SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE COMMITTEE ON UN-AMERICAN ACTIVITIES   Leave a comment

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I have covered the circumstances of my granduncle Marek Korowicz’s escape from the Polish Delegation to the United Nations in 1953 in this previous post. Below Marek tells the story in his own words. He was called to give testimony before a specially-convened sub-committee of the Committee on Un-American Activities,  a week after his arrival in New York to take up the position of President of the Sixth Committee (Legal) of the United Nations General Assembly. Of course, he never occupied that post, denouncing his credentials and condemning the Polish and Soviet governments.

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 the last chief of the Polish Underground at the Radio Free Europe press conference regarding Marek's seeking political asylum in the US. (Photo by Peter Stackpole//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

19th September 1953 Dr. Marek Stanislaw Korowicz (R) talking to Stefan Korboński (the last chief of the Polish Underground) before the press conference announcing his appeal for political asylum in the US. (Photo by Peter Stackpole//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

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The content and format of Marek’s testimony are very much a reflection of the heightened tensions, mutual mistrust, and fatalism which characterized the Cold War. This is only six months after Joesph Stalin’s death. The Soviet Union, enigmatic, despotic and a recent ally, is  the subject of foreboding speculation on the part of the US government. Marek is quizzed on topical matters behind the Iron Curtain. What has happened to Beria, who seemed poised to replace Stalin but now has disappeared? What is the state of the USSR’s atomic programme? Do they have a hydrogen bomb? The questions and answers in a general sense would not be out of place in a Hollywood screenplay, a familiarity which in retrospect downplays the high stakes of the era. Marek had certainly placed himself in considerable danger. His protection was precisely the public fora in which he told his story, not just here at US Federal buildings, but in the press conferences and radio broadcasts he gave throughout this period. The fact that he was a professor of international law and had worked extensively as a diplomat before the second world war, lent his testimony greater impact. The details he employs to compare the standard of living and civil freedoms between East and West – the number of cars, television sets, the presence of Soviet military garrisons throughout the satellite states, the role of the Catholic Church, and the propaganda battle between state broadcasters and the Voice of America- are born out of the experiences of an inveterate opponent of foreign control (he was among other things a veteran of the 1920 Polish-Soviet War) and are conveyed with professorial exactness.

The benefit of hindsight may soften somewhat the atmosphere of impending doom which no doubt percolated the era, when it was considered not only conceivable but even logical to destroy the world in order to save it from itself. And yet there is still something haunting in the attribution of the Katyń massacres to Nazi Germany by the House Un-American Activities Committee Chairman Harold Velde in the following exchange:

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Dr. KOROWICZ. It must be well understood that the Polish people keep in their minds today a vivid memory of all the Hitlerite atrocities committed by these Germans. Six million Poles were savagely butchered. But in spite of this the Polish people would like to live in peace and in definite peace with their neighbouring German populations.

Mr. VELDE. You are referring to the butchering of the Poles by the Hitlerites. I wonder if you are referring there to the Katyń Forest massacre?

Dr. KOROWICZ. With respect to Katyń, Mr. Chairman, the opinion in Poland is almost unanimous that the assassination and murder of so many Polish officers was a guilty deed performed by the Russians and not by the Germans.

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Of course, the families of the 22,000 Polish prisoners, executed in 1940 on the orders of Stalin and the Politburo, would have to wait until 1990 when Gorbachev revealed the truth. There was a grotesque Orwellian pantomime in the methods used by the Soviet Union to turn their own self-documented crime into that of the Germans, from the ludicrous “Special Commission for Determination and Investigation of the Shooting of Polish Prisoners of War by German-Fascist Invaders in Katyn Forest” via the Nuremberg Trials right down to today when many of the copious volumes of files about Katyń in the Russian archives still remain sealed. It seems strange that Chairman Velde would categorize in error  Katyń as a Nazi crime when only the previous year the Congressional Investigation known as the Madden Committee concluded that Soviets were indeed the culprits. It is more likely for rhetorical effect, to have the Polish defector make the accusation himself I suppose.

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Anyway, over to Marek and the Committee members, and some old-fashioned Cold War drama:

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Marek Committee UAA

Marek as star witness before Special House Committee on Communist Aggression

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THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 1953

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UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,

SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE COMMITTEE

ON UN-AMERICAN ACTIVITIES,

Washington, D.C.

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PUBLIC HEARING

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The subcommittee of the Committee on Un-American Activities met, pursuant to call, at 10.40 a.m. in the caucus room, 362 Old House Office Building, Hon. Harold H. Velde (chairman) presiding.

Committee members present: Representatives Harold H. Velde (chairman), Gordon H. Scherer, and James B. Frazier, Jr.

Staff members present: Robert L. Kunzig, counsel; Frank S. Tavenner, Jr., counsel; Louis J. Russell {trivia: who may later have been the sixth Watergate burglar}, chief investigator; Raphael I. Nixon, director of research; George E. Cooper, investigator.

Mr. VELDE. Will the witness please rise. Dr. Korowicz, in the testimony you are about to give before this subcommittee of the House of Representatives, do you solemnly swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God?

Dr. KOROWICZ. Yes. I do.

Mr. VELDE. Proceed, Mr. Counsel.

Mr. KUNZIG. Dr. Korowicz, would you describe to the committee what event transpired on September 1 of this year, just a few weeks ago?

Dr. KOROWICZ. To my great surprise, on the 1st of last September I received a letter from the director of the University of Krakow invit­ing me, at the request of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to proceed to Warsaw.

Mr. KUNZIG. When you say Minister of Foreign Affairs, to make it clear to all of us, I presume you mean what we in this country call the Secretary of State?

Dr. KOROWICZ. That is correct.

Mr. KUNZIG. Thank you.

Dr. KOROWICZ. The following day I had a meeting with the said Minister of Foreign Affairs, who told me of his decision, that it had been decided to send, me to the United Nations as a Polish delegate.

Mr. KUNZIG. Was this the first time that this idea was ever broached to you?

Dr. KOROWICZ. In 1947, 1948, 1949, offers had been made to me to go, the first time, to Prague, the second time to The Hague, and the third time to Paris to be Polish representative at meetings and con­ferences of international law organizations.

Mr. KUNZIG. Did you go?

Dr. KOROWICZ. Each time, all three times at the very last minute the State Security Police refused to give me my passport.

This time I was very surprised, and my first feelings were that I should refuse, but obviously in Poland nobody refuses a request from the Government.

I made several formal objections to the Minister, based upon my state of health and other matters, but I suddenly realized that this was the opportunity I had been waiting for for 7 years. This was the op­portunity of escaping.

So the 5th of September we took a train via Paris, and after spending 24 hours in that city, we sailed on the steamship Liberté to New York.

Mr. KUNZIG. Could you tell us briefly, but giving the exact example of what you said to the Minister, the objections you raised to the Minister?

Dr. KOROWICZ. My health was slightly affected. His answer was that “You will find the best medicines in the world in the United States.”

I also told him that I drank no vodka and that I had always heard that when you were with Russians a man who doesn’t drink is considered a very suspicious character. But he persuaded me that it might be quite sufficient to pretend I was drinking. Finally I underlined strongly that I spoke not one word of Russian. But he said that would be no obstacle; “You will always have a Russian translator near you.” And finally and quite seriously he said that he attached great importance to having an expert qualified jurist in the field of public international law as a member of the Polish delegation.

Mr. KUNZIG. Dr. Korowicz, what exactly was your title as a member of the delegation when you got here to New York?

Dr. KOROWICZ. First substitute, or alternate delegate, but since at the time the presidency of the Sixth Committee of the Assembly of the United Nations…

Mr. KUNZIG. That is the International Law Committee, a subcommittee; is that correct?

Dr. KOROWICZ. It is not a subcommittee. It is one of the principal committees of the United Nations. It is called the Sixth Commission of Jurists, or Committee of Jurists. According to the arrangements that had been made among the members of the United Nations, this was the time for the presidency of this important committee to fall to a Pole, and I was designated to become the president of this committee.

After my escape and the very next day the same decision that had previously been taken as to Polish presidency was maintained, and Mr. Katz-Suchy, another member of the Polish delegation, was made president of the Sixth Committee.

Mr. KUNZIG. Let me understand this correctly. Mr. Katz-Suchy, then, has just been within the last few days elected president of this very important International Law Committee or Commission of the United Nations; is that correct?

Dr. KOROWICZ. Yes, sir

Mr. KUNZIG. May I ask you, sir, does this Mr. Katz-Suchy have any qualifications for this position?

Dr. KOROWICZ. To the best of my knowledge and to the knowledge of most of my friends who know Mr. Katz-Suchy’s past very well, he did in fact complete 1 year’s study of law at the University of Krakow. That is the extent of his qualifications.

Mr. VELDE. Well, Dr. Korowicz, is he, to your knowledge, a member of the Communist Party of Poland?

Dr. KOROWICZ. Yes, certainly, he is a violent Communist.

Mr. VELDE. Well, Doctor, have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of Poland?

Dr. KOROWICZ. Not only have I never been a member of the Com­munist Party of Poland, but I have never been a member of any Communist Party anywhere; but, singularly, no one ever invited me to be a member of the Communist Party. Ninety-six percent of the professors in Poland belong to no party.

Mr. KUNZIG In other words, Dr. Korowicz, what you have just told us at this hearing before a committee of the Congress of the United States, and through the members of the committee and the gentlemen of the press today, is that you are telling all the United Nations that the man who heads this important committee to study International law throughout the world has no qualifications what­soever for that position?

Mr. VELDE. Except that I may add, Mr. Counsel, he is a very violent Communist, as Dr. Korowicz told us.

Mr. KUNZIG. Which qualifies him, of course, for the position.

Dr. KOROWICZ. Unhappily, your statements are true.

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Katz-Suchy and Malik

Juliusz Katz-Suchy, Head of Polish Delegation, breaks news of Marek’s defection to unamused Soviet Head of Delegation Malik (Life Photo)

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Mr. KUNZIG. Do you have the feeling, Doctor, that you were chosen as a member of the delegation and to be head of this commit­tee because of your great experience and ability in international law ~ is that why they sent you?

Dr. KOROWICZ. Most decidedly that is correct. The Minister of Foreign Affairs in Warsaw himself told me before I left Poland that the purpose of my inclusion in the delegation was to serve as presi­dent of this Committee of Jurists.

I immediately objected that I had never had the opportunity of working in the United Nations or with any of the people in the United Nations, but his answer was that in view of my past experience I would have no difficulty there.

Mr. KUNZIG. Doctor, Could you describe to the committee exactly what steps you took after you arrived in New York to leave the Polish delegation and come to the side of freedom?

Dr. KOROWICZ. I had already reached a decision in the course of my conversation with the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Warsaw that I would stay in the United States, if possible.

I spoke to no-one in Poland of my intentions. In Paris I thought that it might be easier for me to escape from the Polish delegation, but I decided not to make this movement at that time for the following reasons:   I knew that it was only in the United States that I could serve to the fullest extent the interests of the freedom of Poland. Besides, if I had made the gesture in Paris my escape might not have been publi­cized because in Paris I was little more than a traveller through that city, whereas in the United States I had become an official member of the Polish delegation to the United Nations.

Mr. KUNZIG. How did you become an official member? What did you do to make sure that you were an official member?

Dr. KOROWICZ. In addition to my diplomatic passport describing my functions, upon my arrival in New York I received an identity card, official identity card as an alternate delegate from Poland to the United Nations. ‘

Mr. KUNZIG. That is the card which is already marked “Exhibit No.3″ for this record?

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IMG

Exhibit No.3

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Dr. KOROWICZ. That is correct. The day after my arrival I im­mediately attempted to get in touch with certain of my compatriots.

I got in touch with my old friend, Mr. Korboński, who today is serving as my Polish interpreter.

Mr. KUNZIG. Doctor, would you tell us for the record just who Mr. Korboński, who is sitting at your left side, is?

Dr. KOROWICZ. Mr. Korboński was a deputy to the Polish Diet, which corresponds to the Congress of Poland, in 1947, but it was not that which authorized me to turn to him. It was that he, Mr. Korboński, was the last chief of the Polish underground resistance movement.

Mr. KUNZIG. Is Mr. Korboński well known throughout the Polish nation?

Dr. KOROWICZ. Mr. Korboński is very popularly known to the Polish people. Mr. Korboński’s escape in 1947 was one of the elements which enhanced his popularity and was a subject of many stories throughout Poland, which are still repeated to this day.

Mr. VELDE. You have stated that Mr. Korboński is very popular among the Polish people. I presume it is somewhat different with the Polish Communists; is that correct?

Dr. KOROWICZ. The extent of Mr. Korboński’s popularity can be measured by the fact that there are so few Communists in Poland. I will be able, perhaps, Mr. Chairman, later to explain that it is my opinion that there are not more than 6 to 7 percent of the Polish population who are Communists. It is with the others that Mr. Korboński is popular.

Mr. VELDE. Thank you.

Mr. KUNZIG. After you contacted Mr. Korboński what was your next step?

Dr. KOROWICZ. After 2 days’ silence, we got in touch through Mr. Korboński with Mr. Yarrow, one of the directors of the National Committee for a Free Europe. Mr. Yarrow cordially received me and immediately introduced me to the persons who are now well known.

Mr. KUNZIG. How did you get out of the Hotel Chatham where I understand the Polish delegation is staying?

Dr. KOROWICZ. I made careful plans to do this, this kind of an escape, and at quarter to 6 in the morning last Wednesday, the 16th of this month, I went down the stairs, the fire escape, three floors, to avoid an unhappy or unfortunate meeting with other members of my delegation, and then I took a car.

Mr. KUNZIG. Did anyone ask you as you went through the hotel lobby at that odd hour of the morning where you were going?

Dr. KOROWICZ. As I turned my key in at the desk…

Mr. KUNZIG. You mean you went right up to the desk and turned your key in?

Dr. KOROWICZ. As I went up to the desk and turned my key in I explained that I would be back in two days and that I was keeping the room.

Mr. KUNZIG. But you didn’t come back in 2 days?

Dr. KOROWICZ. I had no intention of doing so.

Mr. KUNZIG. Doctor, would you tell this committee, and I think this is very important, to the best of your knowledge, what instructions were given the Polish delegation with regard to their activity here in this country?

