From the outset of the September campaign, I did not take part in any actual fighting at the front.
With the outbreak of the war I got called up to go immediately to the District Headquarters of the State Police in Zborow. That evening, after warm goodbyes with my family, I and two colleagues, Wojciech Jagla and Blaise Ferluk from Bogdanowka, went to the local headquarters. I drew my army uniform and weapons. At dawn, with ten other soldiers we were sent to the State Police Station in Zalozce. Here they put us up in a building next to the police station which was owned by a Zalozce Jew. Because I was the highest ranking soldier, I was given control of the outpost and command of the reserve soldiers. We were all under the direction of a senior commander of the police station, commandant Piotrowski.
Days of duty were continuous which is pretty normal during wartime. Frequent orders and counter orders along with various trips did not give me much rest. The continuous stream of deserters going towards the Romanian border, daily bomb explosions and constant retreat of the Polish army gave me a clear indication that Poland was faced with imminent disaster.
One day while driving from Zborow I saw German planes dropping bombs on the railway station in Mlynowce. Approximately two hundred horse driven carts were unloading grain onto a freight train, the cargo was destined for our army.
It was a terrible sight with exploding bombs, frantic horses thrashing about and so injuring each other. Many horses were maimed or killed along with a number of civilians, among them a well-known apprentice miller who worked in the Jackowce mill owned by Mr. Hajny.
A German armoured division moved very close to Lviv where a fierce fight followed and ended when the German division beat a retreat.
On Sunday, September 17, my father and my wife came to visit me. Their stay, however was cut very short because of chaotic conditions in the city. I had to report for duty on the main street to try and direct the traffic. After their departure, maybe two hours later, an aircraft squadron marked with a red star appeared over Zalozce and dropped some bombs in an effort to destroy a large bridge over the pond and the River Seret. The bombs missed their target, falling into the pond so no damage was caused, but the level of fear of the city residents was raised acutely.
The phones at the station rang nonstop many were wondering what was happening?
For the planes dropping the bombs were Soviet.
Was it possible that Russia had gone to war against Poland without any formal notice.
People were wondering what to do, but no one knew let alone offer any advice. Ukrainian Poles were apparently pre-notified about the raid for their faces glowed, even though they were in a war zone with bombs dropping over their heads.
About seven o’clock in the evening a gang of young Ukrainians started breaking windows and looting stores. Someone alerted our police station so we went to calm down the situation. But by the time we got there they had scattered into the many alleys. We were almost back at the police station when we heard more shouting and breaking glass.
In the meantime the station phone rang sharply.
Mr. Piotrowski pick it up and asked, “Who is this?”
I saw Piotrowski’s face become deathly pale as he repeats “Who is this?” then he turns to me and asks “Do you understand Russian?”
“Yes, I do, why?”
“You find out because I do not understand anything he is saying” (Piotrowski was from Silesia).
I took the phone and asked again “Who is this?”
The voice on the other end replies in Russian,
“How many times do I have to tell you that I am a Russian lieutenant!”
Right then I knew exactly what he meant.
He lowered his tone of voice and said,
“Russian troops are coming to help Poland, so remain at the police station and wait for us there.”
“If your troops are coming to help then why did your planes bomb us about two hours ago?” I asked.
“Do not question me, it is none of your business,” he yelled into the phone.
Our commandant then, quickly gave us the order to burn all the documentation contained in the police station archives and start packing ready to move out.
A very clear and warm evening followed. On the horizon the sky was glowing red from the many fires. Reflections from the fires lit up the sky and you could hear muffled noises of motorized vehicles. A K.O.P. (Polish Army) soldier on a motorcycle arrived and he told us that the Russians had taken over Wilno and were heading towards Zalozce.
As we left we saw Poles crying while the Ukrainians were rejoicing and laughing out loud.
On the road from Zalozce to Olejow a small armoured division overtook us, they were on their way toward Podhajec, they told us that Russians had indeed entered Poland but offered no help of any kind.
In Olejow our commandant finally contacted our District Headquarters to try and get proper information on what we should do?
The District commandant told us that given the fluid situation he could no longer provide reliable information or advice.
