TIME TO LEAVE
That Spring my brother was arrested at his room by the museum where he worked. They came for me, but since I was not there, to lessen their disappointment they arrested the younger brother. Tadzik, like most of our generation, had tried to make up for lost time by studying and, since the Amnesty, was not involved in any political activity. Yet, he now would have to pay a heavy price for having a brother. A classic example of the guilt-by-association method favored at least as much by the Soviets and their ideological sidekicks as by Nazis. I had suspected that it would be impossible for me to survive in Poland for the simple reason that the communist regime, now firmly in the saddle, would not rest until it had eliminated, in one way or another, all its enemies present and past. Now, after my brother's arrest there was no doubt any more. It was time to leave.
It was not that simple any more; not that it ever had been. Since my Czech experience the conditions had become much worse; the Americans had departed, and when the communist regime took over some Czech students escaped to Poland in the vain hope that they could somehow reach Sweden over the Baltic sea. I could still arm myself and try to enter Russian occupied East Germany, but this solution posed too many problems. For one, being armed meant possibly killing someone. Though I would not hesitate shooting a member of Bezpieka since they were all volunteers and eager to hunt people like myself, the border was watched by young drafted soldiers of WOP 126 who did not chose their duty and I would not want to kill any of them to save my own skin. At the same time, even if I somehow safely crossed the border I would be in the Soviet Occupied Zone of Germany with hundreds of miles and other borders to cross. There were of course some ways of getting through but I had neither the necessary contacts nor the money to take advantage of them.
At first, together with Janek Basik a companion from the war years who also had to find a crack in the Iron Curtain 127 large enough to squeeze through, we tried to get aboard a Swedish freighter loading coal in the port of Gdansk. Janek had a contact who could perhaps help us to stow-away but, unluckily for us, the trade agreement for export of Polish coal to Sweden had just expired and the new one was likely to be delayed. We could not afford to wait. Thanks to warm help from a friendly couple in Elblag with whom I found shelter for a while I joined a fishing crew on the Vistula Lagoon in hope of finding some way of escaping across the Baltic sea to Sweden. Under normal circumstances I would not have been able to work on the fishing boat without having a proper permit issued only after clearance by Internal Security; however, since the lagoon's sole narrow opening to the sea was on Russian territory and therefore inaccessible, only the owner of the boat was required to have a permit. I spent many a night with the crew pulling the spokes of the windlass hauling the fishing net, a thousand meters wide, till my fingers became calloused. It was truly back-breaking work. One morning I took the nightly catch across the lagoon, about five miles, in a thick fog. I had no compass, not a thing to help me determine the direction to our home base. Despite excessive correcting to starboard I landed the six meter, diesel powered boat almost behind the Russian border. Crossing that border even during the storm meant being arrested for spying. I had become friendly with one of the fishermen with whom I worked who had a valid open sea fishing permit and also wanted to escape the country. We planned to get a suitable boat, establish him in one of the small fishing villages along the coast and then somehow find a way to by-pass the strict fuel controls which were imposed to prevent any escapes. All the obstacles we could have handled somehow but the biggest one, money to buy the boat, proved insurmountable. A similar fate met another almost desperate project of mine to cross the Baltic sea in a tourist type kayak with sail. I had already located a suitable kayak but Janek who had some funds available would not even hear of it. Janek returned to Warsaw for some reason of his own and I went to Szczecin, the seaport in the estuary of the river Odra where another member of my former guerrilla pack Bogus Byrko was studying engineering. I was to wait there for Janek. On the way I stopped at the small fishing port of Darlowo to check for possibilities of escape. There was a fast motorboat belonging to the border patrol. It was not heavily guarded but to hijack it would most certainly mean bloodshed.... I was still hoping to find a more agreeable solution.
When Janek failed to show up for our rendezvous in Szczecin I was worried and took the train back to Warsaw to investigate. There, to my complete surprise I found that Janek had already crossed the western border. As it turned out Capt. B. Stankiewicz (Bolcio), a former Underground colleague of mine who had been arrested on the same night as I in 1944 and since returned from Siberia, had known of professional smugglers who for a substantial sum of money would guide people across the border to the Russian zone of Germany. Apparently there was no time to lose and Janek left at the last moment for south -western Poland to meet with his guides. It was quite a blow to me at first, but then I did not blame Janek: there was apparently room for only one escapee and I could not even dream of having sufficient money to cover the smugglers' fee. I just felt a little sad for a while.
