WILNO (Nov. 8)
With the nightmare of two months of war still hanging over me and my heart full of sorrow I shall attempt to give an uncolored, truthful picture of my experiences in Poland, although I am aware that it will serve only as a dim reflection of the tragedy and sufferings which cannot be realized by one who has not lived through them.
I was in Switzerland toward the end of August when Chancellor Adolf Hitler decided to throw the match into the powder barrel. I could have remained there untroubled but decided to return to my fatherland and continue my duties. I do not regret the decision, despite my experiences.
I proceeded to the Italian frontier, intending to reach home via Italy, Yugoslavia and Hungary, but, although my papers were in order, the Italian frontier guards declared: "Polack? Entrance forbidden!" and removed me from the train. I retraversed Switzerland to Paris, finding the French capital already blacked out and communication with Warsaw impossible. I continued on to London where on Thursday, Aug. 31, I succeeded in obtaining passage on a Dutch plane and, after an exciting flight, crossed Gdynia and landed in Warsaw. It was the last commercial plane to reach the capital.
I reached Warsaw at 6 p.m. on Thursday. Twelve hours later German planes and tanks violated Polish territory and started their bombing and destruction.
On Friday at 6 a.m. I was awakened by the first air raid on Warsaw. At 9 a.m. news was received of the bombing of a Jewish children’s home in nearby Otwock. The same day I went there and saw the unforgettable sight of four half-burned corpses of children near a gaping bomb crater, many other dead scattered in the wreckage in the yard and 200 children left homeless.
Later I inspected the scene of another bombing of railway workers’ flats where tens were dead and scores were wounded. The husbands, who had escaped death by their absence at work in the morning, were mourning their wives and children. Such senators and homes were typical of the "military objectives" chosen by the Nazi bombers.
In the ensuing days the population was continually alarmed, from dawn to nightfall, by air attacks. The panic-stricken population sought refuge in basement air-raid shelters whose only virtue was that they dulled the sound of the explosions. Sometimes a 500-kilogram bomb would destroy a four-story house, killing the refugees in the basement. The German pilots frequently treated the population to thousand-kilogram bombs.
At no time during these four days did anyone think of leaving the city. Monday at midnight I was invited to the Foreign Office to broadcast a talk to America, as the National Broadcasting Company had allotted ten minutes each to a Christian and Jew to report on the Nazi horrors in Poland.
After giving the talk, I went home to dine, but, acting on a premonition, I telephoned the Foreign Ministry press office. Three calls were not answered. On the fourth a voice replied:
"Properly speaking there is no news, except that we are evacuating. If you wish, take a handbag and meet us at the station within an hour."
I received the news with the greatest consternation. Hastily I packed various articles and hurried to the station with my family and staff. The train was scheduled to leave at 5 a.m., but hour after hour elapsed and no one knew when it was starting or in what direction. I stood in the packed car for 10 hours. Finally I learned that we were proceeding to Lublin, but the four-hour trip would take 24 hours because the train would avoid fortified Modlin, which was heavily bombed.
I shall never forget that trip. From daybreak that train with 2,000 passengers, not protected with a single machine-gun, was unceasingly bombed and machine-gunned. Bombs fell on all sides and bullets spurted unceasingly.
The military officer ordered the passengers to hide in the woods and swamps along the tracks. Each time the bombers came the train stopped and the passengers rushed for cover until the planes had dropped their loads and had left to replenish their bomb racks. Then the passengers rushed back to the train, which continued on until the next attack.
The attacks came every half hour. The pilots, discovering that the train was unarmed, came as low as 30 meters from the ground, making targets of fleeing passengers, often singling out individual men, women and children.
Two months since that trip I still hear the anguished voice of one mother: "Mary, where are you?" with no reply coming from her child, who had either been killed or lost in the woods. The mother was still frantically crying when the train pulled out.
You have never heard of the station Czgemcha, but it remains for me the scene of the most frightful experience of my life.
Czgemcha was an important railway junction and the target of incessant bombing. As approached the station two squadrons of Nazi planes met the train. Before we could flee we were enveloped in a hail of bombs and bullets. One bomb…two…three…an infinity of bombs!
In the midst of the panic a voice rang out: "Don’t run! Fall to the ground!"
I dropped near a wooden shed about 50 meters from the tracks, unable to help my wife and children except by covering the ears of my 12-year-old daughter to help shut out the sounds of the detonations.
We were lying there helpless, stiff with dread when someone raised the false scream of "Gas!" A few of the passengers had gasmasks. We had none and started running until we fell, exhausted, in the woods.
After we had quenched our unbearable thirst at a nearby peasant’s hut, my daughter saw a bed of flowers.
"Papa, what beautiful flowers! How beautiful the world is," she wept.
In the first day of this nightmare journey we had to leave the train 18 times.