At noon he decided to take a rest. He had food with him, bread and sausage, and shared with me. He offered me some alcoholic beverage but I declined.

We continued our journey and soon we caught up to a good-looking but somewhat stout redhead. My companion struck up a conversation. It turned out that the woman was also going to Halberstadt – she had a small daughter in an apartment there. Apparently she had visited her in-laws in the country. She was worried about passing close to the Russian prisoners’ camp on the outskirts of town. My companion said he would make sure that nothing happened to her on the way. It turned out that she had good cause. The Russian prisoners, now liberated, were making up for the years of being celibate. In those days of lawlessness, nobody prevented them from raping every woman in sight.

My companion prevented the group of Russians standing at the gate from taking the girl into the camp by claiming that she was his wife. This was of course very nice of him, but then he insisted on accompanying her to her apartment, where she offered us a drink of some sort. Now a long period of seduction began. The woman tried to imply that she was greatly attracted to me, whereas I had no interest in the business other than to try and get to the Polish camp as soon as possible. My companion would not give up. For all I know, he may still be hanging around her house. Her appeal to me was so obvious that I finally dragged him out onto the street. We got to the camp after midnight.

It was an awful place. A large theater full of people trying to satisfy their basic needs: food, going to the bathroom and mixing with the opposite sex. There was hardly a place to lie your head down in peace. In the morning, after obtaining my share of daily rations dispensed by some unsavory group of officials, I inquired whether there was any other place.

“Yes, there is a place near the lake. But the guys there are all those AK guys. They keep very much to themselves and insist on law and order. No fun.”

“Thanks for telling me,” I said without elaboration, and left to look for the place. As it turned out later this was not the only other place where there were camps near the city. Anyway I found the place at the lake. There were many guys there whom I had met previously in Altengrabow. In fact the majority of them comprised a group which had left Altengrabow to work in a quarry in the Hartz mountains. They walked to town because the mountains still harbored a couple of divisions of SS. I was accepted by the group, but not before I was interrogated by the commander of the place, a lieutenant of AK by the name of Kowalski. He was a very smart cookie. In those early days he made sure that the group marched through a German army supply depot and a textile factory carrying substantial amounts of war spoils, which helped sustain us in the succeeding weeks.

My new home

Most of the camps relied on requisition slips which were issued by the US city commandant. Halberstadt, like many other places, was ruled by a QMC lieutenant with a major force of two men. This was all that Patton could spare for a city of 200.000. The lieutenant would issue a series of chits which the German administration had to honor with food for each day. What food you got depended a lot on your ability to argue or threaten the administrator.

Kowalski was good. I never saw him lose an argument. He looked non-descript, never raised his voice, and his demeanor was such that after a while his opponent felt guilty of mistreating him. He used to get his wish from most of the authorities or at least would leave with a promise of continuing the current discourse.

Our rations, in quality no different than what other people obtained, were substantial in quantity. Furthermore, a lively black-market activity, involving materials originally obtained from the German army stores soon after our liberation, supplemented our diet and provided other amenities, such as clothing and amusement (meaning: sex). Within the larger group, we soon formed smaller groups of friends who remained together for a long time after. I still have friends in Australia whom I first got to know in the Polish camp at the Halberstadt lake. Most of the boys that I befriended were just a year or two older, and had worked in a quarry in the Hartz mountains while prisoners of war under the third Reich, and most of them were from the Warsaw uprising.

I had left Aschersleben on April 13. On the 3rd of May we celebrated Polish Constitution Day in Halberstadt. We invited some Americans, Italians and French. I remember in particular one Italian who would not give up singing for (so he thought) our entertainment. In those early days, besides chasing women, our entertainment was driving abandoned cars. Most of the time the fun was over as soon as the gas ran out. There was no gasoline to be obtained except from the American troops, and the GI’s were still involved in fighting the war. Not for the lack of trying! I remember one group trying to drive a car on acetone paint. It went for a while but then the engine sort of gummed up. Of course none of us really knew how to drive, but that did not seem to daunt our enthusiasm.

Every so often a motorized column would stop close to one of us and inquire about the direction of Berlin. It seemed the predominant interest of all the troops: get to Berlin. The reason we were accosted often was that we were generally dressed in the old US uniforms which were given to us by the Red Cross just before the end of the war.

The ending of the war

The war in Germany ended soon after. In the meantime we were tasting freedom, getting drunk, chasing girls, and building new acquaintances. Leszek found a camp full of Polish girls and got us all acquainted with some of them. They were no different than the boys in their pursuits. We used to visit three sisters from Kutno. One fell in love with Leszek, one spent most of her evenings in the Italian prisoners’ camp with some Romeo or other, and the remaining one was trying to attract other three or four of us.

German girls came to visit our camp often, mainly because we had more food and cigarettes. Of course we were very much second rate to the American soldiers. The German girls were more sophisticated. They taught us to play games: anything starting from “pass the straw along” and “post office” to “pass the partner along” and “night-time skinny dipping.” I suppose the German girls had had a lot of recent experience doing all this stuff with German soldiers on leave.

Somewhere in Potsdam the big guys were discussing our future, while a great exodus began. The French were going to France, Italians to Italy (even the girl’s sweetheart disappeared overnight) – British and American ex-prisoners left within days of liberation. Then the Jews started emigrating to Palestine and the Russians were unceremoniously transported to the Russian zone. Soon after, or maybe even before, the remaining displaced people were moved to larger camps. First the 30th Division took over our district and began to establish some order. Before they got very far, the British took over our district and promptly turned it over to the Russians. The people who did not want to go to Poland in the first transport leaving were moved to Bad Hartzburg. The girls from Kutno, one broken-hearted because the Italians left, the other broken-hearted because Leszek did not want to get married, left in the first transport to Poland. So did one of our friends, Stefan.

We lived in beautiful houses in Bad Hartzburg, one of the prettiest places in the Hartz Mountains. I enjoyed it especially because somebody had left a great collection of Mozart and Haydn records in the villa where we stayed. John was playing the piano which we found there.

Charlie, who left a German sweetheart in what now was the Russian zone, went twice across the border to see his sweetheart. The rest of us wandered over the mountains. We found a group of Polish girls who seemed to live all by themselves in a big house. It took us a week or so to persuade them to move in with other Polish people. It turned out that they were afraid to mix with other Poles. The Germans had forced them (or convinced them, I don’t know which) to serve as a travelling army brothel. Their guards left before the advancing American army and the girls just stayed in the house the Germans had left them in.

They were definitely an interesting set of characters. Blond Mary who couldn’t refuse anybody, dark-haired Mary who wouldn’t let anybody before marriage, Kinga who did not know what she wanted, and Horsey (her nickname related to her looks), a one man girl always supporting her boy. I can’t remember the others but some of my friends certainly have various memories about them.

Bad Hartzburg didn’t last long. This time there were more choices. The British were forming groups of people under a designated camp leader. We stayed with Kowalski, but now the group included a couple of other ex-AK groups and some Poles from the 1939 campaign. We moved to a camp in a field, not far from Helmstedt.

Ideal camp

This camp was probably as ideal as a camp for displaced people can be. The camp housed only ex-prisoners of war. Kowalski managed somehow to obtain supplies from the Germans and from the English and even from the Red Cross. There was something not quite legal about this operation, but as we were not informed about it, who worried? About a mile and a half from our camp there was a large DP camp. We would invite women to our dances from the other camp and conduct all our social life between the two camps. The other camp was not nearly as well fed or dressed and nobody in the other camp received the English military rations nor the Red Cross parcels. Thus we played rich uncles or rich daddies as the case may be. We were also surrounded by German villages and close to the Russian zone. Thus in addition to being well supplied with goods, many participated in black market and across-the-border traffic.

Our room housed mostly boys from AK who were too idealistic (or too stupid – depending on the personal opinion) to engage much in the illegal activities. The worst of the group in our room was Zbigniew, who was a bit of a sexual maniac, and Johnny, who was a habitual drunk.

It was a good day when Zbigniew was sleeping at some girl’s house, otherwise he was likely to have a girl in bed in our room. We finally told him that either he had to move out or we would put his bed in the passage outside our door, so we did not have to listen to his orgies. From then on Zbigniew would give us lessons in masturbation.

The problem with Johnny was that he could not stop drinking, and drank not very selectively. One time he got drunk on rocket alcohol and was dead to the world for three days. Occasionally he would wake up to take a sip of water, whereupon we had to help him back to bed, as he could not stand on his feet. We all agreed that anybody else would have died from the stuff, but his body was so used to being poisoned by alcohol that he survived the ordeal and started eating again after four days.

Down the hallway from us there was a roomful of ex-criminals from Mokotow prison. During the uprising in Warsaw, our troops had taken the prison from the Germans and held it for a few days. When we were withdrawing, prisoners were given a choice to fight Germans alongside our troops. Many took this opportunity to get out from prison. Now a group of them lived only a door away from us. These people were dangerous. They actually preyed on some German villages, and when somebody opposed them, they were known to murder people without any remorse. Some of the campers were terrorized by the group. They tried to terrorize our group by barging in one day and demanding we give them something (I believe it was alcohol). Since all eighteen of us stood up and told them to get out, they stopped bothering us. It was a dangerous moment, as they came in armed, while we were defending our peace with bare hands.

We still retained most of our old group: Leszek and Jerzy, Charlie and Paul, Janusz and Zbyszek and many others. I still have their photographs. The camp’s style of living in the “luxury” got rather boring after a number of dances, love affairs and even some rather interesting acquaintances and visiting with the other camp back and forth. We decided to travel through Europe. I went on a big trip with Jerzy and Janusz. We visited northern Germany: Hamburg, Lübeck, Minden and Köln; then we moved through the southern part: Frankfurt, Mannheim, Augsburg, Nurnberg and Munich. We even wandered to Austria and Italy and France. On the way back we met a girl who claimed to be a courier from the Polish underground. She convinced us to travel to Poland with her.

A trip to Poland

We travelled by train to a village somewhat north of our camp on the advice of the (alleged) courier from the underground. She seemed to have taken a fancy to Jerzy. Janusz went back to the camp. We slept in a farmhouse near the border, Jerzy and the courier in one bed and I in the other. Early in the morning we tried to cross the border, but were caught by the Russian border guards (NKVD). They took us into a big barn. Over the day the barn filled up with many people caught. We were interrogated by a lieutenant of NKVD and informed him uniformly that we were going home. The only reason we did not go by a normal transport was our youth and inexperience. Can you believe what lies people are getting into under an interrogation? Who knows, maybe this was really the truth.

At night the guards came to take all the women for a night of enjoyment (theirs, not necessarily the women’s). Our friend the courier, being already experienced in the ways of the world (or at least the border guards) never came back from the interview with the lieutenant. I guess it was better to deal with one man than with the whole company. We were released in the morning, possibly through a new-found influence of the courier, and told to make our way to Poland, but we never saw the courier again.

We took a train to Berlin. We travelled with beating hearts, since we had no acceptable papers. Still we were going toward our homeland, which theoretically was a legal journey. Once in Berlin we breathed freer. After all we could move to one of the US or British or French zones. Should we go ahead? Well, we decided to try it. A train from Ostkreutz to Frankfurt-am-Oder? No, there are no such trains; the only trains moving in that direction are the Russian army trains. Where is such an army train? The German official looks sarcastically and thinks for a moment. I could sense his thoughts: “This guy is a foreigner, he is crazy, am I my brother’s keeper? Or does he know something I don’t know? Naa, but to hell with him anyhow, he will find out…”

“There is a train full of Russian soldiers. Nobody else travels on that train!”

“Are you sure it is going to Frankfurt?”

“Oh yes, maybe even to Warsaw!” We walked to the train and sat down on the back of one of the carriages on a little walkway permitting the brakeman to walk from one side of the train to the other.

The train did not leave till the evening. I was tired now and slept in a very precarious position: high up on the railway carriage without any hope of hanging on to any support. I woke up in the morning – the train was beginning to move again after standing at some stop signal. It continued on until the afternoon when it stopped again this time at a station: Frankfurt-am-Oder read the sign. We discussed the situation with Jerzy. There was no use waiting for the train to move. The next barrier was the Polish-German border and we did not know what would happen there. We were not supposed to travel on the Russian troop train for sure. If we could get to the border we could claim that we were refugees coming home.

We stopped for a while on a deserted platform with a few bags that we had with us. A Russian soldier was standing there. He looked at us and we looked at him. Finally he walked toward us and asked who we were and where we were going. We are going home. “Not much baggage?” he asked.

“No, not really.”

“Well, I am going home too. We’ve got to walk across the bridge. But I have too much baggage.” We noticed that he was a sergeant of the NKVD – border guards. Not a bad companion to cross the border with.

“We will help you to carry your bags,” I said.

The bridge was a crude affair built during war action, but it carried us through to Kustrin or Kustrzyn as it was now called. It was its proper name; Prussians changed it to Kuestrin back in the eighteenth century. Kustrzyn, originally a city of 100.000, was totally destroyed in the fight between German and Russian troops. The only building standing was half a house that housed the Polish police. We obtained a ticket and a hundred zloty to carry us home, by claiming to be returning home.

But where is my home?

The train had broken windows and was overloaded but one way or another we got to Warsaw. I remember there was some unpleasantness with Polish troops evicting other passengers from choice seats. The so called “Polish officers” couldn’t speak Polish, but conversed between themselves in Russian.

When we arrived in Warsaw, it was not the old main railway station but the commercial transport siding that the trains stopped at. The rest of Warsaw was still in ruins. In fact one could not see a house standing in the area through which we walked.

