I was born in the small town of Łąka near Pszczyny in Silesia, in a typical large Polish family. I had 3 brothers (Eryk, Ryszard and Józef) and 4 sisters (Amalia, Aniela, Łucja and Gertruda – named after Mother), and so there were ten of us. My father, Franciszek, worked at the post office. Our family had lived in Silesia for generations. My grandparents on my father’s side were very rich. My maternal grandfather we knew no German at all.
I attended school in Łąka (1933-36), and then attended Pszczyny’s Boleslaw Chrobrego high school, where the famed sons of the inter-war Polish aristocracy (Zamosc, Wielopolski, Radziwill) also studied. They were not relieved of any school duties as a result of their status.
Pre-war Pszczyna was a place where many nationalities peacefully co-existed: Poles, Germans and Jews. Different religions had their houses of worship, and there were Polish, Jewish and German schools. I remember the hockey games played by the Polish and German teams. Most of the shops were Jewish. The overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of Pszczyny were bilingual.
There were many Polish organizations. The Germans had their own Volksbund, financed by the eldest son of Prince Hochberga-Pszcyna, and where he actively participated.
With the outbreak of war, my education ended after the third grade of junior high school.
THE BEGINNING OF WORLD WAR II
From the onset of 1939, there had been increasing tensions among the local Poles concerning the potential outbreak of war. A number of incidents on the Polish-German border, along with Nazi propaganda among local Germans residing in Upper Silesia , did not put Poles in a positive frame of mind.
Three Battalion infantry regiments were stationed In Łąka, in August 1939. The military befriended the local population. The village was full of life. In the evenings, the military band would play in the main square. All was pleasant and cheerful.
In the last days of August, we began to sense some nervousness among the soldiers, and this anxiety permeated the residents of the town. One day, the Regimental Commander gathered the troops and made an appeal to their sense of patriotism, as the outbreak of war was nearing.
1 September 1939 was the first Friday of the month – the day dedicated to the worship of the Heart of Jesus, and particularly important to my mother. At 5:45 a.m., we went with her to the Church for mass. Planes were flying over our village; something that had not occurred in previous days. Father went to work at the post office in Pszczyna. We learned that Germany had attacked Poland. Soldiers in full gear, walked in a single file along the roadways, heading in a westerly direction, in the area around the Vistula River Great. World War II had begun.
Father returned home in the afternoon, telling us to pack quickly, as a Post Office van would be coming to collect us. There was a marked mood of anxiety as we decided to evacuate. We waited in vain. After some time, we all set out for Pszczyny. All our belongings were loaded onto two bikes that were overflowing, and a toy car, which also held a year-old niece. An elderly aunt remained at home to see to the remainder of our belongings.
Once we reached Pszczyna, my two older brothers decided to return home. At Ćwiklica, we lost contact with Father. We met the retreating Polish Army on the Embolus-Wadowice road; they were headed in the direction of Krakow, so we blended in with the soldiers.
Near Krakow, along with the fleeing population, we boarded a train heading in an easterly direction. We first saw the tragic consequences of war In Tarnów. The bombing and shelling had left the railway station strewn with rubble, with corpses scattered all over the platform. When we noticed that enemy aircraft were approaching, we quickly disembarked and rushed to hide in the fields.
The train carriages were getting more and more crowded; younger passengers were being placed in the upper baggage racks. Our wanderings led us through Rzeszów, Łańcut, Leżajsk and Przeworsk. When we reached Yaroslavl, we learned that the German Army was approaching from the West and Soviet forces from the East. We decided to return home.
In Przeworsk, we encountered soldiers on horribly dusty motorcycles. We were eager to just get home as soon as possible. We passed a column of German troops, and a German soldier ordered us to unload our bicycles. Our only means of transportation was taken from us.
We met up with German lorries in Jarosławia - they were transporting Polish officers; prisoners of war. Thanks to Mother’s creativity and knowledge of the German language, the whole family was loaded into one lorry, except for me, because I was in a school uniform. However, I managed to outsmart the Germans and, with the help of Polish officers, also managed to get onboard.
Near Krakow we switched to the train. We reached the railway station in Pszczyna at 21.00 and learned that the curfew began at 20.00. However, we decided to continue towards our hometown. We were eight frightened individuals, walking among the burned-out buildings and the rubble. From a distance we identified the contours of our house; fortunately, it had survived.
My father and two older brothers, who returned to the family home earlier, greeted us. This was the end of our needless wandering. Mother stated "No one will drag me away from here now, not even with a pair of horses. What was all that for?! "
Our house survived the turmoil of September 1939. A difficult life under German occupation now began. I helped my parents on our humble farm. Father still worked at the post office, as a postman. Silesia was incorporated into the German Reich.
SERVICE IN THE WEHRMACHT
My route to the 3 Dywizja Strzelców Karpackich was very complicated. Reaching the age of 18 in 1942, I was suddenly subjected to a forced 8-month training. This was combined with work in the Nazi youth organization, RAD (Reicharbeitcdienst) in Opole, where half of each day was spent with a shovel in my hands, and another with a rifle. We worked mainly on road construction. After those eight months, I was drafted into the German Army in 1943; into a military unit of the Wehrmacht, in Wrocław.
