shouted "Look, look, there to the left - it is falling."
tried to see, craning their necks the plane was approaching the
ground very fast. It almost touched the roofs and then, with an
unexpected growl of the motors, the plane started to rise.
onlookers were disappointed. "What a shame - I thought we had
him. Our gunners are shooting poorly. There is a whole flock of
them. One could shoot them like ducks."
poorly, gentlemen, but too thinly," said the janitor.
"They only make holes in the sky. It should be like buckshot
from a double-barrelled gun!'
to us, near Marszalkowska Street, automatic guns began firing.
Looking up, we saw above our heads an aircraft giving a shake with
its tail; for a moment it seemed he might regain his balance, but
then in a twisted, corkscrew motion, he dived to the ground, leaving
in the sky a dark line marking his descent.
him" people cried.
Bravo!" called some young girls, clapping their hands.
'All Clear' sounded.
fantastic spectacle. General enthusiasm.
charred, bodies of two young fliers under the debris of the plane
gave off an odour of burnt, singed flesh. The crowd surged towards
their killers. In seconds, a small armoured car was besieged. Nobody
doubted that these were the victors. From a nearby florist, ladies
brought flowers and started throwing them over the young officer who
was standing in the car saluting to all sides. His eyes were shining
excitedly and he was very proud. He was the hero of the day. On his
chest was a cross of valour and on his conscience were two more
had difficulty pushing through the crowd. Only at the central
station could I get a tram. The tram was full of people and luggage.
They looked as if they were all leaving. Tired and pale faces, women
with small children in their arms - some with bandaged hands and
faces. I started to talk to one woman.
are from Ciechanowo, sir. The Front is there already. My
sister," pointing to a young woman with her head bandaged,
"and I were barely able to run away,” she said.
a piece of shrapnel hit me in the head when I ran over the street to
my sister. We escaped with only the clothes we stood in. Everything
was in flames."
thought struck me. That must mean that the Front was very close as
Ciechanowo was barely 100 km away and here we knew nothing about it.
the next stop a group of refugees from Modlin boarded the tram,
claiming that it was impossible to stay in Modlin any longer as the
Germans were bombarding the neighbourhood with shells.
left the tram when it stopped at Marszal Square in order to buy a
newspaper, hoping for news of the last twenty-four hours. The
leading article on page one, written in large block letters,
affirmed that prompt assistance was on the way from our allies. They
were mobilising all their strength to help Poland who was bravely
resisting the invasion, etc... I looked through the following pages
for news from the Front, but in vain. Page two was devoted to
strained relationships between Japan and America. A long and
uninteresting article filed the whole page, leaving space only for a
small verse about the “steel wings of victory". On page three
the King of Siam assured Great Britain of their common interests,
the deep friendship of two nations who value peace, etc... The
following pages covered criminal offences, advertisements, theatre
and cinema programmes and various small announcements. That was all.
the afternoon, the Ministry ordered the packing of documents. A
large group, including myself, was directed to the right wing of
M.S.Z., the archives. In a large hall stood stacks of metal cabinets
reaching to the ceiling with only a narrow walking space between
them. There we set to work.
midnight, tired and hungry, we sat down for a short rest. Some
gentlemen from the Minister's office arrived and told us that we
would have to be prepared to work through the night. Then he divided
our labours so that the men's energies were spent carrying packed
cases outside while the women continued packing, but now only from
special cabinets marked T. T. (secret). One o'clock, two o'clock.
