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The Mediterranean Sea. 22 December
I was woken by the ship's rolling. It was hard to lie still without moving; not a single thing remained in its rightful place -everything has been moving around as if it was alive.
I really suffered there for a while, my headache was unbearable. I clambered over various arms and legs and out on deck. It was totally dark -in the east a pale whiteness. It must have been around 06:00 hours; I don't have a watch. There was a drizzling rain. I was tired. I found a piece of wet straw mattress and again the ship's motion and the wind's
mournful whine rocked me to sleep. I woke when the sun was already high in the sky , shining brightly. The wind had not abated; quite the opposite. it seemed to be getting stronger again. Apparently we passed Cyprus at 03:00 in the morning, so we've almost reached journey's end. This is torture. Yesterday I was exhausted. They drove everyone down into those stifling cabins. Ghastly.
Despite its being forbidden, I had to go out on deck. I drew back the tarpaulin and hung my head over the side pretending to be sick. Anyway, why pretend, was pretty close to it. Beside me several poor chaps followed by lead. We felt much better, the wind brought us round. The sky looked threatening. The swirling, strangely shaped clouds worked their way across the sky, changing into a fog on the horizon. The whole sky was wrapped in an envelope of fog. The moon shone through this covering, but weakly. From time to time it flickered indistinctly. Where was this storm, ahead of us or behind? It seemed that it was just approaching. The wind grew. The ship was being buffeted about.
Sometimes it felt as if we were going to be turned over. Oh! if it overturned -someone whispered. Instantly, I pictured the tragedy, the image of despair appeared before my eyes. I looked at these elements unleashed. God! have mercy on us! Such a death would
be too dreadful, it's not for these poor folk. On the left, barely distinguishable, one can see land; what will it be, only Cyprus, because there's no other land on our route. I must look at the map.
There's no other land on the map along our course, only Cyprus. People are quarrelling, some say it's Cyprus, others that it's another island, and that we passed Cyprus in the night -apparently the sailors had said so. I say we've only reached Cyprus.
It was far away and in such conditions the ship can't proceed at its normal speed. The wind is Quietening down. the weather's becoming nice and warm. The sea isn't settling.
it's been whipped up too much.
12:30 hours. No change with the sea, or the weather, or the ship. Only the sun is more scorching.
We're chatting and pondering about Poland. Today I would've been travelling to Polesia * for Christmas. And New Year's Eve in Davyd-Haradok**. But I never believed that such vast, violent changes could have taken place. Who knows when (if one has exceptional luck) one will return to the fatherland, to those precious places, and to those people closest to one's heart. I wonder what's happening with mother, will she be able to come to terms with the thought of my dying; for she loved me so much.
15:00 hours. Everyone is straining to see land on the horizon; it's not surprising, they've had enough of this water. Apparently we'll be there by 6 o'clock.
They've sent us down to the lower decks again. The ship's great rolling is "rearranging the furniture".
The rocking is so huge that everyone, along with whatever they're sitting or lying on or holding onto, is sliding around from wall to wall. Good mood.
They've brought news from on deck that we're in sight of land. Comforting news.
They're hurriedly pushing everyone down below; apparently this is where the sea is at its most dangerous.
I hear talk about who's been sick and who hasn't. There are many who haven't been sick -myself included. Hmm! If you're bound for Syria then don't go to Riga!
I saw land myself a moment ago; another hour at most and we'll be in port.
My first sea voyage. Unpleasant, uncomfortable, but interesting in its own way. If only it had been a voyage to the fatherland -the unpleasantness wouldn't have mattered, or
* Polesia -Polesia is a marshy region lining the Pripyat River (Pripyat Marshes) in pre-war eastern Poland, now in Belarus.
** Davyd-Haradok ( Dawidgródek) is a city in Poland, now in Belarus
the discomfort, or the seasickness. Who knows when and by what means that voyage will
take place. But it will happen, I'm convinced of it.
The siren wails, we're approaching -a merry mood. They're holding us back, everyone's pushing towards the doors, they're ready to jump out. A second siren, we're in port, the town is close by.
17.05 hours. Gata maszyna (in Rumanian). The ship's engines have been turned off, it's manoeuvring, evidently coming up to the pier.
The ship's stopped. I'm admiring the town of Beirut. Big, looks quite attractive.
An unpleasant surprise, they're making us stay on board overnight; disembarkation will be tomorrow -shame, but what can one do.
We've moved right up to the pier. They've already posted a guard of French soldiers.
There are blacks in uniform too, with their hands in their pockets.
They woke us with a cry of "pobudka"*. I slept much better now.
7:00, it's light, they're handing out tea and then disembarkation follows.
The boys are practising the Marseillaise, already the singing isn't bad. Someone's tinkling "Violetta"** on the piano. It reminds me of the officers' mess. God, how fate
* "pobudka" -the shout for reveille.
** "Violetta" -popular tango.
toys with human life.
