• Jaroslaw Wietlicki,
    Sroda Wlkp, PolandMORE...

    My name is Jaroslaw Ferdinand Wietlicki, and I was born on October 8, 1925, in Wejherowo. When I was a toddler, the whole family moved to Brwinow, which is near Warsaw, where my father worked as a teacher at the local agricultural school. Later on, I studied at the primary school there, and also took part in the Polish Scout organization.

    In 1939, I got enrolled in a grammar school in Pruszkow, which is also near Warsaw. While I was getting ready for my exams to enter the grammar school, I heard some alarming news about the war, which started on September 1, 1939. I was too young to understand the real meaning of this word. Of course, I heard our teachers and other people talking a lot about the coming war, but I couldn't really imagine it. It was only later, on the night of 12-13 September, that I finally understood what it was all about, when I saw a real battle between the Polish and the German troops.

    I saw the Polish troops retreating. It wasn't a panic flight at all. They had to retreat, because the German army was far too strong for them to resist. After one of the German air raids I saw holes in the ground five meters in diameter! I was really proud of the bravery of our soldiers. Once I saw a Polish officer who was wounded in his leg. He couldn't walk anymore, but in spite of this he kept shooting at the approaching enemy, and he even managed to kill two Germans. Then he crawled into a hiding place in some basement, but the Germans found him there and shot him dead, which wasn't a very common thing in the beginning of the war. In any other situation like this the Germans preferred to take prisoners. But not that time.

    Back in May of 1939, the citizens of Brwinow bought a machine-gun cart, one of those things often used by Makhno's army. They gave it away to the Polish army, and it was standing on the market square. In the beginning of September, right before the German attack, I heard one of the officers say to the local people, "It was a good job that you bought that machine-gun cart! Now it is going to protect you!" And they did make a good use of it in order to defend our town against the enemy.

    The Germans took Brwinow on September 13, 1939. They surrounded the house we used to live in, and told everybody to come out. Fortunately, my aunt was staying with us at that time. She was a teacher of German language, so she could explain to them that the house was not a military unit, but an agricultural school. I think this saved our lives, because they were definitely about to shoot us. Besides, they noticed our school flag that featured a peasant with a plough. They understood that it was a school indeed and allowed us to return to the building.

    120 Polish soldiers were killed on that memorable night of September 12-13. The Polish Red Cross gathered the bodies and buried them at the local cemetery. As for that wounded officer I have told you about, the one who was shot in the basement where he was hiding, we buried him near that very building, together with those two Germans he had killed before his death. In the evening of September 13, I walked the same way as the retreating Polish troops and found 4 short rifles with full ammunition belts. Being a Polish scout, I understood that those were Polish weapons and that they must be hidden somewhere. I didn't think much of the consequences. The only thing I knew was that I had to hide them. Be that as it may! So I found a good hiding place in the attic of an abandoned building, although it turned out later that the Germans arranged their headquarters in that building. However, they never searched the attic, so the rifles were safe there.

    I knew that those rifles would come in handy one day. It wasn't very difficult to get them, as the Germans often left the building with only one or two guards. However, I believed that the time wasn't right yet. In fact, two years later those guns gave me a wonderful opportunity first to join ZWZ (The Union of Armed Struggle), and then Armia Krajowa.

    I was a Polish scout then. During the war we were known as Gray Ranks (Szare Szeregi). However, I was willing to join the real armed forces. That is why I told noone of my scout friends about the rifles I had found. The father of one of my friends was a lieutenant colonel in the Polish army, and he knew about my aspiration. So he advised me to go straight to the Union of Armed Struggle, and then to Armia Krajowa. He also gave me a good reference, without which I couldn't have gotten there.

    In 1940, I started attending a clandestine school in order to finish my secondary education. Some courageous teachers continued their work regardless of the new rule that prohibited teaching in Polish. The same applied to my father, who used to teach wine-making in the local agricultural school before the war. As he was now deprived of his job, he decided to use his knowledge in a somewhat different way and to earn his living by making home-distilled spirits. I remember taking those huge bottles of homemade alcohol to Warsaw, where we sold them to a couple of restaurants. We didn't earn a lot, but at least it was something. To finish up with this story, I'll tell you that in 1943 father fell badly ill, so my mother and I had to continue his business until the end of the war.

