To The West
Midsummer of 1944. For the last time we walked along the terrace of our sunny veranda. Our turn had come. Once again we were leaving our house like other war evacuees. Burdened with heavy rucksacks we started towards the highway, pushing our bikes. Mother and Jurek came to see us off. This parting stuck in my mind for a long time. Jurek was chatting happily, sitting on the frame of my bike and ringing the bell. Mother was walking behind, kneading her handkerchief nervously. The dogs were dragging at their chains, barking madly. In front of the veranda, in a low chair, sat one of the billeted officers looking indifferent and bored at our departure. We passed the creek. On the highway the military policeman stood guard. When we came to the highway he stopped a military vehicle to check documents. As the car was empty, the soldier agreed to give us a lift to Kaunas. There was no time for further farewell. We secured our bikes and the car started to move.
Three figures were standing on the wide highway - my mother, our little son and the guard in a helmet. The distance separating us grew quickly, the figures grew smaller. Our Jurek, in his white cap, was already just a blurred spot on the long highway. We climbed the hill and far away I could still see the wavy field of rye, barley and oats that I had sown with my own bare hands. On the top of the hill we could still see our house with its white shutters, its windowpanes reflecting the sun. And that disappeared too. There was left ... only a dot on the map.
During our future homeless wandering we looked often with longing at this dot on the map, remembering the moment of our separation from our dear ones.
In Kaunas the atmosphere was very tense. Some of the German officers were already evacuated. The streets leading to the railway station were crowded with evacuees, burdened with suitcases and bundles. In front of many houses carts were being loaded. Through the city passed endless columns of evacuees from the country. Tree coves were treading awkwardly on the asphalt and dogs, scared of the city noises, were trying to hide under the carts. Barge 'bridgkas' (carts), ladder wagons and Russian telegas were going through the city to cross the bridge over the River Niemen, their peculiar noises filling the town and reverberating from the brick walls.
Our intention had been to travel by bikes, without documents, as evacuees. However we were told that trains were still leaving Kaunas in the direction of the German frontier but only people who had travel permits issued by the military were allowed over the frontier, or those who could prove that they were going to work in Germany. The second seemed easier to achieve. The 'Arbeitsamt' (employment office) had opened a new office in a former travel agency and, after years of poor results, was now reaping a good harvest. There were many volunteers looking far work and permits to enter Germany. How ironic - what the German military police were unable to achieve was achieved in a few days by the nearing Front. A long queue of men of military age, and women, were waiting in front of the new 'travel agency'. In their windows were still the old posters from Tyrol, palaces along the Rhine and old German towns. Between those old photos for the tourists was written: "See the beauty of the German towns".
The officials of the Arbeitsamt were as polite as the employees from the previous travel agency. Showing a large map of the Third Reich, they were pointing out all the beauty of different regions. Everyone was allowed to choose the place of his desired destination according to his tourist taste or his hidden political calculations. Very politely they stipulated only one condition: upon arrival you had to report to the nearest Arbeitsamt - only then were you issued with a travel permit and a free railway pass.
Our aim was Warsaw. We wanted to reach Poland and there await future events. But entrance to the General Komimissariat (the name given to central Poland) was prohibited. On the map I found the nearest point to it - it was Modlin that was shown on the map as belonging to the Third Reich. Within minutes we had nice stamped documents stating that I, as a farm labourer, and wife Maria were travelling to Germany with permanent residence in Modlin.
The transport was to leave the next day and so now the bikes were not required. At home we re-packed our rucksacks again, fighting off the generosity of my mother-in-low who tried to equip us like an expedition to the North Pole. No arguments were of use. Neither that the war would not last very long nor that we had plenty of relatives in Poland who would help us; nor the argument that it is not advisable to be overloaded with a heavy burden. She strongly believed that in Poland people were starving. Therefore, next morning we left with huge bread loaves, a few kilograms of fat and lard, butter and dry sausages plus two changes of clothing.
Again a sad parting. Our little son Roman, just over a year old, could not speak yet and was only producing some funny sounds. I didn't know what he was trying to tell us. He was laughing happily when we kissed him and waved his tiny hands. He gave us his most charming smile when we were leaving. This was the way he stayed in my mind.