Now it's Chopin's March. How sad. It plays for so many of us' ".
11: 10 hours. We're still sitting on board the ship. People are getting disillusioned.
We thought we were needed here, but there are no encouraging signs. There's nothing to eat, some people are getting hungry -they're not providing food.
We're ready for anything; without too much concern we play bridge.
Someone's playing all our tunes on the piano -they're so beautiful
They're bringing the palliasses in from the deck that had been carried out after the night. It's sad but true -looks like we'll be here another night.
Dusk, we're back from supper. They assembled us in the foyer, gave us bread, tinned fish, oranges and wine. Now the chaps have had something to eat, they've calmed down. It doesn't look like we're going to be disembarking.
It's getting busy. For all sorts of reasons. French wine, chaotic instructions -some of us are supposed to get out, others to stay, but who? what? as a matter of fact no-one knows. A lot of rushing around, bustle. And to top it all they're handing out cigarettes.
It's difficult to figure out what they're going to do with us. I'm thinking about the random and unplanned activities of our authorities in Rumania; they shoved us out to sea the faster the better -like Jews' **
* "Chopin's March" -probably refers to the Funeral March in C minor, Op.72, no.2; the
comment implies that many will die.
** Rumania at the time was very unstable and had been penetrated by Gennan agents. The Polish authorities probably wanted to get their men out as quickly as possible for this reason. However, this is conjecture on the translator's part and not in the Polish text.
Oh! I'm leaving it to the situation, don't want to expand on this, it's not worth it; anyway it's the situation that dictates to the authorities and not the other way round.
They're singing carols. It's Christmas Eve tomorrow. How sad. Lord, why didn't You let us praise You with peace of mind. surrounded by our nearest and dearest.
The seventh and eighth groups are leaving the ship; they're going to barracks somewhere. Apparently four groups are to stay in Beirut, excepting pilots and anti-aircraft gunners, and then the last four groups are to sail to France on the same ship.
They're singing carols. How blissful, how delightful. All of us, in our minds, are carried off there! There where the snow-covered fir trees are, where there's a decorated Christmas tree, where mother is, and father, wife, children, sisters and brothers and all those dear ones. But these are only dreams, it was like that, but it's not like that now.
Frozen, hungry , homeless. Jesus, who will be born on earth, keep them safe in Your care.
In the still of the night.* Sorrow grips the heart. I remember, when I was little: standing round the Christmas tree at my uncle's holding hands and singing that sacred song, walking round the Christmas tree; St Nicholas looked down at us from the top of the tree, and he was pleased with the good children -later we received generous gifts. Sacred times, where have you gone?
* "Wsrod nocnej ciszy" -popular Polish carol.
24 December. Sunday
The sun rose beautifully. The jetty glistened in the sunlight, and the city walls and the snow-covered peaks of the mountains. Two little ships approached port. Maybe one of them is the little one which Wladzio was to have sailed on. Poor Wladzio, a good friend, : gifted and righteous man.
Another two, no, three, groups going off to town. Maybe slowly they will find quarters for us, but it's odd that the anti-aircraft gunners are staying. There are just three groups left on the ship.
It's after 11:00. We've assembled for breakfast. They've chased everyone off the ship, they're cleaning; there'll be new quarters. I'm so hungry I can barely stand -will they give us that coffee again today? Our organization is so slow-moving; the French have had their food ready long ago. Well, that's our organization for you -nobody can do anything about it
12:00 hours. A beautiful day, sunny, warm; what a shame one can't move away from here; the surroundings look tempting. It's wonderful.
The town, decorative buildings trimmed with palms and other typical trees -all green. Hills in the distance with little houses all over them right up to the very tops -obviously summer villas. High peaks covered in snow. Isn't this quaint? There are Turks wandering round the port, with little red hats on their heads and baggy trousers, Arabs and other black southerners. I'm very curious to see what the black women, the negresses, look like.
It's certain nevertheless that those remaining from the first group will sail; the ship is already being prepared for the voyage, they're loading food supplies. Still, what a shame to have to leave these parts without having: a good look round - the stuff of my dreams -
now that one's actually here.
It's comforting to think that there will only be half the number of people on board.
I had imagined the Negroes differently. I thought they were somewhat wild people, backward. No. Observing the soldiers, one can see that they're highly trained, disciplined, understanding their duties -they walk with their heads held high and give an impression of dignity. Only their movements are clownish yet lively and their expressions are funny. Their eyes are a little wild. They must make brave and fearsome soldiers. The Germans will have the chance to find out -good. It's nice of the French that they've enabled them to develop, making intelligent human beings out of them, and even giving them the responsibility of higher office. I've seen a few of their officers.
Lunch was tasty. We got it straight after breakfast, that is after coffee. Macaroni, sauce and a piece of meat, an orange and wine. Everyone's pleased, their stomachs having recovered - they're full of praise for the French. Someone's caught a small octopus on a fishing line. An interesting reptile. It's got eight "snakes" with suckers. They can grow to a large size and can strangle a man with their "snakes". Divers have problems with them.
