For two nights we had been lying in wait for a truck with a large shipment of butter. The ambush was set near the three bridges across the Liwiec river, but for some reason the expected transport had not materialized..
Slightly disgusted, not so much because of the wasted effort as by the problem of storing arms and equipment after each similar expedition, I made my appearance down town. George Tchorzewski,32 one of our spotters noticed me and reported that the long expected truck had just arrived from the direction of the neighboring town of Sokolow, and was taking on an additional load of butter at the local warehouse at the corner of Church street.
Any notion of hijacking a truck in broad daylight from a street corner next to German police barracks, would be unthinkable. Our night assault only a few months earlier had had tragic consequences. Nevertheless there was still a chance if...I sent George to bring me a revolver from a nearby pocket cache. A few of our people who just happened to be near somehow got wind of possible action and joined me. I had them ready a motorcycle belonging to a local agricultural instructor which was sometimes used in emergencies. I explained that if I managed to hijack the truck I would direct it to an abandoned landing strip not far from the village of Ludwinow. Two men on a motorcycle were to get there ahead of me and organize transport. Luckily one of them was Janek Basik who lived in the area.
All that took only minutes. The loading of the truck was about to end. Would they take off and drive straight towards Warsaw's highway, or would they stop for some provisions at the local restaurant? If they stopped I would be there.
Slowly the large truck started rolling and, as I hoped, stopped at the northern side of the market square in front of the only restaurant there...In a few minutes when the two men and a woman returned to the truck I was ready for them. The moment the driver started the engine I stepped on the running board and opened the driver's door just enough to show him the long barrel of my colt 45. The big revolver seemed to carry an authority of its own. The crew of the truck were a little shaken but when assured that they would not be harmed as long as they cooperated they visibly relaxed and followed my instructions. Nobody seemed to notice the hijacking, nor the fact that the truck turned north instead of south; there was no chase. About two kilometers out of town the boys on the motorcycle passed us, their license plate covered with a rug. I had a bad moment when, a while later, a police truck full of gendarmes returning from some punitive mission passed us in the opposite direction. They must have been successful in their endeavors because they did not even look our way although the presence of that type of truck on that particular road was rather suspicious.
Without any further trouble we reached
the runway of the unused landing strip and shortly horse drawn wagons provided
by nearby farmers arrived. The boxes with butter were quickly transferred,
hidden under straw and sent on their way by different roads to the Rucheñski
Forest where they would be stored. I asked the driver of the truck if he
had a good hiding place and when he said that he had I gave him a 25kg
box of butter for their scare and released them with instructions to report
the hijacking to the local police. We netted over a metric ton of the expensive
stuff. The task was completed and the remaining men melted into the surroundings.
The landing strip was abandoned again.
It was a large estate called Jartypory, once private property, now in German hands. Cutting the telephone lines we forced our entrance to the local creamery, and requisitioned about three dozen air-tight milk-cans. They were needed to store the previously procured load of butter.
That was the main purpose of our action. But once there we could not miss an opportunity to damage the enemy war effort a little. There was a distillery on the grounds producing industrial alcohol from potatoes which was the main local crop. Again an assistant administrator was forced to open the plant - the German "Treuhander" * locked himself in his residence. There were three storage tanks full - sixteen hundred liters of almost pure alcohol. We opened the taps and spilled it on the ground; the smell was overpowering.
Having dispatched the wagons with milk-cans on their way to the storage area I ordered for myself a light one horse wagonette which I promised to send back. It took me close to an hour to return, passing through the Stolyn forest. Close to Town I jumped out, turned the wagonette around and let the horse find its way back to the stable. I was sure that nobody would try to stop it. There was a large farm nearby, where I could slip into the barn and sleep the rest of the night in the hay. The owner of that farm would always check in the morning if there was somebody extra for breakfast.
The raid on the truck loaded with butter or the spilling of thousands of liters of alcohol were not just isolated cases. While we were not permitted to engage in open warfare the orders were to sabotage the enemy war effort in any way possible with a minimum risk to the civilian population.