I don’t remember exactly how, but the next day we got to Jerzy’s house. He lived in Wlochy, close to Warsaw. His house and family were intact. I kept looking for my relatives, friends, acquaintances – all of the familiar places seemed destroyed. Slowly I found people I knew in Mlociny: Marian and his father were alive and living in the same house. Stach, my friend from school, still lived in his old house at Bielany. And then I found one of my father’s business associates through his son. I knew that his son had returned to Poland in an early transport. He was now a military youth instructor in the #1 National High School (once called Batory HS). Through his father I found out that my father was in what was called the new territories, the part of eastern Germany which was incorporated into Poland.

It was interesting that the man who told me about my father was regarded by my father as a poor performer. My father maintained that he had to watch him very closely; otherwise the guy would make serious judgement errors. This man was selected by the Polish authorities to lead the National Insurance Organization. My father and other senior managers were not allowed to work in the Insurance Organization because of their alleged cooperation with German authorities – meaning they remained working in their key managerial positions while the Germans ran the GG.

Mr Dobrzycki, the man who told me about my father, was very nice. He told me how much he appreciated the help my father was giving him in his letters, how he could always rely on him to solve any difficult problems, and how he wished that the conditions were different. I thought the last statement was possibly made tongue in cheek. Still I appreciated getting my father’s address and decided to go to see him immediately. The route to Karlino, where my father lived now, could be taken through Kolobrzeg or through Szczecin. I had no money. One way of obtaining some money was to claim that I just came back to Poland. That could only be done at the Polish border and Szczecin was a border town. So I went to Szczecin.

I had a couple of minor scares. At Pila there was a Russian army establishment and the route was closely guarded. I had no papers and no ticket, a double jeopardy subject to arrest by the police (Bezpieka) at any time. As the train entered the military zone all the windows had to be covered, and in the middle of the zone, the Bezpieka started checking the documents of the passengers. It was lucky for me that as I moved slowly through the train trying to avoid the encounter with the police, the train passed the military zone. I got out at the next stop seemingly to enter the station, and then boarded the train just before it left the station, into a car already checked by the police. The second scare was in Szczecin. I had to know when the train from Berlin arrived in order to know when to appear like I was coming by this train into the city. Well, I was caught by the Bezpieka at the train. Fortunately they could not tell whether I was on the train or not.

They took me to the main police station and passed me though the “grinder” – an interrogation lasting four hours. I had to give them the names of Polish officers who were trying to talk us into staying in the West. I came out with Joseph Nowak, Adam Zielinski and Jan Krupa. If the police ever find all of them and identify them, it will be their lucky day. Otherwise, I also told them the story of my travel as it had happened, except that I claimed to be alone. I changed my itinerary in Berlin.

I got my hundred zloty. I felt I had earned it. I also got a free ticket to anywhere in Poland which was the second bonus of crossing the border. The one-way pass also identified me as a newcomer to Poland, permitting me to travel in the direction of Warsaw without any additional papers.

And so off to Karlino. I arrived late at night. The lady that opened the door was somewhat suspicious and spoke German only. She allowed me to wait for my father but only on the staircase. I was very tired and fell asleep on the doorstep. My father woke me up early in the morning. He wept from the happiness of seeing me there. It turned out he had been playing bridge all night with his friends. I spent delightful two days with him. I met all his friends and got introduced to all the youth of my age (they were not too many at that time in the new territories). Father was trying very hard to induce me to stay with him. He mentioned the possibility of getting me a job in different branches of the newly formed government of the new territories. He also mentioned the possibility of studying in Warsaw with his financial support. I suppose I was very ungrateful and unloving, but the memory of the interrogation by Bezpieka was very fresh in my mind. I wanted to think and so I changed the topic. I asked him what he was doing, what happened to mother and Alina, and did he know about our other relatives.

I gathered that Alina had left Poland. Aunt Jadwiga lived reasonably peacefully in Zakopane. The Brodowscy were somewhere in Poland. He had seen the Jezioranski brothers, but was not sure where they were. He knew that the Kobyleccy were living in Warsaw. Alka, Ania and Kostek were in appropriate places, but I no longer remember what he said about them.

He was working hard. His original job grew every day to more and more jobs. There were not many skilled people in the new territories.

All people who claimed to be Polish and resided in eastern Poland now annexed by Russia had to move to the new territories. Most of them were farmers. All of these resettled people, literally millions of people, were uprooted and moved to the new territories. The lucky ones, mostly the people who had to leave the land in the Russian territories, were allocated houses and sometimes land. Others were just located in the new territories in an environment which was considerably different than the environment from which they came. German people who had lived in the “new territories” before, were evicted and sent to east Germany. This of course created millions of dissatisfied people, both Polish and German, who hated one another as well.

My father volunteered to go to the new territories and was accepted because of his financial and commercial skill. His first job was to be a financial advisor to a sub-district officer. It soon became apparent that he had great organizational ability and new jobs were given to him as the time progressed. He organized the district finances, agricultural cooperatives, crop insurance, banking, courts, hospitals, transport, social clubs – in total he had thirteen jobs when he died. On the day of his death in the hospital he was auditing hospital books while a patient in that very hospital. His activities only pointed out the tremendous shortage of talent in the occupied territories that very likely contributed to the general poverty of Poland.

By the time I visited him, he was offered the possession of the house where he lived as a sort of recognition of his services to the district. He refused, because it was owned by the German lady who let me into the house originally. She pleaded with him to take it, since she was going to be evicted anyway and was afraid that somebody else would get her house. My father said that he could not participate in the illegal acquisition of property. Of course such moral feelings never stopped German occupiers from taking our property.

I loved him very much, but could not bring myself to sacrifice my life for him. I lacked his ability to perform in the hostile environment. All his superiors were in their positions not because of their ability but because of their association with the political regime, whose philosophy I could not share. My feelings tend to exaggerate the influence of the Russians on the system. It appeared to me that I would be coming back into an occupied Poland rather than a free state. I found an excuse in my promise to my friends in the west that I will come back and tell what were the conditions in Poland. If that was so, I should have returned to Poland afterwards but I never did. I was searching for self gratification.

Anyway, I stayed with him a couple of days only and left to go back to Warsaw. While in Warsaw I found Henry, the man my brother went to “save.” He returned and lived in the house in which I started the uprising. The house was burnt but turned out to be relatively easy to reconstruct. I found some of my school friends and visited most of families of the boys who were now in the camp near Helmstedt.

We proceeded to travel out of Poland with Jerzy. We tried first to cross the border near Cieszyn. We were caught by the Polish border guards and bribed them to let us go. This took all of the money that I obtained from my father and Jerzy from his parents. We arrived in Cieszyn on the Czech side and got caught again by the Czech police. This time we ended up in prison.

After interrogation, in which I practiced my father’s advice: if you have to tell a lie, cover it with a lot of truth, we were put in a cell with other eighty people. Some of them were the criminals. Some of them were in prison for five years already. In fact, those that were in prison for a long time were the privileged few who slept on two beds provided (eight people to a bed). Others slept on the floor, the more recent ones, the closer to the door. We were guarded by the German SS. The Czech authorities considered that SS had the longest experience in guarding prisoners; therefore they were the most qualified. Of course the SS guards were prisoners themselves and could not leave the prison building, but they administered, guarded, treated and fed the other prisoners. That is why being close to the door was not advantageous: you never knew how the SS would feel a particular day.

The cell housing the eighty prisoners was about 10 by 12 feet, including a toilet. The toilet not only permitted the normal function but also served as a source of water. There was no tap from which to obtain water to drink and the only way to wash, one had to be very adept to flush the toilet and sprinkle the water from the draining flow on one’s face or hands. Since we were in prison only eight days, I never mastered the technique. I did, however, get infected with lice, reminding me of the other times spent in prison.

Of course one of the highest crimes (the judges of the crimes were the oldest prisoners) was to dirty the sides of the toilet while taking a bowel movement. This affected the ability of others to obtain the drinking water. The penalty for crimes was the usual beating by the volunteer executioners. Since there are many criminal types in prison, incurring the beating was not advisable. Other crimes were stealing, offending the elders, making smells etc.

We got soup once a day and bread with other stuff once a day. In fact the food was somewhat better than the Germans fed us in POW camp. And that after SS stole their portion, never mind other authorities, whose share we could not even guess.

There was the usual abuse of the newcomers, which you better took rather quietly, or one might incur severe penalty. Loss of life was advertised as a good thing: the room was overcrowded. We experienced a beating, but no loss of life while we were there.

I must say that we were not sorry to be taken out of prison after eight days. We were informed that since we were Polish we will be transported back to Poland.

Our guard was a talkative young man. He had good memories of the wartime partisans and told us about cooperation between Polish and Czech partisans. We convinced him that we were partisans ourselves and described some of our activities, coloring them somewhat for good effect. He told us that at the Polish border he will have to empty himself and that his responsibility finished when we were on the Polish soil, which was a very nice way of suggesting our escape. We took advantage of his suggestion and jumped out of the train in between the Czech and Polish border inspection. It was lucky that we now knew the drill, having been caught on both sides of the border.

After jumping out from the train, we stayed close to the railway. We noticed that the border guards assumed that nobody will be stupid enough to stay close to the high concentration of border guards: the railway line. Thus it was the safest area. We needed to wait only a short time before a train with people returning home arrived. Now the border police was busy sorting out the transport, counting people, selecting groups of people to go through the particular entry.

We got mixed with a group on the way to the standard refugee acceptance route. It was the returning people who were somewhat upset when we got in front of some people. But we had experience there as well. We suggested to a guy with a lot of baggage that we will help him with it. He kept very close, afraid that we will steal some of it, while we were really trying to get lost in the crowd. We got through the identification process without any trouble. As a matter of fact, we repeated the procedure three more times since we were now short of money and each returning refugee got a ticket and a hundred dollars. We had already planned to go to Warsaw and then back to more familiar Polish-German border, so we got tickets to Warsaw and to the western and northern Poland.

The way out

After going to Warsaw we only stayed there a couple of days. I could notice Jerzy already getting reluctant to leave, so I insisted on a travelling soon. I was determined now to go back; finally I knew I could not stand another stint of life in prison. From Warsaw we went back to Kostrzyn. Kostrzyn was much tighter now, full of border NKVD. We found the reason for this police treatment: the evacuation of Germans from the Polish territories was in progress. There was a number of trains full of German evacuees at the railway station. This gave us the idea to cross the border in the evacuee train.

At the right side there was a line of NKVD, then on the left another train and another line of NKVD. We walked to the end of the train and then moved across. At the end, another group of NKVD. I decided on my old device. We walked now on the other side of the trains and then stopped and talked to the NKVD soldier in the middle of the train. I asked him what were those trains, where they were going, etc.

An NCO noticed our discussion and came in to asked us who we were. Oh, well, we just came back home and wondered what was the commotion. He told the soldier to watch the train and told us off. I apologized and said we will move in a moment, we just wanted to rest a while. We sat down on the platform. Soon the NCO got interested in something at the front of the train. We sat for a while on the platform and suddenly boarded the train. We moved towards the front of the train. We saw the NCO coming back and searching for us. We kept moving forward through the train. Soon the train began to move. Now we watched for the bridge and across the bridge the train turned south. It was moving through the ruins in a semicircle. I said to Jerzy, “Let’s jump out now. The back and the front of the train is around the curve.”

We landed in a ditch and lay there until the train was gone. As soon as the train was out of sight we ran through the ruins. After five minutes or so we walked in the direction of main highway. We sat for a while on the side of the road.

A Russian truck transport was coming down the road. Jerzy pulled out a bottle of vodka. We let the first few trucks pass and then signalled with the bottle. The third truck stopped with the driver grabbing the bottle.

“Where are you going?” I said.

“Berlin Bernau,” was the answer.

“Can we come along?”

“Get on the back.” We climbed on the back of the truck. The truck was full of potatoes. We sat on top of the potatoes. This was travelling first class.

The column stopped somewhere, but it was not Berlin. We climbed down. We moved a little way to the side and waited for an explanation. The driver who took our bottle of vodka asked us whether we were hungry. He brought us some baked potatoes after receiving an affirmative answer. We engaged him in conversation. They came all the way from Brzesc in Russia. They stopped to wait for a truck which got lost on the way, they had to have a full complement when they would arrive in Berlin. They will leave as soon as the find the truck. They were nearly a thousand miles from Brzesc, could take a long time. We walked a little way into the village and found a young German boy. He told us a railway station in the village was not functional. The nearest train was seven miles away. We decided to walk there. The train only began travelling to Berlin from this station a week before. The station master was very surprised to have any passengers at all.

We got to Berlin the next evening. As soon as we got to Ostkreutz, we went on E-Bahn to the American sector. Although we still had a ways to go, it made us feel better to be in the American sector.

We came to a railway station in central Berlin and tried to figure out our itinerary. The place was packed with refugees. Obviously the transports from Poland and the extensions of railways to the east made their impact on the movement of the population. German people were telling horror stories about the life in the eastern part of East Germany. First of all there was the Russian occupier who allegedly raped and robbed. Secondly the eastern part suffered the most from the fighting near the end of war. All facilities were destroyed and the lack of transport hampered the reconstruction efforts. Finally, due to the bad conditions, many epidemics broke out. Lack of water and medical facilities contributed to the epidemics.

We had to wait until morning for the train going west. As we stood in the middle of the station leaning against a pillar of partially destroyed railway station, a man offered me a seat by moving to the side on the bench on which he was sitting. I sat down and fell asleep. In my sleep I felt a hand moving inside my inner thighs. Before I fully woke up, I swung my arm and struck the man sitting next to me with my elbow. When I woke up, I realized that I hurt his face. Still, I could not bring myself to apologize.

The train we boarded in the morning took us to Magdeburg. Further travel was only possible with the permission of the German chief of police and the Russian commandant. Anyway there was no train until the morning. While we slept at the Magdeburg railway station, there were two spot checks of documents by the NKVD. Luckily the place was full of people, and luckily the NKVD did not ask us for papers and the rationale for being there. We had to get somehow on the train without the tickets, since we had no permit to go west from anybody.

