Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Young Man's WWII Survival Story

By Cindy K. Stewart

Germany and the Soviet Union defeated and divided Poland between them in September of 1939. The Soviets quickly arrested and deported University professors, police officers, border guards, lawyers, doctors, pastors, priests, physicians, engineers, journalists, pilots, teachers, landowners, writers, chaplains, civic leaders, and any other person deemed a threat to the establishment of a communist society. The Soviets arrested anyone wearing a uniform, even boy scouts!  

A column of arrested Polish police officers, civilian public servants
 and other "enemies of the people," being escorted by the
Red Army in "liberated" Eastern Poland in September 1939.
From the Soviet Cinema Newsreel.

Mietek in 1943
The fascinating story of Mietek Rymaszewski begins in the small town of Malkowicze in Soviet-occupied Eastern Poland during the winter of 1940. Mietek belonged to a youth cadet organization but had been too young to fight at the outbreak of WWII. After a number of families from his town were deported to Siberia in February, word came of his own impending arrest due to his youth organization ties.

Mietek packed underwear, food, and a little money, bade farewell to his mother and younger brother and left during the night with two female school friends. He never returned to Malkowicze. The train ride toward the border was interrupted twice by NKVD (secret police) passenger checks. At the first check he was questioned about the contents of the suitcase he carried for one of his friends. He replied that he was taking the items to his sister at college, and the NKVD let him pass. The two girls said they were traveling to college, and they were allowed through. At the next passenger check, Mietek and his friends moved to a group that had already been processed, avoiding another search. The threesome arrived safely in the city of Łomża, near the border between Soviet occupied Poland and East Prussia (Germany).


German-Soviet Occupation of Poland in 1939
Mietek and his companions went to a prearranged address where they waited for an opportunity to cross into German-controlled territory. The moon was full and the nights were too light to avoid detection in the open, flat country covered with deep snow. Growing impatient, Mietek left with a guide who took him to within three kilometers of the border. Before parting, Mietek questioned his guide thoroughly about nearby villages, landmarks, woodlands, and the best places to cross the border. Later when he was intercepted by a Russian soldier, he posed as a local citizen, accurately describing the area. The soldier let him pass, but Mietek returned to Łomża because of the impossibility of successfully crossing the border. The Russian patrols were too active at the time.  
  
Łomża, Poland
Mietek’s two schoolmates sold some of their jewelry and returned home, but the jewelry dealer sold out the owner of the house and the other potential escapees. The NKVD surrounded the house, arrested everyone, and took them to the NKVD station in an old seminary. The officers plied the prisoners with questions. Who were they? Where were they from? And what they were doing in Lomza? The prisoners were put in separate cellars at the old seminary so they couldn’t talk with one another but not before Mietek let his companions know he had changed his name. He was determined to protect his mother.

Fifty men shared the cellar with Mietek, including smugglers from Warsaw who bragged about their exploits. They described their route in detail, and Mietek memorized everything he heard. Since the penalty for those coming into the Soviet occupied section of Poland was less severe than for those caught escaping, Mietek prepared his story. When he was questioned, he said he had come from Warsaw and was headed to Bialystok (about 80 km/50 miles away) to find his uncle. He described his journey, including a detour at the river Narew where the bridge had been blown up. He had crossed an improvised bridge and took another train.

When Mietek’s interrogators asked him how he had crossed the border (from German-occupied territory into Russian-occupied territory), he claimed he didn’t know he’d crossed the border. The NKVD believed him. An army officer came in to report the arrival of new captives, and the NKVD berated the officer for not having stopped Mietek at the crossing.

Mietek's interrogation lasted for several weeks, and the NKVD officers used a variety of methods to coerce confessions from the prisoners for whatever they were accused of committing—usually spying. The prisoners were forced to sit on a small stool with sharp edges and corners, which cut into their spines. The NKVD used special handcuffs, tightening them until the prisoners’ hands turned blue, causing pain and then numbness. They stood the prisoners against a wall and pointed a gun to their heads. Another interrogator would enter and gently question the prisoners and then pretend that he was going to shoot them also. Prisoners were pulled in for questioning at two o’clock in the morning, submitted to a volley of rapid-fire questions, and suffer if their answers were inconsistent. 

A well-known engineer in Mietek’s cellar was accused of spying, and the NKVD tortured him for hours at a time. He would come back covered in bruises, bleeding, and unable to walk.

Someone scratched a hole in the wall, allowing communication with the women prisoners in the next cellar. The women collected a matchbox full of lice, and when an inspector visited, they complained about the conditions. The inspector said the lice problem was their own fault, so they threw their collection at him, and he raced out of the cellar.


Łomża Prison
Mietek was transferred to the Łomża Prison and later taken with hundreds of other prisoners to the railway station and loaded into cattle trucks. Destination – Siberia.


Deportation Cattle Truck
Come back on the first of next month to read about Mietek's continuing story.

***

CindyStewart, a high school teacher, church pianist, and inspirational historical fiction author, was the historical category winner for ACFW’s 2014 First Impressions writing contest, a 2014 Bronze medalist in My Book Therapy’s Frasier contest, and tied for second place in the 2015 South Carolina ACFW First Five Pages contest. Cindy is passionate about revealing God’s handiwork in history. She resides in North Georgia with her college sweetheart and husband of thirty-four years and enjoys visiting with her married daughter, son-in-law, and three adorable grandchildren. She’s currently writing a fiction series set in WWII Europe.

7 comments:

  1. A brave young man who endured a lot during this era. A great post--so much about WWII has been lost through the years. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thank you so much, Marilyn. I love researching about WWII - there's so much info we have never heard about.

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  2. I enjoyed learning more about WWII history through the story of Mietek. I found the maps to be helpful. And I look forward to next month's continued story from history.

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    1. Thank you so much, Ruth. It was great meeting you in person at the ACFW Conference last week!

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  3. I enjoyed learning more about WWII history through the story of Mietek. I found the maps to be helpful. And I look forward to next month's continued story from history.

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  4. Sign of a great writer...leave them wanting more. Great post!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Debbie. I'm glad you enjoyed the post! :)

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