Back To Page 41
has joined us. He's written a few words to commemorate [the evening]:
"To my Polish friends with the esteem of my sincere friendship"
Good wishes in Arabic illegible signature*
Beirut, 6 January
I went to church, to a Polish Mass. I felt so happy when I heard Polish carols, in my heart I thanked God for His care over us, for allowing us to pray together at His altar in Polish. There were a lot of local people in the church. I was proud and happy when I saw the admiration and regard for us on their faces. When we all faithfully sang "Oh, God, You have protected Poland" **, hearts swelled. I understood that Poland exists, that she hasn't died despite this tragic reality.
10.30 hours. We took a photo of ourselves as a souvenir, in the market square in the
company of some negroes, with palms in the background.
A beautiful sunny day. The world has taken on a cheertul face after the rains. Like bees round a honeypot, people are enjoying the sunshine. It's strange that although our actions weren't particularly commendable ***, everyone abroad treats us with such warmth. They often show signs of pity and compassion - that annoys me.
* "A mes amis Polonais avec l'hommage de ma sincere ami tie" : illegible signature.
The translator's Arabic is not sufficiently fluent to give an exact translation of the wishes of goodwill.
** "Bote cos Polsk~" - a solemn Polish hymn, asking for God's protection for Poland.
*** Relates to the first weeks of the Second World War.
- 43 -
I see a girl, who looks like my Mychna. I remember her sweet little face,
her delightful nature. I am so sad - my poor girl- Mysienka*.
What a great pity that one doesn't know the local languages; it would be so pleasant to share one's thoughts with the local people. One might even meet a girl. It begins and ends with just a friendly smile. I must master the French language. Anyone who considers themselves intelligent must know at least three foreign languages. I know Russian, German I can cope with slowly, I must definitely learn French.
19.35 hours. Tipsy, we find ourselves once again at the cabaret club. Rats**, yesterday I swore I wouldn't look in here again, and now ... - it must be the wine. We stopped off at a wine bar. It was good wine, but it was forbidden by law for us to drink there. What could we do, we had to go into some dark comer to drink like drunkards, gulping it down in one. It's Saturday today, the Feast of the Three Kings, our tradition is to enjoy ourselves. It would be so lovely in the old Poland - what can we do, that old Poland no longer exists, now there is only Syria and her cabaret clubs.
More and more wine. I think I've had enough. It's fun in the company of French soldiers. Zygfryd is already dancing with a soldier. It's merry. Our friends, exhausted, invent some funny steps on the dance floor, dancing in a threesome with the sergeant. I'm also exhausted. We're having a good time; I want to dance but all the [professional] dancing girls are already engaged. ***
* Diminutive form of the Mychna and, therefore, an endearing term.
** "Psia kosc" - non-blasphemous oath; literal meaning "dog's bone".
*** Professional dancing girls were employed by the cabaret clubs to dance with the club clientele; officially, they did not provide any other services.
The only way to dance is with soldiers. "The ladies" are constantly engaged. Maybe they're unwilling to take us on because they can't talk business without "parlez francais"*.
They're having a great time wtih us, shame a chap can't understand the language. We've really livened everyone up with our behaviour. I can't describe the Frenchmens' attitude towards us. One of them kissed me a moment ago. "Kamerad",** he says, with a real appreciation for the current situation.
17:20 hours. We're observing the Indochinese from the balcony. Yesterday a transport ship sailed in. A diminutive race, with prominent cheekbones, very lively. I'm not quite myself after yesterday's drinking bout, even though I slept all morning. We got home at 1.30 today. It was a singularly good party. It is particularly pleasant to be in the company of the French, their approach towards us is utterly sincere and warm.
Standing in assembly for prayer, I remembered that today my folks are celebrating Christmas***. I became aware of an awful thing. Yesterday I hadn't realised the fact that
* "parlez francais" - talking French.
** "Kamerad" - the translator believes this is written phonetically from the French "camarade", not in German, which would not be in keeping with the sentiments of friendship described. "Camarade" means mate, friend.
*** 6 January, the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrated by the Greek Orthodox church in a similar way to the way that the Roman Catholics celebrate Christmas.
my nearest and dearest, gathered around the Christmas table, lost in grief, were lamenting and sighing over my fate. Undoubtedly they missed my presence. Undoubtedly, with tears in their eyes, they asked God's goodness for me. And I? I committed a grave sin, in daring even to forget. I celebrated in debauchery ... the shame, the awful disgrace. Little grandpa, dearest mother, Manka, Pawelek*, forgive me. I have wronged you. It's just the way that I am.
