Back To Page 61

- 62-

have punished us far more severely, even sending us to a penal camp, because according to regulations governing the relations between a neutral country and military fugitives we weren't allowed to cross the Rumanian border.

So we were only charged with leaving the camp without permission. For that we sat locked up for a week. 28 October - we were released.

Despite such a tough experience we didn't give ourselves even a day's rest. The Lieutenant handed us passports made out in different surnames and with different photographs (somebody had already escaped using this passport). We more or less matched up the likenesses in the photographs with our own features and left the camp on the 29th. These passports were perhaps that much better in that they contained exit visas, but what bad luck! - even these proved to be invalid. The train was due to leave at five o'clock. We slept in the town. Stach, Kazik and I split up from the others, because there was no room with our captain, the one who was dealing with sending us off. It served us well, this seemingly unimportant coincidence. Because having slept at the home of some Polish civilians whom we knew in the town, and setting off at the last minute for the station, we saw our group already being escorted by a policeman from the station. We didn't retreat; at the station we went quickly to the window of the ticket office. The beast* doesn't sell tickets. Without a moment's thought, I rushed onto the train without a ticket,

* The author uses the word" gad", meaning reptile - the translator has used "beast", as being equally offensive.

- 63-

the rest following me. We found an unoccupied compartment. Scared, we sit; a minute which lasts forever - outside, there are gendearmes standing on the platform. To let ourselves be caught a second time would be worse - this could arouse suspicion which would complicate matters. Oh! Thank God, the train's started. We breathe a sigh of relief as the train picks up speed. We sit pretending to be asleep. Another check - ticket control. Two of them come in. Tickets! Nu! (No) Nura (no time). I try (brokenly) to tell him that we didn't have time. I give him money - they don't accept it.

Happily we pulled into Craiova. Here, again they are carefully inspecting tickets. With our briefcases under our arms we approach them quickly. Instead of a ticket I pushed 50 lei into the ticket inspector's hand as he stood in the corridor. Quietly, I kept his mouth shut. And once again we sneaked out successfully into town. From Craiova the train for Bucharest departed at ten o'clock. If we make it after this it'll be "gata"*. We waited in a little restaurant until ten. We were at the station a few minutes before ten. Soldiers and police gendarmes on duty stare at us - they don't like the look of us. We act confident, not furtively at all, although our hearts are pounding. These are crazy moments. I walk up to the ticket office pretending to be Rumanian. "La Bukarestu clase trea" (Bucharest, third class). He passes it to me, giving an incomprehensible price. Three hundred and something - that's all I understood. I gave him 500 lei to get out of this sticky situation although I did have change. They didn't catch us; we were lucky - we rode to Bucharest in peace, here it's safe. The worst part was travelling out from the border zone. We were

* "gata", meaning good in Rumanian.

- 64-


concerned only for our friends and in our hearts felt very, very sorry for them.

We came into Bucharest on 30th of October in the afternoon. We slipped past the gendarmes, into a taxi and on to the Embassy of the Republic of Poland. At last.

12:05 hours. After lunch. We are becoming increasingly unwelcome guests. The food is getting worse.

We're going on an outing; one must make the most of the sun. We want to visit Wladzio in our previous encampment.

16 January 1940

At last the long awaited day has arrived (I can't however say this with complete certainty). We are to sail. We get ready to embark, handing over all the things that belong to these barracks.

Ten o'clock. Gathered in the dining hall we wait with our things. We wait with a song on our lips. The Polish songs are moving. Our group play bridge, our only pastime which after a time becomes boring.

11:55 hours. We're already in place on board ship. There are no cabins here, just general rooms with bunks like childrens cots. That's one worry out of the way - the quarrel over cabins. The palliasses on these little beds fill us with dread - they may be full of lice. What can one do - it's the norm - there are no surprises left for me, I'm not concerned.

It's an enormous military transport. For anyone who hasn't seen this ship, it's impossible to even imagine anything so huge. It's a small village. Maybe the waves won't toss it around so much.

- 65-

It's tight, one bed next to another with narrow aisles in between - all the beds are occupied. There are some 1500 of us sailing.

I've lost 15 francs. Shame - that's a lot of money for me - maybe 50 zrotys worth.

