IN THE UNDERGROUND MILITARY COLLEGE
Ours was an Army, not just a motley group of guerrilla bands. An army needs officers. We in Poland had only a few officers left after the 1939 campaign. Some perished fighting, many were in German POW camps, about five thousand were executed by Russians with a single shot in the back of the head in the infamous Katyn Forest, and a handful managed to escape to the West to fight again. In order to make up for the shortages of junior commanders each region was authorized to organize a local officers' training program.
Our group of six did not in the least resemble a class in military college. There were no uniforms, no shining boots, no parade ground drills. Some of our instructors, following a peace time program, tried to impress on us the intricacies of garrison duty although without much success. None of us intended to become career officers and most of us were already in positions of field command. Much more interesting were advanced lessons in map reading and topography conducted by Prof. A. Chmielewski a reserve officer, in civilian life a high school principal and also history and literature teacher in our underground High School which I was simultaneously attending. A retired career officer Capt. Szczygielski was doing his very best to instruct us in the knowledge of weaponry, demonstrating the handling of a regulation issue 9mm pistol and having some problems with it in the birch thicket where we had our class. On one occasion, returning with a friend from the class we spotted a group of German gendarmes carefully making their way through the copse of young pines, in the direction from which we had come. Of course we did not bother to enlighten them that they were too late.
The basic source of knowledge of our officer training was a small booklet entitled: "The Handbook Of The Platoon Commander". Beside the fact that it was strictly "verboten" it was not to be found anywhere. In my quest to procure at least a minimum number of copies I had an interesting and heart warming encounter.
During one of my travels to Warsaw for arms and press supplies I stopped at a factory outlet of the book-publishing firm Gebethner and Wolf. Almost everything printed in Poland was published by them, including the little handbook I was seeking. Now, like most Polish cultural and industrial establishments they were operating under German management. It did not make much sense inquiring in there, and it could be dangerous. But then, many things those days did not make much "common" sense and most of them were dangerous anyway.
Inside, I approached one of the younger salesmen. "What can I do for you?" he asked. "I need The Handbook Of The Platoon Commander", was my reply... A brief penetrating stare.... "How many?"... "Fifty" I answered without much hope; I would have been happy with two. He did not look surprised; obviously I was not his first customer for the officers' training handbook. "Be here in two hours, I will have them ready" - he said. When I returned two hours later my order, neatly wrapped in gray paper, was ready as promised. I paid and shook hands with the salesman. I had my books and something more: the warm feeling of having trusted a stranger with life and having my trust reciprocated.
There were many ways to fight for freedom. The owners and personnel of the publishing company had decided to take the risk of prison and death in order to print clandestine military training material just as they published most of the school books of my generation. That was much more than professional integrity.
But let us return to our officer's school. After a few months of intensive training the time for the final exam was fast approaching. There were six of us in my class: four older ones who had postponed military service in order to complete university studies which were then interrupted by war, and two, including myself, who were just becoming eligible now. The exam was supervised by the Territorial Inspector, Col. "Nieczuja" (B. Patlewicz), and it took place in my family home which was located just outside of the town proper in the large garden. Participants arrived by ones and twos, to avoid attracting attention. There were supposed to be proper security arrangements but because of some mix-up my mother had to do the job of observer. With an indifferent expression on her face she was walking the garden and observing the German patrols looking for hidden Jews.
Behind our house in the woodshed, screened by the pile of chopped firewood was a young Jewish couple, a shoemaker who in better days had repaired our shoes and his pregnant wife. They had both managed to escape the general rout of the Jewish population in town a few weeks previously, and had sought temporary refuge with us. Under the wooden stairs in front of the house were four "berthier" rifles, just in case. It was too bad that someone had forgotten to provide ammunition for them.
Luckily everything ended without any incident, at least for the moment. Every one passed the examination, and they, as well as the instructors, dispersed unnoticed. The useless rifles were properly stored. The young Jewish couple also left late that night to avoid the intensified German hunt. To this day I can not forget them. For some time to come they would return to our woodshed and spend a few days. There was something heart wrenching about them. Somehow I felt as if I had known them before or that they reminded me of somebody. Only... years later I understood whom: the Two who, many centuries ago also wandered in extreme poverty, "and She was with child, and there was no room for them in the inn".
At home only my mother remained. She house
cleaned, prepared food for the fugitives, removed all traces... Often I
think that all the memorials and medals should be given to honor mothers.