Lech CYGANIEWICZ-HALKO

Excerpt from his book "The Anchor The Chosen Coat of Arms"

 

describing life at Stalag IX-B Fallingbostel

where Warsaw Uprising participants were taken

In the late afternoon, the train slows, comes to a small station, puts on the breaks and stops. We can hear the loud guttural twang of German orders. After a moment, there is the sound of the clicking locks, the sliding doors screeching as they open, and the interior of the car is filled with the afternoon light. We have reached our destination.

 

The place is called Fallingbostel. We take our knapsacks, haversacks and other baggage and jump out onto the platform. Our girls also disembark the train but I do not see Steńka or my sister. They are there for sure, but they are hidden behind the crowd of soldiers. I really want to see them and find out how they have weathered the journey. Unfortunately, I have to possess myself in patience.

 

Then, a group of Polish officers try to form a column. Then the orders are issued: We will march four by four in a close-order column as the 36th Infantry Regiment of the Academic Legion, with the Command and officers in front! “Arrange yourselves, as much as possible, by company. The Women’s Auxiliary Services at the end! You are to maintain military discipline!”

 

We try to maintain even ranks and synchronize our steps, but, at the beginning, we do not succeed. Only those at the front hear the orders. The front moves while the middle marches in place and those in the back stand around not quite knowing what to do. Only a few of us have Polish military uniforms, with the rest in civilian clothes of various colours. Only a few have kept their Panterkas. I remember how, not long ago, after our trek through the sewers from the Old Town, our camouflage jackets created a real sensation and elicited envy on the part of the soldiers in the City Centre. During the surrender, most people exchanged them for civilian shirts and jackets.

 

“You’re really going to catch it for wearing a German tunic. It is evidence of the fact that you killed a Kraut and took the uniform from him!” squawks my brother, who exchanged his Panterka for a civilian jacket. I am not too worried about such nonsense, especially now, instead of the barricades, it is the Geneva Convention that protects us.

 

Slowly the column spreads out along the highway and evens out its pace. The rhythmic chanting of some sergeant helps a little: “left, left, left…” I look around behind me, wondering how my sister Jasiula is managing with her wounded leg, but I cannot see her because the girls are very far at the back. As I look to the front, I am struck by the length of the column. The column is more or less ten times longer than the train that has brought us here.

 

“If this had been a march past, our regiment would stretch from the Belvedere Palace past the square, to the crossroads on Ujazdów Ave., where the high tribunal with the President of the Republic, the Marshall and his command always stood!” I think aloud.

 

“Stop dreaming!” Jurek advised me. “It’s the Krauts who are receiving our march past! Look at one of them over there with his gob hanging open because he has probably never seen such an army in all his life!” He is right. A group of Kraut soldiers and civilians are eyeing us.We then approach the gate of the camp on which hangs a large sign: STALAG XI-B. This means nothing to me, but it is good that it is not the hated familiar sign on the gates of German concentration camps, “ARBEIT MACHT FREI130”. Neither do I see the smoking chimneys of crematoria. However, I then see something that gives me chills and fills me with dread: guard towers and long endless rows of high barbed wire. I decide then and there in my heart that that barbed wire and those guard towers will not succeed in limiting my freedom and that they will not stop me from escaping.

 

Our column marches along the main road in the camp, among the barracks whose huge number inspire awe and despair. It is a veritable city of wooden barracks and thousands of prisoners of various nationalities, wearing various uniforms and caps!

 

Our column arouses a lot of interest, particularly among the Polish prisoners, called “Septemberists” because they have been in captivity since September 1939. They greet us with particular warmth, reach out to us, and shout to us, give us cigarettes and encourage us. One of them, dressed in a Polish field four cornered hat, is so moved that he falls to his knees and begins to ring his hands and cry. Our girls later tell us that prisoners of every nationality were moved to a frenzy at the sight of the women soldiers. The German escorts could not manage this situation. The existing prisoners mingled with the column, stopping it and offering all kinds of things to the girls. They generously distributed American and English tinned goods, biscuits, sweetened condensed milk, cigarettes, Portuguese sprats in oil and Swiss chocolate, all from Red Cross packages.

 

The Germans bring order to this situation with difficulty, and guide us to a large square surrounded by a separate row of barbed wire. They separate us from the women, who find themselves in a similar enclosure just beside ours.

 

The column disperses and everyone rushes to the fence that separates us from the girls. That includes me. I see a light blond, but it is not Steńka. I shout at the top of my voice, “‘Cyganiewicz’! Jasiula! Steńka!” They are there, rushing in my direction!

 

I stick my head in between the wires and we kiss each other in greeting, separated for the first time by barbed wire. Then, Jasiula presses a package of American cigarettes into my hand. “Take these, share them with Zbych! I have another package!” she says.

 

Unfortunately, this idyll lasts only a very short time. Suddenly, a team of German guards appears in our enclosure running and driving us away from the fence with loud shouts. Some zealous Kraut, unable to convince the Insurgents to move away, fires a shot in the air to scare us, which elicits spontaneous whistles on both sides of the fence. “Shoot, you son of a B…! Waste ammunition and while you’re at it, kiss our arses!” one of the Insurgents announces in Polish.“Our dear, wonderful girls! I never even knew that they could whistle!”, another declares.

 

A row of guards stands at the fence and threaten us with rifles. But this does not frighten off our girls who, during the march through the camp, receive many gifts from prisoners of various nationality and want to share them with us. The girls start to throw various tins and packages of cigarettes over the fences and over the heads of the guards. A tin thrown by my sister lands close to a guard. I walk up and bend down to pick it up and find myself looking down the barrel of the rifle. I look up and see an aging German on whose kindly face there is no sign that he wants to kill me, although the end of the barrel of his rifles is just in front of my nose. You just never know about these Krauts. The Krauts in Warsaw had the words “Gott mit uns” engraved on their belt buckles, but that did not stop them from murdering defenceless women, children, seniors and wounded Insurgents.

 

I risk using some of my broken German: “Das ist vor meine Schwester”. The Kraut then turns on his heel and pretends that he does not see me pick up the tin. I decide to reciprocate. I open the package of American cigarettes and approach the Kraut and discretely gave him two cigarettes. He takes them and winks at me and says, “Danke. Danke schoen.” I figure that this acquaintance will come in handy when I have a go at jumping the accursed barbed wire, and I made up my mind to escape the moment I first passed the gate of the Stalag.In the meantime, another group of German soldiers, mostly low-ranking officers and non-commissioned officers, begin a personal search. They arrange us in rows, with an arm’s length distance between us and then begin to dig around in our knapsacks, haversacks and bags

 

I have nothing of a compromising nature on me, but just in case, I hide my scout knife in my boot. It is a good decision because they immediately commandeer all knives, even pocket knives. Suddenly a row breaks out close to me, with a lot of Kraut shouting that I do not understand. First, a Kraut rips the helmet off my head and then starts to pull at my jacket. Two more shouting Krauts, who call up a Polish representative and order him to translate their questions, join him. “Why do you have a German uniform on? Where and when did you kill the German who owned the jacket?”

 

I reply that I did not even know that this is a German uniform. I was issued this jacket at some warehouse and I was under the impression that it was a Hungarian tunic just like the helmet that they have taken away from me already. They jabber their gibberish some more and then order me to take off the jacket which they throw on a wheelbarrow. I can see other German camouflage jackets and various other parts of German uniforms lying on the wheelbarrow. Inwardly, I bless my mother who stuck a jacket into my back pack because it was already getting cold and it would get colder still in the winter.

 

To hell with you! I think. “You want to use our Insurrectionist uniforms for a new division, but that won’t help you! I am sorry to lose the camouflage jacket with bullet holes from the battle at the Krasiński Square, a memento. But you won’t get my Polish helmet buried in the ruins of the main Post Office. Stupid Krauts!” Because of this little adventure, they forget all about the search and I manage to smuggle in my scout knife!

 

Next, the Germans place some tables in the square at which lines began to form, and they begin to take the personal data of the prisoners. An interpreter stands at each table. Each person is asked for his surname, Christian name, rank, assignment, and date of birth. All our ID documents are confiscated. They take my Home Army ID, my school ID and my Kenkarte. One of the Krauts then ponders over my ruined prayer book, which I have had with me throughout the Uprising, and into which I put some loose cards with notes on them.

 

“Sind sie Roman Katholisch?” the German asks. “Ja”, I reply. At this, the German returns the prayer book to me together with the notes. I get the impression that he is a Catholic too. In exchange for ID papers, we receive a prisoner number, a common yellowed piece of cardboard with a large six-digit number stamped on it.

 

It just so happens that I am standing in line behind Sgt. Cadet Officer “Wojtek” from 101 Company. I remind him that I walked behind him in the sewers from the Old Town to Centre City. Sgt. Cadet Officer “Wojtek” receives prisoner number 140842, and I get the next one 140843. My brother Corp. Cadet Officer “Cyganiewicz” receives the next one after that 140844.

 

We watch with interest as similar procedures are carried out in our girls’ sector. Later I learn that Steńka has gotten number 141380, and my sister Jasiula Number 141707. First the Germans plundered Poland, then they took away our freedom and now they have taken away our Polish names and given us numbers in exchange!

 

“What are you worrying about, ‘Cyganiewicz?’ It’s a lot more straight-forward. An excellent German invention! Any fool can remember six digits. It’s a lot easier than your real name, Hałko-Lech-Cyganiewicz, and no one will spell it wrong!” mouths off Jurek.“So, you just remember your number, the number of the stupidest fool in the camp!” I snap.

 

The Germans seem to be behaving fairly well in general. I have the impression that they are somewhat uneasy in this Stalag which houses thousands of desperate prisoners disappointed by a war that has dragged on and on. The German staff that guards us is barely a handful of mainly old geezers who are no longer fit for military services at the front. As we used to say in Warsaw, we can cover them with our hats and take their arms and stomp on them.

