"ONE TWO THREE FOUR and a SUITCASE"

ANDRZEJíS STORY

 

"Z ziemi Polskiej do Szkocji"

Our journey from Poznan was in winter. I remember Marek sitting on a sleigh with Roman pulling it and occasionally I had to push it. I donít remember the snow but I am very positive that it was on a sleigh.

There is one other piece of memory that I have and it is a surprising thing. Alina had a scarf around her neck, which I thought was mine and I made an issue of this on several occasions. How successful I was in retrieving it I donít know.

The journey from our house to the station was in the dark. I donít know whether it was the night or evening but it was definitely in the dark and the strong feeling of total isolation on the streets with lack of people is very much with me.

The station when we arrived there was also very very empty of people. I have no recollection of anyone being there. I do not know how long we waited. I donít know where we waited. The station was empty.

And my next recollection was in a train, in a compartment so it must have been a passenger car and we were travelling. In that compartment for some reason there was a German officer. He was sitting next to the window facing the direction of the engine. Why do I think that it was the direction of the engine? I remember talking to him and he asked me to come over to him. And when I was over with him I was looking out of the window and the lights were coming at me rather than away from me. Silly little thing but nevertheless I remember it well.

I remember his high gloss boots and I was thinking to myself how long it must take for someone like this officer to achieve such a shine.

I donít remember much of the journey. I presume that it was at night and probably I slept.

We arrived at a large station packed with a tremendous number of people, many in uniform- soldiers- grey uniform. Which reminds me that the officer in the train had a black uniform, that of an SS officer.

At this station, which I now think was Frankfurt on Oder, there where lots of people. I remember Roman being lost and the tremendous concern that Mother had for Roman but also for the package that he carried. I donít understand why because I think it was his stamps. Motherís concern about that package was very visible. Roman had to be found so I believe Mother tied us together with a string. I donít know whether we were tied to a bench to a seat or to a post but I strongly recollect that we were tied to something to prevent us from being lost. Mother did leave and went to find Roman. The fact that he is with us is obvious that she must have found him.

But the very vivid memory is that of a package that Roman was carrying and this extreme concern that she had for this. I am convinced it was stamps though I cannot understand why such a concern. I should have asked but I never did.

The actual journey beyond Frankfurt, that very busy busy station with lots and lots of people, is a blank. Our presence at that station was during the daytime. There was plenty of light I presume daylight not artificial.

What happened between Frankfurt and our next destination I do not remember.

I do however have an incredibly vivid memory of the station at which we next arrived. I think it was Leipzig.

The impression is that of a platform, a station that ended in a dead end. Not a through station. It was very very badly bombed. The actual building itself was demolished however the wall of the main entrance was there and there were very large windows or openings, maybe bomb damage, and a very strong light coming through the openings. It may have been early morning or evening with the strong sunlight coming through.

I donít remember the journey from Leipzig to Altenburg. I do remember the approach to the castle in which we stayed in Altenburg. The road was a winding one. As you went in from there you took the first turn to the left then it had a sharp right going up the hill all the time and then finally left into the castle. It was quite steep and it was covered both sides with small brushy wood type plants. I donít know whether we walked or drove up this hill to this place. The hill to the castle is very vivid.

When you entered the castle we turned right and on to a higher level courtyard and then entered the castle where we lived. We were met or at least introduced to an elderly lady who spoke Russian. She was very annoyed at me or so I thought. I do not know what I did but I do recollect this stern " baba jaga" (old hag) type lady meeting us.

We stayed in a place above ground floor, as I remember looking down through the windows. It was a very large room, enormous long room with incredible number of very very large paintings. The painting I remember the most was one opposite the windows opposite the wall where we were actually sleeping. It was of a stern man dressed in black with very long white hair - it could have been a wig. He kept on looking at me the way paintings do and as a young child this was quite a devastating picture to see and know that it is looking at you wherever you are especially when you are trying to go to sleep.

