"LIBERATED" SOVIET STYLE
It was again a sunny August day, similar to the one, oh how long ago, in nineteen thirty-nine, when my story began. Five years, pregnant with history with many graves left behind to mark their passing. It was the end of Act One.
Our Battalion had been disbanded so on my way home I left my horse, saddle, and map-holder with friends on an isolated farm. Then I stuck my Smith & Wesson 55 behind the belt of my pants, under the wind-breaker just as I had done for the last few years, and thus converted back to civilian life traveled the last few kilometers on foot. Just past the saw-mill on the outskirts of town there was the wife of my friend Lasota with their little daughter. She must have heard that we might be returning and had come out to meet him.... The scene was as old as the history of human conflict, only the weapons of war kept on changing. The pain of a young woman and a small girl told that their husband and father would never return... was always the same regardless of whether he was a Spartan warrior fallen at Thermopylae or a guerrilla fighter shot in Miednik forest. 56
For the last few weeks Warsaw had been on fire. The Uprising, started in anticipation of the approach of the Eastern Front, had long been urged by the Soviet government radio in the name of fighting the common enemy. After initial successes it began to falter when the Germans, at first surprised and retreating, returned in force with panzer, aircraft, heavy artillery and orders to crush the resistance and annihilate the City and its people.
For us the fact of the Uprising in Warsaw was at first overshadowed by dramatic events happening immediately around us. Just a few days previously when the Germans started putting Wegrow to the torch while we were still fighting north of there, our sister "Wolski" Battalion attacked and chased them out hours before the surprised Russians arrived. 57 But now the reality of the desperate struggle taking place in Warsaw which for the last five years had been the heart of our resistance stirred new emotions. From the grassroots a movement began to join the fight, to go and help them. A sizable group of seasoned fighters volunteered. There would be some problem to arm ourselves, and of course a front line or two to cross 58 but, in our enthusiasm or maybe desperation, we did not consider these insurmountable obstacles. Meanwhile our chain of command was in disarray: no contacts, no directives, no decisions. In the next few days however the situation became painfully clear. The orders of our High Command in Warsaw, transmitted via the BBC in London, forbade sending troops to Warsaw under any circumstances. They had people willing to fight; they needed arms and ammunition.
The front reached the right bank of the Vistula and stopped there across the river from the battling City. Once again our two totalitarian neighbors, this time locked in a deadly struggle, collaborated to the detriment of Poles. The Russians quickly calculated that if they let the Germans decimate the Polish resistance fighters in Warsaw they themselves would avoid the political embarrassment of having to disarm an Army that had liberated one of the major European Capitals. For that political advantage they even sacrificed the opportunity to establish a large bridgehead on the left bank of the Vistula which they could have done early in August by joining the Warsaw fighters. On their part the Germans, who were already in retreat, seeing that the Russians were in no hurry to pursue them and help Warsaw, went on an unprecedented spree of destruction and murder.
The Uprising was doomed. The supply of ammunition was sufficient for only the few days required had the Soviets made their move. The desperate pleas for help directed to our Western Allies brought some, almost suicidal, attempts by allied air crews to parachute arms into the burning City 59 but it was so expensive in human lives compared to the very marginal results that the effort was abandoned. The Russians refused to give Allied planes permission to refuel on their territory thus exposing their lie that the front stopped only to shorten the overextended lines of military supplies.
The doomed City was burning. At night we
helplessly watched the deadly glow only fifty kilometers away. There was
only funeral music from London, but radio Moscow was now full of condemnation
for Polish "reactionary flunkeys" and their leadership in London who had
"recklessly" started the Uprising without consulting the Soviet Union...
In two months of fighting nearly a quarter of a million people died in
Warsaw. On average each rifle or pistol was, by the end of the Uprising,
in the hands of its seventh consecutive fighter, the other six having
died on barricades. Someone in England composed a beautiful piece of music
and called it: "The Warsaw Concerto".
We were gathering the bodies of the fallen comrades for proper burial. I managed to borrow a peasant's horse-cart, harnessed my gray to it, loaded on the empty coffin, and with Lasota's widow and two companions we rode to the Miednik forest to find the unmarked grave. It was not easy because, as was customary under the circumstances, all traces were erased except for a small mark on the tree nearby. It took quite a long time for the one among us who had taken part in the burial, a hasty action under the fusillade of approaching battle, to find the right tree. Finally I started to dig. First, probing with the spade for freshly moved soil, I established the perimeter of the grave; then, careful not to damage the remains of the fallen comrade, I continued removing the soil slowly exposing the body. When I was getting close I asked the widow to please step aside. I did not want the horror of decay to be her last memory of her husband. Gently lifting the body by the fabric of not yet decomposed clothes we managed to slip the large bed sheet under him, and using it as a shroud, we transferred the body to the waiting coffin.
All the way back we had trouble with my horse which , not used to the harness or perhaps disturbed by the smell of death, kept refusing to pull the cart. It took many hours, spent mostly in mournful silence, and it was already dark before we reached our town.