Early in the morning we wandered into the open area of the station by climbing over the ruins. We knew the time and the direction of the train, thus we could guess which train we needed to board. We were on the train sitting on the floor before anybody boarded the train yet. As soon as the train was in place it was surrounded by the police and each person boarding the train was checked and searched. The train did not leave until the late morning.

In the afternoon we had to change trains. A smaller train (narrow track) was already waiting at the station when we arrived. The smaller train was full of people. A mass run toward the train ensued before the police was able to stop the crowd. Soon a cordon of police formed and all subsequent people were advised that only people with specific papers will be allowed to board the train. All the people who boarded before were advised to get out to get their papers checked. We simply moved along toward the back of the train. It took literally hours for the police to release the train, but by the time the train started moving we were on the train and in the middle of very sizable crowd.

It was one of the slowest trains I was ever on. When it was going uphill we would jump out of the train and ran ahead for exercise, then jump back on when the train caught up to us. For some reason there was no police on the train, maybe because it was overloaded, but we had to watch for the conductor since we had no tickets. Sometime at night it finally got to the place called Wolfburg (or Wölfenburg – I can’t remember which). Anyway it was not far from Helmstedt, only Helmstedt of course was on the other side of the border, on the other side of the “iron curtain.” While still on the train we made acquaintance with a group of German refugees who were themselves trying to get over to the other side: a middle-aged German beauty who take a shine to me (a nice young boy!), a German major who continually tried to persuade everybody that the world would be so much better if Hitler won the war, a frightened and exhausted family who nearly starved in the eastern part of East Germany and so on. These people told us of a guide who took people across for a payment. We planned to promise him a substantial payment in American cigarettes once we got across.

We slept in a barn in the little country town (I’ll better not get back to trying to recall its name). The German major would not let go of his speeches about the glory of the Hitler times. Somewhat irritated, I asked him finally why he felt that he was mistreated. He recounted a story of his imprisonment by the Russians in Stalingrad. After he was taken prisoner he was made to walk with common soldiers nearly a five hundred miles.

“Did anybody else march with him?” I asked.

“Yes, of course, the Russian guards, the German soldiers… It is not according to the Geneva convention to treat the officers the same as the common soldiers,” he said.

“Did you know that the Soviet Russia never signed the Geneva convention?” I asked.

“That is beside the point,” he said. “Listen, they not only marched us five hundred miles but only fed us black bread and herrings on the way. Quarter of a loaf a day and one herring.”

“What did the guards eat?” I asked.

“Well, the same thing, but they are used to it,” he said. “I was the member of Marshal Paulus’ staff.”

“That is very impressive. Did you know that the Russian prisoners were marched by the Germans from the Russian front to the center of Poland without being fed?”

“Well, that is different! You said yourself that the Russians never signed the Geneva convention.”

“There was a cemetery containing fifty thousand Russian soldiers, who died from hunger after being taken prisoner near Zamosc!” I said.

“Look,” he said “the Russian themselves send the surviving ex-prisoners to the Gulag camps! What was the use of keeping them alive – the uneducated mongol Horde!”

“Well,” I said, “my experience with the Russian authority is not a very happy one. On the other hand I would not really call the years under Hitler full of joy.”

“You needn’t have to fight the greatest army in the world.”

“Somehow they lost the war,” I said.

“Well, of course you are prejudiced,” he said.

“That is true,” I replied.

And so passed the night in the barn. For the rest of the night I lay close to my fan, the middle-aged lady. At least she was warm and not argumentative (good influence!).

The guide got us up at 3 am. We walked single file down the main road. He told us to keep close and quiet. After a few miles we turned into the field and walked around a large well-lit building. “What building is that?” I asked.

“Headquarters of the border NKVD,” the guide replied. “Keep very quiet now. Tell the others not to talk.” I did as I was told. After we passed the building, we came back to walk on the main road. Around five o’clock we passed under the barrier strung across the border point. On the side there was a little guardhouse with nobody in it. It was truly amazing. We kept walking in silence for another half an hour until we heard the sound of an engine.

“Get into the forest quick!” the guide said. We moved to lie down in the bushes. A jeep with three English soldiers passed by. After the sound of the engine receded we continued walking. Soon we could see Helmstedt in the distance. We parted with the group and walked into a small camp where we had friends: Kajtek, Robert, two Marys (the black and the blonde), Kinga and others. We were so happy.

We got stuffed and drunk and we celebrated by going to sleep with the girls. My partner was the black Mary who let me kiss her and play with her but nothing more. I didn’t mind. Mary was waiting for the right kind of man to get married to. She got married to a wealthy English merchant and, true to her word, did not invite us even to her wedding.

The guide came a week later to get his payment. We let him have not only our rations and saved cigarettes but we robbed some of our friends to shower him with gifts. He was impressed.

We were continually called upon to tell people about the conditions in Poland and about their relatives, if we saw them. Kowalski got an offer from the British army to form a work company to help the British with guarding the border. Kowalski terms were too stiff. He asked the British to treat us like the British soldiers and still give us same privileges as other displaced persons. The British told him off. Anyway soon afterwards a transport to Poland was formed. Kowalski decided to go to Poland. This caused everybody to formed decisions about their future. A lot of my friends went to Poland, especially the marrying kind. Zbyszek got engaged and went to Poland with his fiancée, Jerzy got married and went to Poland. And so on.

For the rest of us, we needed to do something useful. US army was recruiting Poles to work in the labor companies which permitted them to reduce the quantity of the US troops in Germany. A large transport was formed of the men who decided to go to work. In addition to people from our camp, the men from other two camps near Helmstedt decided to go.

Now that I was without a job, I found the days to be long and tedious. Robert visited us and suggested that I can get a job in Wiesbaden where he worked, but I felt I could not leave my friends. When the announcement was made that the Australian mission is coming to recruit people for work in Australia, I was ready to go. My friends agreed that we have to leave this idle camp life as soon as possible.

Back to work


The two carriages rented to transport us to our destination, the training camp for Polish companies somewhere in northern Bavaria, was attached to various trains, not always very fast. Although we changed trains we did get somehow to Frankfurt the same day. On arrival we were told that the next train will leave next day in the afternoon. Now it became apparent that nobody thought about food and lodging. I asked so-called “leaders” what is going to happen next and the answer I got was, “we will just have to wait.” I decided to explore the situation myself: all my friends were hungry and cold, in general a very depressed group. I noticed in the corner of the building an office called RTO [49] and decided to inquire therein. This was just after midnight. I went in and said, “Hello, can you help me?”

  1. Railway Travel Office was an army administrative unit dealing with the transportation of military personnel by rail and related transportation services.

“Yes, what would you like?”

“I just came in from the English zone with an intention of joining Polish labor company. I understand that I need to go to … (whatever the name of the place was) and apparently there is no train until tomorrow afternoon. I am tired and hungry and I wonder whether you know of any place I could stay overnight.”

“Well sure, we can call the army hotel for you. Do you need the supper today?” he asked, lifting a phone receiver.

“Yes, but it is a little more complicated. See, there is 196 of us!”

“One hundred and ninety six!” he exclaimed. “Where are they now?”

“In the railway station, just outside the door.”

“Well, let me see what I can do.”

After some telephoning, he got a hotel upper floor opened for us and apologized that we can only have breakfast food tonight because this is all that the hotel has ready to cook at this hour. He also apologized that we will have to go by truck, because there is so many of us. I assured him that the arrangements will suit us fine. I asked him to make sure that the truck will carry us back to the station and thanked him for the group.

I went to tell the others, being sure to advise the “leaders,” who now saw fit to make a speech prior to boarding the trucks which soon started arriving. By three o’clock in the morning we were safely in bed after eating the American breakfast: eggs and bacon and ham and porridge and pancakes with appropriate condiments. I was afraid that Kajtek will burst, since he had about five servings of each dish. Next morning we ate breakfast at 9 am and left for the station in the same convoy of trucks. We arrived in the training camp at night. This time we had to wait till the morning before we got the C rations.

This experience with the group of people being led by inexperienced leaders would always stand in my mind as the example of poor management. I would from that moment be wary of people who took over during the time when an easy decision had to be made, without asking any questions. It caused me to always examine ventures where everybody agreed that no examination seemed to be necessary. This behavior was to be termed trouble-making.

I was not impressed by the training camp to which we arrived in the due course. It was run by the Polish officers, most of them whom have spent five years in POW camps and then a year or so in a DP camp. They revelled in establishing “discipline,” marches, aligning the troops, standing to attention, saluting your elders… It was nauseating. We were issued Italian rifles for some reason and were taken to shoot at “the range.”

The range consisted of a hill in the field with a set of boards on which target posters were placed. Behind the hill there was a German farm. The rifles had a long barrel and pulled upwards at each shot. One had to draw the rifle down onto the target before pulling the trigger, to compensate for the natural upward pull. Thus most of the early shots on the range were always scored high.

An officer who brought us in for the first time and told us to have a series of shots observed that the scores on the first try were low and thought that our drawing the rifles down was at fault. He stopped the exercise, grabbed the rifle and suggested that we should move the rifle upwards and then pull the trigger. Unfortunately as he demonstrated from a standing position and used this type of the rifle for the first time in his life, the rifle pulled much higher than any of ours on the first try. Suddenly there was a shout coming from behind the hill and the farmer came running on the side of the hill. The bullet whizzed above the farmer, frightening him. On our next training a different officer accompanied us.

Apparently we came at the time when there were not many new recruits and shortly after our arrival, a company was formed which included many of my friends. Those that were not included asked to be included through exchange with other men – we wanted to stay together. The company under the command of Lieutenant Zielinski, was sent to guard materiel stored on the Erding Air Base [50].

  1. Erding was one of several large air bases situated close to Munich. During the war this landing field served as a base for the early German jet fighters. Several of them could still be found in the hangars on the base.


The airfield lay some twenty miles north-east from Munich. It was attached to a small town (less than 10.000 people). Our living quarters (camp) was at the side of the field which was the furthest from town.

At first we were impressed with our new green American uniforms, with C rations, with the army clubs we could attend and with the army movie theater which played different movie every two days. We stood on guard for two weeks and then had a week off. When one stood on guard, one stood guard for four hours and had four hours off. It was very hard on people who could not fall asleep easily. In the middle of the night in some God-forsaken corner there were two problems: how to keep warm and how to keep awake.

Different people had different solutions. For keeping warm of course the usual solution was to build a fire, often with rather exotic materials like aircraft tires, plastic wrappers, clothing… Some tired guardsmen did not even try to keep awake. They planned their sleeping on guard duty with care not to be caught. One had to get into some quiet corner with access from the front only and with some method of creating a lot of noise when an unwanted person (an inspecting officer) was approaching. Those could consist of creaking boards, rustling papers or metal sheets suspended in the air. During the free week after two weeks of standing guard, one relaxed. Besides sleeping, going to a movie and socializing with the town girls, there was little to do. It was the most boring time of my life.

Soon the items with which we were so impressed at first disappeared as well. Gen Clay, who was appointed commander in chief of the US forces in Europe, did not believe in employing the displaced persons (DP). He tried to convince all and sundry that the place of the DPs was at home. To convince the people working in the labor companies to go home, he revoked most privileges. We were no longer able to go to the clubs, movies etc which were there for US army personnel. Our uniforms were to be dyed black. There was to be no military training, parades of any kind and the number of the companies were to be disbanded. This treatment persuaded a number of people to go to Poland. One of them was Lieutenant Zielinski.

In some way I liked the change. We were no longer playing at being an army. This was work and we were not being paid very highly for it. An argument was raised that some enhancement of our pay was necessary. We were paid in German marks, which could buy virtually nothing. Thus we were basically worse of than the DPs who stayed in the camps doing nothing. There was some attrition from the ranks. Of course as far as Gen Clay was concerned, this was exactly what his policy should accomplish. On the other hand, he was soon removed or promoted, I can’t remember which, and the man who followed him took a different point of view.

Apparently we were very useful. As the American officer to whom our new commanding officer (Lieutenant Papke) reported said, “Since you guys took over, stealing was reduced to 10% of the previous robbery.”

Apparently we were not as good thieves as the American soldiers who did the “guarding” job before us. And so we were given permission to go to PX [51], go to the movies and so on. Unfortunately the money now has been changed to Occupation dollars and we were paid 5 dollars a month, and some number of marks (RM) for which nothing (or almost nothing) could be bought. We could not buy very much for five dollars either. Fortunately we were also given a certain amount of American cigarettes, I don’t remember the actual amount. Every so often somebody would change their minds and issue tobacco instead of cigarettes; one could not buy much for tobacco.

  1. PX I believe stands for private exchange – a kind of the Army store where one could buy various goods.

I became aware that it was much better to become a company official and managed to put in an application for a first aid man. I was sent to Mannheim [52] for training. There I spent pleasant couple of weeks learning how to attend to minor wounds, diagnose simple diseases and attend to heavily wounded. There were two highlights to my excursion. One was, we attended some minor operation and three or four students fainted watching it; and a second one when we got all drunk on the cheap wine. The second one made a bigger impression and had longer lasting effect on me. In fact I had a headache all the way home.

  1. Mannheim is one of the large industrial centers in the western part of West Germany. At that time the city was largely destroyed by allied bombing during the war.

My duties as a first aid man were rather light. Every morning there was a sick call: all people who claimed to be sick had to be taken to the hospital, their sickness to be diagnosed by a doctor. I accompanied them and translated the discussion from Polish to English and from English to Polish as required. I looked after medicines and their dispensation. Once a month I inspected all the men for the signs of venereal disease. The last one was the most unpleasant chore; it could put one off sex for a couple of months. Unfortunately the chore was very necessary: out of some 300 men I would find anywhere from one to six infected each month. It always amazed me why the men would not use prophylactics, which were to be obtained free in the showers, and why after contracting the disease they were reluctant to be treated. Those that were sick, had to be taken to a hospital in Munich [53], which was another of my duties.

