Chapter IX


The naked rooms stood up in the air as if on stilts. Under them, over them and around them, probed searching blasts of the December wind.

These two rooms, a kitchen and a bedroom, were all that remained of the house. A side-swiping blast had gutted the little bakery on the floor beneath them, leaving only sections of its walls. These were enough to support the second-floor apartment and the steep little staircase by which I climbed to my lodging for the night.

It was after the meeting in the big bare hall with broken windows where the peasants received their title deeds to the parceled-out acres in Radzyn County. Another celebration had been held in the evening – the first Christmas party in Radzyn. The high school was open again. The young folks crowded its small assembly room to suffocation for the first performance of their drama club. The spirited singing and dancing were painfully amateurish, but the teacher explained: "It takes time to learn proper singing and dancing. These are the first steps of freedom in more than five years."

In the general dancing that followed I met the Polish colonel, Szaniawski, who, after Bor's surrender in Warsaw, had led the escaping insurgents over the river. I didn't want to break into that evening of dance, so I tried to date him for an interview in Lublin. He explained that he seldom came to Lublin, being very busy training soldiers in a camp not far from Radzyn. He had to be back in camp next morning, but he was free for the rest of the night.

"Then here's where I take you down for history. You might get killed before you meet another reporter."

I hauled him mercilessly into the principal's office, where the dancers' coats were piled on a couple of tables and chairs. We shoved the coats on the floor and sat down with notebook and fountain pen, closing our ears to the music down the hall. Bienick drove home to Lublin about midnight, but I was still writing down Szaniawski's story. When the Radzyn County officials promised that there would be another auto sometime in the next two days, I decided to stay over.

I was quite blunt as they discussed the housing of their American guest.

"What interests me is neither the food, nor the bed, nor the privacy, but the heating." I shivered in retrospect when I thought of that afternoon meeting in the freezing hall. So they put me up with the vice-chairman of the Rada because he had a Holland stove. They issued two days' extra fuel for me.

That was how I came about one in the morning to those two rooms of Marian Potapczyk, vice-chief of Radzyn County. He slept in the kitchen with his wife and grown son and a male guest, giving me the bed-and-dining room. I gathered that they didn't use it anyway in winter for lack of fuel.

The rooms looked well enough inside. They had once been a neat, modest apartment for the owner of the little bakery shop below. The pale blue calcimined bedroom was unstained even by five years of war. The bombing, however, had shaken out the wall insulation. So the roaring fire they made for me in the big Holland stove availed little. It made the tiles so hot that I could not touch them, but it could not beat back the cold that penetrated the room through the broken walls. Two doors that should have led to adjoining rooms led straight into zero space.

In such rooms the vice-chairman of the county Rada was coughing his life away. I could hear him most of the night through the thin partition. His lungs and kidneys had been irreparably injured in 1943 when a gang of forty-five men hauled him out of the peasant cottage where he was living "underground," beat him, and left him for dead.

I slept warmly enough under the big feather bed in the cold bedroom, but as soon as I rose I hastened to the kitchen for warmth. Mrs. Potapczyk served me some ersatz coffee made fairly palatable by quantities of milk. She seemed to have enough sugar – Poland has beets and refineries – but she brought in a small pat of butter with such reverence that I took from it sparingly.

Then Marian Potapczyk told me his story – how he organized the underground government and how he took power when the Red Army came in. I wrote it down in his kitchen as well as I could with freezing fingers, huddled up in a big comforter from the feather bed. Sitting in these two rooms in the bombed town where the county commissioner functioned, I couldn't help thinking that it was much more comfortable being the Polish government in London than being it on the spot.

When the Germans overran Poland, Potapczyk was a mechanic in a textile mill in Lodz. His German fellow workers told him: "You'd better clear out; your activities in the trade-union have made you a marked man." He took the hint and cleared just before the Gestapo raided the workers' houses.

"I came to a village in Radzyn County and worked at repair jobs. When the Germans began raiding the villages I moved from place to place." One hundred and ten thousand people lived in Radzyn County when Potapczyk moved in. There were eighty-four thousand left when he sat in his bomb-ruined house reporting to me. Nearly a quarter of the population had been murdered by the Germans in various ways – the usual proportion in Poland. "They began with the Jews and then the Poles who befriended Jews and then all the leaders of the Polish people who were not completely subservient – these they called Communists."