Every Polish farmer was obliged under a penalty of imprisonment or worse to deliver a heavy quota of his produce to the district store regardless of his real ability to do so. Occasionally the Germans would make a punitive expedition where some resistance was shown, shooting some people and burning a few houses or an entire village. At the very beginning of their occupation the local German authorities ordered each municipality and township to prepare an exact register of farmers showing their acreage and livestock inventory. The quotas to be supplied to the German economy were set according to those registers; there was nothing haphazard with German administration. But when in a time span of a few weeks these scrupulously prepared registers were burned on "bonfires" in front of all the township halls in the district with every other official document that could give some "comfort to the enemy", they started running a little in circles. The burnings had been done with all the necessary hoopla indicating that the deed was performed by "die Banditen" ** and not by local people, so the punitive burning of the villages would not have made much sense or furthered anyone’s economy. There was also an additional effort, a partly private enterprise with the blessing of the Underground. If the farmer was short of grain to fulfill his assigned quota or wanted to sell some on the black market, he could "buy" the receipts for the missing portion for a decent price from the, often starving, workers of the Farmers Cooperative store which was entrusted by the Germans to collect the extortion. Before delivery to the railroad station all the grain was stored on the floor of the town recreation center. It was not difficult for a special crew to replace the amount of "sold" receipts with an equal amount of good Polish sand from the nearby pit. That way everybody was more or less happy: the farmers, because they did not have to supply their full quota; the cooperative workers, because they could buy food for their families while still being "cooperative"; and the, already hungry, Germans in their "Vaterland"*** because they received the grain. And what's a little sand between enemies.
While visiting one of our people in the Farmers Cooperative on a matter having little to do with the grain supplies, I happened to choose a time when the German governor of the district of Warsaw, L. Fischer, arrived for an unexpected inspection visit. I barely had time to join the queue of farmers waiting to obtain receipts when Fisher and his six black-uniformed SS body guards burst into the store office and pointed their submachine guns on all of us. Luckily the visit was a short one, a quick look around, and nobody spotted the slight bulge in front of my jacket which hid my pistol. 33
The "fine sand" factor in the German war economy was not limited to mixing it with grain. Far from it. Added to the grease boxes over the axles of railroad freight cars it would cause, by its abrasive action, great damage to the running stock. It was indeed a heart warming sight: a moving train at night illuminated by burning grease covering the overheated wheels.
By cheating on quotas for production of
flour for private use, providing the counterfeit ear tags to farmers for
their unregistered hogs, removing vital parts from threshing machines on
large German-run estates, and intercepting deliveries, every enemy regulation
was, in one form or another, subject to sabotage. What could not be done
by counterfeit and forgery was done by force. We had raided the German
administration stores for thousands of liters of gasoline, a large shipment
of wool, even sixty pairs of army boots which were assembled in one spot
after having been ordered re-soled by local shoemakers. Almost everything
that could hurt the enemy was fair game.
AND OTHER ACTIONS
There were also other actions which had to be taken for the protection of civilians against the depraved behavior unofficially encouraged by the German occupiers. Alcoholism was becoming a real problem among the rural population, helped to a large extent by the fact that a substantial part of the remuneration for delivered quotas was paid to farmers in liters of vodka. Also there was quite an extensive domestic industry producing so called "bimber", a domestic brand of rye whiskey. We did not interfere as long as it was done for private use. But when it became a commercial enterprise, not only consuming large quantities of badly needed grain, but also using harmful chemicals to artificially increase the "bite" of the drink, something had to be done. First verbal warnings were issued and in cases where these would not suffice more drastic action would follow. The culprits would be assembled on the village common with their stills emptied of mash. Each one with his own ax then had to smash his equipment to bits. They would then each receive ten to twenty lashes to remind them that the warnings of the Underground should not be taken lightly.
There was also another area where drastic
action had to be taken: the sudden appearance of armed bandits in the country
side. Some criminal elements, often pretending to be connected with the
Underground, started robbing isolated farms, confident that there would
be no interference on the part of Germans who, while unconcerned for the
welfare of the Polish population would be happy if its confidence in the
Underground could be undermined. Our response was quick and decisive. All
the countryside was extensively patrolled at nights by small but well armed
groups, and everyone intercepted who was found armed and not knowing the
recent password was shot on the spot. There were not many such cases, but
after a few weeks of coordinated patrolling there were no more raids by
It was a dark stormy night. We were on our way to the assembly area, where all the separate detachments were to gather for action. Our target was the extermination Camp Treblinka located in the north-east corner of our District. Some forces from the neighboring District of Sokolow were also to join us.
It was a dreary march over muddy dirt roads in almost total darkness, hour after long hour, not knowing who was ahead of us, who behind. A local guide lead us through the darkness. Then, from the head of the column came a whispered order to stop... We had to wait for something.. An hour might have passed, waiting, everyone soaking wet, trying only to keep our weapons reasonably dry. And then again, without explanation, the order to return. The action had been suspended.....
Treblinka... before the War there was a gravel pit there. It was a brain-child of the Hauptsturmfuhrer 34 Ernest Gramss, an almost absolute master of life and death to early 190.000 people in the joint Sokolow/Wegrow administrative district. Exceptionally lucky in surviving numerous attempts on his life by the Underground, he first created a forced labor camp called Treblinka 1, to which he personally directed thousands of people suspected of resistance against the German economic exploitation. In more serious cases of economic sabotage or to terrorize the Underground he would practice the rule of "collective responsibility" in ordering "pacification" raids that included mass executions and burning of villages.
