Chapter One

The New Life Begins in Poland

Slubice on the Odra and Frankfurt on the Oder used to be one and the same town. The sluggish brown river which flows through the centre of the city now divides Poland from Germany. In the spring of 1947, the Oder divided two worlds, one still stunned and demoralised from defeat only just beginning to re-awaken, the other bubbling over with vitality. Frankfurt and Slubice, however, looked much the same. It had been a front-line besieged city in the centre of the heaviest fighting in the Soviet advance on Berlin. The whole area from Kustrin to Frankfurt was still littered with the wrecks of German Tiger tanks, lying where they had been destroyed in the fields by diving Stormoviks and Soviet artillery. Every house in Slubice seemed to be destroyed, the only inhabitants were a few Polish frontier guards and customs officials.

Half a mile outside of Slubice, however, the new life was well under way. Peasants were toiling in the fields, ploughing under the remnants of last year's harvest. (In the changeover of five million Poles to replace three million Germans in the ceded territories, some land had gone uncultivated, some crops unharvested for a season. It was inevitable in such a gigantic transfer of populations.)

Gangs of men and women were busy filling in potholes in roads which had borne the brunt of Hitler's conquest of Poland; which were the main supply routes for the invasion of the Soviet Union; the roads along which the remnants of Hitler's armies retreated back to Berlin. The Poles seemed to be tackling everything at once. They were working in the fields, on the roads and at reconstruction in the villages. Houses and shops, churches and schools were being repaired by bustling people who seemed charged with a ferocious energy.

It was puzzling at first to notice that children and even some of the peasants, seemed frightened of cars and would leap off the roads or get behind trees when one approached. Horses invariably shied and I had the impression that I was in a land where cars were novelties. Only after passing Betsche on the old German-Polish frontier was my car accepted as a common-place. The settlers who have now come furthest west into the former German territories, are those who have come from the most backward part of Poland, east of the Curzon Line in the lands which have now been returned to the- Soviet Union. The only cars children had seen on those roads in the East were those of the German Army, so it was small wonder if they still hid behind trees when one approached.

The new settlers had been given up to 35 acres of land per family and it was evident by the intensive cultivation that they intended to prove fictitious the propaganda in Western Germany that the 'land was not being tilled by the Poles and should be handed back to the Germans. Implements were primitive, draught cattle were scarce – most of the peasants had a cow and a horse yoked together pulling plough or harrows – but the soil was being turned over and winter wheat was well above the ground. The whole countryside seemed charged with electric energy; the peasants and their animals seemed to be working at double the tempo of life in Germany. Speeches by the U.S. Secretary of State Byrnes and by other Americans, hinting that the New Territories might be handed back, at least in part, to the Germans, had spurred the new settlers on to justify possession by tilling every inch of soil.

Posnan, the main target of my visit to Poland, was another ant heap of activity. The city had been more than fifty per cent. destroyed, mostly by German troops during their withdrawal. It lay on their main line of retreat. The amount of rebuilding that had been completed by early 1947 was astonishing. Buildings which had looked hopeless cases were being tackled as they stood, as long as engineers certified that the foundations were firm. Most buildings in the city had an odd patchwork effect, where new walls and pieces of walls had been built in, parts of roofs recovered. Half the city seemed to be swathed in scaffolding, the other half enveloped in dust, as irreparably damaged buildings were pulled down to make way for new ones.

The most heart-warming thing for a visitor was the enthusiasm with which all sections of the population, regardless of political affiliations, threw themselves into the work of reconstruction and were really proud of what they had achieved. The sadism of the German occupation, the cold-blooded ferocity of their attempt to exterminate the entire population (and the Nazis did kill one Pole in every five) brought the people together during the war and a new feeling of solidarity was carried over into the post-war years.

One of the first people I visited was an 80 years' old Professor of Philosophy, Dr. Louise Dobdzynska-Rybicka, a frail, white-haired old lady, who walked with difficulty but had a mind as sharp as a razor and the heart of a lion. To my amazement, she was back at her old faculty at the University, from which she had resigned in 1937 at the respectable age of 70.

"They are so short of staff now," she said, "I felt I had to do my bit. The Germans killed off so many of our intellectuals." A devout Catholic, she went first to mass every morning and from church to the University. How had she survived the war? Not only had she survived, but together with some of her colleagues, she had organised clandestine University classes, under the noses of the Nazis, who had closed Universities throughout Poland. (What was the use of educating people one was going to exterminate?)