The station was full of evacuees. No ticket control or information. Nobody knew anything about a transport of labourers to Germany. At the second platform stood a long military transport and some evacuees were trying to board it. This transport was going to East Prussia. Not waiting for anything else, we climbed onto the open lorries. Marushka's parents, who accompanied us to the station, heaved up the rucksacks into the lorries. As we started to climb down to have one more kiss, there was a sudden signal and the train began to move. We stayed on the train and just looked at her parents who were waving a white handkerchief. The white handkerchief was not only a sign of farewell but also a symbol of submission to the new rulers of bleeding Lithuania.
One could already hear the Front. On the River Niemen, floating towards the open sea, were bodies of German soldiers.
Our dearest ones stayed in Lithuania waiting for their destiny. Leaving them, our roads parted and we started once again on our road of evacuees.
The wagon in which we travelled was very deep - like a freighter without doors and cut-off roof. It was packed with machinery, probably from the evacuated factories. The rest was filled with boxes and ammunition on which the soldiers and evacuees were sitting. Above us was the open sky. The train was travelling fast, the wind was cool and pleasant. The start of our travel was favourable as we had expected a lot worse and going by bike along dusty, crowded roads did not seem so attractive.
The train entered the large forests of Kozlowa Ruda. The warm fir trees smelled strongly of resin. The wind died down. The white clouds from the engine were lying lazily on the top of the trees. All seemed peaceful; so good for taut nerves. But we knew that in these forests were large groups of partisans and more than one train had been derailed here. The mines hidden between the rails were a terror to the driver. We were travelling on a military transport, sitting on boxes of ammunition, looking around anxiously. The engine braked and we arrived at the station Kozlowa Ruda. Some travellers left, taking their numerous luggage. They probably intended to await the Front in some of the small villages, hidden in the forest.
The German soldiers with whom we travelled looked tired and depressed. They were not talkative but told us that the railway to Olite was cut off and therefore they had to make this detour through East Prussia to reach the front lines near the lakes of Augustowo. It was evening when we arrived in Virbalis. This was the frontier station between 'Ostland' and the Great German Reich or, to call it simply, the previous boundary between Lithuania and Germany.
On the station was a teeming mass of people. All platforms were packed with luggage and crying children hanging on to the luggage. People were trying to push in all directions looking for information about next trains. On a siding stood an open goods train. Some of the wagons were completely furnished - wide beds, robes with mirrors and crates and suitcases, tables covered with plates and food. These were the privileged evacuees, employees of the General Kommissar Ostland. Leaving the burning east, they were taking home to their Fatherland all that they were able to amass during their fat years of occupation.
Going over the iron bridge above the rails we reached the first platform where we were promptly told to leave as it was strictly for the army. In the first-class waiting room we met many Lithuanian professionals and white-collar workers. They were also evacuees, mainly from Kaunas. They had nice leather suitcases, their wives had their hair set, were nicely manicured and carried expensive fur coats over their arms. On the wall, reaching from the floor to the ceiling, hung a huge picture of Hitler. The thought of sleeping on a station was not attractive. Marushka remembered that a friend of hers was living on a nearby farm with his family - Messrs. Gromadzki. Asking for directions, we went to find them. After a few kilometres the rucksacks began to feel heavier. I don't know how long it would have taken us to cover the eight kilometres but we were lucky to be given a lift by a peasant who was returning from the mill. Sitting on the bags of flour, he brought us right into the front yard of the homestead. It was midnight. All was dark, completely quiet, no sign of life. Under the deceptive light of the moon, I examined some barns until I stumbled to the front of a house, or rather the porch which was supported by columns. All shutters were closed. This had to be the house of the owner. Shyly and gently we started knocking at the door for maybe ten minutes or more. Nobody came to the door. We started to knock louder and then even banging. Still without results. Leaving our belongings, we went in search of other doors. There were five of them. We tried them all, banging as loud as we could. The house remained silent and dead. I started swearing - gone was the shyness of an uninvited guest. I wanted to get in. After unsuccessfully trying all shutters, I noticed on the second floor two windows without shutters. Taking some twigs, I started throwing them gently on those windows, being careful not to break the glass. At last - a window opened and a human head looked out.
