Eye-witness accounts of the Insurgence

After the Uprising: The camps and liberation

Barbara Bobrownicka-Fricze,
a.k.a. "Olenka", "Baska Wilta", "Wilia"
Seargeant major of the Home Army
Grouping "Rog" from the Stare Miasto
Battalion "Boocza" 101st company
Captive no. 141503, Stalag VI-C Oberlangen

Fallingbostel - a transitory camp

         It's hard to estimate how long the journey in obscure, cattle carriages took. You cannot measure your anguish by any time-measurer. We would enter the platforms on the last station barely alive. Armed German soldiers were already waiting for us. We lined up and set out to walk. Wachmen kept order. What else could they guard? Our legs carried our bent backs and absent minds.
         Where one can take the strength from, after so many months of fight? It depleted with every passed kilometre. The Germans, having noticed it, told us that we were going to the Fallingbostel camp, where they had been imprisoning our non-commissioned officers and officers for 5 years (as well as the insurgents). We called them "September-ones", from September 1939. The news electrified our ranks. The heads were left up, our backs stretched and we entered the gate with a springy step. There was a barbed-wire road on both sides ahead of us. They were already waiting by the road. They were standing in damaged polish uniforms. We were deeply moved. It was only few moments later when the words in foreign languages started to fly over the wires. It was an international camp. How many rebels was this camp built and wired for? How many had to keep watch over them during the whole war? No words were necessary for this meeting. Little packages were being thrown over the wires with chocolate and cigarettes inside- the nest-eggs of a captive's fate. And there was a greeting coming together with them, in foreign languages, from people strangely close to us. Our people had known before that we would arrive. They carried huge barrels with a hot soup behind us. They made it for us themselves. It didn't matter that neither they nor we knew how to name it. All that counted was that they had thought about us, they had prepared it. They already had many years of experience.
         So the camp life began. We were assigned to the three levelled plank-beds, made of planks nailed together, with straw mattresses covered with blankets in checked bedclothes. Just get to sleep, sleep, and stretch the deadly wearied bodies. Merciful dream was already awaiting us.
         Next morning greeted us with the sunshine. Thus began the first day of the camp, the first appeal in front of the barracks. We became the ex-soldiers. We were defended by the Geneva Conventions. The Germans obeyed its laws. Their soldiers benefited from it during the allied captivity. They permitted us to wear red and white armbands. Maybe they weren't aware of the significance the armbands had for us. They- uniformed from the bottom to the top by the army factories.
         We started with a prayer. They were standing and listening. They didn't understand the words, but maybe our singing awoke in them dormant goodness of the childhood?

         O, Lord, who are in heaven, (it sounded on their land)
         Extend Your just palm.
         We call to You from all sides
         For polish house, for polish weapon.
         Oh, God, crash this sword which had shattered our Homeland,
         Let us return to the liberated Poland,
         For it become the fortress of a new power,
         Our Home, our Homeland.
         O, Lord, hear our imploring request,
         O, hear our homeless singing,
         From Vistula, Warta, San and Bug,
         The martyr's blood is calling You,
         O, God...

         They were already losing on all their fronts. They might be aware that the prayer was all that was left for them. Completely undeserved. They felt innocent to the very end; they served higher goals, their unparalleled chancellor.

         So the camp reality began. The latrines filled us with terror. There were single longs fixed above enormous pits, full of excrements. One had to squat on them to deal with one's business. There was no room for intimacy; of course, one log was destined for everybody. There are countless ways in which one can humiliate a man, creator of culture. None of us fell down into this petrifying abyss. Really! We struggled with fears to the end.
         I went to the front of the barracks after the appeal. Golden birches and green spruces stood behind the wires. There was silence in the morning sun. Awoken day appeared on the rolling, wooded hills. Economy of the autumn. I was looking. My thought was shattered by bitterness of the defeated - helplessness and fears. All of this was in front of me: those birches and spruces, and silent mosses, and here was still war. Even though there were last moments, nobody was able to foresee how many eyes were still to close. I was standing, unsure if I could defend myself. What did it mean? Who was I behind those wires, which overtook the surrounding area? How much material did anonymous people have to use to make them? How much carbon did they have to carry away from the coal mine? How much blazing ore was spilt from the blast furnaces? How much iron was rolled? How many cuts and coils were made by the unknown "they"? How many carriages drove away the barbed coils? Would I have been able to shake wounded hands of those, who had made it for us? There, at that moment, the new was beginning. I was standing. The sun was rising higher and higher. Light and warmness overtook the hills, and here the war was still going on. How hard it was, how hard! I was struck by silence and peace.

         It was they who were born here! They grew up among those miracles of the nature, among the silence, in that light. It was here where the armoured cohorts left from to get to us. Fate gave them life, growth and maturation among those birches, spruces and mosses. How many of such hills in our country were destroyed by the hostile force? How many scattered mosses hung over the trees' stumps? What kind of people got here? I felt that I was becoming a lost little thing. As if somebody had taken away the right to see clearly, to hear the voice of other people. My whole understandable world was destroyed. The world from a fairy, where dragons lived in dungeons, devils in hell, and witches on the Bald Mountain. Somebody had invented, also for me, justice. Was it possible to get out from my greenery to their greenery, with those wires and previous experiences? Was it possible to stand arm in arm with equally burdened oppressors and oppressed? It was the time when both sides were passing over the threshold of the failure. What's happening to me? What's going on with me? Could a man face bigger lostness than the one of his own? It was they who were born here, not me, but I could have done it. Who would I've become? Would I have trusted the slogans? Imposed ideals? Would it have been clear to me how diverse the mosses can be? Would I be able to shake hands with those who had come out of it? Man, ambiguous phenomenon, the one behind the wires, the one in the clouds, or in the seas. The one who built my house and the one who destroyed it. Maybe not everything was turned to ashes? I feel that I'm losing the fight with myself.