The underground classes were of such a high quality that when the University reopened after the war, students who had attended them were credited with two years' studies. How could a devout Catholic co-operate with the Communists? "Firstly," replied this astonishing old patriot, with her frail body and twinkling eyes, "we are all Poles. Secondly they don't interfere with my religion and don't object although they know I attend mass daily. Thirdly, when I see that they do so much and work so hard for the material good of the people, I feel the least I can do is to help in my own sphere. Fourthly, philosophy is a universal subject and I have no quarrel with the text-books issued by the Ministry of Education."

My next visit was to the Bishop of Posnan, a chubby round-faced prelate, Bishop Francisek Jedwabski. Posnan was the cradle of Christianity in Poland and the Bishop escorted me round the ancient Cathedral, the first in Poland, dating back to the 10th century. Posnan was the first capital of the ancient Kingdom of Poland and the Cathedral is an historic gem. The Germans had forbidden the Poles to use it and had used it themselves as an ammunition dump. It was largely destroyed before the Nazis left, but reconstruction was well under way. In clearing away the rubble, architects found part of the original 10th century building, beautiful Gothic arches and 11th century frescoes, hidden away behind walls built in the 15th century.

Bishop Jedwabski had been arrested by the Nazis in 1942 and sent to various concentration camps. He was in Dachau when the war ended. I asked him about relations between himself and the government.

"Why shouldn't I support this government?" he said, "'there has not been the slightest interference with religion. They have given us a generous grant to restore the Cathedral. In general they have given help in restoring churches all over the country, not only financial help. They have organised labour brigades who have given thousands of work-hours in rebuilding church property. We hope to have our Cathedral here ready for Christmas service in 1948. Our people have freedom of conscience. Our newspapers and weeklies publish what they want, and sometimes they carry very sharp attacks against Marxism. We have our own church schools and seminaries. Church lands were respected when land reform was carried out. The government does not interfere with us and my own view is that the Church should not interfere with .the government. We have no quarrel with their really great efforts to rebuild our country and to raise the living standard of the people. No Christian or Catholic can do anything but applaud such efforts."

"But surely, this is a different attitude to that taken by the Vatican on the question of co-operation with Communists," I said.

"You must remember," he replied, "that Poland is 90 per cent. a Catholic country. The Nazis came here to destroy us, to destroy our culture and our religion, to destroy us physically. There are many Catholics here who felt the Vatican did not make its voice heard enough at that time in protecting the interests of Polish Catholics."

This was a viewpoint which I heard expressed often in Poland, and is one of which the Vatican must take notice, when it tries to direct the affairs of Catholics in Eastern Europe. 'The Vatican has come out four square against Communism in a way that it never did against the Nazis when the latter were wiping out millions ofCatholic workers and peasants in Eastern Europe.

My reason for coming to Posnan was to visit the International Fair. All the activity I had seen elsewhere was nothing compared to what was going on at the fair grounds. The Germans had used the site for a Focke-Wulf factory, and on Easter Sunday, 1944, when no workers were on the job, the R.A.F. blasted the plant and buildings out ofexistence. The Nazis never even tried to repair them. Masons, carpenters, plasterers, painters, electricians and exhibitors were now frantically making final preparations for the opening by Premier Cyrankiewicz. They worked until half an hour before the Premier arrived and then, as if by magic, scaffolding disappeared, and bright new stuccoed buildings were displayed, hung with welcoming banners. In the last half hour, a typically Polish touch was added – a small garden, complete with flowers and blossoming trees in tubs, was laid down in front ofthe main pavilion.

The Fair provided a good example ofother results of Polish energy. Unlike most European trade fairs in the first post-war years, where goods were displayed but were not available for purchase, at Posnan, there were 20,000,000 dollars worth ofgoods available for immediate delivery, mainly foodstuffs and textiles. The best display was that of foodstuffs from the Polish Co-operative Societies. Scores of varieties of cheese, fine hams, butter, eggs, bottled and dried fruits – all to be had for cash purchase and a rare sight in Europe of 1947. Just over half the space at the Fair was taken up with exhibits from the newly formed State enterprises, 34 per cent. by private firms and 10 per cent. by the co-operative and foreign firms.

It was the first international fair to be held in Poland since the war and was really a milestone in the development of the country which had registered the quickest economic recovery ofany in Europe. It was impossible not to feel a thrill ofemotion on the opening night, to join in with Posnan's citizens at a celebration in their ancient Town Hall. In a beautiful old Italian Renaissance building, partly destroyed by the Germans, but still with the date ofits construction, 1556, embossed in the tile mosaic ceiling ofthe banqueting hall, the people of Posnan came together to rejoice at the first tangible evidence that the days ofpeace had come again and that the days of plenty were just around the corner.