"Does Mr. Gromadzki live here?" I called. A female voice confirmed this. I gave our names and a short explanation. The window was shut but there was some movement from within. Between the cracks, of the shutters we could see light and at last the bolts and padlocks were removed.
In the hall we were cordially greeted by the elderly owner of the house. He was dressed in pyjamas and the housekeeper in a nightdress. She was holding a candle in her hand. Our friend was sick in bed. The explanation for the unresponsive house was quite simple. The remaining people were sleeping on the second floor with their windows facing the park and so the ground floor was empty. The friendly owner directed us to a spare bedroom where we went to sleep immediately.
It was a hundred kilometres to the Front.
Next morning after being fed and having a good wash, we went into the town for information. As we had no luggage and were clean, the police did not bother us, probably taking us for local people. All evacuees were directed to barracks where there was an information centre for transports as well as the de-lousing centre. It was a whole set of small, long buildings covered with tar-boards, surrounded by a high fence and barbed wire. Near the fence bartering was blooming. Behind the fence - well known to us - the camp life of the east labourer. Tired women hanging their washing, badly dressed and dirty children playing on the dirty ground. The gate was open. We decided that Marushka should go to enquire as her German was faultless and I would wait in a nearby street. It was nearly an hour before I saw her returning. The guard at the gate did not stop her and I relaxed. In the administration centre she met an old acquaintance from Kaunas. They had a long chat and he was able to inform her fully. To our disappointment, we learned that the last transport with civilians had left yesterday and that the border, as from last night, was closed by the S.D. (Security Service) until further notice. Permits would be issued individually after a check by S.D. Nobody seemed to know the reason for these orders. We had to wait. After returning to the homestead we found more evacuees from Kaunas. They were relatives and friends of Mr. Gromadzki. Some, like us, wanted to leave Lithuania; others, like our host, wanted to stay. They were certain that the Front could not possibly go further west, that the Germans would push the Soviets back further away from their own border. To this group, so trusting in the power of the Germans, belonged two new arrivals who had with them an unbelievable number of suitcases and a crate of bacon. They were two professors from the Kaunas University, one of them a well-known surgeon.
Our daily walks to the town brought no results. The frontiers remained closed and there was no news about a new transport for civilians.
There were more and more people in the farmyard. Evacuees were sleeping in the empty barns. The squire was despairing as carts and horses were requisitioned and taken away. Arguing angrily he rushed around the farm, returned to his salon and played Chopin's music on the grand piano to calm his nerves. This large old-fashioned antique salon was now the only place where quiet still existed. This room was rather a relic and worth remembering.
Long, narrow windows were covered with vines. The glass door led to a large front porch with columns. Only a little sun filtered through, lifting the dimness of the room. Some sunrays were touching the gilded furniture in the style of the French Empire. Old glass door bookcases contained books and magazines from the previous century. Green tapestry covered the couches and chairs which were dainty with beautiful carved legs. But these legs sometimes had no support as the floor started to rot and pieces of board were missing. In some places one could even see the dark, mouldy foundations. No-one had repaired this floor for a long time. In one corner stood an antique clock, long out of order. The long brass pendulum rested between heavy cobwebs in its glass case. Time had stopped symbolically. If the tall, grey-haired squire played too long, his housekeeper, a big Lithuanian woman rushed into the room, saying:
"Sir, you are just playing this old music and playing, and the Front is coming nearer. People are fleeing and we have not even packed. A pig must be killed - we must have food, not music. God has punished me with you, Sir. Nobody is thinking here - everything rests on my poor shoulders."
This poor woman could not understand her employers. The old squire said that his son must take charge as everything would be his very soon. But the son, a slightly sentimental chemical engineer, was partly a researcher and partly a musician and was not keen to make any decisions in these uncertain times. He took the way of least resistance saying that the Front might be stopped before reaching them. It was true that no-one made decisions or looked after the farm.
