Over the coming months, I would like to share with you some extracts from my translation of Józef's diaries. During the first two weeks of August 1939 my father was based at Mikołów (near Katowice) as the doctor with his battalion, 23rd Infantry Division. He writes that there were clear signs of approaching war but … Continue reading August 1939
The first main section of my father’s diary is headed “Przygotowania wojenne” (Preparations for war). It covers a period from September 1938 to 31st August 1939. 24/09/1938 On that memorable September day in 1938 when the fate of Czechoslovakia hung in the balance, when diplomats’ planes repeatedly flew across the borders of other countries, … Continue reading Preparations for War
This section was one of the first parts that I translated and my father's poignant comment has stuck in my mind ever since. 22/08/1939 On the 22nd August I received an order by telephone from Lieutenant Colonel Szebesta, to go immediately to the Pszczyna area and take up the position of doctor for the … Continue reading Some Sadly Prophetic Words
The first part of my father’s diaries contains some brief entries about his period of training in the army. I was struck by his evident pride in the Polish army which is reiterated in many further sections, but also by the hints of his disenchantment with the leadership. In early October 1938 he wrote the … Continue reading Training and Conflict
You may remember from a previous post that Jósef had been sent from Katowice to the Pszczyna district in late August 39. As the situation worsens and the outbreak of war draws very close, tensions are clearly building. 27/08/1939 On the 27th August I pass by a new detachment of infantry and artillery that’s been sent … Continue reading Emerging Anxieties
…nothing good would come of “getting lost”; it seems I am at fault for him losing me! Some Background In August 1939, at the end of the last extract Józef was called back to answer to the Lieut. Colonel. Earlier entries in his diaries (and his official war records) reveal that he had definitely received … Continue reading Emerging Anxieties – part two
In accordance with my orders I report to Dr Różalski, the head of the divisional health HQ with some trepidation…what sort of man is he? But he turned out to be a pleasant old gentleman who, prior to becoming a major, was a civilian official with the Silesian Department of Health. He tells me: “You … Continue reading Will There Be War?
It really wasn’t my intention to have such long gaps between posts, so I hope you haven’t given up on me! Although I have done a draft translation of a large part of my father’s first book, much of it still requires quite a bit of work to improve it enough for public consumption. So … Continue reading The Final Days of August 1939
When Józef writes (retrospectively) about the last tense days of August 1939 he covers just over 5 pages in his exercise book with descriptions of his squadron colleagues. A selection of these follows. Sometimes he uses full names, sometimes just an initial in place of a surname and at other times he omits the name … Continue reading Character Studies at the Brink of War
At this point in his diaries Józef returns to describing the preparations taking place in the final days before the outbreak of war: I set up the sick quarters in a pre-school nursery building. There was a place to sleep next door with the non-commissioned officers, on the straw in some kind of emptied out … Continue reading Wojna…Wojna…Wojna…
Józef’s diary entry for 1st September 1939 was simply one line: Wojna…Wojna…Wojna. (War…War…War). After that he starts a new section of his diary headed The September Campaign. He begins this section with a very patriotic and poetic passage. Well, his Polish is very poetic but is therefore hard to translate. I'm not sure my translation has … Continue reading O Poland! Who Saw You?
After Józef's heartfelt passage about Poland's fate, he writes a second entry about the events that unfolded in the camp on the day war was declared. The fact that this was written at a later date explains the apparent irony of his comments on the state of the army. 01/09/39 Whatever was that terrible explosion … Continue reading Waking up to War
As the unit continues its preparations on 1st September, Józef’s description of the rather ad hoc motorised squadron highlights some of the differences in provision between the German and Polish armies. The far wealthier German army was heavily motorised whereas this unit appears to be relying almost entirely on private vehicles. In this, the … Continue reading From Giszowiec towards Siewierz – part one: Without Lights
To read part one of this section click here. Part two below. 02/09/1939 It was already well after midnight when we reached Strzyżów. The Commander called a halt here, so the supply column personnel made themselves comfortable keeping out of sight under apple and pear trees in local gardens. The kitchen was set up in … Continue reading From Giszowiec towards Siewierz – part two: Who Can Sleep?
