Chapter 17

CHRISTMAS EVE
 

It was dawn when they loaded us in the two jeeps; Marysia and I were in the first one, Staszek Wachalski and Capt. "Bolcio" Stankiewicz in the second, and with  proper escort we set out. There were already some people on the streets cautiously observing what was going on, which gave me some hope that Wolski, my brother and mother would soon be informed and that the third girl, Jasia, staying in our house as a niece would have time to disappear before the UB connected me with my address and came calling.  It occurred to me that perhaps this was the last time I would see my town. The journey was bitterly cold; dressed only in my light jacket 74  and in an open jeep, I was frozen to the bone.  My lacerated and broken nose was very painful now and there was a heavy swelling around one of my eyes.

An hour later we arrived in Minsk Mazowiecki, a medium sized  town, not far from Warsaw which was still in German hands. The chances of escape from a speeding  jeep with the  barrel of a submachine gun in the small of my back were nil unless I wanted to commit  suicide. Though determined from the start to escape I would not risk certain death. I knew that sooner or later they would find out about my involvement in some recent actions against their people, perhaps even discover I was the chief organizer of  the so called "Antyk" network in our assigned district.75

On our arrival in Minsk they locked us up in one of the second floor rooms of the small two storied apartment house located on the main street. On the ground floor were the local UB headquarters. There were six of us in the room:  Koszucki who was a local lawyer,  our group of Marysia, Staszek and myself, and then they added another woman, Stefa (Funia) Ciesla, and Jurek Lipka (Jezewski) assistant to our District Commander in charge of "Sabotage”. Capt. Stankiewicz was  eparated from us on arrival.

The room was not a large one. In one corner there was a tile stove, and from the single window  one could see a small fenced backyard behind which there was a large orchard surrounded by a high wooden fence. In our room, across the open door there was a small bench on which  the guard sat with a pepesza *   pointed towards us. We were of course not permitted to talk. Funia always caring, tried to help a little: taking her large towel she tore it into six pieces and gave one to each of us. From the sounds reaching us it seemed that there still was some rather feverish activity going on. My guess was that they were transferring Janczar, Bolcio and some others to their main headquarters in Otwock.76  Our stay in Minsk was obviously temporary. In the course of the day there were people in uniform and civilians coming to look us over as if we were some kind of curiosity or caged dangerous animals. Swiatlo, who was as happy as a small  boy who had done something nasty to a neighbor and knew he would get away with it, visited us frequently bragging about his latest achievements.  He jeered about Capt. Stankiewicz, saying that while searching his place Bolcio had given his word that there were no hidden weapons. "But look what I found": and he showed us a colt 45 revolver completely damaged and bent almost in the shape of a horseshoe.  It was a revolver which Bolcio had behind his belt during the Wolski Battalion charge on Germans trying to burn Wegrow; a German bullet hit the revolver  instead of its owner, ricocheted from it, and finished peacefully among hand grenades which he carried in his haversack. Bolcio probably kept  the otherwise useless gun as a souvenir and never considered it a weapon. But for  Citizen Swiatlo it was one more proof of the perfidy of AK members. He was of course sporting  my sheepskin coat.

The next visitor who dropped in to see us was an officer in charge of the local detachment of the MO 77 .. He did not jeer  and seemed  ill at ease facing us.  After him there was one more. He was in civilian clothes and seemed to be some important Communist Party commissar because from the start there was nothing but  verbal abuse of the worst kind spewing from his mouth. He was accusing AK of collaborating with the Gestapo against  members of the Communist underground. For a while I did not pay much attention to what he was raving about; it was almost a standard party line lecture delivered with an extra dose of venom,  but when he started talking about himself, how he was forced to escape in the middle of the night from his hideout near Grebkow because the Gestapo was about to get him, it jolted me. What a SOB!  The memory of that night, over two years ago, came back to me as if it was yesterday: the warning from our man in the Criminal Police of the impending arrest of a suspected Communist organizer near Grebkow. It was too late and I had nobody to send there. Traveling that night, on a bicycle and without light, I got our people in Grebkow  to find and alert him making sure  that it was done. We did not love Communists but nor did we use the Gestapo to fight them. And now this miserable creature, who owed his very life to my good will, was standing there reviling us. I interrupted him sharply asking if he knew who had warned him the night of his escape? It jolted him a little.  I gave him an approximate date and added a few details of the event. "How do you know it ? " he growled.  " Because I was there Citizen Dabrowski" was my answer. He turned on his heel and left without a word. Nobody else came to look us over for the rest of that day.