 

And there have been some funny incidents too. Corp. Cadet Officer “Malarz” tells the story that when they were taking the census, the following conversation with the Kraut resulted in a big laughThey assign us to some smelly barrack in the center of which stand some primitive long tables and benches, and along the sides of which are two rows of three storey wooden bunks. On the bunks are worn out straw pallets, so worn out that dust sprinkles down from the ones on the higher bunks onto the lower ones. For this reason, Jurek and I take upper bunks, which turns out to be a mistake.

 

Zbych and Alfonse take the bunks below ours. The chief of the barrack, a “Septemberist” then announces that in this “hotel”, because of the large number of “tourists”, we will sleep two to a bunk, in other words six people to each three-story unit of bunks.

 

The arrival of such a large number of prisoners of war, mostly all in civilian clothes, arouses considerable interest among the old prisoners who visit our barrack in groups to ask a lot of questions.

 

There are Americans, Frenchmen and Englishmen. The most pleasant visits are from the Polish “Septemberists”, not only because we can communicate with them more easily, but because their appearance, cleanliness and behaviour differ from the other nationalities. Five years of captivity has toughened them up and they have maintained military discipline and camaraderie. They are a shining example for all the other nationalities, but not one to everyone’s taste. We can see how hunger and the difficult conditions of the camp have adversely affected the mental state of some of the prisoners. Of course, there are exceptions, but the ones who break the fastest are the Russians who do not receive Red Cross packages because Stalin does not recognize the Geneva Convention. After that, come the French and English. There are very many scruffy, unshaven, dirty, louse ridden and stinking prisoners among them.

 

I wonder how the Insurgents, most of whom do not know the meaning of military discipline, will acquit themselves in captivity. There are a lot of Warsaw hooligans and other shadowy characters, who fought the enemy very gallantly. But captivity is a whole different thing. What will be, we will see later. For now, “Lights out” is approaching and while our guests return to their barracks, we climb into our bunks with the hope that our first night in the Stalag will be peaceful and relatively comfortable.  A pipe dream!

 

Tuesday, October 10

I do not sleep long. I am awakened by numerous and painful bug bites. I am bitten everywhere there is a bit of bare skin; behind my ear, in front of my ear, in my ear, on my forehead, on my nose, my neck and my arms and legs. I try to get the bugs off and scratch like crazy, but nothing helps. Worst of all, I do not even know what kind of bugs are eating me alive. Up until now, the lice have left me alone, maybe because the day before yesterday I disinfected my underwear with chloroform. I can still smell that muck now.

 

Suddenly, I smell a revolting odour of another kind, something between paraffin and a musty rotten stink of various substances. It seems that I have squashed one of the biting bugs on my nose and I can smell the wet stinking liquid on my fingers. I do not have a flash light, and, in the dark, I cannot see what it is. I reach for my lighter and by its light can see huge fat disgusting bedbugs sitting on Jurek’s face! Before my eyes one of the revolting things falls from the ceiling of the barrack straight onto Jurek’s cheek and immediately tucks into a meal swelling with the blood that it is sucked. I squash the filthy bug with my finger until it bursts and blood, or rather that stinking liquid sprays out. I start to feel nauseous, but Jurek continues to sleep and snore.

 

Swearing under my breath, I get down and stand on the floor. I have the sensation that the bedbugs are catching up to me and that I cannot get away. Somebody complains, but I do not know if that is because I have woken him up, or it is because of the bedbugs. I can hear some of the guys talking, moaning and sighing in their sleep. Are they having nightmares, or are those damned bedbugs tormenting them? The predominant sound is snoring. It’s too bad that the weird sounds coming from the hundreds of pairs of lungs don’t scare the bedbugs away. Later, I come to the conclusion that the snoring is like reveille for the bugs. Awakened by the noise, they crawl out of various corners and crevices between the boards and ceiling and start their invasion. Most of them are near the ceiling from which they drop. They land where there is something to bite and they bite immediately. It is only the first night in the prisoner of war camp and my patience is already being stretched to the limit. I have to go outside. A Polish “Septemberist” keeps watch at the door, guarding our belongings and maintains general order in the barrack.

 

“You going to the latrine?” he asks, “or are you trying to escape the bedbugs? If it is the latter, you better get used to them. The bedbugs are everywhere. You can’t escape them.”“I can’t stand it. I want to go out and lie down in the grass and maybe then I can get some sleep.”

 

“I don’t recommend it. Leaving the barracks at night is ‘verboten’, in other words forbidden. But if you have to, then wait until the beam of the search light moves past and then quickly jump to the left into the shadow. The Germans have not been shooting lately, but you never know with them. On each observation tower there is a machine gun, in addition to the search light.”

 

The guard opens the door a little and we wait for the search light. I jump outside immediately after the search light and turn left, running around the corner of the barrack and lie down on the ground. The fresh air dazes me, but there is another problem that I did not foresee: the cold of this October night in northern Germany. In a few minutes, I am shaking from the cold and my teeth are chattering. I roll myself in a ball like a dog, and pull my scout shirt over my head. I can feel myself quickly losing body heat. I cannot sleep. I regret leaving my back pack on the bunk. In it I have a spare underwear, a sweater and a jacket.

 

“The smart Pole who gets wise after the fact”, I think to myself. I lie there and consider what to do now. The bright search light beams move along the rows of barbed wire. That accursed barbed wire! The sight of it depresses me. Now I know how a bird locked in a cage feels. I am depressed. I feel humiliated and defeated.... Defeated? I cannot remember who said, “To be defeated and not to surrender, that is victory! To win and rest on your laurels is real defeat!”

 

I decide that I will not surrender, that I will not settle for captivity. I have to escape, to get out of this prison surrounded by barbed wire. I ponder what is worse, the disgusting bedbugs or the cold. Frozen to the bone, I decide to return to the barrack. I jump right after the beam of the search light passes.

 

Inside the door, the “Septemberist” guard, awakened from a snooze by my sudden burst into the room, wants to have a chat, which, for the sake of our sleeping comrades, we conduct in a whisper. Curious about news of the Warsaw Uprising, he showers me with questions which I answer. However, I quickly change the subject, and in an attempt to take advantage of his five years of experience behind the barbed wire, I ask him questions about the conditions in the Stalag and the possibilities of escape

 

“To escape from the Stalag in the final phase of the war makes no sense. In my opinion, we should posses our souls in patience and wait.” advises the “Septemberist”. “I tried to escape twice in 1941 and in 1942. They caught me easily and beat me to unconsciousness and put me into solitary confinement in a concrete cell without windows and without a bunk. They cut my ration of bread and rutabaga soup in half. Three weeks on this starvation diet weakens a prisoner so much that they take him out of the cell on a stretcher.”

 

“In spite of this, you ran away a second time! How did you do it? Don’t you think that in the chaos of a war they are losing, it would not be easier now?” I ask.

 

“It may be easier but it is more dangerous. Instead of arresting the escapee, the Germans might well shoot you on the spot. Escape from the Stalag is almost impossible. It is easier to escape from the Work Detail Command for which you have to volunteer. You never know where you will end up; with a farmer in some village or in some munitions factory, the products of which they will use to bomb the Allies. In any case, you should not try to escape in the winter. I advise that you wait until spring and maybe the war will be over by then. Patience!” he advises.The dawn is not far away. I sit at the table, supporting my head with my arms and fall asleep.

 

Wednesday, October 11

First thing in the morning comes reveille, roll call in front of the barrack, prisoner count and inspection. Through the barbed wire, I can see the neighbouring sector where our girls are. We wave and greet each other from a distance, but our voices do not carry that far.

 

During the roll call, the Germans announce that all our officers will be leaving today to go to the Oflag. We bid heartfelt farewells to each other, but Lt. “Szczerba” seems kind of cool, as if he is offended about something. I do not know why. Perhaps I have interpreted his sadness incorrectly.

 

Right after the order “Dismissed!” I run to the barbed wire. Jasiula sees me and calls Steńka. As the Germans do not allow us to approach the wire, we shout to each other from a distance. I learn that their barrack is also full of bedbugs and the girls could not sleep. I declare that I cannot stand it and that I will escape at the first opportunity.

 

“Don’t do anything stupid! Don’t take the risk! The war will be over soon. Have patience!” they advise.

 

The prisoners who work in the camp kitchen wheel out cauldrons of hot herbal “tea” and loaves of stale bread in wheel barrows. Under the watchful eye of the Polish Representative and with his advice, the distribution of the bread begins. There is one loaf of bread for 12 prisoners. That works out to one slice of about two centimetres thickness per person. Despite the precision with which those chosen and trusted to distribute the bread, there are still those who are not happy.

 

Someone then suggests that different people be chosen each day to distribute the bread by a process of rotation. The bread tastes good, even though we conclude that it was baked with floor mixed with sawdust.

 

Everyone is very hungry, so it is surprising when some hard-core nicotine addicts propose trading a half a slice of bread for two cigarettes. I would never sell my portion for cigarettes. On the contrary, I have American cigarettes left in the package which Jasiula gave me to share with my brother, and I am already trying to figure out how to trade them for bread. But the strange aroma of the unknown American cigarettes by the name of “Lucky Strike”, a name which means nothing to me, is so enticing. I have not smoked for more than three weeks, but I cannot hold out and I light one. The smoke smells good, and I delight in one drag after the next, until I get dizzy. My stomach begins to cramp, and I start to feel nauseous and quickly run out of the barrack. The fresh air helps and the sick feeling passes, but the taste of the nausea remains in my mouth for a long time. And I have only smoked half a cigarette! I decide that nicotine and hunger are an unpleasant combination. I am not going to smoke again!