There are several disjointed memories of life around this castle. We were on an elevated portion of the courtyard and opposite us was a small park or garden surrounded by a wall. Below us on a lower level there was a lot of people. Who they were I do not know but we were not allowed to mix with them. This was a very strict rule. There were children there and I wanted to play with them but I was not allowed.

One incident I remember quite clearly was a military bus in the courtyard and for some reason I believe that it was being shot at from an aeroplane.

There was an old lady who was trying to push a pram up the hill from the lower courtyard to the higher level. Roman and someone else, could have been Alina and me, tried to help her to push the pram. At that moment there was an explosion somewhere. I was very very frightened by this. And the story that was told, I donít think I actually remember this, that a fragment from this explosion cutting some of the hair from Romans head.

Several times I remember looking out of the window, no not a window, it was in the courtyard in the evenings or at night. I remember the warm evening, a summerís day. I donít remember being dressed in winter clothes. Anyway the sky was lit up from the bombings which was probably on Dresden or Leipzig. We had quite a ritual during the day to get out and count the masses of planes coming over us.

One particular bombing of Altenburg I remember specifically. We were woken up by mother and told to hurry up and get dressed. This story is not what I remember but is what was told to me that in this rush Roman would insist on lacing up every hole in his boots. He had very high lace up boots. I think they were brown. Alina had a very peculiar sweater, light in colour and there was a large hole on her shoulder. I kept on picking at it and she was getting very annoyed.

We must have been pretty hard up for food at that time because I remember going into the lower level courtyard where there was some garbage and collecting potato peels which Mama would make into pancakes for us to eat.

One final recollection of our stay at Altenburg is an incident when Alina, Mama and I went to town. I think we went to search for food. The streets were totally empty and we were walking in the middle of the street, a cobbled street, and along the way we met an old German. He was in uniform and he was pulling a cart up the hill. We did help him to get that cart up and he rewarded us for this with small round boxes. About five or six inches in diameter, about one inch thick. They were muddy red in colour. I donít know what was in those boxes but mother was very pleased indeed at this gift. We went on to some sort of a large square and entered a building. If you face the castle and enter the square the building was on the right. It looked like some sort of official building. Why we went in there I donít know.

We came out, in fact as we were coming out American soldiers were beginning to appear in the streets. By the time we got down the hill and by the castle there were soldiers marching on either side of the road and vehicles moving between the two lines of soldiers. One soldier gave me some chewing gum. I did not particularly like it. I think I swallowed it.

We then went on to a D.P. (Displaced Persons) camp outside Altenburg. How we got there I do not know.

As we entered the camp from the main road, on the right hand side of the road from Altenburg, there was a main square of the camp, which was on the left. Right at the other side of the square was the building where we had our room or whatever we had at the time.

I have very nice memories of this place. Playing around very carefree, nobody really caring what we did or how we did it. I recollect making a bonfire out of toilet paper rolls and throwing into it a machine gun bullet belt. Not surprisingly I got into trouble for doing this. There were other incidents details of which I prefer not to share with you.

Once I went out on the road with a friend, a blond wavy haired teenager, and was asked to pick a bicycle, which I like, from German cyclists passing by. I picked a bicycle ridden by an old German and he was knocked off the bike by the other boy and the bike was given to me. After a while I did not like the bike so I again asked the boy to help me get another. We went out on the road again and I got another bike. This time a ladies bike which was better for me. I was in fact too small for a full-size mans bike.

This camp was on the outskirts of the town and close to a village. This village was set on fire and burnt down. I donít know why and who was doing this but I remember the burning and it was something to do with the camp.

 

Further out of town beyond the camp there was a wood and I remember finding a body there. Itís strange because it did not have much effect on me. It was a body, so what, type of attitude. We told someone in the camp about it but I donít know what happened after that.

A strange memory at that time is Mama being involved with people in army uniforms. They were strange uniforms and funny hats. It was not American because by now we were used to those. I think now it must have been Russian soldiers.

The actual journey from Altenburg to Wetzlar, our next camp, is very hazy. I only have snapshots of events. Short scenes, which I cannot join together nor can, I set then in any sequence.