Dr. KOROWICZ. The Polish delegation – I agree, Mr. Counsellor, that this is a very important matter. The Polish delegation and its members were instructed on all occasions to cooperate closely with the Soviet Russian delegation, and I underline and emphasize this point, to receive orders from the Russian delegation. The Soviet delegation was about to unleash a peace offensive in which the Polish delegation was to play the role of substantial second. Every step, in fact, big or small, of the Polish delegation is made following instructions re­ceived from the Soviet Russia.

The Polish delegation – and I wish to emphasize this point – is nothing but an extension of the Russian delegation. It is an absolute fiction that there is any independence whatsoever of this delegation ­since Poland at the present time is entirely dependent upon U. S. S. R.

Mr. SCHERER. The same condition would exist if China were admitted to the United Nations, would it not?

Dr. KOROWICZ. At the beginning probably the same state of affairs would prevail. That is my opinion.. But it is stressed in thousands upon thousands of articles in Poland in the past years, in the speeches. of Polish statesmen and politicians, that the first effect of the admis­sion to the United Nations of Communist China would be in the­ Security Council, which is the most important part of the United Nations where the five permanent delegates of the great powers have the preponderant votes. The Soviet representative would no longer be isolated but he could be accompanied by the delegate of China, so that the Communists would have 2 of the 5 permanent votes instead of one.

Mr. SCHERER. In other words, the Chinese delegation would be no freer to act independently than is the Polish delegation today?

Dr. KOROWICZ. That is absolutely my opinion; at least at the beginning, in the first years.

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Marek Newspaper

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Mr. KUNZIG. Dr. Korowicz, did the members of your delegation with whom you were associated just a few days ago, did they have any real respect for the United Nations, or from your conversations with them did they feel that it should be merely used as a propaganda purpose for Poland and Russia?

Dr. KOROWICZ. The organization of the United Nations is considered as one of the most important platforms for Soviet propaganda in the world. I wish to underline the following comment. Not only Russia but its satellites attach a primary importance that the members of their bloc of satellite powers maintain their relations with the western world. It is emphasized at all times that the acts of real democracy, socialist democracy, that they should seek a direct channel over the heads of their governments to the great popular masses of the United States and the other western countries, and the United Nations organization offers a parliamentary platform to the Soviet politicians and from this platform they may preach to the populations of the entire world and do their subversive propaganda.

Mr. KUNZIG. In other words, sir, there is no real desire to work with one another and make a better world but merely to use the United Nations as a propaganda device to further communism?

Dr. KOROWICZ. Yes, that is quite correct. ‘That is my view.

Mr. KUNZIG. Dr Korowicz, were you given any instructions as to your behaviour or relations with American people and other people in New York City after you got here?

Dr. KOROWICZ. When we arrived here, as well as when I left Warsaw, I received instructions, strictest instructions from not only the Minister in Warsaw but Mr. Naszkowski, the chief of the delegation, to enter into no private relations with anyone, to approach no one, to speak with no one, and always when I went out to be accompanied by another member of the delegation because at each moment and everywhere we would be surrounded by the agents of the American Intelligence Service, even in the elevator, in the halls of the hotel, on the streets, in the restaurants, cafes, and everywhere.

Mr. KUNZIG. What are the relations, Doctor, if they are different, to the contrary, between the Polish delegation and the Russian delegation?

Dr. KOROWICZ. These relations are obviously of the most intimate sort. I have just been shown a copy of an American publication. I know the American magazines very well. If the chairman will permit, I would like to show him something, this striking photograph which appears in the current issue of Life. Here before you [indicating] is the Russian delegation. There is Mr. Malik, the Soviet chief delegate, and behind him is Mr. Katz-Suchy of the Polish delegation, sitting on one of the seats of the Soviet delegation, and he is whispering something in the ear.

Mr. VELDE. I am sure a copy of this publication is available to all members of the committee.

Mr. SCHERER. I might make this observation. This committee is tremendously pleased that the witness saw fit to violate these instructions not to talk to anyone. Through the medium of the radio, television, and the press, Dr. Korowicz has the opportunity to tell his story not only to this committee but to the entire American people.

Dr. KOROWICZ. We are very happy that Mr. Scherer has made this statement, very flattered at his understanding of the motives that prompted my decision.

Mr. VELDE. Dr. Korowicz, I concur with the statement of my distinguished friend from Ohio regarding your appearance here and the great good that you have done for the preservation of our Republic and for your assistance to free Poland. I would like to ask this: What do the Communist Party leaders in Poland tell the masses generally, masses of Poland, the people of Poland, regarding the standard of living there as compared to the standard of living here in the United States of America?

Dr. KOROWICZ. There is a real brain-stuffing operation conducted in Poland, not only in the schools but among workmen and in all the newspapers, describing the standard of living in Russia as being the highest in the entire world; that in 10 or 20 years it is promised to the Poles that their standard of living will rise to the same level as that which prevails in Soviet Russia. But for the time being I am able to say that the standard of living in my dear homeland is at least 20 times below that of the United States. To give you an example, one example only, if I may, there are in Poland approximately about 50,000 automobiles.

Mr. KUNZIG. How many people are there in Poland altogether?

Dr. KOROWICZ. Twenty-six million people. I have just learned that there are over 40 million private automobiles in the United States. The proportions are, of course not as striking in many other fields, but I would like to reiterate my opinion that the proportion s are properly 1 to 20, and we believe from what we hear in Poland that the situation in Soviet Russia is no better than it is in Poland. 

Mr. KUNZIG. Do the Communist leaders of Poland tell the Polish people, for example, in describing America, the number of television sets, the homes of the American people, automobiles, refrigerators, and that sort of thing? Is that known to the Polish people?

Dr KOROWICZ. That is never mentioned to the Polish people. You see we have no television in Poland. We have seen in the movies a large factory in Leningrad where we are told they are manufacturing television sets.

On the economic development of the United States only the most defamatory news is spread, underlining the gaping chasm that lies between the rich in America and the terribly poor.

Recently it was announced throughout Poland that there were 4 mil­lion unemployed in the United States who, in the final analysis, would have nothing else to do with their lives but to lie starving on the steps of millionaires’ houses.

Mr. VELDE. Now, Dr. Korowicz, you say that the newspapers preach this sort of thing to the Polish people. Are the newspapers in Poland free, as we certainly feel they are here in America, or are they sup­pressed and censored?

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Dr. KOROWICZ. I am very happy that you asked me this question because it enables me to underline the complete subservience of thought in Poland of journalism, of science and everything else. Everything that is written in the papers is. officially dictated or inspired, censored several times. It is not a real information service.

Mr. VELDE. I just want to ask you one further question before the recess. Does the same thing apply to the radio and television facilities in Poland?

Dr. KOROWICZ. Unfortunately, there is no television, Mr. Chairman, but radio. The radio is nothing other than a propaganda service of the Communist Party.

I can console you gentlemen that only a half of 1 percent of the Polish people having radios listen to the Polish broadcasts. The only thing that anyone listens to on the radio is daily news about daily events and information of a general nature.

Mr. FRAZIER. Mr. Chairman.

Mr. VELDE. Mr. Frazier

Mr. FRAZIER. I would like to ask the doctor, is the Voice of America heard in Poland over the radio? I mean is it received there, allowed to be broadcast?

Dr. KOROWICZ. Both Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America are heard by millions upon millions of Poles. It is a real sanctuary for the oppressed peoples and the news broadcasts by this radio service goes from one ear to the other in the shortest time, goes from mouth to mouth, so that even those people who do not have radio-receiving stations in a few hours learn the latest news received over the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe transmitters.

I would like to underline this fact· with the greatest gratitude.

Mr. VELDE. At this point the committee will be in recess for 15 minutes, at which time we will return.

(Thereupon a short recess was taken, after which the proceedings were resumed as follows:)

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Harold Velde (Left), Chairman House Un-American Activities Committee (Photo)

Harold Velde (Left), Chairman House Un-American Activities Committee (Photo)

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(At the hour of 11.45 a.m., of the same day, the proceedings were resumed, the same parties being present.)

Mr. VELDE. Will the committee be in order, please. May we have order, please.

Proceed, Mr. Counsel.

Mr. KUNZIG. Dr. Korowicz, before the recess you were discussing Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America. Do the people in Poland behind the iron Curtain listen to these broadcasts?

Dr. KOROWICZ. To answer this question I might best do so by quoting to you a slogan which is throughout my country: “There are only two moral sanctuaries for the oppressed people of my country – the church and the American broadcasts.”

Mr. KUNZIG. In your opinion, then, as certainly an expert witness on this subject, would you say that the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe should not only be continued, but be expanded in their activities to bring the truth behind the Iron Curtain?

Dr. KOROWICZ. Yes.

Mr. KUNZIG. Doctor, even though we read and hear many times in thi9s country about the conditions behind the Iron Curtain it is always of great and enormous interest to the American people, and particularly to this committee, to hear from someone in your own position – someone who up to just a few days ago has had such a close relationship with Poland. Can you tell us what the actual conditions today are in the very wonderful country as we have known it in the past?

Dr. KOROWICZ. The general conditions of life are very deplorable, both in the moral and material side. It is very difficult for me to answer in detail to such a broad question, but I will be very happy to give any answers I can on specific points.

Mr. KUNZIG. Could you give us some descriptions of living conditions? Dwelling houses, for example?

Dr. KOROWICZ. The situation is tragic as far as dwelling houses are concerned. There have been brought to the cities to work there over 4 million peasants who had previously been living on farms. But houses are not built to accommodate this population. It is for this reason 4 years ago already a law was passed according to which a certain vital space was given to each individual.

Mr. KUNZIG. How much space does each individual have?

Dr. KOROWICZ. The maximum amount of space allowed in Krakow and Warsaw for 1 person who works is 9 square meters – approximately 27 square feet. The members of the family of the worker, each additional member is allocated 6 additional square meters or approximately 18 square feet.

In the smaller towns the space allocated is set at a maximum of 11 square meters and 8 square meters for the dependent. So for this reason in Warsaw and Krakow a father and mother and 1 child only have the right to 21 square metres – a room of less than average size.

Mr. KUNZIG. Does this mean that sometimes several families are forced to live together in one room?

Dr. KOROWICZ. I personally know several apartment houses in War­saw and in Krakow and Katowice, the name of which city has been changed to Stalinogrod, where in a 3-room·small apartment, there are from 9 to 13 people, and among these 5, 7, and even 8 families. All of these families and all of these people have at their disposal only one very small and inadequate kitchen. . .

Life under such conditions, you will understand, is a real inferno.

Mr. KUNZIG. Doctor, may I ask whether the Communist rulers and masters of Poland live within these same restrictions?

Dr. KOROWICZ. No. I should say that the masters of Communist Poland live in luxurious conditions. And without any doubt there is a much bigger difference between the standards of living of a member of, the government, or a high political personage in Poland, and a Polish workman, than between one of the greatest of the American millionaires and the poorest American worker.

Mr. VELDE. Doctor, the Communist, or at least the Marxist doctrine, preaches generally a division of the wealth among all classes of the particular society. Would you say, therefore, that the Communists are not practicing what they preach?

Dr. KOROWICZ. I would certainly say so and be fully in agreement with that. It is very obvious on all sides that they do not practice what they preach.

Mr. KUNZIG. Could you give us a few brief references to the food situation in Poland today?

Dr. KOROWICZ. We may say that there is plenty of food in Poland. The deliveries are somewhat irregular and this depends on the volume of exports from Poland to Russia and to the other; satellite countries of Russia, and to the Eastern Zone of Germany. But in general it will be noted that those who have enough money can eat very well indeed. But it is also equally to be noticed that 60 percent of the population is undernourished.

Mr. VELDE. Doctor, I am sure the committee and the people of this country will be interested if you could describe for us fairly briefly the condition of labor and whether they have the right to organize, and who controls the unions in Poland, and so forth.

Dr. KOROWICZ. As would be expected, there are organizations which are called trade unions in Poland. The membership in these trade unions is a matter of fact obligatory, but the words “trade union” or the term “trade union” means something entirely different from what it means in the Western World, because these trade unions, instead of protecting the rights of the workers and the rights of their mem­bers are used as instruments of oppression exercised by the Communist Party, by the authorities over the workers, so as to obtain from these workers and to extract by force from these workers the greatest possible productivity.

Mr. SCHERER. That could be an explanation, Mr. Chairman, why the Communist Party in this country has sought to infiltrate the labor unions so extensively.

Mr. VELDE. I certainly agree with you.

Mr. KUNZIG. Dr. Korowicz, are there concentration camps In Poland today?

Dr. KOROWICZ. There are camps of this nature which go by the name of forced-labor camps. The number of prisoners in these camps at the present time is approximately 300,000.

Mr. KUNZIG. Are these people put into these camps after a fair trial as we know it in this country of ours?

Dr. KOROWICZ. There are special institutions in Communist Poland called special commissions which have nothing to do with being real legal entities, or real courts. They are political institutions which exist to enforce the class-warfare precept. All students must be taught the fundamental principles concerning the interpretation of the laws. Each law must be interpreted according to the Socialist conscience of the judge.

Mr. KUNZIG. Can you give us some personal examples of actual happenings in this type of situation? How do people get into these concentration camps?

Dr. KOROWICZ. The greatest majority of the people held in these forced-labor camps consist of former small and medium capitalists – people who own businesses – small shops.

Mr. SCHERER. Pardon me. For what offenses are they sent to these forced-labor camps?

Dr. KOROWICZ. It is a subterfuge to destroy the private business. All these are pretexts to destroy private business.

Mr. SCHERER. I understand that, but for what excuse are they sent to these forced-labor camps?

Dr. KOROWICZ. There are trumped-up technical violations of unheard-of laws – fiscal laws particularly; evasion of certain financial requirements which are not generally known, and another general category of offenses affecting what is referred to as public order. All of these are nothing but subterfuges, of course, to be able to confiscate the businesses and the stocks of such enterprises; and to justify it they are sent to the forced-labor camp for periods up to 2 years.

Mr. KUNZIG. Where are the people today who used to own little shops, or who used to employ 1 or 2 people in little stores? Do they still have those stores and do they still employ the people?