Workers and peasant whose labours made the fair possible, rubbed shoulders with city officials and visitors from Warsaw and abroad. Under old smoke-stained beams, at oak tables, polished by elbows for many centuries, they set aside their labours for a short pause and drank and ate ofthe good things set out before them – sucking pigs, poultry, hams and cheese, fine Polish pastry, cherry and raspberry and a dozen of other flavours of potent vodka – fine-tasting symbols that Polish farms and Polish industry were in production again. And as they ate and drank, they could look back over the nightmare years that lay behind them, the years in which practically every Polish family lost at least one ofits members. They could look forward too, to the years which lay ahead and many toasts were drunk to the new life .that was being built.

Next morning, after a full night ofmusic, feasting and dancing, Posnan's citizens were back on the job again, rebuilding, repairing and producing.

Nadia was one who did not take part in the reconstruction; neither did she rejoice to see the city being rebuilt. She lived in an eight-room villa, in a little resort about 10 miles from Posnan, on the banks ofthe leisurely Warthe river. Young, very beautiful, with a madonna face, black hair parted in the middle and worn low over her ears, with green-flecked brown eyes, vivacious, and charming, Nadia was the wife ofZladislaw, a former landowner.

"Poor Zladislaw!" she sighed, "He was not able to adjust himself to the new life at all, after the estates were taken. I wanted him to stay and wait; but he insisted on leaving. He works now with American Counter-Intelligence in Frankfurt." I had arrived at the villa at lunch-time and was invited to a "snack" of roast duck with green salad and lots ofcream, followed by magnificent plums preserved in wine and smothered with more fresh cream.

"They have left us with nothing, nothing at all," Nadia said, as she piled more cream on my salad; "All our land, the castle, houses, everything gone." And her lovely eyes filled with tears. "Nothing, nothing for the children when they grow up."

I asked about the villa. "It's the only thing they've left us. We used it as a fishing lodge in the old days. And," she whispered, "I'm spied on all the time. Already the peasants will have reported that there's a foreign car at the gate. We used to be so happy with our peasants in the old days. Now they are so unfriendly and suspicious, I hardly dare go out."

We did go out, however, for a stroll along the river bank and it seemed to me there was more amused contempt than malice in the glances of the peasant women we passed, watching their flocks of geese and ducks along the river bank, their hands busy with needle-work. They were now installed as small independent landowners of part of the 3,000 acre estate Zladislaw and his family had owned for generations.

"The whole country is run by Russians," Nadia assured me. "Of course, you wouldn't know because one doesn't see them in the streets. But every high official and every officer above the rank of captain in the Army is Russian. When the Americans come, the whole Polish people will rise up and help them throw out the Russians. And Zladislaw will be with the Americans. I told him to wait here quietly until the Americans came, but he is so impetuous, he had such difficulty in adjusting himself that he went off to Germany, as he said, to help the Americans come that much quicker."

Not far from Nadia's village was a palace built by Greiser, the Gauleiter of Danzig, a bloodthirsty villain, personally responsible for the death of tens of thousands of Poles. He was eventually hanged at the old fort which overlooks Posnan. I wanted to have a look at his palace, but Nadia begged me not to go. "It's the headquarters of the secret police," she said, "and most of them are Russians." When I was insistent she gave me a silent young man who had also been a luncheon guest, as a guide, but begged me to drive straight past without stopping. She would remain at the villa. After more solemn warnings to the young man, she clasped my hand and begged me to be careful.

It was a fine-looking, white stone building which might well have adorned the Riviera, set back amid well-kept lawns and gardens bright with flowers. The beautiful wrought iron gates were invitingly open, there were children playing on the lawn and it seemed improbable that they were secret police in disguise. The sight of the children cheered up the silent young man, who had grave misgivings at first, when I stopped the car. We strolled over the lawns and were hailed with shouts of glee from half a dozen toddlers, gay in white suits embroidered with Poland's national colours. A German-speaking Polish nurse appeared and eventually an official who .showed me over the place. Since the end of the war, Greiser's palace had been an orphanage for children whose parents he had executed.

Nadia was very astonished when we returned and related what we had seen, but she was convinced that it must have been only a few days previously that the secret police moved out and the orphans were moved in.

The silent young man, who seemed to be very much at home in the villa, turned out to be the living symbol of that adjustability which Nadia had and which was lacking in Zladislaw. He was a good motor mechanic it seemed, and Nadia partnered him in a small garage and repair shop in Posnan. His talents could be employed during the "waiting period."

There are many Nadias in Poland, beautiful, vivacious and well-educated. They usually speak English or French, they are easy for Westerners to contact and it is from their lovely, pouting lips that the Western public is mainly informed about conditions in the country. They are completely isolated from the real life; they know nothing of what is going on, but in certain circles their opinions and information are valued as fine gold. Who, among foreign visitors can speak to a peasant or worker? What peasant or worker can express himself with one-tenth of the grace and ease of a Nadia, with infinite expression in every gesture and glance. She came to the car to bid me farewell and whispered:

"I hope next time you come, we can welcome you back on the old estate and that Zladislaw will be here."

