Thank you for so much positive feedback on the first part of the memoirs of Frank Gwiozdzik, who served in the Wehrmacht, as did all Poles from those regions of Poland incorporated by Germany as part of the Reich. Here is the beginning of his story.
Read the eralier part: On the Wrong Site of the Frontline
I was born in 1925. I was not even 14 years old when it became obvious that war between Germany and Poland was inevitable. There was no atmosphere of fear or panic in our house. We, the young people, believed in the propaganda spread by the mass media (radio, newspapers and posters) that Poland was powerful. We also trusted in the guarantees given to Poland by England and France, who at that time were considered the biggest military powers in Europe and even the world. We were convinced that the war would last only a short time and it would end with the grand victory of Poland.
See you again in Opole* - these were the words of farewell spoken by friends of my older sister Jadzia at the end of August 1939. She was a Polish teacher, her friends were also teachers. How could it be any different, since the Germans were hungry because they had chosen "cannons rather than butter" and their tanks, although numerous "were not real but made of cardboard." We were not only "strong, united and ready" (Polish: silni, zwarci, gotowi), we would not give up "even a button", nobody will do anything to us because we have Smigly-Rydz (in Polish this phrase has a strong rhyme: nikt nam nie zrobi NIC, bo jest z nami Smigly-RYDZ). We also had powerful allies with real tanks and cannons.
We did not feel too much concern other than the apprehension that young men would be taken into the military (the Polish army, of course), since we realized that even the winners have to bear loss of lives. At that time my parents and my sisters were relieved, saying, Franek is only 14, we do not need to worry about him because he is too young to be drafted. We were convinced that given the technical progress in military art, with very efficient weapons for destruction and killing, it was impossible that the war would last longer than a year. It was simply believed that there would not be enough soldiers for a longer war. True enough, the civil war in Spain negated this argument, but somehow we did not want to take that example into account. We thought that it would be better to have a bloody and cruel but short war, and the very efficient weapons of this time almost guaranteed it.
Still, a month after the war started and the September campaign ended, the hopes for a short war faded. There was a "strange war" on the border between Germany and France, but we did not know too much about it. The news was not encouraging and did not give us, the common people, any hope. The defeat of France, which was in our eyes a powerful state with a strong army, was a shock, as was the difficult English campaign. After the Germans won the Balkans so easily, we were very surprised that they needed more soldiers; in Silesia, the first draft of young men (18-21) started in the summer of 1940. Later on, the Germans became even more desperate, taking men older than 21, including even Poles who were in the Polish army reserve.
Everybody was surprised. Why do the Germans need more soldiers? Do they want to invade England? Don't they have enough well-trained and experienced soldiers who took part in the campaign against Poland, France, Norway, and the Balkans? Very secretly people started talking about the possibility that "German will get to the Rus" and this would be the end of the war and of the Reich. . But then people started to really worry about how many of the boys serving in the Wehrmacht would die or come back injured, even though this might be the last stage of the war. This question bothered everybody.
At that time my family was still saying, Franek is only 15, we do not need to worry about him because he is too young to be drafted. The war will certainly end soon. I also believed it, in fact, I was sure that this would be the case. There were fewer and fewer boys visible on the streets. We could see it especially on Sunday on the way to church. The groups of boys that formed in front of the church after the service were also smaller and less numerous. In the Fall of 1940, more and more different sorts of military uniforms were seen among these boys, especially those who were already trained and ready to serve, but came home for 14 days of rest before going to the real war...
We Polish Silesians believed that the war would end quickly if the Germans attacked the Soviets. We thought that Germany, even with its superior military force, technique and good training, could not conquer this vast, almost self-sufficient country with enormous numbers of people and abundant natural resources. Every German soldier could be matched by at least three Soviet soldiers. These Soviets might be hungry and poorly equipped we knew that from the Polish soldiers who came back from the Eastern front after the September campaign but they were still courageous and determined, if not for patriotic reasons then from the fear of being killed by their own. We had heard a lot from the mass media about the Soviet terror even before the war started. We knew that a Soviet soldier would rather die than retreat.
Now it was 1942. More and more terrible news came of the deaths of friends and colleagues. My family no longer said Franek is still young, we do not need to worry that he will be drafted. But there was still hope. At the beginning of 1943, all my friends except one, who was drafted later, were already in the army. All of them were one or two years older than I. We still hoped that the war would finish soon after the German defeat in Stalingrad, but the Germans were still strong . At that time, there was just one frontline in Europe, and it was hundreds of kilometers away from Germany and the Reich. When boys born in 1925 were drafted into the military, nobody was saying that it is so good that our Franek is so young. It was almost certain that sooner or later my turn would come. I was afraid of the war, and especially of the Eastern front.
written by Franek Gwiodzik
*Opole -Opole is a town with Polish heritage that belonged to Germany before WW II. It is located halfway between Katowice and Wroclaw.
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