ON A QUIET STREET
It happened in the early days of the occupation
when we were making our first organizational contacts. I had arranged
to visit a fellow named Makarewicz, an early organizer in the Underground
group to which I belonged at that time. I was about to turn into
the gate in the picket fence surrounding the house where he lived,
when I recognized an older man approaching from the opposite
direction as our High School janitor, known to all students as Mr. Wladyslaw.
Though strict and demanding as far as order in School was concerned,
he was a very friendly person and well liked by students and
faculty. I had lost sight of him since the Spring of 1939, nearly a year
ago, and was really glad to see him again. We stopped on the edge
of this quiet cobbled street for a chat like a couple of long lost friends.
There were the usual questions: "How have you been? How are you managing?"
I wanted to ask what he was doing there. - his house was way out
of Town - but one did not ask too many questions those days. The exchange
lasted a few short minutes and we were about to part when suddenly a car
appeared from around the bend of the street, slowed down as if looking
for the address and came to a stop right in front of my friend's house,
barely a few feet from where we were chatting. There were German police
plates on the car. Two uniformed Gestapo men and one civilian stepped out
of the car and went inside. Without a word we parted. A few minutes later,
from down the street I saw them leaving with my arrested co-conspirator.
I never saw him again nor did I see Mr. Wladyslaw who died a few years
SAME STREET-TWO YEARS LATER
There was a man walking in my direction on the otherwise empty and quiet side street. At first he appeared to be a drunk - not an uncommon sight there - because he stumbled on almost every cobblestone of that ancient street. Yet there was something peculiar about him, the rags he was wearing.... I grabbed him as he was about to fall, and the stench from his rotting clothes hit my nostrils. No, the man was not drunk, his face was flushed with high fever; he was mumbling something incoherent, but his eyes were not focusing. "Must be typhus" I thought and looked closer. Yes, I knew him well but could barely recognize him now. Adam Tokarski has been sentenced about six months previously to six weeks of forced labor camp in Treblinka for accidentally falling into an open cellar in which crates with eggs were stored. It had happened in a rural cooperative where he worked. Of course a German manager recognized it as a clear act of economic sabotage. And here he was... released because of typhus and kicked out to die. I managed to carry him over to the home of his aunt - he was not very heavy then - where with good medical care, he recovered, although he could not remember how he had managed to travel nearly fifty kilometers in such a weakened condition.
IN THE SACRISTY
It was quiet that morning in the sacristy
of our ancient parish church. Fr. Czarkowski was getting ready for his
morning mass. A crippled boy serving as an acolyte, and a middle
aged woman arranging the church vestments 37 were the
only others in the huge sacristy. Suddenly the outer door opened just enough
to let somebody enter. It was a German soldier; dressed in feldgrau,38
with the regulation bayonet and ammunition pouch at his belt. He stood
there for a moment orienting himself in the half-light of the sacristy
and recognizing the priest spoke to him in German. Fr. Czarkowski was not
a timid man, but in those days, as a general rule, anybody wearing
German uniform and entering your premises was bad news, even if he
had not opened the door with his rifle butt and spoke in a subdued voice
like a normal human being. The trouble was that Fr. Czarkowski
did not know German and the soldier obviously could not speak Polish.
Surprisingly the German soldier did not start shouting in frustration,
but patiently tried to explain while first pointing to the priest and then
to himself, but that did not work either. Then he reached into
the pocket of his uniform and pulled out a miniature Latin
breviary 39 and pressed it in Fr. Czarkowski's hand pointing
again to himself. Now the Pole finally understood and they had a common
language. The brief Latin exchange clarified the situation: the soldier
was also a priest forced into the army and all he wanted was to be
permitted to celebrate mass at the side altar if possible. He had
not had a chance to do so for a long time, and did not want to advertise
his presence in the "enemy's" church. Of course Fr. Czarkowski had no objection:
indeed it was the only time when he embraced somebody wearing German uniform.
38 Literally: field gray; popular description of the German infantry uniform including Waffen SS units which wore different insignia on their uniforms.
39 A prayer book for priests.
At that time the Catholic Church used Latin in her liturgy.