    It's needless to say that life was pretty hard during the war. We were constantly short of money. From time to time my father received some grain from his school, and mother used it to make brown bread. It was a great moment when once a week we weighed this bread and divided it between the members of our family. There were five kids, and since I was the eldest, I was in charge of dividing it among my siblings. Besides that, we used to grow pumpkins on a patch of land near the school, so we could cook a lean soup with this pumpkin. It was delicious, especially when our mother added some milk in it. In fact, we ate so much pumpkin, that I couldn't bear the sight of it for several years after the war. But during the war, we were happy to have any food whatsoever.

    My mother managed to keep some hens that gave us eggs. She also tried to keep a pig, but it proved to be impossible to find enough food for it. Besides the pumpkin, we also managed to grow some vegetables, you know, carrots, parsley... But it was very scanty indeed.

    Heating was yet another great problem. We had furnaces, but there was no coal, because it was all taken away by the Germans. So I either stole some coal from them or went with my dad to a nearby field to cut some willow. But this wood was very bad for heating, of course.

    In 1942, I finally joined the Union of Armed Struggle and did a course in communication. During the following two years, together with my mates, I had to watch the movement of the German troops and transmit this information further, so that the Polish command could know the exact location of the German units. I became really well-versed in their symbols and codes. I believe this job also developed my observation skills.

    The training course was far from easy. For example, one of the assignments was to disassemble a pistol and then to assemble it again. It wasn't difficult in daylight, but we had to do it in pitch darkness. And we did it! The training we received was really good. It couldn't be otherwise though. After all, we were supposed to work for a secret military organization.

    After a year of training I became a member of the communications service. Because of my dark skin, they nicknamed me a "negro." There were other nicknames as well, but that one was the most popular.

    My major responsibility in the communications service was to transmit information. For example, some important information was written on a sheet of paper, encoded of course, and it had to be transmitted. There was an agreement that I would leave this note somewhere near a tree or a bench, and when I was doing it, another AK member was already watching me from a hiding place. He couldn't approach me straight away, of course. Only when I was far away, he would come up to this bench and take the note. The information was very well encoded, so nobody but a trained person was able to read it. This is how we worked.

    In autumn of 1942, we found out that the German troops were marching towards Podkowa Lesna. So I was sent there, together with another mate, to transmit this information. It was autumn, and I remember wearing a raincoat. Anyway, we came there and left everything with a Jewish family. Unfortunately we spent a bit more time there than we had to, because when we left the house, we found ourselves surrounded by the Germans. I got scared because I had a notebook with some codes in my pocket. What a fool I was to take it with me! The Germans frisked us, but apparently they were looking specifically for weapons. Luckily, we didn't have any. I, for one, never carried any arms at all. So, having found nothing, they let us go. We found out later that they didn't hurt the Jewish family either. The master of the house was quite well-off, so they just enjoyed his hospitality a bit and most probably took a handsome bribe.

    I remained with the local AK unit until the first half of 1944. On August 1, the Warsaw Uprising began, and I found myself in Warsaw on that day. The thing was that most of my relatives, including my grandfather, lived there. In fact, one month before the uprising we were told to shuttle all the weapons from Brwinow to Podkowa Lesna. So we understood that something was about to happen, but none of us knew what exactly that would be. We all hoped for some massive breakthrough though.

    As we found out later, the plans of Armia Krajowa were the following. After the beginning of the uprising, they were planning to announce a massive draft, and all the AK units were supposed to pull in towards Warsaw. However, it turned out that the eastern units were not able to join the fight, because they had all their arms taken by the approaching Soviet Army. The same thing happened to the southern AK units. As for our unit, we didn't rush to Warsaw, although it wasn't that far away from where we were located. The truth was that our commander, lieutenant colonel Zigmund Marszewski refused to send us, young boys with almost no weapons, to a place where we would certainly be killed.

    So we remained in Podkowa Lesna, watching the well-equipped Polish troops march towards Warsaw. We met them, and I gave them some grenades, which I had found in the beginning of the war, hoping that they would make better use of them.

    Later I found out that a Pole, who was working for Hilfspolizei, or the so-called Blue Police, reported to the Germans that a Polish military unit was staying in Podkowa Lesna. Surrounded by the Germans, the Polish soldiers hid in a barn, and when the enemies entered the barn, they threw those grenades that I had given to them. However, the Germans had already closed the door, so the explosion took place inside the barn. All the people rushed outside from the back door, trying to save their lives in a nearby grove. The Germans opened machine-gun fire, and got everybody killed. They say that one wounded soldier managed to escape, but this information was not confirmed. Either way, the high command of Armia Krajowa found out about the incident and made sure that the Polish polizei who had betrayed our soldiers was put on trial for treason and executed.