For Nadia's sake, I felt it would be better if she built her future around the silent young man, who was able to earn money with his hands.

An interesting sidelight on the thoroughness with which the Nazis set about their barbaric task of destroying anything to do with Slav culture, was to be seen at Biskupin, a small village about forty-five miles north-east of Posnan. In 1934 Polish peat-diggers found they were constantly hampered by striking against wooden logs buried a few feet under the surface of a rich peat bed. Over a large area on a peninsula which jutted into a small lake, they found their diggings blocked by masses of timber which seemed to be laid in regular patterns.

Two archaeologists were eventually sent to the scene, Professors Zladislaw Rajewski and Tadeusz Krazewski. Their findings on the peninsula made world news at the time, for after a few months of work they began uncovering a wonderfully well-preserved, wooden fortified village built by Slav settlers between the years 700 and 400 B.C. The timber, mostly oak, had been kept in excellent condition by the peat bog. The two professors were joined by a team of twenty scientists and a hundred workmen. The work was slow because each cubic yard of soil removed was full of treasures for the archaeologists. There were pots and pans of the iron age, ornaments and coins showing the early inhabitants of Biskupin had commerce with Egypt, bones and pieces of harness which showed they kept herds of domestic animals.

By the time the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, more than half the village was uncovered. The present peninsula had once been a small island in the lake, completely covered by the village which was surrounded by a circular breakwater of rows of pointed logs. Inside the breakwater the village was encircled by a high wall of horizontal oaken beams mortised into massive corner posts. The whole thing was a beautiful example of town planning by some unknown Slav architect 2,500 years ago, for a society in which every man was the social equal of his fellows. Streets were parallel, regularly spaced and of even width, running east and west except for one wide paved road which encircled the village inside the parapet wall. The sixty houses uncovered up to the time of the German invasion, were of equal size and evenly spaced. Each was thirty-three feet long and twenty-eight feet wide. The houses faced south to give maximum benefit from the sun and each had sun porches and a large stone fire-place in an identical position in every house. All the streets, nine feet wide, were paved with round logs.

The archaeologists estimated that there were altogether 105 houses with a total population of 800 to 1,000 people; a classical agricultural community, which tilled the surrounding soil, cultivated several varieties of grain, kept domestic animals and represented a close-knit, organised society.

The professors had listed 300,000 fragments of pottery, including many complete pots and bowls, 120,000 pieces of bone, 240 portions of domestic plants and seeds, traces of wheeled carts, of children's clay rattles and toy tea-setsbefore their work was interrupted by the Nazi invasion. A special Biskupin section had been established at the fine Posnan Prehistoric Museum. Then came the Nazis, sworn to exterminate Slavdom and to eradicate any traces of Slav culture.

The dignified and scholarly Krazewski changed his name, fled from Posnan and worked as a waiter in various restaurants. Rajewski, – the younger of the two, also changed his name and fled to a distant part of Poland where he set up as a street hawker, selling shoe-laces, matches and razor-blades.

The Nazis looted the Museum, destroyed or stole anything of value. (Posnan was only 60 miles from the German frontier and was overrun before there was time to remove any of the city's treasures.) At Biskupin, the Nazis, self-styled standard bearers of Aryan culture, laid down special rail tracks and dumped thousands of tons of sand and earth into the excavations, covering up the whole area so that no trace of a pre-historic Slav settlement should be found. The plans of the excavation, they also destroyed.

Krazewski and Rajewski miraculously survived the war and the extermination camps. They were sent back to continue their work. Krazewski escorted me around the restored part of the Prehistoric Museum, Rajewski took me out to Biskupin to see the start which had been made on the difficult task of digging out the hundreds of cubic metres of sub-soil with which the Nazis had undone five years of painstaking labours.

"Side by side with building the new in Poland," Rajewski said, as we tramped over the site of the ancient village, "our government cares for the old. They immediately sought out Krazewski and myself, put us back in our old positions with ample funds to carryon and uncover the streets and homes of the ancient Biskupinites. We plan to leave half of the village in the state we find it and reconstruct the other half according to the plan of the original architect."

Neither of the professors was a member of a political party, nor were they the slightest bit interested in politics, but they were enthusiastic supporters of the government.

"They give us every help," Krazewski said, "not only in the work at Biskupin and at the Museum, but at the University and they help the students too. In the old days, unless a student was the son of a wealthy landowner or industrialist, he starved, or he worked so hard outside the University to pay for his tuition that he couldn't absorb his lectures. Now they get top ration cards and are even paid for studying. We never have had a government before which gave learning and culture such a high, place."