 

The distribution of bread is comparatively easy compared with the problem of the distribution of the International Red Cross packages which we unexpectedly receive from our Countrymen the “Septemberists”. I am very moved by this gesture of brotherhood from our older colleagues, those who were taken prisoner in September 1939, but my joy is quickly replaced by contempt for a few of the Insurrectionists who insolently take over the distribution of the packages and, before our eyes, begin to abuse the situation. It is very difficult to divide one package into three parts, but where there is a will, there is a way. However, you have to have goodwill and it must be manifest.

 

I leave my newly acquired treasures in Jurek’s care and rush to the barbed wire to share the good news with our girls. Apparently, the girls have also been generously endowed with similar packages by the “Septemberists” among them. Actually, they are more fortunate because they have each gotten one half of a package in which there was a carton of cigarettes, a tin of condensed milk, a tin of sprats, a tin of meat, tea biscuits, a piece of chocolate, Nescafe, soap, jam, razor blades, and few other things. The cigarettes and food are American, except for the Portuguese sprats and Swiss chocolate. Joy reigns on both sides of the barbed wire!

 

The “Septemberists” warn us at this point that such packages came to the Polish prisoners at most once a month, so it is advisable to save and use the items sparingly. Apparently, the American and English prisoners get packages much more frequently, which we consider very unjust, for we have been fighting much longer!

 

Thursday, October 12

First thing in the morning, they order us to grab all our gear and drive us all out of the barrack. It seems that today they are going to disinfect the barracks! Why couldn’t the bastards have done it before our arrival? They close all the doors and windows, but we can smell the grey stinking smoke escaping through the many cracks. It is our good luck that the wind blows the smoke far from us. Nevertheless, one can smell the stink all over the camp.

 

In the meantime, the Germans put us into a theatre hall in the camp, in large groups, where another detailed search is conducted. I am lucky again. I notice a buddy among those already searched, and throw him my scouting knife. “Hold on to this! I’ll reciprocate later!” I promise.The search is very detailed. This time, they inspect the inside of the tops of my boots, so I am glad that I did not hide my knife there. They find nothing and take nothing from me, though they take a piece of fishing line, two hooks and a float made from goose feathers out of my wallet and immediately burst out laughing. “Ein Polnischer Fischermann in Deutscher Stalag! Viel Gluck!”

 

Others are not so lucky. I can see a whole pile of confiscated items on the stage at the back of the hall, consisting mainly of German uniform items which were overlooked during the last search.

 

Outside, sitting on the ground, we consume the “tea”, bread and soup which are brought from the camp kitchen. We get lucky because a fine rain drizzles only for a few minutes.  Soon, groups with common interests begin to form. There are card players, chess enthusiasts, poker and blackjack players, with lots of kibitzers on hand. Finally, the disinfectant candles have probably burned out, because the smoke is no longer seeping out of the cracks in the barracks. But they are still not allowing us inside. They say that the longer the smoke remains inside, the more thorough the penetration and effectiveness of the disinfection. “I am willing to sit out here till morning if we can just get rid of all the bedbugs!” I declare.

 

It is only in the afternoon that the Germans order that all the windows and doors be opened in order to air out the barracks. I talk Zbych, Alfons and Jurek into moving closer to the entrance to get better bunks. There are two iron stoves used to heat the barracks, one at the front and one at the end of the barrack, and we agree that in view of the approaching winter the closer we can get to one of the stoves the better.

The airing out of the barrack continues until dusk. Finally, we go back into the barrack and take bunks close to the stove. This time, Jurek and I have bunks in the middle, and Zbych and Alfonse take the bunks under ours. At first, the unpleasant smell from the disinfection dazes us, but, with hope that it will not poison us, we somehow get used to it.

 

We then prepare to sleep. With my haversack under my head and my back pack at my feet, I fall into a deep slumber and slept the whole night without interruption.

 

Friday, October, 13

I wake up refreshed, very hungry and ... not eaten alive by bugs. It seemed that the disinfection of the barrack has helped. There are no bedbugs; they have been gassed to death. After the herbal “tea” and slice of bread, the Germans order us to go to the camp bath and the delousing station. Their care for hygiene is impressive. They order us to take our blankets and clothes. Only a few trusted men remain in the barrack, chosen to guard our bags, haversacks and back packs. They will not miss a trip to the baths, however; they will go later. The baths are located in a separate barrack at the other end of the camp. The chimney sticking out of the middle of the roof causes some unease among us. Someone sniffs the air and declares that he cannot smell the stink of burning bodies typical of crematoria, but, with the Germans, you never knew!

 

“Of course!” A scaremonger pipes up. “I’ve had a bad feeling all morning. To add to that, today is the unlucky Friday the 13th! Farewell boys! We are entering through the door, but we will leave by way of the chimney!”

 

Such remarks are to nobody’s taste, for there is a general distrust for the Krauts. In a sombre mood, we enter a long hall, where we are ordered to undress and to fold the clothes, underwear and blanket in a neat pile. We disrobe in gloomy silence and fold our possessions and leave them on the benches. We leave our shoes on the floor under the benches. Since I am standing next to my brother, I ask him in a whisper where he has hidden our pay, the twenty dollar note issued to us by the command at the end of the Rising.

 

“It is sown into my jacket. Forget it. They will burn everything anyway. Probably us too”, He replies.This does no comfort me at all. I look at my brother with amazement. He is clearly unsettled, pale and is biting his lip nervously. I long to comfort and calm him down. “During the Rising, we faced death every day. Each of us reckoned that he would die.”

 

“But not like this, not like this!” he responds.With a grinding noise the sliding doors open and we enter another room. Two prisoners who work in the baths stand in the doorway and give out a small piece of soap per four of those entering.

 

“Guys! They’re giving us soap! Think about it! It means that they won’t make soap out of us!” Some optimist declares happily.

 

“Don’t rejoice too soon! Look at the shower heads! In a minute, it won’t be water but poison gas that will pour out of them. Give me a lift so that I can take a whiff!” a scaremonger shouts.Those close to him pick him up while he grabs onto to a shower head and sniffs. In that instant, streams of warm water begin to spurt from all the shower heads to loud cheers of “Hurray!” It is in fact a bath house! What a delight! What a relief! What joy! We hand the artificial soap to each other, wash each other and rejoiced like children. But, the scaremonger does not give up. “This soap is made of human fat! It stinks and does not lather!” he shouts. But no one listens. Finally, someone can’t stand it any longer and gives him a swift kick. The water gets hotter and hotter until, for a moment, it is so hot that it is difficult to tolerate it. Then, slowly the temperature of the water begins to drop until finally streams of ice water spray over us at the end of the bath.

 

“That’s it guys! Get on your knees! Now the Germans will spray us with poison gas!” A joker crows, at which several dozen buck naked guys burst out in loud laughter.

 

We then return to the room where we left our clothes, but there are no clothes; they are gone. Only our shoes remain under the benches. The prisoner-bath house workers enlighten us as to what has happened. The clothes are being steamed and will be there for a while yet. We have no towels, so we dry ourselves by rubbing the drops of water with our hands. We wait for more than half an hour for our clothing. Thank God that the room is heated.

 

“I wonder if they will steal our twenty dollars.” I whisper in my brother’s ear. We will see.Finally, the door opens, and the workers push in platforms on wheels on which our piles of clothes lie.

 

With a little patience, we find our clothes. Then, my brother signals that the bank note is still sown into his jacket. It seems that there has been no search. We dress in our still steaming and warm clothes, which really feels good. After such fun, we feel very much better. German captivity is not so bad! However, we are a little worried by the news that, though the baths are in operation all the time, we will only have access to them once a month. A month! It is like during the Rising when in over 63 days I only had occasion to bathe once after trekking through the sewers from the Old Town. I hope that this accursed war will be over in a month.

Someone of our prisoner brethren has a radio receiver or at any rate, access to the news which, repeated from mouth to mouth, spreads quickly throughout the camp. During the day, we can go into the other sectors in the camp except the one where our girls are. The only one allowed to go there is the Polish Representative. In this way, the custom has arisen of sending correspondence there through him. I write a short note to Jasiula and Steńka and wait impatiently for a reply.

 

In conversation with the “Septemberists”, I express admiration for their appearance. I do not have any head covering and admit that I particularly envy them their Polish four cornered caps.

 

“There is remedy for that!” declares my interlocutor. “We have learned to make four cornered caps from green blankets. We have paper patterns, thread and other necessary items. I will provide everything to you tomorrow and introduce you to a guy who will teach you how to make them.”

 

“Man! I have never had a needle in my hand in my life! I don’t think I can do it!” I say doubtfully.“Oh, you’ll manage! It’s not hard! I didn’t know how to sew either, but I learned.” he declares.

 

That night, I lie in my bunk and dream about our beloved girls. If not for the barbed wire which brutally separates us, Jasiula would surely sew me a four cornered cap. She has golden hands, and can do anything.My stomach growls with hunger and I remember how many times I experienced this during the Occupation and how Jasiula helped support our whole family. She managed do get produce, traded whatever she could and worked to help our mother. She is a courageous and beloved sister.

 

As the youngest, I was almost useless, but Zbych ran around Warsaw with constantly changing love interests, and played poker. A diamond ring given to Jasiula by mother went to settle his debts. Gambling is a terrible addiction.

 

From my perch on my bunk, I can see that unfortunately, Zbych already has three partners and a game is in full swing. The stakes are cigarettes, which are the international currency throughout the camp, of which they do not have many. If he loses, he will have nothing to smoke. I can do nothing about it.

