THE HUMAN ROUND-UP
It was a frosty winter morning. It must have been about five o'clock when I left the last houses of my hometown behind me and pedaling hard took the highway on the first stage of my trip to Warsaw. It was still very dark. About three hundred meters past the place where the main road branched out into unpaved cart-road to the village of Jarnice; all of sudden there were in front of me some dark shapes of several trucks standing immobile in the middle of the highway. There were shouts: "Halt!...Halt!!" and a number of armed men surrounded me with their weapons at the ready. Despite the darkness I quickly realized that it was Wehrmacht not the dreaded gendarmes or SD.24 It was a relief - none of the usual pushing and kicking and almost civilized behavior. A non-commissioned officer in charge informed me that it was forbidden to travel further on this highway. That was it, no explanation of any kind. I joined the group of civilian drivers of the stopped trucks who huddled together against the bitter cold. They did not know any more than I about all this. The soldiers on their part seemed uninterested in us beyond blocking our passage. Why were they blocking the road? And why Wehrmacht? And then it hit me…
It was in the period of rather intensive exchange of "surprises" between the German police forces and AK* in the southern part of our District. The last incident had been our assault on a truck full of gendarmes rushing to the rescue of a minor police post further down the road supposedly under attack. We only simulated the attack in order to draw the hated gendarmerie into the trap we had set a few kilometers past the small town of Liw. That town of about five thousand lay along the highway, about four kilometers beyond the road block where I was now stopped. Everything became clear. It was only a few weeks since the day when our machine guns had virtually annihilated a squad of "Schupo", and they were about to make a retaliatory raid on Liw and maybe other villages in the vicinity. The reason for using the regular army unit was simply that the police did not feel safe enough at night. And the roadblock was to make sure that there would be no warning to the unsuspecting town.
I had to act... and act now... when there was still darkness to hide my movements... As nonchalantly as possible I approached the soldier in charge and in my high school German asked him if, since it was not permitted to proceed further, I may go back home because it was rather cold to stay here in the open. I was counting on the possibility that the police had not informed the ordinary army soldier of their vindictive plans and that his instructions were only to stop the traffic in one direction. I must have been right because the German took only a moment to think and then with a gesture of his hand let me know that he did not object.
I did not wait for him to change his mind although I was careful not to show undue haste in mounting my bike. In a few minutes I reached the place where the road forked forming a sandy path that split away from the highway at about a thirty-degree angle while still leading in approximately the same direction. There, I dismounted and carefully looked back towards the roadblock. The cloudy sky and almost complete lack of snow made for very limited visibility; I could not see a thing. The side road was far from suitable for a bicycle ride in the dark and I had to avoid any noise, which carried far on the frosty night in open terrain. So I got my arm under the bike frame and went on foot. When I was sure that I was well above the roadblock I cut across the frozen fields back to the highway. It was rough going but soon I was again riding my bike across the three bridges that I had once patrolled and making haste to warn the town ahead of the impending raid.
And then again.... Just a few hundred meters before the darkened town..."Halt! Stoj!"... Armed men were all around me. They were Russians in German uniforms, a formation called Wlasow's" - Russian prisoners of war who were given a choice of dying of hunger in the camps or doing the German's dirty work. 25 "You can't go any farther" they explained in their own language, without even trying to speak German. They were not as rigid in their behavior as Germans. Judging from the little conversation in my broken Russian while they smoked my cigarettes, I realized that they were in the process of surrounding the town . There was no time to lose. Playing stupid again I told them that I had spent the night at my girl's place in a neighboring village. Why would they not let me go home? For greater emphasis I pointed towards the edge of the settlement explaining that my house was just there, the second from the road. After a few crude jokes about my nightly activity and with sly smiles on their faces they let me go. Luck was with me. After passing just a few houses along the highway that was now the main street I encountered a two-man civilian fire patrol. 26 Without going into any explanations I told them: "Raid... run and wake up the people". They did not challenge my authority to order them around, neither did they waste time for questions. It was late but still possible for the young ones and the most endangered to hide. 27 I did not have any official contacts in this town, however I knew where there was a general store and home of an older colleague from my high school named Jozef Golos who was a member of the Resistance. In a few minutes I was banging on their back door. "Who?" I identified myself. They let me in and in a few words I explained the situation. The young ones and father were immediately on the move. While speeding towards the opposite end of town I could already spot brisk activity between the houses. I managed to leave Liw before the Russian renegades completely encircled it. Not knowing if only Liw was involved, and just to be safe, I woke up the village headmen in every settlement as far as the village of Grebkow where I notified the local AK post commander of the situation.
Without any additional adventures I reached a place called Kaluszyn on the main highway to Warsaw, and stopped for something to eat and a glass of vodka to warm me up at the little restaurant called "Aunt’s Place". There beside food and drink one could get help when in need and all the latest information on what lay ahead. There was a truck about to leave in the direction of Warsaw, so I paid and went outside to hitch a ride to the next town, Minsk Mazowiecki, my left hand clutching the handle on the tailgate of the truck. It was not the most comfortable mode of transportation, especially in wintertime, but it was faster than pedaling.
At Minsk I left my bike with
the local "contact" and took the fast electric train to Warsaw. The train
drive was rather uneventful if one ignored the smuggling that regularly
occurred .When the train was departing from one of the suburban stations
there was a shout: "Hold the doors" and everybody near them grabbed the
door handles to prevent the automatic closing. About a kilometer past the
station the train slowed down to a crawl and all kinds of forbidden black
market foodstuffs were thrown into inviting open doors while most passengers
dragged the goods in. Just before the station at Warsaw the conductor delivered
the warning: "Warsaw is taking", which meant that there were gendarmes
waiting for expected loot. At that time smuggling provided the only lifeline
for the starving City. The train crew was notified at each station by telephone
what lay ahead at the next stop. That was why everybody would put some
"thank you" money into the hat of the passing conductor and the train would
come to a stop by a field for all smugglers with their rucksacks to disembark.
Some times the warning was not about a raid on smuggled food but on humans,
mostly the young. The conductor on duty always somehow knew and would empty
the train just in time. On arrival in Warsaw I managed to telephone a friend
who worked in the office of a large cooperative store at my town, just
to let them know that I had not been caught in the raid. Incidentally,
the raid was only in Liw and all who were wanted by the police managed
to "retreat to previously prepared positions”. 28
24 SD = Sonder Dienst.
Schupo = Shutz Polizei,
SS = Shutzstaffel, Gendarmerie,
Gestapo = Geheime Staats Polizei, some of the German police formations operating in occupied Poland. Wehrmacht on the other hand was strictly Armed Forces although
on numerous occasions pressed into helping the political police in their operations.
25 Initially Germans let the Russian prisoners of war taken by them on the Eastern Front die of starvation in the POW camps. However later they convinced a Russian general Wlasow, also a prisoner, that it would be better for both parties to form a special force of the POW' to be used in the subduing of the civilian population in German occupied Eastern Europe.
26 Small towns and villages where there were no German forces stationed had an obligation to provide the civilian night patrols for fire protection duty..
27 During police and Gestapo raids the most vulnerable were young people who, when caught, were at best sent for slave labor to Germany, and suspected members of the Resistance who were often executed in front of their families. In anticipation of such raids most villagers had well secured hiding places in their farm buildings.
28 Description of defensive
retreat at the Eastern Front often used by Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (High
Command of the German Armed Forces) while trying to minimize the retreat
on the battlefield. Here used ironically.