You may have noticed that in the first part of Józef’s entry for this date, both the squadron and the supply column travelled together. However in this third part of the entry, the squadron moves on towards Siewierz, while the supply column remains behind until the evening, at which point Józef receives some different orders. … Continue reading From Giszowiec towards Siewierz – part three
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 … Continue reading From Giszowiec towards Siewierz – part four: Sad News from Silesia
At the end of the previous extract Józef set off with Lieut. Zielinski in the latter's car towards Ząbkowice and took the opportunity to ask him what he knew about the situation. 3/09/1939 Once the whole supply column had arrived, the sergeant received instructions and we continued on. We arrived in Ząbkowice and headed to … Continue reading Ząbkowice towards Kraków
Here Józef gives a brief example of the plight of civilians as they try to escape the invasion and the dilemma he faces in obeying the rules or following his instincts. It was a beautiful day and the sun was scorching as on all those September days. We passed another manor house set up as … Continue reading Fleeing Citizens
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. His long entry for the 4th September includes the following: We crossed the Kreszowice to … Continue reading Continuing towards Kraków
Kraków is in sight but there are more and more signs of the impact of the invasion. 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 … Continue reading News of Kraków and Częstochowa
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 … Continue reading My Beloved Kraków
Last week I shared some of Józef's words from a different part of the diaries, to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the invasion of Poland. The extract below now returns to the chronology of the previous posts I've shared, the last of which can be found here: My Beloved Kraków. 7/09/1939 I kept my … Continue reading German Armoured Units Already in Sight
In the previous extract Józef wrote, “it is difficult to describe what happened” as they faced yet another obstacle, this time in the form of a bridge on the point of collapse, but a little later he went on to describe the situation in more detail What went on there, what we saw, gave the … Continue reading Pandemonium and Sandy Terrain
In this entry, the extent of the occupation (after just the first week of action) starts to become clear. 08/09/1939 Dawn broke as we glimpsed the Nida River in the distance and beyond that Nowy Korczyn. With the Nida came the hope of creating an organised resistance against the pursuing enemy. But we were naïve … Continue reading Two Glasses of Good Vodka and a Very Brief Respite
In the previous extract Józef and the health cart were joined by the rest of the supply column in Nowy Korczyn and from there they headed north to Ucisków where they found the rest of the squadron. After a few hours' rest they continued their difficult journey north-eastwards across farmland and poor tracks , with … Continue reading Signs of the Enemy
Józef continues with his lengthy description of this day, the 9th of September, and writes about the impact on both soldiers and civilians of the early days of the invasion. I couldn’t sleep for long, because planes were constantly circling over the town and from time to time dropping ammunition of some kind. They were … Continue reading Signs of the Enemy part 2
There is a remarkable amount of detail in the final part of this long entry for the 9th September. I had intended posting the three sections more quickly in succession but it has been challenging to get some of the translation in this piece to read well in English - and with the nuances in … Continue reading Signs of the Enemy part 3 – Chaotic behaviour endangers the division
The supply column's arduous journey towards the River San continues across difficult, sandy terrain, while their exposed position threatens to make them an easy target for the enemy planes. 10/09/1939 Travelling up and down over the undulating terrain at daybreak, constantly ankle deep in the sand, we passed the same buses which had given us such … Continue reading Who Could be Calling Me by Name in this Wilderness?
It's been a while since I posted the first part of this long entry for the 10th September in Józef’s diaries. As well as starting to translate some new sections, I have been busy typing up previous work, trying at the same time to correct and improve the translation and fill in some gaps where … Continue reading Despondency, Rumours and a Rare Sight
This is the final part of the entry Józef recorded describing the events of 10th September 1939 - a day which as he wrote, remained deep in his memories. Having passed Luszyca and left Okrągla behind, we reached the forest and breathed in the fresh air, feeling a sense of protection against the German airmen’s … Continue reading An Eerie Journey