Passages, halls and the yard were being filled with large, wooden
crates. We walked wearily and were very sleepy. At three o'clock
somebody came with a list and read a few names, including mine, and
told us to go home immediately, pack bare essentials and be ready to
suitcase only,” we were told by the elderly, clean-shaven
gentleman with a monocle.
you have to be here at the Ministry at half-past four in the
morning. The Government has ordered the evacuation of all public
head offices. Our Ministry will be evacuated this morning. You,
gentlemen, have to supervise the transport of the documents of the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The destination will be given
has happened, I thought. The refugees in the tram were telling the
truth. Warsaw is directly endangered; therefore the sudden
intended to hurry home but there were no trams and I had a fair
distance to cover. The city was in complete darkness, looking like a
block of marble. The streets were deserted. From Krakowskie
Przedmiescie Street came the dull, monotonous sound of wheels and
the stamping of horses' hoofs.
turned into the street in the direction of Copernicus statue. A
field artillery battery was on the move. Around the statue of
Copernicus a company of C.K.M. (heavy machine guns) had halted. The
horses, heads down, were standing motionless in their harness; the
soldiers crowded the steps of the Holy Cross Church. Coat collars
turned up, they huddled on stairs and against the walls. Some were
sitting on kerbs along the street. Faces were indistinguishable and
only their stooping shapes clearly showed their tiredness. I looked
up. On top of the church stairs loomed the bent figure of Christ
with the stone cross on his back. In this attitude, He was giving
people peace on earth. The soldiers had hand grenades in their belts
and guns on their backs. Cannons were being moved along the street.
Dozing soldiers slumped on horses moving with tired steps. This
night Christ reviewed the parade of a sleepy army. He, General
Christ, the chief commander of loving peace and people of good will.
Where are the people of loving peace? Where are the people of good
who with holy water, making the sign of the Cross, blessing the
factories of bombs, poisonous gases, tanks, battleships, bombers and
cannons - are they the Priests of Peace?
uniformed Youth of Pioneers, Hitlerjugend, Falangist, Komsomols
marching in step to military drums with their wooden rifles - were
they taught to 'love thy neighbour'?
girls throwing flowers over youths in uniforms, mothers farewelling
their sons with the pathetic cry - "Go! The country is calling
they teach brotherly love?
the law? edicts? codes? could. No ... they punish with prison for
the refusal to take arms.
is guilty? Where is the culprit?" one wants to ask. Hitler is
blaming the allies, the allies are blaming Hitler.
U.S.S.R. is blaming the capitalistic world, the capitalistic
countries are blaming the Komintern. The fascists are pointing to
communism, communism to fascists. A vicious circle looking for the
guilty. All countries have their ‘sacred rights' which they are
ready to defend with lives. The blood was running from gored bellies
and pierced heads and torn limbs. It was flowing through hamlets,
villages and towns, illuminating the 'sacred rights' with fires of
is not the time to seek the culprit.
will be the one who loses the war.
the houses that I was passing, hundreds of thousands of families
were sleeping. Will they still be standing in the next few days when
the enemy is trying to strangle the city? Where will their
Fatherland be? Under which roof will they try to find shelter?
hoof beats cut through my gloomy thoughts. Sparks flew under the
hoofs. A soldier, bent down over his horse, was tearing ahead into
darkness. An echo reverberated through the empty streets.
the early morning hours, the bustling activity on Station Fast was
unbelievable. Our trucks, fully loaded with crates and honking
loudly, could hardly move. Loaded vehicles from different offices
were constantly arriving. Along the streets crowds were streaming
like overflowing rivers. On the platforms piles of luggage were
surrounded by women and children. Trams disgorged masses of jostling
refugees, looking for some spare place to put down their belongings.
Noise from diesel engines and moving freight trains increased the
we were unloading the heavy crates to the ground, the alert sounded.
Everyone started to run general confusion. Being near the
station terrified people. Part of the station had been demolished by
previous raids and the charred stumps increased the scary feeling.