Dr. KOROWICZ. There are still a few hundred small shops where the shop owner employs no one, but does the work himself. There are also the shops of manual workers, artisans. But the greatest anti-Communist force in Poland is the peasant class. In spite of the efforts intensively made there are no more than several hundred agricultural cooperatives in the country, which are really nothing other than the Russian kolkhoz.

Mr. KUNZIG. Doctor, is any criticism of the current regime in Poland permitted today?

Dr. KOROWICZ. No criticism is permitted. The only criticism that is allowed is to criticize, depending on the person, of course, who does the criticizing, that the person criticized has transgressed from the doctrines of the great ideologies of Marx and Lenin.

Mr. KUNZIG. In other words the only criticism that is permitted is criticism in the form of denunciation of somebody that the regime wants of get rid of. Is that it?

Dr. KOROWICZ. As not having been a good enough Marxist or Leninist.

Mr. KUNZIG. Doctor, we always hear so much about Communist preachings that it allows great freedom for all sorts of people. What is the general attitude of the government and the Communists in Poland toward the church and toward the religion of the church?

Dr. KOROWICZ. The church in Poland is a great power in the country. Never in my life have I seen masses of people as great, as power­ful as those which now go to the churches from early in the morning until late at night, because now Masses take place all day long and even late in the evening.

Mr. KUNZIG. But what is the attitude of the Communist Party toward the church?

Dr. KOROWICZ. The Communists do everything they can to perse­cute the church, and they have chosen as their means to arrest priests, to organize public trials, as was recently the case of Bishop Kacz­marek, who has just been imprisoned for 12 years.

Mr. KUNZIG. Dr. Korowicz, is there any prospect or possibility to­day of a workers’ revolt in Poland similar to that which occurred on June 17 of this year in East. Germany?

Dr. KOROWICZ. In my opinion, no. The means does not exist be­cause such a revolt would be immediately drowned in the blood of Polish patriots.

Mr. KUNZIG. Are the Russian troops actually and physically, in Poland today?

Dr. KOROWICZ. Yes. There, are Russian troops in Poland. There is even in one town I know, in Silesia, of my own personal knowledge, in Lignica, a general staff center for these Russian troops.

Mr. KUNZIG. Could you give some specific examples of the troops and where they might be situated, and so forth?

Dr. KOROWICZ. I have personally seen a considerable number of Soviet soldiers in a town of upper Silesia by the name of Opole and In Lignica in Silesia itself. There are special quarters of these towns reserved for the Russian soldiers and officers and their families. They have Russian theaters and Russian movies reserved for the use of the Russian troops.

Mr. KUNZIG. Is it well understood among the Polish people if there was any uprising of any kind that these Russian troops would imme­diately go into action against them?

Dr. KOROWICZ. Yes; they do. It was felt if there was any trouble with the Polish population that the Russian troops would immediately suppress such trouble.. Not only the relatively small number of Rus­sian troops stationed in Poland, but also the Russian troops from Russia itself and those which are in Eastern Germany would all descend upon any Polish uprising.

Mr. KUNZIG. Are the officers of the Polish Army Russian or Polish?

Dr. KOROWICZ. According to the general opinion and I have personally witnessed this myself-all officers with the rank of lieutenant colonel and up are Russian nationals, even though they may have Polish names and speak some Polish.

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Polish Soviet Friendship

‘Polish-Soviet Friendship Means Peace, Independence, and a Happy Tomorrow for Our Homeland’ (Image)

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Mr. SCHERER. I would like to make this observation, Mr. Chairman: A few weeks ago we had before us Lieutenant Jarecki, the Polish flier who escaped from the Polish Air Force. I believe you were in at­tendance at that hearing also.

It is interesting to note how the testimony of this witness confirms in minute detail the testimony of the Polish flier, Lieutenant Jarecki.

I would like to ask the witness this question at this time: What effect did the escape of Lieutenant Jarecki from the Polish Air Force have on the Polish people?

Dr. KOROWICZ. All escapees from Poland are greeted by the Polish people with the greatest of joy.

Mr. SCHERER. How did the Polish people become aware of his escape?

Dr. KOROWICZ. By the American broadcasts of which we were previously speaking, and also the BBC.

Mr. SCHERER. Have they been made aware, that is, the Polish people, of Lieutenant Jarecki’s testimony before the committee and other agencies of the Government?

Dr. KOROWICZ. Relatively little was known. It was known that Jarecki had arrived here and had testified, but the exact statement made by him had not been particularly well received due to the jamming of American radio programs – the effective jamming during the past three months.

Mr. SCHERER. May I ask one more question while I have the floor, Mr. Chairman?

Mr. VELDE. Yes.

Mr. SCHERER. Are you in a position to know how the Communist Polish leaders are explaining to the Polish people the breaking by the Russians of the treaty entitled “The Definition of the Aggressor”? That treaty, I believe, was signed in 1933.

Dr. KOROWICZ. Naturally there is much talk of this matter in Poland and from my position as a professor of international law, and from the position that I occupy as such a professor, I have had to discuss this matter frequently. It was necessary to analyse this new contribution of the Soviet legal mind to the pacification of the world.

Mr. VELDE. Dr. Korowicz, are you in a position to know the general attitude of the non-Communist in Poland toward Western Germany and the people of Western Germany at the present time?

Dr. KOROWICZ. It must be well understood that the Polish people keep in their minds today a vivid memory of all the Hitlerite atrocities committed by these Germans. Six million Poles were savagely butchered. But in spite of this the Polish people would like to live in peace and in definite peace with their neighbouring German populations.

Mr. VELDE. You are referring to the butchering of the Poles by the Hitlerites. I wonder if you are referring there to the Katyń Forest massacre?

Dr. KOROWICZ. With respect to Katyń, Mr. Chairman, the opinion in Poland is almost unanimous that the assassination and murder of so many Polish officers was a guilty deed performed by the Russians and not by the Germans.

Mr. KUNZIG. And it might be considered, might it not, Doctor, not an accident that today the place of these Polish officers has been taken by Russian officers in the Polish Army?

Dr. KOROWICZ. The Russians have no confidence in the loyalty of the Polish Army, and particularly in the loyalty of the Polish soldiery. It is for this reason that it is necessary for them to keep the complete domination of the army in their own hands.

Mr. KUNZIG. Doctor, there is a lot of discussion back and forth today as to whether or not Russia has or has not the atomic bomb or the H-bomb. What is your opinion on that subject as a professor in a Polish university?

Dr. KOROWICZ. I can only tell you what is believed by general public opinion. Maybe the Russians have the atomic bomb, but we believe that they may be bluffing with regard to the hydrogen bomb.

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Mr. KUNZIG. Could you, Doctor, summarize for us here now yourviewpoints on the subject you have discussed this morning and conditions in Poland, and your viewpoints toward the future?

Dr. KOROWICZ. If the chairman will be so kind as to allow me to do so, I would like to refer to some notes that I have made on this general topic. Being shorter and more precise in nature, I will therefore be able to relate more usefully and more objectively the opinions that I might give in answer to the question that the counsel has just put to me.

Mr. VELDE. Without objection, the same will be permitted.

Dr. KOROWICZ. Before wishing me farewell 3 weeks ago, Mr. Skrze­szewski, the Foreign Minister, recited to me in solemn words the secret duties of an Ambassador of the Polish People’s Republic which according to him I was about to become, among others. Now, what does it mean to become an Ambassador of the Polish People’s Repub­lic sent to a foreign country? This is what such an envoy has to keep in mind always and repeat on every occasion.

He has to assure everybody that Poland under its present rule represents the victory of social justice; that under the present regime Poland has achieved a degree of prosperity hitherto unknown in her history; that thanks to the brotherly assistance of the Soviet Union, Poland has become one of the happiest countries in the world.

Today, as one who has achieved freedom in the United States, I want to act as spokesman for the enslaved Polish nation to tell the world what the Poles really think.

The Soviet gauleiters have turned Poland into one immense totali­tarian prison camp. The Bolshevist regime has succeeded in making of Poland, which is potentially one of the richest countries in Europe, a land of misery, oppression, and exploitation of the working classes. The so called brotherly help that the U. S. S. R. boasts of giving to Poland is a gigantic lie. It is, in fact, the most cruel system of colonial administration operating for the sole benefit of Soviet Russia.

The Communists have proclaimed that in Poland there are 2 million members registered in the party, to which they add 2 million members of the Young Communist Movement. Now, these young people of approximately 14 years of age are not members of any political party. They are being indoctrinated. But the importance given to the number of Communists in Poland must be considered also as a lie. At the maximum the Communist Party only includes 6 to 7 percent of the population. In the case of a free election, unhappily impossible under present circumstances, I do not believe that the Communist votes would rep­resent more than 2 percent of the total. I am absolutely confident that I am speaking not only for myself, but for millions of my countrymen in giving to you the following thoughts: We Poles see in recent events in Russia only some tactical changes, but certainly no change in the Soviet master strategy. We Poles who live close to Russia believe that the Soviet has not made drastic and fundamental changes in its policy. They know in Mos­cow that under present circumstances war is not the best and the safest way to achieve their aims. As seen in Poland, the Soviet aim remains that of world conquest. The Soviet master plan or grand strategy looks to achieve this final aim in 1970 or 1980, and the plan is based on the progressive destruction of the cultural, economic, and political foundations of he free world.

First the Soviet Union is making a tremendous effort to achieve the integration of the numerous and diverse elements among its empire of 800 million people.

Mr. SCHERER. May I interrupt?

Dr. KOROWICZ. Yes.

Mr. SCHERER. In view of what the witness has just said I suppose when he testified that on the trip over the delegation was planning a new peace offensive, that peace offensive was not sincere?

Dr. KOROWICZ. You are perfectly correct. I did not believe it was sincere. What they are looking for, and what they seek here, is one military and economic entity. We hear of 5-year plans, 3-year plans, 20-year plans, 6-year plans, In Russia, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia, or China. These fictitious appellations are not to be believed. They appear to be plans for the welfare of the country concerned, but they are in fact only plans for the welfare of the Soviet state. I believe there is really only one plan for the great territory ranging from the Aleutians to the Elbe River banks. You may ask me on what do I base my opinion. Well, just consider for a moment that Poland, a relatively small country, spends about 50 billion zlotys, which is $1½ billion, annually for her heavy industry. Is this the effort directed toward raising the standard of living of the Polish people? No, indeed. These expenses are made strictly according to the overall plans and requirements not of the Polish economy, but of the Russian military machine.

Secondly, the Soviet master plan exploits the poverty, the ignorance and the nationalistic feelings of the people of undeveloped countries, turning them against America by systematically teaching them that the United States has become the policeman of European colonial systems.

Third, all mistakes of the Western World are immediately exploited and with diabolical agility by the Soviet political machine.

Whenever we in Poland hear on the radio the proof that the West does realize the Communist danger in the world; when we hear about actions such as the Marshall plan; and particularly when we hear of things like President Eisenhower’s inspiring declaration of last April, our faith in a better tomorrow is revived and the forces of resistance to tyranny grow stronger.

Finally let me tell you that Poland intensely and incessantly listens to these voices in the West. With the most special interest we follow all that is being said in this great Nation of yours – the country in which we concentrate all our hopes for regaining our place in the free community of the West.

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Mr. KUNZIG. Doctor, have you ever met personally any members of the Russian Politburo?

Dr. KOROWICZ. Absolutely not.

Mr. KUNZIG. I assume then that you wouldn’t have any idea, or do you have any idea whether Beria escaped from Russia?

Dr. KOROWICZ. I can only report to you what was the common opin­ion in Poland: That at the time it was announced to the entire world that Beria had fallen from favour, Beria had already been executed.

Mr. KUNZIG. Professor, after your recent and dramatic experience, and after the great amount of thought which you must have given to the whole tremendous problem in these last years since you returned to Poland, can you tell us in your opinion how the free world can best remain free?

Dr. KOROWICZ. The free world is free and will remain free just so long as it is enabled to unmask and destroy the subversive plots that are abroad in the world. It is very necessary for all honorable men of good will to unite in this effort.

Mr. SCHERER. May I interject that that is the purpose of this committee: To acquaint the people of this country with the extent and na­ture or the Communist conspiracy.

Dr. KOROWICZ. I am fully aware of the high importance of the work of this committee and of the importance of this meeting. It is for this reason that I am so grateful to Mr. President Velde…

Mr. VELDE. Chairman Velde.

Dr. KOROWICZ. It is a European expression, to say president of a committee.

Mr. VELDE. I am sorry.

Dr. KOROWICZ. To have given reality to my desire to be called before you.

Mr. SCHERER. Let me ask one further question. Did I understand that in the latter part of the statement which you just read you said something to the effect that the people of Poland would gain heart if the free world realized fully the menace of communism? Did you say something to that effect?

Dr. KOROWICZ. I made a statement very much along those lines. I said specifically that…

Mr. SCHERER. Would you repeat that, because I think it is important. . .

Dr. KOROWICZ. Yes, Sir. Each time that we hear over the radio proofs that the Western World realizes the extent of the Communist danger in the world, and when we hear of the activities of solidarity I continued and I said that the will and faith of the Polish people would be reborn.

Mr. SCHERER. May I again repeat that it is a purpose of this com­mittee to make this country at least aware of the extent of the Com­munist conspiracy and the nature of it.

Mr. VELJDE. I might add, Mr. Scherer, that the committee has other functions as well –

Mr. SCHERER. I understand, but that is one of the functions.

Mr. VELDE. To ascertain the facts for remedial legislation.

Mr. KUNZIG. Dr. Korowicz, could you in conclusion here this morn­ing tell us of your personal hopes for the future?

Dr. KOROWICZ. It is the will not only of myself, but for my own future role in the light of the interests of my country, to spread the truth as to the exact painful and criminal nature of the Soviet regime in Poland. I have the intention to write a number of articles, to make speeches, to write a book on the Soviet regime in Poland as I have known it. After several months of this activity it is my deep desire that I would like to return to my scientific studies and publish several works on the field of international law, which works it was impossible to publish with scientific objectivity in Poland.

Mr. KUNZIG. Thank you very much, sir.

Mr. Chairman. I have no further questions.

Mr. VELDE. Mr. Frazier, do you have any questions?

Mr. FRAZIER. No questions, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. VELDE. Mr. Scherer.

