THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS EVE
It was the evening of December twenty-third 1944, the night before Christmas Eve. 67 I was on my way to pass some dispatches to one of the women on Col. Janczar's staff. To do so I had to wait for dark and then hurry as I still had to find shelter that night. There was my own house not far from there, my Mother, and a hot meal, but all I could do was to look with longing as I passed.
On Gdanska street, not far from my destination, I nearly stumbled over a body lying motionless, half in the gutter. There was also a bicycle beside the man .68 When I bent over to investigate I smelled alcohol. It was the last thing that I needed that night, but I could not leave a drunk on a frosty December night to a certain death of exposure. I knew the man's name and, luckily for him, I knew where his relative was living, but it took more then two hours and almost superhuman effort to deliver a barely conscious drunk to the door of his kinsman. For many reasons I did nor wait to hear his thanks. Choosing the back lanes again I made haste to complete my task and find some shelter. The person I was supposed to contact was billeted at the apartment of Mrs. Lucia Lipka who, for the time being, had moved with her parents outside of town. Marysia - the older of the two girls - opened the door for me. She was alone, that is alone in the room. Through the open door to the kitchen could be heard the slightly drunken voices of a Russian captain and his orderly who were billeted there by the military command of the town. 69 Marysia was miserable; she apparently had a bout of chicken pox with a fairly high fever. Hanka, the other young woman had left in the early afternoon with dispatches for the contact point in Minsk Mazowiecki, but for some reason was not back yet; communications were not easy then. Having left the message that brought me there I was about to leave, but seeing Marysia's condition, hesitated. She sensed my compassion and pleaded: "Please stay overnight, don’t leave me alone with these two drunks; you don't have a place to go anyway”. She was right of course, and I did not leave. Feeling a little reassured Marysia started to doze on her couch and so did I in my chair. It did not last long. One of the Russians noticed my presence - they had seen me there on some other occasion - and there was no safe way to refuse their invitation to join them. We drank vodka out of tea cups following it with the leftovers of boiled chicken. >From time to time one of my drinking companions would start singing one of their nostalgic army songs. It lasted maybe an hour when I heard Marysia calling me to open the door for Hanka who had finally arrived. I left my companions, entered the dark hallway and asked who was there; Hanka answered, and I unbolted the door.
Three of them jumped me simultaneously, and in a moment I had my hands twisted behind me and a pistol stuck to my forehead. They pushed me back into the room without loosening their hold. Two other goons in UB uniforms grabbed the half conscious Marysia from her couch and started brutally shaking and pushing her around, shouting and swearing. Luckily for her the Russian captain, alarmed by all the noise, ran out from the kitchen with his revolver cocked... They all froze. The Russian was obviously drunk and he was not joking. The lieutenant in charge of the Bezpieka detachment spoke to him in Russian, and then very slowly minding the pointed gun, removed some folded paper from his pocket and handed it to the captain. It must have been an authorization from the KGB because the Russian officer turned around and without a word returned to the kitchen closing the door behind him.
The arresting officer in charge, Lt. Jozef Swiatlo, making his first steps towards his spectacular career, 70 started to taunt us bragging how Hanka had fallen into the trap which he had set in Minsk71 and that he would nab all of us ( AK members) in no time. Suddenly he noticed my short sheepskin coat hanging over the back of a chair and immediately tried it for size. "I would be wearing an AK sheepskin coat now" he said with a sneer. All during that monologue by the UB lieutenant and long after his departure, even though they left Marysia alone, two of the goons were holding me by the hands while the third one, a corporal, worked me over with a great deal of dedication alternating only between punching my head or kicking me in the groin. I protected my private parts with my legs as best I could, but the blows to the head made me black-out several times and fall to the floor. The guardians of the "peoples justice" would then pick me up from the floor and proceed with the beating with truly proletarian enthusiasm. They did not even try to question me.
I do not remember how long it took; I lost sense of time. It did not hurt that much after the first shock, except for the broken bridge of my nose where there was an incessant tearing pain. Finally my tormentor bloodied his fist and, with the complaint that my facial bones were too hard, he interrupted the beating. They packed a roughed up Marysia and myself into an American jeep 72 and, under heavy escort, transported us to a three storied brick house which once belonged to a friend of mine, but had been expropriated for the needs of Bezpieka.