"Homesickness - a road to home"
The cut-out made by Barbara Bobrownicka on a scrap of paper, obtained with great difficulty with the help of friends during her stay in captivity.

         Crickets revealed their presence in the evening. It was another thing to add. As if there was radiating homeliness from the Dickens books. It was in a country with which I had nothing to share, but we were connected by the fate- the mocker. It was the way in which the history was conceived, but we couldn't erase ourselves from it.
         There was another stage of life awaiting us on the threshold. One had to find himself in the following day right away. And it was supposed to be the next effort- the return to home which had already been destroyed. Didn't I want to cram too many things between its walls?
         How much time has to elapse for nations to conclude peace process? When will be the day when all statesmen will seat together around the table to sign documents? They will count the dead ones, won't count the ones who are still alive. Reckless people. The "germs" of the new world will be saved. It's from them, where the ideals which will captivate the world, can sprout. The winners will establish the clauses of the greatest privilege to the humanity. They will set monuments for the dead simply to hush up their consciences and reward the wrong-done.
         I can hear somebody's crying on the bottom plank-bed, just in front of me. There is hair scattered on the straw mattress. I look from the above- Kasia Zdanowska. I can't help her. Or maybe it's because of the fear for me myself? And suddenly jealousy filled my heart. For I can't cry anymore. How hard it is.

         The camp life found in the grasp of the day-to-day life. The representatives of the International Red Cross arrived here after few weeks to check our living conditions. When they left, the Germans told us to pack up. We set out for the next camp on the foot with all our belongings.