I related my visit to Nadia and her tales about all high officials and army officers above the rank of captain being Russians. "Nonsense!" said Rajewski and laughed. "In one way or another I've been in touch with almost every high official in Posnan, getting building supplies, arranging labour permits, ration cards for my workers, import permits for books, special transport facilities. I know them all from the Mayor down. Not a Russian amongst them nor ever has been. About the officers it was true of the original Polish Army which fought its way through Russia and helped chase the Germans back to Berlin. Most of the Polish officers from the original Army, caught by the Russians, went to the Middle East to fight under the British. But many of the troops and non-corns. stayed in the Soviet Union. The Russians built a new army out of them, promoted the non-corns. to officers up to the rank of Captain, created non-coms. from the ranks and put Polish-speaking Russian officers at the top. After all, they were fighting as part of the Soviet Army. But during the fighting, Polish officers were gradually promoted and as soon as the war ended, all Soviet officers were replaced by Poles. The Polish Army which helped liberate Posnan on the way to Berlin had Soviet officers as battalion commanders, the Army which returned had Polish officers. Your Nadia is not quite up-to-date in the matter."

The Poles seemed to have struck a nice balance between state planning and private initiative in the way they had tackled the rebuilding problem. Citizens of Posnan did not have to fill in forms and wait for building permits to start repairing their shops or houses, as was the case in England after the war. If they could get hold of carpenters and masons, they were free to do so. If they could build with their own hands and unskilled labourers so much the better. The city administration made basic materials, bricks, cement, timber and glass, available at rigidly controlled prices, so there could be no black-marketeering. The government said in effect: "Here are the building materials, find your own labour and get to work." And that was the explanation for the furious assault on damaged buildings.

Twenty per cent. of the population had been wiped out. Thousands of the wealthy and the very few who had collaborated with the Germans, had fled to the West. If a home-comer to Posnan found his home destroyed, but found another flat which could be made habitable with repairs, he could register a claim at the Town Hall. If the records showed the owner no longer existed or had fled the country, the home-comer could claim that flat as his own, repair it and move in.

The Mayor of Posnan assured me that 90 per cent. Of the building was being carried out by private initiative. If a house-holder could not finance repairs himself, he could apply to the government for a grant up to half the value of the completed house or apartment. He could then buy the materials at fixed prices, employ private labour to do the work, or do it himself. It was a realistic system that combined the benefits of state control and individual effort. It was a good system that worked, as every street in Posnan could testify.

A similar co promise system was in operation with rationing. In 1947, there was still food rationing in Poland but on a scale which allowed those with money to eat as much as they liked at very high prices, ensured ample supplies for all workers but encouraged the workers to earn as much as possible, therefore to work as hard as possible, by giving them something to spend their excess wages on. And it encouraged the peasant to produce.

Workers registered with trade unions, government employees and students had ration cards with which they could buy their basic foods at very low prices in state shops. Professional people, doctors in private practice, lawyers and private businessmen got no ration cards.

There was ample food in private shops at prices three or four times as high as that in the State shops, where only ration-card holders could buy. If state buying could not keep pace with the appetites of those holding ration cards, if there was not enough food in the state shops to honour the cards, workers were given extra money to buy on the free market. A two-pound loaf of bread in 1947 cost, for instance, 5 zloty (threepence) with ration card, but 25 zloty (1/3) in the private shops. For other foodstuffs the difference was not so great, but 1947 was a bad year for bread-grains.

In restaurants there were two prices for everything. Those with ration cards could eat an excellent three-course meal for 30 zloty (1/6), otherwise one must pay 8/- to 10/- for a meal which would certainly be much more adequate than any served in a London restaurant in the post-war years.

Wroclaw, when I had last visited it in 1939, was called Breslau and it was in Germany. I liked the atmosphere of Polish Wroclaw in 1947, although it was one of the .most destroyed cities in Europe, better than that of Breslau eight years previously. For nearly three months, Soviet artillery slowly crunched Breslau to pieces. As in Budapest, the Nazis held on in one of the great siege-battles of the war, although they were given chances to surrender often enough, to save the city. It was destroyed literally house by house. Official figures state that 80 per cent. of the city was wiped out, but it was hard for a visitor in 1947 to find the 20 per cent. not destroyed, unless it was represented in a few undamaged rooms here and there amidst the wreckage of public buildings and apartment houses. Driving through street after street of nothing but gaunt wrecks and rubble, it was hard to believe that there were 216,000 people already living in the ruins and they were being added to at the rate of 10,000 a month.

Apart from the immense destruction, a great change had come over the city as it was gradually transformed into Wroclaw: in fact it was probably something unique in history that the character of a great city should be so speedily and completely changed. The 600,000 Germans who used to live in Breslau had been replaced by 200,000 Poles in the new Wroclaw. There were only 10,000 Germans left when I visited the city and they were preparing to leave.