    After the Warsaw Uprising, the Germans signed an agreement, according to which AK members were considered to be soldiers, so they were not to be taken to concentration camps, but rather be treated as prisoners of war. Moreover, they promised to establish hospitals for the wounded. One of such hospitals was organized in the same school building in Brwinow where I used to live. So I worked in that hospital as an assistant, transporting the wounded soldiers from other hospitals to Brwinow. Once I was carrying a stretcher with a soldier who was wounded in his lungs. I slipped on something, and the soldier fell to the ground. We put him back quickly on the stretcher and rushed to hospital. I was very afraid that he might develop internal bleeding because of this fall, but luckily everything turned out to be fine. I was very happy about that, because if he had died because my stupid action I don't know how I would have lived with that burden.

    There was another unpleasant situation connected with that hospital. I used to have a girlfriend Barbara. Once we were strolling near the hospital where we both worked. Suddenly we heard some Germans shouting something to us. We didn't know what they wanted from us, so we got scared and took to our heels. We ran into some abandoned building, and it appeared that we had no other choice, but to jump from a window. Barbara was afraid to jump, but I persuaded her to do it. And she did. But that was an unlucky jump for her, since she ended up with an open fracture of two bones of her leg. To make it worse, I suddenly realized that the German soldiers had already given up on the idea of looking for us and were going in a different direction. I carried Barbara to the hospital. Unfortunately, the break didn't heal well, and she remained handicapped for the rest of her life. I still feel guilty for ruining her life. She managed to get married after the war, but her husband wasn't a very good guy. Her life was very difficult. I will never stop blaming myself for persuading her to jump out that window.

    I continued working in that hospital from the second half of 1944 until the very end of the war. We tried to cheer up the wounded by arranging some parties, reciting poems, celebrating Christmas, of course.

    In January 1945, the high command of Armia Krajowa officially declared the suspension of its activity, and everybody was allowed to serve our country in any way they wanted to make it a free, independent and democratic state. However, for me the war was not over yet, as in March 1945 I was arrested by NKVD. Surprisingly enough, I can't remember how much time I spent in captivity. The only thing I remember were those two guys, Sasha and Misha, who "took care" of me. Once, I asked Misha if he had a mother. "Sure," he answered. Then I asked him again, "Imagine you were arrested like me now, and your mom knew that you didn't do any harm, that you were totally innocent. What would she think about those people who kept you in prison? Huh? Now listen what my mom would think of you!" He got furious and started shouting at me. Nevertheless, I think that conversation saved my life. Since that time they treated me a bit differently, and finally released.

    When I was still in the NKVD prison, they asked me if I wanted to join the pro-Communist Polish Army. Naturally I couldn't say anything else but yes. I also added that I could work as a driver, because I had a driving license. When I was released, I went straight to General Florian Siwicki who was responsible for recruitment. I told him that I was too young and I had exams to take in August in order to get my secondary education certificate. I pleaded with him to let me go and finish my education. He wasn't sure what to do with me. Eventually, when I came the next morning, he gave me an official note that allowed me to go home.

    In August 1945, I passed my exams and received the so-called "minor" certificate of secondary education. I only asked them to release me from Latin. We didn't have a course in Latin at that clandestine Polish school. So now my certificate of secondary education has a note saying specifically that I didn't sit an exam in Latin.

    After the war I found a job as a teacher at a vocational college in Radzymin, but in 1955 I was fired. The first reason was that one my students smeared a portrait of Stalin with ink. Besides, some students asked me if they could go to church for confession. I told them that in our country it was not prohibited to go to church, so anybody could attend a church service if they wanted to. And on the very next Sunday the whole class appeared in church. Finally, it was revealed that I had served in Armia Krajowa. So they blamed me for perverting the youth and exerting bad influence on them, and I lost my job.

    I moved to the Poznan province and found a job at a technical school. Everything was good until the Polish Communist agents found me there. They approached the headmaster and told him that I had a bad reference as a teacher.

    This crazy hunt continued until 1970. During all this time I was constantly interrogated by various agents who would always find pretexts to pick at me. Only in 1970 one of them told me that Armia Krajowa was already becoming history. He also added that I had been very smart to avoid all sorts of bold statements, so nobody could find a good reason to accuse me of anything.

    Finally, I must tell you that I was really lucky to survive that long war since its very beginning in September 1939 until its very end. Thank God for that! Yes, I had some small wounds and injuries, but it doesn't count. Now every time I come to church, I always talk to God and thank Him for sparing my life.

  • Ludwik Miesiek,
    Poznan, PolandMORE...