         We hit our destination on the same day. Concentration camp was placed behind us, already famous Bergen-Belsen. One could see no people behind the wires. There were grey, damaged rags drying on the wires- petrifying silence which still kept the hidden life. It was already a well-known issue, what the concentration camps were. After few days we got to know that, although we couldn't see it, there was a camp for 80 thousand soviet ex-soldiers near us. The message was passed on to us by a doctor and nurses who were sent to us. They were the poor things in rags, with lambs deformed by rheumatism. I guess that they would treat our soup as something special. In their camp, the Germans starved to death thousands of the captives within several months. Soviet Union didn't sign the Geneva Convention. It treated those who surrendered as traitors. Its soldiers had no combatant privileges. They had no rights at all. Our allies granted us those rights at the last moment before the fall of the Uprising, despite the protest on the part of the USSR. The Germans had no right to shoot us as bandits after we surrendered. It would have spared them the work, rail transports and obviously- the food. So, we found ourselves among the wired community in the majesty of the international law. In this new camp the rooms were smaller, but the living conditions were worse. (The Red Cross didn't pose a "threat" here). Hence, in a very short period of time the scurvy broke out. The teeth were moving. The gums were bleeding. Still, we didn't receive the message from the country. What's going on there? What about our families? What's going on the fronts of Europe? Anxiety triggered the imagination. Our commanders knew it very well. The most of them were teachers. They got rid of their officer distinctions to take care of us. They knew how dangerous the state of inactivity could be. They organized classes - the same as during the occupation in Warsaw.          To tell the truth, they didn't have any schoolbooks, but they had the knowledge in their minds. They would share it with us. We had also theatre clubs. I cajoled my friends to organize "jaselka" for Christmas [traditional theatrical performance during Christmas- A.R.]. I've already had some experience. In the end of the war we had a puppet theatre in Warsaw, and thanks to it I could make a living. In the camp, it was a real challenge. Obtaining needles, paper, glue, cloths would have been uncertain all the time. We found some puppets in rucksacks. It was hard to abandon them. "Jaga" brought a cello with her so we had musical arrangement. We manufactured puppets, learnt our roles, and enacted the lines we'd learnt by heart. Rehearsals would take place every day to make the future performance meet our expectations. Our life was filled with work - our companion.
         The camp was divided into two parts, as in the Fallingbostel, by the wired road. Our insurgents were imprisoned on the other side. We had many friends among them. We were linked not only by the memories or friendships but also by family relations. Common fights created strong relations. The Germans banned us from from talking to them. Nobody knew who had issued (if ever) this order in such a "dangerous" situation. For a soldier, especially for a German one, an order is a sacred thing. They kept watch over us. We could only wink at each other and smile. When the guard walked away, we would break stringent rules. One day a German hid behind a tree - he was hunting from hiding. 17-year-old "bandit" didn't notice it. Watchman shot. The boy was taken to the hospital. His leg was probably amputated. It was unbelievable. They boy didn't come back to us. For it was the time when the stories were the only thing left after many people, yet not after all of them.
         Famine wouldn't cease, neither would the scurvy. There was the lack of the medicines and food. Only onions might have saved our lives, if only it'd been available. In this situation my friends got rid of priceless things which they had managed to take from Warsaw. Each of these things had a soul of those days, and the Germans were willing to exchange them with small quantities of onions.
         Struggle of everyday life made us resourceful. To eat, eat, a lot, a lot! I decided to collect half of a loaf of brad for my name's day. (The loaf weighed 0,75kg). From that day on, I'd been living with a vision of this day, which was coming closer very slowly. A single loaf would be divided into 6 people. I would put aside a thin slice of my assignment everyday. On the following day I would eat the dry one and put aside double portion of the fresh one. When the whole daily assignment was a bit dry, my friends would eat my portion and give me their fresh one. There was more and more bread thanks to them. It's hard to describe for it's not easy to write about goodness and friendship. Today, I'm surprised myself that I didn't f find the words. The whole room supported me. Little by little, there was more treasure of mine and I started to become increasingly hungry as well. It was a real test of my character. Despite the efforts of mine and my friends it would dry up. It didn't matter to me than as it was still bread. I was keeping it in the box on the plank-bed. I would smell it every morning. It was such a delightful experience. On the day before my name's day I could hardly control my "gluttony". I had a great desire to eat just a little bit. I closed the box to wait for the morning. In the morning- the brad disappeared. Despair. The whole room was enraged. I felt grief that I didn't eat this tiny bit in the previous evening.
         I've already written that the Germans observed the Geneva Convention. According to it, they were not allowed to enforce officers and non-commissioned officers to work in the camp. Acting against this law, behind our backs, a group of girls left for Hanover. They were working there in the armament factory. At that time, the polish people were still working by the production of the ammunition which was used to shoot the Poles later on. It was the time of the "carpet air-raids" on the Third Reich. We would joyfully look at the hundreds of the allies' planes flying above us. Heaven would accept with fear those ominous sounds. There were defenceless children on the land. Those friends of us came back to us on the brink of their nervous systems and embittered. Why did they hurt them so badly? Maybe they were private soldiers? Maybe they had gone out as volunteers? Sometimes hunger would deprive one of his reason. It's hard to understand, it's hard to forgive.
         Christmas time was getting closer. Puppet theatre was ready, our role learnt by heart. And just then the new directive was issued: to pack up. Departure to the third camp. We left our work. Abandoned marionettes would say goodbye with dead eyes. We didn't have strength to take them with us. The Germans might have given them as Christmas gifts to their children.
         It was a journey into the unknown. This time, goods vans were waiting for us on the station. Filth prevailed in the inside. The vans used to serve as the animal transport. We were crammed inside. Lack of space, stuffiness and cold were not just the Germans' economical attitude. It's their disdain for the weaker and the defeated.
         The war was about to end then, they had already lost, yet, they were still expecting some miraculous weapon to appear. We, at the same time, were crammed (62 persons) in a gloomy confinement. Each of us was given half a loaf of bread and half a piece of marge for the road. They slammed the door and the train set off. They forgot bout the liquid. It was a three-hour journey. For this time the guards didn't open the doors. Certainly, there were no toilets inside. Fortunately, we managed to find a few of penknives. We dug a hole in the thick planks and it served as a W.C. The train would stop for hours on the side tracks to let more important transports pass over. On the next station, we didn't know precisely which one, we heard polish voices. They came from the workmen who had been deported to the Third Reich to the force labour. They were building our enemy's power far away from the country. Thanks God that the train stopped right there and the Germans told those polish people who were inside. Our countrymen offered us to give them our families' addresses. They promised to send messages from us through the Red Cross and kept this promise. It was the time when all of the Poles all over the world could understand each other without words.
         Finally, after three days of anguish, the train stopped on the final station. It's called Lathen. The doors were open. We would get to the platforms with great effort. O miracle! The pump! The water! Its quality didn't matter to us. We were pumping ceaselessly. The whole platform was rinsed with water. I'm not sure if all of my companions managed to quench the thirst. We were ordered to march out to the next camp (8 km away). Its name was Oberlangen. It was a great challenge for our legs which would move on more and more reluctantly. Wintery, early dusk was looming the road. Beautiful trees on the roadsides were immersed in it. We were moving slower and slower, stumbling with every step. The Germans must have noticed it. They announced that if we reached our destination we would get a hot soup. The news electrified our files. We passed through the gate in step.
         It was the next success- but nobody knew whose.