Potapczyk, a wiry, energetic fellow in those days, joined the underground Home Army, under the orders of the government-in-exile in London. "But I got fed up with their policy of watchful waiting. There was a time when a couple of Gestapo officers could come to a village by night and take fourteen or fifteen men away. The Home Army did nothing to prevent. It was 'saving its strength' to take power when the Germans, beaten by the Allies, should withdraw from Poland of themselves. That was the talk. Meanwhile some of the county leaders of the Home Army were getting on very well with the Germans. But we of the rank and file were being deported and killed.

"It also made me angry when the Home Army betrayed Russian prisoners who escaped from the Germans. There was a camp of these Russians not far away; they were starving. Sometimes a few escaped and went looking for help on the roads and in the woods. I had my fifteen-year-old boy out looking for them. We hid them in the village, armed them and sent them east. These were the first fighting partisan bands in Poland. The Home Army leaders considered them enemies, but I considered them Allies."

Proudly Potapczyk got out a long sheet of paper to show me. Crisscrossed with pale blue and red lines, it was originally a page from a school copybook. It was entitled "Protocol Number Three" and was written in Polish on one side and in Russian on the other. It reported a secret meeting of escaped Russian prisoners together with Poles on May 1, 1942, in the woods near Sewernuwka village. Among the Russians were two pilots, a radio-telegraph man, two political workers, and several officers. They had formed a partisan band of twenty-seven men called by the name of the famous Cossack partisan, Chapayev. They had nine rifles, three pistols, and fifteen grenades according to the report.

"We collected these arms from supplies that the soldiers of the old Polish Army had buried in the earth. The Chapayev band started east, hoping to fight its way through to the Red Army. A man of the Home Army betrayed them before they had gone twenty miles."

"How did you know who betrayed them?"

"Three of them escaped and told us everything. The twenty-seven Russians were in poor physical condition after that German prison camp. They reached a village eighteen miles away and saw an isolated cottage near the woods that looked like a good place to rest. The old peasant who owned it said okay. He had a wife, two small children, and a grown-up son. The older son went out while they were resting. Soon Germans came and surrounded the cottage in force. They threw grenades into the house, killing the partisans and also the old man and his family. Three Russians escaped; they were in the woods at the time looking for berries. They saw the son together with the Germans. We knew that he was a member of the Home Army."

Potapczyk dropped out of the Home Army. He began secretly to form a band of partisans with a different brand of politics. The county leaders of the Home Army suspected that he had become active in another direction. They tested him by proposing him for important work on their illegal paper and then by offering to make him their township commander; both of these offers he refused.

"I knew that they would hold this against me, so I changed my residence to a village where there were no Home Army members. My next door neighbor betrayed me. Forty-five Home Army men came by night. I knew there were forty-five, for when they got us out in the neighbor's yard, they lined up in a square and 'numbered off.' They stripped me mother-naked and beat me up. They beat up my son and six of my partisans, but they gave it to me the hardest for they suspected that I was the leader. They left me for dead. I was in bed for a long time and will never be healthy again."

Ill-health did not stop his underground activities. He could no longer move easily through the woods but he became the partisans' contact in the village. He drew in new members. He affiliated his band with others of like persuasion and brought them into the newly organized People's Army under General Rola-Zymierski.

"Our local bands were all small ones, but there were many of them. We could not have large groups like the partisans in the big forests and swamps of White Russia. Our woods are smaller and villages are near to each other; there is no place for big bands to hide. But even in Radzyn there were highways where the woods came close on both sides and where for months the Germans did not dare to pass." Potapczyk proudly showed me such a highway later when we went to Lublin together in an open truck.

Friction between the Home Army and these newer partisan groups increased. When the Germans were routed at Stalingrad the Home Army's attitude of watchful waiting sharpened into a clear hostility to the Russians. In part this reflected the broken relations between the Soviet Government and the Polish government-in-exile over the Katyn forest incident. In part it derived from a jealous fear of the new partisan groups who hailed the Red Army as an ally. Throughout 1943 the armed forces of the Home Army made many attacks on the new partisans.

Captain Meluch, who commanded the operations in the woods after Potapczyk's injury, came to our kitchen conference to give examples of these attacks.