    My name is Ludwik Miesiek, and I was born on September 12, 1926 in a small town Pleszew. There I studied in primary school and was about to enter grammar school in 1939 if it wasn't for the war that broke out and ruined all our plans.

    My father was in the military and his unit was stationed in Pleszew. In early September the families of the military officers were to be evacuated to the south of Poland to keep them from the approaching front line. We all hoped we'd be safe there.

    So we were heading for a small town Komarno, near Lviv which was still Poland at that time. The distance was about 450 km, but we had to cover a good 1200 km, as we had to make a lot of detours because of the Polish soldiers marching westward. We were supposed to arrive at Komarno on September 2, but we came there only on the 9th. Right when we were arriving to our final destination we were attacked by the German planes. Out of 280 people who were present there - mostly women and underage children - I for one was only 13 years old - 116 people were killed, and the rest were wounded, including me. My brother died lying on the ground by my side. There were six planes: some dropped the bombs, and the others shot at those who tried to save their lives hiding in the nearby cornfield.

    Later in September 1939 the hostilities were halted, and a new borderline was marked between Germany and the Soviet Union. We found ourselves on the Soviet territory with no possibility to come back home.

    It took a while before Germany finally signed an agreement with the USSR so the Poles could go back home. We didn't return to Pleszew though, but to a small village near Ostrow Wielkopolski where my father's parents lived. Some time later our dad joined us there. He had been fighting at the front and was taken prisoner near Warsaw. After a lucky escape from the camp he headed straight to the village where his parents lived, and the whole family was reunited. The local people didn't know much about my father as he had lived in Pleszew. Since nobody could report to the Germans that he had been in the army, my father pretended to be a musician. That wasn't much of a lie, as he could play a lot of musical instruments indeed and he had been a conductor of a military orchestra. So, the Germans issued a new passport for him, without ever finding out that he had been a military officer and had taken part in Wielkopolske rebellion back in 1918.

    I remember when we were still staying in Komarno I was once arrested by a Ukrainian militia man near Lviv opera house. I think it was because I was wearing my gymnasium uniform. He checked my documents and having found out that I was from western Poland he said that I was exactly the kind of person NKVD (The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs) was looking for. At that time the NKVD office in Lviv was headed by colonel Serov, who worked under a pseudonym Ivanov and was Beria's right-hand man. His job was to ensure the resettlement of Polish intelligentsia from Lviv further to the east of the USSR, to Siberia. Of course I was too young to understand all this at that time. So, when they brought me to St.Bridget monastery where NKVD had its headquarters, and a man called Ivanov started to interrogate me, I was completely unaware who that person was and how dangerous it might be. He asked me about very common things, about our everyday life in western Poland before the war, about our family relations, about the way people treated each other in general, life at school, common holidays and celebrations... This kind of stuff.

    There was only one interpreter, a very beautiful woman, the wife of a Polish major who was at war and had not returned yet. I have no idea why she was working for NKVD, maybe she was forced to or maybe she volunteered. Anyway, when Serov was called to pick up the phone, she told me that she was deeply impressed by my story and promised me to do everything she could to set me free from NKVD. I was very surprised to hear that. Why should they keep me imprisoned if I had committed no crime? She told me that I was too young to understand what NKVD was really about. When Serov came back, she did arrange things in such a way that they let me free.

    In May 1940 when we finally managed to return to Poland, to my grandparents' village Topola Mala near Ostrow Wielkopolski. At first I just stayed at home, with my family, studying languages - German and Italian. However, in 1942 there was a threat that they could send me somewhere to public works in Germany. So my father helped me to find a job in a dairy factory in Ostrow, so that I could receive a document confirming that I was officially employed.

    We both - my father and I - worked at that dairy factory, supervising the trucks that brought milk from the local farms to the factory and then went back to the farms with butter. Farmers were allowed to receive some butter in exchange for their milk. At that time my father became involved with a secret organization which was first called Polish Military Organisation (Polska Organizacja Wojskowa, POW) and later renamed as ZwiÄ…zek Walki Zbrojnej (ZWZ), meaning "The Union of Armed Struggle".

    And in 1942 following my father's steps I also joined ZWZ. Soon after that it was renamed as Armia Krajowa by a special order of general Sikorski who commanded it from his exile abroad. At first I did some office work, but later I was given more responsible tasks, such as transferring messages to other AK units across the region.