It so happened that I was at a temporary main Warsaw railroad terminal 128 when a train from the South-West arrived. To my great surprise I recognized Janek leaning from one of the windows. For some reason the excursion across the border had not materialized as planned. I talked with Janek and Capt. Stankiewicz about the cross border connection, but from where I stood the lack of money was the greatest obstacle. I was broke; the little money I had managed to save from my fishing job was almost gone, spent mostly on train tickets. Mother, who was scrounging every penny from her meager pension to pay for an attorney for my brother awaiting trial in a territorial jail in Siedlce, 129 could not help me of course. I was living again literally on the street. I had an American gift of a wind-breaker with a warm lining which I carried with me summer and winter. Everything I possessed was in my pockets. My nourishment consisted mostly of sugar cubes, a smoked herring or occasionally a warm meal at a soup kitchen run by nuns. Every few days I would meet Grazyna who would have a change of clothes for me and perhaps some news from Mother. The worst problem was at night. I could not sleep on a park bench or in a train terminal without risking encounter with the police and the number of places where I could find shelter was now very limited. Occasionally I could sleep at the stable, sometimes at the home of Felek, an older construction worker and good friend from the days of Ruchenski forest, once in a while in the little apartment of Janek's sister Zosia or with the Waszczuk family in Praga. It was very depressing to constantly realize that any association with me or assistance given could have grim consequences for these people. At times I felt like a leper. Once, near the square of Three Crosses I noticed a dear friend from high school years Krysia Suffczynski walking accompanied by her brother. I wanted to pass them unnoticed, although I liked Krysia very much and had not seen her for years. She recognized me though and called "Kazik". A short casual exchange... I was almost impolite in my haste to leave them - the place was very much in public view. Krysia must have understood; a sad smile passed her lips... we shook hands.
One of my student buddies, whom together with his girl and another fellow I had by chance saved from asphyxiation, 130 knew about my problems and introduced me to a middle-aged woman, apparently well off, who wanted badly to join her husband on the western side of the Iron Curtain and was in search of a means to that end. After several meetings with the lady and her brother, a member of an almost extinct landed gentry who also planned to eventually leave the country, we came to the agreement that for a loan to help me pay for my passage I would take her along and help her to reach her objective. Her financial offer could have been larger but Bolcio and Mrs. Waszczuk had offered some monetary assistance and I did not feel comfortable about the deal anyway, agreeing to it only out of absolute necessity. (Many years later I heard that Mrs. Raciborski and her brother had owned a large fishing boat operated by a friend and purchased with the idea of escaping to Sweden. When the escape was arranged they had both failed to report to the meeting place. The boat successfully crossed the Baltic minus the initiators of the affair. This story was related to me by one of the escapees.)
All contacts were established and the date set. A few days before departure Grazyna arranged for me to say good-bye to my mother. Our last farewell had to take place in secret so we met in the historic park called Royal Baths. How can one comfort a mother with one son in jail and the other about to depart into the unknown. There were no dramatic words, we hardly talked at all. She embraced my head and held it against her breast for a long while. Then she made the sign of a cross on my forehead and that was it. She walked away with Grazyna but before turning into the bend of the alley Mother once more turned her head and looked at me.... I did not expect to ever see her again.
It was the end of November, my last day in Warsaw. In the morning I met Marian Wintoch and we agreed on the wording of a business telegram which I would send to the cooperative where he was working if and when I reach the west zone of Berlin. * It was an early fall evening. I was on my way to see Grazyna though I had a feeling that she would not be there. I had seen her earlier that day but she did not want to say good-bye then. She asked me to see her later at her place because she had "forgotten to give me a clean handkerchief". In the tiny room where she was living with two other girls one of them gave me that "forgotten" hankie explaining that Marysia had to go somewhere ....
Near Bracka Street I accidentally met Stefan Walczyna. We had taken officers training together and had not seen each other for years. A short conversation: "How goes it?", "I am going abroad". No need to ask where. "When do you leave?". "Tonight - in two hours." We shook hands. In the main rail terminal I would meet Janek and Mrs. Raciborski.
A cold autumn rain started falling on the
126 WOP (Wojska Ochrony Pogranicza) - Border Guarding Force.
127 W. Churchill's famous description of the almost non-penetrable border, travel and information restrictions completely isolating Soviet Russia and all her satellite countries from the rest of the world.
128 Nearly five years after the end of war the central terminal was still in ruins.
129 His sentence was fourteen years even if all the things he was accused of were not of his doing. He was released with many others in 1956 during the lessening of terror after the 1953 death of Stalin. Some of the released prisoners at that time were old Communists who at the time of this story held top government positions and later fell from grace.
130 A faulty chimney caused
a puff of wind to extinguish the fire in a defective iron stove spreading
deadly smoke in a basement room of a ruined bungalow where a trio of young
people were asleep. By chance I came to visit them and smelling smoke barged
in; they were already unconscious.