19. War

Our 18th Regiment, less the 2nd Battalion left behind to defend the highway, finally managed to reach Inowroclaw after being subjected to many attacks by German aircraft. We began to prepare to defend the city from tank attack. Col. Parafinski and I chased all over this fairly large city to supervise construction of anti-tank barriers because our troops, tired from the night-long march, did not display sufficient energy. During the day the city was bombed by German planes several times and the Germans had no losses because our anti-aircraft defense was very modest and there was no opposition from the Polish air force at all. Late that night we received orders to move into a forest southeast of Inowroclaw to defend the important highway passing through the forest, Polish reconnaissance planes having spotted large German tank forces moving along this highway. When Col. Majewski and I went on a side road from the forest toward the highway, our driver stopped suddenly and began to back into the forest which was very close to the highway. After crawling back to the edge of the forest we noticed two large objects which we found to be German tanks. Their crews were probably asleep because they had not noticed our car.

That day Col. Majewski received orders directly from the General Staff to send me immediately to the Staff in Warsaw. This was September 3rd, but I could leave only on the 5th using the motorcycle belonging to one of our sergeants because the regiment had no vehicles and railroads were at a complete standstill under attacks of German aircraft. It took me two days to cover the distance of 130 kilometers to Warsaw: all highways were so clogged with troops, reserves and evacuee civilians that I had to walk most of the way, and push the motorcycle. On the night of September 7th I reached Skierniewice through Kutno and Lowicz. My apartment was locked, and I could not find out either from neighbors or from soldiers in the barracks what had happened to my wife, some believed that she had been evacuated together with officers' families in the direction of Demblin. We started for Warsaw right away. Warsaw was in ruins from enemy bombardment, and streets were bisected by anti-tank ditches. I tried to find President Livytsky and Gen. Salsky all night, but they had all left in the direction of Kholm. At the Ukrainian Committee headquarters I found most senior Ukrainian leaders with Gen. Bezruchko and Gen. Zmienko, but they knew nothing about President Livytsky or General Salsky, and even less about my wife, although I had hoped that she might have come to Warsaw.

At 8 A.M. I reported to the City Command, and at 10 A.M. to Chief of the General Staff, General W. Stachiewicz who only greeted me, and directed me immediately to his deputy. Col. Jaklicz. The latter informed me as follows: the Germans were advancing along the entire Polish-German border spearheaded by strong tank columns, and north of the Warsaw-Kalisz line there were at least two tank divisions in the Army of General Blaskowitz. There was very heavy fighting in the Kutno area, west of Lowicz and in Upper Silesia. All Polish means of communication were disrupted and the Staff maintained only radio contact with its Armies. The Staff was making all possible effort to assemble reserves, halt the enemy advance at least temporarily, and to prepare for a defense of Warsaw along the Modlin-Zegrze-Zyrardow line. The object was to gain at least a little time before the Franco-British front would become activated. The General Staff was aware of a possible Russian invasion and was planning to organize a defense of Galicia; for this purpose two Ukrainian brigades would be created under my command. For the time being I was to go by car to a forest region east of Praga (suburb of Warsaw), and there with the help of several platoons of Military Police halt the eastward flow of disorganized units of the 1st Polish Army. These units were coming into the area from Pultusk, I was to reorganize them and wait for orders to use them in defense of the Radzymin-Modlin front. This proposition was conditional, i.e. if I did not wish to declare my contract void. According to the provisions in our contracts and oral assurances between our Government and Poland, we had the right to terminate our contracts, particularly in the event of war against Germany. It was unthinkable to be wearing the uniform of a Polish soldier and to take it off at a rime of Poland's calamity in any case I never even considered it, and most of our contract officers stayed in the armed forces and discharged their duty with honor.

