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came over the radio in the night: "All men able to bear arms - leave the
city." The exodus of young men from Warsaw had begun. I was marching with
a troop of senior Boy Scouts; east through Minsk of Mazovia then southeast
through Stoczek and Zelechow.
The Luftwaffe was shooting
indiscriminantly at anything moving on the highway, so we traveled by
the country roads. We hid in the woods during the day and marched at night.
It must have been the 11th or 12th of September 1939 when, at the end
of a night march, we spotted a large clump of dense pine trees just on
the outskirts of a village. It looked like an ideal spot for a bivouac.
When we entered the trees, we discovered that we were a bit late - a unit
of our cavalry had already settled in there. Their horses were secured
to a rope strung between two trees and were feeding on sacks of oats hung
about their heads. Most of the men were scattered under the trees, sleeping
on their saddles. Nobody made any objection to our being there, so we
moved about quietly to find a place for ourselves. On the far side of
the woods was a broad valley with a huge potato field. In the distance,
a row of women was digging potatoes. About 30 of them were swinging their
hoes to the rhythm of a popular Polish morning hymn "When the Morning
We had started to settle
down when we heard the whine of aircraft engines. The Luftwaffe was coming.
Two Messerschmidt fighters were making their rounds. Suddenly, one of
them dove in the direction of our woods. Had the pilot spotted the soldiers
in the woods? No - to our horror he was diving on the working women. I
could see them stop their swinging and look up at the aircraft in terror.
Then the guns opened up, clouds of dust rising where the bullets hit the
Fortunately, the pilot had overshot. I hoped it was some sort of grim
Teutonic joke and the pilot would join back with his buddy flying up above.
But he circled back in a wide arc to come in parallel with the line of
women. He then slowed down considerably to give himself more time over
his "target". That however, put him just in front of our position in the
woods. When he came into range, the machine guns were waiting, as was
every rifle the soldiers could grab. The guns opened up as he passed over
the woods at just about a stone's throw. Immediately his prop came to
a dead-stop and the law of gravity took over. He didn't even have time
to lower his landing gear and just plowed in to the field in front of
the women in a huge cloud of dust.
Before the dust even settled, the women were running toward the plane
with their hoes high over their heads. The canopy sprung open and the
pilot jumped out - intact but badly shaken. Then he saw the running women.
He began to struggle with his flying suit to get his pistol out. Before
he could free his weapon, the first hoe hit him in the back of the head.
He fell and more hoes joined in the merciless pounding. In less than a
minute it was all over.
The women turned back
to their work, dragging their hoes behind them. Justice was done. War
is hell -- but potatoes still have to be dug.
In 1994, Czeslaw Deminet privately published
a collection of short stories about his experiences in Poland during the
second world war. Mr. Deminet was a member of
the Polish Air Force and underground resistance. With Mr. Deminet's permission,
I am posting one of his stories related to the German invasion of Poland
in September 1939.