Mid-morning, freezing and dull, high boots, black
three quarter length coat, the faithful Tyrolean hat, turned down
as always back and front, I was dressed and ready to go. A spacious
and elegant suitcase held a civilian suit, shoes and a light overcoat.
Socks, handerchiefs and other items necessary for a correct presence
in Sweden were also included. Everything had been pressed, laundered,
cleaned and meticulously packed by Marysia. Prolonged goodbyes, mutual
and heartfelt endearments with superfluous exchanges of exhortations
to take care, only prolong the torment of sad but inevitable partings.
The emotions and depths of feeling on that morning of my leaving,
were somehow enhanced in intensity by their very brevity. Speechless,
I kissed my wife and baby a reverent farewell. "May God let us
meet again, Pawel", Marysia said. "But no matter what happens
let us be thankful to Him for having brought us so much joy together
in this short time." Turning away I choked and sped down the
stairs onto the streets of Warsaw, walking briskly for about half
a mile and after ensuring that nobody was trailing, a dorozka for
the city centre was hailed. The tears froze on my cheeks. There was
no hurry. It was well before the appointment for lunch with Stas Lorenz.
In Jasna Street, below the ground level
of an old building accessible by the descent of some stone steps,
a couple of young Poles, both members of the Resistance but not in
my sector, had established a small trading business. The enterprise
was a front for a thriving black market undertaking of which so many
existed in the General Government, posing problems for the Nazi administration
and impossible to stamp out. Greetings were cordial when I called.
They would be pleased to look after my suitcase, the reason for the
A query by one of the Poles as to the
health of my friend's canary, recalled an incident in 1943 which had
endeared the two young entrepreneurs to me. Before wedding Marysia,
I had met socially at the Kaziu apartment a person whose problem had
struck a cord in a bird lover's heart. The lady had a pet canary for
whose nourishment but a few days supply of seed remained, the exhaustion
of which would lay yet another starvation death at Hitler's door.
The two friends, with whom I now wished to leave the suitcase, had
been informed of the birdseed shortage and from their underground
warehouse, produced a whole sack of food, canaries only, for the use
of. Both suppliers soared in my estimation as did mine in that of
a Polish lady ornithological enthusiast. She was more than ever convinced
and rightly so, that Britons were the greatest people on earth, an
opinion which brooked no argument, except a private reflection that
the Poles sometimes ran us a pretty close second.
Having disposed temporarily of the
suitcase, a physical nuisance and drawing too much attention in the
Warsaw streets, I walked freely along Jasna Street to do some last
minute personal shopping for the journey. Two types of toiletry and
some pipe tobacco were the main objectives. Unimportant as these requirements
might be to most people, in 1944 Warsaw such luxuries were only obtained
by cultivation of the retailers concerned. The first purchase was
a flat round tin of Nivea face cream, dark blue and overprinted in
white with the name. The harsh climate in Warsaw with its extremes
of heat and cold, especially after shaving, wreaked havoc with my
skin. To resist the ravages which an English complexion felt it difficult
to withstand alone, the aid of Nivea had been enlisted and there was
no desire to travel across Europe during this cruel season of the
year without it. To find after the war that Nivea was available in
the West and even in New Zealand was a relief. I still use it. Apologies
for the unsolicited commercial break.
Another purchase was a few packs of
German razor blades, very hard to procure. With facial stubble, the
tenacity of barbed wire, I came to rely on Gerlach blades to continue
cleanshaven and presentable. Having never seen or heard of them since
leaving Poland what has just been written comes under the heading
of what the Americans call a useless plug. Free samples of razor blades
from the now Communist countries could possibly reach me with instructions
on how to cut my throat with them. The brand of tobacco will be nameless.