The initiative of Gramss was further developed by H. Himmler 35 & Co., and the second camp was soon created this time for the sole purpose of extermination as the "Final solution of the Jewish problem". On 23 July 1942 a first train consisting of 56 wagons loaded with Jews from Warsaw arrived at Treblinka. They were "processed" the same day.
There were a few more abortive attempts,
mostly due to the insurmountable problem of, not so much freeing the Jewish
prisoners as, somehow escorting a few thousand desperate people, including
the aged, the sick and small children, to the relative safety of great
forests on the other side of the Bug river. In reality the only prisoners
who could be considered for escape were about two thousand men who were
chosen by the Germans for work in the camp. Such a work crew had a life
span in Treblinka of about three months before they were executed and replaced.
All other prisoners were gassed on their arrival.
Finally the raid took place on August 2, 1943. It had been in the planning and preparation stages by the AK Territorial Command, since the spring of that year. Some specialized units were to take part in it. However when events forced immediate action, the commander of the local partisan unit Lt. W. Razmowski (Poraj), with a force of about fifty people, had to act alone. 36 One of the key requirements was a synchronization of action between inside conspirators and the outside partisan detachments. Despite tremendous difficulties about a dozen hand guns and machine pistols were smuggled to a group of Jewish conspirators in the administrative part of the concentration camp. However before they had a chance to act, the Germans discovered the plot and executed most of the conspirators. Their leader, Dr.Borys Chorazycki, committed suicide. The new conspiracy, under the leadership of Eng. Galewski consisted exclusively of men with a military service record. They managed to make a false key to the armory and planned on killing the inside guards, while the partisans would take care of the machine gun towers and two lines of barbed wire fences. The enemy force consisted of about 70 Germans and 185 Ukrainians but there was a chance that on a summer day a large part of their number would be enjoying a swim in the river a few kilometers away.
On the appointed day the partisans took their positions. The attack group of 19 men under Kulesza (H. Malkinski) placed itself on the wooded hill between both parts of the camp with the task of tying the enemy with fire, cutting the barbed wire fences and delaying the pursuit of the released prisoners. Another group under Orwid was to guide the fugitives north-west to the Bug river crossing and the great Biala forest, and the third unit under Wichura was to take some of them east to the forests of Ciechanow. The outbreak was originally scheduled for the noon hour, but organizers inside had to change it to 17.00 hrs. and had no chance of notifying the outside partisan forces. To complicate matters further once the conspirators opened the armory and distributed the guns the tension became unbearable and the shooting started at 16.00 hrs.
Kulesza, despite the mix-up with the starting
time held his position. Hearing shots and hand-grenade explosions inside
the camp he opened fire on the guard towers, managed to cut the wire fences
and kept the enemy pinned down. The waves of escaping prisoners, completely
unmanageable, spilled outside and rushed towards the river crossing. The
planned destruction of the proper death camp and gas chambers was not achieved
and the Jews working there could not be freed. By nightfall the fleeing
crowds were about to be overtaken by pursuing motorized German units near
the village of Glina. One of the detachments that had failed to join the
Treblinka raid in time, happened to be near that village. Recognizing the
situation Lt. Sliwa, with only about ten effective soldiers managed to
hold the Germans long enough to give a large number of desperate fugitives
a chance to cross the river. However soon there were enemy forces also
on the right bank, and with the units pursuing the retreating Kulesza,
the large German forces were closing from all sides. Many Jews were caught
and shot or returned to Treblinka. A few hundred however, helped by the
local peasants survived the ordeal. The partisans managed to escape from
the trap but lost some wounded men on the way.
32 His father was one of the first people from our Town to be murdered in Auschwitz. George became a well known European religious art painter..
33 For the last two years of the German occupation I was under orders to carry a hand gun and if feasible a hand grenade at all times. At that time I was working in the Underground full time and knew so many people, places etc. including at times being the only contact between the district Commander and the rest of his staff. There was always the possibility that when captured and tortured I may divulge the secrets to the Gestapo. Our experience showed that an armed man either shoots his way out or gets shot but never gets captured.
34 Rank of a captain in SS. Here a high ranking administration official.
35 German chief of all SS and police forces; next to Hitler the most powerful man in Germany; chief architect of concentration camps and mass extermination .
36 Poraj was approached
by a representative of the Communist Party of Poland to help in executing
the escape of some of the participants of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising who
were still alive in Treblinka.