During the night several officers under my command assembled about 6,000 men, and they were immediately joined by their officers. We fed them and let them rest for the night. But right before dawn German aircraft bombed and strafed the woods in several sorties, and the men dispersed all over the countryside again. From the accurate and deliberate German attack I had the feeling as though the Germans had been well informed of our assembly in the woods. I dispatched one of the MPs with a report of the happenings to the General Staff, and in return I received orders to proceed to Garwolin which was the location of the reserve battalion of our regiment. There I found Battalion commander Major Kolendowski with a small staff, waiting for the rest of the battalion. Major Kolendowski knew nothing about my wife and thought that she had left with the entire "officer family" for Kowel and Rozyszcze in Volhynia. I was much disturbed by this news because she could easily fall into Communist hands, but instinctively I had confidence in her calm nature and ability to foresee events.

When a large number of soldiers gathered in the region of Krasnystaw from different units, I was appointed chief of staff of Colonel Bratro who commanded a composite brigade with parts of the 18th Infantry Division and we received orders to capture the city of Kholm, already in German hands. The night operation prepared by me was not carried out because the Germans abandoned Kholm during the night. In the forests of Kholm, Hrubeshiv and Zamostia many soldiers gathered and there I found my teachers and colleagues from the Staff and Command College. Col. Wislocki was there as chief of staff of the 39th Infantry Regiment and at the same time chief of staff of the Gen. Olbrycht Operational Group. I was appointed commander of a group consisting of: Col. Bratro's group (he was already a prisoner of the Germans), Col. Wania's group, Col. Szulewicz's group with an anti-aircraft battery under Lt. Laszkiewicz and Lt.-Col. Gumowski's group.13 The task of the group was to defend the region of the city of Krasnobrod to provide cover for evacuation behind the defense line to the south in the direction of Romania.

But this was already September 23, the Germans were entering Warsaw and the Communists were approaching the Lviv-Sokal line. We were between the hammer and the anvil, but I organized a defense of Kransnobrod and fighting there went on for two days. I was in the first line and this gave an opportunity to observe the courage and sacrifices of Polish soldiers, especially officers under my command: one lieutenant badly wounded in the leg did not leave his machine-gun until he had shot all ammunition, and only then consented to my order to be carried to an ambulance. On the other hand, there was also reason to admire the Germans in attack: they marched in combat columns under fire as if on parade. All around us were hundreds of corpses, dead horses, wrecked cannon, wagons with ammunition and supplies, a terrible sight of disaster even to a soldier who had often looked death in the eye before. A notice reached me from Col. Wislocki that Soviet troops were approaching Ostrovets at a distance about twelve kilometers from us, and that I was to attend a conference that night called by Gen. Olbrycht. A fairly large number of officers attended, and after informing us of the situation Gen. Olbrycht offered a way out: to surrender either to the Germans or Russians. There was a heavy silence and I took the floor and stated that surrendering to the Bolsheviks meant torture, and for me certain gallows. A majority sided with me, but some decided to go to the Bolsheviks. The next day we permitted the men to go home, and we officers under the command of Gen. Olbrycht travelled in a column of cars to Ostrovets where we surrendered to the Germans and they transported us to Kielce. There, we were placed in barracks of the 4th Artillery Regiment: several days without food, only "German coffee" once a day, without water to wash in, and sleeping accommodations on the bare floor.

During the battle of Krasnobrod I felt a pain in my neck behind the left ear, and I probably infected the little wound with soiled hands and it grew to a large swelling. Only on Col. Wislocki's intervention with the Germans in Kielce, I was taken in high fever to a hospital where the swelling was cut, and the doctor extracted a fragment of steel, probably from a grenade. After two weeks I was taken to the Offlag in Breslau, but I was still in the camp hospital under care of a Polish POW physician. Unfortunately, I did not have enough strength to note the name of the physician who performed a real miracle on me. My condition was very critical: I would not eat anything, and I did not sleep at all: I was saved by injections. I was put before a German medical board which, seeing my hopeless condition, released me from camp with permission to return home. The Polish physician even asked me where I should be taken because the chief German surgeon permitted me to ride in an ambulance at my disposal. I asked to be taken back to Kielce, to the home of our Captain V. Zarytsky. The Ukrainian Colonel M. Krat, my colleague from the years 1919-1920 visited me in Kielce. He had been formerly deputy commander of our 3rd Iron Division, and not only an experienced field officer, but a fine gentleman. I told him my fears about the fate of my wife and he offered to go to Skierniewice to look for her. She had, indeed, returned to Skierniewice, and Col. Krat found her there. This was the end of October.