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Mr. SCHERER. Yes, I have one question, Mr. Chairman. I believe you stated earlier in your testimony that Russia was using the United Nations as a forum, or sounding board, for the promulgation of the Communist conspiracy. This committee, of course, is interested in learning the nature and extent of that program in this country. Other than using the United Nations as a platform for the promulgation for its doctrines, do you know of any other methods or means by which the Soviet Union plans to promulgate the conspiracy in this country?

Dr. KOROWICZ. I can only add in emphasizing it that we were all indoctrinated strongly with the Russian master plan to reach the working masses of the various countries in the Western World over the heads of their governments. The use of their diplomatic service, consulates, and legations of the Soviet, are understood to be propaganda centers in the heart of various international organizations in which the Soviet is represented other than the United Nations. It would be the greatest defeat that the Soviets could suffer, short of war, to be forced to break off diplomatic relations with the West.

Mr. SCHERER. I have no further questions.

Mr. VELDE. Dr. Korowicz, let me say for myself, and I think probably I can speak for the other members of the committee, that it is always a privilege and an opportunity and a pleasure to hear the testimony of witnesses who have escaped from the Iron Curtain countries. In your particular case it is an especial pleasure and privilege to hear from you, as we all realize that you are a very distinguished scholar, educator, and statesman as well. I want to thank you very kindly for the service that you have performed for our committee and for the American people in telling us of the Soviet treachery in Poland and in giving us some basis on which to compare the Soviet treachery here in the United States.

I would like to thank also Mr. Thomas, who has taken the time to come down here, free of charge, and without cost to the taxpayers, to interpret the words of Dr. Korowicz. I think you have done so in very fine style.

Also I wish to thank the other interpreter, Mr. Korboński, for his attendance here today, to be with Dr. Korowicz and to assist in the translation of the various Polish names.

Unless there is something further from the members of the committee, or counsel, the committee will stand in adjournment until further call of the Chair.

(Whereupon, at 12.45 p.m., the committee adjourned, subject to the call of the Chair.)

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DRAŻA THE SERBIAN CHETNIK IN THE POLISH UNDERGROUND   3 comments

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What follows is the story of Dragan Mihajlo Sotirović, a figure known little outside Poland and Yugoslavia. A Serbian Captain who made a vital contribution to the efforts of the Polish Home Army in South-Eastern Poland during World War II. There is surprisingly little material available. It was certainly in the interests of the Communist Polish authorities and the Soviet Union to write him out of the history books of the Second World War.  And Tito, whom he met when both were guerilla fighters (and political opponents), would tar all chetniks with the collaborationist brush. There is a cinematic wholesomeness to his character, in the recollections of his friends and soldiers, so much so that I am still searching for Ukrainian, Yugoslav, or Soviet sources which might describe him as an enemy. The information here comes from Polish sources, including Jerzy Węgierski’s histories of Home Army operations in Lwów and Rzeszów, from Draża’s own memoir Europe for Sale (L’Europe aux enchères. Paris. 1952), written in French immediately after the war, as well as the recollections of my father, who fought under his command in the 14th regiment of Jazłowiecki Lancers.

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Draza 5

Dragan Mihajlo Sotirović (1912-1987)

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From 1941, “Draża”, as he was known, fought as a chetnik in the Yugoslav Army, in the Ravna Gora Movement, where he served as the adjutant of General Dragoluba Mihalović, the royalist general and staunch enemy of Yugoslavia’s future leader, Joseph Broz Tito. He was captured by the Germans and transferred to a prison in Rawa Ruska, on formerly Polish territory. But his captors would underestimate his love of freedom. Draża was to make of escape a professional art. He escaped once from the Germans, three times from the Soviets, and avoided arrest countless times. Everyone seemed to have had a bounty out on his head at one time or another – Germans, Soviets, and the Ukrainain Insurrectionary Army.

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Draza 6

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ESCAPE No.1

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For his first escape, he pretended to the Germans that he was suffering from severe appendicitis. As he was being transferred to hospital, he broke away from his guards at the train station in Stryj. He threw himself under a slow moving train which was leaving the station, out the other side and ran for his life. He later recounted an armed railway guard tried to apprehend him. He held his gun up but Draża ran into him at full throttle, knocking him to the ground. The photos which remain of him during the war reveal a tall, athletic man. Despite the debilitating effects of guerrilla warfare and imprisonment, he could always muster up his energy for escape. He possessed a somewhat romantic notion of patriotic pride and old-world chivalry which nevertheless won the respect of his subordinates and superiors alike. He would made his way to Lwów, a city, whose language he did not speak, but whose spirit he would come to embrace, a city occupied by a common enemy, and populated by a kindred people. During his imprisonment in Rawa Ruska, some French prisoners had given him the name and address of a compatriot living in Lwów. She operated a safe house and helped escaped French prisoners-of-war. That was how Draża made his way to 31 Kochanowski Street and introduced himself to Mme Ida Thom-Vasseau. From there he got in touch with the Polish underground, and so began his remarkable career as a Polish resistance fighter.

Draża joined the forest detachments and was made second-in-command of the 14th Regiment of Jazłowiecki Lancers (then lead by Stefan Czerwinski) at about the same time my father was beginning his training, in January 1944. He would describe the Serb as an active and charismatic leader; who led from the front, and put the honour and dignity of their campaign on a par with operational successes. He seemed to be from a different age. He spoke Polish badly at first, and even when he learned to speak fluently he spoke with a distinct Serbian accent. This, coupled with his formidable skill as a soldier and a motivator, gave him an exotic allure. He was the foreigner whose presence in the Polish fight instilled in his young soldiers the comforting thought they were supporting a cause which transcended nationality.

My Captain is pure bravery.
No food eats he, and drinks not a drop,
He’s everywhere he’s meant to be.
Draża’s here! The game is up!

-Song of the 14th Regiment of Jazłowiecki Lancers

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The Giants

The ‘Giants’ discuss the ‘Pymies.’

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GIANTS AND PYGMIES

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Draża became known to my father and other members of the underground after the attack he led on Szołomyja, a Ukrainian village southeast of Lwów, on the 10th June 1944, six weeks before Operation Tempest would drive the Germans from the city. By 1943, the Ukrainian Insurrectionary Army (UPA), or, at least, certain sections of it, was engaged in an all-out policy of ‘Ukrainianizing’ the countryside of Wołyń, northeast of Lwów. This often meant, in effect, harassing, killing and driving out Poles and any remaining Jews, who weren’t welcome in their hoped-for Ukrainian Republic. The Ukrainian nationalists had few friends by this time. They were hunted by both the Russians and the Germans, or were sometimes politely tolerated if their attacks on Poles were useful to the strategic interests of their erstwhile masters. But when they turned their attention to civilians, they re-opened the old wounds of the past, of the Polish-Ukrainian War, of their betrayal by Piłsudski in the aftermath of the Polish-Soviet War. And the fact that these wounds were opened up in the midst of another great conflict by battle-hardened and desperate men, made the consequences gangrenous and gruesome. And once they started, the cruelty multiplied and mutated into particularly bloody acts. Through 1943 and early 1944, they had moved in a wave across Eastern Poland/Western Ukraine. The pattern was predictably grotesque. Posters would appear at night informing the inhabitants, in Polish, to take their things and move west of the River San. The consequences of not doing so: death. Ukrainian versions also appeared, intended for Ukrainians who had married Poles. ‘Traitors! Pack your bags too or face the same fate as these Poles who occupy Ukrainian land!’ Sometimes there were letters attached by a wire to the necks of the dead, their bodies hung at crossroads, the barbarous aspect of ethnic butchery, ritually carved into flesh and hacked out of bone as a chilling reminder of the unbidden cost of history. Sometimes they came into the villages without warning and launched an attack with guns and knives, setting fire to the wooden houses, rounding up the inhabitants and burning them in their churches or slaughtering them with pikes and scythes, hammers, and sticks. Up to 100,000 Poles were killed and 300,000 made refugees by the Ukrainian nationalists during the conflict. On the other hand, between 10,000 and 20,000 Ukrainians were killed in reprisal by Poles in Wołyn and Eastern Galicia.

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Victims of a village pogrom by Ukrainian nationalists, Lipniki, 26th March 1943

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ROMAN SHUKHEYVICH

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The leader of the Ukrainian Insurrectionary Army (UPA) was a dedicated and unwavering nationalist, Roman Shukhevych, who fought under the name ‘Taras Chuprynka.’ He had been involved in various Ukrainian underground movements since the 1920s, leading an armed struggle against both Poland and the Soviet Union. He had negotiated with the Germans in 1941 to set up and train a SS Ukrainian military unit which was to engage the Soviets. He remains something of a mystery, a Manichean symbol of all that is good or bad, depending on the politics of the perceiver. Because his activities were carried out under the auspices of various underground movements, the full extent and manner of his actions are difficult to establish and corroborate. He had been involved in various assassinations of Polish and Soviet political figures in the 1930’s and, as a leader of the UPA during the war, Poles held him responsible for the vicious nature of their attacks on Polish civilians. He too suffered for his beliefs: on the eve of the German invasion of Lwów, the Soviets murdered his brother, exiled his mother and his wife and sent his children to an orphanage. The Germans, considering his brand of nationalism incompatible with their own, soon arrested him. He escaped in 1943 and resumed his activities with greater determination and ruthlessness. As is the case with so many of the darker figures in this story, he met violence with violence.  For the former Poles of the east, of Wołyn and Galicia, he remains at least partially responsible for the ethnic cleansing that sliced through this already war-torn land. His role as an anti-Soviet fighter has seen him posthumously become a political synonym of a certain brand of Ukrainian patriotism, in which the good and the bad of his personal story are now subsumed in a fiery polemic which is as much mythological as political. In Ukraine, in 2007, he was awarded the title ‘Hero of Ukraine’.

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Roman Shukheyvich 1

Roman Shukhevych AKA Taras Chuprynka (1907-1950)

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OPERATION TEMPEST

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My father’s first military engagement was during Operation Tempest, which saw the successful Polish-Soviet joint offensive to liberate Lwów from German occupation in July 1944. Within a week of the onset of the Lwów uprising, the Germans were on the run. The Poles and the Russians were in full control of the city. Congratulatory telegrams arrived from London and Moscow. The Soviet side praised the contribution of the Home Army. The Soviet Colonel Baranov even recommended Draża, now the brilliant ‘Slavic’ strategist, for the Red Star. The Polish Army awarded Draża the Order of Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest military decoration for courage. It was presented to the Serb, in Lwów, by General Filipkowski on 27th July.

The Home Army itself, by prior agreement with the Soviets, was to be disbanded upon the recapturing of Lwów. Thus, on 28th July, my father and all the other soldiers, save those of higher rank, were thanked for their contribution and told to return to their homes and await further instructions. This was a confidence-building measure in the face of the Soviets who objected to a ‘guerrilla’ army remaining armed and on the ground behind the Russian advance. Wojtek would have to hand back the Mauzer which had both killed and preserved life.

In any case, even as the last Germans were being chased out of Lwów, on July 26th, the chairman of the Stalin-backed ‘Polish Committee of National Liberation,’ Edward Osóbka-Morawski, signed an agreement with Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov. This secret agreement was the template for the ruling pact between Moscow and her new client regime. A few days later Draża was one of those officers invited by Commander-in-Chief General Ivanov to Soviet Headquarters in Lwów’s Biesiadecki Palace. There they were arrested. Even as the Red Army was marching West, they were eradicating their Central European allies who might hinder Stalin’s post-war vision of a constellation of compliant Communist satellite states. As the armies of German expansionism returned withered whence they had emerged so triumphantly just a few years before, a series of power struggles took place country-by-country for the right to rule within the new Europe. Throughout Albania, Yugoslavia, Romania, France, Italy, Greece, and Poland, with Soviet and Western interference, groups battled to gain control of their respective satrapies. Those who won would become the new dictators. The new democrats. Churchill would famously say: When the war of the giants is over, the wars of the pygmies will begin. Draża, the Serbian Captain in the Polish Home Army, was in a better position to see something which Churchill did not then appreciate. Giants are never at peace. His memoir, “Europe for Sale”, written in 1945, opens: On the very day the Armistice was signed, the Third World War began..

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ESCAPE No.2

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Not only had his unit re-assembled after the liberation of Lwów, but Draża had miraculously escaped from the long arms of the NKVD, and had been promoted to sole commander of the 14th Lancers. Immediately after his arrest by the Soviets in Lwów, Draża was interrogated, starved, and finally drugged. He was forced to sign a false confession that he was an enemy of the Soviet Union, who had helped the ‘Polish fascists’. For some weeks he wasted away in an underground prison in the village of Sokolow. A leg wound he had received during Operation Tempest (Soviet ‘friendly-fire’) began to fester and delirium set in. But Draża was no ordinary prisoner. He was a Serb first of all, with influence in the Polish Home Army. If the Soviets could turn him, he would make a useful infiltrator. After all, Colonel Baranov had recommended him for a Red Star. He was now weak but unrepentant. On August 22nd he was flown to Moscow on an American Douglas, and brought to the edifice of Communist terror, the dreaded Lubyanka, to face the NKVD leadership. A Political Commissar offered him a deal. To work as a Soviet spy. He later recounted his interrogation:

“Are you willing to work for the USSR?”

“Of course, I want to continue the fight against the Nazis. I will help the Red Army to defeat them!”

“And are you willing to fight fascist Poles?”

“I am an enemy of all fascists. I make no distinction, be they Polish, Serb or Russian.”

“Are you willing to fight against the Polish Home Army?”

“Are you kidding me? Fight against my own soldiers? Would you fight your own soldiers if the English asked you?”

“You’ve been indoctrinated by the Poles, my friend. We don’t wish to destroy them but simply to make them realize that we must all form a pan-Slavic alliance against imperialism.”

“I too once dreamed of a Pan-Slavic State. For twenty years in Serbia, I dreamed of a state which would not allow our children to die, which would prevent us being dragged off to camps, in Germany, Italy, or Austria. When I saw the Red Army arrive in Poland, I wanted to believe that this too was my dream. But it was all lies. You put your sybaritic communist fanatics in charge, with that sycophant Wanda Wasilewska. If you really want Pan-Slavism, let us elect our own governments!”

“You’ve been turned! Enough philosophy! Will you or will you not work for the Red Army?”

“Yes.”

“Are you willing to be parachuted behind the German lines?”

“Whenever and wherever you like. I’m a guerrilla specialist.”

