A reader sends:
Polish Resistance, Political Situation/Predicament, NSZ/Holy Cross Brigade
Some thoughts while proof-reading a manuscript translation that has been a collaboration of a few years with another retired brother-in-arms who is doing the translation, and whose father served in the Holy Cross Brigade. These notes are from 2 different accounts; neither is derived from historians but from those who were there, memoirs. One was partially published (in Polish only, in Chicago) in the ’60’s. Otherwise, the translation & effort to get these on record has been ongoing for awhile, especially because most of the principals have passed on.
Because of reviewing some other things on the UW bookshelf and doing a simultaneous re-read of “Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife” I kinda just had to dump this because there are similarities to the current situation. A brain-cleaning, so to speak; by no means complete as I’m still proofing and buddy is still working on assembling & collecting refs. (Goal is the manuscript is able to make it onto the net w/maps & refs at least sometime in 2016.)
1. Actual forest units of the resistance (a literal term to distinguish from the political arm); major suck factor. Tactics used appropriate to sustaining, survival – very seldom offensive operations & certainly nothing that would result in massive retaliation on whole villages by Germans. There is disease of all kinds, borne by lack of hygiene, innocuous stuff, things taken for granted nowadays. There is fatigue beyond belief; some of this is also borne by hunger beyond belief. You think a city kid who missed breakfast before school has their faculties degraded? Multiply x100. (There is a reason Special Forces candidates and some other SOF have a major suck-factor applied in even selecting whether they can eventually be called such.)
2. Those who tried to appease the Soviets coming from the East were classical “useful idiots” and once the needed territory was acquired they were shot or sent to Siberia. Even the ones who’d betrayed their countrymen by gathering lists of “dangerous” individuals. Those who sought to align with occupying German forces against the Red march were also ultimately dispensed with (having conveniently forgotten that both Stalin & Hitler didn’t intend to “occupy” Poland – they intended to obliterate it, biologically, as a people, to the last trace of DNA.) The enemy of your enemy is NOT your friend; they are BOTH your enemy. The only units able to eventually survive (not necessarily fight or conduct regular offensive operations) long enough to make a march to the west (and the Allies) did so because their only concern was survival of a nationalist concept and its people, vs. “fight this one now, fight the other later.” The latter doesn’t work when you’re being squeezed from both sides.
3. Pre-war, patriotic & nationalist organizations were accorded the same scorn & persecution as org’s with clear ties to Soviet communists. (Parallel: Taking groups that would espouse reclaiming land for America from a despotic Fed.Gov and equating them with ISIS.) Anything that engenders class-warfare (economic, heritage, etc.) should be suspect. This is a classic tactic and goes on at this very moment in the post-millenial world. As a result, you will find so-called “leaders” you trusted who will make really bad choices in the face of the most stark reality you can imagine – but they will do it anyway. Steel yourself for this – it will be a major dose of cold-water.
4. Large-scale resistance movements don’t usually spontaneously happen. Frankly, most people, if they’re having their basic needs met – especially in the hinterlands – really are content to sit back and avoid conflict. It’s simple. It’s also fact. You really may not have anyone initially but you & perhaps those kin who are (probably reluctantly) going to stick with you (maybe till the suck factor exceeds the vows part). There’s a reason people say LocalLocalLocal. Your neighbor who seems indifferent is just that, nothing more – until they’re squeezed a bit. Then they will be the ones leading the patrol to your base, cache, the gunsafe you bragged about a couple Christmases ago.
5. Comparmentalize Compartmentalize Compartmentalize. Most of the instances where – absent some overt kinetic operation – forested units had to noshit defend themselves and, likely, roust the entire base up & move to a new AO are because someone knew something they didn’t need to. If the index & middle fingers are talking and the index brags about the really neat opposed thumb nearby apparently connected & run by that wrist & arm, how long do you think it is before the entire central nervous system is compromised? Make sure those fingers know only what they need to get their jobs done. Another thing to steel yourself for: When, not if, it becomes necessary to mete out some form of justice to someone who has clearly jeopardized the group (yeah, all couple dozen of you by now). Do it with moral rules – but you will have to do it in some fashion. Remember the winner gets to write the version of history to be read. And, even if you win, someone else with an ax to grind (pun completely intended, maybe a bereaved relative) will come from the shadows to accuse you of war crimes. To win you first have to survive. People will die, good people. It will happen. Grab a big dose of resolve; pushing on doesn’t make you a callous monster – it makes you a realist.
6. All the things that pre-dated September 1939 were known FOR SEVERAL YEARS to most Poles, particularly those in politics, and company & field-grade officers in the army regiments, long before things really got sporty with something called a Blitzkrieg.
28 March 2016:
Some footnotes, errata if you will, following my review of the 2nd packet from my friend (editor/translator); we’ve been able to also plot some locations to modern references on a GoogleEarth map during ‘the March West’. These guys were some ruckin’ fools after dark by the way and make someone’s recreational 2-day 25km march look like a stroll in the park.
One of the things that stands out about the Holy Cross Brigade is simply that they were able to survive, with both personal & unit integrity. Personally I think one of the primary reasons, besides a huge dose of nationalistic anti-communist belief, is that those who were already trained in the military arts didn’t condescend to those not yet so trained. (In fact later, during the post-war years, the Brigade CO was told by a senior member of the staff of the Gov’t-in-exile – contrasting the various factions that fought, including those who were really Soviet tools – “you guys were the ones who got it right.” [sic]
Contrast the following scenarios (as sometimes happens by a handful of posters at WRSA), were such people to be confronted with some largely unskilled young men who wanted to serve:
WRSA poster: “You aren’t worthy to gaze upon my boots! You will be eaten alive by the regime and, maybe, you’ll realize you should’ve done something about it before now. You’d better hope some of your betters will save your ass because you’re a worthless piece of dung & have no idea what you’re in for.”
Holy Cross Brigade officers: “Welcome! What village are you from? Those who know will teach you, everything from military movements, to patrolling, weapons, land navigation, including at night, methods of clandestine communications and all you need to serve the unit & your brothers & save our nation. If you are really young, those of us trained in the university will also teach you politics, the sciences & mathematics, languages & philosophy.”
That second approach was applied throughout – which one do you suppose engendered unit integrity & loyalty? One of them enabled a brigade to arrive intact, over an arduous cross-border march, while people were trying to kill them from both sides. And, oh by the way, after they neared the completion of their march they took the time to liberate 1,000 female prisoners in a Czech concentration camp where the Germans had orders within the week to liquidate all prisoners.