  1. Munich – the largest city in Bavaria and one of the prettiest, was also at the time heavily damaged by the allied bombing. Even at that time, however, it had a population of over 500.000. It was also a busy center of the military government.

Since I was not very busy, I was soon inducted to act as an assistant clerk. One of my friends, Robert, was the chief clerk. Robert always knew how to position himself fairly well for a most lucrative and easiest job. Still I was learning. To enhance my meager qualification, I took a course in driving. I had to be able to drive all the army vehicles in order to get a first class driving license. I spent two weeks attending classes. In between driving classes, the GI’s would play blackjack. I noticed that they would bet with dollars or marks using the standard exchange rate, whereas I could buy marks about ten times cheaper. With conservative play I managed to exchange a fair amount of marks for dollars at this favorable rate. I also did not learn to drive very well, since I spent most of the time playing blackjack.

Now I was fully equipped to work as a company clerk. One of the jobs of the clerk was driving the officer of the guard on his inspection tour. I hated the job as it meant driving around for hours in the middle of the night, often in very poor driving conditions. Luckily both Robert and Joe liked driving and would often drive even when it was my turn.

As I mentioned, the trouble with the labor company was that the work was rather boring. I read a lot while working there and tried writing. I sent a sample of my “creative work” to my father. He advised me not to show it to anybody else, as he saw no writing ability whatever. And so ended my great writing career.

By 1947 the environment was changing. New currency DM (deutsche mark) came into being with a very solid economic support to Germany by the Marshall plan. Finally the prevalent currency was of some value. Coffee, chocolate and cigarettes were no longer the going exchange. US authorities tried very hard to permit the German population to earn a decent living. One of the means of transferring economic value to the German population was to employ them on work related to the US military. Our labor companies were being slowly dissolved and/or replaced by the German labor companies. Since the company was going to be dissolved, we decided to emigrate in a planned way.

Robert found some friend in Frankfurt who helped him get a job with a company which was not going to be dissolved yet. Papke baited the major who commanded the military police to which we were attached to obtain for him a “thank you” note from the congressional commission on military, hence getting a top priority as US emigrant. I had to think of all my friends. Gradually I typed a series of letters to be signed first by Papke and then by the major of the military police. These letters were of the form of recommendation for the bearer and turned out to be quite a hit with most of the international commissions selecting the immigrants to various countries. I was a little worried about the major signing the documents describing the bearer in such glowing terms. I knew, however, that he only looked at the top few documents, the bottom few documents and occasionally at the middle documents. Thus I placed the letters accordingly not quite at the top nor at the bottom or in the middle.

We still had to find a way to apply for the immigration. One of our friends found out that a camp where his relatives were was going to have Canadian commission visiting soon. We liked the idea of going to Canada and therefore all of us went to this camp.

Life as a displaced person

A group of us now went and registered in a displaced persons (DP) camp. I can’t remember any more where the camp was located. I remember that it was not near any large city and that it was rather convenient to the Czech border. We believed that very soon we will emigrate to Canada. Our applications were accepted and we were waiting for a senior Canadian official who was going to perform a final interview and decide on the timing of our departure. Suddenly the conditions changed. This was 1947 and Canada experienced a mild recession. An announcement was made that there will be no more transports to Canada in the foreseeable future.

I was very disappointed and decided that I must look for a job. The most immediate source of employment was IRA [54], where I applied for a job. I was interviewed by a Dutch official and hired on the spot. It was a great pleasant surprise. My job was an interpreter and an examiner of the DP applications. While the war was finished two years before my employment by the IRA, there was a continuous stream of refugees coming to Western Germany and most of them wanted to obtain a DP status, which would then entitle them to be further considered for emigration to other countries. My work involved a thorough examination of recent applications for the DP status.

  1. IRA – the International Refugee Organization – was the official arm of the United Nations administering the refugee or displaced persons camps. In each camp there was an office of the IRA, normally under the direction of a person hired in one of the nations belonging to the UN but largely staffed by the displaced persons.

I took my job very seriously but had difficulty enjoying it. Some rules made no sense to me. If we found that an applicant was obviously an ex-member of the party (Nazi party) or collaborated with Germans, we had to notify CIC which took over the handling of the case from then on. If we felt that a person should not be granted a DP status, it was relatively easy to block his application. The application would then be reviewed by another investigator and if he agreed with the finding, the application was likely rejected. On the other hand if the application was approved by the first investigator, it generally sailed through. Most applications needed a signature of the chief officer of the camp or his assistant. As far as I could make out the signature was a mere formality.

After working for a month, I was informed that I was graded as grade four, which was a grade next to the highest grade possible for the DP. I did not know exactly what it meant, nor did I realize that most of the workers were rather jealously guarding the knowledge about their grades. Thus when I was asked what grade am I, I told everybody that my grade was four.

Apparently there was only two other people who achieved a grade as high as mine. Consequently somebody complained to the second in command who promptly reduced my grade to grade 6. I was very indignant. I really did not care about my grade but felt that there should be some justification for reducing the grade. I went to see the officer who allegedly reduced my grade and asked to see him. I was told that he cannot see me. I said, I will wait until he can see me. The secretary said it is no use, he will not see me. This really got to me. I walked to the door and went in despite her protests. I asked him whether he was the person who reduced my grade. He told me to get out. I said I will get out for good but first will tell him that I consider him a coward, a poor manager of people and a very arbitrary person. I also told him that I see very little difference in his treatment and the treatment I received from the German occupier.



Now that I had no job it was difficult to wait for the conclusion of the red tape associated with the proceedings before emigration. Each one of us had difficulty with different part of the procedure. I couldn’t stand all the paperwork required. Kajtek had difficulty spending time with his new girl Irene. Charlie got very upset at the medical examination: the doctor was a woman and Charlie stood in front of her naked with his hands covering his genitals until she made some indecent remark. Others were just bored or annoyed.

Finally the day arrived when the Australian consul was going to interview us. We waited most of the day outside the building in which his temporary office was set up. While we waited we were listening to the radio. At the time the top tune was Nature Boy. I think we must have heard Nature Boy about twenty times before I finally got in to be interviewed. He asked my nationality, how I got to be in Germany, what I did while in Germany and finally why I wanted to go to Australia. To which I replied, “To make money, I guess.”

He told me I was the first person he signed up for emigration. He claimed that he was sick of people telling him stories about suffering, communism, love for Australia, and felt that he finally found a sane person.

Despite this very impressive speech, I still had to wait another six weeks. In the meantime my friends went through a second interview, which I did not have to go through because I was signed up at the first interview. Finally the lists went up, giving the names of those who were selected to go in the first transport. We were happy that some of us were included in it and not very happy that others weren’t. This was the first time for a couple of years that we were separated. I don’t know why I felt a certain responsibility for a number of my friends; maybe it was because I had looked after their interests for a while. I worried whether everything would go all right with their transportation. Still, all of them were now in the final stages of emigration. There was no point asking to go in the second transport since some of my friends, Kajtek and Joe, were allocated to the first one as well. So I decided to go.

We still had to undergo some final examinations, issuance of temporary passports, travel documents, and then we were loaded onto a train going to Italy. Why Italy? Nobody knew.

The most important possession Kajtek had was his Robot camera. He loved it so much, he could not decide to take pictures with it. Most of the pictures were taken by Joe. Pictures of the departure, pictures of the Alps, pictures of the border inspection, pictures of the Italian plain, pictures of the camp near Torino. And so we were waiting in another camp, in another country.

We were quartered in an old Italian army camp. The barracks were built as multi-story buildings and provided a spacious and well-lit living area. The bathroom surprised us, equipped with glazed porcelain fittings, toilets likewise – but a toilet was only a hole in the floor with pads to put your feet on. The glazed porcelain fitting and a hole in the floor of the fitting seem somewhat grotesque. We were also surprised to find urinals at the corners of the busy city street, without any enclosure whatsoever.

We were warned not to move very far, as we may be on our way again soon. We did not have very much money anyway.

We managed a few trips to town, walked for hours. It was the end of summer: hot days, beautiful nights. Watermelons on ice sold in the streets; girls and boys parading in the evening through quiet streets; shutters in the windows, protecting the room from the noon sun and open at night with people looking at the evening traffic – a different environment.

We sat until early morning drinking wine in a garden of the trattoria, under vines drooping with grapes; old men telling us tales of war and sorrow. We had little money, but wine at the equivalent of ten cents a liter was just what one needed to drink in a quiet garden during the warm summer night. It made waiting for transportation in a foreign camp more bearable.

Back in the camp during the day with nothing to do but wait (cannot move too far away, transportation may be called any minute!). The meals broke the monotonous day: tomato soup with macaroni at lunch, macaroni with tomato sauce at supper – a rather unimaginative menu.

Luckily it lasted less than a week. We were packed into a slow train again. The train moved through the mountains at first and then down the coast. Hot day in early autumn, beautiful blue sea, clear yellow sand, almost empty beach during the midday heat, and closely packed houses on the hillside on the other side of the train. The train moved very slowly into Genoa and rattled finally into the port, next to a mid-size ship. It was SS Kanimbla, built for coastal traffic in Australia, now still serving the Australian Navy. It had not been decommissioned since the war and was used to bring Australian troops home from the wars. This time it carried ratings for training in England and was coming home empty. The government decided to use it to transport a group of immigrants home. We were checked slowly by the Italian authorities and packed into beds arranged in triple layers throughout all decks of the ship.

Sea voyage

We left in a hurry. Apparently some of the sailors got involved in a fight on the shore when accosted by a group of Italian communists. Some sailors were wounded. When the captain noticed the group coming home carrying the wounded, he carried out his own inquiry through which he found out that there were a number of Italians “left on the battlefield,” and he immediately asked for permission to leave the port. I guess the final resolution was left to the diplomatic channels, but I noticed a number of sailors remained “in the brig.”

Next day Naples – what a smelly port, the whole place smelled of dead fish. Then the straits of Messina and we sailed quietly through the Mediterranean. Joe was taking more pictures: some fishing boats, just waves, faces of the immigrants, ship’s bow, ship’s starboard side, ship’s port side, sailors at work, sailors at play…

It was stuffy inside, so I decided to sit right in the front of the ship on the bow. There was a nice breeze and a marvellous view. I did not get thrown out from the exposed section until we reached the Indian Ocean and the weather got rougher. For the time being I enjoyed the view, the feel of airflow, and the sun. Whenever I went inside I could read – the ship had a nice little library. Or we walked along the decks watching the sailors work or play different games. The food was plentiful if not exciting and one could always sleep in the air-conditioned compartment.

Before we even reached Port Said we were met by an armada of merchant boats. The merchants were willing to buy, sell or exchange anything at all, while making some unusual claims about the value of their merchandise. The haggling was amusing even if we had nothing to deal with.

The Suez Canal was a bore. Suez was a smaller version of Port Said. In two days we reached Aden. There was nothing to see in Aden. The temperature reached 140°F and drinking water was more expensive than beer, while beer cost about five times as much on the shore as one could buy it for on the ship. We were glad to get on our way the next day.

We traveled directly from Aden to Fremantle. It was mostly an uneventful voyage except for one storm during which the waves rolled over the top of the closed ship. I slept through most of the storm and exasperated my shipmates by asking whether anybody would like to donate their breakfast to me – most of the immigrants were seasick all night. We were disembarked and cleared through the customs in less than three hours, which seemed pretty decent to me. A group of buses took us to the camp near Claremont, which lay halfway between Perth and Fremantle.

First impression of western Australia

Here we waited again. First we were issued some sort of Australian documents, then a suit of clothes, then some very limited amount of money “on account” [55]. It was hard to administer the few shillings we had while we were suddenly thrust into civilization – well, at least approximately normal conditions. The clothes certainly made life more bearable. At least we were no longer stopped in the streets by well-meaning people asking us in broken English whether we liked Australia. Broken English, in the belief of the indigenous people, is the language that each newcomer must understand. It goes something like this:

  1. The money was going to be paid back from our earnings once we started working.

“Oh hello! HEH-LOW! You new immigrant, capish? Immigrant?”

“Good place, eh? Australia good place? Verstehen? Capish? You new Australian – GOOD!”

Of course if one answers in reasonable English, it creates a great disappointment: “Oh you speak English, how nice. Nice weather we’re having. Well, good-bye!” and you are quickly left alone, providing of course that you admit to “liking Australia.” Otherwise you’re one of those bolshies, who after being given “all those opportunities” and amassing “all this money” at the expense of “our poor people,” displays such gross ingratitude. You should be sent in a ship to the deepest part of the ocean and dumped overboard.

Obviously we should have tried harder to bring some money with us. We had to be careful not to use buses, not to buy any junk food, not to accept invitations to go for a beer – somewhat tragic when you are 19. There was one man who had a garage in Germany – his name was Stefan. Stefan had a bit of money which I helped him to convert into Australian pounds. He would often pay for outings.

Our stay in the camp near Claremont did not last very long. Soon we were sent to work in the quarry near Roelands. Roelands was a little village in the southwest of Western Australia. The quarry was situated about three miles above the village.

Everything in Australia was so different from the central Europe with which we were acquainted. The weather was much drier, and the seasons basically consisted of the dry and rainy seasons. Australians distinguished four seasons but even after spending six years in Australia I had difficulty in identifying spring and winter. Since the climate was so much warmer and drier and because of ecological separation, both the fauna and flora of Australia were significantly different from the European environment. The social conditions differed as well, probably because of the lack of variety in the population.

