The old man chauffeuring me wasn’t managing very well and because of his age he was driving haphazardly in the dark. So at his own request, he was released from the army and praising God he made his way back to Giszowiec. I was given a young driver and we headed towards Siewierz but it was impossible to reach the village.
We had proceeded steadily and with persistence and maybe we would have got there, despite the discouragement of the police we met, if it wasn’t for the collapsed bridge over the river just outside Siewierz.
So we went back and asked if there was another way. We headed off but again it was the same, there was no crossing. Consequently we came to a standstill in a village before Siewierz and immediately found ourselves surrounded by a throng of people with frightened faces and questioning eyes. Mothers were crying, chasing along the roads despite the darkness, as if possessed. Someone was driving cattle, there were carts going along loaded with belongings and the owners didn’t know where to go. Questions were being thrown at us:
I looked around us to see if there were any officers at all, but there were none, only me and my driver.
“Where are the Germans…should we escape and where to?”
I would have willingly found out where the Germans were, but who would have told me? I consoled the people as much as I could…“the Germans are still far away, there is nothing to run away from, if necessary they will let you know”…not believing very much of what I said. My heart went out to these poor, frightened people. I closed the car door and told the driver to start up so as not to hear their groans and cries.
But what about my orders? I reasoned that if the bridges were all washed away then it was impossible to carry out the order and that the Germans also must have turned around somewhere. This was borne out by the suspicious exchange of shots that could be heard not too far away.
So what now? Well nothing – go to Ujejsce. I went with my head full of chaotic thoughts. Was it possible that the Germans were already here on the second day? And where on earth was our army? Something wasn’t right here.
Arriving in Ujejsce I familiarised myself with the directions of all the roads out of the village. I positioned myself in the yard of a cottage that was next to the road and waited so as not to miss the passing supply column. A place to sleep was out of the question and anyway I would have preferred to eat than to sleep. So putting the driver on “sentry duty”, I found the housewife from this backyard where I had taken up residence and was very pleased to be offered some eggs. Sitting in the kitchen were 4 travellers and a few words uttered by them were enough for me to ascertain that they were Silesian.
“What are you doing and where are you from?” I asked.
“We’re from Piekary and there are more of us here. Our wives are sleeping in a room upstairs and there are also a couple of friends in the barn. In fact at the moment the whole village is taken up with people from Szarlej and Piekary.”
When I told them that I too was Silesian, it gained their trust and loosened their tongues. Thus I learnt for the first time and with some grief and apprehension, about our further fate: that Silesia was almost completely taken. I found out about betrayal and subversion and how Siemianowice was taken, how the people there were almost entirely slaughtered. Sadly, all this was terrible but true.
I left them to their thoughts. I felt ashamed under their gaze knowing they perceived me as an intellectual and as a military man, more responsible than they were for what was happening. Yet I saw much fervour and persuaded them that we had to retreat here because tactics are tactics, but there was no fear of losing.
They told me how the army was actively patrolling this entire border of Szarlej and Piekary without a break, how the enemy’s planes pursued them and dropped bombs into the crowds. They covered their faces at the memory of the appalling picture which they had witnessed not far from here. A bomb fell into the crowd and bodies were just thrown around; bones and clothes flew about and hung in the trees…
Around midnight Lieutenant Zielinski arrived with the supply column. He assured me that I had done the right thing because the squadron had already retreated from Siewierz and the Germans were close on their heels. Shortly we were to move on further from here towards Ząbkowice and spend the night 1km beyond Ząbkowice in the woods behind the railway line. I looked for my watchman but he was snoring steadily in the cart. I let him be and got into the Mercedes next to the lieutenant and pestered him about what he thought about the situation…
“There are a lot of problems,” he says, “but this is certainly some kind of tactic. There is a hollow going from Tarnów to Górna Siewierz which I believe can be intersected from north to south and therefore separate the German troops that went in deeper than the rest and they can be overcome.”
And then perhaps…?