Power Of Destiny|
THE BEGINNING OF WORLDWAR II SEPTEMBER 1, 1939
THE BEGINNING OF THE WAR IN BYDGOSZCZ
He was a Boy Scout. His name was John. He said: "I went to the church with my Mom and my cousin. We waited there in the basement, until the air-raid alarm ended, then headed back home. We were close to our house when the shooting from the yards began. I thought maybe somebody who worked in the Wodtke Forwarding Company was doing the shooting. I thought at first they were just shooting in the air, to make some noise, because it all seemed so sporadic. But then I realized it was intentional. They were shooting from an office building at Gdanska Street. We got in our car and drove slowly through the city heading toward our house in the suburb. On Mickiewicz Street we met some people running away from the shooting, from Gdanska Street towards Weysenhoff Square. There weren't many of them, so the street emptied very quickly.
Then, on Gdanska Street, we met one of our infantry units, in full battle gear, retreating. They marched close to the walls along the street. Gdanska Street hadn't been shelled yet. That changed when we reached Kujawska Street, where the "Volksdeutsches" were shooting from their houses at the Polish infantry units going down the street. The fire was so heavy that we had to abandon our car. The bullets whistled by our heads, but we managed to run a few steps before a bullet hit the gas tank of our car and it exploded.
I fell down, and when I looked up, I found my cousin lying nearby, covered with blood and his face obliterated. Although he was dead, I wanted to take his body away from there, but someone pulled me away. I was in shock, but knew that the infantry couldn't go any further.
They had to answer fire with fire. They leaned their machine guns against the wall and began firing. When one of them got shot, I crawled up to him and took his gun. I had seen too much and wanted the enemy to pay for this."
"I am with you," I said.
I crawled to the other side of the street to some dead soldiers, took one of the guns, and began moving carefully with John along Nakielska Street, checking out the windows from which the local Germans were shooting. We shot at them, trying to cover the Polish infantry moving towards Garbary Street. One by one, some others we had known from our scouting days, joined us. Our unit soon consisted of twenty men.
Czesław jako więzień sowieckiego łagru.
Some Polish soldiers had dropped their guns in their flight, but our lonely unit collected them. Each of us hung two or three on our shoulder, so soon we had almost fifty guns. Together we began firing and cleared the passage for the soldiers to retreat down Nakielska Street. Going further, we observed German civilians shooting fleeing Polish civilians. To stop them, and defend our soldiers and civilians, we crossed two squares--Wolnosci and Teatralny.
The 27th Infantry Division had sustained heavy losses there. Also on Zmudska, Gdanska, Jagiellonska and Trzeciego Maja Street there were lots of dead civilians. They were refugees from the conquered areas and also civilians of Bydgoszcz. The German Fifth Column was shooting with machine guns from the windows of flats, attics, cellars and church towers. Polish volunteers who organized self-defense units felt impelled to take their revenge. We managed to destroy the positions from which they were firing on Nakielska Street, but still the shooting continued. Some "Volksdeutsches," as they were called, hiding in the tower of the Holy Trinity Church at Nakielska Street, did the most damage. They had lugged up into the belfry two machine guns, and shot everything within their sights that moved. We had to stop that.
We stole up behind the belfry and set fire to the stairs with some newspapers and rags. There was a lot of smoke. The gunners started coming down the stairs and were all killed, one by one, as they emerged from the smoke. They had started their deadly game when they hung out Swastika flags and began shooting.
German propagandists, meanwhile, would start complaining that Polish bandits were cruelly killing many people, even civilians, while in reality the German Wehrmacht had begun and organized the terrible extermination of the Polish population of Bydgoszcz.
As they set up their rule over the city, the Nazis started rounding up Poles who had been caught defending it. According to the reports of Polish citizens, it was not easy for the Wehrmacht to enter the city.
In Szwedowka and Szwederow district they had met unexpectedly strong resistance from the Polish 62nd Reserve Infantry Regiment and fifty soldiers from the Quartermaster Unit.