How I would have liked to have been with you yesterday and today. You must persevere, our time will come.
Will it indeed come? Or am I just uncomprehendingly naive? Black thoughts, get away from me.
I am, after all, strange, in some obscure way; do I truly understand the present situation? I was never able to think it through properly, and after all my future could be pretty black.
An irritating discussion in the hall concerning Polish affairs. I could thrash these old fools, who are totally blind to the situation, despite the tangible events that have taken place.
We all had some wine with supper, there's noise and argument in the hall. Argument is
* "Manka" and "Pawelek" are diminutive forms of the names Maria and Paul. Terms of endearment.
characteristic of the Poles, they can never agree with one another. Sometimes a chap disagrees with another, even though he isn't right, just to play the philosopher with him.
I'm at a French lesson. At last they've worked out something good; it's impossible to waste so much time in complete idleness.
|ai = e||en = ti|
|oi = la [wa]||u = i|
|au = o||en = an|
|eau = o||e = e|
|un = e [uhn]||e = there isn't one|
etre = etr = to be
Je suis, tu es, il est = I am
nous sommes, vous etes, ils sont = present tense
I will be = je serai, tu seras, il sera
They've mended my boots; thanks to them I have something to walk in again. I must point out that we're taking advantage of some great acts of kindness from the French.
They give us boots, underwear. Not to mention their concern about our quarters and food, and making recreational activities possible. Entrance into the cinema is free, in the bars and
cafes the bill's on them, and if they do take money, it's always less than it ought to be.
Yesterday the colonel announced that we sail on Friday. Everyone's pleased with this news, although we all realise that it could be just a piece of news. Taking advantage of some friends' notes, I want to correct some of the dates of specific events and experiences in Rumania.
On 19 September 1939 before dawn we crossed the Polish-Rumanian border. A tragic moment. Hopeless sadness and total despair. I crossed with Flying Officer Dyszlewski, nicknamed "Lazik"*, without the squadron - lost the squadron in Poland still. Journey to Storozyniec**, finding the squadron on the way. In Storozyniec, a search and the laying down of arms. From there we were directed to the concentration camp at Foksania ***. Travelling through Roman ****, we reached Foksania in a few days, I don't remember exactly. The journey itself was relatively pleasant; saw a lot of interesting things - it was interesting to observe how people lived. We were cheered by peasants we met on the way - a friendly nation.
Just before we got to Foksania the squadron's commanding officer, Captain Chrzanowski, paid me 800 zlotys as 3-months' pay; at that moment our service status was ostensibly dissolved.
* "Lazik" (pronounced "Washik") translates as "Hiker".
** Storozyniec, town housing district administration of Bukovina region of pre-war Rumania.
*** Foksania, small town in eastern Rumania. This would not have been a concentration camp in the meaning of the Nazi camps, but 'probably an army transit camp.
**** Roman: small town in north-eastern Rumania on the river Moldova.
Having reached Foksania, it turned out there was no camp there, and we had to go on to Tulci*. We were so pleased - as long as we were getting closer to the Black Sea, and from there to Syria, where there would be aircraft waiting for us. That's what our officers told us, and it was only for this reason that we'd crossed the border. A man was a soldier to the end, he had faith, he was naive, he had a shallow outlook on things.
Having heard this happy news that we were to push on, we stopped for the night at Foksania. On that note, we partied all night; I personally experienced a memorable love with a dark, fiery Rumanian girl.
A few days later we found ourselves in Tulci. The situation wasn't clear, we didn't know what they'd do with us. Here we joined our regiment. Here, we found Colonel Wojtarowicz, our base commander, who began to organise the regiments' assembled units into a single entity. This organising was so irritating; there didn't seem to be any point to it. The officers contrived to obtain passports for themselves and the flying personnel. They succeeded in obtaining the passports. We were very pleased, using the zlotys which we'd exchanged for Rumanian lei (l zloty = 20 lei). We spent our time in the local bars and cafes, making life more pleasant with dancing or wine. It's worth pointing out that it was in these circumstances that I spent my Saint's Day ** on 29 September. It was in the company of friends, in a bar with wine and music, that I spent this day which was special to me. We got seriously drunk. On the one hand merry, and on the other moved by the tragic reality. Despite all the temptation, we didn't let ourselves despair; we strengthened
* Tulci, small town in the Danube delta and, therefore, very close
to the Black Sea.
