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here for my benefit, but I for yours." That's how it should be; we should be equal in the total sense of that word, not simply by virtue of a paragraph in the Constitution.
I've barely managed to motivate myself to wash a change of underpants. Inactivity is to blame.
They've put in a window opposite our bunks. How wonderful, our corner will be bathed in daylight - how can one live without it.
It has become cold- it seeps through our poorly clad limbs.
What insanity. The Balkan Entente is arming itself to counter the Red's agression.
Why are they arming themselves against future aggression blind to Germany's aggression which clearly already threatens. Mussolini's fault. And so "they've filled the donkey's mangers: in the first there's oats, in the second - hay. The one smells good, the other is also tempting."* Does Mussolini not realise what fate might await such a "proverbial donkey".
The violent oppression of the Poles by German forces increasingly stirs the civilised world. Surely everyone realises what a German victory would mean.
Sad. It's bad enough that those gathered around the pot of wine aren't listening, but they don't allow the others to listen to the "Voice of Poland". They're more interested in
* Translation of a very well-known Polish fable written by Aleksander Fredro ( 1793-1876).
the wine that's being handed out than the news which determines our fate. It's sad that there are such empty-headed beings amongst us.
I've come of out of the barrack hut - impossible to sit inside all the time. It was drizzling - this disgusting weather - endless rain and mud. The wind always blows into a poor man's eyes. * I walked with my head down, the mud clinging to my feet. What point is there in walking in the rain and mud? I walked into the barrack hut. And what's this? A hard life, a life of boredom.
Someone muttered that today is a feast day. A feast day? It's true, the second of February: the feast of Our Lady** - I wouldn't have known if it hadn't been for that chap.
The times have passed when one knew four days in advance that it would be a feast day on Friday. There was a reason for knowing the difference between a feast day and a weekday. Holiest Mother, forgive me for not remembering You today. What can I, a powerless creature, do in the face of forces that have made one so querulous?
Saturday. 3 February
A favourable day today. A more pleasant mood has gripped me today and, more importantly, I got some new shoes. The day nears its end, the hut gets darker. Since
* Old Polish saying, equivalent to "It never rains, but it pours."
** 2 February - the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, Candlemas. Everyone brings lighted candles into the church for Mass. In some parts of Poland this is considered to be the end of the Christmas season.
morning I've spent the time huddled beneath my blankets, happily remembering the pleasant and memorable moments of my past in Poland. I also talked a lot about those experiences to my young friend Ju1ek. The memory or a conversation on this subject is like sweetness itself - it gives so much p1easureab1e satisfaction.
Camp de Judes. 5 February
Today, all quiet on the western front, just as here - nothing to report, apart from the fact that there was fish for supper - stale, oversa1ted, stinking fish that you couldn't even bring close to your nose, let alone eat.
Yesterday, should not be passed by; I didn't fee11ike making notes - laziness brought on by inactivity. We went to church in Caussade. 9km into town, an 18km march in total.
The march wasn't especially difficult for a person who sits constantly in barracks; on the other hand I used to enjoy going to church in better times, and do so now all the more.
We made a good impression with our military showing, especially with the singing. The degree of interest aroused amongst the local people was made apparent simply by all those who turned out.
Our choir sang beautifully in church, creating a special atmosphere amongst those gathered there. The priest gave a lofty sounding sermon in French. I gathered its meaning through the tone of tragedy, despair and imminent threat. I understood the meaning of the words, although I don't speak the language. The priest described the massive defeat that had befallen us and our unfortunate selves, asking God for mercy. "Szante" ('Chante') - song, I understood this word. That beautiful singing is their prayer - he said with emotion.
The women, being more sensitive, wept.
A friend later told me about the sermon's content - it was as I had thought. I had understood without knowing French. I was moved to the core. Those beautiful organ chords, like some heavenly choir, the most moral part of the soul. I felt humble, it was difficult not to sense the presence of God, I prayed as best I knew how in that solemn moment.
Two squads have been assigned to duties in the kitchen. They're not there; everyone shirks work, hiding in some comer. It's a disgrace - what does one do with such people. He gobbled his food for several days and didn't comprehend that after all someone had to prepare the grub. Despite threats, that type of person won't go. He will lie belly-up on his bed and shout that he's hungry, that they're not giving him enough to eat. I'd like to know by what right, and in return for what, should such a swine receive food and, on top of that, have it prepared for him. These sorts make all our efforts fall apart, creating unrest and constant bickering.
There's a need for experts at the aircraft factories. Some two hundred people have volunteered.
A warm, sunny day. A strange sight in the sky. A semicircular streak, like a cloud. This "sight" is familiar to us, often appearing over Torun airfield. The Hun is letting us know of his existence, making a smudge of the aircraft. A sign of the reality which may soon occur. No matter, we're familiar with this horror.