         Another stage of the captive's life began. It was The Christmas Eve. We were waiting for the promised food in a cold, gloomy barrack. Finally, a soldier came and told us that the soup would be served in the morning on the following day. That was enough- despair, tears. And then, the commander "Nika" (captain Janina Kulewicz-Dalczynska) stood on the table in front of us. She didn't comfort us, she didn't explain a thing. She simply announced the contest for the most beautiful sandwich, made of the leftovers of marge and bread, not consumed in the train. We set to our work. On tiny fragments of the dried bread and marge appeared fantastic patterns made from crumbs.
         We had no wafers. We shared our hopes. Our commander "Nika" was walking among us. How did she know? It couldn't have been from the schoolbooks? No historian could have written about the Eve in a cold barrack, without a soup, hundreds kilometres from the country.
         During the past several months, I would tend to perceive this commander as a soulless martinet. She wouldn't let me pull out the mattresses from the abandoned flats so that the boys, coming back from the barricades, could rest on them.
         After several weeks of my stay in the camp, I cut out of the paper a figure of Holy Mary of Ostra Brama and handed it to "Nika" during one appeal (she came from Vilnius). She turned back to hide her emotion. And the one of mine went straight to the bottom of my heart. We get to know each other through all our life.
         I'm going back to the first days in Oberlangen. The Christmas began. Year 1944 was coming to an end. We'd already had some camp experience. We got accustomed with a new situation without an effort. Within two days we were assigned to particular function, duties and works on the camp area and in the barracks. Excrement's removal from the latrine was the worst job to do. The Germans provided is with a bucket, fixed on a long stick. It was put in a dense pit and taken out when filled with the stinking liquor. We would carry this awfulness and put into a big barrel, fixed on a cart. After having it filled to the brim, we would pull the cart with a shaft, instead of horses, to empty it all on the fields. One couldn't get rid of this horrible odour. It would penetrate every nook and cranny, the hair and mind. The Germans had sensitive noses and kept watch over us from a distance. They guarded us constantly, presumably out of mere boredom, for there was no place to run away. Kitchen duties were very popular among us. We cooked for the whole camp. (Surely, the Germans had their own kitchen). During this duty, one could eat extra portion of a soup, or even a potato or few pieces of a swede.
         Eat, eat, eat!- shouted empty stomachs. Nobody was impressed by the fetor of a soup, and, despite all, we would wait each day in the noon for our soup. There was nothing else to eat. One friend made it clear that if in her house the animals had been fed in that way, they would have died of hunger. Well, maybe she exaggerated a bit. Yet, all of us agreed with her immediately. The father of our new idea was a tinned oven. It was placed in the corner of the room. It wasn't in use through the whole freezing winter. There was no wood. We handled the problem. To be true, it worked only for a moment. The idea was fantastic and that's why it had to be put into practice. We would start from picking up several pieces of the potatoes from a soup. Next thing was to take out a plank from the plank-bed. Each day different person would do this. To be honest, the plank would bourn for a short time but it was enough to heat up the thin sheet metal. We placed potatoes on it. They managed to brown before the oven cooled down. They smelled as real ones and crunched as those home-made. I might have exaggerated but it was a true delicacy. And it was so warm among the four icy walls.
         The soups, certainly for us, were made of the dried kale. None of us knew what it was and why it would give off such a terrible stench. It would spread all over the barrack when the dinner barrels were carried into our room. What's more, there was also a caloric pea soup- a pure mockery. The Germans would add to it some pieces of the meat. Black beetles were floating on the surface. The peas were full of warms. Those of my friends who were able to overcome their disgust, but couldn't overcome their hunger, would eat double portions. They belonged to those "disgusted" who resigned from dinners. I would go outside the barrack as I didn't want to hear the crunch of the cracking insect armours. That's a pity that we went so far away from our ancestors who had discovered in the insects the source of protein.
         In Oberlangen I became a person whose duty was to divide the food. I would divide the bread and the marge in our platoon. Seize of portions was the same as in Bergen, but they were of poorer quality. Loafs of bread were overgrown with green mould which was unable to remove. So I would stand and cut the bread into slices. Hungry girls were standing behind me. In each moment a stretched hand would appear from behind my back. It would take its portion and disappear. The lost piece was always left for me. And it happened very often that there was nothing inside but a mould. My friends from adjacent plank-beds noticed it and resolved to take more eatable portion for me. I wasn't able to divide the mould equally but it was understandable.
         Obviously it was much easier with the marge. Its daily portion could be placed in a teaspoon. Sometimes, we would get one teaspoon of treacle. I didn't like to divide it. It would stretch; it was difficult to cut it into even portions regardless of the efforts. I don't know how I managed it but there were no complaints. Several times we would get the balls of rotten cheese of a dove's egg seize. For the breakfast we would get the coffee which quality could have easily destined it for cleaning a face. Nobody came up with an idea to put in some sugar into or that it could be easily used instead of water which would freeze in the taps, fixed under a concrete sink. So it wasn't surprising that all windows were broken in the lavatory. There was little water underneath a layer of ice. It required huge determination to make it usable. Once a week we were led to the baths. The Germans were scared of typhus and "took proper care" of our hygiene.
         After few weeks there were other captive's groups coming to the empty barracks. Oberlangen, settled near the Dutch border, was a collective camp. The area of the Third Reich was shrinking at that time. The German Army would give back the southern areas to the Soviet Army.
         Hence, a new problem arose in the camp: who was going to be in charge? Each group had its man of trust. A real election campaign began. Commandants would greet us with their smile. For we were voters at that moment, and to be honest- the female ones. The candidates would take care of us, make promises and radiate kindness all around them. Our commandant won- "Jaga"- Irena Milewska. It was still in Warsaw, after the capitulation when general Bor-Komorowski had appointed her to this post. His power didn't reach that far though. The election proved that his decision was good.
         Quite unexpectedly during the appeal I saw a girl who I used to pass by on the street in the Stare Miasto during the occupation. She would walk with her friends. They were waiting. One day I became a witness of her conversation with a man. She was quarrelling about the money and checking if he had a clean shirt. I was shocked. It took place on the street that I would go every day for my secret classes in the professor's house on the Brzozowa Street. After this accident I changed the route. I didn't want to see her again. I felt humiliated. During the appeal I recognized her immediately. She had a wide face and protruding cheekbones, rarely seen in our country. I had no doubts. It was she. I didn't tell anybody about my discovery. I knew too well what would have been her fate among us. Yet, further course of events was surprising to me. It was she who turned out to be a great friend and a very good person. Nobody sent a package from the Red Cross to his family except for her. Only she did it!
         Now about the packages. Each of us got three of them from the Swedish Red Cross. There were those real ones. For on a daily basis, there existed those expected, made up by our imagination and spirits, which would not be delivered. Expectations and hopes made our life easier. Almost everything was new in those three packages which we'd received. Designed for soldiers on the fronts. Apart from sugar, marge and tinned-food, we would be sent powder milk, powder eggs and powder coffee "neska". The last thing woke up our imagination. One of the girls came up with an idea of "kreciolek". How delicious a thing it was! It would melt in a mouth. I give the recite: put one teaspoon of sugar and coffee into a cup. Mix together and while adding a drop of water one by one, keep on mixing in one direction. That's where the name "kreciolek" came from. After a longer while (time had no value at the camp) one could mix up a full cup of the coffee mousse. It was recommended that one should eat slowly, just to prolong the time of consuming. Mixing would go on from the dusk to the dawn until we ran out of it. It was noisy among the plank-beds, and there were 300 of them. There were also victims of this luxury. Gluttons who claimed that one should at last eat till he's full. Their stomachs would strike after many months of starving. The effects were pathetic. Day and night chases to the latrine would wake up the whole room. Abundance would be over very quickly. Memories and empty boxes were all that was left. Awaiting would began. Calling up spirits which would give rise to the hope but didn't keep their promises. All the same, we made friends. They enriched out reality. Organizing camp fires was another way of fighting with the nonsense of a daily routine in the camp. They would remember us careless time of school and scouting. We alone invented, so far away, hours of kindness for ourselves.