“Will you tell us where your arms dumps are located?”

“I am a resistance fighter. We have no arsenals.”

“Are you willing to tell us the names of your superiors and subordinates?”

“I only know General Filipkowski and Colonel Czerwinski. As for the rest, I only know their pseudonyms.”

“Are you willing to show us where they live, if we take you back to Lwów?”

“I will do it, but only if you provide me with proof that they did not do their duty against the German occupiers.”

“So you refuse?”

“I am a Serbian officer. I would rather die than betray my men.”

“Did you not sign a verbal confession in Lwów?”

“Whatever it says was written without my consent.”

“You shall have some time to reflect on the best course of action you should take. This is war, after all. We must be prudent with English spies. Take him away!”

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*

 

Draża’s attitude was thus not conducive to Soviet needs: he was sentenced to ten years hard labour ‘for leading a terrorist organization on Soviet territory.’ His leg would turn gangrenous and he would die before he even reached the camps. He weighed up his options and played a final throw of the dice. He asked to see the Commissar. He reminded him that he was not only well known in the Yugoslav and Polish Armies, but his brothers were highly placed within the Yugoslav Royalist government in London. In fact, one was a minister, the other military attaché to the USA. He told the Commissar that they had already been informed that he was being held captive by the Soviet Union. Surely Stalin didn’t wish his British Allies to question Soviet honour in their hour of victory?  I am not a tree without roots, Commissar! You will most certainly hear of it, if you destroy me.

It was a desperate attempt to shake the Soviet judicial line, which rarely accepted reason as evidence. It seemed useless, though it was true what Draża had said. The next day, miraculously, he was told he was being flown back to Lwów, where ‘evidence’ would be gathered for the trial against him. If he was, politically, of some worth, they reasoned that some form of judicial process was in order.

Draża was brought back to Lwów, where he was held under guard and interrogated yet again. They would ask him to name his accomplices, his comrades, to point out their houses and their families. He would decline, they would torture him, and finally they would execute him and he would be another bloody corpse in a world of bloody corpses. But, here, in Lwów, at least he had a chance of escape. In Moscow, he had been alone. Here, he tried to get word out, through the polish gardener, that he was being held prisoner. But no one dared respond to him, believing it to be a Soviet trap. Many presumed that, by now, Draża was dead, another victim of Stalin’s insecurity. In those dire circumstances, on Friday September 15th, 1944, at two in the afternoon, Draża decided to take things into his own hands. He had been pretending to be sicker and weaker than he was, walking slowly, feigning pain and illness. He sat bent over on a bed after yet another interrogation. The lieutenant guarding him had no chance. The guard had put his gun down for a moment to light a cigarette when the Serb pounced. He strangled the guard and finished him off by sending the leg of the bed crashing down upon his head. He felt no guilt, for he knew that his own execution would have been happily carried out by the lieutenant. Draża put on the lieutenant’s coat, pulled his cap down over his face, and, in plain view, walked down two flights of stairs past several armed guards and out the gates of what had been his prison. He was free. Once he had sent the word out to the underground network, his soldiers immediately came to assist him. His agents Belabes and Krystyna arrived at the safe house he was staying in and preparations were made for his escape from Lwów. The Soviets knew his face now. It was on posters all over the city. He was a dangerous terrorist. As an enemy of Communism, the Soviets considered him a fascist of the lowest order. In fact, he was twice-over a fascist. A Serbian fascist and a Polish fascist.  Draża would have to follow his soldiers into the forests.

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Draza 7

1945 Czyszek. Draża after his escape from the NKVD. From left, ‘Krystyna’ Czesława Hnatówna, Draża, Kazimierz Łamasz, Jadwiga Łamasz, Unknown, ‘Lis’ Władysław Pruczkowsk.

 

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‘THE WESTERN BETRAYAL’

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The soldiers had already lost faith in the Allied chiefs. They became more pragmatic after they had heard what had happened in Warsaw, where the Red Army had waited patiently on the eastern bank of the Vistula while the Poles within took on a spiteful Wehrmacht unaided. The Western leaders would stand by and allow Stalin have his Poland, after all. The Communist strategy was already in place. A Soviet-backed interim government and army were already cracking down on Poles with any anti-Soviet or anti-authoritarian leanings. In a practice familiar to empires, the Soviets assembled, trained, ordered and rewarded Poles who were willing to administer a communist project in their own country. Although considerably worse off in terms of numbers, the so called ‘Peoples Army’ and other Communist Poles assigned to the Police and security services had the implicit backing of the Soviets. The Soviets, still feigning benevolence, didn’t wish to enter into direct conflict with former members of the Home Army, but they gave the green light to their proxies to crack down on any ‘fascist terrorists and enemies of the people.’ This became the stirrings of a civil war; and because infiltration becomes much easier when opposing factions are of the same nation, the communists had imprisoned tens of thousands of former Home Army soldiers, many of them handed over to the Soviets and sent to ‘corrective’ labour camps. People were disappearing in droves.  Draża decided to teach the Communists a lesson. He scheduled a series of actions aimed at Polish Communists. He wished to send a message to those who, out of political ideology and personal ambition were willing to scupper Polish freedom. Prime amongst them was the Police Commander from the village of Hiżny. He was a petty tyrant who took Communist money and abused his power over the civilians of the town. He and a handful of other similarly-minded local bosses from various villages were killed in the darkness of night. To allow this the maximum psychological advantage, to advertise the justice meted out to traitors, when they raided the Police Station in Hiżny, they left a message with the bodies: “You have betrayed God and your Country. You have sold out your brothers. Traitors like you shall suffer more of the same.” Draża was satisfied by the fact that, after this incident, out of a population of four hundred thousand in the area the 14th Lancers patrolled, the Polish Communist Army could only get one hundred recruits. However, it was obvious that, as long as Churchill or Roosevelt refused to put their foot down and to set a limit to Stalin’s designs, the Communists would remain in power, a political expediency the Czechoslovaks and the Poles would christen the Western Betrayal. While Draża and his men continued to fight, even the Polish government-in-exile in London seemed to have given up and were encouraging members of the Home Army to revert to civilian status, in an effort to try to save as many Polish lives as possible. But the soldiers of the forest continued to fight.

Draża  carried out an attack on the prison in the town of Brzozów in spring 1945. The Soviets had rounded up a lot of Polish officers, former members of the Home Army. An informant had revealed that the prisoners were soon to be transported for trial in the Soviet Union. A few days before the scheduled transfer, Draża sent his ‘information agent’ to spread the word that the Home Army was planning a major attack upon another building located some distance from the town. The plan was to divert as many troops as possible away from the prison at the time they planned to strike. A small action squad, lead by Driver, pretended they were members of the Polish Communist army who were transporting their ‘prisoners’, supposedly deserters from the self-same army, to the main prison at Rzeszów. They presented themselves at the gates of the prison and asked for lodging for the night. They naturally presented their documents, excellent forgeries which corroborated the Home Army ruse. Once inside, they caught the Communists unawares. They released the prisoners, cleaned out the arsenal and locked the former jailers up in their own cells.

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ESCAPE NO.3

 

In March 1945, Draża was arrested again at a convent in the village of Borek, where, exhausted and weak, he had sought sanctuary for the night. He woke to the shouts of Russian soldiers searching the convent. He tried jumping out the window. He lowered himself down over the window ledge by his hands and fell with a thundering crash. He broke bones in both his feet. The Russians apprehended him and brought him in for interrogation. Although they were searching for, among others, the ‘Serbian fascist’ Draża, they didn’t recognize him straight away. So he pretended he was a French soldier, Jacques Roman, returning home from a prisoner-of-war camp in Odessa. The NKVD weren’t looking for French POWs, who had been given permission to leave ‘Soviet’ territory, so he was transferred under armed guard to a hospital in Rzeszów for treatment of the broken bones in his feet. Once there, he got word out through a sympathetic doctor that the elusive Draża was in hospital. Two days later, two plainclothes policemen came to the hospital with papers authorizing them to take the prisoner-patient for immediate questioning. It was a trick, and the ‘policemen’ bundled him into a car and took him away to safety.

This wasn’t the first time and wouldn’t be the last time that Draża used the name Jacques Roman. The Serb had received some schooling in France before the war, and he spoke French, which helped support his story. The name saved his life on this occasion and, later, Draża would legally change his name to Jacques Roman when he was forced to live in exile in France.

His men thought he was gone for good this time. His first escape from the NKVD had been unexpected, but few dared to hope that even Draża, that most resourceful and capable of soldiers, would make a second escape. Surely he had been executed. And when he did indeed escape, he stayed out of sight for some time as the bones in his feet were healing. Only certain officers knew of his whereabouts. Meanwhile, the fight continued. Draża had trained his officers well, and, in his absence, they continued the fight. There was Belabes, the French Foreign legion veteran, Tough, who had 104 kills to his credit by the age of twenty-two, and Wildcat, now Wojtek’s indomitable section leader. They kept the Ukrainians at bay and thwarted Soviet attempts to locate us. Finally, one hot day in summer with the sun burning the backs of their necks, in a village south of Rzeszów, my father saw Draża once again. He appeared with Belabes, still hobbling on account of his injuries but, otherwise, in excellent spirits. They stood to attention, Tough, Wildcat, and Wojtek, my father. A great smile illuminated the Serb’s face and he returned the salute.

The only negative aspect of Draża’s return was the fact that, though much beloved, he could be very strict about certain matters. There was even a local anecdote that the villagers told, a conversation between two old farmers, who meet in the forest:

“Hey, how are things?”

“Not so well, my old friend.”

“What’s wrong?”

“All the onions have run out in the village!”

“That couldn’t be! The summer wasn’t that bad.”

“Yes, but Draża’s back.”

“And what! He eats so many onions?”

“No, but his soldiers do. So he won’t find out they’ve been drinking vodka, they try to hide the alcohol on their breath by eating onions whole!”

Vodka aside, everyone was happy to have Draża back. Draża  began working on negotiating a ceasefire with the Ukrainians. The peace conference took place at the village of Siedliska. My father attended both as a member of the security contingent and as a contributor to the regiment’s newspaper, a modest type-written periodical, with the ribald title El Bordello. It was all an extremely cordial affair, with smiles and hand-shakes all around, which left my father scratching his head at times:

“As a lowly lance-corporal observing the strange world of political expediency first-hand, I wondered what we had been fighting for, if we could have had such a meeting long before. I interviewed one of the Ukrainian negotiators and he waxed lyrical about mutual respect and ‘zones of control.’ Those were the times we found ourselves in.”

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Belabas 3

A rare photo of the 14th Jazłowiecki Lancers 1st Platoon. Belabas (Józef Szajda), French Foreign Legion veteran and my father’s platoon leader, stands second from right.

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COMMON ENEMY

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It had become clear to the Home Army that the Soviets would do everything in their power to stretch their borders in all directions, as much as they could get away with. They could  see that the fierce fighting that continued between Poles and Ukrainians served only Soviet interests in the long run. It became ever more complicated as the Soviets sought to legitimize a war against the Home Army by creating a provocation. This they did by exploiting the enmity between Poles and Ukrainians. They started to send Soviet troops dressed in Ukrainian uniforms into Polish villages. Thus, they hoped to entice the Home Army out of hiding and into attacking the ‘Ukrainians.’ If they did, then the Soviets would claim that they had opened fire on the Red Army which would give them the justification to launch an all-out purge of non-Communist Poles. And even if, fearing a trap, we didn’t engage the enemy, then the Soviets in their Ukrainian uniforms would set fire to Polish villages, thereby stoking the hatred between Poles and Ukrainians.  It mattered little to the Soviets which of the two would fare better in that embittered conflict; as far as Stalin was concerned, ultimately, they both had to be eradicated or pacified. The Soviets had employed this strategy at Dynów, encouraging Belabas and his men to open fire on the ‘Ukrainians.’ Then they used this attack on the Red Army as an excuse to descend on the town with soldiers and police in order to suppress and occupy it. It was impossible to continue like that. Draża was a pragmatist when it came to protecting his position. If he could find any UPA leaders who would discuss the situation reasonably, he would be happy to discuss terms. There was little love lost between the Polish resistance and UPA, but there was no debate about the fact that a Soviet victory over Poland would be catastrophic for the national aspirations of both groups. In the end, they managed to agree a short-lived ceasefire. They hammered out an agreement which stated that both groups’ only enemy was the Red Army and that they would assist and support each other against Soviet attacks where they could. Unfortunately, it didn’t last that long. But that didn’t even matter so much because, for both the Poles and the Ukrainians, their common enemy had become their most serious Fighting between Poles and Ukrainians slowed down in direct proportion to Soviet pressure and engagement. At Yalta, the Soviets had secured, in principle, control over a great deal of Eastern Europe. Of course, Stalin had sugar-coated his plans with talk of ‘democratic’ governments, ‘fair elections’ and the ‘free will of the peoples’. But time was fast running out for the free armies of Europe. They now saw that the western powers would not protect them, and that soon the Soviet Union would turn upon them in great force. Soon, there would be no Poland and no Ukraine to fight for. Even if they still hoped history would throw them a lifeline.

As 1945 moved on, it became increasingly clear that any hopes of getting Poland’s old borders back were fading. Not only that; but any chance of seeing a democratic government anywhere in Poland was looking decidedly less likely. The Polish pre-war government remained in London. Stalin orchestrated and aided Soviet-trained Polish Communists to secure control over an already economically, politically, and socially scarred country. British and U.S. long-term interests, which were to undergo contrasting fortunes, sought some way of isolating and containing the spread of Communism; and it would come as no surprise to many Poles that they would, at least partially, be the lump of meat tossed eastwards to keep the rabid Soviet dog at bay. That is the fault-line of diplomacy and policy, of vision and reality, of lies and truth. Britain, who had once declared war on Germany, talking of lofty notions of universal democratic values and protecting the interests of ‘small nations,’ now saw the better part of valour in discretion, in ceding Eastern Europe to the colossus they feared most. By the end of the war, Britain, though honourably enthroned in the winners’ enclosure, witnessed the end of it’s dominance in global affairs. The age of colonial empires was over: the age of New World politics had begun. US fortunes rose exponentially with its financing of the war and the ensuing system of international politics, envisaged in the creation of the United Nations. When Roosevelt met Stalin at Yalta, in February 1944, he desperately sought Soviet military assistance in the war against Japan. In return for that promise, he consented to Stalin’s annexation of all territory east of the Curzon Line, including Lwów. In the end, Stalin commenced his invasion of the Japanese puppet-state of Manchukuo, hours before the second atom bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Soviet forces overran the region in a rout which ended in murder, rape, and pillage on an industrial scale.

