Chapter XII

United They Stand

Music from bands and flaunting banners transformed an open space in Warsaw's ruins Sunday morning July 1st, 1945. In the old theater square, now cleared of rubble, tens of thousands of cheering people formed in ranks. They flooded high up broken bricks and twisted iron that avalanched from the torn side of the City Hall. Still higher they climbed to perch on jutting ledge or iron girder for a first glimpse of the new "unity" government formed in Warsaw three days before.

I was one of scores of correspondents from the Allied nations – the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and France – who flew in by special plane. The eyes of the world were on Warsaw this day. We knew it and the crowd in the square knew it. Half a dozen motion picture photographers also knew it, busily shooting their reels of film to record the moment for history.

Nearly a year had passed since the Committee of National Liberation had set up in Lublin the first de facto government on liberated Polish soil. The forms of new Poland had been emerging; they have been described in this book. For five months the Provisional Government had functioned in Warsaw, recognized by the USSR. But Poland had remained an international problem, since the holdover government-in-exile in London, still recognized by Great Britain and the United States, continued to spread acrimony. This unsettled situation delayed Poland's internal reconstruction and was disturbing to everybody, especially when the end of the war released some 2,000,000 Poles on Allied controlled territory who could only get home through international agreement. After long months of discussion that agreement was at last attained.

The lines of settlement had been drawn in early February at the Yalta Conference. Far greater powers than Poland needed to see the "Polish question" settled for their own postwar tranquility. The Big Three chiefs – Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill – had come to an agreement at the moment when the Red Army was liberating the last Polish area. As soon as the Warsaw Provisional Government should be expanded by "other democratic elements" from Poland and abroad – conditions being suggested by a Polish commission of the three big powers – full recognition was pledged by all to this enlarged and provisional government.

This new "Provisional Government of National Unity" was now established. The chief posts were still held by the men whose leadership I had observed for nearly a year. Boleslaw Bierut was still president of the Rada. Edward Osubka-Morawski remained prime minister. As we gathered in the square for public introduction of the government, I saw many old friends described in this book. But there were also new faces – which made the government acceptable to Washington and London. Stanislaw Mikolajczyk had come from London to be vice premier and minister of agriculture. Jan Stanczyk, an old member of the PPS who came with him, was the new minister of labor. Stanislaw Grabski, aged individualist, once socialist, now conservative democrat, was one of the new vice-presidents of the Rada; another was the aged Vincente Witos, several times premier of postwar Poland, but because his health had been broken under the German occupation he was unable to attend this Warsaw event.

Members of the government, trailed by correspondents and motion-picture photographers, climbed to the second-story balcony of the half-demolished opera house and addressed the crowds in the square. All stressed the need for national unity, both for Poland's own reconstruction and to make Poland a link of harmony instead of discord among nations of the postwar world.

Under an iron-gray sky stood the listening people. The green banners of the Peasants' Party, the blue shirts with red ties of the Polish Socialist Party, rank on rank of the Polish Workers' Party with flags red on one side and white on the other. Off to the left I saw the well-remembered women of the Wedel candy factory who had hiked all the way from Praga to be here. In decorated trucks around the crowd's fringes stood "Warsaw Rebuilder" brigades, reminding one that reconstruction of the ruined capital was steadily proceeding.

Everybody sang the national anthem, "Poland has not perished." Every speaker was cheered. Short heavy downpours of rain wilted banners but not the spirits of the people. They cheered the new arrivals from London, partly because of their personalities, and more because of the new unity their presence symbolized. Laughing girls in colorful national costumes, hung with strings of beads saved through nearly six years of occupation, clustered around ruddy, baldheaded, beaming Mikolajczyk. Stalwart youths of the Peasants' Party shouted, "Mi-ko-laj-czyk, Mi-ko-laj-czyk" in the dominating rhythm of a football cheer.

Whatever internal struggles for power might come later, the immediate moment was that of a honeymoon. The new government members were obviously glad to be home in Poland, and the rest of the government was glad to have them back.

"I'm asking all Poles, even those who've stood aside until now, to come out and work for the reconstruction of Poland." Mikolajczyk was bidding both for those who had supported the previous government and for those who had opposed it. And both factions were cheering him. Already the legend was spreading that it was he who had three times flown from London to Moscow "to work for unity." Only the more sophisticated realized that his stubbornness had delayed agreement and that he could have been prime minister and saved Poland much hardship if he had accepted Bierut's offer nine months ago. It was late, but better late than never.

The great gain was that Poland was no longer a bone of international contention. There would be immediate recognition, stable relations with foreign countries, and economic relief.

The Unity Government snapped rapidly into action. Headquarters were already assigned to the new ministers in a gaunt, gray, war-battered building in Praga that for the moment housed the government. It had moved from shabby Snow Street quarters where I had seen it three months before. Its departments were expanding, outgrowing one building after another. Health, commerce, and communications already had newly repaired buildings on the western bank. Others would soon be moving over as more buildings were repaired.

We flew by plane on a tour of Poland. Everywhere – in Silesia, in Cracow, and northward to the Baltic – I met old friends from Lublin working now on a wider scale.