For most of us there was a difficult period of adjustment. Some, especially affected by the war, did not adjust well. I remember one of our friends who became slightly mentally deranged after a couple of months. He complained continually about the conditions, the way he was treated, and developed a real persecution complex. The Australian immigration authorities found him a job in a hospital, where his duties were limited to light cleaning and he was always near to professional help. I must admit that we avoided his company, not only because we were somewhat ashamed of him but also because he was such an awful bore.

The work at Roelands was heavy but not difficult. Most of the work consisted of loading pieces of rock onto railway cars and platforms. One had to select the right piece of rock to fit into the space available on the railway car, then slip the chain around the rock in such a way that it would be balanced when lifted by the crane and ensure that the rock slipped into position on the car. One of the most important aspects of balancing the rock on the chain was to position it in such a way that the chain could be slipped into the right position to hold the rock. Often this required using a steel bar as a lever. Other times crane assistance was required prior to lifting the rock to be carried to the car. This work required a lot of strength and good timing. I had neither. When the rocks were loaded onto the railway cars, they were taken thirty miles away to the small town and port of Bunbury, where the West Australian government was building a tide breaker.

We lived in tents next to the quarry. As it was the Australian “spring” when we came, it was a very pleasant arrangement. The tents were situated under the gum trees, on which millions of parakeets and kookaburras would settle in the morning and wake us up with their laughing noise and chatter. We shared the tents with goannas and snakes, but as we did not realize that some of them were supposed to be deadly, we learned to tolerate and amuse one another.

When we got up in the morning we would wash ourselves in the common trough, next to our kitchen and dining room (a wooden structure), where the water was provided by a big storage tank. The Public Works Department, realizing our limited resources, started us out by extending credit in the local supply store. The food supplies were brought by the little train that carried the rocks down the hill and returned the empty railway cars up the hill. To go down, often the locomotive was not required. One could bring the cars down the slope “riding the brake.”

One man from our midst was selected as a cook because he claimed to be one. He did a reasonable job, although at the beginning he had difficulty adapting to the supplies common to most Australians but somewhat different from what a Polish cook would be accustomed to. Once we adapted the recipes somewhat, and especially after we let one of our men set traps for rabbits, we were not only fed well but also very cheaply.

The man who set our rabbit traps was a poacher in Poland and had a fantastic ability to catch the wildlife. I learned from him to wash the traps thoroughly after each use, place clean paper on top of the trap set and cover it lightly with soil by brushing it with a twig. Traps were set at the rabbit holes appropriately selected. The poacher claimed that some holes are just sham exits and the rabbit never uses them. Others were the main exits and would be abandoned if disturbed. Finally there were alternative exits, and those were the best to set the traps at. If he set a dozen traps he would average four rabbits per set.

We ate rabbits in the morning, at lunch and in the evening. We ate rabbits in all possible ways you can poultry – rabbit meat is white. Since my time in Roelands I have hated rabbits, chicken and similar poultry.

As I was not doing very well in the prime type of work at Roelands, I tried to change my job. A shaft was being drilled somewhat away from the face of the quarry in preparation for dynamiting the quarry’s face, thus creating additional supply of rocks for the Bunbury tide breaker. Above the shaft a platform was built holding a rope tackle supported by a steel, three-legged stand. The rope was pulled by a small air-driven winch. My new job was to operate the winch. It was a very relaxed job. Most of the time the men who were sinking the shaft were drilling the holes below and I read a book. They would only require my assistance when they needed to come up or needed some supplies below or needed to take out the rock from the shaft. In this last case one of them would work on top while the other one was filling the bucket at the bottom of the shaft.

I must say that the men were very forgiving, as I did not do my job very well. For one thing, I tended to fall asleep often; for the other, the bucket had to be pulled up carefully, and I would often hit the sides of the shaft with it, thus causing little rocks to fall down the shaft where the men were working.

My worst sin happened when I was bringing a man up slowly while he was examining the walls of the shaft in order to make sure that they were safe, ie would not shed larger rocks to endanger the workers at the bottom of the shaft. The man would stop in midair and examine the walls, sometimes prying the rocks loose. Then he would call to be pulled up a short distance at a time. Whereupon I would start the air slowly while disengaging the brake. The air pressure would first take up the slack and then slowly pull the bucket up.

At one point I forgot to start the air before I disengaged the brake, and I had the clutch loose: the bucket dropped some ten feet before I closed the clutch and then the brake. The man just managed to hold onto the rope but he obviously got very frightened. When he come up he was ready to punch me in the nose, but slowly recovered his composure. I tried much harder after this incident, but I must say that I never mastered the art of operating a winch.

My other job was to act as an interpreter for those of the Polish men who could not yet speak English. I thought I did this job rather well until a new group of Polish migrants arrived. One of the men in the group had a Master’s degree in languages. Unfortunately he had such an awful accent that nobody could understand him. He did, however, know English much better than I did, and would complain bitterly about the mistakes I made in my translations.

Social life

Although the quarry appeared to be isolated, it was not very hard to get back into civilization. Once one came to Roelands, down the hill riding the brake or simply walking some three miles, there was a railway from Perth to Bunbury and the bus. The railway was very slow. It was mainly concerned with cargo – passengers were incidental. The bus took about half an hour for a trip to Bunbury.

Our early trips were mostly to get tobacco and cigarettes – these were still rationed. Other items subject to rationing were butter and tea. Still, the only rationing that we found difficult was cigarettes. In the early days our social contacts were usually through a glass of beer in one of the pubs at Bunbury.

There was no library in town and I began to buy books to read. Reading alienated me from the workers around us, who did not believe in reading much.

My other pastime was dancing. I found that dances were held at Roelands as well as in Bunbury. I found the behavior of Australians most peculiar. The girls were sitting on benches around the dance floor or at the tables if such were provided, while men were standing as a group at the door, occasionally sneaking out for a drink and even more occasionally asking the girls to dance after the music started playing. This meant that I was probably the most frequent dancer on the floor. I received some peculiar looks though, when I would sit down to talk to a girl I just danced with. I felt somewhat conspicuous and soon would begin to bring some Polish friends with me so that other boys could get the same peculiar looks I received.

I got to know the inhabitants of Roelands fairly well. Still, I never got involved in any love affairs or otherwise. Our behavior gave us a certain air of notoriety. I found this tag rather difficult to bear at one time or another. An engineer in charge of the public works in the area tended to use me as interpreter. This was facilitated by the fact that we Polish workers had gotten a good name, and the Public Works Department was asking for more and more Poles to work in the area (one could say that we were “Poles apart” from the other immigrant workers – OK, so this is a poor joke…), hence the demand for my services as an interpreter.

I got to know the engineer’s family and visited them in their home. The day arrived when the engineer had a heart problem and was hospitalized. I visited him in the hospital and escorted his wife home. I did not worry much when I was invited for the ubiquitous cup of tea, nor when she flashed her pink panties when sitting down directly in front of me. However, when she started talking about enjoying walking “au naturel” at home I decided it was time to go home. There was the matter of a certain disparity in our ages and the preservation of my idealized sense of feminine beauty. I noticed however that a friend of ours began frequenting the house and talking about nudists and such. Well, the difference between Germany in 1948 and a somewhat strict Australia must have been too much for him.

Stefan was the real Don Juan in the village. During the ten months I spent in Roelands, Stefan was engaged twice (and once afterwards). In the village the girls reminded me of the Victorian era, while they behaved somewhat differently when they would come to the camp uphill. Stefan’s “fiancées” would spent whole day with him in his tent. They left before dark. I guess spending the night would be too bold. Well, I should not judge, I really do not know what they were doing in his tent all day. I know that I would either read or play cards in the tent, otherwise we stayed outside.

One day I found an advertisement for a British-Polish correspondence club, and joined it. Soon I was writing letters to many damsels all over the world. In particular I was writing to Yvonne, who was later to become my wife. I was also writing to a number of Polish girls in Poland. These letters made me finally realize that I should have been helping my father. The girls were asking for help; my father never did. I began to investigate the possibility of bringing my father over to Australia and found that there would be no difficulty pursuing this from the Australian side anyway.


A new group of Polish immigrants arrived and the foreman asked me to work with them. My job as the winch operator was now completed and the new workers needed to be incorporated into the mixture of Australian miners and us, the veteran immigrants. The work was the pick-and-shovel kind, and as the new guys had some difficulty working with the pick I decided to work mostly with the pick, while the others shoveled the loosened dirt. Picking, however, was somewhat strenuous and I would occasionally rest, supporting myself on the pick. The foreman observed my behavior and came to complain.

“I see you believe that you do not have to work here!” he said as he approached.

“Not at all. I am trying to keep the others supplied with the loose dirt,” I answered.

“Do you think I am an idiot? You do f… all work, stand on your f… shovel and enjoy the f… view!”

“Well I did rest momentarily, but I…”

“Don’t argue with me get back to work you b…!”

“There is no call to get mad or swear at me.”

“Look, this is it. Get back to work or I will smash your b… face!”

“Go right ahead,” I said. He walked away muttering.

That evening I complained to the union rep, and the next day I went to the engineer in charge.

I must say that after reflection I had to agree that I provoked the man and that I was not working as well as most of my friends. Still, at that point I would not admit any such thing. I was angry that he swore at me with very limited provocation. The explanation given to me that it was the common Australian language was of no avail, as I was not prepared to accept this language when directed to me. I claimed also that the threat of violence was equivalent to violence itself and said that it was impossible for me to work under the man. I was asked what it was that I wanted to be done. I said that I just wanted a different job. Of course originally I was thinking about asking for an apology, but as the time went along I began to feel guilty about the whole thing and sort of felt stupid.

We came to an agreement. I was given a choice of jobs and selected irrigation work in Harvey. The workers for the Public Works had a tent camp near Harvey. Here the tents were raised higher and as in Roelands, they were supported by a wooden framework. Below the actual tent, a loose material was attached to the frame thus completing the structure. The tents in Harvey were sitting in an open field; thus they were much hotter during the day and much more dusty or moist depending on the weather. In fact one had to clean the tent thoroughly every day; otherwise all one’s belongings would be covered with dust or moisture. I was shamed one day when the police came looking for some individual who had escaped from prison and searched my tent while I was still in bed on a Sunday morning. They found dust covering everything in the tent.

Opposite my tent lived a Serbian stonemason who would get up at five every morning, and clean up his tent, wash all his and his son’s clothes and straighten out the area around his tent. The comparison with my tent made the policeman exclaim, “Don’t you clean your place like other people?”

At the entry to the camp lived the most senior inhabitant: an old Australian, must have been at least sixty. The man worked for one thing only: to have his case [56] of beer on Saturday. He was dead to the world on Sunday. Before he started drinking, however, he would thoroughly clean his place and put on his best clothes. Most of my other neighbors were away each holiday – some gone to Harvey, many all the way to Perth.

  1. Australian case of beer contains five dozen or sixty bottles of beer.

I did various jobs during my stay in that camp. Originally I worked digging ditches. The old Australian fellow was the most impressive digger (no pun intended). He appeared to dig very, very slowly, but it was difficult to keep up with him. He would never break his rhythm, digging all day and coming out with perfectly measured depth and angle of the walls. Now he demonstrated the kind of work that the foreman at Roelands would have wanted me to do. When digging, I attempted to do my damnedest to keep up with the old fellow – I don’t think I ever quite made it.

Later on I helped with construction of the cement walls along the dug up trenches. Although I became quite good in pouring the walls and evening out the fresh concrete, I could not aspire to become a “finisher” – a worker who would smooth out the concrete surface to a lustrous finish in order to prevent water erosion during normal use.

Finally my friend, the Serb, trained me as a stonemason assistant. I spend most of the time in Harvey at this last job. I did not, however, realize how serious these tradesmen were, always competing with one another. One day my Serbian friend was sick and I got assigned to work with an Italian stonemason. While working I began to joke and laugh. The Italian told me not to laugh at him and when I took his advice lightly, he grabbed a long-handled shovel and started whacking me across my back. I asked him to stop twice, but this infuriated him even more. At the third hit I reached for the shovel and twisted it out of his hands, thus breaking his fingers. Luckily we were observed by a foreman, who took my side in the proceedings, otherwise I might have been accused of planning to injure the fellow.

I apologized to the Italian for doing him injury. I felt very sorry for him, all the more so as he had a small farm in the area and his injury made it difficult for him to tend it.

The worst job out of the ones I had at Harvey was helping a truck driver. Whereas he was working on piece-work, I was paid by the hour. Still, he expected me to work filling the truck with gravel or other deliveries at the speed he was doing it. Furthermore, he still had difficulty obtaining an adequate amount of gasoline (wartime rationing was still in effect, despite the fact that it was four years after the war) and used a mixture of gas and kerosene. Not only were the engine fumes potent, but he would expect us to make up the lost time whenever his engine refused to work.

I continued now to make efforts to bring my father over. After getting my forms and documents and applying to various authorities, I got a letter from Aunt Jadwiga. My father had died.

I still regret today that I didn’t start sending insulin to my father from Germany – I could have asked the doctors at the military hospital to give me some. I did send him some from Australia, but by that time his health had already deteriorated too far – he died from a general breakdown of his system caused by his inflammation of the pancreas. And I regret that I did not try to get him out of Poland sooner. My excuse was the difficulty of getting people out. But stupid as I am, I was able to get out. There is no end of regretting. The fact is that the way I felt was more important to me than the well-being of my father.

I was depressed. It took me a few months before I could write to Aunt Jadwiga. In the meantime the Australian government announced that they would shorten our compulsory two years of work at the location specified by the government to 18 months, and my 18 months had run out. I looked now for the most lucrative employment. A mining concern (Anglo-American Mining Co) was advertising for workers to be trained as miners. I applied as a diamond-drill trainee.


