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July 12, 2024
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Soviet invasion of September 17, 1939 and the case of German compensation for WWII

from: Polonijne Forum Patriotyczne 


zelusnica is a small village in the Lower Beskid near Jasło. This was probably the year 1937 – as Wladyslaw mentioned in his stories about Alexander, my grandfather. “I will never forget how proud I was of my father when he explained to me how the counterintelligence was running.” He started his story like that. “You told me that the condition of survival is- What did you call it? Have your eyes on your back? “I urged my father to tell the story during one of those cold pre-war nights. Here in the Pre Carpathian winter was harsh that it was nice to sit at the stove and listen to real stories. “Well. So listen carefully how it is done “- Alexander began his tale in a definitive tone. Imagine that three men you suspect are approaching in your direction. First thing you do is put your arm behind your coat jacket and pull the release on your pistol. You keep it hidden under the cloak with a finger on the trigger ready to shoot. The weapon has to be depressed and you have to set it so that the barrel under the cloak is directed towards them. Without changing your position, you are looking for an object that would give you their reflection without ostentatious gaze on them. It could be a window pane. All the same, but you cannot let them out of your eye, and for a moment to loosen the grasp on the trigger. This way you keep watching them until they pass or they close enough to start the action. “He finished, confident that I understood. “What action? What happened next? “Disappointed by the quick end, I provoked my father to continue. “I can’t tell you this because I’m not allowed to. And you and your brother better not know. Difficult times are coming, and knowing too much means trouble. “He drove off the questions and sent me and my brother Joseph to the bedroom because was already late. In 1938 my father was drafted in the army and he was brought home only for short visits.

This was the only message about the work of Sergeant of the Military Counterintelligence Service in the Polish Army Alexander Mazur, whose son Władysław is still remembered today. My own Father Wladyslaw, Son of Alexander Mazur told me this story of my grandfather several times and always remembered his father as a sharp and disciplined man devoted to Poland’s independence. After World War II came, a unexpected “surprise” for the Mazur family, the home in Czeluśnica came under the hold of anxiety and fear for Alexander’s life and well being. It was winter 1940 when some strange young man appeared at home asking for clothes for Alexander. The story revealed that he knew him well and most importantly he conveyed good news. Grandpa survived the September 1939 campaign. He was captured by the Soviets in Lvov. Civilian clothes were needed for prepared escape from POW camp. Grandma gave what he asked for and they bid farewell to the stranger with hope in their hearts.

Time went by and he did not show up. Only a letter from the town of Essen in Germany was received, another mystery. They learned that he was working in Germany cutting trees and that he was good at it. The job was hard but he could manage. Further letters revealed slowly and cautiously the reasons for his stay and forced work under Hitler’s Germany. In the beginning, it was accidentally mentioned that the Soviets exchanged him for Russians who were on the side of the German occupation zone in the spring of 1940. His hands were hard and with prints, so the Soviets considered him to be a member of the working class, fit for exchange. Between the stories of how they treated him at work, he sent words translated into German in phonetic spelling. As he mentioned to his wife, Władyslaw had to learn to speak German because it might be useful later. And he was right indeed. The knowledge of these dozen words saved his sons life in contact with the German patrol numerous times. Germans simply listened to German speech. As we know, they killed all people they felt were different from them.

It was noticeable that the censors reading the mail liked the idea of German learning very much and helped with more frequent shipments and less control of the content. Grandfather returned to his family in 1942 sick and lecherous. He had a lot of luck that was conducive to him in a critical time. When his platoon was defending Lvov they fought near the prison. German and Soviet aircraft bombarded the area and the prison itself. One of the missiles threw at him a mass of tiny debris that fluttered through his uniform and wounded his left hand. Every officer of the Polish Army fought in uniform and was not allowed to fight in civilian clothes. Because nothing else at hand a uniform of a prison guard was proposed. He dressed in this, and in this uniform was taken prisoner by the Russians. Him and others were transported from Lvov to (as he translated) “some camp on the island”. There was a inspection and officers were separated from the privates. Those whose rank was unidentified were hand-checked to have traces of hard physical work. It was a camp in Ostaszków, as we learned after the war and from there thanks to unrecognized rank, Aleksander instead of pits of Katyn reached Terespol, where the Germans and Russians, allies in this war, exchanged prisoners. Thirty Poles for one Russian was the ratio of exchange. It can be assumed that the Germans were preparing a “different” camp for the Poles than the one that was ready in Siberia. Alexander Mazur returned from slave labor in Essen sick and exhausted in 1943. He was unfit for work in the German forest because he was unproductive and often sick.

All the time after returning from Germany he repeated to his son Władysław and his wife to tell no one of his story. Now I, his grandson, understand that when it came out that grandfather Aleksander was pursuing Soviet spies. He could only expect execution from the Communist authorities in Poland and his body would be buried in some nameless pit. His family would be cursed by the Soviet occupant and left without means to live. The land and possessions would be confiscated and the family persecuted and harassed by frequent interrogations. Therefore, any idea of claiming compensation for his slave labor was rejected by him without discussion. After all, it was necessary to explain at the same time how and where he was captured as paperwork required for such claims. Maybe there would be found one of the Communists whom he personally arrested? Maybe some papers were found, maybe even with his assignment? He did not see the need for a poor German compensation to risk life. Sometimes people in the village mentioned the possibility of claiming compensation. My grandmother often replied that Aleksander didn’t have any documents to proof his version. Of course he had no documents because he burned everything himself, understanding the danger that threatened them.

Grandfather died after the severe illness that ravaged his body in 1967. I do not remember my grandfather because I was three years old. My father kept the stories about him secret and today I understand this caution. After all, it was just in 2014 when traitors who unfairly judged and shot in the head 17-year-old Polish anti-communist guerrilla medic Danuta Siedzikówna “Inka”, were buried with honors and splendor. You may be surprised but, changes in Poland stopped and communist killers not only were not tried for atrocities but lived good lives. Their victims are recently found by archeological excavations in nameless pits and on the refuse dumping grounds. This is the story of the harm done by the Germans, which could not be told because of the threat of imminent persecution by another occupier: the Soviets.

The example of Aleksander Mazur’s counterintelligence officer is just one of many cases when the “Yalta treason” of leaving Poland under the occupation of the Soviet empire made claims for indemnity from Germany impossible.

Wojciech Mazur

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