Thank you Sheila for the recommendation of my books "Noble Youth" and "Noble Flight". Many years work were put into these books that they accurately portray our heritage prior to WWII and then what happened to the people of Poland during the war.
On Tue, Sep 1, 2009 at 12:44 AM, Sheila Bannister <sheila@...>
Having read "Without Vodka" and in the middle of reading Nobel Flight (which I highly recommend along with Noble Youth) although ww2 started as a great adventure for many young people including my own father Wojciech Wojciechowski it ended in tragedy for so many whose lives changed forever. My father was never to see any of his family again and it left a scar on him for the rest of his life.
Sheila Bannister (Wojciechowska)
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Tuesday, September 01, 2009 6:55 AM
Subject: [Kresy-Siberia] 31st August 1939
In his book "Without Vodka", Aleksander Topolski describes the outbreak of war as he experienced it as a sixteen-year-old. The following excerpts from his memoirs back up what Chris said about the attitude of many Poles at the very beginning of the war:--
"Every day the newspapers and the radio brought news about the latest demands and threats by Hitler, who felt confident that he could walk unopposed into Poland as he did in the Rhineland, Austria, Lithuania and Czechoslovakia. Our politicians spread false optimism, forecasting a quick victory over the Germans by the Polish-French-British coalition. But deep inside they felt uneasy about the dark clouds of the gathering storm in the west. On the whole the Polish people felt intensely patriotic and upbeat. Any form of giving in or of compromise was out of question. Men were not unduly worried. They thought of war as inevitable and dangerous but still an interesting interlude. Some were looking forward to it as an escape from the dreary life of daily chores, a nagging wife or an insufferable boss.
Mendel our water carrier, an elderly Jew, said he was going to volunteer for the army. When the other water carriers (there was a whole guild of them in Horodenka) asked him if he was not afraid to go to war, he said. "Oy-vey. War. Schmor. I go to war, kill a few people and return home."
"And if they kill you?"
"Kill me? Why should they? What for? What have I done?"
For our family friend Mr. Krzyzanowski, Principal of an Agricultural College, war was to be the salvation. He was so much in debt that it nearly drove him crazy. I still remember his furrowed brow at our card-table when he would seek reassurance or at least a nod from his whist partners: "Say, director," he would ask my father, "there's bound to be war. There's no other way. Am I not right?"
After all in Poland it was an axiom that each generation goes to war twice. Worry was left to mothers, wives, sisters and daughters. It was their job to fend for elders and the little ones while their men were denting their sabres on German armour. But meanwhile we youngsters in Horodenka were enjoying what proved to be our last carefree summer. The skies were blue and the hot July sun tanned our bodies to the coveted chestnut brown. Our only worry was that something would go awry and we would miss having a war. And then things began to happen.
It was Thursday the 24th of August 1939 when I received my call-up papers. So did the other high school students who had completed at least the first half of the military training course ....
"The feverish atmosphere of those pre-war days continued. Newspapers and radio were full of stories about the increasing German threats and provocations. Nazi propaganda, Goebbel's speeches and "border-crossing" music poured from the German radio stations which also broadcasted Polish language programs on a special network. "Hier ist der Reichsender Breslau mit den angeschlossenen Sendern Gleiwitz, Goerlitz und Troppau. Wir bringen die letzte Nachrichten in Polnischer Sprache. Here is the State Radio Station Wroclaw with its associated stations Gliwice, Gorlice and Opawa. We bring the latest news in the Polish language" boomed from our loudspeakers. Wisely the Polish government was not jamming or prohibiting listening to the clumsy and self-defeating German propaganda. The news was followed by "Plauderei" (a short talk) on the subject of the harsh reality of life in poverty-stricken Poland. That would often bring an outburst of laughter from us listeners.
The preparations for war continued: trial blackouts and digging trenches to protect civilians from shrapnel. Strips of paper were glued criss-cross onto window panes to lessen casualties from glass shards. Generous voluntary contributions to the National Defence Fund poured in from the poor and the wealthy alike. The individual call-up of young reserve officers brought many farewell parties. In their elegant uniforms they would come to our house not so much for the tearful blessings and handshakes from my parents as for a hug and a farewell kiss from my sisters.