It took one day by train to go to Perth. Then it took three days by train to Big Bell [57]. Saving on my money, I travelled by coach – which meant sleeping in a sitting position on a hard bench. Most of the travelling companions were “no-hopers” from the outback. Most of them had drunk and dissipated until their money ran out. Now they were traveling north to replenish resources. Some had no money to buy food, others had enough left to spend the time gambling away what was left. One of those asked me for a loan of five pounds (20 dollars at the time). I told him that I was not stupid enough to lend him the money, but may be persuaded to give him a pound. He accepted without gratitude. They were not a bad crowd, just very basic in their needs: food, fuck and fun, or the three f’s in short.

  1. Apparently the mine at Big Bell is still in operation. Big Bell is situated 200 miles southwest from Wiluna – the last town before the desert stretching towards the Northern Territories. To the north (some 500 miles) lies Marble Bar – called the hottest place on earth or popularly called “hundred degrees for hundred days,” the length of the hottest season in Marble Bar.

I was not entitled to go to the restaurant car. We bought food when the train stopped: mostly tea, pies and pasties, beer, biscuits [58]. I had to share what I bought, since so many of my new acquaintances had no money.

  1. Australian biscuits are called cookies in US.

Somehow three days had gone, and here was the station.

We were greeted by a local constable, who examined thoroughly all the newcomers. He picked on two men and told them that he did not want them there and suggested that they leave. Alternately he was going to put them in jail for vagrancy and then send them back. One of the men started an argument and ended up in jail, the other accepted the verdict and left on the train in which we had arrived.

The action of the constable amazed me at that time. Later it became very clear. He was “the law” in a territory comprising some ten thousand square miles and with a small but potentially violent population. The way he kept peace was that he kept ahead of the law breakers. I have seen the constable break up a fight by picking up two men, one under each arm and throwing them in jail. He would also line up the witnesses before the court time and arrange to have the verdict go his way practically every time. I served once as his witness in court and he was watching me leave after my dismissal at the end of my stay.

I found out that I had to go to the mine by taxi. There was only one taxi and it was the only way one could go to the mine, unless somebody came to pick one up. The train came only once a week and the train was the main reason for the taxi to earn its keep. The price was arranged accordingly. The taxi took five men, each paying 20 pounds (80 dollars) for the trip. The taxi driver was very helpful: he could wait for the payment, providing that one had a job waiting at the mine (everybody had a job waiting at the mine!). Similar robbery took place at the store (there was of course only one general store!). Everything cost three times as much as in Perth. But then one must understand that the number of buyers was limited, the town was supported by the mine and existed for the mine only.

It was an interesting road. Most of the roads in central Australia are “corrugated.” That means that the car continually jumps like a pogo stick. The way such an erosion of the road starts is that a bump (possibly caused by a rock or water erosion) causes the car to jump up and drop down a foot or so away. This drop causes a hole in the road, especially after a storm downpour. Such a downpour occurs rarely but happens almost cataclysmically. Now the next car jumps up, down on the next hole and up coming out of the hole – thus creating the next hole. Pretty soon one has a typical corrugated road, which in the very dry climate hardens to the consistency of rock. The ride over a corrugated road (some 25 miles) was more exhausting than the three-day ride on the train.

The mine provided the quarters: an 8 x 8 feet hut with an iron bed and a mattress. One had to go to town immediately to buy the blankets and whatever else. There was a common washroom and the dining room, where the food was very reasonable (subsidized by the mine). The feature of the dining room was the waitresses, most of whom apparently had worked the red-lamp district of Fremantle [59] prior to coming to Big Bell.

  1. Generally, prostitutes were to be found close to the ports in Australia. Main cities were clean, law abiding (!) and full of churches.

I had one day to rest after my trip and then I started work on night shift. I suppose the reason for the night shift work was to give one a peaceful beginning. Night shift was the slowest and generally the smallest shift.

The first job was diamond drilling for exploration, which was also much slower than ring drilling and required a degree of precision. I was taught to “feel” the drill in such a way that I knew what rock it was going through or if it was going through a rock at all [60]. I got used to working under a shower of oil originating from the drilling machine. This machine was powered by air, but the cylinders had to move on a layer of lubricating oil. The oil, however, was continually blown out by the exhaust draft of the air which powered the machine.

  1. Occasionally the drill would strike an empty space (a crack in the rock). One cannot let the drill operate in the empty space as the diamond bit would became loose and fall off.

For a while I assisted the man who was drilling to obtain a core sample. In this way I learned to operate the machine, change drills, and define the speed at which the drilling should proceed. At least I attempted to learn all those things.

When I was able to operate the machine by myself, I started working on piecework. The company paid one shilling [61] per foot drilled. At a very good shift one could drill up to 100 feet (I believe the record was 160). If things went very badly one could drill less than 30 feet. If I remember right my average was about 65 feet. If one did not feel the machine right and kept running the drill in a crack, one could lose the diamond bit. The bit was worth 150 pounds and if the bit was lost it could damage the mill thus causing very expensive problems to the company. In general, for the worker, a lost bit could mean a dismissal.

  1. In the old Australian monetary system there were 12 pence to the shilling and 20 shillings to a pound. An Australian pound was worth about 4 dollars at the time I was working for Anglo-American mining. Thus a shilling was worth about 20 cents. Today the Australian currency is expressed in dollars and cents.

Big Bell was a mine with a very wide vein of poor quality telluride of gold. For every ton of rock processed an average of two pennyweights of gold were extracted after a very expensive processing. For the mine to pay, thousands of tons of rock had to be processed each day. The way the rock was mined was through a method called ring drilling. This method requires a shaft to be sunk from one level of the mine down to the lower level (in Big Bell a vertical distance of 200 feet). After the shaft was sunk, the rock was dropped down by drilling the holes around the shaft and dynamiting the rock down the chute of the lower level. The shaft was thus enlarged with each successive set of holes drilled until most of the rock between the two levels was gone.

An old level was rather frightening to work on since one stood at the edge of a dark abyss and had to work fast during the drilling, often pulling hundreds of feet of drills in order to change the bit or clean the hole. The safety rules demanded that one was to have a rope attached to a belt at one’s waist and tied into a hook securely placed in the rock wall. This was not always observed, as the rope would interfere with speedy movements. The rock was covered with oil which made for frequent slips on treacherous slopes leading to the 200 ft abyss.

The job that I hated the most, however, was drilling in a riser. Once most of the rock was extracted between the mine levels, a shelf remained at a lower level. The shelf facilitated the sliding of the rock dynamited from the upper level to the chute on the lower level. This shelf was composed of part of the ore vein; thus the drilling now proceeded upwards from the lower level. In order that the drill bit remain cool, water was poured under pressure through the core of the drill and out of the diamond bit. If one was drilling upwards, all this water was flowing freely down one’s neck throughout the eight hour shift. It was hard to bring oneself to go down the mine to withstand the eight-hour downpour. One would often have a few drinks prior to the shift in order to “kill the pain.”

Big Bell – the desert paradise

There was very little to do in that place. One could go to town, eh? The town had two parallel streets half to three quarters of a mile long with four or five short streets permitting movement between the two main streets. Besides the few houses where the married miners lived, there was a pub, a general store, a jail and the courthouse/police station. We often went to the first two and avoided the others.

The place was hot and dry. For all my ten months in Big Bell, I remember two willy-willys [62] but I don’t remember a rainy day. When one went to town it was real pleasure to go into the pub and out of 100+ degrees dry heat. The trouble was that after a couple of beers, one could not walk out of the pub. It was really amusing to watch people go to the door and immediately turn back to have another beer. Many miners would spend their four days alternating between the pub and the jail. The constable would throw anybody drunk, disorderly or fighting for a cooling off day in jail.

  1. Australian tornado is called a willy-willy.

One way of avoiding drinking in town was to wander around the countryside instead. Unfortunately there was little to see. The countryside was not officially called the desert, but it was a dry area of rock outcrops with the sparsest amount of scraggly vegetation. Even the gums would not grow in that area. Kangaroos and wallabies were as rare as people. If we met one, it was liable to watch us with the same dose of curiosity that we watched it. The days were still and starkly bright, and the nights were clear and with the huge firmament full of stars, no clouds to be seen anywhere.

I bought a powerful radio receiver – luckily the mine supplied the electrical power. For some reason one could easily listen to all the stations to the east, including London and the Vatican, but especially Moscow and the Arab stations. Arab music was weird, while I often enjoyed music from India and Pakistan. To the west one could listen to the Philippines and Hong Kong but not the US. Those stations that we found were very clear with hardly any fading.

I had no close friends in Big Bell. I liked many people. The most experienced miners divided into (gold) “diggers” [63] and the old immigrants. Most of the old guys would be a very friendly bunch. The other group consisted of the newcomers to Australia, mostly English. These characters varied a lot, some very likable, others positively hateful – some very dangerous. I wrote letters to my friends. As a matter of fact this was one of my favorite pastimes.

  1. Australians, especially soldiers, are often called diggers.

I liked to read, but my reading was limited by the availability of reading material. There was no library in Big Bell. The books one could find could not exactly be called examples of classical literature. One could get more porno books than good stories and more cheap romances than the staple classics.

Australians were inveterate gamblers. On one of our holiday breaks – we worked ten days and rested four, while we changed our shift from day to afternoon to night – we discovered a large group of miners involved in a game of “two-up.” This a specifically Aussie game: the banker throws two coins up in the air. If the coins both fall heads up, the player wins; if the coins fall tails up, the banker wins. Most players double the bets each time. The banker may refuse a very high bet. If the banker throws a consecutive string of tails, he can win a very large sum of money. The first time I played, I won 70 pounds (almost 300 dollars) – this was enough to induce me to play for a while. In the long run I won nothing, as was to be expected from the laws of probability. Still it was an exciting pastime.

Later on I began to play poker. I was more familiar with this game and usually won limited amounts by proper selection of the people I played with and careful playing. As we often played four days straight, one had to observe two rules: not to drink too much and to play more cautiously as the time progressed. The day came when I did not observe these rules and not only lost most of the money won over months of playing but finished up drunk.

It all began when I did not select the people I played with carefully enough. A new player appeared who was a very friendly fellow. He suggested that each one of us buys a case of beer. Although I never expected that we would be able to drink all this beer, it turned out that we did.

Obviously when so much beer is drunk, one has to go to the toilet very often. Near the end of the fourth day, I had to go out. When I came back to my cabin, the new fellow was shuffling the cards. When the cards were dealt, we all bid. Nobody abstained. As the cards were drawn I had four tens. In the furious bidding that followed, the bank grew to eight hundred dollars. It turned out that three people had four of a kind and one had a full house. The new fellow had four Kings. I decided to never be so careless in the future, but it was not possible to prove that the cards were stacked, since we did not watch the deal carefully enough. Also the time was drawing close to the beginning of the shift.

I was drilling on the 400 level, which I hated because it was almost exhausted. For one, there were very few people working there, and for the other, the ground was broken up, making for very slow and careful drilling. The huge hole – the “abyss” – was pulling me in (I always had a bit of space sickness!), my head hurt and I could not see very well. Ever so often I had to empty myself. At the mid shift break, I asked the foreman to let me go up and stay up. After looking over the state of my drilling site and discovering no safety problems, he agreed to let me go.

As usual I was soaked in oil. After dropping all my clothes and pulling them up to the ceiling to dry [64], I went to have a warm shower. It was heaven to lean against the shower stall and let the water flow, while I closed my eyes for a second. Half an hour later I was woken up by the foreman and told to stop the flow of warm water. In the evening I got a “pink slip.” [65]

  1. In the dressing room there existed a multitude of rope pulleys connected to the blocks, with little wheels attached to the ceiling of the structure. One could hang his clothes on a hanger and attach the hanger to the rope. The rope could be moved through the pulley, thus pulling the wet clothes to the top of the structure. Warm air rising to the top of the building ensured quick drying of the clothes hanging at the ceiling.
  2. I was fired for being drunk in the mine – one of the laws observed by the management and agreed to by the union. Everybody agreed that a drunk miner was a safety hazard.


A flying trip

I was going to fly in an airplane for the first time in my life. I wondered what it would feel like?

While waiting for the plane, I was going over in my mind the trip I had just taken from Big Bell to Perth. My companion had been the constable, who was taking his yearly holidays. He looked quite different in a suit. We spent three days together…told each other our life story. I found that he was very lonely. Once he left his official duties behind and had nothing to do but brood, he knew not where to go nor what to do with himself. He was going to see his sister and her family, but seemed to be yearning for a family of his own, yet there was no room for a family in his life – not at that time anyway. Made me think about my future…

Still, I had never met anybody I would like to share my life with. Moreover I still had sorrow about my family back home, or did I? Probably not so much. Mainly disregard for most of the girls I had met so far. Never considered getting married. Was I as lonely as the “big brute”? (The constable was all of six foot six, with size eighteen boots.) He had seemed to like showing off his brute strength while on duty, but sounded like a pussycat on the way to Perth. What makes a person lonely? I did not know. It seemed to me that I was less lonely than most. Also my work in Big Bell was the final step on my road to independence from family, friends and crowds.

Then why was I going to Adelaide where I had friends? Was it because I was fired from my previous job? I did not really feel any regret about losing my job. I could not resolve the dilemma.

There was really nothing to this flying. The two hours flight went very fast. In comparison with the three days I had just spent on the train, the flying time felt like a very short moment. It seemed that waiting for the flight and the trip from the airport to Henley Beach, where Kajtek lived, was longer than the flight itself.

Kajtek was glad to see me. Apparently Stan had found him a place to live. Kajtek worked at General Motors, but did not like his job. I found a job in a junk yard, which paid a little better. Went to see all my friends, some I had not seen for a few years. Met some others I did not care very much for. Always the boasting about the great conquests made and gambling and sports as a pastime; I was getting bored.

A girl I corresponded with lived in Adelaide. I tried to arrange to see her.


