Memoirs of a Polish Resistance Officer - Jozef Garlinski

Memoirs of a Polish Resistance Officer - Jozef Garlinski

In August 1939, on the eve of war, Jozef Garlinski was mobilized as a second lieutenant in the Polish Army. On the first day of September the armed forces of Nazi Germany attacked and invaded Poland. Three days later Jozef hurriedly married Eileen, a British girl from Liverpool, at a church in Warsaw. The priest asked them to be careful as there was a large unexploded bomb lying by the side door. The ceremony over they left the church to the sound of distant alarm sirens.

In the skies over Warsaw were German Heinkel bombers. Jozef and Eileen felt the ground shake as German bombs exploded in the city and they watched as smoke rose over Warsaw. Later that day Jozef joined his regiment which was marching out of Warsaw to take part in the battle against the enemy. Eileen's last parting words to Jozef were a commitment to wait for his return: "I shan't make any attempt to get away, I shall stay in Warsaw. I will wait for you..."

The Fight for Poland

The German advance from the north forced Jozef's Guards' cavalry regiment to march south-east in order to prepare itself for battle. Eventually though they found themselves surrounded by German forces. The regimental commander informed his officers that the regiment would try and break out to the south and that they should then head for the Hungarian border. Their attack on German positions did not go well and Jozef found himself lying in a ditch, with an injured back, as German bullets flew overhead. He was captured, taken prisoner and sent to a field hospital. After six weeks he was discharged and walking with difficulty made his way by goods train to Warsaw. There on 2nd November he was reunited with his wife.

Polish Underground

After only a few days in Warsaw Jozef joined the Polish underground resistance. By the end of 1941 Jozef was nominated for the position of Head of the Security Department of the Headquarters of the Home Army. His main role was to protect the HQ from the Gestapo (German Secret Police). The most important task was to make contact with political prisoners who had been captured and imprisoned by the Gestapo. These prisoners were held in either Pawiak prison or in the cellars of Gestapo headquarters at Aleja Szucha 25.

The Germans kept Polish warders and doctors working in the prison. This was helpful to the Home Army in establishing secret contacts in the prison. Jozef received word from his superior, code name Stefan, that a man posing as a chief of intelligence in an independent resistance organisation was trying to collaborate with Home Army operatives running the liaison network in the prison. Stefan identified this man as Joseph Hammer, a ruthless Gestapo agent who had been in the pay of Germany during the 1st World War. 

Our network of Polish warders in the Pawiak prison was completely broken up. Sub Commissioner Spitzer was killed in the Gestapo building, and the senior warder was tortured to death during interrogation. The other warders were sent to Auschwitz...Germans and Ukrainians now occupied the key positions in the prison. The situation was very dark. (pp. 25-26)

Someone was leaking secret communications to the Germans! It was established that contacts in the prison were passing information onto Hammer thinking he was a special agent sent by the Polish government in exile in London. The Home Army had to eliminate Hammer. His movements were monitored and a plan of action developed.

On the last day of June 1942 a meeting was arranged between a Home Army contact in the prison and Hammer at his office in Tamka street. Two Home Army liquidation teams were ready in position for Hammer's arrival. Suddenly a German soldier appeared, Home Army operatives shouted "Hande Hoch" and held him at gunpoint. Hammer passing nearby heard the commotion and tried to escape. Two shots rang out, Hammer fell to the ground wounded. A Home Army operative made sure he would not survive and he died an hour later in a local clinic.

An opportunity to place an agent in the prison occurred when the Gestapo wanted a female clerk with a reasonable command of German to work there. Jozef and his operatives were able to place Jadwiga (code name Ryszard) in this job.

At the end of January 1943, when over three days more than 1200 prisoners were taken off to Majdanek concentration camp, within two days I had a complete list of names from [Jadwiga]. (p. 54)

Arrest and Imprisonment

Jozef on 20th April 1943 was traveling on a tram to visit a friend. He got off and was walking along a road when from behind him he heard the words "Hande Hoch!". Two young men were pointing revolvers at him. They arrested him and took him by tram to Gestapo headquarters in Aleja Szucha. Jozef was taken down to the cellars of the building and put in a cell. 