         Our commandants managed to get the permission for entertaining performances in the camp's playhouse. The Germans let us to do it; life in a desolated area must have been so boring for them. They would turn up on our shows. They clapped their hands in ovation, not aware that we teased and mocked at them instead of pitying ourselves. It was us who were approached by the joy. They knew about it as well. They had the newspapers and the radio (so often confiscated in Poland). We made a great effort to dress up our artists. Each of us would add what she had, so we made our friends look ladylike, especially in comparison with our female-guards. It must have been a crime for those German women. As a result, on the other day they would carry out revisions. I can't remember if they ever managed to find anything. We, the old school, having undergone a hard training, didn't give them a slightest chance.
         One night I was woken up by the muffled voices. Was something going on down there? My bed was on the third storey. I didn't see anything. After a while it ceased. I couldn't sleep. Fleas had an increased appetite at night. They got warm up on our bodies under blankets. I found out in the morning (secretly) that there had been a "kocowa" that night. Information for not-involved, what the "kocowa" is. It was a kind of punishment carried out during the night, by surprise, for minor offences. A blanket was indispensable to carry out this punishment and that's where its name came from. It was thrown over a culprit's head in the darkness. Immobilized in this way, he was battered in each person's discretion. Punishment was supposed to equal the fault. While it's being carried out, executioners were remained silent so the victim wouldn't recognize them. It was a very effective remedy. On that night, one of the older women, a famous pre-war actress, was punished. She deserved it. It was only her that would pay visits to the commandant of the camp- a Gestapo official. Indignation had to find its way out and the punishment was effective, the blot remained though.
         More pleasant memories stuck in the memory. There were plenty of them. They preserved a bright sign of that community.
         The birthday of the commandant "Nika" was getting closer. We decided to celebrate that day. She deserved it. We set out to work. It might have been the only one deed of this kind in the camp - offering the cake. Each of us would add a little piece of her bread and the leftovers from the bottom of the packages. We gathered a lot and the big cake was made. It was a real achievement. There were no plates or tools. The dough was good though. No wonder: bread, powder milk, powder eggs, butter and the coffee altogether contributed to the common success. Our work had unique flavour. We produced, to be true, not just a regular cake, but a real big one. Person's celebrating her birthday invited us all to the party. The gift was lying on the table. We formed a queue to eat a spoonful of the speciality (we were 300 persons).It was sufficed. The feast lasted several hours. The atmosphere wormed up the cold walls of the barrack. We were creating it with all our strength under the vigilant eye of our commandant. The community was being built up and the readiness for a new life, which at that time had already been awaiting us outside the wires. Not all of us had managed to fly out from behind the caring wings of a family. Not all of us were able to make independent decisions. We were being watched over. For nobody knew what we were going to face.
         Another wise and cheerful, very cheerful person was Lady Zochunia Klepaczowa- wife of a lieutenant Klepacz. Great, reasonable soul occupied her tiny figure. There were a few elderly ladies in the camp. One of them was stolen the jewellery which she had hidden during the revision quite miraculously. The revision was ordered but it didn't bring any results. Lady Zochunia launched the action. She announced that all of the tables in the barrack would be covered with blankets. When the lights were turned off, each girl would have to pass by them and put a hand under the cover. She expressed the hope that the jewellery would be found underneath one of those blankets. This concept arouse a vivid laughter- certainly ours. The commandant's naivety was touching. The order was carried out. After having taken off all of the blankets, there was only one little pile left- the jewellery. There was no end to our guesses. How did lady Zochunia know that she would make the culprit to disclose herself? There was no threat in her voice; it might have been only hope. But maybe she had got to know the truth earlier and thus she wanted to protect the culprit from us? She spared her humiliation. It is so easy to condemn after all. I tend to agree with the second assumption, for that was how lady Zochunia was like. She won my heart ages ago. She might have assumed that feeling because I wasn't able to tell her about it myself.
         I can't omit the hard situation of the smoking girls. It was here that the common sense proved to be weaker than addiction. Provident friends took the cigarettes with themselves from Warsaw. Despite having made the savings, they ran out of the supply. And it was just then when not smoking girls appeared on the horizon and started the trade. They would buy one portion of the bread for three cigarettes. They knew that they would leave them with nothing but a hunger. They tried to hide it from us. They didn't make it. There was no place to hide. Bad fame in the barrack doomed them to the condemnation. It didn't change a thing. Trade was flourishing until there was a commodity. Smokers survived. What was inside of those cigarettes that they managed to survive without bread?
         Other businesses were made by watchmen. They had the food and exchanged it. Some of the girls would give their watches, rings, and necklesses taken out from the houses. Kalina from the neighbouring plank-bed bought 4 kg of bread for the golden ring of her husband who had died in the Uprising. After having received the bread she wanted to share it with us. None of us accepted this offer. In spite of everything, famine- the dictator didn't wield a total power.
         I described only a few events. Living in the compulsory community for half a year would bring about many problems, mounted dilemmas and dictated decisions. We learnt life in the community where each of us was responsible for her behaviour and settled accounts with herself.
         In March little changes were introduced to our camp reality. The Germans didn't inform anybody, but they weren't able to hide the facts. We ran out of salt first. Then, we ran out of brad. As a replacement, each of us was given three unpeeled potatoes for the whole day. Although we were ever-increasingly hungry, those events made us feel better. They didn't say a word even though they must have already known that they were defeated. At last, probably in an ultimate depression, they increased the amount of the potatoes in our soup and additionally, let us to peel them. They were gradually turning into human beings, supposedly with difficulty.
         Taste of the soups, even those not salted, improved a lot. But it had also its drawbacks for us. "Luxurious" meals would be delayed by 6 hours. Girls didn't have time to get used to peeling the potatoes, but the whole barrack was filled with "kartoflanka" [a potato soup-A.R.] smell. On the 12'th of April we heard sudden shots. They might have been Wachmen's games. There was a full billy in front of me on the table. And it was then that my friends rushed into the room.
         English, English! - they shouted.
         "Well - I thought, I remember it till today - I'm going to eat my soup first!"
         The moment I began, other girls darted into the room, shouting as crazy ones: Polish, Polish!
         I don't know what happened with the soup. There's not enough room for it in my memory. All of us ran outside. In the middle of the appeal-place we saw four tanks. In them, "our" people in English uniforms. The real "our" people. Innumerable heads of the girls around them. Description of joy? It's impossible. Absolute madness engulfed us all. This was the one moment in all those years for description of which I'm speechless.