This was the story of my wife. On September 1, the Germans bombed the barracks in Skierniewice, and all who were alive fled to the countryside with Major Kolendowski, and from there, according to plan, toward Kholm. After the bombing my wife sent her maid to the barracks to find out where the officers' wives were, and what she was to do. The barracks were on fire, and nobody was there to ask. My wife went out of the house and after telling a policeman what had happened, asked for his advice. He immediately sent her a requisitioned buggy, and my wife, accompanied by the maid and her husband who acted as coachman because the owner fled the first night, proceeded in the direction of Demblin and then east. After two weeks of travelling on country roads, she reached Kowel, 400 kilometers from Skierniewice. After two or three days in Kowel the maid's husband came running with the alarming news that the bolsheviks were entering the city. They barely managed to escape because the roads were again clogged with refugees, she then decided to go back to Skierniewice. The Vistula had to be crossed in Demblin over a German-built pontoon bridge and the German sentries refused to let her cross. My wife could not make herself understood to the sentries, but when she showed them a map and pointed to Skierniewice as her home, the Germans let her across. It took two more weeks for her to get back to Skierniewice. Our home had been plundered by the Germans who took all my uniforms and civilian clothes, a large collection of postage stamps, and a sword presented to me by our government with the signatures of President Livytsky and General Salsky on the handle. After the Germans, local civilians completed the looting, including all the furniture, the leader of the looters, as I was told later, being the janitor of a near-by school. In 1945 this janitor was appointed mayor of the city by the Communists. Meanwhile my wife found shelter in the home of a sergeant, and there she was found by Col. Krat. From there they both went to my brother in Lodz with the intention to go to me to Kielce. Things turned out fortunately for us; at that time I had sent a letter to my brother through a young Polish officer who had been released together with me being ill with TB. I wrote in the letter that as soon as I felt better I would join him. The letter reached my brother just at the time when my wife got there. I found them both there on November 6.

During my stay with my brother where I was still undergoing treatment, I was visited by local Ukrainians, and one of them, Col. Nahnybida told me that there was a Ukrainian officer attached to the German District Command. He was Capt. Professor I. Mirchuk whom we all knew as the Director of the Ukrainian Scientific Institute in Berlin. My friends decided that it would be a good thing for me to get a letter of recommendation from Dr. Mirchuk to the commander of Skierniewice. I got the letter of recommendation, but when I presented it to the commander in Skierniewice, he shouted at me and asked who gave me permission to appeal to Capt. Mirchuk. True, I was not put under arrest, but the commander rubbed his hands in sadistic joy and ordered me to report three times a day at the commandantura. This reporting prevented me finding any job, and here we were at our wits' end. We received some food from the Skierniewice City Council, headed by a former teacher of the local high school, H. Wittenberg who was of German descent. Soon, however, a new commander was appointed who was a more humane person because he issued orders that Polish officers were to report only once a day, and this was cut to twice a week a few months later.

 

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[13] Copy (translated from Polish) of Gen Olbrycht's order of September 23, 1939:

No. 85/op. Mp. Sept. 23, 1939, 17:45 Two groups are formed:

1. Under Staff Colonel Duch, composed of units of the 39th D.P. 6 pap. and B/Plot from the Group Command.

2. Under Colonel Szandruk, composed of: Col. Bratro's group, Col. Wania's group, Col. Szulewicz's group, and B/P. Lot of 2nd Lieut. Laszkiewicz and the group of Lt.-Col. Gumowski.

Commander of the 39th D.P.

(-) OLBRYCHT, General of the Army