    My father was my immediate superior at that time and he gave me tasks to transfer messages to other regions of Poland. So I worked as a courier, riding my bicycle sometimes as far as several dozen kilometers away from home. I should note here, that according to the rule established by the Germans, a Polish person was not allowed use a bicycle unless his place of work was situated more than two kilometers away from his place of residence.

    It was the night of September 13-14, 1943 when the Allies planes dropped some weapons, maps and other intelligence for us in Tursk, which is near Pleszew. It was important that the Allies and our Polish secret organizations had the same maps so that they could know for sure where to drop weapons next time. In October 1943 I was sent there to get the maps. I forgot to mention that the Polish were required to paint a white stripe on the back of their bicycle seats so that the German police could tell who was riding. I made this stripe from a piece of white paper and would stick it to my seat with a chewing gum when necessary. This helped me to pretend to be German, which wasn't very difficult with my blond hair. Everything was ok on the way to Tursk, but on my way back to Ostrow I ran across a checkpoint. There was a Pole from Hilfspolizei standing with his back towards me, and two other policemen at some distance behind him. I didn't know what to do. As I had no white stripe on the back on by seat signifying that I was Polish, there was no other choice but to pretend to be German. I was supposed to greet a polizei with "Heil Hitler" slogan, but since the Pole was quite an old man and most probably hated Hitler, I decided to greet him with neutral "Guten Tag". In fact, he didn't see me coming, so when I approached them and said "Guten Tag", he got so startled that he let me pass without asking any questions. The two other policemen must have thought that the polizei knew me, so they didn't do anything either. I rode past them without accelerating the speed in order not to betray my fear. It was only when they remained far behind that I rushed forward and returned home half dead with fear.

    When my father gave those maps to the officer who was responsible for the contacts with the allies, he also told him about the checkpoint that I had run into. It was crucial information because we were planning to transport the weapons dropped by the Allies' planes by the same road. For that valuable information I was promoted to the rank of senior strilets (rifleman), which was one rank higher than that of a private. I was also awarded Bronze Cross with swords. A Bronze Cross was usually awarded in peace time, while the one with swords was awarded during the war. Besides, I was enrolled to a clandestine sub-officers' school. I was 19 at that time. In summer 1944 I passed all the necessary exams and was promoted to the rank of corporal. After that I became head of the raiding group of the Ostrow region of Armia Krajowa.

    January 18, 1945, marked the beginning of the mass draft for an open fight with the Germans. It took us only two days to drive the enemy away from Ostrow. Nevertheless, the AK commandment understood that the Soviet troops were approaching from the East and they were going to arrest all the members of Armia Krajowa. That is why a new draft was organized in order to protect the city. We arranged 5 brigades, known as Volunteer Defense Brigades.

    The Germans tried to recapture the city in order to get hold of the stocks of fuel and food. On January 24 they made an attack, but we managed to capture a German tank, turned it around and opened fire against the enemy. They got really scared because they thought that it was already the Soviet Army, as the AK troops could not possibly have such equipment. We managed to defend the city all by ourselves until the Red Army came to help us.

    The Red Army had a very peculiar style of fighting the Germans. Several tanks, the so called "cholewky" would cross the front line and hide somewhere waiting for the possibility to attack the enemy either from the rear or from a side. In our area they chose three locations: one was located near Krotoszyn, another was not far from Grabow, and the third one was in the vicinity of Odolanow. We sent our messengers there asking the Red Army to help us defend Ostrow. Our first messengers went to Krotoszyn by car, but the Russians took both the car and the weapons and our guys had no choice but to return home on foot. Аnother person went to Grabow by motorbike. This time we sent a former member of the Polish Border Corps, who was fluent in Russian. It proved to be very helpful indeed, because he managed to convince a Soviet commander to help us. They did send us three tanks that helped us defend the city.

    The Eastern front finally reached Ostrow on January 25, 1945. Major Fedchin thanked the defenders of the city and gave us three days to lay down the arms. AK members discarded some weapons indeed, but only those that were of the worst quality. According to the order issued by the AK commandment, we were not to disclose ourselves. In fact, there were 7 thousand armed AK members on the territory of the Third Reich. Rumors had it that the Soviets were failing to find a common language with the English, so the latter started negotiations with the Germans, which would mean World War III.

    In April 1945, lieutenant-colonel Andrzej Rzewuski, head of the Representation of Armed Forces in Poland and the last commander in chief of our local AK unit, created a new clandestine military organization which was called Wielkopolska Independent Military Secret Organization, uniting former AK warriors. However, by the end of 1945 it was totally eliminated by NKVD that launched an active campaign against all the remaining secret organizations in Poland. In November 1945 Andrzej Rzewuski received an order from the Polish government in exile to dissolve his organization, and in December he was arrested by Polish Communist group in Poznan. During the investigation he was kept in prison, where he committed suicide. At least, this is the official version. It is highly probably that he was killed.