         The war was still going on and we were already free. Soldiers of general Maczek found out about our camp from the soviet captives. They didn't wait for the end of the warfare on the front- they captured us without one shot. They took attentive care of us. They brought a real military food. Suddenly, there was too much of everything. Our shrink stomachs rebelled. All things changed at the same time. Our commandants watched over us, supported by experienced front-men. We were assigned to particular tasks, functions and teams. I became a chief of a company, as at the real army. I was responsible for making our barrack well organized. It wasn't hard. We were working for ourselves. On the area of the camp, the Germans took responsibilities from us and girls with guns on their arms guarded them so they worked diligently. The commandant, who, in spite of the international agreements, was a Gestapo man, was killed by our people and buried together with his German shepherd. Only few soldiers dropped in on us- the most of them were still fighting. We would talk to each other about five previous years. We fought on different fronts after all. In different countries, on the lands, in the underground, on the seas, in the air, in subversive warfare, in the intelligence services- serving one case everywhere. There was no end to questions and answers. One day, as I was passing by a garrulous group, I hear a soldier speaking - "arsonists of Warsaw". "How did he dare to say it!" - I went away hastily. Horrible words, as ticks, wouldn't vanish from my memory for a long time.
         In the first days of a new life, a surprising order was read on the appeal, banning us from going outside the camp area, while we already felt liberated. It was an assassination of our hopes which didn't abandoned us through the whole war.
         And it happened. - two friends (one of them from my company, 17-year-old "Irys" set out on a trip with soldiers. They didn't return till the evening. Anxious colleagues launched out searches. They found a burned-out car in the forest and a body of a soldier behind the steering wheel. Girls disappeared. After few days a pit in the forest was discovered and the mangled bodies of our girls were inside of it. War made us insensible and we became hardened to its cruelty. But even if it was so, we couldn't listen to what had happened there. Childlike face of "Irys" and her playful eyes stuck in my memory. Maczek's soldiers burnt down the whole village. Vengeance takes away the common sense and wakes up demons.
         The war was finished on all its fronts and we still weren't allowed to return to the country. Why, why? How long would it take? How we were supposed to live on a strange land? We didn't know then. It was a great fortune that the war was over for us in the West. Eastern lands of Germany were taken over by the Soviet Army. Descendants of peoples who had been living for ages in squalor, anarchy and the lack of permanent settlements were carrying terror, rape and despair along German towns. Millions of their comrades died on the military routes for the step-mother-country and a step-father- Stalin.
         There came a day when it was announced to the whole world that the Warsaw Uprising was unleashed by bandits - that was by us. There was no indulgence towards criminals. They couldn't expect mercy or understanding. We didn't know, only few people knew about decisions which had been made to judge misdeeds of the "enemies".
         Nobody counted how many Polish people found themselves on the area of Germany after war. Nazis had been deporting to the captive's camps, concentration camps, to the force labour, to work in the abandoned (because of the war) villages whoever they wanted from the subject countries for five years. They collected labour force without which the war couldn't have lasted for years and their brave boys couldn't have died on so many battlefields.
         Nobody knew if he had anything or anybody to come back to. Destitution reigned almost in the whole Europe. The winners had troubles with their own shortages in the ruined countries. Americans intervened. UNRRA was set up. It gave as much aid as it could- also to the Germans.
         Despite our poverty, we were warned against coming back to the country. Blue-collars and soviet captives were in the worst situation. They were not allowed to stay. Doors to the next tragedy became wide open.
         After Holland's liberation, the division of general Maczek seized Westphalia. The war was ended and our army faced a new challenge. Tens of thousands of Polish people were on the areas occupied by the army. People deprived of the means to live. Everybody's was waiting for aid- the time was pressing. Military kitchens got the provisions. Assignments were very small because the whole Europe suffered from the post-war squalor, and there were more and more hungry people. On the news about the army they would arrive from all parts of Germany. Nobody was asked for identification cards or beliefs. The fact that somebody was hungry was enough.
         The Special Staff had its headquarters in a small town called Meppen. It was commanded by major Niedzielski. He was in charge of the 10'th Horse Cavalry Regiment. Providing for the needs of the civil population was also one of their duties. The aid was distributed in the already open camps. It was a shelter for a head and the food as well.
         There was a small town Haren in the vicinity of Meppen. The Germans were deported from it; so the town was called "Maczkowo" and was directed to the polish families. Polish gymnasium and a primary school were opened. There was a lot of teachers. Invader was carrying them away from Poland for 5 years, to the force labour, camps and prisons. That was the reason why teaching began so quickly. It was supported by the polish YMCA, which came along with soldiers of general Maczek. It cooperated with the Canadian one, which was far richer. They would organize together the teaching, cultural and sport life.
         Cultural relief was thriving. Undamaged history repetition.
         Pioneers have been entering the ruins and smothering sites of fire for thousands of years. Scientists, artists, engineers and vision-makers began to build from the beginning. They would connect those who had died with those who survived and those who were to be born in the future. Then, the work was awaiting the pioneers. Artists, poets and scientists would come to join the polish army from the whole Germany. P.S.K. accepted everybody. It would assign locals, provided food, means of transport, teaching accessories and money as well.
         Leon Schiller organized a theatre in Lingen. He himself directed "The booth with songs". Pre-war actors would perform in it (a sibling: Barbara and Tadeusz Fijewscy, and also my commander form the Uprising- Zbigniew Blichiewicz). The theatre would travel around and give performances in polish centres on the area of Westphalia.