 

I close my eyes and return to my thoughts of the girls. I am glad that Steńka is in the company and under the care of my sister. I wonder if she has stopped smoking. Jasiula is still certainly smoking; nevertheless, she has shared with us a whole package of cigarettes. She has a golden heart! In my soul, I curse the barbed wire that separates us.Rested, bathed and disinfected I feel a return of my energies. What if there were no accursed barbed wires? They say that dreams put you to sleep. I do not believe it…

 

Saturday, October 14

The Soccer playoffs for the camp cup have started today. Our barrack is lucky because there is among us a soccer trainer who has already gotten started choosing players and implementing an abbreviated training program. I have not been selected, but Jurek has been chosen as goalie and Zbych has been placed into the left wing. We win the first match against the French, which qualifies our team for the semi-finals. As I enthusiastically cheer the team on with a group of kibitzers, I am impressed with Zbych’s physical condition. Just two weeks ago he lay unconscious and feverish, and he was still very weak when he left Warsaw. The Soccer finals are tomorrow. The trainer has our team training all afternoon while working out strategies and talking through techniques. Everyone in our barrack is excited at the possibility of our team winning the cup. We just have to finish off the English who are thought by the whole to camp to be the best soccer players.

 

I am very hungry, so I decide to buy a piece of bread for cigarettes. I go to the French barrack, display two cigarettes and encourage a trade shouting the words “Fuer brot!” In a moment an interested party comes forward, at first wanting four cigarettes. Eventually, after a little bartering, back and forth, he agrees to two cigarettes for today’s portion of bread. I am amazed to find that his portion of bread is a lot larger than that given to us today.

 

Happy with the transaction, I return to the barrack, climb up to my bunk, take out what is left of the Red Cross package in my back pack and decide to open the tin with the mysterious words “Condensed Milk”. The tin contains a thick grey-white and very sweet liquid.I soak pieces of the bread in this liquid and eat it with gusto. I leave half of the portion of bread for later. I consider how to store a little cache of dried bread which will come in handy during the escape I am planning.

 

Despite the additional piece of bread, I am still hungry. I constantly dream about food, and go over my precious trove of memories of our wonderful family feasts when the tables would literally buckle under the weight of the delicious dishes on them. Christmas, Easter and our various Name Days were all celebrated very lavishly and everyone in the family participated. That is the way it was before the war. During the five years of the Occupation hunger was universal. I remember only a few days from this period when I would go to bed at night with a blissfully full stomach. I conclude that there was no possible way to get used to hunger. Just in our first week of captivity, we are living with hunger. This is also the beginning of the gloomy crisis of the first weeks of being locked behind the barbed wire and the associated depression that comes with it. With these sombre thoughts and dreaming of food, I finally fall asleep.

 

Sunday, October 15

We always wait a terribly long 24 hours each day for that lousy piece of bread made with saw dust, all the while dreaming of some day having unlimited quantities of it. I do not know whether it is because it is Sunday today, but our portion of bread is a little larger today. It is only a little larger, but it gives one hope that it will be so every day. It is interesting, everyone sees this and is happy, but my stomach did not notice any difference.After swallowing the last bite, I am still very hungry. The tea, made from some suspicious herbs, is undrinkable but it warms a body up.

 

Now I am dreaming of the “soup” we will get at noon. The thin soup which reminds one of dishwater, barely warm and consisting of fodder grade rutabaga and rotten potatoes only fools my stomach for a moment.

 

In my portion of the Red Cross package, I got a tin of some peculiar meat with an even more peculiar name, “Pram”. I discover that a thin slice of this meat crumbled into the soup improves its flavour considerably. Thrown into a half a litre of soup, the pieces of meat disappear, but fished out unexpectedly in a spoonful of soup they taste like heaven on earth! Before I swallow the crumb, I squeeze out every bit of the meaty nectar with my lips.The trick is to draw out that moment as long as possible, because the next spoonful will almost certainly be just the watery soup.

 

After “breakfast”, our soccer team plays in the camp final match against the much superior English team. We are soundly defeated. The English slap our guys on the backs and jabber something to them. None of us understand what they say, but we sense their friendly attitude.

 

Then, some “Septemberist” calls my name. His name is Tadeusz Otworowski, a very nice older gentleman, and an expert at making Polish four cornered caps. He has brought with him a piece of green blanket, thread and a needle, and a paper pattern. We sit at the table in the barrack and start the sewing lesson. The easiest part of the process is cutting of the material, and the hardest is the sewing. The stitches have to be even and close and the blanket is thick. Because I have no thimble, I quickly prick my fingers to the point of bleeding and the seam is only three inches long. Mr. Otworowski patiently encourages and persuades me to be patient. Finally, I quickly put away my sewing to make room for others at the table.

 

Various groups of players of bridge, Black Jack, poker, checkers and chess have formed. Uncle Alfons, a dedicated chess player, is in seventh heaven! He has discovered that the chess vice-champion of Poland is in the camp with us. Uncle Alfons is quickly defeated by him. The chess master has proposed that a match be held in which the chess master will take on several opponents at the same time. For this, we will need more chess sets. It has been decided to borrow them from other barracks. The chess match is to take place tomorrow morning.

 

I spend several hours a day at the barbed wire fence that separates us from the girls. The German guards have stepped up discipline and do not allow us near the fence. Nevertheless, the girls ignore the Germans and come right up to the fence. On our side, the guards chase us away to a distance of five meters from the fence.

 

Today, I wait for my sister and Steńka for almost two hours. We talk, or more precisely, shout to each other from a distance. We make an incredible racket. We wish we could get closer, to hug each other, but it is impossible. Jasiula asks about everyone and everything. I talk about complete trivialities, about the four cornered caps, about the fact I do not smoke anymore and that I am exchanging cigarettes for bread, and I show them my pricked fingers… a discussion about banalities across the barbed wire barrier.

 

The girls look rested. From a distance, Steńka is even lovelier than I remember. She smiles at me. I am sure that tonight I will not be thinking about food or hunger when I go to sleep. But, after all, longing for one’s loved ones is also a hunger…

 

There is a Polish field alter in the camp built by the “Septemberists”. It is Polish, because one can see the red and white hues woven into the rich decoration elaborately cut out of the goldish and silverish sheets of tin from American tinned goods. The whole is very beautiful and…familiar. There is even a picture similar to the Polish image of Our Lady of Częstochowa. Only the priest is not Polish. But the mass, celebrated in Latin, is very like those I attended every Sunday at the church of the Holy Saviour in Warsaw.

 

Most of the faithful are Poles, so it is not surprising that the mass is concluded with a choral singing of the hymn “Lord, who throughout the ages…” with the closing words “Before you alters we bring our pleas, return to us a free Homeland, Lord!”  I hope that I will not think of hunger as I try to sleep tonight. It is just too emotional.

 

Monday, October16

My second week in the camp starts out dismally. We are awakened by a loud cry: “Thief! Thief! Guys, come and help me! I’ve caught the son of a b... red-handed! He is just swallowing my last piece of bread, and he stole my cigarettes too! Let’s give him what for!!”“Let’s let him have it!” echo the others who drag the culprit out in the middle of the barrack. He would have gotten a real hiding too, if not for the intervention of a couple of older men who speak common sense and calm the situation down. The Polish Representative in the camp is called, and with his help, we choose members of a court of our peers which, after a short deliberation delivers a sentence: a blanket and ten lashes of a belt to the bare backside, each given by a different person. It is strange after all the enthusiasm of the crowd at the beginning, that only a few people volunteer to administer the sentence. In any case, the matter is considered closed, and we decide to carefully guard our modest possessions. Our family, Uncle Alfonse, my brother Zbych and cousin Jurek and I, assign ourselves shifts to guard our things, so someone is always keeping an eye on our bunks and all of our possessions.

Under the conditions in the camp, it is necessary to punish the guilty, if only because of the influence they may have on the youngest prisoners. There are among us thirteen-year-olds and some not much older. Boredom, idleness and hunger provide fertile soil for deviation and perversion to flourish. With the help of the “Septemberists” some men with teaching credentials have been chosen to take special care of the youngest insurrectionists. This is an indispensable action because of the tyrannical homosexuals in the camp who prey on the youngest Insurrectionists by trying to get sexual favours from them in exchange for items from the Red Cross packages.

 

In addition to lessons, leisure activities and games have been organized for them. A scouting atmosphere is being fostered among the youth, and with it discipline and order. The older men patrol the area around our barracks and break up homosexual activities by force. It seems most of the homosexuals are English and French. During the first days at the camp, they were so insolent that it came to bloody fist fights, after which the deviants took risks more and more rarely, limiting themselves to watching our youngsters at a long, safe distance. We are watching them and they know it.

 

Tuesday, October 17

Starting at 10:00 a.m., a very interesting chess tournament takes place in our barrack. There are six chess boards and six players who play against the chess vice-champion of Poland. Each player has paid an “entry” fee of one American cigarette. In the event that a player wins, he will get three cigarettes.

 

The chess master walks the length of the table, from one chess board to the next, stopping at each board for a half a minute at most, though in most cases he makes his move immediately without hesitation. Sometimes, he waits for the move of a slow opponent. If it takes too long, he passes that board by and moves to the next player. One player after the other is defeated, with the exception of one player who, unable to make up his mind where to move his pawn, is disqualified. The master wins six cigarettes.

 

Our Uncle is delighted and promises that he will win the next tournament for sure. Meanwhile, the “Septemberists” in the audience propose that we have an international chess tournament.Later, I run to the barbed wire fence of our girls’ sector. I sit on the grass and wait patiently until Jasiula and Steńka come out of their barrack.

 

I take the opportunity to observe the German guards, their watch tower and the rows of barbed wire fencing.The fence that separates us from the girls is very different from the exterior fence. The fence around the perimeter of the camp is made up of two rows of wires which are higher than the single row interior fences.

 

Finally, Jasiula and Steńka appear. They are sticking together, which is important. Their situation remains the same. The “Septemberists” still provide them with very valuable gifts in various ways.