They took us to the outhouse, two at a time and again  my companion for the occasion was Marysia. Standing on the seats our heads were above the wooden partitions and we could exchange a few words in whispers. I told Marysia that I would try to escape no matter what.  She wished me luck, and said that she too would be looking for an opportunity. During the last several hours we had drawn close to each other.

In the late afternoon  the atmosphere of the place became festive in a bizarre sort of way. It did not  have anything to do with us of course, but from some verbal exchanges among our guards it looked as if a major  drinking bout was in the making, although the occasion for it could not be the Eve of Christmas - that holiday was not in the Communist calendar. Whatever  the reason, when it was dark the ground floor became very noisy; there was some singing  - nothing resembling carols - and cheering.  Left alone except for the guard at the door, we lay down on the floor one beside the other with our heads toward the stove. Since we were not permitted to talk we were left to our own sad thoughts. Tired and aching all over from the previous day's beating I, like all my colleagues, slowly drifted into an uneasy sleep, waking at the slightest disturbance. I was awake when the guard of our temporary jail was changed - the noise of the downstairs revelry was still there - and dozed off again.

Suddenly there was a terrible roar. As usual I was instantly conscious but it took me a moment to realize that the hellish sound, which ruptured the night again, originated from the maneuvering of a Russian locomotive on the nearby railroad tracks.78  Cautiously I looked over the room....  My friends were fast asleep, close to each other for warmth. There was no  sound within the building. On the bench across the door was our guard, pepesza in lap, lost in deep sleep....

Slowly, cautiously, without taking my eyes off the face of the sleeping guard, I reached over the head of my neighbor for a piece of firewood lying near the stove... for a moment something cried inside of me: “to kill with a piece of wood on Christmas Night?"  It passed.... I knew that if I captured the guard's submachine gun I could get all of us free... with such a gun I would have no difficulty holding guards  surprised in drunken sleep at bay.... The drooping head  of the guard was almost within my reach, if I just raised... and.... Cautiously I started to wake up Jurek; somebody would have to lead the fugitives while I secured the retreat and drew the pursuit if any. The sight of the sleeping sentry and the chunk of wood in my hand told him without any words what I had in mind. But he did not want any part of it; not that he chickened out.  In a few whispered words he told me that he had been arrested in the home of friends and he was afraid that, if there were any killings, Swiatlo would take his revenge on them.

I put the firewood away - I would not escape alone and leave them to almost certain death. I hated to think of what Swiatlo would do to me when he discovered my connection to "Antyk" and a few other activities, but when I escaped I would not endanger any of them. Sleep would not come to me for a while; there was still too much adrenaline in my system to relax. Perhaps half an hour had passed that way when suddenly I heard someone climbing the stairs, and in the doorway a uniformed officer appeared. Barely raising my eyelids I could see him for a short while observing the sleeping guard, and then he reached for his pistol and pointed it at the poor slob. For a moment I thought that he would kill him, but then in one quick move of his hand he pointed the gun up and fired into the ceiling. For the next fifteen minutes or so there was an incredible pandemonium of running, swearing, and shouting and when it all subsided there were two fresh sentries at the door, and we could resume our uneasy sleep.
 
 
 
 



*  A Russian-made submachine gun; packs up to 72 rounds in a single magazine.

74  My sheep skin coat, the  pride of my mother who had traded something dear to her to keep me warm, had become the property of commissar Swiatlo according to the rules of the new people's order.

75  Some time in 1943,  when it became clear that the Russians fighting the Germans would eventually enter Polish territory, and that (with tacit agreement of our Western Allies) our Country would remain in the Soviet sphere of influence, an action was taken at the highest level of our political authority to counteract the Soviet propaganda. Since officially the Russians were our allies, our  propaganda  offensive  under the cryptonym  of "Antyk"  (anti-Communist) was officially disassociated with Home Army (AK) or the representative of the Polish Government in London. I was selected in the greatest secrecy (only my Regional Commander knew about it) and instructed to organize a completely independent network of  politically mature people otherwise not involved for distribution of the clandestine anti-Communist press. I accomplished this and also organized the deliveries from Warsaw to the local contact by means other than the normal underground press. Lt. Swiatlo knew of the existence of "Antyk" but did not yet know  who was involved in it.

76  Small town near Warsaw; a temporary seat of the Department Of Internal Security while Warsaw was still in German hands.

77  "Citizens' Militia" a paramilitary formation for non-political police tasks, however under UB supervision and often required to help in major actions.

78  Since  retreating Germans took with them most of the railroad's rolling stock the Russians had to bring their own and to do it they had to change all the rail tracks to their wider gauge.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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