    Throughout the whole period of German occupation we have changed 7 commanders in Poznan region alone, 5 out of whom were killed. This proves the fact how difficult and dangerous it was to organize the activity of such secret organizations as Armia Krajowa.

    I took up sport and joined our local flying club, without telling anybody about my former involvement with Armia Krajowa. The truth was only revealed in 1950. The thing was that I became really good at flying those small engineless planes (gliders), and in 1950 I took the first prize in the qualifying round for the First International Competition in Gliding. So I had to fill in a form where certainly there was a question about my previous involvement with any public or military organizations during the war. I thought that a lot of time had already passed, and all those events were already history. So I wrote that I used to be an AK member. This little fact caused an enormous scandal. The whole administration of the club was at the risk of being dismissed. Fortunately, our administration proved to have strong connections in the party and was supported by other clubs. So they gave me good references and explained that I was very young when I took part in the activity of Armia Krajowa. I escaped punishment, but I wasn't allowed to fly planes for a long time. Luckily, many of the former AK people were also members of local flying clubs. So they helped me to resume my flying career. Some time later I was even part of the Polish national air-gliding team.

    I started my professional career in 1952 building bridges and roads. One of my first bridge designs proved to be very suitable for our local Polish conditions, so it became a prototype of more than 500 bridges built throughout the country in those days.

    At first I worked as an independent engineer running my own design office. Later, in 1963, I was offered a position in Investproject which was a state-run design bureau. I accepted this invitation and took part in designing Winogrady and PiÄ…tkowo, new housing estates in Poznan. We also had major commissions in other parts of Poznan province, e.g. in Zielona Gora, Gorzow Wielkopolski, etc. I was involved in all kinds of projects: housing, sports centers, roads, you name it! I was so active and versatile that my work attracted the attention of Polservice, a state-run enterprise that worked outside Poland. They gave me a posting in Libya, in a city called Sebha, Fezzan province. It is located 1,000 km away from the Mediterranean coast in the Sahara desert. Our team was responsible for providing technical facilities for commemorating the 10th anniversary of Gaddafi revolution. You should have seen how much money was spent to organize that event. While in Libya I also witnessed a diversion against Gaddafi. I stayed in Lybia from 1977 to 1980, and then came back to Poland where I continued working for Investproject. In 1986, at the age of 60, I took my retirement. In addition to usual pension I also receive some bonuses as a veteran.

    After the political reforms in 1989 we created the World Union of Armia Krajowa members. I was its cofounder meaning that I personally established 15 local units ("hurtka"). I also became member of the okreg commandment, first as the head of the Southern Wielkoplski ispektorat, and then as the deputy head of the Poznan okreg. I am still holding this position, which I am very proud of.

  • Miechyslaw Pienkowski,
    Poznan, PolandMORE...

    My name is Miechyslaw Pienkowski. I was born on September 5, 1925, in Fordon, which used to be a separate area but is now a district in Bydgoszcz. My family had some troubles sustaining a living there because of my father's political past, so later we moved to Lublin, and my father worked there and I finished the first grade of the elementary school.

    In 1933, we found ourselves in Poznan. There my father took a position in the region administration. He was in charge working with the German national minority. Ever since World War I there had been lots of Germans here and they held strong positions in our community. My father noticed how the Germans were getting organized into Hitlerjugend and Hitlermadel, the League of German Girls, and beginning to prepare for the war. For example, they would hold some sort of sports competitions among themselves. But in reality they would gather to do drills and practice shooting. It was all hush-hush, but a lot of people were aware of those activities.

    Also, the Polish government was working with the Jews whom Germany was sending abroad. They were brought to the railway stations around western Poland, and my dad, under the government's special instruction, helped them find their relatives in Poland or a place to stay.

    In Poznan we were living in a three-bedroom flat on Kosciuszko Street. I had three sisters and a brother, although my youngest sister, Varvara, was born later, in 1941, in Sanok. My mum finished the conservatory and I remember we had a grand piano in our apartment. In 1938, I began to study at the Paderewski gymnasium. But already in August 1939, understanding that the war was approaching, my parents decided to move to the east.

    We the children, moved in August, and our parents set out on the night between September 2 and 3. They had different adventures on the way, with Ukrainians attacking the bus, but eventually they managed to reach Sanok. There we stayed with our grandparents, Karol and Maria Nowak. We were living on Potocki Street near the River San.