For us youngsters all this was new and exciting but for the grown-ups it was déjà vu. After all, our victorious war against Bolsheviks had ended only 19 years before. ...
"When off duty I'd often ride my bike home for a meal, a change of clothes or just to get a good night's sleep in my own bed. It was after one of these nights at home on the morning of September the first when I heard our national anthem being played on the radio before the eight o'clock news. That was unusual and my heart pounded as I listened to the anthem. Then the speaker announced the President of Poland, Ignacy Moscicki. After a few clicks and squeaks came the voice of our President.
"In the early hours of today the eternal foe of the Polish Republic forced its way through our borders, a fact I state in the face of God and history. I declare Poland in the state of war." Then he listed the cities which had been bombed and proceeded with patriotic exhortations. I did not listen to the end. I leapt from my bed, ran to the kitchen and spun around Pyotrusia, the kitchen maid. That wasn't easy for she was a strapping hoyden.
"Pyotrusia! The war has started! Yippee! No more school! We go to war!"
She thought it was one of my pranks.
"Don't say things like that. You may say it in an evil hour and cause it to happen"
She crossed herself. I told her I was not joking. I heard it on the radio. Then she realized that I was telling the truth. She opened wide her black eyes and suddenly she began to cry. Her strong jaw trembled as she tried to suppress sobs while she continued to prepare breakfast. Then she said "My brother!" and I remembered that she told us that he had received his call-up papers the day before. Within minutes the entire house was awake.
Mother came running in and embraced Pyotrusia. Like most women in the world, in time of distress she felt the need to embrace somebody. They both stood there crying and hugging each other. From the far room across the corridor my sisters, still in bed, were shouting "What happened?! What's going on?!" Still in their nighties they came into the kitchen. Through the open window we could see our neighbour Mrs. Ciolek, who was leaning over the fence and supporting her ample bosom with her folded arms which she rested on the top rail of the chain-link fence. She kept calling to Pyotrusia "The war has started! The war has started!"
Father put the ensuing brouhaha to good use. He got dressed without attracting anybody's attention, skipped his morning coffee and when mother went looking for him on the front porch she just managed to catch a glimpse of him as he was turning the corner at the end of the street carrying his fishing rods and tackle box.
For weeks we had expected the war to start any day.
But it jolted everybody when it came, even though the general mobilization had been announced two days before. Throngs of called-up reservists, almost all of them Ukrainians, were already arriving from the neighbouring villages."
Many people in Poland saw September 1, 1939 as a great adventure. They were proud of their army and nation. Talk of hostilities had been going on for months, and here at last something was happening. The expectation by many was that the adventure would go on for a few weeks and then life would return to routine. The fear and dread was yet to come. If you want to get a feel for that time, read the first chapters of "Noble Flight", where the anticipation by both military and civilians is portrayed.
Few anticipated the years of hardship, the massive destruction, the huge number of both military and civilans killed, the dispursion of its population around the world and, the end of Polish culture as it had been known for hundreds of years.
Like so many, your Grandfather was probably excited during the beginning of the invasion. Don't deny him that, he suffered sufficiently in the days that followed as did so many, often to this day.
Sat here at 11.30pm UK time and thinking of my departed Grandfather who was 18 and in the 4th Engineers in the Polish Corridor on this day in 1939. Wondering how he must have felt, the fears for his country, his family friends and comrades.
1st September would change his life forever, not allowed home after the war, his mother in a gulag and his home stolen by Stalin.
I am sure like so many Poles he remembered the fear and the dread of that night and what the future would bring.
To the day he died he was a proud Pole a man who had served his country and his adopted country but lost his homeland forever.
Spare a thought for those who gave and lost so much, those that suffered and those that were murdered.
Pawel/Paul (Podolanski - Manchester UK)
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Published by Chris Gniewosz
"Noble Youth - Adventures of Fourteen Siblings Growing Up on a Polish Estate"
"Noble Flight - A Family's Exodus and Survival During World War II" www.NobleYouth.com
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