"I was one of nine who took a room in a village one Saturday night to rest up after a long time in the woods. Early next morning a man of the Home Army went away as if to church. Soon a hundred men came, disarmed the nine of us, and took us to the woods, where they questioned us about our politics. Then they said: 'We don't need people like you. It is better to kill you than Germans.' Two of us got away; the others were killed. They were very fine fellows, loyal patriots, and good friends."

Another incident related by Meluch occurred in Boruv village, south of Lublin, in early autumn of 1943. Thirty partisans of the People's Army, seeking for unity against the Germans, secured a conference with representatives of the Home Army and the NSZ. It was cautiously arranged, all conferees leaving their arms aside. Six armed men suddenly appeared, shouting 'Hands up.' They rounded up members of the People's Army and killed them in the woods.

"They didn't shoot them but cut off their heads with an axe. They yelled: 'We don't have to fight the Germans now, they're beaten anyway. Now we have to fight the Russians and you damned Communists.' A man of the Home Army came over to us later because of his disgust with such actions. He gave us the details of the deaths."

In such a situation the orders received by Potapczyk in January 1944 were rather amazing. By this time he was leader of fifty-four armed men and affiliated with many more. After the New Year's Eve meeting in Warsaw that set up the Rada Narodowa and the People's Army, Potapczyk's chief called him into the staff of the area and told him to organize a rada for Radzyn – a People's Council for the county. Potapczyk asked what organizations to include and was told to invite the Home Army, the People's Army, the Peasant Battalions, the Polish Socialist Party, the Peasants' Party, the Polish Workers' Party, and reliable non-party people.

"I went to all of them and got their delegates.*' It seemed to me that he was passing rather lightly over what must have been a fairly dangerous endeavor. So I asked how he got the Home Army delegate. He went to their county leaders – they were in another village – and found some of the men who had beaten him up.

"Are you still alive! Perhaps we'd better finish you now," they taunted.

"Can do! But then you won't live long either. For now I have fifty-four armed men out there in the woods."

The Home Army chiefs looked at him with more respect. They even decided to send a delegate to his rada. "He wasn't a very useful delegate," commented Potapczyk. "He was just sticking around to see what was going on."

Secret meetings in villages chose other delegates. During February 1944 Potapczyk engineered the secret elections of village and township chiefs throughout the county and a county council of fifty members. "These could not be really democratic elections," he apologized to me, "for they had to be held in secret and we could not trust everyone. The first task of the secret rada was to hide food from the Germans, keeping it for ourselves and for the Red Army. Our mayors were ready to take over when the Germans left."

The Red Army came in July 21st, on a Sunday. Radzyn was quickly surrounded and there was little fighting in the town. When the Red tanks roared into the German airfield outside the town the thirty-three planes had not even time to take off. The pilots either raised their hands or ran away to the woods. The partisans hunted them and turned them over to the Red Army. "Later we had a celebration and gave a swell banner to the liberators of Radzyn. They were Cossack motorized cavalry from the First White Russian front.

"When the Germans began to flee, my colonel ordered me into Radzyn. He made me emergency starosta. I came in with nine armed men even before the Red Army. Our job was to prevent fires, bury corpses, stop looting, grab the Gestapo documents, and find spies. One of the nine was captain of the partisans; he became chief of police. Another was a learned fellow who could write protocols. We chose at once a citizens' militia to help us, giving them arm bands but no arms. We were not yet a regular government. We could not yet disclose our rada. We were right at the front; the Germans were bombing the town and might return.

"So for a week I ran the County." A glint of pride flashed in Potapczyk's face. "I went personally into the Gestapo jail cells and examined the documents. I got the proof that four of the men I had lost had been denounced by leaders of the Home Army."

When I pressed for details he replied calmly, but he was repressing deep feeling: "On the walls of the cells were many inscriptions, such as 'Jesus Christ save me from this torture!' In one place were two prisoners' names written together with the same pencil. One, my very good friend, was dead; the other was alive in a village. I went to him and asked what had happened to the other. He told me what he had learned in the jail. The Germans tortured my friend terribly, but he persisted in denying that he was either a partisan or a Communist. Then they brought in a certain member of the Home Army who said to his face: 'I saw you in the woods with weapons and with a Russian prisoner of war.' So of course they killed him. But he told his cell mate the traitor's name."

"Where is the informer now? Did he flee with the Germans?"

