The first few days in Kosewo we felt we were living in paradise. Grandma Wojciechowska accepted us with open arms. The village people were very generous bringing food, even meat. We were the first to come from burning Warsaw. We slept on beds, we were left in peace. We slept and ate and sat under the cherry tree. Only at night did we feel restless, looking at the glow of the fires over Warsaw. The village elder advised us to look for work as he would have to report us and we would be taken to dig trenches. Marysia Piasecka (who worked as a cook at the airfield) was glad to help us get work. She found work for me in the kitchen which was very good as it was already getting cold and, in addition, I could count on extra food. Zygmunt had to dig trenches but quite near, on the same airfield.
Within a few weeks we had both made a career. Zygmunt became foreman and I was transferred from peeling potatoes to become a typist and an interpreter. Kosewo belonged to the part of Poland which was proclaimed by the Germans as Germany. The population, although mainly Volksdeutsche, could not speak German and I, a Pole, had to interpret to the Major who was in charge of the airfield. My work was not hard and thanks to Marysia we were able to have more food and sometimes even horsemeat. It tasted all right and, after eating it, we were not hungry for a long time.
We both started to feel better and even my gums stopped bleeding. Once again Zygmunt was transferred to another job, this time to loading bombs. He hated this work. These bombs which the men were loading were for bombing our Warsaw. They could not sabotage as they were very strictly supervised by the Germans so all they could do was to work as slowly as possible. We all hoped that the Front would break soon but it stopped again, now only six kilometers away from us. Kosewo was no Eden any longer. Each day there were air raids, bombs falling and flak.
Zygmunt became a storeman, issuing tools. His bunker was close to the kitchen and I could go there during the air raids. His bunker was a hole in the ground covered with planks and earth. We sat on a large bomb during the raids and thought that it would not matter if a bomb did drop on us – we would not feel a thing; we would be lucky and killed instantly. The air raids became very frequent. There were the English planes with arms and medicine for the partisans, the Russian bombs and their “Katiushas”. It was unnerving.
By now there were many refugees from Warsaw and all were telling the same story. The Front had stopped, the Germans were well dug in, there was no hope of crossing the frontier and there was also little hope that the Russki would come soon. We were thinking about our children and how to reach them but we could not see a way. We had to wait for the Front to break.
It was not easy to wait. It was late Autumn and getting cold. Air raids now became constant and so was the shelling. Zygmunt had no overcoat. For some gold roubles which Mother had given us we bought a blanket and with other roubles we bought moonshine and eggs with which we paid a German tailor to make Zygmunt a jacket. I was not feeling well, starting to cough badly and I always felt tired as we now worked twelve hours or more daily.
I could not get used to the air raids. I became more nervous, especially after being caught in the open with planes shooting or bombing. I was petrified of the “Bordwaffe” (machine guns for low-flying plans). We shared our small room with many people.
We all slept on the floor; there was no privacy and it was always noisy as there were also children. In the village, amongst the houses, the barns and in the orchards were stationed German divisions, amongst them a tank division. An officer, Otto Koch, started talking with me, speaking about his home town in South Germany, a small town called Isny. He showed me photos of his father and the town which nestled between the hills. His father wrote that there was complete peace, no planes, not even flying over Isny. The way in which Otto Koch spoke, one could think that he was speaking about Heaven. The Front between the Rivers Bug and Narev seemed to have stabilized. There was no way in which we could go through the Fronts to Kaunas and Karmelowo. To have some privacy, we used to go to the barn and talk. Zygmunt saw that my resistance was getting very low; quite often I was near panic.
We could not stay in Kosewo much longer as the villages near the Front were being evacuated and people were taken to Germany to dig trenches. Those who were unable to go were simply shot dead, as people who came from other villages assured us. I was no help to Zygmunt at all. I started to go to pieces. Zygmunt suggested that perhaps we should go to Isny although it was hundreds of kilometres farther from Lithuania, but maybe we could manage from there somehow. I pointed out to him that it would be nearly impossible to get travel orders to Isny – even the Germans were not allowed to travel freely so we did not have a hope. Zygmunt brushed my argument aside: “You go and speak with the Major. He will give you the travel orders.” The Major accepted me the next morning, asked me to sit down and even offered me some imported liqueur. When he heard my request, he asked if I realized that even Germans, even those who were bombed out, had trouble receiving travel orders to Isny. He asked me if I would like to go soon. “As soon as possible, please.”
He began writing and I held my breath as he was writing on the pad reserved for army personnel only. “Reisabefehl” (travel order) to Isny, for both of us. He handed it to me and … kissed me. I wanted to hit him but I also wanted to get out with the travel order. Should I hit him in the face he might kill me and goodbye to the travel order. I became quite rigid. He let me go and told me that next day he would bring me some travel food vouchers and we would be permitted to eat in restaurants. I thanked him saying that we were not hungry. He just laughed and then the phone rang and he let me go.
I was free and had the travel orders. I came home crying and Zygmunt thought that I had not received the travel orders. I told him what had happened, that I let the Major kiss me and had no guts to smack his face. Zygmunt told me that I had behaved reasonably, smacking the Major’s face would not have achieved anything, that I just kept quiet as otherwise we both might have been dead, or I might have been raped. He told me that I did not bribe the Major, just kept quiet. I calmed down somewhat but I still hated myself and hated war where morals were so different from normal times. I hated them all, even Zygmunt, who could not understand how I felt.
Next day I was not feeling well at all. My skin was painful to touch, I was barely able to walk and in pain. The nearest doctor was about one kilometre away and Zygmunt partly carried me and I partly walked. The German military doctor was nice and asked me a lot of questions, something about heart and rheumatism, but I could hardly follow him. I told him that I certainly had a heart but no rheumatism. The doctor told me that I had a very high fever and that I had rheumatic fever.
As I was semi-conscious, the doctor called in Zygmunt and apologized that he had only aspirin and quinine tablets. He gave Zygmunt a handful of them and said that, being young, I might survive. And survive I did, but I do not remember much - the way back to Grandmother Wojciechowski, the following days and nights. I was told that the shelling and bombing was constant but I remember only pain and Zygmunt’s face bending over me and a wet rag on my face, but I knew that I was sleeping on a bed, on fresh, clean-smelling straw. How many days passed I do not remember.
Our travel orders arrived and even our food coupons and we left the village Kosewo. By this time I could already walk, if supported by Zygmunt, who carried both our bags. Zygmunt took off his coat and put it over me as it was raining and I was shivering, travelling in an open lorry. We came to some towns and travelled by train. Two days? Four days? I don’t know; I was still not very well. We stopped in Dresden and stayed with Alma for a few days. I even went into the charming city which I loved, especially the old Zwinger and the surrounding palaces, but most of the time I spent in Alma’s room lying on the bed. From Dresden we travelled mainly by night as it was considered safer because trains were not bombed or machine-gunned by night. One day two Lithuanians came into our carriage, Kazys Rakuzinas and Pranas (Pranavicius). They were going to Kempten. It was pleasant to hear Lithuanian speech.
Next we travelled by a funny little train which puffed and wheezed when going uphill. The valley was green and surrounded by hills, all the houses looked clean and none were damaged. It was quiet and peaceful. Even the air seemed to be different. What a contrast to what we had before. We were not even speaking, just holding hands and looking.
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