"I left Wawsaw. In the end I left Poland. It is not the muffled traffic noises of the London • black out,' that rise to this furnished flat. The walls roll back and the windows open to the mechanised slaughter of the plain below Czestochowa. The heart is no traveller . . . it will not change or like it. No human misery can ever have
move equalled this misery of the refugees in
So writes an English woman, whose name is not unfamiliar to the public,
but must for good and sufficient reasons be at present concealed.
Under the title of My Name is Million* she has told me the tale of her desperate journeyings, and her final escape from the land she had come to love so well. Married to a Pole, she has left her husband behind in the hands of the Gestapo.
TI1E DEFENDERS OF WARSAW
She was in Warsaw when the Germans began to bomb it and remained till the day after the calamitous charges of the Polish cavalry at Czestochowa, of which there is a grim word-picture. Then she had to leave the city. . . .
" Warsaw remained Warsaw without us. We had lost that chance of Immortality. The defenders of Warsaw roiling now in the thaw beneath the ruins, heaped on one another in pits in the squares and gardens, crucified on bayonets, set alight by benzine, machine-gunned as they waited for water, dropping down in the streets all the winter from frost-bite and starvation, kicked to death in prisons, executed' by German law, are alive for ever. The rest of us, who have survived, what are we? Only the Polish emigris. Our travels in Europe are well known. They began in the eighteenth century. We do what we can."
With five shrapnel wounds in her scalp, the author set out with her husband in a refugee train for Lwow.
BOMBARDMENT The train arrived in the township of Chelrn just in time for a German bombardment. The town had one military objective: a petrol refinery. . . .
" The bombs they unloaded tore up the ground one after the other and still we were lying under the seats, half buried under broken glass and a centimetre of flying sand and soil, listening to the slam and thud of the bombs and the detonations that seemed to be striking off the wall of our own skulls. Still we were alive and waiting for the next one. I have no real idea how long it all lasted. Again it is one of those periods that get mixed up with eternity when I /start counting. What distinguishes its hofror for me from all the countless others was a strong sense behind it of a personal intention to flatten us. As a bombardment it was not Just one more example of the totalitarian conception of warfare. Heaven knows we were used to that. It was the vengeance of the German marksmen who had not been able to hit the refinery. In it was released the real desire of creatures made like ourselves so to mutilate and pound us with their explosives that we might be only mangled pieces of fibre driven below the surface of the earth. The knowledge of what evil really is, what it can do to the human spirit open to receive it, has never left me since that hour at Chelm."
The tragedy of Poland, her strange part in the destiny of Europe, and the way in which the Polish character has been fitted by nature and history to bear her burden, is well brought out by the writer, herself a Catholic, in a moving description of a sermon by a Polish priest in a Warsaw church: THE IRON CROWN OF MARTYRDOM
" The chaplain addressed the people. What he said was very short and very much to the point. This, he said, was the third day of the war. We had suffered, but we must be prepared for suffering infinitely more great. That even the history we all knew so well could provide no parallel for what was now before us.
" The object of the German attack was the complete annihilation of Poland
Materially it was all too likely that they
would seem to succeed. Every kind of
frightfulness and horror, surpassing even
our knowledge or imagination, would be employed. What an Army of Occupation,
under the orders now of Gestapo, could mean, nobody needed to be in doubt. The Polish soil that we loved would be stamped into a bloody morass. Everywhere the lamp of freedom would be extinguished; men and women and even children would be tortured, maimed and executed for the crime of loving their country.
" The altars of Poland would be thrown down and her Holy of Holies desecrated by the foulest deeds. It was well, it was right, to be prepared, to entertain no fond hopes, to measure to the last bitter drop the depth of the cup, which Poland, true to her history, had elected to drink.
" But whatever the path before us, whatever remain still unknown, the lamp that
seemed to be extinguished must go on burning for ever. Poland, wiped from the map, must go on existing, where she had ever existed, in Polish hearts.
" The iron crown of martyrdom, which had ever been fitted to the bleeding brow of the nation, was being held out to us again. This was the traditional crown of Poland which, it had briefly seemed, a new generation was to be spared the wearing, and which our generation, and out fathers', had already worn."
So it is possible to understand how Poland may yet survive the murderous stab
in the back dealt by Stalin on September
17. By this date the travellers had come to a part of Poland in the territory subse quently occupied by the Russians. The passage now quoted might be headed: " How Britain's attitude to Russia looks from a Polish viewpoint." Poland. Bombed and shelled and mnehinegunned out of their homes by the Western barbarians, they had dragged themselves hundreds and hundreds of miles, enduring every kind of progressive wretchedness and horror, only to fall into the hands of the barbarians from the East
" Their fate has been lingering and atrocious. Compared with it. a wholesale massacre would have been merciful. But nobody then took the trouble to massacre them, and, as they were alive, they had to act. They had to keep moving in the third week in September, between the two millstones, while the millstones still kept apart —later, wherever chance flung them. Some into the German occupation, some into the Russian. Others to the pits in which hundreds of nameless bodies lie piled together. Others to the yards, to face the execution evade. To concentration camps. To labour camps. To Siberia. To Germany. To internment camps abroad. The only place to which none of them ever went was home. At K. there was fond and rest for an hour or two. Without it, they would have perished a little sooner ! The help we gave only prolonged suffering.
" On our set, we could still hear London, very faintly. Poland was still in the news. We learnt that Modlin and Hel still stood. The whole civilised world, they said in London, was moved and awed by the heroism of the Polish people. We heard the Lord Mayor of London's broadcast to the Burgomaster of Warsaw, to Stefan Starzynskl, now in Dachau, the worst concentration camp in the world. But we heard no single voice from England speak of a Russian aggression. As to that, silence; the silence of the grave.
NO WORD FROM ENGLAND " Our frontiers had been crossed by a second invader. Our eastern provinces were overrun ; our armies in a sprung trap. The murder the Germans could not do alone, the Russians had come in to finish. The future line of demarcation between the two occupations was already being discussed in Moscow. And from London not one word. Not even recognition of a fact.
The story ends with a pathetic postscript in which the author says: " Since the 1st of September, 1939, 1 have been running a race with exhaustion. Mental exhaustion is overtaking me now so fast that I have despaired innumerable times of ever setting all the story down. I know now that I never will set it down. Not as I planned it. Not as A., when the parting did come, left me the charge of doing it. If I could have done it, I should have understood a little why I have had to live, when so many I love are dead. Why I am free when the whole of Poland is in Prison. Why all my efforts, first to stay in Poland, afterwards to return there, could never come to anything."
* My Name is Million. (Faber and Faber, 8s. 6d.)