Not a cheerful atmosphere, I feel depressed. I don't know, everything that surrounds me depresses me. All these masses of poorly dressed Poles, with apathetic expressions on their faces. Those groups reluctantly playing cards. The out of place laughter, bursting out from time to time. That senselessness and the lack of a sense of hope. It all depresses me and puts me in a strange mood. I'm not bothered by the fact that we're sailing. The sense of reality increasingly takes over my thoughts. And yet only a few weeks ago I was cheerful, I still didn't believe what had happened. I was still living that pre-war life. I couldn't evaluate that terrible reality. I just treated it as an ordinary, unfortunate change in the state of affairs, which would shortly come to an end. I remember how, together with Kostek in Rumania, we dreamt of spending last Christmas in Poland. We lived in the hope and belief that soon that happy moment of return to Poland would come. And now what?

I mentioned Kostek; whatever happened to that poor chap. I'm sure he's in France already. Kostek, my good and cheerful friend. Kostek, where are those happy moments we spent together? You're probably worrying more than I am, I know you.....

That which has just happened is maybe a common theme for us all, for me that theme is important. I remembered my darling Mychna's surname; I couldn't remember it until now. I suddenly felt better and my mood improved. The gift of providence.

Lunch is over. The food is better than that which we had in the barracks; the worst part is squeezing through to the kitchens along those narrow corridors and stairs - a terrible squash.

The boys· are up in arms, it's the same old story. The "Gentlemen" are in dining

- 66-

rooms, their meals consist of several courses, elegantly served in the european style, and cabins have been found. They want to leave, I can hear them saying "Let them go off and fight on their own". They're right: the swine, they avail themselves of the bread being offered but ignore the others, they've forgotten that the gift of bread must be shared amongst all of their own people equally. And the anger really gets to you when you see some upstart Officer Cadet, who promoted himself in Rumania and now plays the Officer here. Will there ever be justice and reward for everyone according to his deserts?

17.10 hours. We're putting out to sea. The ship has left the pier, and lazily moves away carrying our fate to new pastures of misfortune. I say this, because after all how could it be otherwise? We're sailing - a feeling of lightness, after all we're sailing in search of a new tomorrow, a new hope.

We're moving further and further away from the palms and the warmth, I'm probably departing for ever. I must remember that in all this tragedy, the Lord God saw fit to enable us to spend Christmas in the land in which He walked himself. I write this, and yet I must admit with contrite feeling that I had not registered it as such.

Dusk falls, a cold wind causes the French flag overhead to flap wildly. It's French, but at the same time it's ours. May the wind forever cause it to flutter, and not anyone else.

I think I'm becoming less indifferent. I'm filled with a sense of excitement. The spirit has not fallen asleep.

A strange coincidence. We arrived in Beruit at the same time as we've sailed away. In general the more significant events all seem to take place at the same time of the month, on the same day of the week, or the same time of day.

I feellightheaded from the ship's rolling.

- 67-


The Mediterranean Sea, 17 January 1940

7:30 hours. We have a head wind; this must slow us down to a great extent. The sea is in revolt, the waves reaching huge dimensions. Some of us are already beginning to succumb to seasickness.

Breakfast is over - black coffee and half a bread roll. Our group is up in arms; they've seen what sort of breakfast the "Gentlemen" are eating. Well, what can one say - I'm lost for words. Under attack our leaders deflect the blame onto the French. "That is what they want," they say, "We've nothing to say." And couldn't they from time to time invite that crowd to the dining room and share it all with them. The same goes for the beds. How dare such a son of a bitch toss and turn in a comfortable bed, when others don't even have a comer of their own to sit down in. It turns out that not everyone has a bed like mine; for some there were no places at all. It seems strange that on such a huge ship there should be a shortage of space - all that's needed is a little bit of concern and a good deed from our "leaders". "Explorateur Grandidier" is our ship's name.

14.25 hours. Sea and sky. The head wind is beating down on us, tugging at the ship's fittings creating a racket. The ship rocks, causing an unpleasant sensation of dizziness. Horribly unpleasant and nauseous, and this whole escapade is supposed to continue until Monday. It's hard to come to terms with that.

- 68-


18 January 1940

A sunny morning, but breezy. The wind, still off the bow, rocks the ship with a pitching motion. The pitching in the vertical exceeds 5 metres. I live in the bows, where this rocking is most pronounced. But never mind, I'm feeling much better. I'm slowly turning into a sailor and I'm pleased about it - it'll be a more pleasant existence over the next few days.

11.50 hours. We're passing a barely visible shore on the right hand side. It's probably the island of Crete - according to the map it's the first one on our route.

Ahead of us another ship is visible. We'll probably be passing each other.

17.00 hours. Supper. Strictly speaking, it's lunch, because elevenses are at 10:00. The best cure for seasickness is to eat a lot. My mates are complaining about the cold, and others haven't touched their food. Our little group of stout-hearted fellows is keeping up its spirits. Yesterday we ate the food of thirty sick chaps.

