Friday, January 21, 2022

To the East

Jan Kołodziej sat in the ruins of the destroyed village, many of the wrecked buildings were still smoldering. It was a scene of utter devastation. His little band of three - himself, Kornel Jabłoński, and Patryk Kalinowski - had been joined by eight other men, only one of whom had a weapon: Olaf Mazur, Michał Włodarczyk, Leonard Witkowski, Ignacy Grabowski, Cezary Król, Stanisław Nowak, Konstanty Jasiński (who still had his rifle and a few rounds of ammunition), and Jerzy Urbański.

The men were all draftees who were on the verge of finishing their training and then becoming part of the reserve when the Germans attacked Poland. None of them had expected to be caught up in a war and had been separated from their units early in the attack. Jan had found them sheltering in the remains of this village, he was surprised that they had, to a man, volunteered to follow him in an attempt to rejoin the Kraków Army, which was somewhere to the east.

"Sir, how far are we from our lines?" Michał Włodarczyk asked.

"I'm not sure, I can still hear artillery fire to the east, so someone is fighting there, whether it's our boys or the Niemcy shelling our boys, I couldn't say." Jan answered.

"Perhaps a few miles, I just don't know."

Unteroffizier Hartmann had scoffed at von Lüttwitz's promotion to Gefreiter,¹ skipping over the rank of Oberschütze.² "Harrumph, in my day it took a good two years to make Gefreiter, after being an Oberschütze, what is this army coming to?"

Hans Wilfried chuckled and said, "Well, in all fairness to the Herr Gefreiter, in your day Uffz,  Napoléon Bonaparte was still Emperor of France!"

Kurt Becker burst out laughing until Hartmann looked at him and said, "Volunteering for kitchen duty are we Becker?"

"No Sir, sorry Sir." Becker stammered.

"It's all right Junge³, I'm kidding. Jürgen, come with me, we have replacements for the men we lost, I want you to meet them."

Von Lüttwitz followed his sergeant, not sure if he really cared for this new role as deputy squad leader. But then again, he knew he could learn a lot from Hartmann, the man had been in the army since 1935, he was an old hand.

"Make sure your boys get fed. I expect we'll be marching all night." Hartmann remarked.

Von Lüttwitz looked at Hartmann in shock, the men were exhausted, before he could say a word, Hartmann said, "I know, I know, but the officers tell me we have to keep marching to keep up with the panzers. While the Propaganda Ministry tells the world how mechanized the mighty Wehrmacht is, most of us still get to the battle the same way our great-grandfathers did, on foot."

As the two men walked past an army wagon, von Lüttwitz commented, "With most of our vehicles pulled by horses, Frederick the Great would recognize these wagons."

Hartmann laughed, "No he wouldn't Jürgen, many of our wagons have pneumatic tires now! We're very modern that way."

Von Lüttwitz couldn't help but notice that the field kitchen they were passing by most certainly did not have pneumatic tires. But a good many of them did, so that was progress, he supposed.

Jan had chosen Nowak and Jasiński to go with him to scout the nearby road. They could hear the occasional vehicle passing by from their position in the village and Jan thought it a good idea to get a feel for the German presence in this area.

Both Nowak and Jasiński were big farm boys, used to having to kill their meat for supper. The other lads were all city boys, mostly from Kraków. Having lived on a farm with his grandparents for a few years, he knew the ways of the farmer.

Jabłoński and Kalinowski had protested at having to give their rifles to the newcomers, but Jan assured them that it was temporary. "If the Niemcy are on the road, and we can ambush a stray, they'll need those rifles. Unless you'd prefer to come along yourselves?"

Which had stilled their protests.

It was dark now, Jan and his little patrol were positioned near the road in a clump of brush, they had seen two trucks go past, loaded with infantry, and one staff car. They could hear a motorcycle approaching in the distance when Nowak spoke.

"Sir, I have a length of rope in my pack ..."

Jan looked at him in the dim light from the stars, "And?"

"We could string it across the road, take out the motorcyclist."

Jan thought about it for only a second, then said, "Quickly!"

Werner Brückner was struggling to stay awake, his sergeant, Horst Schumer, was fast asleep in the sidecar. "Lucky bastard," he mumbled.

