All the wars that have taken place on this world, and lets face it, there have been many, the participants had their so-called ‘the right to wage war’ but it should really be known as ‘Civilizations lawlessness.’ Those wars were times of unspeakable atrocities, however the scale was somewhat limited and was not as massive as those in World War II (WW II). Yes, people in those early wars were rounded up and deported into slavery, or forced labour camps, but not on such a grand scale and in such frightening numbers. If we compare past world populations with present and past events with today, then the old cruelty towards humanity would seem almost insignificant. 

During WW II it was not thousands, but millions of people forced into slave labour that sucked out their sap of life only to be burned in crematoria, some while still barely alive were thrown away to feed the ravens or other predators in the forests. If similar savage events did happen in the past, those things can be accredited perhaps to more primitive societies in a much less cultured world because for as the saying goes “the crow can never sing like a nightingale.” However for today’s most cultural nations, those so called nightingales of the twentieth century, it is difficult to forgive, or accept, that they were not aware of the Nazis acts. To build crematoria in order to eliminate entire sections of society through death camps where humans were burned alive in unspeakable ways or worked literally to death. 

There was only one Emperor Nero, the creator of unspeakable terror and with the out break of war suddenly there were thousands of them. The world just became a wild jungle without borders, where the strong animals dominate and devour the weaker ones. Naziism was full of sublime words pouring out, promises of peace, freedom, democracy and respect for human dignity on the one hand but on the other, there were murders, destruction and a take whatever you can attitude. 

Atrocities reached such depths that the likes of an Ilza Koch could even rip off people’s skin to make human skin lampshades, just to show her superiority to these lesser races, or proudly compiling in her memoirs a horrific list of torture orgies such as the world has ever known. 

Of these atrocities there was a strange acceptance by the general populace. People were murdered in the most horrific ways. It was as if there was some form of competition, who could do it better, or more efficiently, and so winning recognition of the Rulers and thus becoming a sort of perverted world champion. 

Germany, of course, reached the heights of barbarism surpassing all other nations. They were not alone reaching these depths of depravity. If you could follow this long soldier’s trail, through dozens countries, you would have seen as I did with my own eyes that many others were into this black art and were well versed in depravity. 

On April 30, 1940, I was captured and put in jail in Tarnopol by the Russians. At that time, I little thought that I would ever get a chance of writing anything about my life, because any record was forbidden. The events of those times I wrote only in my memory. In the Russian forced labour camp, there was neither the time nor the means to write in detail. I was able to make few notes, however using a most simplistic shorthand. After the announcement of amnesty in 1941 and then joining the Polish army that was formed in the USSR, I made the decision to continue writing my diary little knowing that the war would go on for so long and that I would gather so much material. 

Writing supplies, especially for private use were just not available. I wrote in whatever was at hand. I used notebooks that our army office would get from time to time from the Russians. I started jotting notes down–my diary–in that first notebook in 1941. I did not write any fiction or hearsay, just what I saw and experienced myself. My intention was not to praise or criticize anyone, just to record my experiences for me and hopefully my family. The Russians, I came to understand, as in other nations had many honest ordinary people, but there were also many zealots and bullies. 

By the time I left Russia on March 30, 1942, I had written four fairly thick notebooks. When traveling from the Russian port of Krasnovodsk to the Persian port of Pahlavi I became very ill with severe case of typhoid fever and ended up in hospital in Tehran. My uniforms were burned, but to my surprise my documents, money and my diary notebooks were kept. After leaving the hospital, May 1,1942, I was sent to the army’s office to get the paperwork for a new uniform, plus my back wages, a few other documents and most importantly for me my diary notebooks. I was dismayed to find that instead of four notebooks I was given only three. Searches were made but the most important notebook was lost. The commandant of the Army told me personally, “Trust me my friend that what was delivered to me, I am returning to you.” What a disaster, for my belongings were taken away from me at the height of my delirium so I could not remember anything. It was possible of course, that one of the paramedics or maybe a nun, may have taken one of these notebooks and somehow it got lost. Most of the lost information I could fill in from memory however, but I could not remember a number of the dates, names and places. 

In the eight years of wandering around the world, I filled thirteen notebooks. There was always lack of a private or quiet space, so I wrote only sporadically, often on my knees and under a poor lighting sometimes by oil lamp. This meant that my notes were written briefly using just a pencil. Added to that is that they were always stuffed, and crumpled in my backpack but miraculously they survived. 

During the battles at the front, I jotted details into a small notebook using a personal code since the names of places and brigades was a military secret. 

So why would I write this book, you might ask? Well, to be honest I wrote mostly out of boredom. 

Spending a long time in the Iraqi desert could drive anyone insane. The days were monotonous, each day like the last, as two drops of water, or I suppose in my case like two grains of sand. The desert was huge and empty like the sky above it. There was no one to complain to and sharing your feelings with your companions just was not done. Instead all my feelings and memories were committed to the grubby pages of my notebooks. Those thirteen, soiled and crumpled notebooks represented my sanity in a god forsaken world. So when I made my will before leaving for the German war front, I requested that in case of my death, the books be sent to my family, that is if they were still alive. 

However, the Lord God Almighty spared my life and so over time, I added much to my notebooks. 

After coming to Canada in 1948 I decided to compile all of the notebooks into one manuscript the result was 500 pages, I like to call it my book. 

I wrote all this, hoping that one fine day, I would go back to my native land and be among old friends and family. We would all sit and reminisce about the good old days. Then I would take up my book and I would read it to them. I would share with them my journey around the world. 

Our younger generations should be made aware that war is not a game nor romantic, and that this particular war was a great trial for many nations, vast cemeteries were created. They are full of graves many of them nameless there to remain as stark reminder of this dark period in the history of mankind. 

My fervent wish is that God, grant that my children and grandchildren, will read this book under a free and bright Polish sky and they praise the almighty creator for His goodness, mercy and care of our homeland hopefully, in their mother tongue.

Jan Domański
Translated by John Janiga

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