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do their own washing using cold water. No doubt we have these bugs from their palliasses and blankets.
17:30 hours. Supper. The teacher gave us the news from the French paper. The Finns' victories over the Russians are worthy of admiration. Of particular significance to us, but on the other hand making us feel ashamed.
11 January, Thursday
07:10 hours. We're all preparing for the general order to embark.
A faint dusk falls. Pah, a pointless existence - I'm not aware of being alive. Boredom and idleness.
We're sitting in a little restaurant, having some wine. What else is there left for us to do?
The Poles in Poland are threatened with starvation - so the teacher read in the "Paris Journal". Despair - the fate of the Poles. What can we do? what can we do? The sea and us in a nutshell without oars. Decide for yourself, man - either throw yourself overboard into the sea, or reach out to God and beg for mercy. The waves are drowning the little nutshell, while "mercy" takes its time.
We're off - my mates want to sell their overcoats; they say that coats won't help us out of this situation, that wine is the solution.
They're dancing - that soldier and that awful girl are getting on my nerves. What have I got against them?
We're well and truly drunk, but we'll have another bottle of wine. What for? I can't
answer that question.
Zyg is eating snails. They eat them here. Zyg, strange, once you were disgusted by them and now you're eating them? Weird.
And I also tried a snail. It's like munching sand, I don't understand what the big deal is.
13 January 1940
I only came to today, yesterday I virtually didn't get out of bed - I couldn't eat anything, my head ached and I felt nauseous. The effects of excessive drinking, I don't think I'll do anything like that again. Man's a total idiot, and for what? My mates must be mad, because they seriously beat each other up without any reason. Of course, why look for reasons, when there's a perfectly good reason - too much strong wine. We were supposed to be setting sail, but we're still sitting around.
Continuation of my experiences in Rumania.
The realisation of our thoughts; we had been thinking of such an escape for a long time. Quickly we began to prepare. There was a lot to be done - we had to change into civilian clothes, not leaving even the slightest item of military origin. I don't know how the boys managed it. We had to leave the barracks in twos and threes and make our way past the local sentry post. The three of us - Kostek, Wasilowski and I, set off. Without any difficulty we passed two sentry posts - it only cost us a dozen or so lei. We hurried down the high, steep bank down to the bottom of the ravine. We crept quietly along the water's edge, carefully, courageously. I remember it as if it were yesterday - I was in a very specific mood, happy like a child entering a fairy-tale land. It really was like a fairy-tale
journey. There were moments when I felt as if I was an actor in a film.
We gathered in the appointed place, only one of us was missing. There were twenty of us, including the anonymous youth, the expedition's leader. He was young, yet ready to take risks. He handed out our passports and the embassy documents certifying that we were civilians. We split up into four groups of five and set out armed with pistols and ropes for tying.
Ahead of us we had a journey which would take us beyond the normal limits of human endurance. We had to walk by night, following the Danube river for some 70kms to the Yugoslav border. It isn't even possible to cover this route by road, let alone up to one's ankles in mud; dangerous places had to be passed using the undergrowth as cover, the banks of the Danube, various recesses in the local terrain, etc.
Gentlemen - said the youth before we set out - each one of us, I think, knows that we're not playing games, we know what may happen to us - even death. You must follow instructions, be bold and decisive if this expedition is to succeed. The road ahead of us is a difficult one; we must immediately set a good pace. If anyone doesn't feel up to it, they'd better go back right now.
Silence - everyone wants to go on, because we must. Who could waver before such a deed for the motherland - a motherland he had lost; and if he had indeed lost it, he had also lost his own self, had ceased to be a free man, had lost everything that was dear to him, all that he loved, all that was necessary to achieve happiness. Of what importance was giving up one's life to regain one's country, without which life would be meaningless, a burden.
It was a moonlit night - a quiet, romantic night. Four groups of shadows slid quickly along the slopes. Sometimes they dropped to the ground; in those moments they ceased to
be living beings. Silence. From a black spot on the bank rose a shadow, or rather some living creature which crawled upwards. Having reached the summit, the creature grew into a human silhouette, clearly defined against the light background of the sky.
The silhouette raised its head carefully and looked intently all around, a little fearfully. It continued to look for some time, as if wanting to minutely examine all that lay in the shadowy hollows of the terrain. Once confident of its observations, it waved its hand towards the slope. From the blackness shadows emerged and quickly began to weave their way along the slope towards the silhouette, until they disappeared somewhere beyond the edge.
It was a secret trek. A guard, met along the way, pretended to be asleep; he didn't dare move and trembled at the sight of these mysterious individuals who radiated courage and determination. Sometimes we gave the impression of ghosts - penitential, banished ghosts, who hastened to those who had done them wrong, with horrible plans of vengeance.
