In May we will be commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Second World War and the liberation of the concentration camps and prisoners taken by Hitler. I am one of those who managed to make it to the liberation and I would like, dear young ones, to share a few reflections and memories from that period. I come from a family of emigrants who had to leave Poland for France in the years 1920-1925 in search of work and bread.
In 1940, after the invasion of France by the German Nazis, I took an active part in the Polish resistance movement’s battle against the occupier in Northern France (Lens district) – by storing weapons and hiding partisans in our flat, by sabotaging the mines, printing and distributing propaganda material and helping victims of Gestapo and French Police repression etc. In September 1942, I was arrested by French Police and, after being tortured, I am handed over to the Gestapo in Arras for the completion of the investigation. In March 1943, I am sentenced by the German Military Court to 5 years in prison and deported to Germany, where I was imprisoned in Anrath bei Krefeld, Hagen and Wolfenbuttel until 11.04.1945; the day of liberation by the American army- I was emaciated and had been in the prison hospital and then city hospital in Wolfenbuttel. Thanks to Allied Army help, I returned to France on 17.05.1945 when I discovered that my mother had also been arrested and deported to Ravensbrück from where she returned in August 1945 and that my stepfather had been killed by guillotine in 1943 for his activity as a Partisan.
I came to Poland in 1951 with my wife and son.
I would like to emphasise that my time in Nazi prisons in Anrath and Hagen was brutal, but the last stay in Wolfenbuttel was terrible. As early as 4am, we were transported to an ammunition factory, where the working conditions were equal to slavery and torture, hunger never left us, and I would creep into the guards’ kitchen and eat the rubbish to survive. We were also taken to Brunswick, where, under the barrels of rifles, we were forced to clear the city of rubble while, at any moment we were at risk of death from bombs which had not exploded yet. It was not uncommon that the return to the camp would take place on foot, in columns, and it would be accompanied by shouts from the residents and the throwing of stones at us. However, among the workers of the factory, there was a humane man called Albert Beichel, a resident of Wolfenbuttel who had been in the First World War, who would secretly throw me a piece of dry bread or potato ‘skins’ which, after I had put them inside an empty tin of conserve and put in an oven for a few minutes, I ate (without salt or any spices – a pig would not have eaten it without chaff (bran). I was 18 years old at the time and at liberation I weighed 45kg. I could describe more, but my memory fails me, I am 80 years old and a war invalid. I do not feel any hate towards the Germans for the harm done to me and my family by German fascism, for among them, there were honest people, patriots, anti-fascists who fought and died for a good cause and the dignity of man.
The initiative of Polish and German young people to pass on the historical truth of our experiences in WW2 in concentration camps and prisons is very valuable. They are due great respect and thanks, as, unrelentingly, with every passing year, witnesses of those tragic events are dying.
M. Kolbe Association in Walbrzych
Translated by Karen Forth