Along with other Silesians, I was forcibly conscripted into the Wehrmacht. Opting out of working in the RAD, or serving in the German Army, would have meant that all the members of our families would have been sent to Auschwitz. I was then sent to France, near Tour on the Seine River, where we underwent further training. I served briefly in the South of France, near Montpellier. Germans did not really trust Silesians, therefore I never met a Wehrmacht officer of Polish origin. We were rather assigned to Administrative sections, like military warehouse management. They believed that Silesians and Pomeranians, should they be allowed at the front lines, would desert to the enemy side at the earliest opportunity.
In 1944, wearing a German uniform, I found myself in Normandy. In the course of the invasion, which started on 6 June1944, I was captured near Rouen. I was then transported to the POW camp in England. I did not inform my parents that I was in a POW camp, because I did not want to expose them to danger from the local authorities in Nazi-occupied Silesia, where they still lived in their native Ląka.
In the POW camp, the Canadian Army grouped us by nationality: native Germans separated from Silesians, Wielkopoles, and Pomeranians who were forcibly conscripted into the German Army; in yet another group of nationalities. I was among the Poles. After some time, Polish officers visited us, proposing that we join the ranks of the Polish Army.
We were extremely happy to see them, and to see Polish uniforms; to know that the Polish Army still exists in the West. Almost 90% of prisoners from our group volunteered. As a condition of service, for reasons of our security, we were given new names -nicknames. I came up with the name Alphonsus Alsatian, born in Zaleszczykach, Stanisławów. Service under one’s real name implied a huge danger. Our prisoner-of-war clothes were replaced by English field uniforms, and we were assigned to units of the Polish Army. I joined the Independent Parachure Brigade, where I met my classmate from junior high school in Pszczyna - Bolesław Kubica. He was about a year older than I. We went to to Largohouse in Scotland. We were not meant for skydiving, so we requested a change of assignment; I was sent to the II Corps in Italy, and my colleague remained in England.
SERVICE IN THE 2nd CORPS
Our great convoy sailed from Glasgow, for11 days and nights, through dangerous waters full of German submarines, past Gibraltar, until we reached Naples. When we boarded the ship, we didn't know whether we were going to Palestine, Egypt or Italy. When we spotted Vesuvius, we knew that we were assigned to units already stationed on the Apenine Peninsula.
We were stationed in and around the city of Taranto, located at the bottom of the "Italian boot"; I was a clerk in the Chancellery of the Polish 3rd Carpathian Rifle Brigade Headquarters. My boss was Senior Sergeant Nałęcz-Bączkowski from Chrzanow, who returned to Poland after the war, just like I did. Our two camps, Jolanta and San Domenico, consisted of dozens of small military tents assembled in the shade of olive orchards. With each passing day, we had to mount a series of new tents, in order to house the newly-arrived members of the II Corps who joined us from the German Army.
My duties were to reply to correspondence, forward orders, compile lists of payments, rosters of soldiers, and transfers. This is where I met the son of the landowner of Pszcyna, count Alexander Hochberga-Pszczyński, who served in the II Corps in the role of interpreter for a while. He previously served the same function in the Division and in the Middle East. This role was important in maintaining good relations with the Americans and the British. He was a remarkable person, very friendly with everyone. He often mentioned Pszczyna, and the local bison. He did not say much about his family, and we did not ask.
I remember the Taranto area as a very pleasant place. In our free time we liked to stuff ourselves with mandarins, as few of us could afford them in pre-WWII Poland.
As a result of the influx of prisoners of the Wehrmach, the 3rd Brigade soon expanded to three battalions. Along with Aleksander and 3 others, we were ordered to go to the north of Italy, closer to the front, with the objective of finding accommodation of our Brigade. In Predappio we met with General Duch, and heard about the progress of the Soviet Army in Poland. Aleksander realized that he will probably never return to Pszczyna.
Along with the 7th Battalion of the 3 DSK, I took part in the battles on the Senio River and in the capture of Bologna; the 9th Battalion was the first to enter Bologna. At this point, General Anders interrupted the fight of the II Corps, knowing that does not make sense to continue to shed Polish blood, and most of the units were shipped to the south of Italy. He explained his decision in a speech that he made to us in May 1945. He said that he will not prevent any among us from going back to our homeland. But he believed, that some soldiers will remain in the West with him, and will eventually march on a truly free Poland.
After the end of the Italian campaign, I became a pupil of the school that had been created in the Middle East by the 3rd DSK. However, its largest development took place in Italy.
