TO STRENGTHEN THE HEARTS: THE UNDERGROUND
There were many aspects of the resistance movement, but the one most known to the general population was the underground press.
At the turn of the last century there was
in Poland, at that time still under foreign domination, a great historical
writer, Henryk Sienkiewicz.15 His dedication of the written
word "to the
strengthening of hearts " had never had a deeper meaning than in these "Gazetki", tiny newspapers passed from hand to hand in highest secrecy and read with an almost religious concentration. There probably never was a publication that had such a dedicated and numerous readerships than our "Biuletyn Informacyjny" and "Rzeczpospolita" 16 or even our local publication made with a typewritten matrix and a primitive silkscreen process.
The loyalty of the readers and their unshaken and unconditional trust put a tremendous responsibility on the shoulders of people, those who wrote the clandestine publications, and those who printed and distributed hundreds of thousands of them all over the Country. The press had to be delivered on time, regularly, without any interruptions and delays, because to the readers it was a visible sign that Poland was still alive, that, in spite of all the terror by the Occupant, the underground machinery of State worked without breakdowns, like a heartbeat. Oh!There was a price to pay. Many died in Gestapo cells, some in a hail of bullets beside their presses. Then other presses and other people took over and the work never stopped.
In our territory the beginnings of the underground press were at times a little chaotic and difficult. At first, thanks to the almost proverbial regularity of the Germans, the clandestine press was transported weekly from Warsaw in the official car of the district agronomist, a German named Werner, of course without his knowledge, and thanks to the cooperation of his driver a Pole.
In time it was possible to deal with the problem in a more "businesslike" manner.Once a week a certain very sad young lady who lived in Warsaw - her husband was in POW camp17- would pick up the bundle of press designated for our district at the distribution point. She would take it to her home and repackage it in previously purchased cartons containing the textile dyeing powders for domestic use, which were very popular in war time.Of course most of the little wax-paper envelopes with color powders had to be removed to make room for the real shipment. However there was sufficient padding of the original product left on all sides in case the package was damaged or opened. It goes without saying that the young lady performing this metamorphosis had a way of opening and resealing a carton without visibly disturbing the original manufacturer's packaging. Of course the expenses incurred in purchasing of the necessary materials as well as some financial compensation for her work for us - which I suspect was one of the main sources of her income - were paid by our district.
The carefully prepared shipment was given the address of a textiles and fabrics store owned by Mr. Cebo and located at the Wegrow market square. Our Warsaw liaison lady would again carry the packages to the famous Warsaw market place called the "Iron Gate Square" 18 to the depot of a small transport company that had a daily runs through our town. By the end of the same day the shipment would be picked up by Mr. Cebo at the Wegrow depot. He would remove the dyeing powders for his store and pass the clandestine press material to the waiting runner. The same evening about half a dozen young dispatch riders would hit the side roads by bicycle, on horseback, wagon or sled, to deliver their dangerous packages to the next stage of relay. By nightfall or early the next morning "Gazetki" would be in reading.
All these nameless boys and girls, men
and women, often old people and children involved in the distribution process
of the clandestine press were truly the pulse of a living Nation. And it
was oftenmuch easier to go into "action" in a group and armed than to pedal
your bikeover sandy side roads, print a local bulletin in some cellar,
packages through the police patrolled streets of Warsaw or to pick-up a parcel addressed to you week after week for years, never knowing when you would be discovered and you
and your family die a terrible death. I am proud to have been a part of it.
16 In translation: "Information Bulletin" a weekly with news from the war theater and home front, also included instructions for the civilian population by the Directorate of the Civic Resistance (Kierownictwo Walki Ciwilnej) as well as messages from our Government. There were also items about the latest German atrocities and communiqués of the Directorate of the Armed Resistance (Kierownictwo Walki Zbrojnej). The other underground magazine: "The Republic", a bi-weekly, was dedicated more to political articles. Both publications were printed on good quality paper in approx. 8.5X5.5 in. format and on the average not less than eight pages of print. For obvious reasons there was no advertising. Each issue was always mailed to Warsaw Gestapo headquarters to lessen their need to arrest many people in hope of catching some.
17 Thousands of Polish officers and soldiers captured in 1939 were kept in prisoner-of-war camps in Germany and Soviet Russia. While Germans in general treated Polish POW's according to the Geneva Convention, the Russians among other atrocities murdered thousands of Polish officers in the Katyn forest shooting each in the back of the head. Upwards of 20.000 Polish officers and men perished in Russian POW camps. During the war years there were thousands of women whose husbands were prisoners of war or had managed to reach France and later England to fight again.
18 Warsaw's Square of
the Iron Gate was a place where one in the know could buy almost anything,
from a pistol to a small caliber anti-aircraft cannon, all stolen from
German transports on the huge railroad yards on the outskirts of town.
There was a kind of brotherhood of thieves working within the rules permitted
by the Underground. On the Square a fellow would walk for instance in the
crowd calling: knock...knock.; it meant that he was selling handguns. If
one were interested the "merchant" would take him aside and display his
wares on the inside of his jacket. He would usually have two discreet companions
making sure that the rules of the free market and fair play were observed.
I have made purchases there on many occasions for my district and the people
I dealt with may have been thieves and cutthroats but they also were comrades
in arms and friends.