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Lest you are feeling too comfortable and secure under current circumstances, I offer this from this morning’s reading from the autobiography by Lech Walesa:
When I was born at half past three on the morning of September 29, 1943, my father Boleslaw was in a Nazi concentration camp. His arrest had come without any waring for his family, when I was still in my mother Felicja’s womb. One dark night, policemen on horseback arrived, searched our home, found something incriminating, and took my father away with them. Later they came back to do another search and stole my mother’s watches and rings. My mother was in despair: they had taken her wedding ring. She told me later that she was sure it meant that her husband would never return, that her married life was over.
The men arrested were first detained at Chalin, in a building that after the war was turned into a school I later attended. I remember seeing blood still staining the walls from the savage beatings the Nazis had inflicted. Afterward, my father was sent to the camp at Mlyniec. That winter the prisoners lay on the ground in unheated cells; their hair froze while they slept and stuck to the frost-covered walls; worn down by hunger and illness, they soon began dying. My mother tried every means possible to smuggle food in for my father, and sometimes she succeeded. She would slip out of the house in the middle of the night and take secret paths through the forest, so as not to be spotted by the Germans. As long as my father was in a work camp, some contact was possible. Mama went through the forest, weeping, praying that her trip wouldn’t be in vain.
My family had always been very close. My father’s brother was killed during World War I. One day he went off to fight and he never came back. We don’t even know where he is buried. Grandmother Walesa, born Glonek, was a very pious woman, and for the rest of her life she continued to pray for her son’s return. She was never able to accept his death. He had been in the cavalry, and sometimes she ran out to the road, convinced, she’d heard the sound of approaching hoofbeats.
The people of our village hated the Nazis, who had destroyed heir world. Under the occupation, two Germans lived in Popowo: Krepeic and Broch. Two Polish families, the Bialoskorskis and the Uminskis, were thrown out of their homes so that Krepiec and Broch could move in. Krepiec and Broch were themselves hostile to their Polish neighbors, but the daughter of one of them fell in love with a Polish farmhand who had snatched her from the jaws of death when she got herself caught between the gears of a combine. Love conquered all, and everyone in the village knew about it – and benefited from it. The young woman always warned the people when the Nazis were about to come to the village.
It was commonly understood that slaughtering a pig for food, like taking food to the partisans, was very dangerous. All meat belonged to the occupiers. Apparently, before he was arrested, my father had tried to slaughter a pig. He stunned the animal, but didn’t stick it with enough force, so the pig came to, escaped, and trotted off into the woods covered in blood. The police followed its tracks to our house, and things looked black. But thanks to some miracle, possibly in the form of a bribe, the whole business was hushed up. The pig, however, was confiscated.
Wehmacht deserters turned up regularly in the vicinity of the village, and I know that our family, among others, hid them. They sometimes took shelter in the stables, and children brought them soup in pails so small they looked like toys. The partisans used the forest not far from the village of Brudzenio as their hideout, and the children took food to them, too, sometimes covering a distance of nearly three miles.
After the war, corpses were discovered in Brudzenio (where today there is a cross over a mass grave), It was there that the Nazis executed people, especially the young men, from the surrounding villages. The grisly chore of exhuming the bodies was performed by those Germans who had failed to get away and were still living in the neighborhood. They were ordered to dig up the earth with their bare hands, pull out the corpses, wash them, and then line them up neatly. When they had finished, the Poles gathered to identify their loved ones. In agonies of grief they threw themselves on the Germans and beat them, until an officer forced them to stop and to stand aside. What they saw overwhelmed them all. Some of the disinterred bodies had their hands over their mouths, as though trying to keep out the dirt. They had probably been buried alive.
My father was lucky enough to die at home. After the war he returned to Popowo, but lived only another two months before succumbing to exhaustion and illness. … – Pages 129-131
Thankfully, nothing even remotely like this could ever happen here.
(SIDENOTE: I humbly suggest that this is a good companion piece to something I posted five years ago: Horse Tales from the Abyss. The meat of that older post is taken from some “fiction” written by Victor Serge. Like Walesa, Serge knows very well much of what he translates to us.)Published in