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Bellum Vobiscum -Chapter 43: Modlin Part Six

by ateamwar

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Marushka (Maria) and Zygmunt Skarbek-Kruszewski.
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
31 July 2005

The following story appears courtesy of and with thanks to Marushka (Maria) and Zygmunt Skarbek-Kruszewski and George (Jurek) Zygmunt Skarbek.

Next evening we went to the, barracks where he had his offices. He was away and we were told to wait. It got dark and started to rain. His batman, with a lantern in his hand, was going to feed the cows. Looking for protection against the rain, we followed him to the barn. In the long barn were only five cows. The batman went to the opposite wall and put his lantern on ... a grand piano! Seeing our astonishment, he explained that the captain had brought this concert piano from an empty house in Warsaw. Being short of space, the piano was kept here.
"They are taking everything away from Warsaw,” said the batman who was German by birth but brought up in Poland. "They not only take pianos - I would not even want such a thing, it only takes up a lot of space - they are bringing beautiful things. They are going through Warsaw with large trucks, looting stores, homes, basements. Once they took me to help. Heavens, what a variety of things we brought back. A lot of very good vodka, liqueurs, boots and ladies shoes, lovely silks. I tell you, just looking one felt like finger-licking. Many bags of sugar, three tons of flour, white as snow. One of them even found a whole big bag of Italian walnuts."
Seeing Marushka lovingly patting the shining piano, he laughed - "Go ahead, play us some modern pieces."
I pushed an empty box nearer to her. She sat down, opening the piano lid. Spotless, white keys were smiling at her. She placed her hands on the keys ... and from the dark barn came floating the music of Chopin. Chopin's ghost freed by music. The melody was very tender, masterly impressive, inspired by a magic charm of Chopin's bewitched soul. My heaven how he freed it, how his magic wand liberated those feelings. Leaning against the wall of the barn, I was listening to a ballade. Looking at the walls covered with cobwebs, my thoughts began wandering, trying to remember the story which inspired Chopin. Through the melody I see a young girl playing with her long plaits, charming two young men, both in love with her. She charms them both, distributing her smiles equally. The music is light, happy and frivolous but love desires to possess and now come the first jarring sounds. The music is changing, the smile disappears, and there is disharmony. Then the big ball interrupts. The ballade takes us now to the gilded ballrooms, full of glittering lights, the frocks are rustling. There is a lot of light laughter, the fans are opening and closing flirtatiously, deep bows, and pairs are assembling for the leading dance. The orchestra starts up with the opening bars. Gay dancing music, the pairs are swirling in a round dance.
Absorbed in the music, I let ray eyes wander. My God, cows are in the ballroom. No, that is a mistake, Chopin came to the barn. Manure in a ballroom?'' Or is the ballroom in the manure? Wet cows mouths instead of smiling faces.
The nearest cow could even hit the piano with its dirty tail and there was a fly-speckled lantern on the beautiful grand piano. I took my eyes away, looking now at the darkest corner of the barn. The music and the charming ballade engulfed me again. I was back at the ball, back again to the girl with her flighty smiles, those two youths now rivals. Only one at a time can dance with her. The other is standing with a gloomy face, leaning against the wall, his eyes burning with jealousy, he feels hatred building up in him. The music is still gay dancing music but more disharmonious sounds are included - the music becomes dismal. Something must have happened. I listened, full of attention. Both rivals leave the ballroom, rushing out into the dark night towards the cliff. They close up, locked in each other's arms like two stags in season. Now they are near the precipice - one's leg is slipping over. The sound of the music increases, the tone gets harder, then full of fighting frenzy. The fight is now in earnest, without rules, when suddenly.. a second of emptiness, dead silence and then .. just an echo which is drowning, a rock thrown down the cliff into the emptiness. Both youths, in a mortal embrace, hurtle down to the vast ocean. The ballade finished.
"Not a bad piece,” called out the batman, "but perhaps you could now play a fashionable tango?"
The captain did not return that evening. Only next day was Marushka able to receive the travel orders. It even went easily. Our travel orders were for Isny. With some difficulty, we found it on the map. It was a thousand kilometres away, right through all Germany, at the foot of the Alps. Once again a crucial moment in our war wanderings had arrived.
We were ready to leave next morning at dawn. Our rucksacks were again heavy. We were promised a lift by a military truck as no trains were leaving Modlin - the railway line near Plonsk was destroyed. The truck was to leave from the main barracks, going to Torun. It was sad to part from these kind and friendly people. Grandmother Wojciechowska gave us her blessings for the long road. For the last time we went along the well-trodden lanes, through the potato field.
Our truck left much later than expected as the driver was waiting for some soldiers. We took our places, sitting on our rucksacks under the canvas roof. Late at night, frozen to the bone, we arrived at Torun. We went straight to the station which was shrouded in darkness and fairly empty. There were a few military policemen walking about. From the railway maps on the station, I made notes of the towns through which we would travel. The road led through Poznan, Dresden, Nurenberg, Augsburg and Memmingen. As the train far Dresden was leaving at two a.m., we had enough time to have a look at Torun. A lot of things are possible during war but to see a town at night is not one of them. The darkness was so complete that we had trouble in walking. I was mainly interested in seeing its people as I knew the town from before the war. The town, once Polish, was now a German town, indistinguishable from other towns in Prussia. I did not hear the Polish language. In the streets, cafes, beer-houses, everywhere, were only Germans, civilians and soldiers and Hitler Youth in their uniforms. Even the waiters were German. I was amazed - it seemed unbelievable that this town only five years ago was a Polish town. Why should I be so astonished by the living Torun locals when even Kapernicus after his death was made a Volksdeutsche? Mister Rosenberg accepted him into the master-race, even giving him the honour of citizenship because now the earth is rotating around the sun thanks to the German genius.
After a few hours walking we returned to the station. There, in the public toilets, I heard the first Polish words from the half-open door of the cleaner's cubicle came the sound of Polish talk. I wanted to wash my hands and entered after mocking. A Railway employee in uniform, the waiter from the station and the cleaner stepped talking immediately.
The cleaner turned to me and asked in the official tongue "What do you want, please?"
I replied in Polish "I would like to wash my hands." They looked at me distrustfully. The cleaner, after some hesitation, gave me a towel and replied in German - "Help yourself." Their conversation continued in German.
I started to wash. Unexpectedly the door was pushed open and a porter entered, speaking in pure Polish "This is where our club is hiding today ..." He stopped, noticing the signs given by the cleaner pointing in my direction. The talk continued in German.
I had walked for two hours around Torun but found here, in the toilet, its true face. Returning to the station I started imagining, overdoing it. It seemed that all the travellers and the station staff, including the police and the stationmaster, were all wearing a mask, that they all did speak Polish only when it was safe to do so.
Our train left on time. The first large town was Poznan (also a Polish town before the war). The platform was crowded with German evacuees, bombed out during the recent raid over Koenigsberg. Most of them were trying to go to Saksoni. The crowd was storming the train. Police were guarding compartments reserved far the army.
Packed full, we continued towards Dresden., People were sitting on their bundles in the passages. They were mainly from East Prussia. In addition there were soldiers, sisters from the Red Cross, RAD and others.
The windows were tightly shut and blinds drawn. Military controls checked everyone’s documents. At dawn we were already travelling through true Germany, not former Poland.

'This story was submitted to the People’s War site by BBC Radio Merseyside’s People’s War team on behalf of the author and has been added to the site with his / her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.'

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