Delving into Book 2 of Józef’s Diaries

It’s been quite a few months since I posted anything and I hope I haven’t lost all my followers!

I have been totally engrossed in translating this second of my father’s two exercise books (over 150 pages of handwriting) and I’m now very close to finishing it. After this I have a small number of loose foolscap sheets to tackle. These pages cover just over one year from where the second book ends. But they are more like daily notes and don’t go into the same amount of detail. At first glance they seem to contain a lot less philosophising and analysis than the books do, so I am hoping they won’t be so difficult to translate!

Józef starts his second book by continuing to describe the events of 11th September 1939, as the German bombardment of the crossing point of the Wisła (the river Vistula) continues.

He describes the scenes of total disarray around the damaged bridge; the jostling carts, provisions and belongings being dumped, and the attacks continuing to the extent that many people threw themselves into the river in an attempt to escape the firing. Tragically many perished, as people, horses and debris were swept away by the river.

Late that night he finally reached Baranów on the other side of the Wisła, where he had been ordered to go to a first aid station which had been set up in a school.

After a few hours of sleep on a classroom floor, he worked with the duty doctor in the early hours of 12th September tending to the many casualties and arranging for the burial of the dead in a local cemetery. The Germans were still on the far side of the river but there was no let-up in the attack. Later in the morning he was ordered to load up the health cart with what meagre health supplies could be found and to make his way towards Tarnobrzeg, with the remainder of the carts following behind.

He notes at one point that the kitchen carts had been missing for some six days, so none of them, including the injured, had had a single hot meal in that time – just whatever cold provisions were available. This is a little of what he wrote about the conditions they faced:

Beyond the Wisła, the worst stage began. Not once was there any sign of the commissariat[1], there were no maps, communication was almost completely severed, we were on the go almost incessantly. The carts were loaded with the injured while planes persecuted us and the German artillery was hard on our heels. There was no defence and we were regularly pursued. The enemy was burning villages and small towns in front of us and behind us. There was hunger everywhere and at every step there was betrayal, death and destruction.

It is difficult to describe everything that we saw. Fatigue, starvation and insomnia stupefied us. We walked and then we shuffled like soulless, dull automatons. Nothing was able to rouse our awareness and it seemed that everything was far from reality, that it was impossible to absorb all these events and feelings into our consciousness. Dreams and nightmares seemed like imaginary films. And yet, everything was real.

Rumours and counter rumours reached the units and despite the dreadful conditions they were faced with, Józef continued to write about their belief that they would overcome the enemy. His squadron however, received information just days later that they could barely believe. On the 20th September news came via one of his fellow soldiers. “It’s over; our army was disbanded last night.”

The squadron was in fact to be demobilised immediately and they were told that they were free to go.

Over the next few months I’ll share some details about Józef’s decisions and the eventful journey he undertook from this point.

[1] The section of the army charged with supplying provisions and stores for the soldiers

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