We stopped believing in any obstacles ahead of us and excited by the moment we forged bravely ahead, tirelessly like some powerful machines. Sometimes we had to make our way across a steep slope. It was slippery as rain had fallen before dusk. We had no idea that we could have slipped and plunged down a 50m deep drop. We jumped along like squirrels, sometimes not really knowing where - I am amazed, today, that no-one broke a leg. It is extraordinary what faith and decisiveness can achieve.
At times it was necessary to crawl on hands and knees across the whole belly of a hill as we could have easily been spotted against the background of the pale sky.
Sometimes we were up to our ankles in clay mud. Some lost their boots - they went back, found their shoes in the mud, wrenched them out and hurried to catch up with the others who had moved on.
From time to time stumbling into a village and startled by the barks and howls of dogs, we would withdraw at a run to take a different path.
In some places the area was so densely populated that we could not avoid the settlements. Too bad - we formed up into ranks and, imitating the border troops, we marched out into the road. These were anxious moments - one moved like a frightened hare. After all, these villages held many border posts and police stations. When the dogs were released, we thought that this time they would catch us. No, we were lucky, and marched on, although sometimes in the far off distance we heard a long blast from a policeman's whistle. Didn't the policeman see us? No, he was bound to have been scared.
Later we formed up into a long snake-like line, because individual groups going at such a pace would have quickly lost one another in the darkness. Again, a magical sight, as the snake of shadows wound its way over the slopes, bending and curving into various shapes depending on the profile of the ground. Sometimes, on the ridge of a hill, against the background of the sky the black silhouettes, like the dwarves in the film "Snow White", marched briskly into the beautiful moonlit night.
We reached a less densely populated area which was more wooded. Here we moved forward with more confidence.
I was given some holy medallions from Jerusalem. Very memorable and significant. They were blessed here by a Polish monk.
15:45 hours. Great joy. We were visited by a French general, the commander of an army in Syria. He praised us for our tidiness and our appearance. "I'm surprised", he said, "this is the most respectable looking camp of all those I've come across to date."
After disinfecting our laundry and twice taking a bath, the lice did disappear in the end so life is now much more pleasant.
14 January. Sunday
Letters from Poland have arrived, addressed still to the camps in Rumania. Oh God! it's terrible what's happening there - they're murdering people, starving them, throwing them out of their homes. Our fists clench, our hearts harden, a dreadful revenge begins to take shape in our minds. And what is the civilised world doing? Lord, You see this and yet you don't hurl thunderbolts?
I've come back from church. I am indifferent to everything - nothing interests me. Rather, everything irritates me - I can't stand the sight of this disgusting Beirut. How remote existence seems here compared to our life in Poland. Filth, obscenity, disgusting wretchedness. No sight is pleasing to the eyes, maybe from to time one sees a handsome and delicate white woman. How could one come to terms with one's fate if one had to stay here forever - in this hell-hole of society - a perpetual prison. Life takes on an ever darker appearance, the vision of a better tomorrow becomes faint, hope fades, shattered with every new piece of bad news. The fate of the Pole, the exile, the penitent - for what crime?
12:00 hours, lunch. I see everyone's in a good mood; why do I feel so low? I know, it's probably the wine that has made me so sick of life. Phah, the disgusting bars, those hussies and that wine - I could spit and kick this filth. Ugh! I don't want to be a part of that anymore.
A horrible way of life, the inactivity and senselessness reach a fever pitch. I don't know what to do with myself or what to occupy my time with.
There are always arguments in the dining hall - one even turned into a fight. Our past repeats itself, with the difference that here it was without the effects of wine. How sad our fate is.
A change, any kind of change, is needed here. We need to leave here, the further the
better to gain new hope. Nothing has come of the announced departure.
Michal, calm down; be happy with what you have, there's nothing better waiting for you anywhere else. Grit your teeth and wait, maybe time will bring a better tomorrow.
I'm relating more of my experiences in Rumania. Frankly, I don't really feel like it, but I want to occupy myself with something. The drizzly days don't even allow one to go for a walk.
We marched on and on, unflaggingly. After more than an hour's hard grind we gave ourselves a short break. Then, like dead men, we would drop to the wet ground. We felt totally worn out, our limbs stiffened instantly. "Move on boys," someone said. With bones aching, one rose and pressed on. It wasn't physical strength that spurred us on, but strength of spirit.
It could have been the morning, I remember one couldn't see the dawn yet. Despite everything, some of us couldn't raise the necessary strength. Arguments broke out, some wanted to march on, others couldn't. What should we do? The leader decided to declare a rest stop. This was madness. Rushed, lightly dressed, in a little wood we made a bed of some wet maize (of which there was plenty in the fields of Rumania) on the wet ground - a cold October night, our legs wet through up to the knees, we lay down together in a heap. Despite my total exhaustion, I couldn't fall asleep. The cold troubled me greatly; I curled up as best I could, but carried on freezing. I had a light coat, others didn't have anything. I'm surprised that depsite everything we all managed to get up and move on.