The first page of a leaflet published for,, the Puppet's Theatre'' by the Public Theatre of Wojciech Boguslawski, under the auspices of polish YMCA.

         Jan Zamojski, the artist painter, was a creator of the Puppet's theatre for children and adults, dealing with a political stire on a very high level. Brilliant acting, full of humour which was in such a great demand, had its heyday. The unforgettable cats would sing songs according to the Russian melodies.

The cover of the theatre programme

Puppets made by Jan Zamoyski

         In a village Andrup five young officers from Oflag embarked on the section Radio-Cinema-Photo. They chose the abandoned villa as a place for their enterprise. They would also travel around transmitting movies, most of which were American productions destined for soldiers. In their head office they were recording on the black LP-records with the opinions of the high-brows and artists. Galczynski was a real trouble maker. After his 5-year stay in Oflag he became so neurotic that he couldn't control himself. While being impatient he would tap on a window frame with his fingers and it was necessary to repeat everything from the beginning.
         Ksawery Pruszynski was a schooling officer in the 10'th P.S.K. He would also go from one camp to another to deliver speeches. He embedded in my memory most firmly. Not because he was always late but because he would give interesting lectures.
         That's how we, deprived of almost everything, were coming back with effort top the normal world. It wasn't easy. Nobody could even tell to himself to what he's able to come back to. It was not only our houses which were destroyed. It was commonly known, good values that were squandered.
         In Meppen a polish bookshop was founded. It was selling publishers from London and Jerusalem.
         Libraries were set up in the camps and music concerts were organized- common celebration would set us free from frustrations. Ping-pong tables were put in the play-houses. And so the contests began.
         I went as a play-house assistant to the one of such camps, where blue-collars, taken to the force labour, were gathered. I didn't know anything about the job. The camp was called Walchum. It was the camp, not the place which was called like that. It consisted of the barracks built up and wired on the infinite, desolated plate- of the biggest moors in Europe. Up to the very horizon- a wilderness. The Germans were imprisoning here their deserters during the war. They could, as we did, come to grasp the feeling of the enslavement among silent spaces, where everything which was close to a person's heart, became distant. And one could enter it only through lostness and loneliness.
         The walls in all the camps looked similar, made from raw planks. Clumsy writings carved in the rough surface. There were requests of those boys to inform their families.
         Slanted letters struggled with the uneven surface. Many of those inscriptions were illegible. Nobody sent the message in the end. Parents of those deserters didn't get to know that their countrymen had taken their children to Wilhelmshaven and sank them on the old shipwreck. Is it possible to believe in this story? There's always a sparkle of hope that there are human beings even among butchers.
         2000 physical workers were waiting for my arrival in the camp's barracks. They hoped that there would be a change. They longed for it so badly. I began to understand what I'd engaged with. Terror was taking away my self-confidence little by little. I couldn't come back to Oberlangen where I had been advised against taking up this job. I wanted to help but I didn't know how. A big, not-equipped room (serving previously SS-men during the war) was left to my discretion. And it was there where we - me and a few bolder blue-workers who turned up at the meeting) sat down on the blankets on the floor. And we took an instant liking to each other. It was the group which was cooperating with me till the very end, sharing altogether our problems, worries and joys.
         On the next day I made use of the occasion (there was no other means of transport) and went to Meppen, settled 18 km away, to the headquarters of the Special Staff of our division. Charming lieutenant Wroblewski (could have been different?) belonged to the Staff and he showered me with gifts and delegated me to the polish YMCA. I came back from the Staff by a scout-car (resembling tiny tank) in the company of lieutenant Nalaskowski who would support me in keeping in touch with the Special Staff, our camp and the YMCA since that moment.
         On that day we brought with us to Walchum games, books and teaching aids, apart from the promises of a constant protection and cultural support...
         However, all of this was dwarfed by very inconspicuous football. I wasn't aware of what I was bringing with me; nevertheless, it was the football which kicked itself into our camp's gate in a friendly manner. The havoc aroused. They would level the ground for the pitch, implement training, people would advice and quarrel with each other. The boredom was over. We mustered our files.

