Historical background from [www.ushmm.org]: After securing the neutrality of the Soviet Union (through the August 1939 German-Soviet Pact of Nonaggression), Germany started World War II by invading Poland on September 1, 1939. Britain and France responded by declaring war on Germany on September 3, but did not initiated any military actions. Within a month, Poland was defeated by a combination of German and Soviet forces and was partitioned between Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union.
The Polish Army was outgunned by a far superior German Wehrmacht. The stories abound about the heroic Polish cavalry on horses charging Nazi tanks. My father and his brothers in arms retreated to Warsaw and into the well-fortified Citadel.
From Wikipedia: The Siege of Warsaw in 1939 was fought between the Polish Warsaw Army garrisoned and entrenched in the capital of Poland, and the invading German regular army – the Wehrmacht.
The attack began with huge aerial bombardments initiated by the German Air Force the Luftwaffe starting on September 1, 1939 following the Nazi invasion of Poland. Land fighting started on September 8, when the first German armored units reached the Wola district in Warsaw and south-western suburbs of the city. Despite German radio broadcasts claiming to have captured Warsaw, the initial enemy attack was repelled and soon afterwards Warsaw was placed under siege. The siege lasted until September 28, when the Polish garrison, under the command of General Walerian Czuma, officially capitulated. The following day approximately 140,000 Polish soldiers and troops left the city and were taken as prisoners of war. On October 1 the Wehrmacht entered Warsaw, which started a period of German occupation that lasted until the devastating Warsaw Uprising and later until January 17, 1945, when the city was liberated by the Allied forces.
The Polish Army surrendered nearly 140,000 troops and during the siege around 18,000 civilians of Warsaw perished. As a result of the air bombardments 10% of the city’s buildings were entirely destroyed and further 40% were heavily damaged. The days of the siege were a terrible experience. There were many dead and dying in the city and the Citadel, and the continuous shelling and bombardment made it into a living hell.
My father and many of the other Polish Army soldiers were taken to the prisoners’ camp in Olsztyn or Allenstein in German, in northeastern Poland, or eastern Prussia, depending which borders you look at what time of the long and ever changing history of Poland. He stayed in this camp from the 29th of September 1939 to the 1st of January 1940. He was quite lucky not be one of the victims in the 1940 Katyn Wood Massacre of 4,000 Polish officers and about 16,000 others by Russian Soviets invading Poland (1939) to help the Nazis and extend their communist ideology. The Katyn Wood Massacre was a series of mass executions of Polish nationals carried out by the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), the Soviet secret police, in April and May 1940.
The life at the prisoners’ camp was terrible. It was not the work detail which was mainly working in the fields for the local Prussian/German farmers. It was the treatment by the guards in the camp and the miserable, overcrowded living conditions. The prisoners were sleeping on the floor in long barracks, so many of them that they could not sleep on their back only on one side. To make space the guards would come at night and shoot into that miserable pile of human beings to make space. The dead or dying stayed there until the morning. My father told me that he would move on purpose to attract attention and get killed by the shooters. He did not want to live. He said that he was thinking: “No more, please!”
One day, when working in the fields, a German farmer approached them and said that he heard that they will be rounding up all the Jews and sending them somewhere. In concert with his fellow prisoners, Abram Motyl became Adam Szary. When lined up upon their return to camp he pretended that he lost his identification card. The other prisoners vouched for his new name and the well-organized German guards issued him a new card, after a good beating for making them work and him being careless. Now you know where the name Szary came from.
At the end of 1939 an agreement between Germany and the USSR organized the exchange of Polish prisoners-of-war on the basis of their pre-war domiciles: Poland was then divided into the German half to the west and the Russian half to the east. My father ended up on a train to Russia, or USSR as it was called then, with a pass or a document stating his repatriation to Russia.
The train took them not too far from Gostynin and Sierpc. Adam jumped off the train at night and walked to his town to see what was going on with his family. Anytime the Wehrmacht patrols stopped him, he was able to show his pass – he was on his way to Russia. When he got to the town –everyone was gone. All the Jews had been moved to the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. He made his way there and found his family, including his wife Joheved and son Alexander. He told all of them that the German promises were not true, that the Germans would not let them go and that they were going to kill them: they should leave for Russia with him. My father did not like Russia but it was better than being killed by the Nazis. The family and his wife were too afraid and refused to leave. Adam and his two brothers-in-law left for Russia, promising to send train tickets and passes when they get there.
