Waking up to War

Here, Józef writes about the events that unfolded in the camp on the day war was declared.


Whatever was that terrible explosion rocking the whole building? After it came another one – similar, albeit further away – and then a third and a fourth… Next some heavy gunfire.

It was 5 o’clock in the morning. It startled me as I lay in bed, ducking at each explosion.

I ran to the window but saw only clouds of blue smoke. From amongst these clouds I recognised the shots of anti-aircraft artillery. It was like the intense gunfire I had witnessed at the firing range…

Oh this is no joke… but are they really enemy aeroplanes? …and if not… who organised an anti-aircraft defence exercise at this time and in such a tense, electrically charged, atmosphere of war?

I didn’t puzzle over this for long. With an inevitable dread in my heart, I felt some kind of strange, new curiosity, or fear. I dressed at top speed and rushed downstairs to the office…

“What is it?”

With a shrug of his shoulders in the dim light from the window the Sergeant says, “I don’t know, maybe exercises.”

I hurried into the street, to the major’s residence in the camp… and what did we find? Where we had thought there was war, there was none – just exercises. However, to be on the safe side, we sheltered under the trees to watch the exploding shells and afterwards the flight of the bombers.

It’s difficult though to make out the markings. Despite the assurances of the Major – and the majority of the officers – that war hadn’t already broken out, that these were just exercises, there was still something that I distrusted.

I tried to demonstrate my knowledge of anti-aircraft artillery drawing attention to the missiles. They were pointed, and therefore dangerous – incompatible with exercises. And the planes, although similar to Łos* are certainly German.

We were leaning more and more towards the opinion that it was war…

Later that day their fears were confirmed:


At 12.00 noon the President delivered a proclamation to the nation in several languages. Our treacherous enemy of old had without declaration of war, attacked our country, bombing Polish towns.

We were declaring war…so help us God. And so, the word ‘war’ became a reality.

*A type of Polish bomber

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