WILNO, Lithuania (Nov. 23)
The second day of the journey differed but little from the first. Our train was continuously harassed by German bombers, and many times the train was forced to halt while the passengers had to alight and hide in the woods, fields and ditches. There was danger of the route’s being cut off as the bridges over which the train passed were also exposed to heavy machine-gun fire and bombing.
Fortunately, the Nazi aircraft gunners proved insufficiently trained and unable to hit their mark, sometimes wasting a large amount of explosives to destroy a single building. A new method of Nazi air attacks was witnessed the second day. Since even more important buildings, places and trains were seldom efficiently defended by the Poles, small units of German planes descended to 30 or 50 meters from the ground. Our train was thus twice exposed to short-range machine-gun fire.
We were therefore forbidden to leave the train in open country and were ordered to take cover in the cars until a raid was over. In view of the little space in the cars, the men protected with their own bodies the women and children. Once, when the passengers during a raid had left the train, halting in the woods, a bomb exploded 15 meters from a group of three including me, almost burying us under masses of earth and blinding us with moist sand.
Another bomb the same day fell 20 meters from us, but failed to explode on the swampy ground. Another blast smashed the train windows and some passengers, including a member of the J.T.A. staff, were slightly wounded by glass splinters.
Whenever the train reached a station which had not been raided we were generously supplied with hot milk, coffee and bread by the excellently-functioning volunteer units of the Polish White Cross.
After a day’s trip during which the train traveled 10, at most 15 kilometers an hour, we reached Kowel, near Luck, where the railway line ends. Since Luck was already overcrowded, the train stopped at the small station of Kiwerce. Our hopes of finally finding rest after the enormous strain of the journey were, however, still not fulfilled.
Finally, a Red Cross sister disclosed some prospect of finding shelter in a nearby village inn. Arriving there after a walk of several kilometers through darkness, I placed by wife and daughter in the women’s section while I found a place for myself among the troops lying on the bare floor. The hard floor seemed sweet to me although I could not find sleep because of over-fatigue.
I found there some of our persecutors who had driven me, my family and colleagues off the train. Their arrogant self-confidence was over and they were surprised to see us alive, thinking we had perished in the ruins of Siemiaticze.
After a few minutes, heavy knocks at the shutter made us fear new danger. But it was only notification from a Red Cross sister that the train was shortly leaving for Rovno. Taking hurried leave, I fetched my wife and daughter, who remained surprisingly brave after their third sleepless night, asking only whether the further route was safe from bombing.
But the bombing continued. We reached Rovno at daybreak. The heated hotel room warm water and real beds with pillows seemed to us almost unbelievable luxuries. After a short rest I set out to see about reestablishing the J.T.A. service. The Foreign Ministry had remained at Luck but a special official had come to Rovno to act as liaiso officer, supplying official news to the journalists.
The Rovno Jews showed themselves most anxious to help the J.T.A. By noon I had two rooms as a private apartment and a third for an office. The Jewish children’s aid society, Centos, supplied two typewriters and a telephone. Similar helpfulness was displayed by other Jews. Some man I had never before met offered a six-room villa for the J.T.A. Other journalists received similar offers.
I went out to obtain news from the Foreign Ministry while my wife attended to necessary arrangements for settling down. But neither my wife nor I was successful in our tasks since the liaison officer suddenly disclosed that the Foreign Office was moving from Luck to Krzemienice, only 20 kilometers from the Soviet frontier. Krzemienice is an old, historic town. The great Polish poet Slovacki was educated in the famous college there.
The diplomatic corps and foreign journalists were requested to be ready for a journey within two hours. My daughter asked: “When will this traveling end?” Neither she nor myself knew that a greater part of our troubles still lay ahead.