But the forces against them were so overwhelming that their fate was sealed. Because of this resistance, from the beginning of their control of Okole and Czyzowka, between the bridge on the Old Channel and the railway bridge at Nakielska Street, the Nazis organized a large camp, where they put the Poles aught during the subsequent manhunt.
They separated men from boys--lots of them still in school uniforms--and took all of them away to an unknown destiny. They never came back. In those days, the Nazis didn't put people to work, but shot them. Local estimates put the number of those who were killed in such roundups at thirty thousand.
In those same days I witnessed horrible scenes of revenge on people who had killed some Volksdeutsches. I saw the Nazis shoot Poles on Gdanska and Poznanska Streets.
They pulled whole families out of their houses. Once, I heard a little baby crying in its cradle, and saw a furious SS grab him in the sight of his mother and bat him over the wall like a baseball. Such degenerate killers acted like beasts, raped Polish women, then killed them. Such war-crimes fanned the hatred of Poles, who then went underground to continue the fight against such cruelty and oppression.
The Okole District, where our apartment was, was being watched carefully by the Gestapo. My brother and I didn't dare show up there. Our father, however, who had been drafted into the German Army when Poland had been under German occupation during the first World War, was safe and didn't raise German suspicions, at first.
Besides, he was useful o them as a railway engineer. But it was different with his sons. It was quickly discovered that his sons were avowed enemies of the German forces. So we couldn't return home.
I hid in Jachice, in my Aunt Frania's house. I couldn't go back to our apartment on Slaska Street, since there was a warrant out for my arrest. Ted also had had to hide, because he was organizing an underground army in Bory Tucholskie Forest.
The German army of occupation was wrong in thinking my father was loyal to them. As soon as possible, he set up a radio station in his flat and transmitted information to the Allies about German railway movements.
Later, he paid a high price for that, because--when it was discovered what he was up to--he was sent to the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg by Berlin, where he died, a martyr to the Polish cause. (I learned this only later, after many years had passed.)
Meanwhile, I began creating small resistance groups and struggled with all my strength against the forces occupying my homeland. I worked with my former boy-scout friends and with other friends I had made during military training.
At first I organized resistance units into six groups with five in each group, a total of thirty in all. Later, however, due to penetration of some of the units by the Gestapo, I broke the units into cells of only three each.
Smaller units were harder to detect and counteract. We sought out and executed those who were murdering Polish citizens in Bydgoszcz.
As an example of the Nazi's murderous retaliatory tactics, one day the Gestapo rounded up from the streets of Bydgoszcz twenty Poles, all men, including a priest. They lined them up against the wall of the Jesuit Church on Old Market Square. There one of the Gestapo began shooting the men, one by one, with his hand gun. Most of the men fell to the ground, killed instantly.
The one who was a priest, after being shot on the side of his head, put his hand to his head, then against the church wall as he fell.
After all twenty men had been killed, and their bodies removed, when it came to cleaning up the scene of the execution, it was found that the stain of the blood from the priest's hand remained on the church wall. Since everyone in Bydgoszcz soon heard of this phenomenon, I myself, curious, checked the scene out in disguise, the next day.
As I walked near the wall in the midst of the city traffic, I could see the imprint of the priest's bloody hand still on the wall.
The blood-stained hand on the wall of the Jesuit Church soon became an enormous problem for the Nazis. They tried to wash away the blood with detergents and acid, but to no avail. The imprint remained and continued to ooze blood.
So stonemasons were called in to chip away the stone at the place of the stain. That also did not work. After a few weeks the Germans decided to destroy the church, and it was leveled to the ground.
(Later, after the end of the war, the Polish communist government built a monument on the site of the massacre and former church, listing the names of all the victims of the Nazis. Today the Polish democratic government would like to rebuild the church on the same spot, as it was before the war.)
