RESISTANCE: THE WAY OF LIFE
The deadly underground struggle against
a well-organized enemy bent on our national annihilation, did not consist
only of guerrilla warfare, acts of sabotage and secret reading of a clandestine
press. There was much more to it requiring a tremendous amount of organization
and hard work; hard because it had to be done in secret, under a constant
threat of imprisonment and death. And it was not a nine to five arrangement - the work had to be done, exactly, on time, regardless of difficulties, because human lives depended on it.
A good example of such a strenuous effort
was our intelligence section or to be specific the more painful part of
it: the counter intelligence. It was a group responsible for
anticipating and derailing the efforts of the Gestapo * and other German police agencies as well as identifying and if necessary removing all the informers and traitors who out of malice, settling of some old accounts or out of sheer stupidity would try to denounce somebody to the occupying authorities.To be sure the Nazi system of justice as applied to the population of Poland did not leave us much choice. The well-publicized regulations provided the death penalty for a wide range of "crimes against the German Reich," from selling a kilo of butter on the black market to being a member of an illegal organization. There were no courts and no proof of guilt was required. Disposing of the arrested person on the spot, sending the "criminal" to jail or to the concentration camp, which was usually only a delayed form of execution, was left to the discretion of the arresting officer who was not accountable for his actions against the enemy12 of the Reich to any authority.
Therefore anybody denouncing or trying to denounce his fellow citizen to the Germans had to be dealt with before further tragedy occurred. From the very beginning there were some losses. First arrests came when we were not yet prepared and maybe too trusting in the goodness of human nature. There were many new people in town, most of them from western Poland now annexed to the Reich. Most of them were good people who had lost all their belongings and the local population had done their best to help them. Most of the newcomers were fluent in the German language and the occupying authorities employed some of them in the local administration. Without warning a local manufacturer of glazed bricks was arrested and sent to Auschwitz together with his two sons; his friend a farmer-politician and his son followed the same route. A few others were arrested in town for no apparent reason except that it looked as if the accuser was in need of supplying a certain quota. And the common denominator was that all the arrested had some contacts with two specific "westerners" who were observed to be rather friendly with Germans. In no time we had all possible lines of communication between any would be squealer and the Germans thoroughly interrupted or under surveillance. Our people working on all postal outlets would simply lift any mail addressed to the police, our people working in the local police department13 would observe anybody contacting gendarmes directly and local restaurants visited by German personnel became our listening posts.
Then there was the dirty work: documentation
of guilt, elimination of any "hearsay" the meticulous evaluation of the
degree of involvement and the motives of the accused, proper identification,
sorting through the intercepted mail and numerous coded reports, and finally
sending the coded evidence to underground court. The court would return
the verdict. Oh! It was all perfectly legal: it was our Country, they were our people and the court had the authority of the legal Polish Government even if in exile in England.And once the verdict was returned it had to be carried out, no matter what 14.
In the Underground, as in any human organization
there are those who do the job and others who, as we used to say, "mostly
limit themselves to reading the clandestine press". The
tragic part of resistance activities was, that those who were doing, as it was called, "wet" work too often were too young and not always sufficiently mature in the moral sense.
After the "elimination" of the collaborators who caused the initial serious arrests in the Town and surroundings, the situation become more or less stabilized in the sense that there seemed to be a shortage of volunteers for sudden death on the street with a bullet in the gut. Curiously the Germans did not seem to be especially perturbed with the elimination of their informers as long as they were not German nationals. ** Nevertheless there was a steady trickle of intercepted mail mostly from malicious, jealous or greedy neighbors trying to inform on each other with accusations of some economical transgression such as slaughtering an unregistered hog, which may have earned the denounced one a concentration camp sentence. From time to time there would be a squad traveling at night on its designated "circuit" with a list of offenders and administering the sentences. It was not always death. In minor cases where offenders seemed "salvageable" the sentence may have been ten to twenty-five rubber "bananas" (caning). Under the circumstances, since our means of dispensing justice in the name of the Republic (not the German Reich) were limited, a few lashes administered on appropriate places proved to be an excellent educational tool that may have saved some lives.
A special category of war criminals were the individuals who engaged in pointing out to the Germans the Poles of Mosaic faith hiding among Christians to avoid extermination. One of such was executed in the southern part of our district sending a strong warning to would be imitators.
One of the most difficult tasks was getting
information about planned Gestapo raids and arrests early enough to be
able to warn the people in danger. Careful observation of comings and goings
at the drinking hole listening posts and most of all the services of our
"moles" in the criminal police were a great help . One of the top Communists
in the territory - no
friend of ours - escaped the Gestapo net only because one of us got to him with the warning from our agent in the criminal police. It took me most of the night to make at hirty kilometer cross-country bicycle run to find and warn him of imminent arrest.
After helping to organize and tie together
the network of counter intelligence of our military district I was assigned
another task.The man who replaced me was the same one who administered
my oath in the Post Office when dispatching me with mobilization orders
on that sunny day in August 1939. It was 1942 now and I was seventeen.
** Killing of a German national was always punished by execution of a minimum of ten Poles.
12 The degree of German terror against the Polish population was much higher than that applied towards most of the West -European nations occupied by them. One of the reasons was that, while they recognized some racial and cultural kinship with peoples of western and northern Europe who they hoped may cooperate in the new order as dreamed by Hitler, the Poles and other Slavs never let the thousand years old German "Drang nach Osten" ( Push to the East) get too far, and being a younger race they represented in German eyes a grave danger to the already less vital “Master Race".
13 The regular police work concerning non political or ordinary criminal activity was in the hands of professionals who worked before the war in the Polish State Police, and because of the color of their uniforms were popularly called " navy blue police". The Underground tolerated their frequent contacts with their German bosses on condition that they did not forget where their loyalty belonged. Most never did and thanks to them many lives were saved.
14 All the regular Polish
Government departments in London had their corresponding deputy ministers
in occupied Poland, including that of Justice. For obvious reasons the
courts operating in secret did not have the regular legal trappings and
resembled - this being the state of war - a type of court marshal. There
were however some important cases where a full court was in attendance
including the accused and the defense attorney.