Trip from the French Front Home, Part II - From the Memoirs of Franek Gwiozdzik

Read the first part of memoirs On the Wrong Site of the Frontline and the second part: the Beginnings of the War . Read also the first part of the adventuroous travel from France to Poland.

This is the continuation of the memoirs of Franciszek Gwiozdzik, who served as all Silesians had to serve, in the Wehrmacht during World War II. Franek is on the way to get to Packau, Germany, from France. Since nobody knew where Packau is, he decided to get there indirectly and stop by his family home in Katowice, Silesia.

The intuition that I had for the whole day that the train left in the evening was correct. I had just a few minutes until the departure of the train from Lille, France, to Brussels. I did not have enough time to check any further connections, I was just happy to take a train going in the right direction. I do not remember anything from this part of my journey. I do not remember whether I had to stand or whether I sat, whether the train was overcrowded or not. I only remember that we arrived in Brussels at midnight. When we arrived in Brussels, I immediately checked the timetable and I learned that the first train to Berlin is in the middle of the day. There were probably more trains to Germany, but I knew that if I want to get to Katowice, I should take a train to Berlin. I had 12 hours and I was very tired. In the huge waiting room, there were many soldiers in all sorts of uniforms with weapons. I realized that Brussels was very close to the front line and I felt so happy that I left France when it was still peaceful and that I would soon be home. I found a spot where I could sit; I took off my backpack and went to sleep. When I woke up in the morning, I saw that there were fewer soldiers and more room, even some chairs and benches were unoccupied. Then I realized that my rifle was gone! I looked around, checking whether it was moved somewhere else or whether I could see any soldier with two rifles, but there was no sign of it. I became really worried. I knew that any military policeman would stop me and I would be arrested when they saw me without a rifle. I would not have a chance to pass through the railway station, not to mention even departing from the country. I started thinking intensively what to do. Since somebody took my rifle, I would have to take a rifle from somebody else. There was no other choice. I looked around and I saw a good spot with rifles. I took my backpack and sat for a couple of minutes next to this place, making sure that everybody was fast asleep. Then I took my backpack and one of the rifles from the pack and I left.

I did not feel any remorse, I am pretty sure that another soldier in the same situation with no rifle would do the same and the sequence would repeat and repeat again, and when the last soldier left the hall the war would be happily over. I became terribly bored waiting for a train in Brussels. I could not go into town since my backpack was very heavy. In that time of war, one could enter the railways only through the gates. There was not only a ticket control at the gates, but also a military control for soldiers. For a train at 11 AM, I wanted to pass through the control one hour ahead of departure. I showed my papers and soldier military book, but the controlling guard demanded the medical proof of my health (attest). I had no idea I needed something like that. I was told that without the attest I would not be able to leave. The military policeman explained that the attest is needed to make sure that I do not have a venereal disease. There was a place in Brussels where I could receive this attest, but it would be closed today because it is Sunday, so I would not be able to leave by train today. This was too much for me, I already imagined that I would be home tomorrow. I asked where this place is, I begged the guard to keep my backpack and I would run there. It took me 20 minutes to get there, the so-called "military post" was on the first floor in a tenement house. I pressed the doorbell and a nurse opened the door. I asked for the attest in the most polite way I could, but the nurse said that she could not do anything because the doctor was gone and the war would not be lost if I reached my destination one day later. I do not remember exactly how I convinced the nurse to give me the attest, I just remember that I ran back to the railway station showing the guard from a distance that I had the paper! The policeman let me in and the train left almost immediately.

In the train I learned that Packau is near Passau. I also learned that Packau had a military training airport for future military personnel (navigators, telegraphists, shooters, mechanics) that would work in the Luftwaffe. Then I realized what an entangled road I had taken to get there, since I wanted to get home, and that somebody could stop me on the way to Poland. I did not really want to think about it, but rather be happy that I would have a chance to get home. We were in Berlin in the early morning the next day. I had to get to another railway station and, without any further problems, I reached the Katowice main railway about 6 PM. I did not leave the main railway station since I did not want to confront the military policemen at the gate, so I took a local train and got off in the substation in Brynow near my family house. When I got off, there was not even a railway man at the gate, not to mention any military control, so I was able to leave without any trouble.

Nobody expected me at home. It was a great surprise and also a great joy for everybody. Even more so since my last letter from France had just reached my family. In this letter I had written about the difficult time we had in June. I think I was the happiest, since I knew I would spend a couple of days with my family and I had ahead of me three months of training far from any military front. The most important thing for me was to survive this war. Three months was a lot of time and I was hoping that this might be even enough time for the war to end.

I did not want to leave home at any time not to cause any suspicion, but after three days I became a bit nervous thinking that somebody might look for me. On Saturday, I said goodbye to my parents and sisters and I left by train for Munich. Along the way we had military control and the commander of the guard was a bit surprised that I went from Brussels to Munich through Silesia, but I explained that I had not known the exact route and he let me go, especially since they did not know my place of destination either. I reached Packau on Monday after nine days on the road, but nobody seemed to be surprised, since many railway lines and stations were bombed, and train traffic was limited in many regions to only nightime hours. It is very possible that even if I had taken a direct route to Packau, I would not have been there earlier. So, thanks to the fact that I was sent to a town that not too many people recognized, I had an unexpected vacation at home before the last front of the war started.

Permission granted by Franek Gwiozdzik
copyrights Baba Jaga Corner - May 2006

This article was published in the complete paper edition of Polish-American Journal, you may subscribe to it here

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