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Bellum Vobiscum -Chapter 41: Modlin Part Four

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.

We were hungry when we arrived back at our barracks in the evening we received some soup, already cold, and our daily rations: 300 gr. of bread, 20 gr. marmalade and three cigarettes. The cook told us that a new German boss had arrived. He was a civilian and we should expect some changes. The cook was right. New people were brought, the working gangs were divided differently and a store for tools was organised. Because I could speak some German and also write it, I was told to make a list of tools. I even got a rise in pay - the hourly pay, was now 47 pf. instead of the previous 35 pf. The best of this arrangement was that the store was near the kitchen and the offices and I could see Marushka often and get extra food from the cook who liked me.
The store was in a bunker with cement walls and a roof made out of planks covered with earth on which grass and even some bushes were growing. The entry was through a narrow door and steps led to a long dark passage. On both sides of the passage were large cement cells without windows, smelling of dampness and mould. In these cells was my tool store. In the first one was stored potatoes and beets, in the second shovels and picks, in the third dirt, tins and nails and in the fourth, broken window frames.
The fifth was empty of stores but was occupied by a beautiful weasel with a white belly and bushy tail. She became my inseparable companion, sharing the loneliness. Blinking her eyes, she used to glance at the bright light of the bulb hanging day and night from the ceiling. Moving her whiskers, she would look straight into my eyes, nodding her little head graciously. She liked to keep her distance and when I was moving around she used to go to a darker corner. My office was in the passage under the electric light globe.
I made myself a rough sort of table, got myself an old stool and started my 'office work'. One of my goods was rather odd four half-tonner French bombs which were stored along one wall of the passage. As in all other bunkers and magazines in the fortress, the French bombs were put there in readiness for destruction if the army had to retreat. In the beginning I had an unpleasant feeling looking at them. They were packed with explosives and I did not like their shiny fuses and detonators, especially during Soviet air raids. With time I got used to it. When Marushka was able to sneak out of her cage she would come to visit me and sit on these bombs and smoke our cigarettes. They provided the only sitting accommodation for visitors. My work did not take much of my time. I had to issue the tools in the morning and then sit around all the day in case somebody would require additional nails, wires, etc. To sit for twelve hours each day in the damp cell without anything to do was driving me mad and there was nothing to read. I knew that I was becoming morbidly depressed and ready to collapse.
As there was no reading matter, I decided to write. A man driven to despair is ready to grab at any straw. I started to write my recollections of the war.
From this moment I stopped noticing the mouldy walls of the bunker and I did not feel the musty air. My thoughts wandered among the streets of Warsaw in September, 1939, among the hills in Krzemienice. In my mind I was again covering the trail down the River Horyn. I remembered Karmelowo and the streets in Kaunas, my small Jurek and little Roman, my mother, Marushka's parents. Hours flew by unnoticed. Only the noise of the shovels and the loud talk inside the kitchen when the labourers returned reminded me that a whole day had passed. Only then did I close my notebook and hide it under my shirt. I checked the returned tools, received my ration in the kitchen and, together with Marushka, went home to Grandmother Wojciechowska. The days settled in to this routine.
The red corporal who still disliked me must have noticed something. One day he burst into the bunker. "What are you writing there? - I think you have too much time" - and I was landed with two extra jobs; to sweep the yard and sharpen the tools. From then on I had less time for writing but could sit in the yard, leaning against the wall enjoying the sun whilst sharpening the blunt saws.
A few days after we had seen the large number of American planes our trucks brought parts of two broken-down flying fortresses. During the work break everyone came to have a look at the huge wings, the broken fuselage and motors. We were all impressed with their size. A wheel was as high as a man. They were the four-cylinder models, type B-17. A large group gathered around one motor.
An excited youth called "Look, he was killed here. You can see the blood and his flesh." Coming nearer, I could see between the broken fuselage torn bits of human flesh, in the twisted cabin was a boot with part of a leg. That was all that was left of the pilot who was destroyed together with his machine. Who was this American pilot who was torn to bits in the air? Had he come from far-away America, never stepping on Polish soil but where he had left his foot? Human desire for life interrupted my thoughts about the death. From the blood-covered fuselage people began to tear out metal pipes and wires.
"Look what a fine piece. It will be just right for moonshine making,” someone was proudly displaying his treasure. Others, lying on the ground, were cutting the rubber tyres while some were cutting pieces from. the petrol tank which would be very useful for repairing shoes. In a few days the plane was plucked clean.
By mid-October the situation at the Front again became tenser although the news from Headquarters was still the same. The situation between the Rivers Bug and Narew and around Warsaw is still unchanged. But we, living just behind the Front line, could feel every twitch at the Front, The Soviet artillery intensified their firing - the small window in the house where we lived shook. In the evening new fires appeared in the sky. Again skyrockets and tracers appeared in the sky and searchlights cut through the darkness. People standing around their houses watched the changing sky. The sky over Warsaw was illuminated as if there were some great festival. Next morning the evacuees arrived, this time from Legionowo and surrounding places. Once more long columns of women and children and of old people, all looking miserable and tired. Goats on a rope dragging along pushbikes, hand-pushed carts loaded to the top, even sometimes cows, also looking like skeletons. Again this human river was flowing to the west. These people were ordered to leave Legionowo and the surrounding villages. And anyway how could they stay there any longer? Shells were exploding amongst their homes.