I had smoked a pipe since my early days at sea. Pipe smoking is more
common in England than elsewhere, although a less prevalent habit
on the Continent. In spite of Britons being recognised as having the
far greater inclination to pipe smoking, I continued to puff away
during the whole war without qualms. Such persistence might be construed
as unwise by causing suspicion in a Nazi, expecially a nonsmoker on
the lookout for an English intruder. I took the other view, more it
is confessed from desire than wisdom, but no misfortune can be laid
at the door of this nicotine addiction. Pipe smoking was a great help,
particularly during train travel. The advent of some form of enemy
control, were it only a ticket inspector, saw me going through a pipe
lighting procedure. An atmosphere of calm prevailed on the striking
of a simple match and attending to the ritual of igniting the weed
filled bowl. Calm had often not prevailed, quite the reverse. On such
occasions a pipe was something comfortable to grip between the teeth
and hang onto with one hand as a steadying influence. I obtained a
few packets of the best German tobacco with no name mentioned. An
advertiser must believe in the quality of the produce he promotes
and the only belief in the best German tobacco I smoked during the
whole war was an unswerving conviction as to its unsavoury origin.
German tobacco was slightly, but very slightly, better than nothing,
and must be included somewhere in the list of countless reasons for
which the Nazis deserved to have lost the war.
Commenting about these few small purchases
sounds like a frivolous digression in the account of a momentous day.
But that is just how it was. I had forced my mind to attend to little
matters to dim the influence of the poignant parting with Marysia
and baby Punia, as well as to relieve it of the thousand and one concerns
about the trip due to start that evening.
Something else took place to bring
back a concentrated attention to the serious business on hand. On
the way back from shopping, 1 turned into Jasna Street to retrieve
the suitcase. Not twenty yards away, two German policemen were examining
the papers of a male civilian, a common enough sight anywhere in the
city. With no sense of alarm and continuing to walk towards them,
my drawing abreast coincided with what must have concluded a satisfactory
inspection. Just as the papers were being handed back to the unknown
civilian, one of the policemen looked up and straight at me from two
or three yards away. It would have been normal practise for the twain
to have ambled on for a time before accosting another passerby. This
time, however, something motivated the Hun. It could have been my
immediate proximity or an intuitive inspiration to check me over.
"Halt!" he said quite politely. "Papiere".
Although with the almost impregnable
cover provided by my genuine German special services documents, as
I pulled Out my wallet, the thought that a last tragedy might ensue
was difficult to subdue. One policeman kept a close eye while the
other peered at the Sonderfuhrer passbook and authorisation papers.
At first he was unable to grasp the import of what was seen and read.
As realisation sunk in, he deferentially folded everything up and
handed them back. Unable to salute because of a slung rifle, the man
clicked his heels, his comrade following noisy suit.
"Excuse me, sir, and thank you".
"Nichts zu danken, Hell Hitler", I murmured concluding the
incident with a slight raising of the hand from the wrist, a very
casual Nazi acknowledgement. I carried on down Jasna Street to pick
up the suitcase. For the second day running my papers had brought
a German salute. Who could ask for more?
Though tolerance has been craved for
inaccuracies in the manuscript for reasons over which I reserve a
sole right to decide on, a brief explanation as to why so many apparent
trivialities so easily forgotten have been remembered and sometimes
recorded in detail. During post-war yeas in commercial pursuit of
my daily bread, I attained the eminence of having a private secretary.
Harking back to war days it was possible, over a long period, to dictate
all manner of incidents, many of which had been recalled out of the
distant past. Hence it has been possible to write about many little,
but, I trust, not uninteresting events and thoughts at the same time
confessing a failure to record possibly more important occurences.
Many of these have, alas, with the long passage of time certainly
receded mentally beyond recall. The journey on which I was about to
embark received voluminous attention from this post-war note making,
and the references made during this period make a marked contribution
right up to the end of the book.
The ride from central Warsaw on what
might turn out to be for the last time, disclosed no change in the
city's outward appearance since Tommie and I had first arrived so
long ago. Civilians, uniforms, trains, dorozkas, pedal carts and military
traffic continued their incessant movement along the same backdrop
of old and grim buildings. Intermingled with areas of rubble, brickdust
and fallen masonry, skeletons of the 1939 destruction still clawed
upwards as if beckoned by heaven. Temperatures had dropped to well
below zero and a light icy snow was further concealing the scars of
war as I turned through the little gateway in Belvedere street which
led to my friend's front door. There was no evidence of being followed
or anything to suggest that the operation was not proceeding smoothly.
