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Jan's story

Memories of a Polish Schoolboy

Photograph of young JanI was born in Warsaw in 1932 and was there when the Germans invaded Poland. I was in our flat in the middle of Warsaw with my mother and grandmother, all the men were fighting at the front. It was a beautiful, hot summer and there were German planes overhead and the men in the street had guns. I remember riding my bicycle all day or standing on the balcony watching what was going on. Remembering the first World war, mother had stored chocolate and sardines which was mainly what we had to eat.

I remember one incident very clearly and still dream about it to this day. A man was crossing one of the wide streets in Warsaw when a German fighter plane came in low, just above roof level, machine guns firing at him, cutting off his head completely and he continued running towards the chemist's shop and I wondered how a man could run without a head - I now know the reason.

Another time my mother and I were walking towards the hospital, as I was going to stay there with her, and a German bomb hit a glassworks - it was the most magnificent sight on earth - the multi-coloured flames were truly gorgeous.

Another time when I was lying in bed in the hospital, there was a man in the bed next to me and I was telling him how much I hated the Germans and I was going to kill them all. When my mother appeared he asked her to tell me to be more careful when his friends came, because he was an officer in the German army. In fact, he was Austrian and somewhat anti-German and he allowed mother to use his car as an ambulance during the night for injured members of the Polish underground army as he had all the passes. I wish I had known his name - all I do know is that he ended up on the Russian front and is probably not alive today.

I was not terrified as a child because everyone expected Poland to win the war. My memory of the Germans is of jackboots parading up and down and being very careful and having to step off the pavement for them.

My father and grandfather were in the underground army and I know we had a radio receiver hidden in the big stove and we all listened avidly to the B.B.C

In 1941 my mother was arrested by the Gestapo for no apparent reason. The family clubbed together to raise a very large amount of money to buy her out. The real blow came on the 22nd June 1942 when my mother, father, uncle and grandfather were arrested by the Gestapo and interrogated in the infamous Gestapo Headquarters. I now know that the men were executed and mother was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp, ending up at Ravensbruck from where she was liberated by the Americans.

I stayed on with my grandmother until Warsaw was liberated by the Russians. At that time I did not know that most of my family had been killed and broadcast a plea on Warsaw Radio for news of their whereabouts. Luckily, my mother heard this and came to Warsaw to collect me.

I came to England in 1946 and have lived here since then.

Dr Jan Mokrzycki
22, November 1996

Jan is a member of MEMORIES Panel of Elders. You can click here to write him.


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