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Draza and Lamasz Family

From left, Ludwig Łamasz (‘Wich’), Unknown, Fr. Kwaśniak, Draża, Jadwiga Łamasz (‘Wiszka’)-nurse, Czesława Hnatówna (‘Krystyna’) – Draza’s secretary, Antonina Łamasz (‘Stela’) – nurse, Jan Łamasz (‘Zbych’) Photo

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EVACUATION

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It was becoming more and more difficult for the underground soldiers to continue their resistance. In May 1945, Berlin had fallen. The cry of ‘Victory in Europe!’ echoed around the world. But Poland, who had fought longer than many nations in that war, would know only a hollow victory. Poland, whose allies were victors, would become the victim of those allies. The writing was on the wall. Thousands of Polish fighters, fearing Soviet intentions, were leaving the country now. They travelled westwards to Italy, where the Polish II Corp, which had distinguished itself at Monte Cassino, was quartered. The Allies were now faced with the task of dealing with the huge toll of human displacement which the war and its aftermath had produced. Politically, Roosevelt and Churchill had sanctioned surrendering Poland to Stalinism, but there remained both the  logistical and moral problem of what to do with all the Poles who had fought side-by-side with the British Army, who had defended British skies during the Battle of Britain, who had risked their lives under occupation to support the Allies tactically, through sabotage, espionage and warfare, who had fought in foreign theatres of war because they believed they were fighting for a free Poland. Whatever was going to happen, it seemed the safest place for any Poles who had taken an active military role in the war, was far to the west of Poland. And the consensus was that time was running out to make that journey.

Draża was already preparing for the disbandment and evacuation of the regiment. The plan was to try and outwit the Soviet sentries and cross into Czechoslovakia. They would have to sneak through the lines or use forged documents to avoid arrest and a swift sentence, should the NKVD or the Polish People’s Army catch them at the borders. Once out of Poland, they hoped to travel westwards, through Prague, and onwards to defeated Germany. They would follow the trails of destruction which six years of war had wrought in Europe, destroyed cities and towns, and human deracination. Caravans of refugees, underground armies, political exiles, the starving and the damned now crossed a continent’s smouldering ruins towards fates uncertain.

But there was time for one last act for the 14th Lancers.  It haapened near the village of Domaradz. Under the command of Belabas, a forest patrol had run into a Soviet supply column: horse-drawn wagons piled high with clothing, food, weapons, and ammunition.  In the end their rag-tag forest detachment succeeded in taking out a  Soviet platoon and capturing enough supplies to last for six months. They marched back to the village where Draża waited. If the Serb had known what had just happened, he wouldn’t have been so worried, when a village sentry came flying into the house where he was having his feet bandaged by one of the regimental nurses, and announced that Soviet cavalry was coming their way. Draża was completely taken by surprise. It seemed like bad luck, especially now that they were about to leave Poland. His feet were still in a bad way and he couldn’t run, so he took out his guns and a bag of grenades and awaited a bloody stand-off. It was only as the ‘Soviets’ drew closer that he saw his own officer, Tough, was astride one of the horses. Beside him, he could make out another of his officers, Knebel, his overcoat breast filled with a line of Soviet medals (it was his custom, whenever he killed an enemy officer, to take his most prestigious decoration). There was Wildcat, smiling like a Cheshire cat. And there was my father, with a newly acquired Soviet PPSh machine gun slung across his shoulder. Tough trotted up to a confused Draża, saluted, and announced:

“Captain, we’ve brought you half of Berlin!”

 

Draża hoped that there wouldn’t be a heavy price to pay for the local villagers when the Soviets began scouring the countryside. One thing was certain, now was the time to make their departure. When the Russians found out what happened, the place would be swarming. Already, in the previous month, the conflict between the NKVD and anti-Communist Polish forces had reached a new level. On May 7th, in the village of Kuryłówka, members of the anti-Communist National Military Alliance were engaged in battle by the NKVD. The skirmish ended in the retreat of the NKVD. In Moscow, the news incurred Stalin’s ire and brought decisive action. The village of Kuryłówka was burned to the ground, while Stalin sent eight additional NKVD regiments to deal a decisive blow to the Polish independence movement.  On May 21st, the Soviets’ were militarily embarrassed once again, when the prison in Rembertów, on the outskirts of Warsaw, formerly the German Stalag 333 and now a holding camp for Polish prisoners on their way to camps in Siberia, was attacked by former Home Army soldiers led by Colonel Edward Wasilewski and hundreds of Polish prisoners released.

Draża immediately called the headman of the village to spread the word in the surrounding area that no-one had seen or heard of them. Then he gathered his informers and police confidants and instructed them to spread the rumour that a band of deserters from the Polish Communist Army had attacked a Soviet transport and fled in the direction of Krosno, west of their then position. They would instead go north-eastwards and attempt to reach the railway line that would take them to Kraków. First they found a quiet place in the forest and buried their spoils. The prisoners were given to Belabes to dispose of. They would be handed over to resistance leaders in the villages and used later to trade for Polish prisoners captured by the Soviets.

Draża’s evacuation plan was then set in motion. He sent his soldiers in small groups to the west. The underground resistance movement had contact points throughout the towns and cities of Poland to aid and assist the fleeing soldiers. If all went to plan, they would soon be in Italy with the Polish II Corp. Draża kept a dozen of his men behind, including my father. While they prepared to leave Poland, Draża’s assassins tied up a few loose ends. A small group crept out one morning to kill a butcher in the village of Dynów, a Communist local boss who, knowing the forest detachments were disbanding, had taken the opportunity of arresting any he could find and handing them over to the Russians in return for control over the town. The butcher had police protection, so ‘Granite’ was chosen for that job. His nerves were ice cold. He waited in line at the butcher-shop for his turn at the meat counter. When the butcher was serving the woman in front of him, he took out his revolver, rested it softly on the woman’s shoulder and fired three shots at close range into the butcher’s chest. His accomplices outside the shop took care of the policemen and they all escaped unharmed. A few days later, just as Wojtek and his fellow soldiers arrived at the railway hub in Przeworsk, to make their escape from Poland, several of the men were captured by the local police. Draża would not leave them behind now, on the very point of departure. Intelligence in Przworsk set to work and discovered that the Chief of Police in Przeworsk was to be married within a few days. Draża sent him the following note:

“You have three of my men in your prison. If you do not free them, or if you hand them over to the Soviets, you will be taken down on the day of your marriage. Beware! Don’t play games with your life… – Draża.”

That was all it took. Within a couple of days, the men were released. The Chief of Police knew that Draża meant business.

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Red Cross 1

RED CROSS ESCAPE (No.4)

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Soon, my father received the order to move again. He was to rendez-vous with the last of Draża’s men in the southern city of Katowice. Draża himself had gone to Warsaw to meet the American Ambassador and warn him of the extent of Communist take-over of Poland. He was received there with sympathy, and although the Ambassador expressed shock on learning of the extent of Soviet repression against anti-Communist Poles, he made it clear to Draża that there were ‘higher forces’ at work and now was not the time to argue with Stalin. When he arrived in Katowice, the last of his men, had already gathered before their final departure from Poland. An escape route had been found. The Red Cross was then assisting former French prisoners-of-war, who had spent years in German prisoner-of-war camps in Eastern Europe, to return home. A French officer, sympathetic to Draża’s situation, procured one of the official identity cards necessary to make this journey unmolested. From that, they had their own documents made up by an excellent forger within the underground in Katowice. That was how they left Poland. A French Red Cross worker accompanied them to the train station to put them aboard a carriage specially designated for returning French prisoners-of-war. Besides Draża and Belabas, none of them spoke a word of French. But, luckily for them, neither did the Russian guards who inspected everyone’s paperwork at the station.

 When they arrived in Prague, a French diplomat was waiting on the platform, expecting to greet ‘returning French prisoners-of-war.’ Soviet soldiers also guarded the station. They were checking all passengers for anti-Soviet agents. Draża took the bull by the horns and approached the diplomat.

“Bonjour!” Draża exclaimed with a brazen confidence as he outstretched both his arms and drew the Frenchman to him.

“Are you French?” The diplomat asked more than a little confused. Draża spoke softly and clearly in simple French.

“Listen, if you support the Communists, please turn us over right now. We are soldiers of the Polish Underground. We are friends of France. God save us!”

A wave of anxiety shot through the diplomat’s face. He looked at the boyish expressions behind Draża. He looked at the Soviet NKVD agents who guarded the gates leading from the platforms. A French woman came up to him in a hurry and spoke to her compatriot.

“What are you waiting for? The Russians are watching us. Put them in the truck and let’s get the hell out of here!”

“Damn! Damn! Damn!” The diplomat whispered under his breath. Even he was nervous about the Soviets. He bit the bullet and signalled to a man to drive up with the truck the French Embassy had arranged to collect ‘her’ soldiers. They piled in one after another and were whisked away from under the Soviet agents’ noses to a Red Cross welcome centre. Draża left them in the capable hands of an Allied officer he knew who was stationed in Prague. He agreed to help get them to Pilsen, which was nearby in the American Zone. There, they would be safe until onward transportation could be arranged. Draża himself was going to fly to France. He knew he could get in touch with the Polish government there and make sure that no Polish escapees, who sought refuge in the American zone would be ‘accidentally’ turned over to the Soviets (as indeed was already happening across Europe, as Allied troops forcibly handed over ‘Soviet citizens’ (a loosely defined term) to the NKVD. When it was time for him to depart, they saluted him. Draża wished them all the best. He promised them they would meet again. He told them we would soon get our chance to go home and topple the Communists. He said that he was always with us in that battle for freedom. Yugoslavia, his own native land, lay in Communist hands now also. They were blood brothers in a common fight.

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FINAL FAREWELL

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In summer 1949, my father, by then a refugee in Ireland, went to London, when his fellow Jazłowiaccy told him Draża was coming for a meeting with members of the Polish Government-in-Exile. Though the government wasn’t recognized officially by the British any longer, it still claimed it’s representative rights and conducted it’s affairs in Britain until the first free Polish elections in 1989. Draża looked hale and hearty and seemed genuinely happy to his young soldiers. They attended an official function and, afterwards, sat around over drinks, reminiscing about their adventures, mourning their fallen comrades. Draża was an exile like them. He could no more return to Tito’s Yugoslavia, than they could to Poland. He lived in France now. He told them to come and visit. He wished them the best of luck. When they talked of returning to fight against the Soviets, their mood was momentarily deflated. The more disturbed the Western Powers seemed by the Soviet threat, the less they wished to confront them. In 1949, the Soviets succeeded in exploding their own Atom bomb, an event which boded ill for future military intervention in Eastern Europe. That would be the end of my father’s military career. Perhaps he didn’t quite realize it then, that there would be no more Poland for him, but he knew that his life had entered another phase. And so did Draża. They all could see he felt sad for them. He had promised they would go back and finish their mission. But that was not his fault. He had given them enough already. He had given them a great many life skills in a short amount of time. The proof of that was quite simple: after all they had gone through, they were still alive.

Draża would never return to Yugoslavia or to Poland. He lived out the remainder of his life in France and Monaco under the name Jacques Roman. He died in 1987 on his annual pilgrimage to Mt.Atos in Greece.

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THE WHITE EAGLE AND THE BLACK EAGLE: A FOOTBALL LEGEND   Leave a comment

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.coat_of_arms_of_poland_official

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When the Soviet Union invaded Eastern Poland on September 17th 1939, Communist restructuring of society began immediately. Institutions of the Polish state were abolished, political enemies arrested, sent to the Gulag, or executed, academic institutions closed down or renamed, and the Polish currency abolished. My father, who was thirteen at the time, would recall another detail, the disbanding of the football team he supported – Czarni Lwòw. Any symbol of the old Polish order, which promoted a national identity deemed detrimental to Soviet interests was to be erased from the socio-political landscape. Czarni Lwòw was the first professional Polish football team, founded in 1903, at a time when Poland itself did not exist. In 1911, when Czarni, together with Wisła Kraków, created the Polish Football Association (the predecessor of the modern PZPN), they in fact played as part of the Austrian Football Union. The intricate interplay of nationality, politics, and sport, reflected the complicated multiethnic nature of Central Europe as a whole. Immediately after the founding of the Second Republic in 1918, Poland would fight no less than six border wars. For those who resided at the fault lines of collapsing empires and nascent nation states, the consequences were never going to be simple. Take the following case of a controversial figure, arguably one of the greatest European players of the interwar years, who came from the far side of the new Polish Republic, on the border with the new German Republic.

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Ernst ‘Ezi’ Wilimowski (1916-1997)

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POLITICAL FOOTBALL

The tempestuous relationship between politics and football has hardly a more talented and divisive personification than Ernst ‘Ezi’ Wilimowski who had the dubious distinction of playing for both the Polish and German national football teams, during a period which saw the decimation of Europe.

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Ezi 2

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Ezi, an ethnic German, was born in Kattowitz, Upper Silesia, then part of the German Empire, in 1916. After the First World War, Upper Silesia was partitioned and the three-year-old Ezi became a Polish citizen. His father had died in the war and his mother remarried an ethnic Pole. He spoke both German and Silesian Polish, and would always consider himself, if anything other than a footballer, an Upper Silesian (“Górnoślązak” or “Oberschlesier”). The left wing forward, who dominated the ekstraklasa during the 1930’s, a period of fledgling football success for the recently reconstituted Polish Republic, left a fine record. Pacey, agile, and inventive, he was renowned for his dribbling and goal scoring largesse (his team-mate and later 1954 World Cup-winning captain Fritz Walter, said of him: “He’s probably the only player in the world who’s had more goals than chances.”) He had six toes on his stronger right foot but scored more goals with his left. He netted one hundred and twelve times in eighty-six appearances for Ruch Chorzów, the Silesian powerhouse of pre-World War II Polish football, championship winners through 1933-1936, and 1938. He was the league’s top scorer twice, in 1934 and 1936, and was well set to make it a third in the 1939 season, but for the intervention of Hitler.