At Katowice I breakfasted with General Zawadzki. He was governor now of Upper Silesia – Poland's empire of coal and steel. Here Poland possesses, with former German Silesia added, the chief coal region of Central Europe with reserves of sixty billion tons. The new governor expected Silesia to play a strategic and profitable role in saving Europe from famine as soon as enough coal cars could be unscrambled from somewhere in Germany, where the rolling stock of the entire continent was piled up.

"Within a week after we get enough cars we get full production," he told me. "Because of the Red Army's swift advance, combined with the watchful heroism of Polish miners, eighty great mines with a daily capacity of nearly a quarter million tons were taken intact. Many miners got decorations from the Polish Government for preventing Germans from flooding the mines."

In the midst of a score of knotty production problems, Zawadzki seemed younger and specially gayer than in Lublin. He laughed when I told him this.

"Tm a coal miner, and I'm home at last! I entered the army to free my country. I fought from Stalingrad to Silesia, and I rose from sergeant to general. But after we got Silesia free I didn't wait even to take Berlin. I asked the government to let me start mining coal." What a contrast to prewar Poland's "regime of colonels" was this general, who eagerly left his post as assistant commander in chief of the Polish Army to organize production for peace! "Shall I show you the coal mine where I got my start?" Zawadzki continued. "My old machine's not working, but it's still there."

So we drove through Pittsburgh-like valley coal and steel towns strung along interurban trolleys and came to the "Paris Mine," so named because it was formerly owned by French capital. The miners have asked permission to rename it "General Zawadzki Mine," but the general told them, "What's your production? I've a reputation to maintain in Silesia. Can't have my name on a second-rate mine. Wait till you win first rating in the area; then come talk to me."

At the Paris Mine the miners surrounded him, and older miners who "knew him when" slapped him on the back, shouting, "We've second place in Silesia now; we've only the Renard Mine to beat!" Then they told him they had repaired his old machine and were using it again.

After that there was nothing to do but go down into the mine and inspect Zawadzki's machine. The general drove it back and forth, then dusted off his clothes, smiling. "Take note, I could still earn my living by honest toil if I had to."

"How long since you sat in that seat?" I asked him.

"Twenty-two years," he said; then added reminiscently, "Eleven of those years were in Polish jails for opposing Pilsudski's style of government."

On the way back from the mine Zawadzki showed me the gaunt local jail where that part of his career began, he said. When I asked him what party he had belonged to, his eyes twinkled. "The Democratic Party," he laughed. "We have four democratic parties now in Poland, but then there was only one!"

Three days I spent in that coal and steel empire, where there were some thirty corporations with a large admixture of foreign-capital-owned coal mines before the war. The Germans grabbed all of them, compelling the foreign owners to sell out at German prices. They ran the mines with slave labor, including Russian and British prisoners of war. At Zawadzki's Paris Mine they had five hundred British slaves. Now the mines have passed as war booty to the direct ownership of the Polish state. Any non-Nazi owner who can make claim to his stock after all that has happened may get eventual consideration. This is the general policy in Eastern Europe in territories freed by the Red Army as the quickest way to liquidate Nazi ownership and get industry going again.

Silesian mines are divided into ten operational districts, each with a director, production manager, and business manager appointed by the minister of industry – our old friend Professor Hilary Minc. A workers' committee elected in each district has an advisory function in production and a controlling function in social services, including rationing.

"Food's a tough problem just now," said Zawadzki. "The Soviet Union and the Red Army have been feeding all Silesia for the past four months. After Poland's new harvest and after coal cars arrive here, Silesia will help to balance Poland's national budget. We have enough not only for Poland's industry but to sell coal to coal-hungry Europe. Sweden already negotiates! But our first export coal will be a free gift to the cities of Moscow and Leningrad!"

We drove through the ripening rye of former German Silesia where Polish peasants, transported from eastern regions, were already settling onto the soil, previous farmers having been driven westward by the German armies. We met writers, poets, university folk of the ancient capital of Cracow, where antique churches, historic castle, and even monks and nuns in the narrow streets and markets seem never to have known the war.

Thence north we flew through changing sun and rain over checkered farms and woods and towns – spacious land – till, circling over the gray waters of the Baltic, we landed on the wet airport where five flags were flying: Polish, American, French, Russian, and British. We had come to the port of Gdansk – better known to the world as Danzig but now returned to the ancient name by which it was christened in the year 997 by the first Polish Christians arriving in these parts.

"Gdansk" meant "to Danes." It was the Polish entrance to the Danish sea world, where heathen Vikings, unchallenged masters, stormed all coasts from the westward British isles to eastern Novgorod. Today they show you – Poles love to show you such things – the old stone church at Oliva not far from the mouth of the Vistula where a Latin document on vellum conveys, with the papal blessing, seven villages free of all duties to the king or feudal lord, but bound to three days' labor weekly "for wharves of Gdansk."

