Chapter 9


From the very beginning of the occupation the German authorities made clear, that they would tolerate only a very elementary general education and low grade trade schools in that part of our Country known now as General Guvernement.31 In the occupant's order of things Polish children needed only the basic education necessary to be employed as manual labor.
Subjects like history and geography were verbotten. *  The children of ethnic Jewish origin, down to three generations, were totally excluded. As all the school buildings were taken over by German military and police administration, the elementary school classes took place in private houses all over the town. The principal of that school Stanislaw Wojciechowski, had to visit all the classes each morning, which was time consuming and a hindrance, yet this routine was to save his life. Besides being a teacher and school principal Wojciechowski wasthe very first organizer of the Underground in our Town.

One May morning in 1941 the Gestapo came to his house to arrest him but he had already left on his tour of classes. They took his older daughter Danusia, then fifteen, to lead them to where her father might be. The smart girl, who knew her father's route led them to places that he had already visited and, with permission of the not too bright Gestapo agents, kept asking passers-by if they had seen her father, knowing full well that in a small town where people know each other, somebody would warn him of the danger.

Sure enough, an eleven year old fifth grade student named Wasowski, who by one of those lucky coincidences was probably playing hooky from school, spotted Danusia with the Gestapo and did not need a handbook to figure it out. Bursting into the room where his principal was visiting a class, he called him out and barely catching his breath told him to run for his life. ..

The situation was much worse with the secondary school. The local "Schulrat" **  soon after assuming his office called all the teachers from his jurisdiction and warned them of the consequences of teaching without his permission. It deterred few. Never the less our clandestine High School started its operation in November 1939, barely three months into the German occupation and never ceased until it ended.

Before the War the local High School was the center of cultural, sport and social life for the Town and District. There was hardly any public occasion in which the School would not take an important part with its brass band, concerts attended by big time artists, theatrical performances, sporting competitions and national celebrations. But most of all the High School had given a chance to hundreds of young people from our own and neighboring districts to get a secondary education which they would not be able to afford otherwise. Created and supported by the Community it was a real Alma Mater, a loving place that nurtured in its charges real human values. When the War came most of the external trappings of High School life disappeared. Gone were the campus, the brass band, evening socializing and weekly dances, and the crowd of friendly faces. All the little, but so important things that make the school life of adolescents a cherished memory were no more. But the Spirit of the School survived. Indeed, those years of "underground" teaching were our High School's "Finest Hour".***   There were some professors to whom teaching was a Vocation of the highest order and there were students who needed them. And there was that constant danger of arrest, concentration camp and death. Small classes in private homes and frequent changes of venue were the order of the day with harassed teachers walking from one class site to another, house searches by gendarmes which somehow were never fruitful, mostly due to the vigilance of town's people who kept their eyes and ears open.

And what a wonderful school it was. The history, literature, social and ethical problems, were no longer boring subjects - we were living them. The endless discussions, the comradeship, the labor of love by our teachers who were well aware of the vulnerability of their young charges in a world gone haywire. And it was not unusual for the teacher and his senior students to meet at different hours and different places to be instructed in the deadly subjects of war. And if some of us did not show for classes one day everyone pretended not to notice; it meant that he or she was needed on some "action".

And despite that, or maybe because of it, most of us who had such an unusual youth remember our years in that, by normal standards, decimated School as one of the glorious highlights of our lives.

*       Forbidden
**     German official in charge of education
***   The title "Their finest hour" is from the famous speech by Winston Churchill praising the enormous courage of a few hundred mostly British pilots who fought the air battle against the predominant German Luftwaffe. In the "Battle of Britain" those pilots alone saved England and all our western civilization from total disaster. There were 141 Polish pilots taking part in that battle, and 29 of them were killed in action. Among them was an officer pilot named Stefan Paderewski, a 1934 graduate of our High School. A veteran of the campaign of 1939 in Poland he then fought in France and after her defeat in 1940 landed in England to fight again. He was shot down over Calais in 1941.

31  The western part of Poland was incorporated into Germany as so called Wartegau. The eastern part, first given to Russia and later administered by Germans as Ostland. The remaining part of central Poland became General Guvernement.