When the Prussians Came to Poland - L. DeGozdawa

Civil Government

The 15th of July we were told prisoners were to get ten pfennigs a day, and a piece of bread! For the first time in all those weary months the fact that the captive soldiers were men was taken into consideration, and the burden of feeding them and being forced to look upon them taken from the townspeople.

Most of the prisoners were transferred to Prussia. We hoped it was better there. I was very glad when the news came of rations for the men—but as always my joy was short-lived—for the permission to feed them was taken from me. To feed a prisoner was a misdemeanor, to be punished by a fine and imprisonment. With ten pfennigs a day and a little chunk of hard bread, the men would not be better off, but worse—I knew how it would be; at the tiniest offence rations would be cut off.

Gustav still helped us along, but I dared not buy so much as at first, the store people only giving certain things and not over a stated amount. Once more food grew scarce in the town. I was more fortunate than anyone else, but from day to day I wondered if on the next we should have proper food.

As people in the town were feeling the pinch of hunger I felt called upon to share what we had. The men, Pan W. and the engineer, came very often for dinner. We ate silently except for the children; sensitive little things, they also were more silent than before the war. One person I always sent food to was the aunt of an acquaintance of ours, a judge. The poor lady had decided to stop when the town was evacuated, thinking the Russians would soon be back. She had plenty of funds, and should have been comfortable. The very first day of the Prussian occupation the house was looted and occupied by the common soldiers. They took her maid, who was the only creature left her after the evacuation, and through fear of what was going on about her the poor lady had a stroke of paralysis. Alone and helpless, how sad was her case. I wished to take her to my house where she would not be alone, but of course was not allowed to do so.

Gustav told me to stop letting the two men come to meals. The engineer was the pet suspect of the Bezirkschef. Our friend, the man in whose house the meeting for the organization of the typhus hospital had taken place, was in prison. He had been pulled out of bed in the middle of the night and carried away. Gustav brought a piece of sausage to me one day—about it was wrapped a piece of paper—"The order of the day" from the Commandanture. I naturally looked through it with interest. A long list of things confiscated and people punished. Z——ski, sentenced to five years' imprisonment at hard labor. I was so overcome by the news that it was difficult to keep calm. I sent my cook to get what news she could of the poor man. She came back with the information that he had returned to his house—that the case was finished! Thinking the matter over carefully, I decided to run the risk of going to our friend Z——ski, telling him what I had read. My cook, after hearing my plan, grew almost hysterical. About five o'clock I went on my errand, walking through the sultry streets, looking neither to the right nor the left. It was hot, and the air heavy with the odors of war; the misery of the time dragged like a leaden weight upon mind and feet.

When I got to Z——ski's house where a soldier was on guard, I found him sitting before a table with vacant eyes—staring into space. He recognized me finally, and almost a smile came to his lips. He asked me how the children were, poor man! Somewhere he had three children and a very pretty wife. His old servant was fussing about, and begged me to persuade her master to take a hot bath which she had prepared for him. Getting rid of her I asked him what he had been told when released!


I asked him if he knew a soldier was on guard?

Also "No."

I had to tell him what I had learned, begging him if there were any message for his wife to give it to me—also telling him to keep quiet and think of all he wished to tell me.

He struggled bravely, saying it could not be true—he had done nothing wrong—as if that were necessary! He had only given money to the officers taken prisoners. He could not believe the information was correct.

I begged him to realize his position—lest the enemy take him unawares. He started to write to his wife—stopped and tore it up.

"You tell my wife! Tell her I loved her, and now shall never see her again. My sons must understand the fate of their father—they are—Poles." He spoke like a man drowning—gasping for air. I thought he would die before my eyes, wondering idly if I should do wrong not to aid him, thinking of the blessed relief death would mean.

Suddenly he told me there was something he wished to give me—that the Germans should not get it,—money, taking from a hiding-place a great pile of bills! As he was counting it a soldier on guard came in asking what we were doing. I told him quite simply the gentleman was lending me some money as my funds were running low—showing him—he left us, satisfied—and I found that there were 1500 roubles and three thousand marks, putting the money into my bag. We spoke together with difficulty. I noticed how his eyes travelled from one object to another—staring but unseeing. After a while he told me not to worry too much about him—his heart was weak, the end would come soon—sooner than the war would end, or the Russians retake Suwalki.

I looked at him wondering if that wife of his—somewhere—would recognize her husband in the white and broken old man before me. I remembered the first time I ever saw them both, at a ball in Suwalki less than two years before, she pretty, gay, exquisitely dressed. He gallant, with hair black as night—with the "grand manner" of the Polish noble. I had admired his wonderful dancing of the mazur.

Presently I told him we would eventually succeed in getting out. My faith had not wavered, else the days would have been impossible to live through. Someday I would deliver both messages and money to his wife which in the meantime I was glad to have. We clasped hands, gazing silently at each other. The next morning he was taken into East Prussia, and I was told to keep strictly at home.