On the fourth day of our stay the head of the village brought the following German Order: All people, male and female between the age of fifteen and fifty, permanent and temporary residents of this shire, must assemble tomorrow at eleven in the morning on the market place of the town. They must take with them food for three days. They will be employed in digging trenches against tanks. Those who disobey these orders will be punished by death.
There was great confusion on the farm. People did not know what to do. Should one go and dig? If not, how could one avoid it? Arguments broke out and it seemed that the discussions would go on forever. We decided to leave and, thanking our host for his hospitality and kindness, we departed immediately. Our first stop was the border town. The order did not apply to people living in the town. Here again our luck held. At the Post Office we met Marushka's old friend, Wanda. The girls were friends from early childhood. By the end of the First World War both their parents were evacuees from Soviet Russia, going together to Lithuania. The girls remained friends throughout all these years. She was one of the bridesmaids at our wedding. Now, in the hard and uncertain times, they were together again. Wanda took us immediately to her house and, being extremely hospitable, even gave us her own room. The house was on the outskirts of the town, right on the boundary. From the windows we could see the barbed wires of the frontier that were in a wheat field. On the other side of the wire were German sentries whose main duty was to catch those who tried to enter Germany illegally. The trains going through Virbalis (the last Lithuanian station) to Eydkau (the first German station) had no checking of documents but, on the German side, the S.D. were hunting those who had no proper permits. All their belongings were taken away and they were transported back to Virbalis barracks.
In the meantime, just in case, we obtained de-lousing papers which were essential for entering Germany. I doubt if even a letter written by the Fuehrer would absolve one from it. De-lousing proceeded as follows: the culprit had to take off all his clothing which went to disinfection chambers where they were slightly charred and buttons crushed. Very unpleasant if you had trouser buttons. Now quite naked, holding his boots in his hands. The water was tepid and there was no soap. The one pleasant thing was that, during this ritual, one was attended by female employees. After the de-lousing, the abashed culprit had to proceed, still naked, to the office, still holding his boots in his hands. Here he was issued with a de-lousing certificate - this time by a military orderly.
Next day the same fatal order to dig trenches was issued here but this time it was signed by the mayor as well. The order was headed "everyone to the trenches,” and placards appeared all over the town. The following day round-up began in the streets. Even the Germans and the Volksdeutsche had to go, leaving their belongings, children and old people on the German side.
We now understood why the frontier was closed. The people in the barracks were grouped into columns and, under military police guard, turned back towards the Front to dig trenches. I was told that they were going for ten days only. It was getting harder to keep avoiding round-ups organised by the S.D. We did not venture into the street but stayed indoors. But even that was not safe as next day the houses were searched. One day a policeman came to Wanda's house searching for people who tried to avoid the issued order. This time we were rescued by Wanda's tenant, a men's hairdresser. She understood immediately why the policeman had come and asked him to the dining room where she offered him a large cup of vodka and some food, then she went to the next room where I was sitting and, taking a handful of cigarettes from me, returned to the policeman and, giving him the cigarettes, announced quite firmly that no-one was in the house. After a second glass of vodka, the policeman was at last 'quite convinced'. This time we were saved ... but for how long? The situation was getting worse each day between the closed frontier and the approaching Front. We decided to have one more try at the military command post. We heard that some civilians, having military travel permits, were allowed to cross the border. We concocted the following story: Marushka, who had been employed in Kaunas as an interpreter in the maintenance workshops of military vehicles (H.K.F.F. - Heeres Kraftfahepark), still had her employment card with her. This document was the cornerstone of our story. She had to say that, being an employee of this military establishment, she had received orders for evacuation, together with her offices. Her husband, being a labourer in the workshops (but with no documents to support it), was also evacuated. As all workshops had left and already crossed the border, we were trying to catch up with them, having missed our evacuation transport. The documents of her husband were with the major of the military workshop. Marushka took the hard mission. By the way, during war it is much easier for females to get results with doubtful missions.
