When the Prussians Came to Poland - L. DeGozdawa

In the Russian Hospital

Many people in the town were punished for the same reason Z——ski was. Four Russian officers and two soldiers had attempted to escape! We found out when the fines and imprisonments were generously passed around! The soldiers were shot down, and one of the officers was caught; but three either reached their own lines, or were killed in the woods. One of them had been betrothed to a girl in Suwalki. She knew nothing of the plan, but that did not matter. Twice led out to face the firing squad—threatened—the girl was finally thrown into prison; then sentenced to ten years at hard labor. With her, various young people were also sentenced, her acquaintances getting from two to five years each. One brave little woman, a teacher of her native language, French, defied all orders, going about to gather a little money for those who had to start for their Prussian prison. They who had so little themselves were always ready to help the still more unfortunate.

How many from just our small town of Suwalki are wearing their hearts out in Prussian prisons—people who have done absolutely nothing, unless to be Polish, and to be alive, is a crime.

The Russian hospital was given a new surgeon-in-chief, the doctor who had operated upon my little boy's finger. He, the incarnation of Schrecklichkeit, too hard and cruel to be longer tolerated in the German hospital, was given charge over the Russians. Could worse misery come upon the defenseless men? When I learned this, there were a number of officers sitting about my table drinking coffee. They told it as a good joke that this brutal man had been appointed, laughing uproariously that his first demand had been for a larger Leichen Halle (morgue). Congratulating each other upon the fact that there would soon be fewer prisoners.

Not long after this new chief was set over them, a Polish lady came to see me, showing me the marks of his hand upon her face. Serving as a nurse some especial piece of brutality had been too much for her. She spoke! with the result the doctor struck her violently across the face, knocking her down. This same lady told how she had used the expression "Pray God the war will soon be over." The surgeon-in-chief said she was praying on the wrong side; her prayers could not be answered!

Another doctor, a Herr Professor, was about as bad. A wounded officer needed an immediate operation—the amputation of a leg. The Herr Professor called upon refused to operate without a fee of two hundred marks. The officer had no money, or very little, and by the time the other officers and sisters in the lazarette had signed a promissory note, gangrene had claimed its own! It was too late—the officer died.

One day two ladies came to me to help them get food for the wounded once more. There was so much typhus and no milk, nor, in fact, anything except pea-soup. We were forbidden to help, but thought there were ways of getting around the difficulty. I gave them twenty-five roubles and a quantity of pudding-powder, which they carefully concealed. They had no sooner gone than my cook told me an officer who spoke Polish had questioned her—asked her what the ladies wished. My cook was clever enough to say she did not know; but hastened to tell me of the circumstances. Of course I sent her instantly to warn the ladies that they were watched—and that time the Bezirkschef did not catch any one!

I kept very quiet, hoping against hope for some change, but no answer came to my petition, and I knew as long as my enemy was at the head there was no possibility of release. Bad news came to us from the world. We heard the Russians were in retreat; but about us the fight was still going on. Once more the Great Man was there, directing the line of defense. I was told by an officer the orders were to take Kalvarya at all costs. The Russians had a battery of guns on top of the little hill, and the Germans could not get by. This was a point just beyond Suwalki. Tremendous reinforcements arrived, among them the "Black Bavarians," they who, it is said, never delivered prisoners given into their charge." The prisoners got tired," they would say. And regiment after regiment tried to storm the hill. Why the senseless waste of human life, no one knew. It was the high order! An officer, telling me of the dreadful slaughter, said the swamps about Kalvarya were as thick with dead as a Christmas cake with currants—and, after all, they did not get the Russians, for they withdrew!