At last we arrived in Warsaw. One exit was marked “For Military Personnel Only”. We went to the other one where all the Polish civilians went. Nobody stopped us and nobody even checked tickets. We went out into the street – a street where we could hear only the Polish language! We were in Poland! We were in Warsaw!
People in the street looked grey and shabby but they were smiling and everyone was speaking Polish. I simply could not get over it so how did Zygmunt feel – he who, whilst being in Lithuania, heard on the streets either Russian (of which he had just learned a little) or Lithuanian (which he could hardly speak)? We wanted to reach Auntie Kruszewski who lived in Falata Street. It was a fair distance and we took a tram.
We had only German marks and they were not acceptable in Poland. Zygmunt explained that we had just arrived and had no other currency. He was told not to worry and to stand near the front of the tram and watch out for the checker. At the next stop, when a man was getting off, he pushed some zloty (Polish currency) into Zygmunt’s hand. Maybe it was a small thing but to me it seemed tremendous. At last we were home among our own people. Everyone was ready to help everyone in an emergency. What a wonderful feeling!
At Auntie’s place we were welcomed with “open heart and open arms” according to a Polish saying. Zygmunt’s uncle died during the war so there was only his aunt who was old and ailing and her youngest daughter, Marylka. Marylka was a lovely girl of about twenty – blonde and very charming. She hugged and kissed us and made us welcome. She told us that she was working with the Underground – of course, the AK (Polish National Army) and was very often away so it would be good to have us there with her mother.
Auntie was just smiling and not saying much. During the few weeks I got to know her better; an old and ailing lady who was nearly blind. She never complained; she was always agreeable to any decisions the others made and she never interfered. During the next few weeks I began to like her very much and also had a lot of respect and admiration for her. Zygmunt told me her background: She was a Jewess, of a well-to-do family and married Zygmunt’s uncle, against the wishes of her family. Zygmunt’s uncle married her against all the opposition of his family. When they married she was not accepted either by her family or by his. She had two daughters, both still in Warsaw, and one son who was interned in Lithuania and later disappeared, posted missing. Years later he reappeared in London. Zygmunt’s coming to this place was like a home-coming.
It was so good; it could not have been better. Marylka agreed with Zygmunt that it would have been a disaster should he have been drafted into the Lithuanian Red Army. Zygmunt and Marylka argued a lot about the coming uprising of the Polish Underground. Zygmunt was distrustful of the Russians; he thought one could not trust them to leave Poland free and what guarantee did we Poles have? None whatsoever. She tried to shut him up, saying that she knew better and if Zygmunt would stay long enough, he would understand too. How could he know what was happening living in faraway Lithuania? The next few days we spent just walking up and down the streets of Warsaw, looking at the changes around us.
We sold some of the jewellery Mother had given us and bought luxuries for Auntie and ourselves. As the prices were out of all proportion, we decided not to be extravagant except on my name’s day and Czeslaw’s birthday which we celebrated together. As an example regarding prices, we had a nice three-course meal with a bit of drink, nothing special. The cost of this meal was a pair of golden earrings, very elaborate, with real stones. We visited many friends – some were from Lithuania like the Gordons and Czeslaw’s sister, Renia, Szczesna and many others.
I had always liked Warsaw but now I really loved it! It was an unbelievable city, undaunted by war, by all the reprisals. It was full of life, full of spirit and hope. Warsaw was truly alive and was able to make fun even in a tragic situation. It was surrounded by enemies as the Germans not only patrolled the streets with their rifles at the ready but they also took over the best part of the city where one could go through only by tram which was surrounded on both sides by barbed wire and full of rifles poking at you.
The Germans were taking hostages, shooting them even for trifles and, in spite of all this, the city still lived and laughed and was certain that the day would come when everything would be normal again and Poland would be free and independent again. It is hard to explain the spirit of Warsaw whilst living in normal times but a few examples might help in understanding.
There was a death sentence for selling people goods such as bread, cigarettes, clothing, etc. without ration cards, but one could buy them all – either in the gates of houses or even in shops which displayed their wares quite openly in the windows. Funny slogans were written on walls or suspended from the roofs, like the one which I rather liked: A dead cockerel was strung up and underneath was written the sentence “I committed suicide as I was unable to deliver the required quota of eggs!” One could buy anything – and I mean anything – even trainloads of coal or other goods. Most of the transactions were conducted in cafeterias.
One could even receive Underground newspapers and the latest radio news, all printed locally but illegally, of course. These papers were delivered to houses mostly by elderly people or children. People were taken hostage and shot in public squares; people were deported and taken to extermination camps; and still people were making jokes about themselves and the Germans! Musicians, poor and hungry, went from yard to yard of the big buildings, singing songs full of derision about the Germans, full of certainty that some would survive and triumph in the end. Everyone lived from hour to hour and was happy to have survived the day.
Death was everywhere; the enemy was powerful but so was the spirit of the people. The Underground was very active and well organized as we learned from Marylka. To take constant risks was a matter of daily life. Most of those we met were thinking this way: He died today, my turn might be tomorrow, but a free Poland will live forever! The Germans could and did kill many but they were unable to break the spirit of the people and their hope for a better tomorrow. How I loved this city and its people! My leg, which had bothered me since Kybarty, started to hurt badly and I had to stay in bed. Marylka left early saying that we might see her sometime, maybe even in a free Poland and maybe even soon. Taking only a small first-aid bag, smiling and joking, she left because that night she had to report for assembly at her point of the AK. We went to bed fairly early. It was a quiet night with hardly any shooting when suddenly we were woken by a loud bang! Switching on the light, we saw a big mirror had shattered. Nobody was moving in the room; the frame was undamaged but the glass was scattered over the floor. According to a Lithuanian superstition, if a mirror breaks it means bad luck soon! I became worried. I did not believe in superstition, oh no, not me as I was level-headed, but I was very worried just the same.
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