The Warsaw Uprising died in the beginning
of October 1944, and the front line stabilized along the Vistula for the
next few months. West of that so often blood stained river the, as yet
undefeated, Germans were driving the remnants of the Warsaw defenders to
POW camps. 60 East of the Vistula, the newly founded
"People's Republic" and its executive arm
"Bezpieka" 61 strove to gain legitimacy by introducing the new rein of terror in the name and under the enlightened leadership of the Kremlin. 62
Suddenly there were arrests, people started disappearing without a trace or were found murdered in mysterious circumstances. At first all the action was in the hands of more experienced KGB personnel. The local enthusiasts for the job of enforcing the "will of the people" were for the time being used only in a minor capacity, but they were eager to show that they could be trusted. One of the first murdered was Kulesza (Lt. H. Malkinski), veteran of all our important actions and a company commander. On the run almost from the first days of "Liberation", he was arrested when he covertly visited his wife after many months of absence. When Kulesza tried to escape one of the guards escorting him, a local "milicjant", 63 over-eager to serve the new communist regime, shot and killed him with his rifle while the Russian soldier in charge of the escort had the decency to fire in the air.
The death of Kulesza galvanized us into action; his assassin was executed by the Underground on the very day when he was to be moved with his family to new territory for his protection. That held back some of the more ardent followers of the new order, but we knew that it was only a matter of time....
Our new occupant was quite different. With the Germans we knew where we stood. They were the enemy and never pretended otherwise. In subduing the conquered they often substituted extreme brutality for intelligence and cunning. The new invader came not only as an ally of our allies and a "liberator" but also holding out to the naive and opportunists the universal lure that promised "those who are on the bottom shall now be on top". There is always an abundance of those who would like to be on top. 64
One Sunday in October 1944 I was
on my way from church, when a man passed me on the sidewalk and whispered,
"Scram, they will come today to arrest you and Karol Szymanski".
The man who warned me was H. Krajewski, a communist since his high school
days and now a Chief Executive Officer of the new order for our District.
I found Karol and by nightfall we were in one of our safe places,
the same isolated farmhouse where our Conspiracy had had its beginnings.
The curtain was raised for the Second Act of the deadly drama.
In the middle of December of that year I received an order to arrange the transfer of our Territorial Command, from the town of Siedlce where the UB 61 was closing in on them, to our District. I spent a few days in Siedlce, a fairly large town about fifty kilometers away, and after establishing the right contacts I moved Col. Janczar (L.Szymanski) and his staff consisting of an aide-de-camp, and three young women serving as command liaison officers.
All five of them were billeted in different
places in the immediate vicinity of our Town. One of the girls was
with my Mother posing as a niece. For several weeks my brother and I, had
been staying where we could, sometimes together, often separately,
moving mostly by night and finding shelter with friendly people, or in
the suburban Klimowizna Hospital where thanks to truly motherly care by
Sisters Bozena and Teobalda, 66 and the silent cooperation
of all personnel, there was always a clean bed, a hot meal, necessary medicaments
and the promise of prayer.
56 Sparta - one of the city states of ancient Greece. Thermopylae - a narrow passage between a mountain and the sea on the land route to Greece where the Spartan soldiers fought to the last to stop the invading Persian armies. A motto of Spartan soldiers was that they may return home only "With the shield or on the shield".
57 The fate of "Wolski" Battalion was roughly similar to ours.
58 The Russian/German front which was still some distance from Warsaw, and the German lines surrounding the besieged City.
59 They were only volunteers because the planes, in order to deliver a substantial load and have sufficient fuel, did not carry their own armaments and therefore were easy prey for the enemy. Among others over two dozen Canadian fliers died flying arms to the Warsaw fighters.. Also see note 20.
60 Towards the end of the Uprising the Governments of the USA and United Kingdom jointly declared the soldiers of Polish Home Army (AK) as "Combatants" and demanded that they should be treated according to the Geneva Convention. The capitulation was handled by the German Army not by the SS.
61 Or UB; short for "Urzad Bezpieczenstwa" - Office of Internal Security, Polish equivalent of Russian KGB. The two letter symbol was fast becoming more dreaded than the German SS.
62 Kremlin - a castle in Moscow, a seat of state power in czarist and later communist Russia.
63 "Milicja" - a paramilitary organization created to uphold law and order; "milicjant" - a member of that force.
64 The appeal of Communism in Poland was always rather minimal. The first aggressive act of the newly created Soviet state was a war against Poland, which according to the Soviet leadership was an obstacle to the world's revolution. Soundly beaten at the gates of Warsaw on August 15/1920 they invaded Poland again in alliance with Hitler in 1939 to finally come as "liberators" and allies of our allies in 1944, this time with virtual carte blanche from England and the USA for their policy for Poland.
65 Old school loyalties and common decency were still worth something. We had some contacts in the Underground where he was active and not being an opportunist H. Krajewski like most of the old Communist party members were quickly disillusioned. They were used by the new regime for the initial legitimacy and then replaced with the worst dregs of society without ideological or moral "hang ups".
66 Sisters of the Sacred
Heart Congregation; Sr. Bozena was the Mother Superior there and Sr. Teobalda
was in charge of the Internal Medicine department. Once, when the UB was
chasing one of our people along the garden path on the hospital grounds,
Sr. Teobalda who happened to be there managed to get in the line of fire
so smartly that they could not shoot without hitting her. They nearly killed
her but the fugitive got away. Generally speaking the nuns in Poland have
a remarkable history of often heroic service.