It was more than an hour before I saw Marushka coming back. She was happily waiving documents stamped with all the necessary stamps and a travel permit stating that we belonged to the German Army civilian workshop staff. The paper not only entitled us to cross the border but gave us the right to use all available transport in the German Reich. The point of our destination was Modlin. Marushka was able to convince the unsuspecting military adjutant of the East Command that her workshops were going to this town. In the future, this document gave us tremendous help. I have to point out that in Germany rubber-stamped documents are much valued and respected.
The same day we passed the barrier with our rucksacks. We were directed to the Customs House. All the checking was 'performed by the S.D. Our documents received a new rubber stamp including the de-lousing certificate, and were dated 17th July, 1944.
We continued along the same street but now it was called Adolf Hitler Strasse and the town was now called Eydkau. Going towards the station we saw the differences in the same town. Already here it looked quite different from the 'Ostland'. The market place was paved with bricks, smooth stones, and not with cobblestones. Near it was a typical town hall, a town hall library, a city chemist and a guesthouse. Near the station was a hospital. At last we arrived at the 'Bahnhof' (station). A large placard on the station read "The wheels are rolling for victory". A company of boys from the Hitler Youth passed us. The boys were dressed in their dark uniforms and were carrying shovels, holding them like rifles. They also were being sent to dig trenches. They looked happy and proud and were singing military songs. On the benches some German women were sitting. They were not talking but following the boys with their eyes and knitting grey socks.
The big waiting room was empty. An elderly waiter was reading a newspaper. It was strange to think that only 500 metres away there were such crowds of people occupying station buildings, platforms, streets and highways and large barracks. All were fleeing from the approaching Russians.
A few hours later we were travelling by train in the direction of Insterburg. We saw a goods train going in the opposite direction carrying tanks and their crews. The soldiers were lying on the floor, sunbaking. Some were watching the sky, standing guard near their anti-aircraft guns.
Near us sat a tank corpsman in a torn uniform, thin and badly shaven. Looking at the transport going towards the Front, he was shaking and cursing loudly. He swore that he would rather be dead than return to the Soviet Front. Through the window we could see bunkers, various cement reinforcements and barbed wires between the ripening wheat fields. All still looked peaceful and quiet. On the horizon we could see the lakes of Mazury.
It was dark when we arrived at Insterburg. We had to change trains- the next one was leaving in the morning. There was no hope of getting sleeping accommodation in town as it was very overcrowded, especially with bombed-out Berliners. We spent the night on benches in the waiting room. Next morning we continued our travel.
Next stop was Olsztyn where we had to change trains again. Here already was the atmosphere of the nearby Front as we were nearing the actual front lines, Malkina and Lomza. Again the station was packed with people and their belongings, again the military police were checking. Waiting for our train, I studied a large map hanging on the wall showing the timetables and railway connections. I noticed that there still existed a railway connection between Olsztyn and Warsaw going through Ostrolenka. The next train was due in half an hour. Suddenly I got an idea to try and go straight to Warsaw using our documents which had already opened one border for us. Our post of destination was marked Modlin. The way through Warsaw was a lot shorter than through Mlawy, Ciechanow and Nasiels. It should seem natural that we were trying to use the shortest route. The old cashier was not too happy, explaining that the border to the General Commissariat was closed to all civilians but he relented seeing that our documents were supported by military authority and our argument that we should be passing only as transit passengers. He issued the tickets but warned us that we were not to hold him responsible if we were stopped at both frontier stations. The frontiers here were rather complicated as there were two of them; one between the previous East Prussia and Poland, the second one between the German Reich and the General Commissariat. Of course there was some risk, but without risk we could not achieve our aim.
The desire to reach Warsaw was soon so great that very shortly we were travelling on a small, slow train using one-way railway lines in the direction of Ostrolenka. The nearer we came to the Front, the more hectic the atmosphere became. The slogan: “To the Trenches" was everywhere. The train filled with people carrying shovels and pickaxes. On the small stations were boys and old men all with rucksacks and shovels. They were kissing and hugging before their departure, leaving on the platform groups of crying females. Many of them already had sons or husbands in the army - now they had to say farewell to their old and their children. The Fuehrer was taking the last ones away.
Through the open window the young boys were calling "Heil Hitler, Mummy, Heil Hitler". Although it was raining, the 'mummys' were standing for a long time on the platform, their faces wet with rain and tears. "Heil Hitler, Heil Hitler" - the sound remained in their ears.
