Zygmunt Frankel


Chapter 12

The Tide Keeps Ebbing

27th January 1944
The Germans have been pushed back across the old Polish border, somewhere near Lutsk. It's only one short section of the front, and they have counterattacked and pushed the Russians back for a while, but it's the old border all the same. Under his calm and polite exterior, Adam seems worried. He does not like the Germans, but does not look forward to the Russians either, and says there's no knowing what life will be like if they get here. He smokes more than usual, and, Iying in bed with a cigarette, talks about how it might be safer deeper into German-controlled territory, not Germany but Austria perhaps, any area which is more likely to be occupied by the Allies rather than the Russians. He has stashed away several of those sheet-metal petrol containers. I wondered what I would say if he suggested we leave his family and my husband behind and get away together in his car, but he didn't. Still, it was nice to be trusted with his innermost thoughts and plans. He also says that such things should not be left till the last moment, what with the traffic jams on the roads, and bombardments, and perhaps the Germans requisitioning private cars, especially a Mercedes like his.
When I next visited him in his flat, most of the portable valuables were gone, including the small painting by a minor old master and the two silver candlesticks which have lighted so many of our intimate little dinners. It was only after we made love and have dressed and I was about to leave that he told me, sadly, that this was our last meeting "for a while". He was taking his family west the next morning. He hoped he was doing the right thing; the roads might turn out to be more dangerous than the shelters in town; it depended on so many things. We parted tenderly, each expressing the hope that we will meet again soon. He rounded his farewells off with "Partir, c'est un peu mourir", not knowing that this was the second time I was parting from a lover in French.

10th April 1944
The dreariest of all the war winters so far - and the last one, one hopes - at long last over. There was this feeling that the war and those awful winters will never end, but now it's becoming clear, even to the men, that it can't last much longer and that Germany is losing. Adam once explained to me that thirty-year wars and hundred-year wars were possible in the past, when it was done on a small scale, but not with the intensity of modern warfare. The first world war lasted four years and left Europe in ruins, and this one can't take much longer than the first one.
In the long run, he said, it was all a matter of economy: how many men and machines each side could put into the field, and what resources - money, minerals, oil, industry, and manpower - it had to back them up with. A Blitzkrieg - the German lightning war - was only successful if you managed to win before your oponent had the time to mobilize his resources, learn from you, and reorganize. In this, the Germans have failed, first with England and then with Russia. Now, with America with its enormous resources also fighting them, it was only a matter of time before they went under.
Patriotism, love of freedom and justice, and the fightlng spirit, he said, had almost nothing to do with it. The best soldier with a rifle can do little aganst a heavy bomber. The Allies would have been prepared to let Hitler run things in Germany his way - and will let Stalin carry on in Russia with his purges and executions and God knows what else - so long as their own power and influence are not threatened.
A lot of German military traffic through the town, by train and road, packed in both directions: soldiers and supplies to the front; soldiers on leave - not too many of those - and the wounded to the rear. No news from Adam; I wonder where he is now and how he is doing, although knowing him I am sure that, except for some really nasty unforseen circumstances, he will manage all right.
Rations even shorter, and not always available even if you have the coupons. The help from my family is even more valuable now than before. Can't imagine how people without any such help can manage; and indeed, a lot of them in the street look hungry and poorly dressed, and there seem to be more funerals, with coffins much more plain than before the war.
Strangely enough, with all the hardships and shortages, I have gained weight and am slightly over seventy kilos again; obviously because of the boredom and inactivity, and the starch in the potatoes and the flour. This has also been my first long period without a lover, and no visits to the Roma either. The place had become fashionable with German officers in the evenings, and a couple of weeks ago someone threw a handgrenade through the window. A Polish couple were killed, and a German officer and the Roma owner slightly wounded, There was no end to street searches for the next few days, and the Germans shot fifty prisoners from the town jail in reprisal. The Roma is closed for repairs, and they are also putting wire netting over the windows to keep the handgrenades out, but Mimi and I are not going back when it reopens. I met the owner in the street recently, with his hand in a sling. He was very gloomy, not so much because of the grenade but because it has branded the Roma as some sort of a German officers' club, and it could be held agerinst him when the Germans are gone. He wonders whether it would not be better for him to leave town if the front gets closer - one of his customers, I may remember him, a Mr. Adam, has done that and perhaps it is the wisest course. He remembered the first world war, with the Germans and the Russians and later the Poles sweeping over this area, and whenever the town changed hands justice was swift and not always very just.
"So this may be the end of the Roma," he said. "It has survived the first world war but might not survive this one. It was as much part of this town as the old church and the town council, and more popular than either. Oh well, with the coffee the quality it is now, perhaps it is just as well."
"Would you recommend going to a village if the front gets any closer?"
"No, perhaps not. If a village is overrun, you are exposed to the frontline troops. The town, through the sheer the size of it, somehow absorbs the first shock, and the occupying troops are under better control. I think it's best to stay where you are."

25th June 1944
The British and the Americans have landed in France, on the Normandy coast. The Germans say they are pushing them back into the sea and that it's going to be another Dunkirk, on an even bigger scale, but this pushing back into the sea has been going on for the past two weeks and the Allies are still there, and even seem to be expanding their beachhead. That's three fronts in Europe now: Russia, Italy, and France.