Enthusiastic Barbara Bobrownicka (in a beret), supporting her football team during the match.

         Shelves were nailed together in the library, ping-pong encounters were arranged (there was all-day-long queue to the two tables in the play-house). In another place, newly-founded 5-staff orchestra was practising. Ominous silence was over. We were preparing ourselves for the solemn opening of the play-house. We decided to do it on the 23'rd of June. I'm writing about this because it seems to me that nobody managed to have done with such a swing. We planned to include party, various contests and, what's the most important- the football match. Fireworks were supposed to add splendour to the ceremony. Lieutenant Wroblewski lent me a launcher and a dozen of cartridges. We resolved to test their effectiveness before the ceremony, so as to avoid unpleasant surprises. We fired two of them. They soared and fell down far away on the dried moors.
         And then it happened what was doomed to happen. It set up in flames. As if fire peered from the very interior of the earth. And it was spreading more and more widely, gaining its height in the black swirls and moving forward towards us. The earth was trembling as if some dormant forces were violently released. The swelter was rising. Its gust would reach our camp from the distance of hundreds of meters. I'd seen so many fires during those years. But they seemed to me to have been quite innocent when compared with the immensity of this fire being absorbed by parched moors.
I was standing totally enchanted, when I heard:
         - "Who did it?"- voices filled with fright.
         - "It was this Barbara from Warsaw?"- answered the eye-witnesses.
         The fire was dashing towards increasing speed. The evacuation of the camp was announced. We would rescue our modest belongings. We had no means of transport. We didn't know if we would be able to escape. The fire was getting closer and closer, gaining its momentum, as if being rushed by a spectral power. And then the rain fell down. The fire tried to resist for a while, but its fate was doomed. I was standing dumbfounded. I can remember this till today. It was then when I felt under my feet and heard the earth's groaning. Incredible exerience.
         How many people were able to achieve it? Quite honest, there was no match on the wet pitch afterwards, but the party was going on till the very dawn.
         From that day on, the ply-house was open on the working days, as well as during the feasts, from the early morning hours to the late evening. It was open in the night, if needed.
         Daily work began. I wasn't alone. Oh, how warmly I can think about those boys who formed with me a well-organized team. I can't remember their names any longer but those eyes, fervent faces and our community etched in my memory. How could I've ever made it without their help?
         In every process of creation (for development of our play-house was a process of creation), real facts are produced as well as the transformations, hidden deep down the internal of a person. Apparently, they weren't hidden in this situation as in our camp there were no cases of alcoholism or fierce arguments, so easily to evoke in frustrated environments. It was a special camp. Everybody who dropped in on us would confirm it, and it might be the reason why all people kept on supporting us.
         Life in Walchum was flourishing day by day. Among won and lost football matches, ping-pong, dancing parties and conversations about the past and the future.
         What a great feast it was when I, thanks to the YMCA, brought for our football players shoes, Belgian t-shirts and sport shorts. With our increasingly improving orchestra we were having fun to the dawn. One can't underestimate successes and failures, because thanks to them our community was conceived, distrust was disappearing and we started to look for the future more optimistically. A new man was born, ready to travel back to his own house, and if there wasn't any, to build it up again.

Barbara Bobrownicka-Fricze

edited by: Wojciech Wlodarczyk and Maciej Janaszek-Seydlitz

translated by: Anna Rewekant


Barbara Bobrownicka-Fricze
nickname: "Olenka", "Baska Wilta", "Wilia"
Sergeant major of the Home Army
Grouping "Rog" for the "Stare Miasto"
Battalion "Boncza" 101'st company
Captive no. 141503, Stalag VI-C Oberlangen

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