It was a solemn, stodgy city in 1939, a place that reeked of austere middle-class respectability which had now given way to a shabby, ill-clad but warm vitality. Life had emerged from behind the prim facades of the Silesian burgers' homes and elegant shops and poured out on to the streets. In 1939, I was there semi-furtively to try and get news of some Jewish friends who had been dragged off to concentration camps. In 1947 Jews took their place with other citizens in the streets. There was even a Jewish theatre already playing and a newspaper published in Hebrew.

The enormous energy of the new Poland was not so apparent in new or repaired buildings because any effort was swallowed up by the enormous extent of the destruction; but it was startlingly apparent in the street markets. Wroclaw is in the centre of a region more devastated than anything in Europe outside the Soviet Union. Only 3 per. cent. of the horses and 5 per cent. of the cows survived the three months of battle and the German retreat. The whole area had started off from scratch only two years previously, with completely new settlers and such humble equipment and animals as the government could provide. Most of the settlers had actually had spent only one season on their new holdings.

In the morning markets one could see the first fruits of their work. Peasant women began arriving in the early hours, white kerchiefs over their heads, black shawls around their shoulders and huge bundles on their backs. Hand-drawn and horse-drawn carts joined in the convoys converging on the city. Soon after dawn the wares were laid out on crowded footpaths. There were crates of squealing sucking pigs and squawking poultry, huge baskets of eggs, lettuce, cucumbers and onions. On street corners, stout peasant women sat over cans of milk and cream, boxes of butter and soft cheese, selling at prices well within reach of normal consumers. And Wroclaw was a city of normal consumers. There were no settled wealthy classes as in Posnan, in this completely new community.

What the solid burgers of German Breslau would have said if they had seen their footpaths cluttered up with pigs and geese, fat peasant women squatting with their milk-cans at every street corner; Jews and even an occasional gypsy in the streets, one can only guess. The Wroclaw street markets were, of course, reproduced in every town and village I visited in. Poland, but they were the more striking in Wroclaw, as an indication of the immense progress made in a region of total destruction. They represented a triumph for the resettlement scheme of giving each settler enough land to work with the minimum of implements, a few head of poultry and pigs and telling them to go ahead and produce food. There was far less state interference with the peasants in New Poland, than with farmers in England, where sale of poultry, pigs, eggs or dairy produce without government permission was and still is unthinkable. Maximum prices for produce were fixed and as there were no restrictions, there was, of course, no black market.

In 1945, the first Poles started moving into Wroclaw in lumbering peasant carts. They came from east of the Curzon Line and from Central Poland in to the shattered and still smoking ruins, with wrecked tanks and charred bodies lying in the streets. All the public utilities, gas, electricity, water supply, sewerage and tram services were 90 per cent. destroyed. By 1947 they had all been restored to 70 per cent. of pre-war efficiency. Theatre, opera, a university with six faculties, and an excellent philharmonic orchestra had been established. Town planners, architects and builders were hard at work repairing the damaged buildings and planning a new, more beautiful city for the future. Their first target was to repair about half the damaged buildings to accommodate 250,000 people, and they were well within sight of accomplishing that. The areas which could not be repaired would be pulled down and turned into parks and gardens.

When the battle for Breslau was over, the last shell fired and the last defender dead or captured, the greatest rolling-stock factory in Europe, the Linke-Hoffman works, lay a heap of smouldering, blackened rubble, melted glass and twisted machinery. German experts said it was impossible to rebuild the giant plant, which had once employed 20,000 workers. Not one wall remained standing, not one machine intact. All the equipment, from overhead rolling cranes to delicate lathes, were reduced to scrap metal. Breslau became Wroclaw. Polish engineers pored over the remnants of machines, builders tested the foundations, workers scratched around in the rubble looking for material that could be salvaged. It was decided to rebuild.

Workers were just leaving the plant the day I arrived. It was April 30, and by mid-afternoon work had stopped, to give the workers a chance to prepare for May Day celebrations. Normally they worked three shifts throughout the 24 hours. Some of them turned back, to show me the plant, when they knew I was a stranger, with little time to spend in Wroclaw. There was a tender pride, as they showed me what had been done, how, this machine had been repaired; that workshop built in record time. Every hour, for twenty-four hours a day-except on a workers' holiday like May Day – they assured me, a new 20-ton railway truck, rolled out of the doors of the finishing shed. Every twenty-four hours round the clock, eighteen locomotive tenders were completed. Almost half the original buildings had been rebuilt, in brick with glass roofs to give maximum lighting. There were 5,000 workers employed again, many of them unskilled when they arrived. They received specialised training at a technical institute attached to theplant.