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Ezi Warta Ruch 1937

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FOUR PAST BRAZIL

His contribution to the Polish national team was equally impressive. His goal tally for the White Eagles was twenty-one in twenty-two outings. Although forced to sit out the 1936 Berlin Olympics football tournament due to a harsh one-year ban by the Polish Football Association for excessive drinking and carousing, he would get his chance to represent Poland at the 1938 World Cup in France. There the little-fancied Poles narrowly went down 5-6 against the great Leônidas da Silva’s Brazil, in a World Cup classic. Although the knockout system meant the Poles would only play one game, Wilimowski left an indelible mark on the international stage, becoming the first player in a World Cup game to score four goals. Even Poland’s other goal that day in Strasbourg came from a penalty (scored by another ethnic German Friedrich Scherfke) after Ezi had been taken down in the Brazilian penalty area.

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Ezi Brazil

Ezi takes on Brazil

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‘THE LAST GAME’

The next year, on August 27th 1939, at Warsaw’s Wojska Polskiego Stadium, Ezi would play in what Poles to this day call ‘the last game.’ Unbeknownst to fans who turned up to watch their team play World Cup runners-up Hungary, Germany and the Soviet Union had four days earlier secretly signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which would soon result in the complete territorial dismemberment of Poland. The Poles had never beaten Hungary and gave themselves little chance. The sports daily Przegląd Sportowy, in a pre-game headline, which could have been a premonition of Poland’s soon-to-be fate off the football field, declared: ‘No chance, but ready to fight.” The visitors quickly went 2-0 up, before Ezi sprang to life and put three past Ferenc Sziklai the Hungarian keeper. The home team claimed a memorable 4-2 victory, and unwittingly provided the epitaph for football in the Polish Second Republic.

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Ezi Wilimowski 1

Ezi wearing the German strip

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EZI SWAPS EAGLES

After the German invasion of Poland, the football league was abolished. Ezi signed the German citizenship list, which allowed him, unlike his ethnic Polish team mates, to continue his playing career. Later on this decision would lead him to being branded a traitor and collaborator by Polish Communist authorities, as a result of which he would spend the remainder of his life in Germany. Was he a traitor, a pragmatist, or a Silesian who knew more than many about the vagaries of international politics? After all, he had been born a citizen of the German Empire only for the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles to conspire to change the goalposts of nations around him. He was not the only Silesian (Polish) footballer to take German citizenship. His national team mates Edward Jan Dytko (Dąb Katowice), Paweł Cyganek (Wawel Wirek), Leonard Franz Piontek (AKS Chorzów), and Wilhelm Antoni Góra (KS Cracovia) also took this path and would continue to play for German league teams post-1939. However, it was inevitable that players who made this pact would later be negatively compared to the many Polish players who fought and died off the football field. And perhaps especially to those football players who to their cost refused to allow themselves be used for Nazi propaganda (Austria’s Matthias Sindelar and, even if the details remain disputed, the Dynamo Kiev and Lokomotiv Kiev players associated with the controversial ‘death match’ story come to mind). But Ezi’s talent and thirst to play sealed his fate. It wasn’t so much the games he played in the German league for 1 FC Katowice, PSV Chemnitz, or TSV 1860 Munich (where he won the 1942 German Cup with a still unsurpassed tally of fourteen goals in the competition) which irked his former compatriots. His decision to play for the German national team (with the black eagle and swastika crest) would forever tarnish even his outstanding contribution to Polish football. He scored twice in his debut in a 4-1 victory over Romania, completed a hat-trick against Finland and memorably hit four past a decent Switzerland team. However, by late 1942, with fortunes changing in the war and a lack of opponents for ‘friendly’ fixtures, Nazi Germany would play no more. Ezi’s German career thus ended with an impressive goal tally of thirteen from eight games.

After the war, Ezi wished to return to Silesia but the new political landscape in Poland made his earlier decision to play for Germany seem treasonable. Some Germanified players, such as Edward Jan Dytko, did manage to return but only after careful scrutiny by the new Communist authorities and the signing of a declaration of loyalty to the Polish state. The fact that Ezi had played for the German national team, in games his detractors considered political propaganda, made his return more unlikely. He later said he feared for his safety and lived the remainder of his life in West Germany. He never played for any national team again. He continued to play as a journeyman striker with stints at SG West Chemnitz, Rapid Kassel, TSV Detmold, BC Augsburg, Racing Strasbourg, Offenburg FV, FC Singen 04, and VfR Kaiserslautern. He retired in 1959, at the age of forty-three.

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GOALPOSTS AND NATIONS

Ezi’s decision to play for Nazi Germany would over-shadow and detract from his prodigious talent and historic contribution to football. In assessing that decision, it should be remembered that Polish history presented many challenges with regard to the issue of ethnic and national allegiance. Firstly, Poland did not exist as a state from the end of the eighteenth century until 1918. The first Polish football teams were in fact founded in 1903 in Lwòw, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They would later be disbanded by Soviet authorities when the Red Army occupied Eastern Poland in 1939. Teams such as Czarni Lwów, Pogoń Lwów, and Strzelec Wilno ceased to exist or were incorporated into newly established clubs when the territories they represented became part of the Soviet Republics of Ukraine and Lithuania. Thus the idea of ‘playing for the other side’ was often dictated by politics and was not necessarily an overtly political act by the players themselves. Nowadays, of course, we see little wrong with Silesian-born footballers with mixed Polish-German roots, such as Lukas Podolski (whose mother played for the Polish national handball team) or Miroslav Klose (whose father played football for Polish team Odra) choosing to play for Germany. This is a reflection of the intertwined histories of the two countries, painful at times, but inescapable.

The problem with Wilimowski’s decision was obviously the swastika on his new shirt and the bitter relevance of that symbol to Poland. He considered, naively, his only politics was playing football at the highest level but paid for that decision with exile and a fall from grace. Even as a star player in the national team, life wasn’t all rosy for Ezi in Nazi Germany. His mother was sent to Auschwitz for having a relationship with a Russian Jew, a race crime under Nazi law. He only managed to save her with the help of his friend the fighter ace Hermann Graf. On the other hand, he was afforded the opportunity to continue playing football, to avoid combat, and to survive.

When Kazimierz Górski’s outstanding Polish squad came to West Germany for the 1974 World Cup, the Polish Football Association refused a request from Wilimowski to visit their training camp. The message was clear: his legacy was divisive. Anyhow, the 1974 vintage would create their own legend, finishing third, and beating Argentina, Italy, and Brazil along the way. Their only loss, by a single Gerd Muller strike, was to the hosts and eventual champions. Perhaps they could have used some advice from the only player to ever score for and against Germany.

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BEAR NECESSITIES   Leave a comment

*For those who haven’t heard the extraordinary story of Wojtek the Soldier Bear before, I assure you it is absolutely true.

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Wojtek liked nothing better than a beer and a smoke

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For the many Polish soldiers who fled to Britain after the war, in order to escape Stalin’s ill intentions, Wojtek the bear became a poignant symbol of their fate. An orphaned bearcub, who travelled far from his Persian home, who fought in a great battle on foreign soil, and who ended up not only an exile, but an inmate at Edinburgh Zoo – the story resonated with the Polish diaspora in post-war Britain. My father (also Wojtek and also newly landed on Scottish soil after years of fighting) once went to visit his namesake the Soldier Bear with some regimental buddies. When they shouted over the cage to him, this kind-hearted ursine wonder perked up immediately. Everyone said he best understood Polish for that was the language of his youth, and acted much like a soldier, for that was the life he had led.

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Wojtek bear 7

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POLISH RESETTLEMENT CORP

Wojtek the Soldier Bear and thousands of Polish soldiers followed the same route to Britain. On 22nd May 1946, British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin announced the creation of the Polish Resettlement Corp, which was a holding unit for the Polish forces who had fought for the Allies and didn’t wish to return to Poland. 160,000 qualified and 115,000 joined. Many soldiers brought family members with them and over 200,000 Poles eventually moved to Britain. They signed up to the Corps on a two-year contract, were paid British Armed Forces rates, and could avail of various opportunities for training and tuition. They could also be hired out to private contractors, and thus gain work experience. My father would do a stint in a pipe factory in Derby with a whole platoon of Poles. They transported the soldiers to Britain by ship. Ship after ship made this voyage, what would become the final stage of the exodus of Poles, the last shore.

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Wojtek Edinburgh

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PRIVATE BEAR

Wojtek was a most extraordinary soldier, and an even more remarkable bear. ‘Private Bear’, of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company, was a beer-swigging, cigarette-smoking Syrian Brown Bear. He had been found by a shepherd boy in Hamadan, Iran. The bear’s mother had been killed by hunters. The boy sold the cub to some Polish soldiers traveling through the desert.  In 1942, the Polish Army was assembling in the Middle East, after Stalin, his hand forced by Operation Barbarossa, had agreed to allow all Poles on Soviet territory (i.e. prisoners) to leave in order to form the Polish II Corp (see Sikorski-Mayski Agreement). The soldiers looked after the little cub, weaning him on condensed milk, and Wojtek became the Company mascot. He traveled with the army through Iraq and Palestine to Egypt.

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Wojtek Bear 2

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It was from there that the II Corps was to set sail for Italy and, ultimately, the Battle of Monte Cassino. Despite a restriction on the transportation of animals, Wojtek’s fame and official designation as a serving private in the Polish Army (with official pay and double rations on account of his size) meant the regulations were waived.

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Wojtek Bear 3

smarter than the average bear

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At Monte Cassino, in the raging battles which ensued, Wojtek carried artillery shells. He could carry as many as four soldiers. He stood on his hind legs and transported the 100 pound shells in his two front paws. As a reward, the soldiers used to give Wojtek beer, which became his favourite drink, and complemented his appetite for smoking and eating tobacco.

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Wojtek Bear 5

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He later sailed with his fellow soldiers to Scotland and lived in the village of Hutton until he was demobilized in 1947, with the rank of Corporal. He would spend his retirement in Edinburgh Zoo, living to the ripe old age of 21. The 22nd Artillery Supply Company’s official emblem became an image of Wojtek carrying a shell. After the war, Polish soldiers used to visit him in the zoo. They went there specifically to see him, and his old war buddies and comrades-in-arms would sneak him in beers and toss cigarettes into his cage. You could tell he was Polish then.

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Wojtek Bear 4

‘the right to bear arms’

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If you want to know more about Wojtek, visit Wojtek – the Soldier Bear – Niedźwiedź Żołnierz, where Richard Lucas and friends bring together all things Wojtek-ian, as well as promoting the film Wojtek the Bear that Went to War.

And here is Maria Dłużewska’s excellent documentary on Wojtek and those who fought with him and who recount his significance for the Polish diaspora. Wojciech Narebski summarizes the bond forged between the soldiers and the bear:

“The fate of Wojtek was very similar to many soldiers’ fate. A Persian orphan who became polonized, and we who went through Russia, were in Siberia, Kazakhstan, and left the graves of our closest relatives, parents, siblings. Maybe that’s why we got on with him so well, we sympathized with him. And many of us who were afraid to return to Poland became emigrants. Wojtek did too.”

 

 

INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE DISAPPEARED   Leave a comment

‘Tens of thousands of people around the world are missing today because of armed conflicts or human rights abuses such as abductions and illegal arrests and detentions.

As it prepares to mark the International Day of the Disappeared on Thursday, the International Commission on Missing Persons urged governments to provide families with answers about the fates and whereabouts of their missing loved ones. Human rights groups called such disappearances a crime against humanity that must be stopped.

WHO IS A MISSING PERSON?

Individuals reported missing because of in-country or international armed conflicts, or disturbances that require action by a neutral and independent body. Also, people who have been taken into custody by officials who refuse to publicly acknowledge that or conceal the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared persons…

INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE DISAPPEARED, Washington Post, 2012/08/29

Posted August 30, 2012 by jkorowicz in International Day of the Disappeared

COINCIDENCE   Leave a comment

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On Wednesday, I watched on the news channels the reburial of human remains from the Srebrenica Massacre, when 8,000 men and boys were killed after the town was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995.  Not all the bodies could be located, but those that were have come to represent all who died. It was a poignant moment for the families and survivors who have lived under the shadow of a murder, which has lefts its scars and then revisited them countless times in the form of political, national, and religious posturing. These bones were once real people. But even as bones they were more than once before dug up and reburied in efforts to erase the crime from the annals of history. Their own murder has outlived them. For the mourners, the tragedy is that the violent act carried out against their families and friends overshadows what the dead once achieved for themselves in life.

“It is the pain, an endless pain, and when 11 July arrives, every year, this pain becomes unbearable,” Sevdija Halilovic, whose father’s remains will be laid to rest, told the AFP news agency. “My two brothers were also killed in the massacre but have not been found yet,” she added.

By coincidence,  July 11th is also the anniversary of my grandfather’s arrest. He was murdered soon afterwards. Seventy-one years after his life was snuffed out, his remains have not been found. In fact, they will never knowingly be found. In my grandfather’s city, old massacres were often later cleaned up. The bodies were brought to the edge of town. There a furnace awaited them. What remained from the furnace was ground to dust in a gravel grinder, and sprayed out over the forest. Time and subterfuge once stole their final moments but they are nonetheless remembered as living people today.


Posted July 13, 2012 by jkorowicz in Balkans, Srebrenica

A BRIEF HISTORY OF SOVIET EXILE   Leave a comment

“To Comrade Beria. Deport them with a bang. J. Stalin.”[i]

Stalin weighs some fresh human capital…

What follows is an overview of the use of exile by the Soviet Union in Poland during World War II. While researching my family history, I was struck again and again not just by the extent of suffering and death that resulted from exile, but by the political reasoning which reduced every question in Stalin’s mind to: Are you with us or against us? Stalin could have ordered execution (Katyń) over exile (for children, the sick, and the old, the two were often synonymous), but for the man who wrote Marxism and the National Question (1913), there was both an ideological and a strategic interest in gaining the most for the state (of which he was the personification) by the ‘correct’ disbursement of human capital.