6th August1944
No, four fronts! An uprising in Warsaw! The Home Army has struck in force and gained control of the city within the first three days! And the Russians are just on the other side of the Vistula and due to enter the liberated capital any day now. The men say the uprising was marvellously timed: with Warsaw liberated by non-communist forces, Poland will be in a much better negotiating position than if the capital had been freed by the Russians.
It looks like no summer vacation in the village this year, a couple of short visits at most, because of the situation. Aerial bombardments have started again, and the siren which sends us to the shelter seems to be the same one we heard in 1939. The only comfort is that it is the Germans who are getting it now. The railway station seems to be the main target, as it was then; and, now as then, some of the bombs miss it and kill civilians instead. The Germans are much quicker at repairing the damage than the Poles had been, and the trains are usually running again within a few days.
The bombardments are more frequent, longer, and heavier than they were in 1939, and are mostly carried out nt night. There is the siren, and then the drone of heavy bombers, and absolutely beautiful cones of seerchlights over the town, and then the parachute flares and the anti-aircraft guns and red and green tracers, and then the explosions.

24th September 1944
The uprising in Warsaw has been going on for the past two months, and the Russians haven't moved yet. If they won't soon, the Germans might put the revolt down and all those lives and effort will have been wasted. There is the chilling thought that it is not only my husband and his friends who had realised that liberation of Warsaw by the Home Army would be to Poland's advantage. The Russians had understood it as well, and may be holding back to let the Germans put out the revolt, and will then move in as the only liberators.
Have managed only a couple of short visits to the village in the whole summer. My parents gave us more food than before, "just in case". You never know whether the visit won't be the last one for a long time, what with the front creeping closer and the revolt in Warsaw. Father has not seen Zygmunt since the start of the revolt; the Home Army must have brought all its people to the capital for the battle.
Had a few days' scare in summer when my period was late, but it turned out to be a false alarm. The scare wasn't all that great because, with Adam and Zygmunt away, it would have been my husband's baby, and I think I would have gone ahead with it. Prevention is one thing, abortion another; and, from the way things look, this war really can't last much longer.
Seventy-one kilos.

12th November 1944
Another winter beginning. It only lasts a quarter of a year, but when I look back, this war seems to consist mostly of winters. Summers are easier and more interesting so they seem to pass quicker, something the men call relativity of time. There is this joke about two Jews travelling on a train in Germany before the war, when Jews could still travel on trains there. One of them is reading a paper and says: "Oh, I see Einstein left for America."
"Who's Einstein?" asks the other one.
"You mean you've never heard of Professor Albert Einstein who invented the theory of relativity?"
"No; what's that?"
"Well, it's rather difficult to explain to someone like you, but, in a nutshell, it says that if you spend five minutes doing some hard work it seems to you like an hour, while if you're in bed with a beautiful woman, an hour passes like five minutes. You understand?"
"Yes, I understand; and for this they gave him a visa to America?"
The revolt in Warsaw is over. The Home Army has surrendered and the Germans are razing the town to the ground. They have done this to the Jewish ghetto a year ago, and must now be fed up with the whole city. When the war started and the Germans came, I was worried about Leo Goldberg; afterwards about Hans Werner; then about Adam; and now about Zygmunt. Is this to be my contribution to this war: memories of lovers who go away and may never come back?
Marta is busy on probably the most lasting and worthwhile project in such times: raising the next generation. The little brat has matured a bit and is slightly more bearable than he was in his extreme youth, and the little girl is an absolute angel and calls us Auntie Mimi and Auntie Halina. The two of us are spending more time with Marta and her kids since the Roma has closed, and are trying to help as much as we can.

28th February 1945
Spending all our nights in the shelter now because of the Russian air raids. They are keeping the railway station permanently knocked out now, and there is a lot of German road traffic through the town, and even some horse-drawn carts; much of it in the direction of the front, but also an increased flow west, probably non-essential personnel and equipment being evacuated, We may be seeing the first wave of the German withdrawal. The Russians do their bombing of the town by night with the help of those parachute flares which change night into day. Perhaps it is safer for them to come at night because of the fighters and anti-aircraft fire, or perhaps by day they are busy at the front or on the roads.
Then, one morning a few days ago, we heard explosions without any sirens sounding first, and rushed to the shelter assuming that the Russian bombers must have must have changed or expanded their tactics. When the explosions stopped and we didn't hear any all-clear either, we remained in the shelter. A little later it happened again, and finally someone came in and said that it wasn't aerial bombardment any more; it was Russian artillery shelling the town. The first question asked, by one of the men of course, was what is the range of Russian artillery, in other words how far are they from the town? Nobody seemed to know for sure; the guesses were anywhere between five and thirty kilometers. But if it was heavy artillery, they wouldn't be firing from the front trenches but some way back, so the tanks and infantry could be much nearer, and the big question was whether it was stationary fighting for some or an offensive; whether the town would be taken quickly or only after Stalingrad-type street fighting; whether we should stay in the shelter which the soldiers might enter, or sit it out in our flats upstairs, keeping away from the windows?

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1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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