The workers lived together in a colony of cottages, for which they paid no rent. For their community, they had their own restaurants, cinema, shops and schools for their children. Factory canteens provided them with one hot and substantial meal, free each day. Needless to say, the Linke-Hoffman works had become the property of the Polish state. Their rapid reconstruction represent one more monument to the boundless energy and enthusiasm of the Polish people, building with their bare hands a new state.

"Tell the Americans," said one of the workers who had escorted me round the plant, "that we haven't sweated to rebuild this for the Germans."

I left Wroclaw in the middle of its May Day celebrations. There were no Fascists, as in Trieste the previous year, packing the footpaths to jeer, spit and throw stones at the parading workers and peasants. There were, in fact, very few people on the sidewalks. Most of them were marching with their unions or behind their party banners. The whole city was given over to genuine and justified rejoicing for the substantial and visible fruits of the past year's work. Peasants in national costume poured in from the surrounding villages on foot and in farm-carts covered with flowers and greenery. Slogans demanded that the New Territories remain Polish. Secretary Byrnes' speech at Stuttgart in December, 1946, hinting that America would support German claims to recover the ceded territories, was still fresh in people's minds. That speech lost America more friends in Poland overnight, than any other single action by America since the war. 1,300,000 Poles had settled in Lower Silesia alone, 800,000 of them on the land. Wroclaw is the capital of Lower Silesia which would have been the first region to suffer if any new frontier changes were made in Germany's favour. The Poles were not rebuilding the villages and cities, tilling the land and creating new industries, to hand back to the Germans. They had taken root and would defend their homes against all comers. Secretary Byrnes made many friends for the Soviet Union by his Stuttgart speech, as every Pole knew the Soviet Union was the only great power he could trust resolutely to oppose any new frontier changes.

It was with real regret that I drove away from Wroclaw, with its gay flags, waving banners and swarming streets. Not even the sombre ruins which normally overshadowed everything could take away from the vitality of this city of workers and peasants. Perhaps it was partly due to the fact that the whole population was made up of new-comers, all of whom had suffered much, all of whom were taking part in the work of reconstruction, that the city breathed a friendly community spirit. The direct contact between the workers and peasants in the street markets – with no middlemen cheating both sides – also symbolised the new worker-peasant state and created a warm, close-to-earth atmosphere, that placed Polish Wroclaw in another world from German Breslau.

My route lay to the south, to Dziedzoniow near the Czech border, where the largest concentration of Jews in Poland, is now settled. Every village and town through which I passed was celebrating May Day. Village squares were crammed with peasants listening to May Day speeches, or watching the younger folk dancing.

Of Poland's 3,000,000 Jews, only 180,000 survived Hitler's gas chambers. That is for every 17 Jews in Poland, 16 were murdered by the Nazis. Thirteen thousand of the survivors now live in the Dziedzoniow region, about half in the town itself (formerly Reichenbach), the rest on farms in the surrounding villages. It is the first time in modern Polish history that Jews have been able to settle on the land.

In Dziedzoniow, the May Day procession was in full swing, with Jewish textile workers marching alongside other trade unionists, Jewish intellectuals mixed up in the groups from the various political parties. Most of the 13,000 Jews in the area had been freed from a large concentration camp at Dziedzoniow. In almost every case, they were sole survivors of their family. They had nowhere to go, no relatives left in the world. Jobs and land were offered, so they settled where they were. For sometime Dziedzoniow had also been a sort of clearing station for Jews passing along the "underground" route: to Palestine via Czechoslovakia and Germany. It is conveniently situated in a corner where three frontiers meet. Some of those seeking to leave the country changed their minds and settled with the concentration camp survivors.

The Jews were given land on the same basis as everybody else, 17 to 35 acres according to the quality of the land-and size of family in the rare cases that they had families. In theory each unit got one cow, one horse, a couple of pigs and light farm implements. In practice, many of them went short of animals because there were simply not enough to go round. I visited the village of Pietrowice, where 48 Jewish families had taken up farming, to see how things were working out. The leader of the community, Igor Horowitz, was an energetic little man, realistic about the difficulties, but full of optimism. He was the sole survivor of a large family, destroyed in the gas chambers.

Horowitz and his friends had just returned from a neighbouring village with which they had pooled forces to stage a May Day parade.

"Of course we have our difficulties," he said, "getting our people to settle down on farms. First of all we had a hard fight against those who see no future in Europe and only wanted to go to Palestine. In every village, and ours is no exception, there is one faction that believes in pushing on to Palestine and another believes our job is to settle down and help our other comrades build a new life together in our own country, Poland. In the beginning the first faction was stronger, but now that people see how the government helps us and that our non-Jewish neighbours who are also newcomers, respect and help us, the second faction has become the stronger.

