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Justice is Swift
By: Czeslaw Deminet

The order 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 Star Rises".


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 dirt.

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.

M.P. Hasselbeck mph@astro.phys.unm.edu

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