We travelled by train and I was on the roof and Marek was with me. I donít remember travelling on the roof. I would have been too petrified, so I assume that this must have happened while the train was stationary for some reason. I know that Mama was very annoyed with me.

During one stop of the train there was a raid made into a vegetable garden. The high fence was pushed over by a mass of people. Marek and I were among those people. The rule of the train was that before it moved it would whistle and then after some short time it just moved on. Anyway we were running back to the train and while climbing through the fence Marekís pants got caught on the fence. There was panic in my mind and I donít remember how he got free but we did make the train in the end.

Buchenwald - This is a memory, which is strong but disjointed. I certainly remember the prisoners in their striped uniforms. They were of course by then well fed. But two strong impressions remain. I visited the medical museum where I saw half a head in some sort of a jar. Again this was not a sight of terror or horror but just intrigue and fascination. There were probably many specimens in that room but this is the one I remember. I donít actually remember seeing the ovens although Mama has told me that we did see them. But the rooms where the hangings took place I will never forget; being told that the marks on the walls were made by the victims scratching the walls with their fingernails. They were trying to save themselves from being hung. This was much more horrific. The memory does have a connotation of horror.

One more thing comes to mind. I remember a local German being caught and brought into the camp. He was not in uniform, a civilian, but he was being beaten very badly and brutalised by people. I witnessed this and to what degree and for what reason this was going on I donít know. His clothes were torn of him by a mob of which I was a part.

I remember at this time a lot of milk. Maybe this was the first time that I had been given milk. And I also remember sausages. Large, big thick sausages.

The journey between Buchenwald and our next place of stay, Wetzlar, is a mystery to me.

Wetzlar station was out of town surrounded by fields. It may not even have been Wetzlar. I remember our family being left behind with our suitcase or bundle whatever it was and the train departing leaving us there. It was not a memory of sadness but more of surprise. Why are we not going further? Whatís going on? Why is the train leaving us?

Wetzlar camp is very hazy. I have snapshot of activities in which I was involved. I remember the layout of the camp with the wooded hill behind it and the actual field in the middle of the camp. There were two sections to the camp and we were in the one on the right as you entered the gate. The hospital, the school and the church were on the left.

One incident of a cow going up the stairs of a building is very vivid. What this was all about? Was it a dream? I donít know.

I remember a soccer game being played between the local Polish camp team and one of the local German teams. At the end of the game the spectators were chasing the referee.

I remember staring at a man who had an over-stretched skin. He must have been very fat at one time. We used to peep at him in the public showers staying behind to peep after others had left.

I am conscious of Mama being always in uniform although I know she was a civilian.

I remember visiting Roman in hospital. I donít know what illness he had nor how long he stayed. Strange that the hospital pyjamas he had were the same as the prisonersí clothes in Buchenwald.

None of these activities are associated with family things or events. They were all individual to myself.

A bittersweet memory I have is being in hospital. My tonsils were being taken out and I remember the joy of having as much ice cream as I could possibly eat after the operation. The pain of swallowing was bad but the ice cream was good.

When we were leaving I remember Mama being persuaded by a young man to take with her a suitcase which she did not want to take. I did not know what was in this suitcase nor what was in it but the man said that even I could carry the case. I remember looking at this big suitcase and thinking to myself that there is no way that I could carry it. It was far too big for me. I am now not aware whether in the end we took it or not. (This suitcase was full of German paper money taken from a bank and completely worthless by then)

We left the camp and travelled by lorry from the camp, at least part of the journey. We were in the back of the truck amongst sacks of something or other. Marek was there with me but I donít remember anyone else being there. No other people. But I know that Marek and I were part of a load of sacks in the back of the lorry.

The scenery I remember. We were crossing the mountains, very high mountains and there must have been a steep and narrow valley and I was looking out from the back of the truck and I was trying to spot the top of the mountains and I could not do it. This must have been quite an impressive sight for an eight/nine year old: these magnificent canyons.

My memories now jump to a hot part of the journey, southwards. This was to Italy.

