Tadeusz was sent on his first parachute mission to Poland on the night of December 27/28, 1941. He was a courier representing the Polish government in exile, which was located in London. The logistics of the mission were taken care of by the British SOE (Special Operations Executive). In essence, Operation "Jacket" was to drop a small group of commandoes into German-occupied Poland, and their mission was to deliver money, gold and instructions to a number of underground groups active in Poland; further, to retrieve from these groups as much information as possible, and to return to England by "whatever means possible" (a wonderful military term) and then give a full report on the state of the Polish underground and resistance movements.
The all-Polish team for flight operation "Jacket" consisted of Lieutenant Navigator Mariusz Wodzicki (in charge), with Rotamaster Marian Jurecki, Major Maciej Kalenkiewicz, Captain Alfred Paczkowski, Captain Andrzej Swiatkowski, Second Lieutenant Tadeusz Chciuk, and Corporal Wiktor Strzelecki.
Things did not get off to a good start. The pilot missed his mark and dropped the group not into German-occupied Poland, but about 40 miles west of the mark, across the border into actual German territory. The group split up into three pairs. Tadeusz and Wiktor Strzelecki, along with Kalenkiewicz and Paczkowski, were apprehended by German border patrol (Grenzschutz) soldiers the next day. The Germans thought they had caught some smugglers, and marched them off to a small Grenzschutz outpost, where they were questioned by an officer in the presence of several enlisted men. A firefight ensued, and Tadeusz had to shoot the German officer with his pocket Colt. Tadeusz was shot at point-blank range by a chubby, pink-faced sergeant armed with a rifle-- he saw the muzzle flash and the puff of smoke -- but by some miracle he dodged the bullet, which hit Wiktor in the hand. The four Polish commandos were able to escape and make their way into German-occupied Poland, which was called the "General Gouvernement" at the time. Naturally the Germans mounted a determined pursuit, but Tadeusz and Wiktor Strzelecki, along with Maciej Kalenkiewicz and Alfred Paczkowski, were all able to make a getaway and fulfill their mission in Poland. These four Poles were sought after with great vigor by the Germans, there were "Wanted" posters all around -- but they were never found. The third pair, consisting of Marian Jurecki and Andrzej Swiatkowski, were not so lucky. They were stopped by a single Grenzschutz soldier who asked to see their papers. Jurecki reached into his jacket and produced a pistol, and shot the German soldier. Unbeknownst to the two commandos, this scene took place a few metres away from a couple of farmhouses in which two dozen German soldiers were quartered -- these heard the gunshot and came tumbling out of the houses. The two Poles, armed with pistols, were surrounded by twenty-five Germans armed with rifles. They gave the Germans a fight but both men died there that day. I visited their gravesite in May of 2005.
After delivering money and instructions to numerous underground resistance groups in Poland over the next few months, Tadeusz set out to return to England in the summer of 1942. This will have been a daunting task as the entirety of Europe was in German hands at that time.
There were a lot of people who helped, but none played a more vital rôle than the magnificent Hungarian priest, Béla Varga, who was able to get Tadeusz a Hungarian passport, made out in the name of Andor Varga, who was Béla's brother in real life. So now Tadeusz was ready to try to travel in the guise of a Hungarian priest -- the only problem being that he neither spoke Hungarian nor knew how to celebrate Mass!
While waiting for the paperwork to be completed in Budapest, Tadeusz had a couple of weeks off before beginning his arduous journey back to England. He took this opportunity to visit his teenage fiancée, Ewa Lovell, who was going to school in Balatonboglar. They had a little time together on the banks of the Danube at Kiskunlaczhaza.
When the paperwork was completed, Tadeusz and Béla set out together for Switzerland, with the outrageously fabricated story that Tadeusz (Andor) was going to see a specialist doctor in Berne to look at his throat, because he had completely lost his voice! They travelled through Croatia and Italy, and made it to Berne even though they were twice stopped by the German Gestapo. In 1991, Béla Varga recalled it to me with these words: "That was the best what I got in my life. They were hunting us! But they didn't find us." In Berne, the two priest brothers went to the opera. What an unforgettable night that must have been! But then it was time to part company, Béla had to return to Budapest and Tadeusz still had half of Europe to get across.
He made it all the way across southern France on foot, claiming to be railroad mechanic. He crossed the Pyrenees into Spain via Andorra. In Spain, Tadeusz was picked up by the Guardia Civil and put in jail in Gerona. After a while, he was transferred to the concentration camp at Miranda de Ebro.
There was a raging epidemic of yellow fever at the Miranda de Ebro camp, and inmates were dying in droves. With the help of his fellow inmates, Tadeusz was able to take on the identity of a Belgian camp inmate who was slated for release but had just died, and he was able to get out of the concentration camp. It must have involved some insane improvising and some truly gifted acting on his part! He made his way to Gibraltar, where the RAF were ready and waiting; a plane took him to London. This was in June of 1943 -- a whole year after he set out to return from Poland!
In Tadeusz's report from the Polish underground, presented to the Allied Forces in London, he made it clear from first-hand accounts that the Germans were engaged in a systematic extermination of all Jews in Poland. He had proof! The Americans and British did absolutely nothing about it for eleven more months -- a period of deliberate inaction so egregious that the head of the Jewish Bund organisation in London, Shmuel Zygielboim, committed suicide in protest. When Tadeusz tried to find out why his shocking report was being ignored by the Allies, he always got the same answer: "We have other strategic priorities." It wasn't until well into 1944 that the world at large was informed of the bestial extermination of all Jews which the Germans had been carrying out for quite some time.
In April of 1944, Tadeusz was sent on a second parachute mission into occupied Poland, which he subsequently described in his book, By Parachute to Warsaw .
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updated September 24th, 2008 by Jan Chciuk-Celt