Arrival By Parachute
Excerpt from By Parachute to Warsaw by Marek Celt, published in London in 1945 by Dorothy Crisp and Co., Ltd. This was the author's second parachute descent into occupied Poland, on the night of April 4th, 1944. This was Operation Salamander. With him was the fabled Joseph Retinger, code name Salamander, posing as "Captain Paisley."
I jumped in darkness. After a few minutes I felt the ground beneath my feet. Footsteps hurried toward me. There were passwords and brief questions and answers. There was relaxation ...
I talked for a few minutes with an officer of the Home Army, the leader of the "reception committee"; and then the carts came. The supplies and the parachutes were picked up. Silent shadows effaced the traces of the descent, then disappeared.
In the company of a guide my friend and I marched through the night. (Note: the friend is named Joseph Retinger ). Arrived at the first hiding-place, we rested awhile. Then we set off for the capital.
The same morning, while we were in the train for Warsaw, the terrain upon which we had descended was being searched by two hundred S.S. men, for the Germans were not ignorant of radio-location. Planes flying over German occupied territory -- and especially solitary planes -- were far from safe. Over Poland we were twice attacked by German fighters, and each time our great Halifax, even in the darkness, was hard put to it to shake off the darting Messerschmitts.
Then, circling to seek the place where we were to be dropped, we twice found ourselves over Warsaw. I heard later that they had an air raid warning there. Those who were in the know rejoiced that the "jumpers" had arrived -- and the arms, and the money and the news. Those who were not, feared a Soviet bombardment.
And, after the noise made by our four huge engines as we cruised over the spot itself, it is hardly surprising that the Germans were there so quickly. But they found nothing and nobody. As leader of the "jumping party" I had a list of all the material we carried; and I was astonished that even in a heavy bomber we could take so much. But not only did the men of the "reception committee" manage to hide everything, but within a few days all of it was safely deposited in Warsaw.
Our train journey was a curious one. Already at the station almost all the waiting passengers were talking in low voices about the descent. It gave me an eerie feeling to hear them. And in the train it was the same. In the Polish section of the carriage the close-packed crowd whispered constantly. From the comfortable section reserved for Germans a Volksdeutsch shouted in Polish to an officer of the so-called Wlasow Army, abusing England, America, Poland, and finally the Polish parachutists "who think they are heroes and are really paid agents of the decaying Western democracies." At one moment the eyes of both rested for a fraction of a second on me. It was very disagreeable. But it passed.
Although I stood in the crowd alone -- my friend, as a normal precaution, was at the opposite end of the carriage -- I did not feel solitary. After so long I was in a Polish crowd again. I felt Poles all around me. I heard everywhere the Polish language. And I enjoyed beyond words its many different accents. But there was another reason. "He" and "She," our guides and protectors, were still with us, watching over our every mevement. They treated us like children. They had bought us our tickets and chosen our places in the carriage for us, and now they still gave us courage with their eyes.
In Warsaw "They" accompanied us out of the Central Station. For nearly half an hour they walked here and there with us through the streets, to accustom us to the sight of the hurrying throngs, the various German uniforms, the crowded trams, and so on. I was annoyed with them, for they knew quite well that this was not my first visit to Warsaw during the war. I did not want to be led about like a child. I felt that I could look after myself perfectly well. But "She" told me to be quiet and do as I was told -- they had their duty to do, and they could not neglect it because one of us had to be a "hero." Moreover, "She" said, in the last two years, conditions had changed a lot and the Germans had become much more dangerous than they used to be. And, in any case, my friend was there for the first time. I was defeated, and said no more.
Eventually they asked me where we had to go, and I asked them to take us to "somewhere near Marszalkowska Street." (Note: The place was Aunt Rela's apartment. Her grandson Wojtek lives there now. ) They did so. Then they asked me:
"Can you find the address all right yourself?"
"Yes," I said, "quite well."
"All right," they said. "That is the end of our job, then. Good-bye and good luck!"
We did not hurry to the house. We were so anxious to look at the shop windows and the faces of the people, the boys trying to sell German newspapers and finding too few buyers, the German soldiers and officers, the so-called "rickshas," and every item of the street life of Warsaw.
When we found ourselves at last in front of the house -- the end of the first stage of our journey -- I left my friend outside, watching the window, and went upstairs to the door of a flat on which was a card bearing the name that I expected.
I knocked, and an old servant woman opened the door.
"Is Miss X in?"
"No. But she will be back in five minutes."
"May I come in and wait for her?"
"Yes. Come this way."
I was still standing, with my back to the room, looking at a familiar picture of a scene in Polish history, when someone entered the room. I turned round, and met a pair of kind eyes with an air of uncertain hope behind them.
"I was told you had a bed to sell."
"I am so sorry. I have only a sofa."
"All right. Then I'll take the sofa if I may."
"Good," she replied, and then, with a change of manner, "but where is the other one?"
All through this exchange of silly phrases, after the first word, we had both been smiling like a pair of children.
"He's downstairs. I'll bring him up in a moment."
"I am so glad," she said.
From then on we were in the hands of our own people.
Even these first contacts with the Underground gave me an impression of thorough organisation, of an enormous progress since my last stay in Poland, in 1942. And this impression deepened as time passed. Until the moment when I left for England again, my wonder and admiration for this tremendous building up of the Underground Movement was ever-increasing. And really this Movement was no longer in its infancy, but was already something matured, unified and perfected. It was no longer simply the Underground Movement -- it was the Underground State.
At the very beginning of the war, during the siege of Warsaw in September, leaders of the Polish political parties began to work together, and after the defeat in 1939 they began at once to play the chief part in organising Underground activity. While General Sikorski's Government was still in France, in 1940, it gave formal authority to their activities, and they actually undertook the amazing task of carrying out as many as possible of the functions of a normal State though under the very heel of the enemy.
The only political party which did not whole-heartedly co-operate was a minority of Communists who, under the direction of Moscow, built up their own resistance movement.
There was close co-operation with the Government in London through the "Chief Delegate" of that Government, who was its Deputy Prime Minister and the leader of the Underground State. He lived in Poland and was assisted by the Home Council of Ministers, a body of three, each of whom was empowered to act as his deputy. The Chief Delegate when I returned to Poland in 1944 was the third to hold office. (Note: This would be Jan Stanislaw Jankowski, who held the post from February 19th, 1943 to March 27th, 1945, when he was arrested by the Russians, hauled off to Moscow for a trial, and sentenced to eight years' time in prison. He died in Soviet prison on March 13th, 1953.) Both his predecessors are dead -- one tortured to death at the hands of the Gestapo. (Note: That was Jan Piekalkiewicz, Chief Delegate from August 5th, 1942 to February 19th, 1943. The very first Chief Delegate was named Cyryl Ratajski, who held that office from December of 1940 until August 5th, 1942.)
And just as the political state was never extinguished, so the Polish Army not only continued to exist, but grew and re-formed in Poland. Scattered military groups held together after the defeat of 1939. I was a member in those early days of one such small group which formed in Lwow, so I could fully appreciate the years of toil which gradually welded all those groups together, by the time of my parachute return in 1944, into a single whole under one united command.
So complete an expression of the will of the people was the Polish Underground Movement that there was hardly a home in town or countryside in which some useful Underground duty was not then being performed.
Excerpt 2: The Tragedy of the Jews
Excerpt 3: Return to England
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Updated March 30th, 2007 by Jan Chciuk-Celt