News of Kraków and Częstochowa

Over the next day or two, Józef goes into a lot of detail about the continuing journey towards Kraków. He describes the difficulties of potholes and of manoeuvring the carts across ditches, damaged bridges and past roadblocks of various kinds. Late in the evening he gives a lift to two soldiers who had become  separated from their platoon.

There are quite a few place names in this extract as Józef’s squadron continues its journey towards Kraków. In 1939 these would presumably have been separate villages and settlements whereas now they are part of the city of Kraków.  So far I‘ve been marking Józef’s route on a large map of Poland; once I have finished the translating I intend to produce a more detailed map of his route.

5/09/1939

Arriving at Liski after midnight, I was soon able to find the camp in the moonlight. I turned the two soldiers out of the cart, put it into line and as soon as Lieut. Zieliński arrived in the Mercedes, the supply column set off for Kraków.

I had a nap in the cart and in the morning, after passing Przegorzały, we came to Bielany. I arrived by car having transferred to the sergeant’s car at dawn.

The camp was set up in the yard of the town’s water supply works. We got washed, had some bread to eat and some coffee and someone brought us some wine – that was good. The director of the water works, an engineer, opened his store room for us from which the lads took eggs, chicken, jams, wine and other specialities … a veritable party!

Up to now it had seemed to me that while other cities might surrender, surely Kraków wouldn’t. Surely we would hear how old forgotten strongholds would respond, that the Germans would be met with dignity as was fitting for Kraków. Meanwhile…

Meanwhile I went to the road to scrutinise the faces of the approaching walkers. It was an infantry battalion, but which regiment? It seemed to me that it could only be a battalion, at most. But no, the officers themselves assured me that it was their full regiment, and that they already had two very bloody battles behind them.

To my great delight I came across Staszek Kędzior here, clinging on to one of the carts. We greeted each other very warmly and were very happy to meet and find one another alive. And what a bloody battle they had had near Alwernia, the Germans had horrifically decimated them.

“What weapons they have.” And how many new weapons did we have? He told me how they fought without restraint, and how, if it was not for the outstanding marksmanship of our artillery (those we had met near Brodła) which so incredibly battered their ranks and concentration, there wouldn’t even be this many left from the regiment.

I saw another face – Egon Rycha from Gorzyce. He was unrecognisable. This always elegant young man presented a picture of degradation and despair. His face was dusty and almost grey and covered with a long beard, his eyes sunken and tired… And such faces were seen all around, looking the same or even more tired.

Staszek and I said goodbye to each other with a hearty shake of the hand, a clear look in each other’s eyes but without a word. And our eyes said we shall defend ourselves to the last and may we survive.

Once again we didn’t stop for long and pressed on further to Krakow. On the way we were given great quantities of cigarettes distributed by Monopol Tytoniowy*. We passed by the Norbetanki convent at Zwierzyniec on the outskirts of Kraków, and the supply column headed for the town while I followed the squadron to the left to Bronowice. Here the major lost his temper once again. He went on about loiterers weighing down the carts of the supply column and about the bicycles in the carts, although the cyclist platoon was very meagre.

We got close to Bronowice and settled ourselves in a wooden manor house close to Toń. A reconnoitring patrol was sent to Witkowice and into Bronowice. The kitchen prepared our dinner and Sergeant Major Mazański brought a supply of cigarettes, bread, cigars and tinned food which he gave to us.

Everything would have been fine, if it wasn’t for the fact that here we finally learned that we had surrendered Kraków without a fight. And the news was already coming that Częstochowa had been taken, the monastery at Jasna Góra had been ravaged, the enemy was close to the Vistula and so on.

Częstochowa and Kraków fallen, this means we are ruined. But perhaps a defence is being prepared beyond the Vistula. It probably will be; it’s even corroborated by persistent rumours.

*Polish Tobacco Company

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