The young feel the lack of bread. Hungry, they dream of bread. One says "if only the
roof would open up and a loaf of bread fall in." Bread is like heaven's mercy.
I went to hear the Polish news broadcast from Toulouse. Displeased and angry we left; what good to us is the world's indignation at the German's terrorisation of our countrymen. We want to see an immediate reaction, for the moans of the dying brook no delay. Yes, no-one can share in the suffering of others. Why are human emotions so cool! Why do we sit here inactive. Oh! that we should soon hear through the speakers the blast of a bomb exploding over the barbarian, that we might then step away from the speaker with a sense of relief; we can then say - good news.
Wednesday, 7 February
I had a wash under a warm shower. They've done something good for folk.
Odd weather, the days passably pleasant, the nights mainly drizzly. I've ceased to think of the possibility that mud might one day disappear from the camp.
The nights have one other fault. Night is the realm of mice and rats in our barracks. Today one of those monsters woke me as it wandered across my face. All night long the army fights with rats. They're disgusting creatures in that they are a little too confident.
Part of the army has moved to Caussade. A ceremony will take place there when we will lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown French soldier. The same ceremony will be
repeated in the afternoon in a nearby town. They call it Sepfag - I don't know how it's written in French. I'll stroll down there.
I want to finish [the story] of my experiences in Rumania, while I can still remember the sequence of events. Once begun a story cannot finish on a question mark. Last time I finished with how we got through to Bucharest.
Like hares, keeping eyes and ears open for anything untoward, we forced our way through the alleys, guarded by gendarmes, and out onto the street. We hailed the first available taxi, somewhat fearfully, and piled in. "Strada (I don't remember now, but I think it was Aleksandru), Ambasada Polone."* In a few minutes we were there, where a milling mass of similar arrivals greeted us. The overcrowding at the embassy was huge; in the air force section, where my regimental commander, Colonel Stachoil was on duty, the work was hectic and a little chaotic. Not surprising, everything was happening at once. It wasn't clear who to deal with first. With help from the guide on our memorable adventure, who immediately scarpered as he had an important engagement, we were allocated quarters and a couple of dozen lei.
The next day all our other brothers in misfortune arrived. Apparently the Kalafat police, who had been bribed, delivered them under escort to Kraiowa. They must have explained themselves away intelligently. The police in Kraiowa, not knowing what to do with these "criminals" and wanting, after all, to rid themselves of the problem, released them.
There were dreadful difficulties in obtaining an exit visa. A large bribe had to be paid to assure the good grace of the officials of the Police Prefecture.
* Instructions to the taxi driver to take them to the Polish Embassy.
I had to fill out my passport under an assumed surname, giving false personal details, because the passports bearing our real names were in the hands of the police. One had to disguise oneself against arrest warrants. I chose my pseudonym "Leszek" which was easiest because it avoided all possiblity of giving myself away, since I had already been known as Leszek for some time. To this day the surname in my passport, the pseudony Leszek, appears in police documents.
We received 50 lei per day. It was too little to have a good time, but we didn't feel poor. We lived in three places, the last of which was a YMCA hostel under the auspices of the American Society for the care of Polish Refugees, in Str Kiselew [Kiselew Street], previously Str Berzei. Bucharest is a nice city - if one had some money, one could get to know its pleasures - but this way, apart from from Krucza Depieta*, we were restricted to walks and spending time in smaller restaurants where one could eat on the cheap.
We were there until 12th November. We didn't get our exit permits. There was a shortage of funds at the embassy. The few endeavours to help us were unsuccessful and on the night of 12th November we had to make our way to the little port of Balcic on the Black Sea. What to do? We departed unhappily with the thought that maybe this would be our last perilous effort, that there we would find a ship and that would be the end of Rumania. On 13th November we got out without any problems at a town built of stone, situated on the coast among rocky, limestone mountains.
Here there were a lot of Poles already. We were disillusioned when we discovered that here we would have to go in front of a control board, who would decide whether we could depart. The very same board of control from Bucharest which was coming over specially.
They paid us 100 lei per day out of which one had to pay rent. I found a place to live
* It is not clear whether this is a main street or an area of the city.
with Wladzio, Stach and Kazik at the house of a Bulgarian whose surname was Gineref. A very good family, they looked after us as if we were their own kin. We grew so close that sometimes they irritated us with their intrusive company. The four of us together paid them 100 lei.