In the compartment the mood was gloomy. Yet in the rain, the peasants were puffing their pipes and holding their shovels between their knees. The force of the rain and wind increased - a storm was approaching. The sky was rent by sudden lightning and the thunder seemed to growl - Bellum Vobiscum. We felt the electricity in the air and our anxiety increased. In one corner sat a group of Poles. They spoke in whispers between themselves. Their clothing was torn and they had a large letter 'P' on a yellow patch sewn onto the back of their garments. They also had shovels - they were the forced labourers. This time they and their masters were sitting on the same benches and travelling in the same direction to do the same job.
The storm passed, and the rain had stopped when, in the evening, we arrived at Ostrolenka, now called Scharfenwiese. As the train did not continue in our intended direction we had to change. The front was only 40 km away. On the platform there were many soldiers with helmets and packed rucksacks. At a siding stood a train full of tanks. Pushing our way through the crowds, we went for information which turned out to be quite depressing. No-one was allowed to cross the border without special military documents and approval by S.D. One train should leave at 3 a.m. in the direction of Warsaw but it was reserved for soldiers on leave. The offices of the Commandant were in the township, four kilometres away. As a bus was just leaving, Marushka went to try her luck. The waiting room was crowded and very stuffy. At the tables sat tankmen in their dark uniforms and along the walls slept soldiers from the infantry. Further away sat a Party member in his brown shirt, hugging a German fraulein. At the counter two soldiers in German uniforms were speaking with the barmaid in fluent Polish.
"Could you find us somewhere a glass of beer?"
"I told you, there isn't any,” replied the girl, pouting slightly.
"I see, you are probably not friendly inclined towards us because of the uniforms we are wearing, therefore there is no beer for us. You think us traitors,” he continued with irony.
I could not hear her reply as soldiers at the nearby table started to laugh loudly. Their table was covered with Party leaflets and one soldier was reading aloud about some soldier who, with his machine gun, killed fifty Soviets, lost his leg but received the Iron Cross of 1st Class.
One of the men at the table commented "Beauty - he took his leg under the arm, his Iron Cross in his hand and ran to his Frau to brag. The stupid clot."
Roars of laughter met his comment. I was quite astonished, one of the tankmen raised his glass of water, the only liquid available, towards the portrait of the Fuehrer which hung on the wall.
"Cheers, my Fuehrer,” he called out, full of irony, "I am drinking your health with this 'Wine of Geese' which you were generous enough to provide, as well as for the refreshment supplied" he finished, waving the leaflets. Other soldiers laughed and cheered.
The Front was so close that they felt free and uninhibited. Himmler's Party guardian angels were far away.
A few hours passed. Night came. Soldiers stopped talking and were lying down on the floor. It became quiet, only interrupted by snoring.
Marushka had still not returned. I became worried. Another half hour passed and my anxiety increased. At last she arrived. She was very tired and her feet were wet and dirty, as she had to return by foot on an unknown road in the darkness of the night. Unfortunately without any results. She had tried various offices, even the Gestapo, but to no avail. The border to Occupied Poland was closed. It was a depressing night. Tired, dirty, without sleep, without a roof over our heads and a completely unknown immediate future. In addition, military policemen came and advised us that all lights had to be switched off as Soviet bombers were over Ostrolenka and an alarm situation was announced. It was not a pleasant thought to spend the rest of the night in a railway station during a possible air raid. Marushka wanted to leave the station building.
It was impossible to push our way through the first class waiting room, especially with our rucksacks. All the floor space was covered with sleeping soldiers. It was so dark that we had to hold hands so as not to get lost between this mass of human bodies. Outside it was again raining heavily. We found an empty corner under the ticket counter and, holding tightly to each other, slept heavily.
I was awakened by new noises. Some of the soldiers were leaving. I asked which train they were boarding and got a short reply - "To Warsaw". It was like an electric shock. Marushka and I looked at each other and, without further words, the decision was made. Taking our rucksacks, we also went to the platform to try once again our luck. Dawn was just breaking. On the platform were only soldiers, not even one civilian. We certainly felt out of place. We pushed our way in amongst the soldiers. On the platform stood a military policeman with his helmet and his official metal shield on a chain around his neck.