That was the beginning. Three centuries later Teutonic knights came driving eastward, and Poland's long fight for the sea began. That thousand-year fight is today crowned with victory. But both the old and the modern seaport lie in ruins. Hitler Youth gangs burned as the Red Army and the Polish Army came in.

In the midst of the blackened buildings I saw a four-story facade still standing aloof in the ashes with a gallant ship all carved in stone sailing from the topmost story into upper air. It was beautiful work of the sixteenth century, when the guild of free trading cities of many Baltic nations gave united allegiance to trade through the Hanseatic League. Near by stood a great stone gate, smoke-charred but indestructible, bearing an inscription in Latin: "Through this gate Polish wealth goes out to the world."

These date from the days when Columbus discovered America, when Britain began her seafaring, when commerce was fresh romance. Many centuries have died, but romance is still young in the soul of Okecki. Yes, Okecki, my old friend from Afghanistan by way of Lublin, whom I met on my first trip. He was governor now of the united port district: old Gdansk on the mouth of the Vistula, modern Gdynia fourteen miles up the coast, and the little seaside towns between.

We found him in a makeshift government building in Zoppot, a seaside resort midway between Gdansk and Gdynia. The harbor reconstruction chief had just been explaining: "It will take ten million truck days just to clear the ruins from Gdansk alone. But first we must concentrate on opening four harbor slips – two in Gdansk and two in Gdynia. The Germans sank battleships right in the main channel, heavily mining them. But what worries us most are sixty-four big magnetic mines still unlocated – big brutes that can lie dormant many months and then explode when a ship passes over."

From all these worries we came to Okecki's office. And Okecki came in and found us waiting; twenty-five lined up in three long rows like a class waiting for the professor.

He blushed. He got embarrassed. He ran sensitive fingers through his white fluffy hair. Finally he appealed: "What do you want? You must be tired of ruins. Shall we go down to the sea?"

So we trailed along through the shabby little resort town, and some of the correspondents were saying, "What a funny old dope!" And my heart ached, because I liked Okecki and wanted him to make good. We went far out on a great pier where gamblers from the Casino used to stroll. They say it was the swellest gambling casino on the Baltic in Pilsudski's days; but the Casino hotel is now a military hospital. Anyway the sea was there and the sky was there, all flooded with the gold of the late northern sunset. And a long line of shore was there, dark green against the gold.

"Back there is Gdansk" – Okecki pointed south into the smoky dusk that hid the ruins – "our old river harbor that leads far into Polish land. And up there is Gdynia" – he pointed northwest into the sunset – "where we built a modern port with a railway running up the funny little Polish Corridor when the Germans took away Gdansk. But really it's all one great harbor." Sighing, he added, "It was a very bad dream we had these seven hundred years."

The summer sunlight lingers long in these latitudes. It must have been half an hour afterwards when the port engineer came, handing a paper to Okecki. He read it and smiled; then he turned to us with a new dignity.

"As of today our port opens. A trainload of Silesian coal arrived this morning – a gift of the Silesian miners to heroic Leningrad. And the port master just reported a Soviet ship safe in Gdansk harbor, while two Swedish ships wait outside.

"I couldn't tell you before," he apologized, "because I didn't know just what might happen. I was worrying about those mines. You see, we have a very great port, but to be quite sure it is a safe one – it will take quite a while.

"But now we have in the east our new friend Soviet Russia, without whom we never could have come back to this country. And now we are recognized again by our old friends from the west. There will be not only a great port; there will be also a great inland waterway from the Vistula to the Dnieper, Canals and highways and railways we will remake to fit our new connections: roads to Moscow, to Leningrad, to Kiev, to Paris, and cities in the west.

"Poland," he said, as we turned towards the darkening shore, "lies right in the middle." I recalled that it was ancient China that first claimed to be the "middle kingdom" four thousand years ago. But I didn't remind Okecki, for to each man his homeland should be the "middle kingdom" of the world.

Poland indeed seems a fair enough center. Thanks to the land reform, one fifth of the total area of the country has been redivided and Poland has become a land of farmer-owners tilling their own soil. Thanks to the Red Army strategy, Poland has her coal and steel empire intact in the heart of Europe – a bigger industrial plant than she possessed before the war. Thanks to Soviet support and the acquiescence of the Western Allies, Poland has potentially the greatest seaport on the Baltic, connecting with her river waterways.

On our return to Warsaw we found Prime Minister Morawski more confident than I'd ever seen him. Eleven nations had recognized his government during the brief week we had been on our tour. He told us the Red Army was steadily withdrawing, and that nearly five million Poles who had been abroad would practically all want to come home. "We must get in our harvest and bring back our scattered people and hold our national elections."

It seems as if Poland has the first chance in her history for a well-balanced economy, for as much independence as is granted today to any nation, for as much prosperity, democracy, and all those other words in political slogans as Poles themselves prove able to achieve and use. It will cost much labor, but Polish peasants know labor. It will take much planning, but when have Poles lacked plans? It will take patriotic devotion, but Poles are famous for this.

It will also demand unity such as Poles have never shown in history. Can they achieve it now?

The chance is there waiting – bought, as it was, with a great price.

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