** Saints Day, celebrated in a similar fashion to a birthday, but occuring on the feast day of the saint after whom one has been named. St Michael's Day falls on 29 September.
ourselves through hope, and the belief in a quick and happy ending to this tragedy. Despite everything I felt happy when on the one hand I saw so many close friends, and on the other that my Saints Day was an occasion which roused our young minds to noble deeds and understanding.
Everything would have been fine if we'd changed into civilian clothing, taken our passports and worked out our exit But things happened differently. It is so sad, that such a terrible web of coincidences which so affected us and Poland's interests had been determined in part by our commanders. Colonel Wojtarowicz organised us into one unit and we were sent off to the camp at Kalefeta on the Danube. It was explained to us that we had to move on because we couldn't stay in these local camps, as this was a malaria zone. Now though, I think we were moved on because the camps were too crowded - after all, why were others allowed to remain and fall sick and even die from malaria.
On 30 September we left for Kalefeta in an army transport in conditions which were very uncomfortable, because of the overcrowding. They locked us up in the camp. It was only here that we realised we had been had. It was a border zone, as Bulgaria was on the other side of the Danube; relations with Bulgaria were tense, no point in even thinking of escape. Bitter, we cursed Colonel Wojtarowicz and Captain Kotodziejak - who, having our passports in their possession, didn't return them to us. Ha!
Mr Kotodziejak thought he'd gather us all together and take us off to France as a great commander. Oh yes, all you leaders are long since there, didn't leave many on the battlefield to defend yourselves in flight; you were capable of leaving people in Rumanian camps, so that you could escape more easily and comfortably to where it was safer. We, true Poles, unafraid of any dangerous deeds, can extricate ourselves from all sorts of situations for the good of Poland, in order to make it in time there where we are
indispensibly needed to save Poland, where nothing could be achieved without us. Although we saw so many of you in Rumania, we knew very well that you were not going there to fight, but only to save your blissful lives, which it would have been such a pity to lose. Oh no gentlemen, in fact Poland was only there to serve your purposes, exclusively for you; it didn't spare you any comforts - yet then, you ingrates, you were incapable of defending that Poland. Justice must be done, the day of judgment will come. Or maybe it has already come? Oh God! grant that Poland should rise again, and should it rise, may Your justice ensure that the new Poland will be for those who stood by her till the end, for those who suffer for her, who love her and know how to defend her.
I am deeply moved as I put these thoughts to paper.
Continuation. Despite the appalling conditions in the camp, we didn't despair right to the end; our steadfast hope never left us. Forcing our way through various holes in the fence, or through the surrounding undergrowth, bribing the guards with a few lei - we would set off to town where in some remote little restaurant over a glass of wine we might fortify our spirits and plan our escape from this hell. We were helped by the English news bulletins which were broadcast in Polish and which, with bated breath, we needed to hear each evening.
Three weeks went by in this way. Then a change took place. Some heroic youth furnished us with our passports. These passports were without exit visas, without which we couldn't officially leave. But then the town's main station and even the smaller stations in the area were surrounded by military police, who had orders not to let any Poles from Kalefat through. It was hard to impersonate a Rumanian without knowing the language. What could we do? That youth had come with the task of organising our escape across the Yugoslav border, to reach Belgrade unbeknownst to anyone, so that we could arrange our official departure at the Polish Consulate there.
12:05 hours. We're having lunch. Julek bet Zygfryd 10 francs that he could blow smoke out from his ear. From his ear - never! Zyg, confident as ever, accepted the bet. Julek took his empty wine cup and blew smoke through the mug's ear. Laughter, a good trick - Zyg lost.
17:00 hours. Dusk falls, tomorrow I'll finish writing about my deeds in Rumania. I went to a French lesson again. I like this language and feel that I'll be able to get to grips with it. After the lesson the teacher * gave us the political news from the French newspapers. The whole situation is terribly confused. The Russians can't cope with the Finns - bravo, the Finns - which may seriously turn the situation around. Mussolini is demanding that Hitler severs relations with Russia, otherwise he will join the Allies. And if he does break off relations, what then? Would he truly help the Germans? Not an encouraging enigma.
We're disinfecting our clothes - death to the parasites in that hellish cauldron.
Strange that the French, a civilised nation, are not overly concerned about dirt. They don't keep their barracks in order, there are lots of bed-bugs on the walls, and the soldiers
* The writer referes to the teacher as a "doctor-lecturer"; clearly this was a professionally qualified language teacher
To Page 52