 

Steńka asks me if I have seen her brother Pte “Źbik” lately. I saw him in the line when the Germans were recording the personal details of the prisoners. He was just behind us in the queue and got the POW number 140881. We then discuss our mutual acquaintances among the Insurgents. I enquire about “Kropka” and about “Czarna Baśka”. I ask Steńka and Jasiula to relay my warmest greetings to them. I ask about the conditions in their barrack. They have the same three-storey bunks we have, and similar discipline problems. Jasiula wonders why Zbych does not come to the barbed wire fence to talk with his sister. She asks me to tell him that she is very worried that he has started gambling again. I doubt that this will have any effect on him, but I will try.It is difficult to conduct a conversation at a distance and across barbed wire fencing. It starts to get dark and so we blow each other kisses and return to our own barracks.

 

Wednesday, October 18

Maybe I am oversensitive or perhaps I dreamed it, but I think I got bitten by something during the night. Could the bedbugs have returned? I ask Jurek, but he is completely insensitive to the awful pestilence.

 

An argument breaks out over the distribution of bread and almost comes to blows. The portions of bread are so small that everyone is ready to fight for the smallest crumb. Hunger torments us all, but each of us reacts differently. There are those among us who, at the mere sight of bread, are unable to control themselves and who behave scandalously. I eat my portion immediately and, as always, it does not satisfy my hunger.

 

I am bothered by cigarette smoke around me and I want to light up, but my empty stomach reminds me that I can buy another portion of bread for two cigarettes. I talk about it to Jurek, an addicted smoker.

 

“That’s not for me. I won’t exchange cigarettes for bread. Anyway, I only have a few, and those I cut up with a razor blade. I know that if I buy a portion of bread for them, I will eat it immediately and I will still be hungry. If I am careful and save them, the cigarettes will last me for a few days or maybe even a week.” He says.

 

“Fine, but what about later? The moment will inevitably come when you smoke your last cigarette and you’ll have no choice but to kick the habit. Wouldn’t it be easier to stop smoking now?” I ask.“Some day. For now, the cigarette smoke is my one and only pleasure. Look at Zbych. He has a whole ‘Chesterfield’ in his cigarette holder and is puffing like crazy. He had good luck at cards yesterday and won some cigarettes. I envy him.”

 

Indeed, Zbych is showing off his good luck. He has not only won a whole package of cigarettes, but also a couple of tins from a Red Cross package. Given the conditions of the camp, that is a fortune.“What will happen when your luck changes and you lose everything?” I ask. “Jasiula is very worried about you and your gambling. Go to the barbed wire and talk to you sister!”“You shouldn‘t have told her that I am playing cards!” He fires back clearly upset with me.

 

We go to the barbed wire together and wait for the girls. In the mean time, Zbych recognizes a good friend, Liaison “Magda”. After greeting each other and exchanging news, “Basiołek”, her friends call her ,because her real first name is Barbara, asks Zbych if he would like a package of American cigarettes that she got from the “Septemberists” and she does not smoke.

 

“Sure! Throw it over the fence!” Zbych replies. But “Basiołek”, instead of throwing the package over, comes up close to the fence, reaches through the fence and hands the package to Zbych. This act meets with an abrupt reaction from the German guard. He even starts removing the rifle from his shoulder, but before he can complete this action, suddenly, a torrent of curses comes cascading from the lips of our “Basiołek”, in the most perfect German! The German’s jaw drops and he steps back and bows to “Basiołek” to the accompaniment of our loud shouts of ‘bravo! The guard then turns his back and Zbych calmly walks up to the fence and accepts the package of cigarettes.

 

“Barb, what did you say to him?” He asks.“I gave him to understand, in rather vivid terms, that ‘in three or at most four weeks, you, you damned Kraut, will be behind the barbed wire and then we will get even!’” says our liaison “Magda”, our brave “Basiołek”. Then we learn that because of her excellent command of German, she is the official interpreter for Lt. “Jaga”, the women’s commanding officer. We also learn from “Magda” that the Germans intend to separate us and that any day now the girls will be transported to another camp. Things could not be worse. In spite of the barbed wire, I can always feel their nearness and am comforted by the sight of them.

 

Then, Jasiula, Steńka and a large group of girls from the “Zawrat’s” Platoon come out of the barrack. We greet each other, joke and flirt and generally enjoy the company despite the barbed wire.

 

Jasiula then begs Zbych to control his gambling at poker, to which Zbych shrugs his shoulders, mumbles something about the great benefits and the suckers who let themselves be beaten. It is obvious from this conversation that my sister has no influence over our brother in this matter.

 

On the other hand, Steńka has an enormous effect on me. Just one more mischievous smile, a few more warm words, and... to hell with the Germans! I am ready to jump over that damned barbed wire fence and give her a hug. It starts to get dark and we have to return to our barracks. The girls bid us good night by singing a song composed by an unknown author, one of the Insurrectionist prisoners:

 

Thursday, October 19

Those disgusting bedbugs have decidedly returned to our barrack. According to the “Septemberists”, the fumigation of the barracks provides only a temporary respite from these pests. All it takes is for two of them to survive, and after a few days there will be thousands of them. The only solution, advise the “Septemberists”, is to get used to them. But that is not for me. I convene a family counsel and announce that I intend to escape at the nearest opportunity, but no one supports my decision. To the contrary, they all firmly advise me against it. The oldest of us, Uncle Alfonse, declares that in view of the approaching end of the war, it is best to wait rather than to needlessly expose myself to danger. My brother and cousin share Uncle Alfonse’s opinion. It appears I am isolated in my view and will have to escape alone.

 

I then set out for the French barrack, in search of candidates to trade cigarettes for bread. I walk down the middle of the barrack holding two cigarettes, calling out in German “auf brot, auf brot!” I have to be very careful because there have been incidents of people grabbing cigarettes out of other peoples’ hands. In addition to this, as I walk through the barrack, I get various lascivious propositions that make me want to throw up.

 

After this adventure, during which three Frenchmen block my way and impudently proposition me for sexual favours in exchange for tins of meat, I decide that I will not be conducting business in the barracks again.

 

It is safer outside, although you have to wait longer for parties interested in trading. Trading of this kind is not easy and is often unpleasant. In a couple of cases, I am offered a portion of bread with bites already taken out of it, and in another instance I am offered a portion cut in two. After a few hours, I manage to get three whole portions of bread at a price of six cigarettes.

 

I wait two hours at the barbed wire fence bordering the girls’ sector before Jasiula and Steńka come out. We talk of rather trivial matters, none of us wanting to broach the subject of our separation. No one knows the date of the girls’ departure, but we know that it is approaching quickly and it is inevitable. The uncertainty of tomorrow makes us all sad. Jasiula asks about my progress in making my four cornered hat and suggests that she will knit me a warm hat with a pompon that I will be able to pull down over my ears. My beloved sister! Her care for me touches and moves me so!

 

In our barrack, I dry out the bread on the top of the hot stove, the fragrance of which makes my mouth water. This is not a good situation because of the general hunger among the inmates and human nature. The mere sight of three portions of bread incites nasty remarks and even accusations of theft, together with wishes that the bread should cause me indigestion. I have decided that the next time I will be less ostentatious and only buy one portion of bread at a time.

 

In any case, three pieces of dry bread and the leftovers from my Red Cross package are not a bad start for my supplies for my escape. I have hidden my treasures in my haversack which never leaves my side even for a moment. The barrack is filled with hungry mouths. Among them, there are certainly some who are just hanging around waiting for the opportunity to deplete my supplies.

 

The truth is that I not only have to avoid thieves, I have to deal with my own weaknesses. The worst moments are those just before I sleep when hunger grips my stomach and my thoughts persistently return to memories of times of the sumptuous libations and incredible gluttony, well-nigh orgies of Bacchus and Dionysius, when a body could sate himself to his heart’s content with the aromas of wonderful sauces, roasts, seasonings and appetizers.

 

I put my hand under the flap of the haversack and touch my bread checking to see if I still have my supplies or if they have been stolen. What if I don’t manage to keep these treasures? Perhaps it is better not to take the risk, and to eat them all now and satisfy my hunger? I break off a crumb with tips of my fingers. To eat, just to eat! Now! In a minute, not someday, not later! This terrible hunger and temptation! All because of those accursed and hated barbed wire fences! I put my fingers to my lips. They smell of bread. It is so hard to fall asleep

.

Friday, October 20

In the struggle against idleness, we have organized games, discussion groups, sing-songs and a recital. From these last, a variety show of varying degrees of professionalism has developed. The most popular parts of the show are the funny sketches often relating to our life in the camp and the associated problems. This often includes emphasizing and exaggerating our faults, habits and customs.

 

In the absence of other musical instruments, my harmonica has become very popular in giving variety to the program. At times I play with a group, at other times I play solo, and sometimes I accompany a new men’s vocal quartet.

 

Recitation of poetry is also very popular, especially patriotic poems and those about the Rising. My brother Zbych is at the forefront of this activity receiving frequent standing ovations. The most popular attraction, however, is an extremely strong and well-built Polish sailor named Radwan whom we “borrow” from the “Septemberists”. Rumour has it that the Germans, delighted with his unusual physical condition, are giving him a double portion of the camp food. Radwan has a very varied and interesting program. He bends steel bars, breaks horse shoes, lifts four people at the same time, and “eats” light bulbs! In addition, he is a very nice guy and well liked by all the prisoners of various nationalities. Taking advantage of our acquaintance from the stage, I ask him if he could give me one of his steel bars. He looks at me intently.

 

“What do you need it for?”“I intend to short out the electrified fence around the perimeter.” I reply.“Nonsense! The barbed wire isn’t electrified. The Germans intended to electrify the fence, but the Commission of the Geneva Red Cross sharply protested this and they had to abandon their plan.