The sky was clear, the sun shone over the whole area. There was no undergrowth in the wood - anyone who wanted to could have spotted our suspicious-looking band. We did one really stupid thing, though - maybe it was recklessness and self-confidence after such a journey; after all our leader was young, unwise, yet we listened to him. We began
to move ahead in one group, instead of finding a hiding place for the day.
We were close to the Danube. We could see the border post, and the soldiers moving around A big mistake. We didn't realise that they could see us walking through an open field (even though we moved one at a time), so as to hide in the wood by the Danube.
They didn't let us wait long in that wood - they surrounded us. We weren't careful, and let them get too close. One of us gave the warning too late; we began to flee in panic, running as fast as we could. Shots, the sound of bullets whistling past our ears. Unaware of the bullets I ran with my last breath with the others. We rushed out of the woods - an open expanse - they'll kill us. We fell to the ground by the bank of the Danube, out of breath and exhausted. They caught us, but five managed to escape.
Misery and fear. How stupid. But we didn't lose hope of freedom. The boys wanted to overpower them, but where, when all the outposts came together here. And on the Bulgarian side the bells were ringing out the alarm. As fast as we could, we hid our weapons, so as to pretend that we were ordinary passersby, who had come down to the Danube for a drink of water.
They didn't accept 13 thousand lei, the uproar was too great. They led us off under escort to the port, to the region's main outpost. There the port's captain would have released us when we showed our passports and said that we were going to Turnu-Sewerin, so as to go on from there to Yugoslavia. The chap wasn't very well informed. It would have gone better if two of our group hadn't escaped along the way. This irritated the Captain and they removed us to Kalefat.
It's dark already, one can't write and the lights aren't on yet.
Unpleasant news. The German influence has made friends of the Russians - Russia's present failures against Finland are forcing Stalin to keep in with Hitler. Russia is
threatened with annihilation. Gennan rapacity is spreading successfully to the detriment of foolish Russia; it may seize the whole of the Balkans - it'll be tough work. What thickheads these diplomats are. Mussolini waits in the shadows, siding with Hitler on top of everything else. What's Stalin trying to achieve? The ordinary person can already see the results of all this, but the diplomats? It's all the dignitaries and diplomats who are the most stupid, after all. Because of their stupidity the whole world suffers.
I'm going to bed, surrendering myself to my dreams. I remember my beautiful memories. How pleasant it is to recall those sweet moments. That's all that is left me.
15 Januarv 1940A sunny day, worth going for a walk. Worth it, but what can I do when I don't even feel like getting up from my paliasse. Continuation of the story. In Kalefat the border guard command took care of us. They searched us, took our passports - they didn't find anything suspicious. It was stupid of us, earlier in the port, to have told the captain that we were from Kalefat. We shouldn't have mentioned any particular camp and should have said that we had come from Bucharest. Still, what happened, happened. The guard commander handed us over into the jurisdiction of the camp Commander, unable to prove anything specific against us. Anyway the situation was clear, why cover it up. Soldiers would always understand our postiion and not condemn our eagerness to fight for our country.
In the camp, on 22 October, they threw us into a damp cell which had a bare clay floor.
We despaired a little, but in the company of our own people and the authorities, for what they were worth, there wasn't any reason for too much despair. We slept on bare clay. The Rumanians didn't give us so much as a slice of bread. Thanks to our boys however, we did secretly get some straw to lie down on and they brought some food from their own kitchen. The next day, the 23rd, the "Colonel", the camp's commander came in. He flew at us in a rage, cutting off our hair and threw two of us into the "Karcera"* (a narrow cupboard) for reacting in a way he didn't like. The interrogations began; three times a day they pulled us out for questioning. They couldn't prove anything against us - they were too stupid. We stuck to our agreed story and no-one let himself be caught out. We arranged passports for ourselves while we were still in Tulci. They were delivered to us in Kalefat by.... (we invented a surname, which I've forgotten) - this acquaintance told us to go to Tur-Seweryn to get our exit visas. We walked and along the way we went down to the Danube to have a wash and a drink of water. To the question "Why didn't you take the train," we answered, "there's no quick direct line, and we didn't have the money for such distant connections." "Why did you try to bribe the guards?" "Not true - some sort of misunderstanding because of the lack of a common language between the two sides; they wanted us to show them our Polish money, so we showed it to them." The hardest part was proving to them that we were civilians. Of course, we had the documents from our embassy, but there was more difficulty with our camp papers. Nevertheless, it was all arranged with the help of the camp's liaison officers who wrote us down as civilians. We breathed sighs of relief; if they had been able to prove us to be military types, they could
* "Karcera", an incarceration chamber.
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