IN SEARCH OF A WAY OUT
It was time to leave. As most of us wore "People's" army uniforms we hoped to pass for a regular traveling military detachment. We also had some money in golden ruble coins made on the sale of a herd of cows hoisted from, a once private but now state owned, landed estate. 91 There was also a possibility of obtaining some blank military papers which would legitimize us and permit us to travel unhindered to look for ways of escaping to the West where people were free.
One June morning, at a sleepy railroad station called Urle we boarded the roof of a passing freight train and after a few hours of a not unpleasant ride arrived at Praga a right bank suburb of Warsaw. Across the river lay the ruins of the "Unconquered City ". Most of what had not been destroyed in the siege of 1939, in the Ghetto Uprising of 1943 and in the previous summer's Warsaw Uprising had been blown to bits by the retreating German army. All the bridges were destroyed; only a feeble looking pontoon bridge constructed by Russian army engineers connected Warsaw to its east shore suburb.
Through the help of some of our friends we managed to rent a large room in a private apartment where we made our temporary quarters. It took over a week and a considerable amount of golden coins, but eventually we found ourselves in possession of sufficient army travel orders and other necessary papers stamped by the headquarters of the1st Division of the Polish People's Army to permit us virtually unrestricted travel all over the country. All official papers were of course written in Russian and our sergeant's familiarity with that language and army office routine made the whole masquerade possible. We also purchased some black market "Made in USA" fabric to supplement shortages in our uniforms. Grazyna, whose well worn civilian clothes were reaching their limit of durability, was equipped by a local tailor with a smart looking uniform. 92
Praga,* a town relatively untouched by the war, was now crammed with hordes of soldiers generally in transit and civilians, most of whom were returning inhabitants of Warsaw seeking temporary shelter as close as possible to their beloved City. Because of the lack of accommodation in Warsaw proper and the danger of German land mines which so far had only been cleared from the main east west artery, all kinds of Internal Security Institutions 93 were also temporarily established in this right bank suburb. Of course my old foe J. Swiatlo - by now promoted way above his lieutenant rank - was known here for his untiring pursuit of the enemies of the People even on the streets of Praga. Apparently he had an uncanny compulsion for criss-crossing the busy streets of town in his jeep (town life was mostly concentrated on but a few streets) and when he spotted someone who aroused suspicion he would jump from his jeep and arrest him. I decided to take advantage of his bad habit and his evil talents to try to get rid of him for good. For about a week, for a few hours every day, our sergeant and I, armed and in full uniforms, walked the two streets where we were most likely to encounter Swiatlo in his jeep. Some paces in front of us there walked Grazyna in civilian clothes serving as bait: Swiatlo had seen her before during her interrogation in Lublin's ** jail and it was quite possible that he would recognize her and try to arrest her, giving us a chance to kill him. I felt a little uneasy about endangering Grazyna, but she had volunteered; I guessed she had her reasons to do so. However, either he was out of town, or somehow he sensed the trap; we did not encounter Citizen Swiatlo at all, and we could not wait around too long without attracting attention.
