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army officer


Bystrzyca Klodzka


July 1999


The narrator was, according to the interviewer, a delight to interview. Even at 86, his energy and enthusiasm for life shine through. He’s full of memories, and talks in detail about his early life in the “eastern borderlands” and what happened to him during the Second World War. He sums up Polish history since his father’s time pretty succinctly, and clearly remains a little cynical about the role played by the British and the Americans. He was an excellent sportsman and his skiing achievements and adventures also feature prominently.

He escaped to the area after the war and settled down in the mountains. He does not perceive any problems or “troubles” between the local German population and the post-war settlers like himself. When the Germans were deported, he believes they were “glad to be leaving because they could see what poverty we were heading for, and that West Germany was prospering”. Occasionally they return to the area and the narrator invites them to his house and “we are now friends”. He thinks this is an “unbelievable breakthrough”, as “some 30 years ago, there was this saying, “Come what may, a Pole and a German will never be friends” and everyone deeply believed it. So I think the world is progressing in the right direction”.

Thinks that the local environment is now “changing for the better”; “there was a time when it was terrible … it was more or less 1980-1986, when the degradation of the environment could be seen with the naked eye”. He loves living in the mountains, as he “once told my grandson, “I like Warsaw alright, but you know, I’ve got three wishes: to live in Bystrzyca, to die in Bystrzyca and to be buried in Bystrzyca. And that’s all [laughs]”. He has worked as a mountain hiking guide and ski instructor and “guided many parties through these mountains”. He prefers the Tatry Mountains where he comes from, but “walking these mountains is unforgettable”.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  Early life: born in 1913 in the eastern Borderland. His father was in the Austrian Army, and the narrator lived in Vienna during World War 1.
Section 2  When “the Austrian Empire started falling apart”, they moved back to Poland and lived in Zakopane until 1927. He was sent to Lvov (military school) and became an artillery officer. Went to the frontline in 1939, was shot and taken to hospital, which was “lucky” as “all my colleagues were later taken captive by the Russians and got killed in Katyn”. With a false name, got to Cracow (where he met his wife).
Section 3  He joined the ZWZ (resistance organisation). Not long after the war ended, he was arrested and they “charged me with unthinkable crimes … that I had been in the National Army”. He was in prison for six months, although it was termed “temporarily retained”. The Russians still harassed him afterwards, so he moved to the mountains with his father who “had to escape, too”.
Section 4  His mother’s friend spread rumours that they had escaped to Switzerland “and so they stopped looking for me”. Married and until 1953 was a technical inspector in Wroclaw, then worked in Krosnowice as an engineer. Later became an engineer in the Match Factory in Bystrzyca, until he retired.
Section 5  Thinks that Poland was sold out by the Americans and English. Doesn’t like the way people are “turning their backs on each other. I think Poles should come together, hand in hand, we shouldn’t quarrel”. Appreciates his freedom, especially since prison. Talks about his achievements in teaching and competing in skiing.
Section 6  Has never returned to the eastern Borderland. During occupation he was on the German side, so has no personal experience of Siberia in 1940, although he knows “what terrible things took place there”. Memories of being at military school, horseriding, doing the pentathlon.
Section 7  Remembers how much he liked his jobs and the “social side of it, it was fantastic” with a sauna and ski-lift. Taught the local schoolchildren skiing.
Section 8-9  Feels the current view of the communist era is a bit biased: “obviously there were problems, but it’s unfair to say everything was bad.” Explains how he came to Bystrzyca Klodzka and how much he enjoys living there – he was one of the first “to infect Bystrzyca with the skiing bug.” It “was a quiet place. There were no troubles around here, either. I think I was potentially the most suspect person around” (because of his war record).
Section 10-11  Feels good about the past: jobs, pension, even the war - because he survived which is better than many: “I don’t think I am a 100 per cent Pole - I don’t like complaining”! Loves the mountains, and is relieved to see that at last the environment is changing for the better, as pollution decreases. Life was “more cultural” in the past, and “much more used to happen”. Today, much land is untilled but although people “complain they are poor, but when you want to give land away, nobody will take it”.
Section 12  Says Poland was a poor country: “when they tell you how wonderful the country was before the war – don’t believe them”. For some recruits, their army boots were their first shoes ever. The eastern borderlands may have been beautiful, but “living there would have been killing”. But “we had achievements. After all, we managed to unite the nation after the three partitions.” And huge progress was made in 50s and 60s when people had access to education. Has travelled in Europe but “I always made my way back to Poland as soon as possible. Somehow I prefer being at mine, however poor the country may be”.
Section 13-14  Thinks they’ve “got a lot to thank Stalin for” because he advised the army to attack Lvov, which was “not anywhere near Warsaw”. Felt England and America “didn’t give a damn”, and cites how “shortly after World War 1, they said that giving Silesia to Poland is like giving a grand piano to a monkey”. The relationship between the settlers and the Germans was “alright. There was no fighting around here”.
Section 15  Story about one of the original German families. Feels the positive breakthrough in relations between Germans and Poles is “unbelievable”. “One thing is certain, where there’s affluence, there’s peace.”
Section 16  Recalls the war and how hard it was. Still suffers from his war wound and pain in his hip, though says ski-ing cured it, much to his doctor’s amazement.
Section 17-19  Best part of his life was when he lived in Torun from 1938-9, as he “was a young man, a bachelor, the world belonged to me”. After the war wasn’t so bad either; “True, there were those Mayday celebrations” but they got through those by getting drunk. Now considers himself to be a local in his beloved Bystrzyca. Went back to Zakopane but it “is not the same town as it was when I was living there, there’s lots of pollution”. Explains the origins of his surname.