At 9am the next morning two Gestapo men questioned him. They asked him for his papers and what his profession was. Jozef said he had been studying law before the war. They accused him of having false identity papers and of being an engineer. Jozef realised that they had arrested him thinking he was someone else and not because they knew he was involved in underground activities. The Gestapo hit him multiple times with a whip and beat him on his head, neck and back. They returned him to his cell and at 5pm transferred him to Pawiak prison.

The prison was situated in the Jewish ghetto. On 19th April 1943 the Germans had sent in SS forces with tanks to liquidate the ghetto, several hundred lightly armed Jews fought back in what became known as the Warsaw ghetto uprising. From his cell in the prison Jozef could hear grenades bursting and saw the window panes shaking.

The first week of May was a nasty one. The Germans suddenly shot 100 Polish prisoners, nobody knew whom they would take another day. Jews were being brought to the prison constantly. They were being murdered mercilessly on the spot. (p. 118)

On 13 May a large transport of 500 men and women was sent from Pawiak to the Auschwitz concentration camp, Jozef was among them. They arrived at Auschwitz late at night and were put in an empty barrack. The next day Jozef had a number tattooed on his left forearm and was issued with camp clothing. He was given three badges to sew on his clothing which signified the following:

  • Black circle - Member of penal company
  • Red circle - Dangerous prisoner
  • Small patch with letters I.L. - Isolation camp

Jozef was assigned to digging shallow ditches, later he was able to work in the kitchens.

Working inside the camp we were witness to the incredible sight of hundreds of prisoners being led along the main camp road to the crematoria. These were Jews mainly from Greece and Salonika...They were terrifying shadows of people, ghosts covered in wounds and blood, dressed in rags and probably numbed and unaware of what was happening around them... (p. 137)

From time to time new transports arrived at the camp.

Unexpectedly a massive transport of 30,000 Dutch Jews arrived and was sent straight from the camp to the gas chambers...we were kept in our barracks and they tried to isolate us somewhat from the crematoria, but the stink of burning bodies was so pervasive that no one was in any doubt as to what was happening. (p. 138)

Jozef and a few hundred other prisoners were transferred to the Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg in Germany. They arrived after spending three days traveling in a train of cattle trucks. In February 1944 Jozef was moved to a small sub-camp of Neuengamme at Wittenberge where he spent nearly a year before moving to another sub-camp in February 1945.

Reunited

Jozef's wife Eileen spent the war in Warsaw. During the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 she helped to take care of the wounded. The German SS captured the area Eileen was working in and shot anyone who looked like a soldier or who was wearing an armband. Eileen survived as her armband was in her pocket when the SS carried out their inspection of the prisoners. Eileen and other survivors were marched out of Warsaw and taken to a camp for civilians near the city. She escaped from the camp and spent the next few months with distant relatives of Jozef.

Jozef and Eileen had decided at the start of the war that if they were separated and the Soviets took over Poland then they would try to head for the West and contact each other through Eileen's mother in Ireland. Eileen traveled to Czestochowa and came across a party of British prisoners of war being taken by the Red Army to Odessa for onward transport to the UK. She joined them and sailed from Odessa aboard the Duchess of Richmond. The ship managed to avoid German submarines and arrived safely in Glasgow. From there she traveled by train to London and was given a job as a translator in the Ministry of the Interior of the Polish Government.

Jozef after release from the concentration camp worked voluntarily with the 7th American Armoured Division. He then developed typhus fever and recovered in a hospital in Halle. He was on the last transport out of Leipzig before the Russians arrived. In Darmstadt he met a female friend of his wife's who told him that Eileen had survived the war and was living in London. Jozef made his way to London via Paris, took the boat from Dieppe and arrived at Victoria railway station in London. For Jozef and Eileen the wait to be reunited was over.

Jozef Garlinski died aged 92 in 2005.

The Survival of Love: Memoirs of a Resistance Officer

Author - Jozef Garlinski
ISBN - 0631176594
Publisher - Wiley-Blackwell 1991.
Book Availability - Amazon (UK) - Amazon (US) - Bookfinder.com

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This page was added on 30 September 2014.