This included a junior high school and high school in Amandoli and in Sarnano, which encompassed more than a thousand soldiers of the II Corps. The teaching staff included pre-war lecturers, exiled during the war by the Nazis to concentration camps or prisoner of war camps. After their liberation, they joined the Polish schools in Italy. Of particular note are: George Beer - Professor of mathematics - after the war, he was a lecturer at the University of Technology in Gliwice; Professor Joseph Małecki – Polish language; Joseph Kapica - pre-war tutor at UJ - was the Director of the Carpathian School and came from the Pszczyny region. I received my high school diploma in Terra del Sole, along with Richard Kaczorowski (future President of Poland-in-exile). After he graduated from high school, he also became a graduate of this unique school, colloquially known as the "Carpathian School". I look back warmly on those times. In 1946, the Carpathian School was moved to the UK. My colleagues and I were transported there from Amandoli, where I was enrolled in the high school mathematics – physics program) through Naples to Liverpool. This was almost the same trip as my previous one through the Mediterranean Sea; although it was quieter and safer now.
We lived in the camp at Bodney Airfield, a former military airport, where we were put up in metal barracks, referred to as barrels of laughter. I completed Senior High School (I had returned to my real name; my high school certificate lists me as Wilczur) and we were all wondering what to do next. The English dismantled our Division, so I joined the Polish resettlement Corps, which was aimed at the adaptation of demobilized former soldiers to civilian life. Each of us signed a 2-year contract saying that we will serve in the Corps and participate in courses and professional training. They also facilitated contacts with Western countries for those of us who did not want to go back to Poland, so that we could look for work there. The 2-year contracts did not apply to those who decided to go back to Poland.
I constantly mulled over what to do. I wrote to the family. In order not to bring any harm to them as a result of my stay in the UK, I sent my letters through my friend Helena, whom I had met in France. My parents had already lost 2 sons, who had also been forced into the Wehrmacht, on the eastern front. Finally, my Mother wrote and asked me to come home. (She said “I have already lost two sons, so at least I will have you with me”).
In order to return to Poland I was transported by lorry to the Polish Consulate in London, along with a group of other Polish soldiers.
Back to Poland
Shortly after we submitted our documents, we were sent to a camp in the North of Scotland, and then we sailed from Edinburgh to Gdynia. As we were sailing on an British ship, our weapons were confiscated. We reached Gdynia in mid-July, 1947. It was no longer the same country that we remembered before the war. We immediately felt that we would be under constant observation. As soldiers, we felt helpless. Customs officers in Gdansk stole part of the things we had brought with us. After 2 days in Gdansk, where we received very bad food, we were loaded into the same kind of wagons that the Soviets had used in 1940-41 to remove us from the Eastern Borderlands to Siberia. All this did not put us in a positive frame of mind and was in sharp contrast to the conditions that prevailed in the II Corps. And this is how we returned to Silesia. To this day I remember the beautiful route from Pszczyny to Łąka that I travelled on 17 July 1947, so happy and proud in my Polish II Corps uniform. On reaching home, I was greeted with great joy, and this is how my new life began.
Pszczyna was not the same place. Germany had deported the Jews at the beginning of the war, and destroyed the synagogue. The Germans themselves were either expelled in 1945, relocated to Siberia by the Soviets, or sent to the labour camp in Jaworze. A small group of non-political Germans decided to remain. Now, many claim that they are simply Silesians.
After registring at the Military Command, I was once more a civilian. I enjoyed a period of well-deserved rest, during which time I visited my many relatives and friends, and where I recounted my wartime fate. Then it became necessary to find a job. Thanks to the education I had received, I became a planner in a local enterprise and managed to advance, even though many said that I am an Anders follower and a reactionary. After 9 years, the Party finally realized this, and I was asked to resign from the managerial position that I had gained by a lot of hard work. I wrote that I was resigning for reasons that are independent from me. However, I continued to come across the negative designation of Anders Follower in future jobs.
I worked in a variety of commercial enterprises in Pszczyna, until my retirement in 1984. This is where I met my wife, Christine, and we have lived the past 60 years in her family home and will probably live our last days here. We have a daughter, Eve, who lives in the same house with us, along with her family. We had a son, but sadly we lost him when he was 25.
In the days of communism in Poland I was a member of the Ex-combatants for a time – The Association of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy - but I quit as soon as I realized that it included both the victims and the executioners. In 2007, I joined the Association of Former Soldiers of the Polish Armed Forces in the West "Karpatczycy" established in Warsaw. I only regret that I joined so late, but I participate in all meetings and ceremonies with great joy.
As a veteran and ‘Carpathian’, I took part in ceremonies in Warsaw on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the 3 DSK, on the 2nd and 3rd of May 2012 as well as celebrating the May 3rd holiday (this took place in the gardens of the Presidential Palace).
I often remember my colleagues from II Corps, and still correspond with some of them. I regret that I failed to see some of them after the war, for example, my wonderful friend Joachim Chudka. I also do not know what happened to Stanislaw Pyką living in America; he has not contacted me for some time. We occasionally view the cartoons by Mietek Kuczyński from the Carpathian School ... I am saddened about those who have died, like Prof. Witold Żdanowicza – the author of 2 publications about Monte Cassino.
I am in close contact with Józek Wawrzyczki, with whom I was in Amandoli. He comes from neighboring Goczałkowic, and lives in Lublin.
I regret that I do not know the fate of dozens of colleagues, whose surnames, and even first names, I still remember. "He does not die, who remains in the hearts and memory of the living"