Cabs, not even waiting for payment, turned back to the city. The
crowd wavered. Heavy parcels retarded progress, small children could
not run. Wives were desperately calling their husbands, yelling and
crying in the human ant heap. The majority did not know where to go,
where 'to seek shelter. No shelter was large enough to protect a
crowd of many thousands. I could not see a shelter anywhere, but
tried to reach some trenches at the end of the street. These at
least offered some protection from shrapnel. The place in front of
the station became empty of people, leaving only luggage and crates
behind. The trench into which I jumped was proudly called SHELTER
No. 1, the name printed on a yellow board attached to a stick. The
floor of the trench was of course covered in shit left by the
previous night's passers by.
was only a short alert. The 'All Clear' sounded and people rushed to
their luggage. The train for our Ministry had not arrived so, hoping
to contact Marushka, I decided to telephone from a soda fountain
kiosk. My sudden departure in an unknown direction would make it
impossible for her to look for me.
optimistic letter written to her the day before the war could have
encouraged her to come to Warsaw, and this I could not have forgiven
myself, especially as she was in neutral Lithuania. My optimism
reflected only the general atmosphere at that time. Who would have
thought that, within seven days, such disastrous changes would
queue to the telephone was long. Many were waiting to contact their
nearest before going into the unknown. When I was only a couple of
people away from the front of the queue, the alert sounded again.
The lady from the kiosk locked her door and I ran to the trenches. A
further alert again interrupted the queue. Each consecutive,
harmless alarm frightened the people less and less. Some even stayed
on the platforms whilst others went leisurely towards shelters,
glancing at the sky.
again I was in the queue and had only to wait for a peroxided blonde
to finish her call. I was like a cat on hot bricks, being afraid of
another alert, but she continued yakking away. People were getting
restless and abusive and started to push and shove. I turned around
... and stood rooted to the spot, unable to believe my eyes. In the
queue, right behind me, was my wife. She was standing with her hands
in the pockets of her brown coat; from under her beret, masses of
red-brown curls tumbled onto her collar. She saw me and her eyes
filled with tears.
fell into each other's arms. Without speaking, Marushka started to
cry soundlessly on my shoulder. Her wordless weeping told me more
than the most elaborate phrases could have done. A chance of perhaps
one in a million a truly miraculous meeting.
we missed each other, our fate would have been totally different for
the rest of our lives.
would have lived separate lives. We did not need the telephone any
more. We left, holding hands and, without words, knew that from then
on we would not be separated. We sat on one of the crates. Looking
at her pale face, I said "You must have had a lot of trouble
coming. How long did you travel? What is happening at home?"
her lilting, Lithuanian accent, she told me in short sentences that
she had left Kaunas (the capital city of Lithuania, approximately
500 km away) the day war started. At the Polish Lithuanian border,
her mother had reached her by telephone, begging her to return. But
she refused, wanting to be with me, and had bought a ticket to
Warsaw, although it was very difficult for civilians to obtain
permission. The journey had lasted three days instead of the normal
seven hours. In Malkinie, the train had been bombed and rails
demolished so that passengers had to travel a few kilometres by
foot, carrying their belongings. Tired and hungry, she had arrived
in Warsaw on the day of the evacuation.
we were advised that the train for the Ministry was waiting on one
of the side platforms. With our belongings, we went to seek seats
which we found in a smoking compartment of a Pullman car. None of us
knew the destination of our train.
military trains passed us without stopping. Near us stood an
ambulance train. Through the car windows we saw for the first time
wounded soldiers from the front. Wearing dirty, open army coats,
some bandaged soldiers were standing, others lay on the floor. They
were unshaven, grey-faced, and their dressings were soaked with
quickly human material is used up during war. It is only the seventh
day of the war and how different these soldiers look from the
shining ranks parading only three weeks ago. Then they parted before
the stands where high dignitaries and beautifully clad ladies were
sitting. Today, some were groaning and cursing, lying on the floors
of freight trains - and those taking part in the parade, frightened
and sweating, were dragging their luggage into evacuee trains.
returned to our train as we heard a rumour that it would be moving
soon. The crates containing all the documents were still in front of
the station. The train, standing at a siding, had only one luggage
was running out and there was no-one to help cart our heavy burden.
The Station Master in a red cap informed us that the train had to
leave immediately as the track was required for another transport.
He did not listen to the Ministry's councillors and gave the
signal for departure. The train started moving and in the carriage
were only two crates. Somebody later mentioned that these crates
contained French wines belonging to a friendly embassy. The crates
containing the secret documents were left near the platform.