Forming an underground wasn't easy work. Countless bans and restrictions paralyzed life in the city. Communication during the day was restricted and a military curfew (under penalty of being shot on sight) was strictly enforced during the night. Polish people, however, were unabashed. They haunted the enemy at night despite the curfew, and the German military forces could not rest quietly at night.
There were assassinations and shootings in different parts of the city. The resistance was tough and untamable, however, because it consisted of so many small units, operating independently of one another and who didn't know much about one another. More bans and restrictions were imposed, but the resistance only increased.
To suppress this, the Gestapo invented new ways of retaliation, in one of which I nearly lost my life.
At the end of September, leaflets about the new government were distributed in the city. No Polish male could be in the city during work hours without special permission. Men were allowed to work only at officially approved jobs. Those who didn't respect this rule were subject to arrest and execution. I wasn't officially employed, but I got a fake Ausweiss with a fake name and the stamp of an employer accepted by the Germans. Polish girls working in the Gestapo offices got the Ausweiss for me. So I could move around the city.
One afternoon, at the end of September, I set up a meeting with my friend from the resistance on Grodzka Street. I wasn't lucky. At four p.m. I was captured with some others on Dluga Street. We were held there as hostages.
When hunting for those who had defended the city, fake documents were of little use.
The Germans would use local Volksdeutsch persons who would know the real name of those arrested. But the aim of my arrest was different. After reviewing our documents, twenty-five of us were told to sit down at the corner of Dluga and Grodska Street facing the wall. Four Gestapo soldiers aimed their machine guns at us. They told us that each shot during the night of the Polish resistance movement in the town would cost the life of one of us. They shot us by turn, as they heard shots in the city. I was twenty-third in line, so I was among the last three of those held hostage.
The following night, we lived through hell waiting for death. At first, I hoped for a miracle and waited for the tide to turn, but when--after each faraway shot--one of my unfortunate fellow hostages was shot, I made my examination of conscience and prayed for this to end as soon as possible.
At dawn there were only two living persons squatting in line ahead of me. The killers, while waiting for the next shots, drank and joked. They laughed loudly while continuing their deadly picnic.
After a long night sitting, facing the wall, I was so tired from fear and the night cold that I was stiff. Half-dead, I didn't care about anything, and started losing consciousness. Shivering, my head grew heavy and I started falling asleep. Then, suddenly, a light kick in my back woke me up.
I opened my eyes and saw a man standing beside me, with a Swastika on his arm. It was a Volksdeutsch who was sorry for us Poles. He pointed to the drunk Gestapo--asleep as though dead.
"Run!" he whispered, "Run away! ... What are you waiting for?"
I tried to move, but my legs were stiff and unable to move.
"Get up and run, you dummy!" he repeated, "before the Gestapo wake up!"
He kicked me in the back again. The corner of the street was just a few meters to go, but it was hard for me to move, or to reach it, with my numb and shaky legs. I crawled to Grodzka Street.
Then I felt my legs start to respond and become resilient again. I got up and walked, faster and faster. It was five a.m.
I didn't get back to my hiding place, however, before 7 a.m. because of the curfew. But by jumping from one gate to another, I managed to reach the bridge on the River Brda. I hid underneath it and waited till seven.
Then I made my way back to the apartment in Jachice, where Aunt Frania started to cry as soon as she caught sight of me.
"Oh my God, Chesiek, where have you been? What have you been doing?
I thought you got caught and were killed.! Can you imagine how I felt? I have been so nervous!"
"I got caught by the Germans. It's a miracle they didn't shoot me!" I then told her the whole story. My aunt wrung her hands and vowed she would never let me out again. She wouldn't let me risk my life again. She cried and groaned.
Afterwards she made me some breakfast, and I fell asleep and slept nearly all day. When I felt better, she was unable to dissuade me from my determination to go out again and to continue my dangerous work. Then, after two days, I met an old girlfriend by chance, which made me act even more daringly against the enemy... More...