Exile is perhaps the fundamental theme of City of Lions. Not only does exile alter the demographics of the points of origin and destination, but it alters the psychology of the deported and subverts tribal myths by placing them in an interzone in which life and cultural expression are partially suspended and forever altered. As an Irishman, and the son of a Polish exile, it seems fitting that I began to write City of Lions during a seven-year sojourn in former Soviet Central Asia, the place Stalin had once sent the exiles of his empire, from throughout the territory of the Soviet Union, from the Caucasus, the Crimea, the Far East, and Europe. It was there too that I met ethnic Poles whose parents and grandparents had been forcibly relocated during the Second World War. I remembered my father once telling me we had some cousins who were among them. The thought that one day, in the bazaar in Samarkand, or on the streets of Almaty, I might pass my own bloodline and never know about it eventually led me to begin my research into missing family members.

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1. EXILE RUNS IN THE FAMILY

My father’s family members were deported from Lwów for different reasons.  My father’s Polish cousins, the Łazowskis (Zbyszek, his wife Wanda, his sister Kazia, and his mother Zuzanna), were deported by Stalin to Kazakhstan, in 1940, to work on the collective farm. My father would later call them the ‘honourably deported’ because Zbyszek had been an advocate of land reform (thus the Soviets considered him reformable even if he thought them deplorable). Later Zbyszek would fight in the Armia Ludowa, and at the end of the war his family were allowed return not to Lwów, but to within the newly-drawn borders of the Polish People’s Republic. My father’s Jewish cousins, Zosia and Joseph, lived in Lublin. They and their parents Ignacy and Nunia, who had escaped German-occupied Poland in 1939, were deported from Lwów to Uzbekistan, the following year. After Operation Barbarossa began, Stalin was persuaded to allow former Polish citizens (i.e. prisoners) to leave the Soviet Union. Zosia and her family would travel with a wretched caravan of survivors through Soviet Turkestan, Iran, and Iraq to Palestine. Escaped and released Poles agglomerated in high numbers in the Middle East in early 1942, many of them soldiers who were beefed up and re-trained by the Allies in Syria, Iran and Palestine before being shipped from Egypt back to Europe, to later fight in the Italian campaign. Zosia and her family would never return to Poland. My father Wojtek fought in the Home Army. By June 1945, he had already liberated Lwów from the Germans, fought against the Ukrainian Insurrectionary Army, and the Red Army. He and fellow soldiers of the 14th Regiment of Jazłowiecki Lancers left Poland willingly and surreptitiously in order to save themselves from the Gulag and worse. They believed they were coming back, the spearhead of an American-British attack on the Soviet Union, which never came to pass. In 1947, my grandmother would be deported from Lwów, by then a part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, to the Polish People’s Republic, in one of the many post-war forced resettlements. Exile and displacement would leave a clear imprint on my family. Later, in 1953, when my father’s uncle Marek (whose adventures I have covered here), freshly seconded against his will to Communist Poland’s United Nations delegation, decided he was going to defect, his thoughts chewed over the words of another exile, the Roman poet Ovid:

‘When I recall that night on which I left so many things dear to me, even now from my eyes the teardrops fall.’

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2. STALIN’S POLISH PROJECT

There was a singular ruthlessness to Stalin’s policy of controlling the displacement of his subject peoples. After the Soviet Union (with Hitler’s complicity)  had occupied Eastern Poland in September 1939, my father’s cousins, along with hundreds of thousands of Poles, Jews, counter-revolutionaries,  nationalists,  and anyone else who had managed to escape from the Nazi occupation, and were thus, in the eyes of the NKVD, politically ‘infected’ by their proximity to the Soviet Union’s ideological enemy (and martial ally), were to be packed onto the trains. They would be sent east to remote, scarcely known places, to live or to die, or, at least to wait, with as much patience as sorrow and hunger allowed, until Stalin had devised a better solution. Of course, just who was a ‘refugee’ and who was not was a matter for the NKVD to decide. NKVD Order 00485 listed anyone of Polish origin, allegiance, or temperament as ripe plunder for the vast machine of the Soviet secret police.  Poles were arrested for anything which deviated from strict Soviet requirements, for being a nationalist, a capitalist, or even a non-conformist Communist. The Soviets dermanded a politically-inert, commercially viable population for its Polish project. During 1939 -41, the Russians deported over one million Polish citizens, primarily from areas which had been Polish until 1939, but, after the Soviet invasion, now formed part of either the Ukrainian or Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republics. The deportations were part of a general policy of ‘ukrainianisation’ and ‘byelorussianisation’ of these areas in the Soviet mould.

“Our Army is the Liberation Army of the Working Class” J.Stalin
A simple peasant unable to contain his gratitude towards a Red Army soldier after his country’s ‘liberation’. An idealized Soviet view of the invasion of Eastern Poland.

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3. YOU DON’T KNOW WHEN YOU’LL BE COMING HOME!

The NKVD, the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, was the latest version of the Soviet Secret Police. The original Bolshevik internal security service, the CheKa, was, perhaps ironically, established by a Pole, Felix Dzerzhinsky. ‘Iron Felix’ was a committed Communist who, in creating the Bolshevik Secret Police, the CheKa, literally ‘Extraordinary Commission,’ (initially established to guard the Bolshevik seat of power in Petrograd, Dzerzhinsky soon convinced Lenin to expand its remit and its title to:  ‘The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage’) set the benchmark by which all future incarnations of Soviet State terror would be judged. Dzerzhinsky died of heart failure in 1926, which was fortuitous for his legacy. In the cutthroat world of Soviet terrocracy, natural deaths were by no means the norm and with the exception of Dzerzhinsky and his successor (and fellow Pole), Vyacheslav Menzhinsky, the post of secret police chief carried a fatal sentence until several years after Stalin’s death.[ii]

In subsequent years, the secret police functionaries outdid each other to fulfil and overfill the state quotas for executed and imprisoned ‘dissidents, spies, diversionists, and saboteurs.’ Just as its economic plans were drafted and implemented in an act of mind over matter, regardless of the resources available, Soviet purges of the late 1930’s saw ‘dissident quotas’ established. Whether these dissidents existed or not, local NKVD bosses had to make arrests based on Politburo-approved quotas. In Georgia, in 1937, for example, according to official records, they amounted to 2,000 ‘first category’ dissidents and 3,000 ‘second category’ dissidents. NKVD bosses thus could measure their careers in litres of blood.

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Terrocracy: Secret Police Chiefs 1917-1953

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Over-zealous liquidators of dissent inevitably ended up victims themselves. Genrikh Yagoda, a Russian Jew who made his way up the river of blood to the helm of the NKVD, would ultimately be denounced and executed. His successor, Nikolai Yezhov, the ‘poisoned dwarf’, only lasted two years in the job, before he was executed promising to die ‘with Stalin’s name upon his lips.’ Next came Lavrenty Beria, an Abkhazian Mingrelian, who was tried and shot after Stalin’s death, not because he tortured and abused his victims or because he delighted in overseeing the ritual bloodletting of society but because he had become a nuisance in the struggle for succession. And sometimes the spectacular fall from grace was counterbalanced by an equally spectacular rise from the depths. Naftaly Frenkel, a Jewish merchant from Haifa, managed to go from prisoner at the infamous far northern prison island of Solovetsky to camp commander within a few years (picking up three Orders of Lenin for his troubles). Stalin apparently enjoyed his role as the director of an epic theatrical production, creating heroes and villains for his own amusement. The first shall come last and the last shall come first, except for Stalin himself of course.

Polish refugees arriving in Persia: An Allied newsreel which reflects the reality of the Allied-Soviet anti-fascist pact forged following Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941:

“From one little town in Poland, a thousand men women and children fled from the Nazis into Russia. When the Nazis followed they pushed on. Through mountain and desert, three thousand miles into Persia, to a haven in Iran on the Caspian Sea. Here they found a promised land, a refugee city of their fellow-countrymen deep in the foothills of the TransCaucasian Mountains.” In explaining the Soviet volte face, the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the complicity of Stalin in the persecution of the refugees are omitted entirely.  An  enemy’s enemy is a friend, no matter that this friend may be a once and future enemy.

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US poster presses the point that Stalin also loves freedom.

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The Soviet State Security Police along with other organs associated with the Ministry of the Interior and Soviet military intelligence were and still are known by their acronyms. CheKa, NKVD, GPU, OGPU, NKGB, MGB, KI, MVD, KGB, GRU – these letters conjured fear among the masses. When they came on their rounds, you could forget any notion of civil rights. You were quite simply fodder for a vast network of paranoia which demanded ever more victims. A humorous explanation of the acronym NKVD from the time ran: Ne znaesh Kogda Vernyoshsa Domoi! You don’t know when you’ll be coming home! After Beria, the heads of the secret police tended to keep their heads. The future Soviet leader Yuri Andropov was a KGB chief. Vladimir Putin once worked for their First Chief Directorate (foreign intelligence) in East Germany. Despite the revelations of the MVD’s and KGB’s role in the murder and persecution through execution, torture and forced labour of millions of Soviet citizens, they have to this day remained a powerful servant of government in Russia and other former Soviet states. It is deemed a necessary evil by some, who see a connection between any rise in Russia’s political and economic fortunes and the perceived need to control ‘dissent and disorder.’ Dzerzhinsky, the father of Soviet secrets, briefly lost his lustre in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. His statues were once torn down along with countless iron Lenins. While Lenin hasn’t returned, Dzerzhinsky has. In 2005, a new bust of Iron Felix was unveiled at the headquarters of Moscow’s Police.

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4. SOME OTHER HELL ON EARTH…

In a climate of deep distrust between Stalin and Hitler, despite their agreement to divide Poland equitably, and against a background of great social experimentation and industrial revolution which, in the eyes of its exponents at least, excused the mass transportations of whole social and ethnic groups, Stalin had drawn up plans for how to deal with the ‘refugee problem.’ All refugees from the Nazi-occupied zone who managed to reach the Soviet zone were interviewed to see if there were any spies amongst them, and then, the spies having presumably been executed, the rest, just for good measure, were transported thousands of kilometres to the East: as Wojtek’s cousin Fredek would later describe their fate, ‘some to Siberia, some to Kazakhstan or some other hell on earth.’[iii] Stalin was no stranger to implementing ethnic ‘relocation’ policies, and he used the vast emptiness of the Far North, Siberia and the deserts of the southern Soviet states as the wasteland on which to dump his human cargo. Not only were Polish refugees to undergo this deracination, but also  ethnic groups within the Soviet Union whom Stalin felt suffered or might suffer from divided loyalties in a major war with Germany. These included the Volga Germans, the descendants of German pioneers, craftsmen and tradesmen, whom Catherine the Great had encouraged to settle in Russia and spread their skills in the eighteenth century. In fact, the tribes chosen for deportation represented much of the borderlands of the Soviet Union, places which caused Stalin, a Georgian, a great deal of worry. Ukraine, which translates literally as ‘On the Edge’ or ‘Borderland’, caused Stalin many sleepless nights because of its position at the gateway between Russia and the West, and was subjected to special treatment. In the 1930’s hundreds of thousands of ethnic Ukrainians, Russians, Belarusians, and Poles were deported to the East in the struggle against the ‘kulaks’, successful private farmers, who were deemed a threat to the introduction of the collectivization programme, which itself is credited with the death through famine of between 2.5 and 7.5 million people.

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THIS WAY FOR REFUGEES →

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The deportations continued far beyond Ukraine. The official reason for mass forced resettlements was invariably some form of treasonous anti-Soviet behaviour. Hundreds of thousands of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, whose recent independence was nullified by Soviet invasion at the start of the War, would disappear east in the 1940’s.  On February 23rd 1944, the entire population of the Republic of Checheno-Ingushetia were either exiled or killed, as punishment for the Chechen leader Khasan Israilov’s insurrection. The Crimean Tatars, in retaliation for 20,000 of their number fighting against what they saw as Bolshevik oppression, albeit in collusion with the German Wehrmacht, would also receive a collective punishment on May 18th 1944, when Stalin ordered the complete relocation of the population. In fact, the Great Patriotic War, as the Soviets called the Second World War, saw a virtual spring cleaning of much of the Caucasus and the Crimea. Not only Chechens, Ingush and Tatars, but Kalmyks, Balkars, Karachays, Kabardin, and Meskhetian Turks were visited by agents of the NKVD, and told to fill a suitcase with their personal effects and board a train bound for those seemingly endless corrals of dissenters and reprobates that lay to the north or to the east and south of the Urals. And the population transfers were by no means all in the same direction. Concerned that political events on Russia’s far eastern borders in the late 1930’s might spill over into the Soviet domain, saw Stalin order the transportation of 172,000 ethnic Koreans, as well as Chinese and ‘Harbin Russians’ (the fact that these ethnic Russians had worked on the Harbin railway in Manchuria made them ‘Japanese spies’), who would now join a growing cosmopolitan throng of human detritus in Kazakhstan. There followed Azerbajianis, Persians, Kurds, Assyrians, Moldovans, Laz, Ingrian Finns, Pontic Greeks, and Hamshenis. At times, they were transported to camps which, not having actually been built yet, they themselves had to construct.  There were other instances, as in Central Asia, of groups transported by train, being kicked out in the middle of the desert. There they were thrown among the local Central Asian populations, who had their own bitter experiences of compulsory resettlement, forced abandonment of traditional lifestyles, as well as of famine and starvation, caused directly by the wholesale implementation of centrally-managed and culturally, socially, agriculturally, and economically inappropriate collectivisation programmes. Soviet Central Asia, once a sort of enlarged buffer zone which in the 19thCentury provided Russia with a bulwark against the threat of invasion from British India to the south, became a dumping ground for distrusted ethnic minorities, thrown unceremoniously among Turkic and Tajik populations whose own centuries-old traditions were being forcibly ‘revolutionized’ for the economic and security interests of their big brother to the north. This was how that great big brother had long dealt with its problematic neighbours, whether in the sable-collared tunic of the Emperor, or the plain Marshall’s uniform of the cobbler’s son from Gori, Georgia –  Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, lately remoulded as Comrade Stalin.

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[i] Stalin’s reply to the head of his secret police concerning the question of what to do with the one and a half million Volksdeutsche (Soviet citizens of German origin) following the commencement of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union.

[ii] Although Menzhinsky died most probably of natural causes, that did not prevent future chief Genrykh Yagoda confessing to having poisoned him at his own show trial in 1938.

[iii] Virski, Fred, My Life in the Red Army. Macmillan, New York. 1949. P.3

©2012

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