What happened to them I don't know I never heard about them again.
train travelled to the east, not stopping at any stations. There
were eight people in our compartment. An elderly lady, elegantly
dressed, with well-manicured hands, looked tenderly at her son who
was sitting next to her. Her son was a moderately handsome twenty
year old man, partly bald, with extremely long fingernails and
nonchalant manners. A signet ring with a coat of arms completed the
fashionable style of a young dandy. What he did in the
Ministry I didn't know. Probably a protégé of a high
dignitary. Further down were two gentlemen of medium age; one, with
glasses and unruly hair, occasionally looking at the ceiling, was
writing something in a notebook, with the other hand opened his
suitcase containing nicely assorted sandwiches which he devoured
whilst looking unseeing through the window. They were employees of
M. S. Z. Next to us sat a young blonde with a snub-nose. She was a
stenographer. On her lap she nursed a fluffy poodle with a red bow.
Her five-year-old daughter was sitting on Granny's knee. Granny was
dressed like most grannies in a dark frock, dark overcoat, dark
shoes. Her face was pleasant and kind and all her thoughtfulness
was concentrated on her grandchild, as usually happens with
grandmothers. We were the last two. Not all of us were to arrive at
still did not know what our destination was to be. There was a
rumour that we were going to Lublin, a city in south-east Poland. In
the hope of preventing air attacks, the name of the place for
evacuated Head Offices was kept secret.
a few hours, we were approaching Czeremcha station when there was a
loud boom, rumbling and crashing. The air shock was so strong that
windows in our compartment shattered into small pieces, covering the
floor. We all looked out, but were at first unable to see anything.
Someone yelled, "Germans are bombing the station!" The
train stopped, reversed noisily, and started to travel backwards,
leaving the station.
to the presence of mind of the engine driver, we were saved for the
time being. Something was burning - the train was covered with dust
clouds. Through the windows, we could see airplanes with their black
crosses. They were circling the lines like bloodthirsty crows.
Suddenly the planes circling low opened fire with the loud noise of
their machine guns. Bullets showered the train like hail and we all
fell to the floor, trying to protect our heads with our hands. The
train stopped on a high embankment.
ran to doors, pushing and trampling each other. Suitcases were
thrown through windows and some women fell from the high steps and
rolled down the embankment. I was very astonished to see our typist
with her poodle pressed tightly to her, running away from the train.
She left her daughter and mother to fend for themselves. The balding
man with the signet ring from our compartment jumped through the
window and others, including us, pushed through the doors.
down the embankment, we looked for some shelter. In front of us was
a meadow, behind it a cemetery, to the right the burning station
building. Some were trying to hide in holes caused by previous
bombing; others, panic-stricken, were simply running. We found a
potato cellar dug in the ground. We could only stand in the porch as
the cellar was locked. Not a very good shelter, but it had to do.
planes disappeared behind the forest. We waited. We city-dwellers
were not used to bombing without previous warning by sirens. We did
not watch the sky; others were doing it for us. We were used to
wailing sirens warning us of the approaching danger. A short,
interrupted sound told us 'All Clear' and we could continue,
carefree, doing our work. Here, for the first time, we had our
baptism of fire. We were left by ourselves. Now we understood that
here, beyond the Front, the sky could hold deadly peril. We had to
watch it, this clear September sky, but no longer with a calm smile.
ten minutes passed - the meadow looked empty, no-one was on the
train. The glow of the burning buildings and their crumbling walls
only emphasised the past dangerous moments. We had started thinking
about returning to the train when someone pointed towards the
western sky. On the horizon appeared three small dots, then another
three. They were flying in formation. Of course they were planes -
but whose? Perhaps ours? We were not certain, still being very
naive. Already we could hear them. Marushka put on her glasses, as
otherwise her horizon was not more than 100 metres, but it was
impossible to distinguish the markings.