    On arrival to Sanok, my father purchased a bicycle and rode it to Warsaw, which was 400 km away. There he met his colleagues from a Polish military organization, which was then called Zwiazek Walki Zbrojnej (ZWZ), and got the position of an inspector in the locality in the Podkarpackie district. As for me, from 1940 I began studying at a two-year commerce school, and finished it. Then I started working as a cashier at a mill. That was why we were always able to get some flour and we never lacked bread. Besides, my father, as an Armia Krajowa inspector, also made quite good money.

    Later, having a desire to help my country, I joined the struggle as well. I made an oath to ZWZ, to a lieutenant Czastka on a private estate. We often changed the headquarters of our underground organization to avoid detection. One period of time we spent in Zarnowiec, where Maria Konopnicka's estate house was. At that time, her daughter was living in the house and my father was working in one of the rooms. All in all, our clandestine activity was quite successful: none of our people were caught, because we followed security measures. The problems started only when the Red Army arrived.

    Mainly, I was working as a messenger and getting assignments from my father. Most often I would deliver some messages or payments, sometimes documents or maps. There was a regulation that one couldn't turn on the lights, and so I had to ride my bike at night without a single light.

    Most often I was riding at weekends as I normally worked from Monday till Friday. It was quite dangerous because the Germans paid the Ukrainians 15 zloty for each Polish officer or underground group member caught. So the prisons were full of Poles. I never stayed long at any household or at a coffee house. I always had some bread with me. I also had some candles, as we were selling them. I was always careful and wary, so they never caught me.

    When in June 1941 Germany started the war with the Soviet Union, our life seemed to become easier, as the majority of the Germans went to the Eastern Front and there were fewer of them in our area. But the problem was that the Ukrainians, which knew its own neighbors much better than the Germans, were hunting down any Polish rebels quite aggressively, as they considered this was their land. So for us, it was much more dangerous.

    I had a friend who had studied with me at the commerce school; we also worked together in the resistance. But he wasn't careful. He got caught even before the war between Germany and the Soviet Union began. He actually frequented coffee houses and sang English songs there. They caught him and threw him in prison. Later, he perished in Auschwitz.

    The Russians entered our town at the end of July, beginning of August 1943. So they came to us very quickly. From what I remember, the Soviet soldiers were very poorly dressed and took away everybody's watches. However, the majority of the soldiers were Kalmyks under the command of a Russian, and their attitude to Poles was rather amiable.

    My father was an interpreter in Armia Krajowa, as he could speak both Russian and German. Together with Colonel Zworny, who was responsible for the district of Rzeszow, he was holding negotiations with the Red Army. There was this demand that Armia Krajowa was to be subordinate to the Red Army, but Armia Krajowa refused. A lot of people got arrested after that.

    In 1945, together with our mother, we moved to Poznan in an American car which the Soviets had. My sisters remained in Sanok. I began to work at a Poznan Cegielski plant. Some German prisoners of war were also working there. We watched over them and sometimes traded with the Germans because they always had very good cigarettes.

    After the war I entered the lyceum on Slowacki Street in Poznan. In 1946, I passed exams for my general certificate, then I entered the High Commerce School.

    In 1956, I passed exams for my master's degree and graduated from the High Commerce School. At the same time, I was working at the plant where I met my future wife. We had been engaged for four years and then got married. I considered continuing studying at the post graduate school but there was already no time for that, as we had two children and I had to take care of the family.

    After the war, my father could not work as a clerk because of his service in AK. So he worked at an enterprise, which was selling fish in Poland. When the trial proceedings against the fascist criminals started in Nuremberg, the Americans summoned my father to court as a witness. And after he came back, the Security Service searched our apartment and turned it upside down. They gave us a paper that said that the flat was searched in connection with the fact that my father had had contact with capitalists.

    While my father could not find any job after the war, he stayed at home and wrote down his memories. I, on the other hand, was the chief accountant at a different state enterprise and also I checked banks' financial statements in different Polish cities. Also, when I finished high school, I had to do my service. I was brought to Gniezno, which is in the north of greater Poland. There I had very good conditions and a good position. It was because I had already earned my master's degree and there were the People's Army officers preparing to take their general certificate exams, so I was training them.

    In the 1980s, I was working in the tax office in different positions, and I retired in 1990. But I continued working as an internal audit director at a private enterprise called "Finansist."

