When the Prussians Came to Poland - L. DeGozdawa

After the Fall of Warsaw

We constantly heard rumors of the triumph of the German armies. One afternoon the bells began their horrible din! And we knew a new misfortune was heaped upon the head of poor Poland. The day was hot and breathless, the smell of war sickening, overpowering. How glad I was the windows were shaded from the fierce rays of the sun. They could not say I closed the blinds at the sound of German victory, inflicting a fine upon me. The children were in the garden with my cook and Gustav. I wished they were at home; the sound of the bells was so difficult to bear alone. Looking out behind the curtain, I saw Pan. W., the Polish nobleman, who was slightly deformed, coming towards my door. Quickly going down the stairs to let him in, we met without a word. His face was enough. I knew before he spoke that Warsaw had fallen—Warsaw, where his wife and young daughters were.

We went upstairs together. He threw himself down in a chair, burying his face in his hands, a pitiful figure. The bells kept up their clamor as if they never intended to leave us in quiet again. After a long time, my visitor raised his head. "If the bells would only stop ringing! Oh, Warszawa, Warszawa." He spoke as if the words strangled him, bursting into sobs which shook his whole body—and I was glad, knowing the relief that tears would bring to him. We, the unfortunate ones, did not need to hide our feelings from each other.

After a while the children came in. Gustav, with the delicacy denied most of his superiors, went off without a word. Wanda, with the unerring instinct of childhood, went to sit upon my visitor's knee, asking him why he cried. "Because I have two little girls, and do not know where they are, "he told her. The children had made him put aside the thought of Warsaw for a moment, and we talked of my prospects of getting away.

When the armies were withdrawn from Suwalki, the people would starve, surely. Black days were coming. The next day I went to see the "Presidial Rat" once more. He told me my papers had been examined by the "Head Command" of the army, but there was small chance of the permission requested being given. They thought I had seen, and knew, too much; my sympathies were too outspoken. Also, there must be certificates telling the reason of my remaining in Suwalki—that my children really had been ill of typhus at the time. It should have been easy to get such a statement, only I had to beg that brutal man, the present surgeon-in-chief of the Russian hospital, to give it me. I instantly wrote a note to him, asking him to call; and Gustav delivered it. This time, being less busy, he came quickly. I told him quite frankly what was necessary, and why; and also, that for the time spent in helping me I would pay at the rate of small operations. He said he wanted fifty marks—in advance! I gave it him, and he went off, telling me he would do all in his power to aid me, even to calling upon the Bezirkschef. Before he went, he told me of a few bits of furniture of mine he would like, really choice things, which I had kept close about me. Anything to keep him on my side! What mattered a little furniture now!

Three days after he returned in quite a different mood! Some of the various diplomatic notes had been exchanged with America about the submarines, and the Germans were furious! He told me he had written the certificate, but it would do no good; I would never get out, and might thank my own country for it. America was holding a knife to Germany's throat, etc.! He called us all sorts of names, and included the whole Anglo-Saxon race.

I listened with calmness to his frenzy, for I would rather have his blame than his praise.

There were fewer prisoners now, less for me to do, and for a day or two I allowed myself to be ill and went to bed. It only made things worse for the children; besides, if I really gave in, it was the end of us! I must make the most tremendous effort of all just now. So, once more the burden was shouldered.

News came to us continually of some new triumph for the Germans; the bells clanged it into our ears. I think that for every bridge or hut they took the bells were rung! The nights were dark with the early darkness of the North. We had no light. It was cold and wretched, and there was no fuel. We saw daily the great loads of trees from our forests cut down and made into logs, carted into East Prussia, often with loads of furniture. I do not know where it came from. No more was in the houses, unless the officers had been using it. There was a tremendous search for metals, the peasants hiding what they might have in the earth rather than give it up for bullets to shoot their own men down with.

When we heard such a search was to take place, which meant that all handles, knobs on doors and furniture, window fastenings—everything which could be considered metal—would be collected, I feared my papers might be discovered. It was a possibility some officer might decide to take my bedroom furniture for himself! Through a peasant woman, devoted to the family, I got my papers away, and buried deep down in the earth, in two iron pots, one turned inside the other as a cover, all bound up in a mackintosh. They were buried under the place where the pigs used to root. The pigs were no more, but the pig pen yet stood. There our papers still rest, waiting for Suwalki to be taken once more. I believe that Suwalki will again be ours and that we shall recover our documents.