know, Marushka, I think we should run. We are certainly too close to
left our cellar and, hurriedly, went towards the cemetery and the
forest behind it. Together with a group of others, we reached the
cemetery. Abruptly a whizzing sound and, a second later, a terrible
blast of an exploding bomb nearby. We fell to the ground between the
tombs with buzzing in our ears. We were lying between two tombs,
pressed into the ground. A few seconds of silence and then again the
piercing and whizzing sound. Now we knew what to expect. This sound
of falling bombs haunted us and brought to memory the unpleasant
feeling of prickling between the shoulder-blades and in the pit of
the stomach. It seemed that the bomb would drop right into the
centre of the back. When we heard the first, second and then the
fourth explosion, we gave a sigh of relief they were not
hitting us. The earth was shaking and clouds of dark dust hid the
sky. Next to us, a hatless woman with tousled hair was holding two
small children. The children, holding tightly to their mother, were
crying. The mother was praying loudly, looking at the cross on the
nearest tomb. Other people were laying between tombs, pressing
against tombstones as if looking here for shelter. The living were
trying to be near the dead in the face of mortal fear. No more
explosions a deathly silence, only the bending branches of old
birches rustled slightly.
the planes departed, people in the old cemetery came alive; from
behind the moss-covered tombs 'resurrected' people began to emerge.
The cemetery sheltered us, gave us rest but, luckily, not the
eternal one. What to do now? We were not ready to go back to the
train as we had no assurance that at this was the last bombing. We
decided to look for shelter in the nearby forest. On the way, we met
women without hats or handbags, and with lacerated hands and feet.
In their blind panic, they had inured themselves on barbed wires,
and some had even lost their shoes. In the forest, we came upon a
machine gun company. The soldiers began to curse us, saying that by
running through the meadow, we might have brought a new air raid
upon them. They showed us how to take cover behind trees and under
their shade so that the pilots would be unable to see us. Some of
the passengers were frightened on seeing soldiers, thinking it might
be the Front, and ran deeper into the forest. The planes did not
return. Probably an hour passed, then people started to come out of
their hiding places.
returned to the train which had been shelled. The windows were gone,
but it was otherwise undamaged. A loud whistle announced its
departure and soon we were again under way. Passing the station, we
saw many craters on both sides of the rails. Only one bomb damaged
the side track. We passed Czeremcha (a small town near Warsaw) and
our train rushed towards Kowel. Slowly the people quietened down.
The blonde with the snub nose
was combing her poodle who had used his freedom to roll in the
grass. One of the employees again started to chew his sandwiches
which he had left behind during the raid. The other one talked to
the grandmother, cursing the Germans to high heaven, full of
indignation towards bombing and shooting at a train full of
started, full of resentment, "They were flying quite low, they
saw that this transport consisted of civilians only. This is
beastly, it is barbarous to shoot at defenceless, unarmed people.
These raids are terrorist and there must be consequences. This train
is part of the Corps Diplomatique; one must write a firm protest to
the League....' He wanted to add .." of Nations," but
stopped in time and continued "to the Head Office of the
International Red Cross in Geneva."
will they listen?" asked grandmother, full of doubt. "It
is war you know.”
I agree, but everything has its limits. We are living in the
twentieth century and not in the time of Huns when children and
women were murdered without mercy. Germany is considered to be a
cultured nation. Armies fight armies; this I understand - this is
war - but there must exist some humanitarian war." He probably
liked this expression as he repeated once again "a humanitarian
war with a moral code in respect of the civilian population which
has no part in the war." He stopped and, with a shaky hand, lit
passengers stopped talking. The train was travelling fairly fast.
The elderly lady sitting at the window said she thought she could
hear approaching planes. We all tried to look through the window at
the sky. From other compartments, people were leaning out too. The
previous experience had already taught us a lesson. Our watchfulness
increased. At the same instant, we all spotted the planes coming
from, the west.
two, three," someone started counting. The whole train was
already alert. A few seconds later there was a squeal of brakes and
the train stopped in an open field. Without waiting for orders, we
all filed quickly from the train. In front of us was a small, wet
forest with some puny trees, further on a meadow, and only farther
away was the outline of a real forest, but no buildings. Jumping
over the signal wires, the travellers started to disperse amongst
the scanty growth.
somewhere, a man with a white armband bearing the letters O.P.L.