“If you have a vehicle go to Podhajec, towards the Hungarian border, it is safer there. Don’t go towards Tarnopol because Russians will be there at any moment. If you only have horse carts then there is no sense even leaving where you are for you won’t make it. I advise you to act individually and use your common sense as I do not have any better advice for you.”
By then we came to the conclusion that Poland, as such, had ceased to exist and that the only thing left for us to do was to go home. We said our sad goodbyes and went our separate ways.
I had a good horse which carried me swiftly towards home and my family in Bogdanowka all through that wretched night. It was a foggy morning when I rode to the courtyard of my house.
I do not know from where he was coming from or why he was up and about so early in the morning, but a man called Rot Jos entered my yard. He said, ‘good morning’ and smilingly asked,
“Is the war over so soon that you came back Jan?”
“It is hard to know whether this is the end of the war but for now I am back.” I answered,
This Jew most probably let the Ukrainians know that I was back since in less than an hour a band of Ukrainians led by Ptashnyk from Jackowce, armed with guns and revolvers, came into my house and demanded my weapons.
I was eating breakfast at the time, but without much appetite for I was physically and mentally tired. I was deeply saddened that these our closest neighbours and one time friends who I had grown up with would stoop to such villainy.
They too must have been ashamed however, since they only took my rifle, bayonet, belt and bullets, and without saying a word they left with their heads high as if they had performed an unusually heroic deed.
That day I was powerless. My life and my fate rested in their hands.
Poland had virtually ceased to exist as a state. This was sad and tragic for us all that day, and probably the saddest of my life. The same could have been said for every Pole whose heart was with Poland and that day we were suddenly orphaned and we no longer had a homeland. It was a very dark day for the whole Polish nation.
By noon that day we were without any leadership, except for the Ukrainians who could not wait for the Soviet troops. They started to enforce what they considered the ‘Ukrainian way’ by destroying all Polish signposts from the official buildings, shops, stores, etc.
The sign “People’s Hall” (“Dom Ludowy”) in Bogdanowka disappeared immediately. It was cut down by Ivan Shamryk with his axe. The lounge of the hall was immediately stripped of it’s paintings which were not only nationally recognized paintings, but also those by local artists of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. The artwork had been donated to the Rifle Association by Senior Sergeant Szlafirny and his wife Maria. On Fete and other days these paintings were often decorated with flowers and national ribbons, but today they were torn up, as if they were insignificant rags.
The decoration of the paintings was done to cleanse away the old times and sins and to welcome in new ways that are full of sunshine, goodness and happiness. Apparently, the Ukrainian mob removed these paintings so that the good Lord perhaps would not look angrily at this senseless destruction.
At about three o’clock in the afternoon a squadron flight of the Russian army stretched out, in a long attack formation, across Mr. Sykora’s fields aiming toward the chapel by the pond and towards our Bogdanowka.
Soon the first tanks appeared on the hill, and the local Ukrainian girls shouted (“naszi jidut”) “Ours are coming.” The tanks were moving at a good speed, so within a few minutes they were in the village. A large crowd gathered, some came out to greet the Russians while others came out of curiosity. Among the crowd were several girls with large bunches of flowers they had prepared hours earlier as a tribute to the liberators. There were also many light blue and yellow flags which the Russians definitely didn’t like. The tank squadron stopped on the road next to the school, and here young girls all dressed in their best outfits showered the army tanks with flowers and some even kissed the dusty tank drivers.
I have to admit that only a small group of the Ukrainians greeted them warmly, for most of their thoughts were turned to the West, to Hitler, where the Ukrainian O.U.N. was housed and to whom Hitler promised the creation of free Ukrainian State (samostijnu ukrainu). Russia later found out for herself what kind of charlatans were some of our Ukrainian neighbours they had dealt with like Boyko, Hrechkosiy, Nakonechny, Mnyh, Shamryk or others like Zynowc, Diachuk and Totosko.
Looking back at this nation wide enthusiasm – I thought that people who could change allegiances so quickly were like a desert chameleon. They had no national pride and so, in my opinion were worth nothing.