Brückner had a brief glimpse of something in front of him, but he wasn't sure what it was, then he drove straight into the rope which snatched him off the motorcycle as neat as you please. He hadn't been going fast enough to be seriously injured, but when he fell onto the road he had had the wind knocked out of him.

As he struggled to catch his breath, a figure approached from the darkness along the verge of the road. He hoped it was someone who could help him.

After Jasiński had crushed the skull of the man lying in the road, he returned to the motorcycle, which had veered off the road and thrown the occupant of the sidecar into the ditch. He had been dispatched by Nowak in the same way Jasiński had killed his Niemcy, rifle butt  to the head.

"Let's get these bodies off the road, leave the motorcycle where it is but cover it with brush, no one should notice that before morning." Jan turned to tell the men to search the bodies then realized he didn't have to as Nowak handed him a German machine pistol and two ammunition pouches.

Jasiński had collected a rifle and a pistol from the man who had been driving the motorcycle, also a bread bag loaded with food. He was covering the motorcycle with brush, he had a look in the side car, he hissed over at the other two Poles, "More rations!"

Leaving the dead Germans behind, the three men returned to the others. They would move out, now that they had more weapons and some food to sustain their march. Jan had the satisfying thought that while their unit had had to retreat, at least some Poles were still killing Germans!

As the column of weary troops from the 26th Infantry Regiment of the 30th Division marched down the road, Gefreiter Jürgen von Lüttwitz was with his squad in the midst of the 3rd Platoon of the 2nd Company, 1st Battalion, of that regiment. The men were asleep on their feet, he didn't think they could march much longer when their company commander called a halt. Jürgen stepped out to see what was going on.

Ahead on the road were a party of SS men, on the ground nearby were two blanket covered bodies, Jürgen could see from their boots that they were German soldiers. He caught Unteroffizier Hartmann's eye, nodding towards the men on the side of the road. Hartmann just shook his head.

As he watched, the company commander came down the column and stopped at 1st Platoon. He picked a party of ten men and led them back to the head of the column. It was only then that Jürgen noticed the Polish civilians lined up in the ditch beside the road.

Moments later gunshots rang out, within moments the civilians were all sprawled in the ditch, one of the SS men was walking among them, firing his pistol into any who still showed signs of life. Jürgen was appalled, what the Hell was going on?

At that night's bivouac the rumors were spreading, Jürgen had heard two different stories. One was that the civilians had been partisans who had ambushed and murdered two German soldiers on a motorcycle. The other was that the SS had simply rounded up anyone they could and had them shot. There were still Polish soldiers in the forests, trying to make their way east to where the fighting still continued. It was more than likely the motorcyclists had been killed by those men, not the civilians. The SS men didn't care, they were sending a message to the populace, resist the Germans and die.

These SS men were members of Einsatzgruppe II, one of the SS units following the main army, rounding up civilians and killing them, especially those who were teachers, lawyers, doctors, civilian leaders, and the like. It was the first experience Jürgen, and many of the other soldiers, had had with these units.

It would not be the last.

¹ Lance corporal (Gefreiter)
² Private first class(Oberschütze)
³ Lad


  1. I have always had a certain amount of pity for the SS. Hundreds of thousands of Germans lost their lives in the War, they lost their souls.

    1. Millions died, but pity for the SS? Never.

    2. They lost their souls,by buying into a philosophy of hate. For the joy of being evil, they will burn in Hell, forever, where they belong. I think that is sad. They could have opted for be good humans, but were twisted by even more evil people. I think that is sad.
      But don't confuse that with any support for what they did, they are in Hell, where they belong.

  2. Resist the Germans, and die (now). Or do not resist the Germans, and die (later).

    Again, interesting note from TruppenFuhurung is how even as late at the 1930's horses played such a part in the German Tactical manual. It was only the actual outbreak of war that quickly changed things.

    There is, hopefully, a rather special place in Hell for the SS in general and the Einsatzgruppen in particular.

    1. Horses still played a major role in 1945. All of the non-motorized infantry divisions relied heavily on horses. Those divisions made up the bulk of the Wehrmacht.

    2. In the Ardennes in December of 1944, an American officer taking over a position was told that the Germans had only two, horse-drawn, guns across the way. When the opening bombardment with hundreds of guns commenced on the morning of the 16th, that officer remarked that "the Germans are working those poor horses to death!"