On some parts of the fence there are still glass insulators, but there are no electrical wires. In any case, I don’t advise approaching the outer fence because the guards and their machine guns on the towers will put more holes in you than a sieve. Forget about escaping! Think about it, consider carefully and wait. The war is ending; it isn’t worth the risk.” Radwan advises.

 

“But I am suffocating behind these barbed wire fences! I can’t stand it!” I declare

“I understand. I went through this at the beginning of my captivity. I cooled off after two failed escape attempts. Let me give you some advice: the easiest way to escape is through volunteer work gangs called labour command. If you manage to get assigned some place in the country, working for a farmer, then your success is virtually guaranteed. One day, you go for a walk and don’t come back. That doesn’t mean that your escape is a success, because if they catch you, you’ll really get it. At best, they’ll beat you senseless and send you back to the Stalag. Your big advantage is that you are wearing civilian clothes and can easily lose yourself in a crowd. However, your boots will give you away. You have to exchange them for civilian shoes.” Radwan tells me.

My boots! I got them in Wola, in the first days of the battle. They have always been a little tight, but have served me well throughout the Rising, and to this day they stink of the Warsaw sewers. And now they are an obstacle to my quest for freedom? Am I supposed to exchange them for some civilian shoes? Never! I decide that at most, I will exchange my britches for civilian trousers whose long leggings will cover the tops of my boots.I then change my plans and report to the Polish Representative in the camp to volunteer for labour in the labour command

 

It seems that the Germans have been sending prisoners out in groups lately. I will wait a little until the expected departure of our girls takes place. Wanting to be prepared, I announce in our barrack that I want to exchange military britches for civilian trousers. A couple of interested parties make themselves known, but they want additional payment in cigarettes. I haggle with the owner of a good pair of pants of more or less my size. The price is mind boggling: 20 cigarettes which I do not have! With a heavy heart, I offer only four cigarettes which is the equivalent of two portions of bread. The transaction is not completed, but I have hope that this nicotine addict will break and with time will change his mind.

 

Tomorrow I will ask the girls if they might be able to exchange my britches for civilian trousers or buy them outright in their sector.

 

Saturday, October 21

I wait from early morning at the barbed wire fence separating us from the women. I can see no movement in Barrack 41 where Steńka, Jasiula and all the girls from Maj. “Róg’s” Group live. Maybe they are preparing for their departure? I cannot imagine living in the camp after the departure of the girls. We do not have access to them and we are not permitted to meet with them or talk to them, but, in spite of the barbed wire between us, we are always aware of their presence.

 

Only the representative of the Polish prisoners, who is also the official representative of the International Red Cross may enter their sector. We send each other short letters, keepsakes, news and small items through him. I got a note from Jasiula today in which is wrapped a thimble. My dearest sister! She is always thinking of us, and always helping us. Her concern really moves me. In her letter she begs us to stay together, and strongly advises me against my escape attempt because of the impending end of the war. Her arguments do not convince me.

 

I then get on with making the four cornered cap I have started. The thimble my sister sent me only fits on the tip of my pinkie, but even that helps. I try to sew evenly, which does not come easily and is terribly boring.

 

Then, the guys interrupt me with a call for a rehearsal of the variety show. We rehearse for our first performance in the “Septemberists” barrack. Our director is talented, has a great sense of humour and the patience of a saint. In spite of this, the quality of the performance is mediocre. I am surprised that the “Septemberists” reward us with warm applause. It seems any distraction from the long, monotonous captivity is welcome. Two German officers watch our presentation. We ask them, through an interpreter, if we can put on our review in the girls’ barrack, which meets with an ironic comment and a definite refusal.

 

Unfortunately, trouble does not pass us by. While the “Septemberists” are rewarding us with applause, the ruffians of the shadier side of Warsaw among our colleagues overrun the barrack of our hosts and loot the place. Supplies from the Red Cross packages, cigarettes, tins and chocolate all disappear.We catch three of the young rogues who are tried by our court of peers and then are given the “blanket treatment”

 

The “Septemberists” who are invited to administer the sentence, refuse. The sentence is carried out publicly in our barrack. After their pants are pulled down, the thieves are stretched out on the tables, and with their heads covered with blankets, they get ten blows of the strap. Those who carry out the sentence do not “spare the rod”. We hope that this will remedy the situation. At least for now... though hunger does turn people into criminals.

 

Sunday, October 22

I hang around the barbed wire fence separating us from the girls from early morning. After a while, Steńka comes out. It is worth waiting for. She looks lovely from a distance; I can only imagine how she looks close up… I remember her bright eyes, her smile and her warm touch. The barbed wire and distance between us are not having a beneficial impact on how we feel. It is hard to talk, so we stand opposite each other in silence. We realize that things will get worse. The Germans will transport the girls to other camps, and I am going home. That is, if I succeed in escaping.

 

Today, after the mass, I bring up the subject of my intention to escape, with my brother. Zbych admits that luck has not been with him for the last two days, and he has lost everything he had in poker games. He did not revel long in his victories, and now he does not even have a quarter of a cigarette. On top of that, he is suffering with a toothache. In a pessimistic mood today, he is more open to the idea of escape. He agrees with me that our best chance is to volunteer for work somewhere outside the camp. We agree to talk about it with Uncle Alfonse and Jurek and maybe they will decide to escape too.

 

Zbych and I have not finished our conversation when the owner of the civilian trousers comes up to me and offers to trade them for 10 cigarettes; half of the original price. I stick with my previous offer of four cigarettes. As an incentive I take out my open package of American “Lucky Strikes” and show him the contents. This has the desired effect and we make the trade. It turns out that my britches are a little bit tight on him and his pants a little loose on me. A belt solves my problem, and the new owner of the britches simply has to leave one button undone. I sympathize with the guy, because a half a cigarette goes up in smoke before we even part, and the rest will last only a day. But that is his problem.

 

What is most important is that my boots from the Rising have been saved! Their tops are hidden by the civilian pants. I am ready to pretend to be a civilian and to lose myself in a crowd.

 

In the evening, our barrack is turned into a theatre. The tables pushed together serve as a stage and bunks with blankets hung over them serve as the wings. Today we give a special performance, as a gesture of farewell to the first group of volunteers who are leaving for assignments with the Labour Command, and as compensation to the “Septemberists” for the pranks pulled in their barrack yesterday by our Warsaw hooligans. The evening is a great success, perhaps more than anything because the performances have become routine for us and they are always met with enthusiasm and great tolerance by the audience. After the excitement of the day, it is hard to fall asleep and we talk far into the night.

 

Monday, October 23

“Something about you has changed” declares Jasiula. “Your boots! Your ankle high boots, where are they?” She asks.

 

“They have gone underground; they’re hidden. I am going back to civilian life, so I got long pants for all of six cigarettes! It’s rather a pity because it cost me the equivalent of three portions of bread, but that’s the way it is. It’s better than getting some civilian clogs!” I reply. “Zbych has decided to run with me. Jurek is thinking about it and Uncle Alfonse is definitely staying in the camp. He does not want to give up his beloved chess tournaments.”“I will give you a carton of cigarettes for the road. I know dear ‘Basiołek’ will also chip in, but don’t let Zbych lose them at his poker games!” Jasiula says.

 

My sweet, loving sister! She is willing to share everything she has with us. After all, she smokes and doesn’t have many left herself. The girls are all packed and “sitting on their bags”, as they say, because any day now they will be leaving for another camp. The rumour is that they will be transported to the Oflag in Bergen, that is, to the camp where our officers are. They have been promised better conditions which is comforting, but we are sad at the thought of our inevitable parting. We have survived the hell of battle together and witnessed great tragedy and days of glory. We must prepare to part with our very dear liaison girls, nurses and comrades in arms. There are among them our wives, sisters, fiancés and girlfriends with whom it will be very difficult to part. The girls do not hide their tears.

 

October 24 – 26

October is passing, set against a panoply of golden colors and a receding sunny Indian summer. But it is different than the Polish Indian summer. Sometimes the wind brushes the cheek with its cold fingers and the October wind whips up, but it is not the same. This is not Poland. My thoughts turn to the flocks of Polish storks back home which have just lately convened on the wet meadows and marshes. Against the setting of green grass, a gregarious white cloud of birds choose only the strong and healthy, those which will be able to endure the hardships of the long journey to warmer places … and back again. That they will return in the spring to their nests on Polish thatched roofs there is no doubt. I too must be healthy and strong to return home...

 

The sad days of inevitable change finally have come. The Germans have transported a couple of hundred people from our sector to somewhere with allegedly better living conditions. Zbych, Jurek and I have volunteered for work outside the camp. We are tormented by various questions. When will we leave? Will we leave first, or will the girls? Where will we go? Most importantly, will we, like the Polish storks, return home?

 

October 27 - 28

On Friday, they call us out for departure from the camp. From early morning we stand in a column with our miserable belongings and wait. The day is gloomy and grey and so are my thoughts.

 

“I don’t like Fridays, but more than anything, I don’t like starting anything on a Friday.” I declare. Zbych’s toothache is really bothering him. We stand and wait almost four hours. The girls wait with us, but on the other side of the barbed wire fence. We send each other farewell kisses. I am not sure because I cannot see from this distance, but I think Jasiula is crying. The day seems to be weeping too, with a drizzle of light rain. It is gloomy, just as gloomy as our sad exile’s fate.

 

Finally, a Kraut comes over and jabbers something loudly. Apparently, the departure has been called off and they dismiss us to our barracks. After a good cry, follows joy on both sides of the barbed wire fence.

 

We are on alert every day which is exhausting and nerve-wracking. Every day we go through the inevitable parting, and it is almost like waiting for a time bomb to go off. “When? When will it finally happen?” we ask.