Of course they never saw any of them again. They were either killed in the ghetto or more probably sent to one of the extermination camps like Auschwitz.
Here is a prayer that Adam and his brother Shabtai published, I believe in the mid 60’s, a few years after we arrived in Israel ( I found it on the Internet, obviously uploaded much later ):
- We weep bitterly for our dear ones who were murdered by the bloodthirsty murderers
- Our father Yitzchak Meir and our mother Feiga Motil
- Our sister Fela, her son Sender and husband Menachem Grosman
- My wife Yocheved and my son Sender Motil
- Our aunt Chaya, her sons Moshe and Sender, and her husband Reuven Ruda
- Our uncle Binyamin and his son Shimon Sochaczewski
- The mourners: Shabtai Parpari and Abram Motil and families, Rishon Letzion and Holon
- Don’t let anyone tell you that the Holocaust was invented as propaganda. Above are members of your family who were killed by the Nazis.
Beginning of World War II.
- On September 1, 1939, the Third Reich, under the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, concluded in August 1939, and providing for the division of Poland between the aggressors along the Narew, Vistula and San rivers, attacks Poland on land, sea and in the air. Another world war becomes a fact.
- On September 3, France and Great Britain, implementing allied agreements with Poland, declare war on Germany, without taking any military actions. Despite stiff resistance, the overwhelming German forces advanced rapidly, breaking up Polish troops. On September 6, the command orders the troops to withdraw beyond the line of the Vistula and San rivers, and two days later, the Germans reach Warsaw.
- On September 17, 1939, the Soviet Union joins Germany, ignoring the existing agreements with Poland: “If there is no government in Poland, there is also no non-aggression pact,” Polish ambassador Wacław Grzybowski hears in Moscow.
- After the Soviet aggression, more points of resistance fall: Oksywie (September 19), Warsaw (September 28), Modlin (September 29), Hel (October 2). The last regular unit of the Polish Army, General Franciszek Kleeberg, surrenders near Kock on October 5, 1939.
- The occupation begins, exceeding with its cruelty everything that Poles experienced in the past centuries of Prussian and Russian captivity. Under the treaty signed on September 28, both occupiers divide Polish territory almost equally in half.
- On October 12, Germany creates the “General Government for the occupied Polish territories”, occupying 98 thousand. km (square kilometers) and consisting of four districts: Krakow, Radom, Lublin and Warsaw. The area of western and northern Poland was directly attached to Germany, a total of 92 thousand. km (square). All the industrialized and resource-rich regions of Poland were within the borders of the Reich, incl. Upper Silesia together with the
- Dąbrowski Basin . The Soviets incorporated the seized territories into the Ukrainian and Belarusian Soviet Republics. Lithuania goes to the Vilnius Region, Slovakia is a part of the Carpathian Mountains.
- Both occupiers pursue a policy of exterminating the Polish elite. From the very first days, carefully planned deportations, displacements, various types of persecution and administrative harassment and executions have multiplied. Property requisitioning is on the agenda. There are dramatic supply difficulties which threaten the biological existence of the nation. The slightest offense may be punished by death, imprisonment or a concentration camp. The first camp – Stutthof – was established in 1939, and then it was: Auschwitz-Birkenau (1940), Majdanek (1941), Płaszów (1944) and others.
- The current social and moral order is breaking down. In schools, teaching according to Polish curricula is forbidden, and in the area occupied by the Germans, education is limited to a minimum. The Soviets try to keep up appearances, initially leaving the Polish language as the lecture language – but there is an unbelievable communist indoctrination. Informing is spreading.
- In the areas occupied by the Germans, Jews are particularly persecuted. The occupant places them in ghettos: the first was established in October 1939 in Piotrków Trybunalski, the next in Łódź in 1940, and
- in October of the same year – in Warsaw. From December 1941, the Germans murdered Jews in the mass extermination camps in Chełm, Sobibór, Bełżec, Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau.
- In the territory of the Republic of Poland occupied by the Soviet Union, the aggressor pursues a policy of antagonizing the nationalities inhabiting them, skillfully provoking conflicts between Ukrainians, Jews and Belarusians, and Poles, treated as an ideologically hostile element.