    3. Crusty Old TV Tech here. The thought that hit me as I was reading of the Einsatzgruppen and their evil acts, was this. If I were a Polish soldier in the countryside, upon hearing of this atrocity, what would I do? If we ambush more Germans, the SS kills more of my innocent countrymen. If I do not, the Germans still kill more of us, anyway. You've got to keep doing your job, bringing the battle to the Germans, but now with a fury and a cold-blooded mindset. You know it's a good story when it makes you think "what would I do?".

    4. Yup, they're going to kill civilians anyway.

    5. "Better to die on your feet than live on your knees" and, as noted the ones on their knees would die soon anyway.
      Boat Guy

    6. The only answer is "Damn the casualties, full Wolverines ahead!"

      Which means that if the invaders are willing to do civilian atrocities to stop resistance, then what else are they willing to do to civilians? So, thus resistance. And be careful of dealing with civilians.

    7. Keep in mind that Nazi policy in the East was to reduce the Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, etc., to slaves. whose only use was to serve the master race. The intelligentsia were to be killed out of hand, ditto the Jews and the Gypsies. Of course, the Poles didn't know this at first, they learned the hard way. It wasn't really a case of trying to cow the populace into submission, it was planned, government-sanctioned, genocide.

    8. Which means, survey says, compliance is useless, go full resistance.

    9. (Don McCollor)..In college, I had a friend with an interest in history who had visited Germany. He related how the owner the hotel told him how toward the end of WW2 as a boy, he had delivered a ME-262 engine to an airfield on a wooden sled pulled by oxen. The most advanced jet engine in the world being hauled by oxen - because there was no fuel to move it any other way...

  3. War sucks, it's better in someone else's backyard.

  4. And if you were young, say around 18, 20 and unemployed and had gone to one of Herr Hitler's talks (I understand he was mesmerizing; magnetizing might be another good word, as a speaker) and signed up as soon as: now you had something to eat, and a uniform to wear, and someplace to sleep. All of a sudden you found yourself a member of the Einsatzgruppen. Though you had been brought up by devout (as you were yourself), church-going Christian parents, you now found yourself under orders to shoot innocent (maybe), unarmed civilians: what do you do?
    A five-year-old kid, hidden, should never have listened to these discussions between brothers, cousins, uncles; they were incomprehensible to a child, as well as waatching grown adults breaking down in front of my eyes.

    1. That became even more of a problem as the war drew to a close. Little kids in Hitler Youth uniforms wielding Panzerfausts and going after Soviet tanks. Refusing to surrender because Hitler wasn't just their leader, he was their religion.

  5. Your muse is on a roll. Keep it up, but take a break when necessary. This writing stuff should still be fun, or fulfilling, not drudgery you feel compelled to churn out.
    John Blackshoe

    1. I almost posted something else today, then the Muse told me, "Keep writing, we need to see were this goes ..."

      So I did, I'm enjoying the story and the creating of it.

  6. And thus the stupidity is compounded. Used to be, conquer the land, you get the people. The very reason for the medieval code of warfare, which was "Surrender and no atrocities. Breach your walls and surrender and some atrocities. Don't surrender it's full atrocities."

    No atrocities is a good thing.

    But sadly, as we've seen in modern times, one can go too far in the other way and play right into the enemy's hands, especially if they're still playing by atrocity rules

    (sorry for lack of comms, but I'm now on my third computer in 3 years. Only took two days to shift everything over by physically moving hard drive and such, would have been less 'no computer' time but my new phone wasn't set up to ring incoming calls. Yeesh. So I'll be catching up.)

    1. See my comment above ...

      To Hitler the East was all about Lebensraum, he didn't want any more Poles or Slavs than were necessary to perform the scut work. Th East would be repopulated with the master race, no one else need apply. Not sure if history had seen anything like that before, well other than in the American West.

    2. It was not entirely unprecedented. Ever heard of Carthago? That aside, even SS themselves had trouble with mass murder driving their troops into deptression, alciholism and sometines suicide. That's why gas chambers were eventually introduced.

    3. Carthago delenda est ...

      Didn't say it was unprecedented.


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