(Defence against air raids) appeared and, in a loud voice, advised
us all to go to the left side of the rails.
noticed many people carrying their luggage, hurrying nervously away.
We reached some shrubs and Marushka's foot got stuck in a swampy
pool. We walked slower, looking for drier ground. Finding a track,
we at last arrived at a dry clearing. We sat down and, lighting a
cigarette, began scanning the sky. The planes were flying slightly
to the side and fairly high. Every once in a while, singly and in
groups, people slipped out of the scrub to hurry into deeper bush.
an hour passed. The planes had long since disappeared beyond the
horizon. Travellers calmed down and were walking along the pass
between the shrubs. We went to look for berries. Here, in the
country, a raid seemed less menacing. After a further fifteen
minutes, short whistles sounded from the train. It was our signal to
return and also our local "All Clear" sound. We turned
towards the rails.
were astonished to see groups of people with luggage piled neatly
beside them. They did not show any inclination to return to the
train. Curiosity got the better of me and I started talking to a
lady sitting on her suitcases.
have had enough of this travel under bombs. We will stay here.
Sooner or later the train will get hit.”
you know someone here?"
at all. We will go to the first village and stay there. Perhaps, in
the meantime, we might learn something about this war."
returned to the train. Men with the white armbands asked us to
hurry. A few additional short whistles and the train moved again,
leaving a sizeable group behind. Luckily, we passed through some
stations without incident. At some stations we saw transports from
different government offices. This indicated the general direction
of the government evacuation.
one of the small stations (I have forgotten which), there was a
funny incident. When the train stopped at the station, some people
went onto the platform to stretch their legs. The station was
surrounded by forests and near the rails were stacked wooden beams.
A little further on there was a sawmill and stacks of wood. The
scent of resin was quite strong. Suddenly a plane appeared above the
forest, starting an indescribable panic. Elderly gentlemen in
vests and soft slippers began climbing frantically over the stacked
beams, as the entire platform was covered with wood. Although it was
tragic, it was also extremely funny to watch this hurdle race. Feet
were slipping on the smooth beams. They started to crawl on all
fours, sticking out their fat behinds, and women lost their
beautiful high heels between the beams. Those gentlemen, not long
ago wearing black frock-coats and walking sedately through the
Ministry, now really looked funny and quite without dignity. It was
a tragic-comic situation as the single plane was not an enemy
aircraft, but our own bi-plane with clear red/white markings on its
wings. It was the only one we saw during all our travel. We had to
wait a while for the gentlemen to return. Red-faced, they were
greeted with friendly jokes by the passengers.
at night, our train arrived at Kiwerce Station where we stopped for
the night. Marushka and I went straight to the first aid room -
"two victims of war". Marushka had stomach-ache and looked
like a blown-up balloon as we had not eaten anything hot, only
sandwiches washed down with lemonade.
had twisted my ankle when jumping from the train. My foot was badly
swollen and, thanks to this, we were able to spend the night in
comparative comfort on wooden benches in the waiting room.
the morning, our travels continued. Ahead of us stretched the
fertile fields of Wolyn (Eastern Poland, bordering on the U.S.S.R.)
We were far from the Front. German bombers ceased worrying us.
Everything looked peaceful and normal in the quiet hamlets. We could
look freely at the scenery as it was unnecessary to peer at the sky.
White farmhouses, surrounded by trees and bushes, nestled amongst
the gently sloping hills of Wolyn. Here and there, lazy yoked oxen
turned over furrows of dark earth and herds of mottled cows grazed
among rusty rye stubbles. It seemed that conflict could not reach
this land. It was quiet and tranquil.
sun was setting behind a forest when we passed Rowno, a Polish town
in East Poland. Only the last rays of the sunset were reflected in
at night we arrived in Krzemienice, the capital of Wolyn and an
ancient Polish fortress.
was our destination.