My Beloved Kraków

Just under a week after war was declared, Józef and his squadron arrive in Kraków. Having heard rumours about the city’s fate and seen the devastation in towns and villages on the way they would now able to see for themselves what the situation was in Kraków.

6/09/1939

We arrived in Toń during the night. Every cottage was locked and nobody responded, so we lay down in front of a house huddled up together in order to keep warm, covering ourselves with our coats.

At dawn the kitchen prepared coffee for us and we warmed up and waited…

The reconnoitring unit sent to Witkowice had to be recalled. The major sent a patrol of 3 people but they didn’t return. The health unit car went too but didn’t return. Therefore Major Zakrawacz himself went, returning with the news that the driver had left the jeep on the way and had run off because it seemed that a German tank was coming and that our patrols had fired having come across the enemy patrol.

It turned out that there was no truth in this and that the nightmare of ‘walking with the enemy at one’s heels’ was caused by the various hallucinations of sleep-deprived lancers.

At 6 o’clock the major, disturbed by the lack of contact with the commander, sent a liaison officer (a Russian speaking corporal with a kindly manner) on a motorbike to Oleandry Street in Kraków where the divisional headquarters stood. He returned in half an hour with the news that there was no trace of the division and that there were no more troops at all in Kraków.

The major was dumbfounded, he studied the map and considered how to avoid Kraków but finally he decided despite everything, to go through Kraków itself, while maintaining appropriate operational caution. We entered along Warszawska Street, Matejki Square, Basztowa and Lubicz Street to Mogilańska Street and we left in the direction of Czyżyny and Mogiła…

My beloved Kraków! Here the barracks had been hacked at with gun barrels and every window was missing. Pawia Street had been bombed. In front of the station there was an enormous crater, very near to where a policeman stood next to the Piasecki firm’s clock. It was clear further on that they had wanted to destroy the railway bridge, but the bombing had been bungled.

Everywhere else was deserted. Where had the people gone? How I wanted to run over to Grabowskiego Street to see if friends were still there. Perhaps they have joined this wretched migration. But my duty kept us apart – to go one’s own way was forbidden.

And so we had surrendered Kraków without a single shot being fired. Ha! We didn’t know what our high command had up its sleeve. I now know that at the same time as we were driving across Kraków, the first motorised patrols were already standing by the Podgórski Bridge. We passed through Kraków and as we left, we finally saw some people – they were saying an emotional good-bye and a couple of them distributed some sweets and chocolates to us, produced by Piasecki’s.

Going on to Czyżyny we saw a corpse in a ditch, with the skull exposed. Undoubtedly he had been fired on by a plane or killed by a fragment from a shell. We passed Czyżyny and Mogiła, catching up with the final carts of the delayed supply column and reached Wawrzeńczyce.

Here the squadron halted and fed the horses while the field kitchen prepared some hot food. The officers lay down in front of a barn. I glanced at the squad, the lads were doing well. The major gave a briefing and told them to rest so they would be able to hold out. Afterwards he discussed the route ahead with the officers. And I, through the experience of getting separated from the squadron for different reasons, had already learnt not to neglect familiarising myself with the map.

Around 4 o’clock in the afternoon we moved on to Nowe Brzesko and Koszyce and headed for a stop at Kijany manor house…

As I anticipated, in the cluster of supply columns gathered on the roads, our light column became separated from the squadron who had been resting for a while. The officers were sleeping well in the Kijany manor house, while we still stood on the road beyond Koszyce. We were unable to move on because of the dreadful road blocks which were at the crossroads 2km beyond Koszyce near Włostowica. The curses and roars of the officers didn’t help. It was only when some captain took everything in hand that we could pass through one by one and by then it was almost midnight.

 

 

Czyżyny and Mogiła are areas to the east of Kraków probably along the route of the more recently named Aleja Jana Pawła II / John Paul II Avenue

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