Life wasn't bad; there was enough money, one might even say, for a comfortable life. Of course this didn't stretch to going out, but there wasn't anywhere to go anyway. We ate lunch in the best restaurants; one could drop in for wine or Turkish coffee or maybe buy some sweets - there was enough money. And right there on the spot we had Syjka and Todka. Syjka was actually a nice girl - I remember her to this day. They introduced us to their girlfriends, and amongst others Syjka No.2 - a pretty, charming girl. They would get together in our room - I was delighted with their company, I've always found women fascinating. Syjka sang well; sometimes she would make us feel quite emotional with her charming song. Then heads bowed two images would appear before our eyes: reality and the image of a beautiful life in Poland. I would also see a screen where a gypsy girl would serenade a loving couple, entertaining and fuelling their amorous feelings with her bewitching song. One was moved and began to forget. Reality struck with a thud and roused one from forgetfulness. No! it's not Urszulka or Mychnna beside me. This delightful singing is not for us, it's for happy folk.
The language difficulties were sometimes amusing and at other times caused problems and trouble. Not knowing the language limited any progress with the girls, as well as any possible pleasures. Twice we went dancing with the Bulgarian girls at private parties. Somehow I managed to get by, although it was a pretty poor effort - their Bulgarian is a little similar to Russian.
Impatiently we waited for change. No board of control and no departure. We were
told to wait, wait patiently. And all quiet on the western front - that irritated us too. What was worse German interference prevented us from listening to the Polish news from London.
At last around 10th December - I don't remember the exact date - the board of control arrived. Without too much trouble they handed out exit permits to pretty much everybody. Their palms must have been well and truly greased. Our chaps handed over fictitious documents which declared their status with respect to military service. One couldn't let it be known that one had been mobilised and had fought agains the Gennans. (Regulations regarding neutrality.) They gave me a document identifying me as a drainage official in the municipal services in Lodz, exempting me from mobilisation. I received a visa without any problems.
Again there was the irritating and impatient wait for a ship. Nevertheless it did sail in. At last on the 18th we bade farewell to Balcic. It was a bit of a shame to leave the Gineref family, Syjka who was very sad, our little home - a sharme to leave those stone villas with their stone courtyards and summer-houses. And a pity to leave those high rocky mountains. How easily one becomes attached to such things.
And so we sailed away from the coast of Rumania.
We returned from the wreath laying ceremony at the tomb of the unknown soldier. The ceremony was splendid, with many local dignitaries present, both military and civilian. Our march past turned out well. One could see delight on the faces of those gathered there. Even the French colonel, speaking on behalf of the general, the Prefect and himself did not begrudge words of thanks when speaking about our camp. "In your eyes one could see decisiveness - he said - with such decisiveness you will win Poland back."
The view of the little town did not create a favourable impression - something which I had already noticed previously, even in Caussade. Old, misshapen buildings, made from quarried stone. Peeling plaster, falling off with old age, revealing unfinished, irregular stones. This type of living quarters for people has the appearance of a miserable ramshackle hovel. The windows have wooden shutters which are mostly closed. The question arises - why? Without light, do the people there sleep all the time? A terrible, wretched existence, narrow streets with no sign of life.
The same is true of the local farms. The land lies untilled, the whole farmstead is in a state of neglect, the buildings - the same ruins. The farmyard is dirty. Strange, that people of a high intellectual level can lead their lives in this way. It is obvious that they have an exceptional aversion to work, for it would be difficult to explain it otherwise. We Poles, such as we are, lead the field on this score. We like to make our own comer, where we spend most time, more pleasant. The farmer worked in the same way - he was able to extract (to the best of his ability, of course) the maximum from his land. In Poland, one would not see unploughed fields, covered in weeds, like those one sees here or in Rumania.
Camp de Judes. 9 FebruaryThey exhausted me, tossing me up in the air for some five minutes, throwing me around like a little twig. Oh! let them have some fun - my good friends didn't forget that it was my birthday today. Yes, my birthday. Time is not kind to birthdays; a birthday in good times is a day to celebrate, yet it comes around even in tragic times. And then instead
of joy, the feast day is marked by pain. On this occasion, lovely memories creep up on one and give rise, all the more, to feelings of sadness. What can one do, today is my birthday nevertheless. Somehow a malicious, idiotic hand threw a strone as I flew upwards and it hit me in the head above the ear - giving me a bruise. That's reality. How much cruelty lies in wait for man, even for someone who is innocent, who has not sinned against another. Abominable, deceitful world. When I speak of the world I mean people; people, you clever people - could the most predatory animal ever equal you? You! Beautiful superficiality, yet within lies concealed something more than a predatory nature. A predatory animal does not conceal its instincts, but man? A beast in hiding, faced with a fortuitous meeting with a weaker being tortures it, not even permitting it simply to die.
There's plenty of wine; I'm a little tipsy. Zygus has got to work on the barrel and keeps shouting to ask if I've got enough wine. Things are going very well! Zyg and Stach are in the section that's on duty, the wine is at their disposal - there will be enough to celebrate my nameday - oh, sorry, my birthday.
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