We're on board ship again, berthed more "comfortably" as there are fewer people. I'm agitated in the extreme. God, forgive me -Christmas Eve today. They're singing carols on deck. Glory in the heavens, "to men of good will". How unfair. The gentlemen* have settled comfortably in the cabins again. We rebelled. We didn't want to get on board at all.
Why is it that we, the ones who are most needed, who would do anything for the fatherland, who gave our all, our skills, our whole beings, are again to be wronged by those who have pushed us into the depths of misery? Why should they have comforts?
* "Panowie" -anyone in charge, officers as opposed to the men.
Only to withdraw at the last moment before battle. Do we, the true citizens, who love Poland, have to calmly watch those who took our beloved Poland from us, and let them wrong us and take away the last of our strength?* No! The colonel came, the commanding officer of the transport, he pretended contrition, and agreed that we were right. A good chap, he admits it. He ordered bunks to be given to us. He gave the order, but Mr Frenchie** didn't like it. He carried out the order. but how? I got a bunk, but it
amounts to nothing -they stuck seven of our boys in our one cabin, and that's not mentioning how many were squeezed into the others. So, I have a bunk again, but I'm sharing it with another chap. One could get rough with these people, but not our boys, not yet - they've a long way to go before they take that sort of initiative.
We got together, the brothers in arms from the trek through Rumania, from the Rumanian prison, so that at this moment of celebration we might wish each other well. We broke some bread between us and exchanged good wishes. No-one said anything.
Someone muttered something. "A free fatherland", that we might be "with our families" we were speechless with emotion, sadness tightened round the heart, hand gripped hand - hard; so strongly that it was almost as if one wanted to crush the other. So much mutual sympathy and sincerity of feeling in that grip or in that kiss -it's difficult for anyone else to understand -I understand, and the one who gripped my hand understands, and so does the one who looked on.
* There was very strong feeling amongst the men that those in command had let them down during the Autumn 1939 campaign in Poland. Many officers in command had simply left the country , travelling to Rumania.
** "Pan Fmnek" -sarcastic expression for the French. -
And what of the families? Admittedly, mine have the 7th of January*, but I'm not thinking only of my own. Mine probably have a morsel of bread for themselves, as they're with the Russians; surely they won't take their piece of land from them, but what about the others? Those who fled, terrified, from the bombings, rushing straight ahead of them, leaving everything behind.
I'm suffering from total nervous exhaustion; I'm going to stop writing.
I embrace everyone today, even those for whom I have nothing but contempt in this little book. I ask no questions -I'm an insistent, ill-mannered peasant. Why am I like this?
May the present be my excuse.
We're playing bridge -Lord God forgive me -I'm just not myself.
Beirut. 25 December Christmas Day
A beautiful day,
the sun has gilded the world with its brightness -human souls are
full of blissful peace. One didn't need to know that today was a
special day, subconsciously one just knew that today was out of
the ordinary .Bathed in sunshine, the world appeared majestic,
pure, enveloped in an aura of peace.
I would so like to hear Holy Mass today.
I'm sitting on deck in the bows of the ship, frying in the sun's rays. They say that
*The translator does not understand the meaning of this. It is possible that this relates to an address -many streets were named after significant dates in the calendar.
grapes are being handed out, 1'11 go and get some.
A moment ago the transmission of Mass from the Holy Land, from Jerusalem, ended.
We're not far away. Rumour has it the Jews invited us to Jerusalem for Christmas.
One chap wished his friend "Merry Christmas". "How ironic, mate,", replied the other.
I'm standing in the queue, with several officers behind me, we're waiting for rations
We're equals now -my rank's even higher, since I'll get my food sooner. Times have changed -serves them right -it's a punishment for their sins.
Dinner was tasty, but there wasn't much of it. I really feel I could eat something now 22:30 hours. I'm going to sleep next to my closest friends -not those in the cabin.
I spent five hours standing in various queues today, every so often receiving some tasty morsel to eat. They handed out oranges, Dutch cheese, vegetable salad, raisins. No need to mention the wine, wine here is like one's daily bread -you might not eat any lunch, but you'll always get wine. They even gave us champagne, luxury in today's world; even when times were good, I never had any in Poland.
I spoke today with the colonel, the commanding officer of our transport. A very approachable chap, he spoke as if he was talking with colleagues; he reflected like one with quite a democratic attitude, not hiding the tragic truth of events that had taken place. He
said that everyone from staff officers* up had to be specially summoned** to go to France, and that the selection depended on one's performance in Poland. I wonder if this colonel
* All ranks from Major upwards.
** General Sikorski was very critical of the behaviour of the majority of senior officers (from rank of Major upwards) in the Autumn 1939 campaign in Poland. Those officers who were to join him in Paris did so following special summons. Most of those officers not summoned to France eventually ended up in the Middle East.
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