It was apparently the center of operations for the night. Staszek Wachalski was already there and soon they brought in Lucia Lipka. There was feverish activity in the building which made me realize that the arrests were not limited to the few of us already there. Lt. Swiatlo appeared again briefly to boast that he had just arrested our territorial commander Col. Janczar. In the meantime I received a second beating, this time on the floor. Two bulky representatives of the " arm of the people" sat on my head and legs while the third one was implanting in me the principles of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" 73 with the help of a rubber truncheon indiscriminately striking my backside. Once during that operation somebody asked me if I knew Karol Szymanski. Aware that he had left our territory under an assumed name nearly two months earlier, when we both had been warned of our impending arrest, I confirmed knowing him. Asked about his whereabouts I truly could say I had not the slightest idea. Later, when I was on my feet again, they gave me a name of some local lady again asking if I knew her. "Of course, she is a dentist here" was my answer, and I hoped that my matter of fact reply reassured them that I could not imagine why they were inquiring. As it happened, I was one of the very few who knew that Wolski, our District Commander could be asleep there that night unaware of the arrests taking place all around him...
At some hour of that night, under the guard of two men with submachine guns they took me to the outhouse in the backyard. On the other side of the wooden partition was Marysia under similar security arrangements. We managed to have a short whispered conversation, the first since our arrest. Back upstairs, all the time under heavy guard, we were permitted to sit on the floor against the wall; no conversation was permitted. While waiting for developments I looked around the room which I had known so well for the last five years. The house had belonged to my longtime friend Marian Wintoch. In that room a few of us used to meet quite often; Marian's parents had been dead for many years, and we had all the privacy we needed: two lower floors were occupied by the land registry office so the comings and goings of people did not attract too much attention. Oh, how many never ending discussions took place in that room; ideas, projects, plans of action originated there. The local underground press was for years printed there on a manual stencil duplicator. In that room our outlook on life and the world was crystallized, our characters were formed as well as our vision of the Country for which we were all fighting. It was supposed to be strong, just and above all free....
And all that was barely a few months ago.
Shortly after the Soviet forces arrived and introduced Peoples Democracy
in our part of the Country the arrests of suspected enemies of the People
started and Marian was one of the first of them. He managed to escape,
but his house was taken over for Bezpieka headquarters. And here I was
again, contemplating my chances of being alive tomorrow or being
"shot trying to escape while in custody."
68 The ancient street, paved with cobblestones, had gutters on both sides and no lights because the war was still on and the black out was in force.
69 The front line on the Vistula, barely fifty kilometers west from us was still stationary. In preparation for the new offen-sive there were a tremendous number of Russian soldiers everywhere. They were billeted in every available public building and in many private houses. When sober they usually were well behaved.
70 Lt. J. Swiatlo, real name Josef Licht-Fleischfarb was one of thousands of Polish Jews who escaped extermination by Germans by crossing to the Soviet Union when it was still possible (prior to the outbreak of hostilities in 1941) and then returning with the Russian army to help establish the communist regime in Poland. In the first few years after the war most of the top political, propaganda and interior security positions in Poland were held by members of this group. Nearly 75% of the higher echelons of UB (see also note 61) were members of this group. Swiatlo was one of the most effective and intelligent agents of the Polish branch of the KGB. In the late nineteen fifties and already with the rank of colonel, having stepped on somebody's toes in the communist hierarchy he decided to save his skin and defected to the West (in West Berlin using his diplomatic passport) trading information valuable to the CIA for his freedom. Died in USA under FBI protection.
71 Method also used by Gestapo: at the premises where an arrest has been made the secret police agents wait for days and arrest everyone who shows up.
72 At that stage of the war most of the motor vehicles used by the Soviet army were of USA origin as part of the "Lend Lease" program.
73 Some of the politically
correct expressions of socialist jargon like people's power, reactionary,
revolutionary, imperialist's lackeys, and citizen used in place of
Mr, Mrs, or Miss (and many variations of above).