Mother was sitting in the cab of a small truck. Not as big as the full size trucks. I was occasionally allowed into the front of this small truck but most of the time I was in the back. A funny memory I have is Alina having a spotted dress - dress with spots on. The reason that I remember this is that there was a moment when I started counting the spots on her short sleeve. The pattern may have been leaves or something similar but it was a regular design on her dress.

The journey southwards I really donít remember. I think I have a very vague recollection of Ancona where the main street running through the town was sea to sea, so to speak, so I gather that Ancona must be on a peninsula or something like that. Very little recollection of what we were doing but I think we had a meal in a very posh and elegant place; not a restaurant but an officersí mess- something like that.

And now moving into the Barletta/Trani area. Here again I have very disjointed memories of specific instances rather than of a chronological film.

Here, probably, is one of the very few memories that I have of Marek. He was obviously much younger than I and probably tended to spend much more of his time during the war around motherís skirt. But here in this case I do remember him. I do remember playing with him in some sort of a very large building in fact in the gardens of that building. There was a fig tree, thatís what I remember, and I was trying those figs which were horrible tasting things. I was then giving one to Marek and trying forcibly to make him to eat it.

We lived in a little "hacienda" type building outside of this big building. Again I remember that Mother was in uniform and the building itself had vineyards around it and actually a vine in the terrace which I used to be able to pick.

I used to spend a little time in hospital out there. I donít know what illness I had. This hospital was not for children. I was probably the only child in there as far as I remember, surrounded by grownups. I also remember a school and I think this was in Barletta. It was a military type school. Very strict. A guy would come and spin a coin and drop it on our beds to test if it was made well enough. The coins were expected to bounce. None of us could really pass the test but this still went on.

After this come my memories of our journey to England.

I donít know where we started from but it was by train. I have an impression of an open type carriage with seats. The reason that I remember this is because Alina was in the carriage next to us and I could see her. A very vivid memory of Alina shouting "Wloch spszedaje szturchy".* *To this day I do not know what it meant. Anyway the journey in that train was as far as I can remember, uneventful. We obviously travelled and got to England. I donít remember any English Channel crossing. Except that I remember that I was given some money to hide as we were entering England. Why, I donít know to this day. I had this money hidden under my shirt somewhere next to my body.

We went to a camp with round barracks. That was the first camp I remember. We stayed in an area behind some blankets for privacy I assume. Again I have very little memory of that camp. It was a crowded barrack. How long? With whom? What for? I donít know. I know now that this was Baronís Cross. (Near Hereford?)

The memories of Kirkby are quite good. Not family related but my own activities. I remember the school I went to. This was a mile or so outside the camp. I remember the games we played at school and the way we were taught English with little picture and associating words with that. I have a vivid memory of learning the word "skyí. - the meaning of the word sky. We were outside and somebody pointed out some* object in the sky and pointed their finger into the air and it just clicked the meaning of the word "sky".

I remember taking several journeys into Liverpool from Kirkby. I remember the trams - I think it is the first time that I remember trams in my life and I was very impressed by that. No. It wasnít the first time. I saw trams in Poznan but I was still very impressed. I havenít got any memories of Liverpool itself.

From this little Kirkby place we went to Edinburgh. How we travelled I donít know but presumably by train.

And with this the journey ends.

POSTSCRIPT

I have as a result of stopping occasionally been able to remember some infill things- the officer camp at Murnau and other little things but these are not important.

There is however a very interesting comment. I have probably talked about this journey for about and hour or so. It took me that much, that time, on most of the memories from Poznan to Wetzlar. I presume that this has covered a period of one and a half years, no more than that. Yet I managed to talk for a period of 45 minutes. I am sure that I could not talk for 45 minutes on the memories of my last twenty years. This must basically indicate how rich and how eventful the life during that journey must have been to me - a 7-8 year old. How much experience I have had and how much of an impression these experiences have made on me. To be able to talk for so long on memories after - how many years?- 47 years! - it is quite surprising. The fact that I could not talk for so long on the years since does not surprise me at all.

 

Go to MainpageGO TO EDITOR'S PAGE RETURN TO TOP GO BACK TO "1234 and SUITCASE"