 

Sunday, October 29

On Sunday it gets a little brighter, and as if to comfort us, from early morning the autumn sun shines and warms us. I spread out my jacket on the ground and sit down to wait for Steńka right in front of the barbed wire fence separating us from the girls.

For lack of anything else to do, I watch the German guard who, clearly very bored, walks along the fence with his rifle slung over his shoulder. I decide to have some fun at his expense. When he turns to walk away with his back to me, I quickly move my jacket closer to the fence, lying down on it on my side and closing my eyes pretending to be asleep. The third time I move, I am two meters from the fence, but the Kraut notices something is not right and stands motionless above me with legs astride. I too remain motionless. I continue to pretend that I am asleep. I even give a snore so that it will seem real. This continues for a good couple of minutes. Finally, I sense that the Kraut has moved. Has he gone away? Through my half closed eye lids, I see him back up and take his rifle off his shoulder. It seems that I have gone too far, but I have no way out. Not moving, I wait as we play blind man’s bluff. I do not know how it might have ended had the girls not appeared on the other side of the fence.

 

“What are you doing so close to the fence?” asks Jasiula.“I am waiting for Steńka.” I reply, propping myself up on my elbow.“Leszek, don’t do anything stupid! The Kraut is standing over you with a rifle in his hand!”

 

She is right. I stretch out lazily and slowly take a package of American cigarettes out of my pocket. I pull one out and stretch my hand out to the Kraut. I do not even make the effort to “sprechen” to him. I wait. The Kraut looks around behind him, slings the rifle over his shoulder, comes closer and takes the cigarette. “Danke schoen” he grunts and walks away. One should never look luck in the teeth, so I do not risk getting any closer to the fence. Jasiula then throws me a whole carton of cigarettes.

 

“That’s from ‘Basiołek’ for the road. Share them with Zbych and Jurek.”Those dear girls! They deny themselves for us, for they could just as easily trade cigarettes for bread or other items in their sector.

 

We delight in our relatively close proximity. We do not have to shout from a distance. It is such a little thing that gives us so much pleasure. Jasiula is almost like our mother. With loving concern she asks about us and gives advice.When I tell her about Zbych and his problems with his teeth, she immediately runs back to the barrack and brings back some sort of medicinal powders.

 

Steńka and I look at each other and really do not know what to say. Maybe it is better this way, to say nothing and to delight in our closeness though we are still separated by barbed wire.

 

Today is Sunday, so we attend the celebration of Holy Mass. The number of Polish prisoners who attend these masses is impressive, as is the characteristic discipline that marks our group. No other ethnic group in the camp is so deeply attached to its faith. It is strange that no one goes to confession, but many receive Holy Communion. Perhaps this is because the priest is a Frenchman and few can understand him. Could it be that he might grant a general absolution?

 

At the conclusion of the mass, the silence of the warm early autumn evening is broken by the powerful hymn “Boże Coś Polskę...” The whole camp listens as we sang. We have faith, too, that Almighty God is listening, especially to the final words “Restore to us a free Homeland, Lord!”

 

Monday, October 30

Although we are expecting it, the news of the departure of the girls scheduled for tomorrow hits us like a bolt of lightning. Tomorrow... So soon.

 

Tuesday, 31 October

From early morning we stand in a crowd at the barbed wire fence between our sector and that of the girls. We wait with our eyes fixed on the window openings of the barrack, backlit by the yellow glow of light bulbs. In each silhouette that moves across the window we see our most precious, closest dearest ones. There is a great deal of activity in the barrack. They are getting ready for the next phase of their exile into the unknown. Some of the girls who are ready come out of the barrack dragging their modest baggage. We call to each other, make our farewells, cheer each other on and promise that we will meet each other again soon. Finally, Steńka and Jasiula come to the fence. They are sticking together and Jasiula is crying. Conversation does not come easily because every subject is shrouded with sadness. I make an effort to come up with something comforting to say that will dissipate the tension and lift our spirits, but I can’t think of anything. I take my four cornered cap out of my pocket.

 

“Look Jasiula! It’s finally finished. I made it with the help of your thimble. Here is the thimble back with my thanks.”“You idiot!” I think to myself. We are parting today perhaps forever, and you bring up that ridiculous thimble! But Jasiula seems to understand, shakes her head sadly and continues to cry…

 

“Goodbye Steńka! Stay together! We will find each other just as soon as this damned war ends. Patience! See you in Warsaw!”

 

The girls form a column and slowly file out in the direction of the main gate. Jasiula limps leaning on a cane. Steńka turns around and walks backwards blowing kisses from a distance. I see her tear-filled eyes. It is all so sad, and made the sadder still by the light autumn rain.

 

I return to the barrack, climb into my bunk and my thoughts turn to this latest tragedy. There have been so many that I should be used to them and able to tough it out, but each one seems to get more difficult to bear than the last and more painful…

 

Wednesday, November 1

Today is All Saints Day. I don’t really know to which saint I should turn, who could help me. There is no St. Lech, but my second name is Anthony, so I decide to pray to St. Anthony of Padua who is also my father’s patron saint. I pray and ask for the protection of our girls wherever they have been sent. I get up only because I have to. I don’t feel like doing anything. As per my usual routine, I get my ration of bread not caring whether it is larger or smaller. Sadness and worry are stronger than hunger.

 

I discover this morning with disgust that the repulsive bed bugs have some competition in the form of the even more repulsive lice. For fear of catching Typhoid fever, I decide to get rid of them. First, I go to the Liaison Officer to ask for a pass to the baths and de-lousing station and then to the camp barber where I go and have my hair cut off to a bald pate. The barber, used to disgusting “creepy crawlies”, cuts off my hair and immediately burns it in a small iron stove together with the bugs. He then rubs some smelly liquid on my head and tells me that it will help. I look in the mirror and am frightened by my own reflection!I comfort myself with the thought that luckily Steńka can’t see this.

 

Thursday, November 2

Today is All Souls Day. Every year, my family traditionally spent this day visiting the Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw and laying wreathes and, flowers and lighting candles. Today, my thoughts are with those who were killed during the Rising beside me, and sometimes in my stead. I think of their pseudonyms and try to put faces to the names, though I am in no condition to remember them all... Lt. “Sławek-Lubicz”, 2ndLt. “Czesław”, Pte “Król”, Sgt. “Zbych”, Lt. “Mieczysław”, 2ndLt. “Janusz”, Ensign “Bogut”, “Nemo”, “Błyskawica”, “Ryszard”, “Januszek”, Sgt. “Ziarno”, “Kwiatek”, “Malarz”, “Ligoń”, “Tomaszewski”, Corp. “Grzelak”, ”Hel”, “Leon”, L/cpl. “Heryś”, “Kruk”, “Korecki”, Pte “Kozłowski”, “Kulich”, “Kłos”, and many more.Will we ever find their graves? Where will we light candles and lay wreathes? When?

 

Friday, November 3

It is so boring. I have nothing else to do, so every day I go to the barbed wire fence that a short time ago separated us from the girls. Their barrack echoes with emptiness. I remember how not so long ago, I swore at the barbed wire and the few meters that separated us. Today I would gladly put up with it if only our girls would return.

 

Saturday, November 4

Saturday starts with completely unexpected good news. There are American Red Cross packages for us from Geneva! Even though each package has to be divided four ways, we are still pleased. The distribution is very difficult because, for example, how do you divide one tin of condensed milk into four? It is a little easier for us because Uncle Alfonse, cousin Jurek, my brother and I constitute a family.

 

There should be no problem; however, my brother suggests we have a feast! Jurek and I want to put aside some of the food for our escape and Uncle Alfonse, who has decided to stay in the camp, wants to control his own share of the package. I suspect that being a nicotine addict, he trades food for cigarettes because they are always scarce. In view of the wide difference of opinion, each of us takes our own share of the package to do with as we see fit. I talk Jurek into trading some of his cigarettes for a portion of bread and we dry it for the road.

 

Zbych treats his toothache with nicotine. In the evening, from the vantage point of my bunk, I watch a group of poker players, one of whom is my brother, get down to business. I go to sleep. I do not want to be a witness to my brother’s victory or defeat.. As far as I am concerned, a chance win is nevertheless a loss.

 

Sunday, November 5

In the early morning I take a walk along the barbed wire fence. It is a beautiful autumn day, though not as beautiful and golden as in Poland, it is very like it.

 

There are fewer and fewer of us, and as a consequence, the mass is celebrated in the barrack. I help to set up the altar and with the transfer of some of the decorations from the field altar outside. The same priest celebrates the mass, the same group of people receive Holy Communion and the same splendid and moving hymn is sung.

 

I am sure that the French priest must wonder at the tears openly running down the cheeks of the singers. He just does not understand those odd foreign words “Boże Coś Polskę...”

 

We put on one more variety show. Though there are fewer “artists” the enthusiasm of the audience is moving. The loudest applause goes to my brother Zbych for his newest poem.

 

November 6 - 7

A group of ill prisoners have returned to the camp today from the work details bearing rather gloomy news. It seems that they wound up in much worse conditions and with worse treatment than in the camp. This precipitates a discussion among Zbych, Jurek and me about the value of volunteering for this work. Zbych tries to convince us that it is better to stay in the camp. I do not agree.

 

“It is not important whether we have good or bad conditions on the work detail. We are volunteering in order to escape from captivity and to return to Poland. Have you changed your mind?” I ask.

 

“I wonder if it is worth the risk. We have to be prepared for the escape. We have to have food supplies and German marks, and we have nothing.” replies Zbych.

 

“You’re wrong! Jurek and I are trading bread for cigarettes and we are saving supplies. I hear you can buy German marks in the camp cheap, and I have every intention of buying some.”