    After the fall of the communist regime in Poland in 1989, we organized the World Union of Armia Krajowa members. There I'm responsible for the financial matters in the greater Poland district because I've been dealing with finances practically all my life. I started keeping books while a young man at the mill in Sanok, and have kept doing it throughout all my life.

  • Urszula Hoffmann,
    Poznan, PolandMORE...

    My name is Urszula Hoffmann. I was born on June 15, 1922, in Poznan, Poland. When I was young, I was homeschooled. I really wanted to go to school where there were other children, and eventually my parents allowed me to attend one with my sister, Elizaveta. At the time, we all lived in a three-bedroom apartment on Wiankowa Street, in one of the houses the Germans had left behind after the First World War. But my mother wanted to move to a bigger place, so we moved into a six-bedroom apartment on Ogrodowa, where I began middle school. The war started in my fourth year.

    At the time, I was part of the Zwiazek Harcerstwa Polskiego Polish Scouts Organization. We were mostly older kids, even some who finished school already and were attending university. One of them was Irena Petri - a girl who took lead and helped to organize the scouts. Once the war started, we decided to take boys into our circle. Then some of our members brought their friends. It was important that we could trust everyone in attendance.

    We were a group of thirty scouts. We called ourselves The Beavers, and we soon integrated into the Gray Ranks - the underground resistance. We had decided to name ourselves The Beavers because we gathered every week near the river, in a small town near Poznan called Lubon. We would build a small camp near the river each week and when we returned it would be destroyed. We couldn't figure out who was doing this, it was such a desolate place, but we soon realized it was the beavers. So we took the name.

    The functions of our organization were broad. One thing we did was provide basic education to Polish children. During the occupation, children weren't able to have a basic Polish education, so we would go to houses and teach the school program. And we tutored one another as well - geography, history, writing, literature. No one wanted to learn mathematics because it was just such an awful subject. We were hoping the war would end soon and we could go on with our normal studies. We also taught some foreign languages, including Russian, as many of us understood that sooner or later the Russians would come. We organized small celebrations of Polish holidays as well. For example, May 3 was our Constitution day, November 11 was the Independence of Poland, as well as some religious holidays. All of these were banned.

    The funny thing is that we moved our headquarters across the street from the Imperial Castle in Poznan, where in the same building was the office of Poznan Gauleiter - Arthur Karl Greiser, who was responsible for overseeing the German occupation of Poland. His office was on the second floor and we were on the first floor. We were very brave back then.

    Before the war, my father worked in a company that sold coal. During the occupation, the Germans took control of the company, and the man named Erich Steffen was appointed director. He left my father employed there, but soon they began to send Polish men to labor camps in Germany. My father managed to escape this fate by agreeing to become house help for the new director.

    In 1940, the Polish resistance was becoming more organized. Our group that was already part of the Gray Ranks began reporting to Armia Krajowa, which was the primary resistance force at the time. Our functions soon varied from underground parcel and mail delivery to sabotage. We were young and very reckless and some of us were caught and killed. The Germans didn't tolerate or spare anyone they suspected as taking part in any resistance. Some, like myself, were lucky to survive. We had a simple phrase in the Gray Ranks that said: ''Today, Tomorrow and the Day After.'' Today meant the fight for Poland's independence. Tomorrow meant the liberation of Poland from any occupants. The Day After stood for rebuilding the country to its former glory.

    At the end of the war, we moved to the basement of a house in one of the Poznan neighbourhoods, called Gorczyn. The Russians were coming through Poland at the time. I remember them knocking at our door and very uncomfortably asking for some coffee.

    In January of 1945, I returned to my house here. The condition of the place we were staying in had become intolerable. My house had also been destroyed, and was without heat and water, but my father used his connections to bring in a firm to help us restore some parts to the house to make it livable again.

    I started work at a print company - one of the few around here with a printing press. I wanted to continue my education, but most of the schools had been destroyed. I occupied myself with work. I remember my boss joking that after I'd go and get my diploma, I'd be better than him because he never had a chance to finish his studies. The following summer, I intended to study French philology. But sometimes things don't turn out the way you plan. I had gone on vacation with some friends, where I met a professor of the Merchant Academy. He persuaded me to switch my interest to the academy he taught at, so I did. In February of 1946, I continued my studies there. In 1948, I finished my education, something I had been dreaming of for so long. I started to work and teach at the University of Economics in Poznan.

    Later, I became the secretary of the World Organization of Armia Krajova, and kept in touch with many of the people I knew through the war. In fact, I saw some of them at my 90th birthday. With some people, you share something so precious that you want them to stay in your life forever, cherishing it.