We held our breath. At last we heard the engine and the train came to a halt at the first platform. The train was reserved for the 'Wehrmacht' only. The soldiers began to board the train, with us behind them. The policeman shouted. Marushka rushed to him and, shoving her paper under his nose, spoke in her fluent German. "This is my husband. We are travelling on military permits and are entitled to use all transports available to the army." He looked at the military rubber stripes known to him and, before he could make up his mind, Marushka jumped after me onto the train. The doors were closed and the train started to move.
What would happen to us now? Would there be another control point at the other border point? We had no idea but we were moving towards Warsaw and this was important. The train was going very fast, not stopping anywhere.
One hour, another half hour. I was watching, full of concentration. Again a station - here was written the word "Tluszcz" - not a German translation of the name. It meant we were in Poland proper at last.
What a joyous feeling when, on the station where the train stopped, all the passengers boarding the train were speaking Polish. The atmosphere changed too. There was a lot of talk, laughter, jokes, and all in Polish. We also felt much safer now as before we were the only civilians on the whole train. Now there were more civilians than army men. Even officially our train changed its look. The Germans moved to special wagons reserved for them and other cars had the sign 'For Civilians'. The train was overcrowded but at each station more people were boarding it. They were hanging on steps and lying on roofs as there was certainly no more space inside. We passed Wolomin, Radzimin and were entering Warsaw.
There was a light drizzle that morning. We watched the stations as we passed. At last Warsaw East. The train stopped. What an emotional moment - the heart seemed to stop beating. After five long years we were back again. "Do you see that is that where they sell soda water?" I asked Marushka. It was here, five years ago, where we met so miraculously, also here that we left Warsaw on the day of the evacuation in September 1939.
The hut was standing but the station was partly in ruins and we could see some barracks being built. On the lower platform were three exits with signs "For the Army,” "For Germans,” "For Poles". Next to the exit for the army was a large board with the following writing "Attention - Entering the town, have rifles at the ready. There is danger of attack."
We left the train at the main station, intending to go home by dorozka (similar to a fiacre coach). Here we encountered our first surprise. We had with us some 'Eastmark' as well as some German marks but the driver informed us that in Warsaw only zloty were acceptable. Therefore the idea to go by dorozka fell through. It was a fair distance to my uncle's home at the end of Rakowiecka Street where we intended to stay. We thought we might go by tram.
Near the main station were a lot of people. Business was flourishing. Before we reached the tram stop we were offered sweet cherries, ice cream, socks, biros, books and saccharine. After a long wait, we boarded the No.3 tram. Once more we were in trouble. The conductor advised us that he was unable to accept anything but zloty. When I told him that we were evacuees returning home after five years and we had not even one zloty, he became very friendly and, patting me on the shoulder, told us to continue travelling 'on the black'. A young fellow, listening to my conversation with the conductor, pushed 5 zloty into my hand. When I thanked him and asked for his address so that I could return the loan, he left his place and, wishing us all the best, jumped off the tram. I returned with the money to the conductor, wanting now to pay my fare. He refused to take the money. "Look, sir, we are nearing the end of my line. Don't bother about the ticket - keep these five zloty for a happy beginning." At the last stop he helped us with our rucksacks. I was deeply touched by this episode in the tram that somehow gave me encouragement to face the future. We will survive among our own people, I thought, hopefully. Our travel was nearing its end. Hardships, troubles and obstacles were overcome. We passed the gate to the big block of flats in Falata Street, No.6. Two flights up and we rang the bell. Hugs and kisses, warm welcome, a hot bath, dinner and a well-deserved rest. Lying in the comfortable bed, I looked at the well-known room. On the walls, as before, were hanging the portraits of my grandparents. The big calendar hanging on the wall showed the date as 19th July 1944. Marushka was already asleep. From the room next to ours, I could hear the ticking of the clock and, from the street, the noise of the passing trams reached me. I also went to sleep.