I decided to room together with Kajtek. His landlady was an old pro. She annoyed us by regularly walking into our room without knocking some ten or fifteen minutes after the alarm sounded, thus generally catching us undressed. I asked her to put a lock on the door, which she refused to do. At first we used to take meals with her as well, but after being fed the same soup for two weeks, I asked whether she could see the bottom of the soup pot yet, to which she replied that the soup stock did not spoil by standing and being reused. I maintained that it was not the soup stock that I was worried about but my stomach. Anyway we decided to eat elsewhere.

The lady had an in-living boyfriend, an ex-policeman. He was the other annoying fixture of the house. He would come in with a bottle at night and recount his old days in the force. Most of his stories seemed to be designed to reduce our respect for the Australian police. Neither of us enjoyed drinking “plonk” (wine) with him, especially as he liked the heavy port type. It seemed that listening to his stories was a part of the rental agreement.

Stan and his friend lived with a German lady whose place was just across the back fence. Stan’s friend seemed to have long experience in handling old landladies. He seemed to prefer ones with young daughters, but although he got along fabulously with the landladies, he seemed to get into difficulties with the daughters. He told us stories about the “paradise” he had in Germany, where his landlady liked him so much that she financed the garage in which he and Stan shared work and ownership. Things had got rather hot and humid when he had an affair with the lady’s teenage daughter who did not look kindly at him when he decided to break up their relationship. This affair did not seem to deter him from having a similar relationship where he lived now. We turned down invitations to get together on blind dates which he and his girlfriend were going to arrange for us.

Kajtek saw a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and fell in love with it. He did not have enough money to buy it himself, so we bought it to share. Now we could go on trips to see our other friends. We travelled to Gawler to see Leszek and down the Murray to see “Pawel” and Charlie and Johnny and Edmund.

I remember a town in which we stayed, because of the unbearable hot weather we encountered. Our friends took us to their Australian mate’s house. The place was full of people, most somewhat under the weather. We all drank beer, which was the only cold thing you could find. Most men were down to their singlets and rolled-up pants while the women seem to have underwear on. I found the atmosphere somewhat revolting, especially after some middle-aged lady sat down on my knees and started describing her marriage difficulties. Since we were going to stay there overnight, I guess we were a captive audience.

Leszek got married. At first he lived with his wife in a very tiny apartment. When his daughter was born they moved to a more reasonable place, which could be described as row housing, I guess. It had a certain charm. When we visited him soon after my arrival, he took us to see Shirley’s relatives. I liked all three of Shirley’s sisters. They were uncomplicated and very basic in their approach to life. I did not like the husband of her older sister. Seemed to be narrow-minded and somewhat boorish.


I had corresponded with Yvonne for a few years now, but of course I had never met her, as I had come to Adelaide only recently, and that was where she had spent all her life. I met her one December day; we walked and talked. I was very impressed with her sincerity. Yvonne not only ever told a lie but also was impelled to tell you anything that she felt threw a negative light on her personality. At the same time she was very suspicious that I did not like her. Which of course forced me to convince her that I did.

I was impressed with her beauty. She had beautiful eyes which tended to change color. Some days they were almost green, other days they almost looked brown. Her hair seemed to have a tendency to go frizzy at the ends but kept a really nice shape of hairdo, or was it only a good perm? She had nice full lips. The two flaws of her face – a ball at the end of her nose and a round, somewhat heavy chin – only made her face more interesting. I loved her full figure. She had a tempting feminine bosom and hips and nice-looking legs.

From the first day she impressed me with her intelligence. Yvonne could carry on a conversation with herself by looking at different aspects of the same question. It was amusing at times to listen to her getting lost in her own argument. Contradictory statements seemed to be followed by reasoned-out arguments. Normally the first statement would turn out to be the right one, but occasionally the statement would be hidden by the reasoning.

I was impressed by her faith. As the years went by, I came to be strengthened in the Catholic faith through my relations with Yvonne. In those early days Yvonne was full of innocence; it could bring tears to my eyes.

Yvonne liked simple pleasures. We arranged to meet at the beach and walked for hours along the beach. I think we started at Glenelg and finished up at Largs Bay beach. At first she would let me talk but soon joined in. She seemed to be more relaxed on our second date.

She invited me to spend Christmas with her and her family. Just before Christmas, Yvonne’s grandmother took sick. I was asked not to come. Yvonne’s grandmother had died on Christmas morning. I missed her terribly over the holidays. It was obvious I liked her very much.

I saw Yvonne a number of times in January and visited the house where the three sisters (Marie, Eileen and Yvonne) lived. I told Yvonne I loved her. She was surprised.

Flinders Ranges

Kajtek and I decided that we were not earning enough money in the city and got a job mining in the Flinders Ranges. It took a whole day travelling on the motorcycle, with Kajtek doing most of driving.

Before I left, I bought a whole box of records as a gift for Yvonne’s birthday. I knew she had gotten a gramophone for Christmas. I was writing love letters almost every day. I missed her even more. I was not much use at work. First they lost a drilling sample which was supposed to indicate the presence of ore in the rock – I dropped it while carrying it. Then I broke the rock crusher through my daydreaming. Finally I almost tipped a bucket of rock down the chute on top of the manager’s head. A strong case of lovesickness.

The mine was not much, little more than a hole in the ground. It had been worked originally at the beginning of the century and abandoned. Reopened recently because of the high price of lead, it produced only a limited amount of the ore. The ore was transported 200 miles to the south to a smelter before it could be sold. The mine was only marginally profitable. We lived in tents; the only wooden structure housed the kitchen. There was only six of us working the mine.

The Flinders Ranges was a beautiful area – rolling hills with sparse vegetation and some animals including wild donkeys. These were originally used as draught animals when the mine operated some forty years ago but had been let loose when the mine was closed. There were sheep on the farms (the mine was situated inside a large farm area) and even a few cattle. There were some kangaroos and wallabies in the area. As anywhere in Australia, the area abounded in snakes and goannas and some exotic insects. Kajtek slept on poisonous red-back spiders for a couple of months before he found their nest. Still with all those living creatures around there were very few people. Beautiful views. From the top of the hill one could see far away some salt lakes shining in the sun.

At Easter the manager gave us a week off. We carried a letter which I was supposed to deliver to the main office in Adelaide. As soon as I got to Adelaide I forgot all about it. All I could think of was meeting Yvonne.

Yvonne did not think it was very seemly to meet me every day but I managed to see her at least three times. She seemed happy to see me, and I was in seventh heaven.

Before we left I remembered the letter and we managed to send it to the office. The outside envelope was somewhat worn out as it had ridden in my pocket during the 500-mile journey from the Flinders Ranges to Adelaide, so I placed it in a second envelope addressed to the main office of the mine.

The manager was surprised to see us back. It turned out that in the letter he was asking the office to pay us off and find a replacement. He accused us of reading the letter when the main office advised him how the envelope was badly worn out. We got into a rather sharp verbal exchange. We continued to work for another month, but I was sick of the job and wanted to go back to Adelaide anyway.

Fighting days

We went to live at the same place as before. We now worked together in a pipe-manufacturing concern. Kajtek worked on large pipes and I worked in the yard, stacking pipes, loading pipes on the trucks, etc.

As I was visiting Yvonne often, I brought Kajtek to the little house on Kneebone Street (or was it Williams Street then?). Kajtek was sad because Irene had got engaged to George in Canada, without actually breaking correspondence with him. To make himself feel better, he would talk nonsense about Irene.

I kept proposing to Yvonne and she finally accepted my proposal. Now I was looking for a steady job. I tried a foundry and the railways, but finally finished up working for a car manufacturer.

Now that we were planning to get married, my relationship with Yvonne began to be stormy. She did not like my apparent admiration, she was irritated with my satisfaction at just being with her or with my lack of imagination in selecting our outings, and above all she did not condone my critical view of the Catholic church. We would break up our relationship about every couple of months and then come back after a couple of months absence. Usually I would apologize for my “sins,” but once or twice she would apologize for hers.

Our on-off relationship would irritate Marie more than anybody else and Yvonne would conduct additional warfare at home. This kind of relationship went on for two years.

In the meantime Kajtek made up with Irene and left for Canada. I moved to live with Johnny Malko in a house which some Polish people bought. Both Johnny and I started attending school at night.

After two years of fighting with Yvonne, she decided that she had enough of this and we finally broke off for a longer period of time. It seemed to me now that I had a rather useless existence and so I decided to undertake serious studies. I quit my job at General Motors and started first year engineering at the School of Mines in Adelaide. I had to have a job while I was going to school, so I got a sort of apprenticeship with a branch of Chrysler (Steel Pressings). Johnny moved in with another friend of his and I moved closer to the city to cut down on travelling to and from school to work and home. In the meantime I asked Kajtek whether he could get me over to Canada. It seemed to me that it would not be easy to work as an engineer in Australia. The day came when I was told that the application for the emigration to Canada was approved.

My last days in Australia

I knew I would miss many things. The most beautiful beaches in the world. Adelaide beaches had anything that one could desire: shallow and warm like Largs Bay or deep with strong surf like Christie’s – natural beaches between Adelaide and Victor Harbour, some full of people and conveniences, others secluded with no interlopers. South of the city, a range of hills from which one could see the city or the coastline and the sea. Beautiful gardens and many wild and rugged scenes.

It was a place for many sports: tennis courts everywhere, Australian football, soccer, cricket. Dancehalls that I loved so well. Must have spent at least one night every week in one of them. Met many people who became my friends in some of them.

People! Easygoing with amusing customs and prejudices but always friendly and ready for a joke. Uncomplicated and freedom loving,

Many friends. Many of them were inviting me over and trying to persuade me to stay. I was terribly busy attending all those functions. All Shirley’s friends were giving me parties and making feel sad and nostalgic. Many friends I had been with for long years even in Germany. My fellow students, a really nice bunch of guys. Here for the first time I gathered the courage to go into higher studies and succeeded. I remember a question on the physics exam, which I was the only one in the class to answer correctly – it dealt with fluids, but it was concerned with a ball flying through the air.

I would miss my long trips through the wide- open countryside on a motorcycle. Hot air flowing fast past my face. A plateau stretching seemingly forever, sometimes little groups of trees, rabbits, wallabies. In the trees stood multitudes of parakeets and kookaburras. Winding roads in the hills – one stopped in the shade of the hill to get a mildly cooler rest. I had gotten used to the place…

I would miss Yvonne for sure. I saw her last at the baseball game with a fellow I did not even know. Almost made a fool of myself. If I saw her again I probably would make a fool of myself. She was one person I never said good-bye to before leaving. She was not speaking to me any more. I still sent her letters occasionally, still could not love any other girl.

British Columbia

Another big trip

Within two weeks of my journey to Canada and after all my papers were approved, my landlady told me that a policeman wanted to see me. She asked him to come after I came back from work and he said he will be there at seven o’clock. I was wondering what did I do to deserve a visit from the police.

True to his word a policeman appeared at seven o’clock. He asked me whether I knew a person by the name of Alina Zaremba. I was overjoyed to hear again about my sister. Of course I knew that she escaped from Poland, because my father told me about it, but he had no further news about her after she left Poland. I was surprised to hear the policeman claim that he could not give my sister my address without my permission. However he gave me her address because she apparently gave the police a permission to do so.

Since I was at the point of leaving Australia, I wrote to Alina giving her Kajtek’s address. The idea that I will hear from Alina again was a further inducement to leave immediately. Soon I was boarding the train for Melbourne.

I enjoyed the trip. I was watching out of the window at the Adelaide station hoping that Yvonne would come to say good-bye at the last moment, but this was not going to be. An overnight to Melbourne was very comfortable and pleasant. I spent a day in Melbourne sightseeing. The city seemed cold to me. Maybe because I did not know anybody, maybe by now a fear of the unknown took over.

The trip to Sydney by train was unusual. One had to change the trains at the New South Wales border – the width of tracks changed. Both trains were old and not very comfortable. Sydney was exciting – a lot to see. The city is built in an unusual way. Apparently the streets follow the route of the original paths of the camp started by old Capt Cook. The streets seem to meander and the roadway itself was unusually narrow for the big city of three million or so. But it had a lot of things to see: I went to the beach and to the zoo – on the other side of the bay – to some night spots, and visited the port of Sydney. Very impressive. I like the city, maybe because I also knew some people in Sydney, so I did not feel as alone as in Melbourne.

From Sydney we flew on Canadian Pacific propeller driven plane to New Zealand (Auckland) and arrived at Fiji at midnight. It was a warm mysterious tropical night. I was at peace and full of curiosity. Unfortunately one cannot see much in a couple of hours stopover. The flight was quiet and pleasant, the food fabulous, lots of space as the plane was only half full. The hostesses were very pretty and had time to talk and take care of the passengers well. I met a clothes buyer for a Canadian store, a very pleasant and interesting fellow. If it was not for the drunken group in the first class, composed of a number of visiting Hollywood actors (Ella Fitzgerald, Jerry Colonna and others), it would have been a very pleasant trip.

Next afternoon Hawaii and an overnight stop. I created a panic at the airport by filling out a questionnaire (eight pages long) in a satirical way. After agreeing that I did not belong to any of the listed subversive fascist or communist organizations, I finally got sick of it and answer the question: “Are you planning to assassinate any US political figure?” I answered, “I like Mr Eisenhower, but I am not sure about his vice president.” Upon which I was held for a three hour investigation and warned that I will not be allowed to stay on US soil, which of course I did not intend to do.

The investigating officer wanted to know why I have written that I do not like Nixon under the question about planned assassination of the political figure. I said, “Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer!” He warned me again that I will be thrown out of the country if I criticize the US official language. I maintained that somewhere in the US amendments they talk about freedom of speech and he advised me not to be cheeky. I said that there was nothing in the constitution about “cheekiness.” He declared finally that I can only stay in Hawaii for 24 hours. I suggested that he talks to the pilot about the length of stay and he let me go, reluctantly abandoning the questioning.