The pre-launching pad had been reached and nothing appeared likely
to prevent a final countdown later that day.
Stas had prepared a sumptuous lunch,
much of the food and drink I suspect having been filched from the
Nazi lodgers who still lorded it upstairs. Relaxed after a few vodkas
and wine, we lounged in comfortable chairs smoking cigars which probably
originated from the same source as the victuals. Stas was taken partly
into confidence. I was off home via Switzerland and sought a further
cooperation. It had been correctly assumed from various snippets of
conversation that my friend was working with the Underground news
media and the subject broached for which help was sought. If and when
I eventually reached the United Kingdom a message or a series of repeat
messages would be broadcast to Warsaw from every radio source that
was available. From 'Echo' newsdays, I had a fair conception of the
volume of radio monitoring that was taking place in Warsaw. There
was no doubt, even if only a single relay was possible, that some
Resistance worker or associate would place it on record. A week from
that day Stas was requested to alert every possible Underground publication
and listening post as to the message I was confident of being able
to send from London. He was quite pleased on hearing the words and
the text which included his Christian name thrilled him to feel part
of my private conspiracy.
"Niech Stas powie Marysi ze Pawel
jest u siebie." "Will Stas please tell Marysia that Paul
is at home".
Strict listening for those words from England and their subsequent
appearance in the Resistance press was promised. Stas had, in addition,
contacts with other Lorenz people who, unknown to him, were Marysia's
hosts. The engineer at Saska Kepa was also contactable at the Lorenz
factory and in turn had contact with Tommie and Stenia, Janka, ad
infinitum. There was little chance of Marysia not receiving the good
news of my safe landing in Britain, provided of course that I arrived
in one piece.
The cloak of secrecy having been partially
lifted to expose his association with the Underground press, Stas
commented on a tragedy which had occurred only the previous day in
Saska Kepa. The Gestapo had unearthed the site of one of the many
secret printing establishments of the Resistance. German police and
troops had sealed off the house. With no hope of evading capture and
tortune, the entrapped couple, a Polish man and woman, had destroyed
their plant, machinery and any other material which might have been
of benefit to the enemy. The heroic pair had then burst out onto the
first floor balcony of the building, the cellar of which had housed
the operation, to open up with tommy gun fire at the Germans. The
overwhelming response of bullets cut the two Poles to pieces. Thus
died two more citizens of Warsaw. I made no reference to an uncomfortably
close proximity to yesterday's events referred. There was no reason
for me to do so in the best of Underground tradition. The sacrifice
of the two Poles to which I had been so physically close, served to
put my own puny efforts into a correct and humble perspective.
Fatigue must have been building up.
It was late afternoon when I woke to collect some well scattered thoughts.
Time to get ready and change into German uniform. There was little
room left in the suitcase but the Tyrolean hat begged to be allowed
along, atrociously crumpled as it was squeezed in. Halina's present,
the blue woollen sweater, my fetish which had protected me for over
two years, was becoming much the worse for wear. lt had stretched
and some of the knitting had come undone to hang bedraggled around
my lower regions, an inelegant piece of strange perspiration impregnated
underwear. It really was in bad shape, but as long as it clung to
me I was determined to cling to it. We had come a long way together
and at that stage of my career help from any quarter was more than
Sonderfuhrer Felix Botkin was no longer
in civilian clothes. The elegant uniform, high peaked cap, the silver
braid epaulettes were part of a picture which passed Stas's admiring
muster. I buckled on a last piece of equipment, the 'Gott Mit Uns'
belt and a holster with a fully loaded F.N. tucked up inside. I shook
hands with my good friend. A kiss on both cheeks accompanied a moistening
of four eyes, the suitcase was grasped and the now pitch black and
bitter night swallowed me up.