When the Prussians Came to Poland - L. DeGozdawa

The Prussian Treatment of Their Own

It was not only the captives who suffered. I have seen many a German soldier beaten, knocked about! They were all around us—one had to observe! I used to be sorry for the men in the hospital, the rules were so rigid, the sisters' duties seeming to consist in scrubbing the floors rather than in making life a little easier for the wounded men. A Pole, from Posen, among them, once begged me for a book to read. Others heard of it, and more books were demanded. I still had various bookcases, aside from those the chickens roosted upon in the library. It got to be a habit that the wounded soldiers, our enemies, came to look through my books. They often would sit down, longing, as always, to talk, inevitably showing me some photograph of wife and child or sweetheart, each one speaking longingly of the end of the war.

At rare intervals I visited the hospital. Once from my balcony I witnessed the following. The chief of the hospital in our house came along, reading a paper; he called an orderly to give the order that all patients who could walk be mustered in front of the hospital. This was done, the men, in their grey and white striped garments, hobbling out. The chief then told them he was ordered to send every man who was sufficiently recovered to wear a uniform to report for duty. Among the men was one who had no wound apparently, only his neck was bound up. Spoken to, his voice could not be heard in reply. The surgeon-in-chief asked him why he spoke so. The poor fellow struggled to speak louder. The chief raised his hand, striking the voiceless man upon the mouth, knocking him flat on the ground. After he had picked himself up, the chief once more told him to speak. This time the voice had quite gone, and the soldier was let go, with the remark: "Now I believe you cannot speak!"

So many men were killed at the taking of Kalvarya that even the sanitary orderlies from the hospitals were called for duty in the trenches. One in the hospital under my roof was a young violinist. I had often spoken with him, and he brought candles to me whenever he could. His career was just beginning when the war broke out. Not yet in the army, he volunteered for the sanitary service; very nervous, sensitive, it struck terror to his soul when called out for the trenches; and he drank essence of vinegar to make himself ill. Somehow or other it was found out, or, at least, suspected. The boy was disgraced and beaten. Really ill, after the questioning he was put to bed in a room directly under my bedroom. Feeling death near, finally a confession was wrung from him; after that all were forbidden to go near him, even to give a drink of water. Shut in by himself in that big room, his voice echoed weirdly, begging, pleading for mercy, for a drink of water. One of the German sisters got hysterical at the sound, and I thought she would also be beaten. Two days and nights we heard him, moaning, whimpering, sometimes screaming horribly. I tried to console myself with the thought that he was delirious. Quieted at last by the death he had prayed for, we saw how the body was brought out, clothed only in a shirt, thrown on a peasant's wagon, dragged by two Russian soldiers. The German soldiers were ordered out to see how a traitor was served. After a long harangue, the Russians, under the care of a German soldier, started for the place of burial. Thinking is seemingly forbidden to the German soldier. The utmost severity controls. Only at intervals they are given license and as much as they wish to drink, and encouraged to do the most terrible things. That is why the people in occupied territory have so hard a lot. The curious part of it is, they always wish to be praised. They will take your furniture, pack it up, and expect you to stand entranced with their "chic" way of doing it. Nothing is so hard to bear as the scorn with which people not Germans are regarded. Nothing is sacred! I was surprised at the German priest imitating the singing of peasants and priest, holding them up to ridicule, singing mockingly the words supposed to be so sacred.

One day this German priest was holding a service for the soldiers in the trenches, near Wigry, when the Russians began to drop grenades on them! There was a scattering to the four winds of his congregation! For the remarkable bravery displayed in not letting a piece of shell strike him, this priest received the Iron Cross! And, of course, he came to celebrate the occasion in my house!