 

Zbych then admits that he has nothing with which to buy bread or marks for the road. It seems nothing is left of his share the last Red Cross package. He has eaten some it and lost the rest in poker games. He claims that he has had a run of really bad luck. “But, it’s only temporary. I know my luck will turn. I feel it. Lend me 10 cigarettes. I’ll give you back twice as many. You’ll see, this time I’ll not only win back what I’ve lost but there will be enough for all three of us for the road.” he declares.

 

Jurek and I do not let ourselves be talked into it. There follows a sharp exchange of words between us and Zbych.

I am sad to learn from my brother that I am an egotist and that my cleverness and cunning will come to nothing. Attacked, I reply that Zbych is wasting his life for lack of will power. I realize inwardly with sadness that I get no satisfaction in revealing this obvious truth. We part with a deep sense of distrust. I do not know about Zbych, but I will not be able to sleep tonight.

 

Wednesday, November 8

Just as I do every day, today I go out for a walk along the barbed wire fence that, up until a week ago, separated us from the girls. I look at the barrack and freeze in my tracks! Unexpectedly there is a buzz of activity in and around the barrack! Could it be, (God grant it!) that our girls are back?

 

I can see the silhouettes of prisoners everywhere, but they do not look like girls. In addition, there are no German guards patrolling the barbed wire fence. It turns out that the new “occupants” of that sector are our brother Slavs the Slovaks! We learn from discussions across the barbed wire that they have fought for their homeland just as we fought for ours, and like us they have been betrayed. They carry in the hearts the same bitterness and disenchantment after a bloody and lone battle.

 

Thursday, November 9

Bitten by bedbugs, I get out of the barrack before dawn with the hope that I have left that filthy pestilence behind. Besides the constant hunger, the bedbugs are the worst aspect of our plight as prisoners. I can see that our Slovak neighbours have also left their barracks with the hope that the bedbugs will not catch up with them.

 

The unexpected order to go to the camp showers does not comfort me. This time, we are sure that there is no threat to us and that we will find only the warm showers. We do not live through the panic of imagined gas chambers as we did the first time. The hot baths provide undeniable albeit temporary relief. The inevitable return to the bedbug infested barracks is horrifying. Nestled in our disinfected and steamed clothes and warm underwear we are lulled to sleep.

 

Friday, November 10

New waves of Allied prisoners of war pour into the camp at Fallingbostel every day. I do not understand it. If the Third Reich is finally losing the war, why are so many Allied soldiers being taken captive? Literally hundreds of English and American soldiers crowd through the gates of Stalag XI-B. I often stand by the main road in amazement and watch.

 

The Americans are very direct and friendly. We have met many men of Polish origin, children of earlier Polish immigrants to America, who have retained their Polish surnames but have taken English Christian names like John instead of Janek, Jack instead of Jacek, Christopher for Krzysztof, George instead of Jurek, and Albert for Wojtek, etc. They speak in Polish with difficulty and with a thick English accent.

This has not presented any obstacle, however, to our establishing warm and friendly relations. To us, they are an exotic curiosity; to them, we are evidence of the things that their parents have told them about from childhood; about their beloved far off Homeland for which they have never ceased to long. Jack (to us Jacek) Piotrowski is one of these American prisoners who has attached himself to us and sits in our barrack from morning until night. He claims to have found in us a special closeness.

He talks about his parents with unconcealed respect, and longingly, he dreams of returning to the bosom of his family. Mostly, he longs for his little girl whom he has never seen yet because she was born after he left to go to war. When he speaks of her, he does not hide his tears… We too long deeply for a place in a diametrically opposed direction... but we have run out of tears long ago.

 

Saturday, November 11

I have figured out how to make a small camp stove with one burner out of tin cans. There are all kinds of materials. I just have to go to the camp dump and collect some empty tins and then to mount them on a piece of board stolen from a bunk. A larger tin, to serve as a burner, is connected by a smaller tin, which acts as a duct to a fan operated by a wire hand crank.

 

I will fashion the hand crank out of a piece of barbed wire, which involves some risk to acquire since the Germans react to any approach to the fence by shooting from the watch towers. The trick to this is to find an appropriate piece of loose hanging wire during the day, and then to go to the fence for it at night sneaking between one passing reflector beam and the next. Having nothing to cut the wire with; I have to patiently break it. This takes time, and all the while the reflector beam slides over my back every couple of minutes. Hugging the ground, I lie expecting a salvo of machine fire any moment.

 

This reminds me of the situation at the entrance to the sewer at Krasinski Square in Warsaw when my jacket was shot through the back by German gun fire. Then, I was fighting for Warsaw, but now... I am collecting parts for a common camp stove.

Today, we will be cooking a special dinner on one such stove, in honour of the 26th anniversary of the return of Poland’s Independence and almost a month of our own captivity.

 

It was our intention to celebrate with our American friends of Polish origin, but our plans have been thwarted by the Germans, who have unexpectedly moved us to a barrack in the main part of the camp. We now occupy a barrack that, instead of having a large open space, is divided by walls into spaces for 25 people. We have found here a very nice group, which is predominantly made up of educated people among whom there is a friendly and cultured atmosphere.

 

I have noticed with pleasure, that our move has broken up the poker playing group and Zbych has changed a lot for the better. Relations between us are improving, and becoming the good brotherly relations that should exist, the kind our mother would want there to be.

 

Sunday, November 12

We join the “Septemberists” to celebrate the mass today. As we sing the hymn “Boże Coś Polskę”, it seems that we might easily blast the walls right out of the barrack. As always the last words “Return to us a free Homeland!” have a deep effect and cause more than one tear to fall…

 

Monday, November 13

Because of the move and assignments to the labour details, our variety show theatre group has ceased to exist and it is getting very monotonous. Zbych organized a talk on a very interesting subject under the title “Unchivalrous people”142 which unleashed a very lively discussion. Jurek and I listened, pleased that Zbych has taken up a more useful and beneficial activity than playing poker.

 

November 14 - 18

I wonder if I have just gotten used to the pointless existence in the camp and the monotony, or if I simply do not have any more energy. One thing is certain, I will never in any way get used to the hunger or the bedbugs.

 

I do not feel like participating in any of the camp pastimes, games or group discussions. The one activity that I am devoting a little time to is the building of my little camp stoves. I am accepting orders for more such ranges, on condition that the interested party provides me with a board needed for the base and they pay me a deposit of five American cigarettes. In this way, I do not have to steal boards from the bunks of my neighbours and incur their wrath. The total cost of a completed stove is ten cigarettes. This constitutes a considerable income, earmarked for the stocking my supply of bread, which I dry. To be on the safe side, I always have with me my haversack, in which I keep my supplies for the road. Hunger torments me, and the contents of the haversack are enticing, but common sense demands restraint.

Zbych’s, Jurek’s and my name are all on the list read out today of those assigned to work details.

We have the right to cancel or postpone our assignment if we wish. In a discussion with Zbych, I get the feeling that he is beginning to waver in his decision. Any day now he is expecting packages and letters from home and he is afraid that we will not get them in time. I insist that we should leave the camp as soon a possible, and escape back to Poland even sooner. Jurek is worried that crossing the eastern border will involve a lot of danger. It looks like I will be escaping on my own.

 

As a result of the imminent departure of the work details, on Friday, the Germans make us go the baths and to the “delousing” stations. This time, we go to the baths happily and without fear. We scrub ourselves clean under the warm showers while bartering with the staff at the bath. I manage to profitably trade cigarettes for half a loaf of bread. After returning to the barrack, bathed and deloused, we delight in an additional portion of bread.

 

I am waiting impatiently for the departure with the work detail. It seems this will involve an associated administrative change. Instead of belonging to Stalag XI-B in Fallingbostel, we will belong to Stalag XI-A in Altengrabow. The “Septemberists” who are acquainted with this camp express enthusiasm about the news that this is where we are going. Apparently, it is much better and more advantageous for the prisoners there. The Polish Representative has assured us that eventually our letters and packages will be sent to our work detail through Stalag XI-A.

 

November 19 - 20

On Sunday morning, we participate in a solemn mass. The teaching and Homily of the French priest are interpreted into Polish for us. Because of our imminent departure into the unknown, the priest grants a general absolution, as a result of which a large group of us receive communion.

 

At the request of the “Septemberists”, with the last of our actor brethren, we put on our last variety show, after which most of the audience stays in our barrack for some long and heartfelt discussion. We take advantage of the opportunity to benefit from the five years of experience of the “Septemberists” and ask them questions about the conditions on the work details, about the possibility of escape and the response of the Germans in the event of failure and problems that could result.

 

Tuesday, November 21

The Polish Representative came to our barrack early this morning and made the long-awaited announcement that our group is leaving for work detail today! We are to assemble with our baggage in the square in front of the gate at 3:00 p.m. They are rationing each one of us a half of a loaf of bread and one tin of meat for four people.

 

We go with Zbych to the American barrack to say goodbye to Jacek (Jack) Piotrowski. We are touched by his warmth. As we are leaving, he pulls out a whole package of Chesterfield cigarettes and gives them to us for the road with a simple “God go with you” as farewell. God go with you too, my friend. We wish you a safe return to your dear ones!

 

In the square, the Polish Representative appoints Zbych as the interpreter for and leader of our group. This is an added responsibility, and I know that Zbych takes it very seriously.Before the gates are opened, the Germans do one more search. The devil knows what they expect to find. Just in case, I hide my scout knife in the top of my boot. The search is superficial and is completed quickly. I have the impression that the Germans are in a hurry.

 

They finally open the gate and, escorted by a couple of guards, we march to the railway station where we are loaded into two cattle cars, the same as the ones in Ożarów. There are two small windows with grates, on the floor dirty straw worn to dust, and later the familiar grinding noise of the sliding doors.