"Most of us," he continued, "now believe in a socialist solution to the problem of world Jewry. We support the Palestine Jews in their fight for independence, but we do not support Zionism as such. We believe Jews should settle down and take part in all phases of life in whatever country they happen to be in."

With great pride, Horowitz and his neighbours showed me their beautifully tilled fields, good-looking crops of rye and wheat, luxuriant vegetable patches which were keeping the village supplied with greenstuffs, spotless stables and dairies. His big surprise was kept till the last. "I'll bet you never expected to find Jews raising pigs!" he said, and laughed. "Some of our more orthodox compatriots would be shocked, but after all we are known as good business people. A cow gives one calf a year, a sheep occasionally twin lambs, but from a pig in one year we can have two litters with anything up to a dozen piglets each time." In a co-operative piggery dozens of grunting white sows were being pestered by hundreds of pink, hairless little pigs which within three months would be transformed into famous Polish hams or export bacon for the British breakfast table.

"The best tribute to our success here," Horowitz said, after I had admired the pigs and their owners' break with tradition, "is that believe it or not, Jews are beginning to come back to Poland just because of our experiments with life on the land. A couple of young chaps that came here to learn something about farming before continuing on to Palestine also decided to stay. The government has just allotted us another 37,000acres of land in this district for families who left Poland after the war for Germany and Czechoslovakia to wait their turn to continue to Palestine. Now they are coming back home. If they are willing, we will make good farmers of them in no time."

Every settler but one in Pietrowice had been in concentration camps. The exception was a brawny little man, whose chest was covered with medals, earned fighting throughout the war with the Soviet Army. He was one who had come to learn and decided to stay.

According to Horowitz, there was not the slightest feeling of anti-Semitism in the district. "We are all new-comers who have suffered and started off life together," he said, "Jews are in a minority here, but there have been no difficulties or incidents. We sit together on the village council, we work together to improve village life. There are no questions at all where a religious or racial issue could arise. Our children go to the same schools. We all have the same interests and the same problems. And if there were any signs of discrimination against us on racial grounds, we would have the law on our side, just as they would have the law on their side, if the reverse were the case.

"Many of our people were disillusioned when a pogrom was carried out, last year at Kielce. But the government quickly tracked down those responsible and executed the ringleaders. This showed our people that the constitution which granted equal rights to all people regardless of race or religion was not just a lot of empty phrases. All in all, we reckon we've found the right way out for Jewry in all countries. The workers and peasants and progressive intellectuals, share their fights and problems, work for the progress of all the people."

One could have no quarrel with Mr. Horowitz on that score, except that all countries were not yet People's Democracies, and all countries did not have written into their constitutions specific guarantees providing legal sanctions against anyone discriminating against his fellows for racial or religious reasons. Indeed, in the Western world, it would be regarded as an infringement of liberty, if the press were to be restricted from its periodic function of whipping up racial prejudices.

The visit to Pietrowice was the last item on my spring tour of Western Poland. With my car packed with gifts of eggs, hams and cherry vodka from the hospitable new settlers, I had to turn back to my base at Berlin. At Slubice on the Odra, I drank my last cherry vodka with two forestry workers, who had both fought with the Anders Army and had returned from England. They were old comrades, had worked in the forests together for 20 years and fought in the war together. Why had they come back from England?

"We were both in a camp in England," said Boreslaw, "and both miserable. We wanted to come home, but everybody said we should be arrested by the Communists and sent to Siberia. Then one of our friends had a letter from his brother who had gone home from Belgium. He had been a miner. He said it was all lies and that life was good. We talked it over and agreed we had no future in England. We couldn't even talk to anybody and we liked Poland. Frantisek said he would go home and see what things were like and would write to me." And Frantisek took up the narrative to say he had been interrogated at first to make sure he hadn't fought with the Germans, and then he was given a good job in the forests.

"So I wrote to Boreslaw and when he came, I got him a job alongside of me just like in the old days."

They insisted on paying for my several drinks, as I was the guest of the country and begged me to publish in the papers that "it's all lies about Siberia and the rest,” so that some more of their comrades would come home.

A footnote to my Polish trip is that I travelled where and when I liked, stayed at hotels without prior warning, just by presenting my passport when I arrived. I travelled with fewer formalities than in many countries in Western Europe. There were no difficulties with car travel, my English Royal Automobile Club carnet was honoured, there was no rationing of petrol, which was freely available in every town. Apart from passport and visa being checked at the frontier, my papers were never looked at.

It was to be the expulsion of Tito from the Cominform more than a year later which gave me my next excuse for a visit to the People's Democracies.

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