19 January

There are changes in the atmosphere at sea and on board ship. The sky is covered in clouds, the wind beating all around. The huge waves have changed into enormous breakers. The ship pitches along its horizontal axis, in the bows the vertical motion reaches 10 metres. During the night we sailed through a storm, the waves spraying onto the deck. I'm coping with these conditions reasonably well, as are most of our countrymen on board, bar a few. Those few stand or sit with defeated expressions, heads hanging and a pale look about their faces. Oh! how ugly life is for them.

9:40 hours. A passing storm. The wind gusts, the mast stays howl. It feels like a snowstorm, rain and hailstones. Sheets of rain and the wind going wild above the surface of the maddened waves. The crests of the waves reach the level of the deck. We admire the view. I must be peculiar - I do after all realise what this could mean.

- 69-


The clouds have broken up, the sun has come out, but probably not for long.

The wind snatched my hat away as I walked the decks. The poor old thing is being tossed about by the waves. Shame, it was an interesting one, a memento from Rumania. It was good while it lasted, but now it's gone - just my bare head is left.

13:35 hours. It's not easy to say exactly what time it is - it keeps changing as we move further west. A seagull has appeared. There must be land close by. Again, another storm on our bows.

It's getting much colder; I thought I'd get away with avoiding this winter.

I'm sitting in the third of the ship at the stem. It's not rocking so much here. The waves are rising again. Between two crests a deep trough forms. The ship sinks into this hole as if into an abyss. A strange sensation. Another wave arrives, and the ship's bow points upwards again. And so on, over and over again until one's head begins to spin. Someone quite rightly said that when he returns home, he'll throw out all the pictures depicting the sea.

Saturday, 20 January 1940

The day has started cloudy and breezy. Imagine! Is this land ahead or perhaps it's God's mercy on these poor, suffering people, The sea is calm. The ship moves ahead more quickly, rocking gently, lazily, this way and that. People's faces have brightened up, they've livened up, the mood has changed.

The mystery of the calm sea is becoming clear. Not God's mercy, of course, but land ahead. It's appearing on the horizon. According to the information we've been given, we're sailing into a wedge and squeezing our way between Sicily and the Italian peninsula. It's after eight o'clock.

- 70-

In the third class dining room we're playing bridge. Here, for some reason, they don't chase out the fourth class passengers. But they're setting the tables for the meal. We must go, before they ask us to leave.

We're level with the land mass of Italy. A mountainous shore more than 10 kilometres away from us. One can see the snow-capped peaks.

09.10 hours. High, sharp peaks, the summits hidden in the clouds.

From a deep valley a river flows into the sea - at its mouth a sleepy ship can be seen. A gloomy sight. No, the ship is sailing along the coast, but so very slowly, it's motion is imperceptible. I don't see any human settlements.

Ahead of us lies the Sicilian coast. Snow covered high mountains, gloomy peaks, like some enchanted monsters.

The coxswain turns the ship into the straits. We will be sailing between the Appenine peninsula and Sicily.

Everyone has come out on deck. They observe with interest. At last some variety after almost four days. A beautiful panorama before our eyes. Sicily's snow-capped peaks glisten in the sunshine. The sun is breaking through behind the mountains.

Our appetites have increased by 100%. A normal portion for elevenses is not enough.

One can see human settlements now at the water's edge in the form of villas scattered here and there.

- 71-

Book No.2

The clouds have parted; the sun has lit up the world with its rays. People are picking spots high up on the ship and looking out. There's much to see, wonderful views, especially for the Poles - after all these are the beautiful places of which we dreamt so often - Italy. The shores of Sicily, high mountains, snow-capped peaks glistening in the sun. Towards their bases the covering of snow becomes thinner until it disappears completely.

The mountainsides are scarred, as if eroded by water. Right at the water's edge human settlements. And again a strange summer at the water's edge, and up on the peaks, winter.

At the foot of the mountains one sees the landscape covered in greenery, woods like blots, but the peaks bare, snow-covered. It's difficult to describe the terrain in detail - it's quite far away, some lOkms.

On our right a peninsula. Level with us a large town. Here the landscape is more densely populated. In the distance the Appenines snooze in silence.

They're calling everyone down, they've climbed up too high - incorrigible folk.

The wedge narrows, we're squeezing our way into the straits.

I forgot to mention that we passed a volcano; it's still visible - a flattened knoll at the mountain's peak.

In the foreground a beautiful part of the island. We've sailed level with a large, attractive town. I don't have a map, I don't know 'which town it is. It lies at the water's edge, standing alone against a background of dark vegetation and variously-shaped

To Page 72