Although we stayed at the beautiful hotel at the Waikiki beach, I found in a painful way that the sand on the beach was imported from the mainland. While rolling in the surf, I hit the bottom and cut my toe on the volcanic rock.

I arrived to Vancouver at night and was met at the airport by Irene and George. They took me to the little apartment built out of the attic of the house owned by Irene’s parents. The apartment was not quite finished and I was helping Kajtek to smooth out and paint the walls. I was surprised, but grateful to learn that I was claimed to be a relative of Kajtek in order that I could pass through the Canadian immigration. I soon got a job with Pioneer Saws, a firm which manufactured chain saws. I did well on most machines until they put me on vertical mill, on which I messed up a set-up. I got a severe reprimand from the foreman.

Anyway I worked for a while in Pioneer and saved my money. My trip and incidental expenses brought down my savings to five hundred dollars, so I needed some funds before I started going to school again. I continued to go to night school to improve my English. After a year of work, I decided to go to university.

When I tried applying to UBC I found to my dismay how narrow-minded all those institutions are. I was told that they do not recognize Australian universities and that I will have to pass the entrance exams. I was determined not to lose a year and agreed to pass the necessary exams in two weeks. Fortunately after talking to various department heads, they let me go to the first year engineering (skip the entrance year) if I pass English and chemistry. I studied very hard for the make up exams. Fortunately these were made for the students who did not quite pass the course in the entrance year and were consequently relatively easy. I made first class (or A) in all the exams.

A week after the exams, I was attending university. I tried to keep working at night at Pioneer Saws, but found it too exhausting. Between classes and seminars and tutorials, I was spending 38 hours a week at the university. If I worked at night full time, I did not have enough time to sleep and study. Travelling time was also eating into my spare hours. I quit the full time job and decided I needed to move closer to university. I was worried about offending Irene and Kajtek. Fortunately Irene got pregnant and suggested herself that looking after me in addition to all other things was getting too much for her. I found a room close to university and a part time job at the bakery.

When midterm exam time arrived, I found that even that arrangement will not work. I quit working completely. When I was working, I bought an old car. During the early years at the university, I used to carry students who needed a ride. This arrangement not only paid my transportation costs but also provided an opportunity for a bit of social life. The students I carried would often invite me to their homes or to the parties held by their friends. Through these contacts I was able to get a roommate and supplement my diet by snacks in private homes.

I must say that my quarters were very economical. I liked my landlady, Mrs Bradshaw, and her husband who was an administrator of the student house at UBC. The Bradshaws had three sons who were great “sportsmen” – most of the year they would be out fighting their lacrosse, football or hockey battles, all limping home for supper and immediately leaving to play another game. The oldest boy was a camp counselor and seemed to work for a salary barely over the legal minimum wage. Another son worked for a broker and studied accountancy through correspondence courses. I was never quite sure what the third one was doing, besides playing all those games. Miss Bradshaw was mainly looking for a husband, but occasionally working as a secretary. I had to be careful as her room was next door to mine and we shared the bathroom. The continual meetings on the staircase ceased when she became engaged.

In general the living arrangements were very satisfactory except for the meals which were well tasting but short on substance. While I studied in the evening, I would often feel hungry. A lot of social life between the students would be conducted by meeting late at night for a snack.

When spring came the exams were in sight. One of the courses at the university was a surveying course. This course demanded field work at the end of the school year. As we moved around the campus in the spring sunshine, the desire to play hooky became almost unbearable. We had a girl student in engineering, who was as ugly as sin, but even she became popular during our field work. If we did not have a daily milestone to meet, nothing would have got done.

The Rockies

My summer job was with the surveyor in the Canadian Rockies. I was exhausted taking final course – drafting: this was a two weeks course with drawings to be turned in at the end of each day. The rate at which we worked would have been fast for an experience draftsman, while we had absolutely no idea what we were doing. Thus one could find some students still working at it early in the morning, while the others were beginning to arrive to start the next day’s work.

I slept through the last weekend until early Tuesday morning. Luckily I had nothing to pack, as I was as poor as a church mouse.

At that time Trans-Canada highway BC portion was still under discussion, although the provincial government already decided to ask the federal government to route it through so-called northern route. Most of the analysts claimed that the provincial government reserved an easier southern route for its own highway through the province. The southern route (or Highway No 3 as it was called) was a fairly good highway – at the time – except for the portion near Trail, BC.

I started very early in the morning and by 9 o’clock I was through Okanagan, which is a beautiful fruit growing valley. Past Okanagan the highway climbed through the hills shielding the valley from the east and then dropped into another valley which through its dry, arid character reminded me somewhat of the internal part of South Australia. After driving for an hour or so through this desolate countryside, I had to stop by the side of the road and sleep for a while. As I resumed my journey I was soon climbing the steep mountains before Trail. The road was so narrow in places that two cars would not fit side by side. Often when one met an oncoming car, one had to back for up to a quarter of a mile to a place where the road was wider. It was only thirty miles of this winding road through the mountains but it took me over three hours to traverse it. Today the trans-provincial highway bypasses this stretch by the road carved out around Christie Lake.

It was mid-afternoon when I passed Trail and I had to hurry if I was going to get to Kimberley before nighttime. Luckily, although the road again climbs into the Rockies it is a good highway through the Kootenays, with most of the countryside owned at the time by either Cominco, Canadian Pacific (CP) or companies owned by one of those companies. Of course CP also owned Cominco at the time. It was not a case of company town but the whole countryside was owned by one mammoth concern. I got to Kimberley by ten in the evening and booked into hotel.

I was supposed to report for work that day. Although it was late, I decided to phone my boss Mr Shayler. He was glad to hear from me and told me he will pick me up on the way to work in the morning. It turned out that had I not called him, I would have missed him, as his crew was going into the mountains to survey a mining claim. As it was, he let them go ahead in order to go with me to a store to buy me appropriate clothes and some gear he could use. When we got to the place where we were going to stay, the others were gone to find the location of the mining claim. It was too late to join them, so we looked over the campsite – a group of shacks – and laid blankets and such on different bunk beds. We played a game of table tennis in which I impressed my boss by beating him relentlessly through some ten games – my previous training in the labor company came in handy – and then we cooked dinner in anticipation of return of the crew. After dinner I had to sharpen my new ax with some help of more experienced and somewhat condescending other crewmen.

As the days went by, with the schedule involving climbing up a mountain, clearing the paths required for line of sight (we were doing surveying), climbing down the mountain, late meal, table tennis, sleep, I seemed to be lousy at all of the jobs except table tennis. It seemed however that this ability somehow allowed me to gain adequate respect to survive my introductory period. After a while I was able to clear the path even if I did work only at half the speed of the other members of the party.

When we finished surveying the mining claims, we surveyed new lots or land parcels. After some time, Mr Shayler left me in charge of another man surveying Doukhobor lands. Luckily the place where we surveyed was not a part of Sons of Freedom lands; still, we encountered some bitterness. We were trying to establish the division of lands owned originally by the Doukhobor community but for which the loan was in default because of some shady dealings by the community leaders. The simple people saw it as a conspiracy against them, especially as often they were part of third or fourth generation that “owned” the land.

One day as we came close to a house on the land being surveyed we were invited for lunch by an old lady. She spoke in an old Russian which I could barely understand. As she served us buttermilk with dark bread and watermelon, she sat down at the end of the old kitchen table and began to tell us about the old times.

I asked her about the land surveying markers, which we could not find – the surveyor thought that Doukhobors pulled them out on purpose, since they knew that the land was being surveyed for possible sale by auction. The old lady claimed that the markers were gathered as firewood during the long winters. Most of the land was cleared for cultivation, so any trees standing or pegs in the ground provided a rare opportunity to get firewood. She claimed that they paid for the land, and anyway after so many years of cultivating the land they should not be threatened with the loss. I tried to disassociate myself from the due process of law, but she would not be deceived and lumped me with all the rich who were threatening her livelihood. And so I thanked her for the food and left – this is how I found out how it felt to be a hated imperialist.

It took longer than I thought to survey those lands, especially as I found my first survey to be inaccurate and had to repeat it. Whereupon I found some of my original stakes missing. We were bored with the whole process. Our landlady showed us one of the local amusements. All telephone subscribers in the area were using party lines. Whenever a call was made to you, the local custom demanded that you wait until all the interested parties got on the line, whereas when the call was not for you, you picked up the receiver quickly so that the real party was not interrupted by the click while you were spying on their call. This served as the local source of news about the close neighbors.

Of course we could and did drive fifty miles to Nelson for movies or to watch curling matches. The main attraction of the curling match was the booze that was drunk by the spectators. We were hampered by the need to drive back to our “home” town. To spice the visit to the movie, one could pick up the local girls in the cafe-cum-games-room. We did it once. The two girls must have been all of seventeen. During the journey back, one of them continue to make allusions to her sex life, boys prowess and such – I was getting sick of her showing off. So I said, “Should we take you home for the whole night, or do you want a quickie in the car with both of us?”

There was a deathly silence. After about five minutes the “sexy” seventeen-year old said in a very small voice, “I don’t feel too good. Can you take me home?”

I presume we were not used as a subject for “the boys and sex” stories, but then one never knows.

When we got back to Kimberley, I had the first of my kidney stones attacks – this is very painful. I was taken to hospital and fed enormous amount of liquids to push the stone out, which of course increases both the pressure and the pain. Finally I passed the stone with a lot of help not only from the liquid but also from morphia injections which would dull the pain somewhat. I asked the old doctor whether this attack would repeat itself.

“Of course,” he said, “probably many times!” He cheered me up.

My summer job ended with a stint at Golden, where I got the exposure to “no-see-ums” and horse flies and mosquitos of such magnitude, that it was difficult to see the target through the instruments as the clouds of insects obliterated the view. The herds of cows were semi protected by the smoke from especially prepared smouldering fires, while we were not so lucky. By the time I left for school I was not sure that I enjoyed this surveying bit.

The education

I was doing relatively well at school but had to work hard at it. Most of the day was spent at lectures, labs and symposia. At night I was studying. It was interesting that those subject I was most afraid of, I usually made the highest grades in, while those I enjoyed, the lowest. I believe this was so because I worked hardest in the frightening subjects.

My social life was limited. Occasionally I would go to visit Kajtek and Irene or attended mass or some social at the Polish church. At one of those socials a girl asked me whether I met any bushmen while I was in Australia. I was not familiar with this term and said, “Of course! I am one. I worked in the bush.”

She looked at me with surprise and laughed. I realized she must have been asking about aborigines.

Sometimes I went dancing to the house kept by the Catholic nuns for the newcomers and met different people who recently migrated to Canada. Sometimes stayed at the university and attended various club functions. Generally the driving force to go out was a bit of hunger as much as loneliness. Most of the time I studied.

My roommate was a young boy from a farm on Vancouver Island. He was very lonesome. I went out with him a couple of time but did not enjoy his “cherchez la femme” pursuits. So he roamed alone. One day he came home elated. He found a girl of his dreams. From this day he was disappearing more and more often. The girl seemed to prefer daytime appointments. At night he would bore with description of his happiness and telling me how she always knew what he wanted and needed, but never allow him to have sex at night, only in the daytime. What was irritating him, was that she did not want to see him at weekends. One Sunday he decided to visit her and caught her “in flagrante” with a customer. He was brokenhearted – he already bought a ring and was going to ask her to marry him. I guess the end of the affair saved him from failing his year, but not from failing one subject, which he had to make up the following year.

At the exam time I got another attack of kidney stones. I was admitted into University hospital three days before my exams. The engineering department would not allow me to write make-up exams, but they did permit me to write the exam in the hospital. In order to be able to write the exams, I had to be heavily doped with morphine to dull the pain. This, however, was not very helpful to my thinking process. I was surprised to find out that I passed – not as well as I did in other years but adequately to continue my studies.

My third year was devoted to electrical engineering. I have now identified with many younger colleagues – I was now 29, and moved in the circle of more mature students. The third year was more pleasant, seemed to be easier. My new roommate was now a man who studied arts and liked to play tennis. His game was just about on my level, so we played often at the university or on city courts.

My marriage

Throughout my university days, I still thought about Yvonne very often. When January came, I would think about her birthday. So every year I would send flowers for her birthday. In fact occasionally I would send a letter telling her about my life or just some polite gossip.

Mr and Mrs Bradshaw, the couple I lived with, had a house in the western part of lower Vancouver – not far from the university. On Sunday I attended mass at St Augustine church. One day the pastor of St Augustine asked me to come and talk to him. He inquired whether I am a practicing catholic, whether I thought about getting married, how do I relate to the sacraments, and so on. After these preliminaries he told me what this was all about. Apparently the pastor of Yvonne’s church asked him to establish whether I was a suitable person to seriously correspond with her. I left it up to him to decide, but he would not leave off the hook. He wanted to know whether I would seriously consider marrying Yvonne in the catholic faith marriage. I said I would definitely consider it, but there was no question of her agreeing to it – so that’s where the matters rested.

Imagine my surprise, when a couple of months later, a letter arrived suggesting that Yvonne would like to come to Canada and reopen our relationship. She asked if I still felt strongly about her. For about a week I was undergoing a major revision of my feelings – a deep soul searching exercise. Then I wrote that I thought I still loved her and would be very happy to marry her after I graduated. She replied that she was coming by ship.

Dave’s personal connection

Jacky and I knew Joe Jezioranski when we lived in Ottawa. He was a manager at Bell-Northern Research, my boss’ boss, and after a time, a friend. Many years later, in 1990, I got a copy of his autobiography through the amazingly-small-world route (for those who know, his name was Harley). Joe was dying of heart disease at the time I got back in touch with him; I have always counted myself fortunate to be able to exchange two or three letters with him after reading his story.

I have received emails from members of the Jezioranski family, who expressed appreciation for the publication of this material.

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