Our sergeant filled the necessary signed travel orders and our squad boarded a passenger train for the Baltic coast. Having proper travel documents, we had no problems with Russian military police patrols and we even brazenly drew food from the military stores at railroad stations on the way. We spent a few days in Gdynia, the once modern Polish seaport now in ruins and partly blocked by a sunken German cruiser. There was as yet no sea traffic and no chance of escaping that way. The Gulf of Danzig *** had not been cleared of floating mines. The day before our arrival most of the staff of the Russian "Komendantura" (military command of the town) boarded a sea going barge for a little cruise on the gulf. Their barge hit a floating mine and for the next few days the sea spewed up their dead bodies on the beach. We were quite comfortable thanks to the hospitality of the local fire department, but there was no point staying on the coast especially as our money was running out. Traveling south by train we disembarked near the town of Wloclawek and after some reconnaissance by our civilian scout we raided a small alcohol distillery in a newly state owned property, once a landed estate. Luck was not with us that night; there was a terrible wind, almost a hurricane, and many fallen trees blocked the road so that we managed to make but a few kilometers by dawn. The horses drawing the wagons loaded with hundreds of liters of alcohol were ready to drop with fatigue. There was no choice but to stop and try to hide till the next night. We turned off the road, but before we could hide in the bushes we were spotted by the pursuing forces of the law. There were perhaps thirty of them, mostly newly formed milicja men and not very eager to shoot it out with what looked to them to be a regular army detachment. I could probably have chased them back without much trouble, but was not prepared to risk killing people for the sake of a few hundred liters of booze. I ordered my sergeant to lead our men towards the nearest forest taking cover in fields of ripening rye while I gradually withdrew, holding the pursuers at a respectable distance by pistol fire. Despite direct orders to the contrary Grazyna and Bogus Byrko (our civilian scout) would not leave me alone and my brother also slowed down to help with his submachine gun. It took a while to lose our pursuers and two of our men were lightly wounded, but the enemy finally gave up. Totally exhausted, we reached the relative safety of the forest. It was still too close for comfort but I had to give my men a few hours' sleep. Only Grazyna and I kept watch. Overnight we managed to distance ourselves considerably from the danger area and then, without incident, we boarded a train at a small station, our next destination the industrial town of Lodz where we had some friends.
It was time to reassess our situation. Traveling from town to town did not make much sense; there was no simple way out. Between "People's Republic of Poland" and the British/American occupation armies lay the Russian held area of Germany and to the south-west the "Peoples Republic of Czechoslovakia". We had no more money to finance our immediate needs; I had had to sell my father's wedding ring which I wore on my finger. Our sergeant and the men from eastern Poland, an area annexed by Russia, decided to try to find their families left there; having "proper" military papers made it feasible if still risky. The two young fellows who traveled with us but were not being pursued by UB decided to return home.
There were only four of us left now: Grazyna, my brother (although he and I had different family names on our papers neither of them a true one) a young fellow by the name of Z. Strzalkowski and myself, all of us determined to somehow get to the West.94 We first took the train to Warsaw and stayed for a few days in a Red Cross shelter for transients. I wanted to meet my cousin Maj. Z. Barbasiewicz who, being a career officer, was now a member of the staff of Gen. Rola-Zymierski who was (at least in theory) in charge of the whole "People's Army of Poland" 95.
I had to postpone my meeting for a few
days because I became quite ill with painful boils and high fever. Grazyna
cared for me as best she could giving me some injections from the medical
supplies provided by Sr. Teobalda. Once on my feet I took a narrow gauge
suburban electric train to the town of Wlochy near Warsaw where the
Army headquarters were located and managed to find my cousin. We spent
about an hour walking the tree-lined streets of that summer cottage town
talking about the general political situation. I warned him that
once his experience as a staff officer was no longer necessary his Underground
past would lead to his arrest. He was hoping for some semblance of normal
life with his family after five years of hiding and counted on his usefulness
as a professional to his Russian superior. 96 He could not give
me much information concerning my plans but he wished us luck. We saluted
each other smartly and I returned to Warsaw where my companions were waiting
91 The golden ruble coins were a leftover from pre-Revolutionary Russia. The various paper moneys in circulation including Soviet rubles had virtually no value. The rightful owner of the landed estate Mr.K. Popiel was first dispossessed by Germans and then by Communists. As a member of the Un-derground and a landowner he was classified a double dangerous Reactionary.
92 Some of the supplies reaching Soviet Russia as a help in the war effort under the famous American "Lend Lease” plan could be purchased on the black market. There were a considerable number of women serving in the Russian and satellite armies, so the presence of a uniformed woman soldier did not raise any eyebrows.
93 Such institutions consisted of heavily guarded office build-ings with extensive cellars where the political prisoners were kept. The main one at that time was ironically located on Cyril and Metody street so named for two saints who first brought Christianity to the Slavs.
94 The word "West" was then a synonym for territories outside of the Soviet sphere of influence or west of, what was later named by W. Churchill, the "Iron Curtain".
95 Not for long. He was quietly removed and replaced by a Soviet Marshal K. Rokossowskij.
96 Nearly five years later,
his usefulness notwithstanding, by then Col. Z. Barbasiewicz was arrested,
condemned to death in a famous trial of a group of higher army officers