In the evening new S.S. soldiers, this time in black uniforms, came to our village again. They were from the Panzer divisions of the Vikings. In the orchards, breaking fences and trees, tanks arrived. In the open places and yards were armoured vehicles. Frightened cows ran in panic and the peasants tried to catch them, dogs barked and tore at their chains, chickens and geese flew over fences looking for a safe hiding place. Many were billeted to the village and we had to make space. Into our kitchen came three Soviet women who were cooking and doing the laundry for the soldiers.
Now six people were living in this small kitchen Mrs. Grzeszkowa who had come back with her two children, Sylvester and we two. Marushka and I slept under the table as otherwise no-one could reach the bed.
After a sleepless night, next morning at dawn we again went to work. We met only small groups of evacuees. The cannonade from the Front persisted unchanged. The airfield was humming with activity. The famous Molber squadron had arrived. Engines were revving up. Some aeroplanes were already starting from the middle of the field, others were getting ready at the sides of the field. The Soviets must be pressing harder - once again we were filled with hope. The atmosphere in the barracks was full of excitement. In the afternoon when I was sitting in the bunker Soviet airplanes appeared in the sky. I barely had time to go up the stairs for a good look when people started to tumble down into my bunker. All the kitchen personnel, Marushka and some soldiers and the red corporal tried to find a place. When I was able to look at the sky I understood their panic. The Soviet planes were flying very low, shooting at everything with machine guns. The whistling bullets were hitting barracks and earth, biting at anything they met like angry hornets. Just for luck a few bombs were dropped as well and the alert was over. We went outside. Near the bunker lay one of our men who had not made the shelter. Some fires were burning on the field; German planes were burning.
Going back home we found on the field some scattered newspaper, 'The New Warsaw Keujer'. A special issue - No. 105. On the front page was a photo of civilians carrying their belongings as they were entering a German army car. Below was printed: "Fleeing from the heavy street fighting and fires, the Warsaw civilians are coming to the German powers for protection, full of trust." Another article was headed: "Who is to blame?" and below it a sub-heading "On the periphery of human misery."
When we had finished reading I asked Marushka "What do you think, who is to blame?"
"Do you mean in the opinion of the author?"
"I think the author is trying to blame London."
"Not only London but also Moscow. Funny, if the Soviets would now toss us some leaflets they would blame Berlin and London. The cautious London Times would probably blame only the Germans. Each of these powers have their own reason of state and they are looking at the Warsaw uprising in their own light. What a pity that there is no universal common policy of state which would firstly think about the rights of human beings, who would prevent the burning of a city with a population of millions, who would stop the murder of its people, who would prevent the homeless, hungry wanderings of masses. Why look for the guilty ones? There are none, there are only the victims. Every side which was added to this entire holocaust is responsible but they were acting according to the reason of their state therefore they are blameless. The crimes committed are sanctioned in the name of reason and the murderers might be called heroes. The Warsaw uprising is not an isolated case to be looked at as though in a laboratory. It is closely connected with all of the world war, its fighting, and with the political aspirations of each separate power."
Coming home, there was no place in the kitchen. Mrs. Grzeczkowa and the children were sitting at the table eating dinner, Sylvester was shaving the Vikings and on the bed sat a neighbour. We went out to sit under the cherry tree. The sun was setting, behind the dark line of forests. From the Front the thundering sound was strong and gloomy. Over Warsaw, as usual, were many great fires. When some of the people left and we could return to the kitchen, I found a German newspaper left by the Vikings. It was the 'Zischenauer Zeitung' from the previous day. At last! Some written, recent news from the Front. I learned about the recent Panzer battle ... near Paris. About bombing of the Philippines, about the far east. "Between Bug and Narev and north of Warsaw the position is unchanged ..." and our windows were rattling more strongly. I continued my reading. A large article by Goebbels justifying the closing down of theatres and other places of entertainment as well as hairdressing and beauty salons throughout Germany. On the last page were different notices. One caught my eye. "Mister Michael Gutkowski, a department head in the employment office in Mlawy, announced that his name is hereby changed to Mr. Guth." In small print it was reported that a farmer from Prussia refused to contribute to the army winter fund, declaring himself a pacifist. He was sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence had been carried out.
Our candle was burning low - it was time to bed down under the table. In the village, drunken soldiers were singing in a mixture of German/Polish and Russian words.
During the night we were awakened by the sound of very heavy artillery fire coming from the north. The beastly roar shook the whole house. I got dressed and went outside. It was a clear night full of stars and the moon looked pale in the light of the burning fires over Warsaw. Searchlights were gliding over the sky and tracers were bursting like little stars. The Front seemed full of movement.

'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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