"He is still in the village. He does not even know that we know." Answering my look of surprise, Potapczyk explained: "Some day we will try him. It is not yet time to have so much trouble in the village." I learned that Potapczyk's personal betrayer, through whom the forty-five came to beat him, was still at large.

After six days of Potapczyk's personal rule the first open session of the county rada was called on July 27th. "The Germans were still bombing us here – that was the week when most of the ruin was done – so the Rada met in a near-by village. Delegates came from all the gminas (townships) and many ordinary citizens came to listen. We chose a president and vice-president, a starosta and vice-starosta and five others for the presidium. These nine came into Radzyn and took power."

The six-day county dictator became the new vice-president. When I asked the reason for this demotion he answered simply: "I was from Lodz and we needed a local man."

All the next week they were holding village elections. "Open, legal ones, for the first Rada elections were secret and in conspiracy. Now everybody over twenty-one could come to the meetings. They chose their soltys, the village chief. They also chose delegates to the gmina, one to three delegates, according to the size of the village. After this the gmina Radas chose delegates to the powiat (county) Rada."

"Were the village elections by ballot or by show of hands?"

"In some villages everybody agreed. This was especially when the old soltys that the Germans put out was still alive; then they just put him back again. If anyone asked for secret voting and a second person supported him they had to find paper and ballot. This was not very easy for there was little paper and few pencils. In Davida village, there were seven candidates for soltys so of course they had to have paper ballots. I myself attended fifteen village elections. Ten of these were by secret balloting."

To my query whether the different political parties put up the opposing candidates in such villages as had them, Potapczyk gave a negative answer. "These first elections were without parties, because no parties were yet organized in our county. The parties organized later and had the right to add their representative both to the gmina and the powiat Radas."

The full-grown Radzyn County Rada had fifty members at the time of my visit. Thirty-two were chosen from the sixteen townships, two from each. Fifteen were delegates from various organizations: the political parties, the teachers' union, the doctors, merchants, the association of small peasants. Three members were "experts," co-opted by the Rada for technical work.

The kitchen fire had long since burned out; so we left Potapczyk's quarters for the county offices. In Radzyn three highways meet. Right at the junction a woman soldier of the Red Army stood on a tiny circular platform, twirling her baton smartly to guide the passing traffic down roads marked "to Warsaw," "to Lublin," "to Brest." Behind her the charred gray walls of what had been a gracious county building stood roofless and windowless against the winter sky. The former market place with its rows of shops was indicated only by jagged walls and heaps of rubble.

At the edge of the frost-bound park under thin bare branches were three graves marked with large crosses. Six "liberators of Radzyn" were buried there, two to a grave. All were Russians. Poles also had been killed in the freeing of Radzyn, but they had been buried in the churchyard as good Catholics. Everybody knew that Russians weren't Catholics; so they seemed to belong in the park. The crosses? But a grave has to have a cross. Some peasants were dropping wreaths and branches of evergreen on the graves in passing.

We continued our discussion in the ramshackle building where county and municipal departments crowded each other, a dozen civil servants per room. To create a county government from scratch must have been more difficult, I remarked, than my host's easy account inferred. Potapczyk agreed on the difficulty, but his reasons were other than mine.

"It was very hard, because we had no paper and pencils and the townsfolk ran away to the villages because of the bombs. It is still hard because so many buildings are destroyed. You saw how our big beautiful county building was bombed and burned. We wanted to take over another big building of former Jewish shops whose owners were dead. The Red Army needed that. When they move on west we'll have more space. The Committee in Lublin has given money to repair our county building, but it will take many years. Five engineers are working on the plans.

"We haven't our democracy very perfect," he continued, "Last week we had a bad complaint." He showed me the "complaint." It was a document of three pages in single-space typing. Various investigators had made their comments at the bottom; these showed that the rather worn paper had been from a village to Lublin and back again. Potapczyk explained that at one of the township meetings in October the president of the county Rada threw out seven of the elected delegates and put in his own appointees. Villagers had sent a complaint to Lublin, where the department dealing with local governments forwarded it to Radzyn for report. The president of the Radzyn County Rada had been deposed for his dictatorial action and a new president had been elected. "A very good man," said Potapczyk. "A peasant." The villagers had forwarded a vote of thanks saying: "Now we see that we are getting democracy in Poland."

In one of the rooms of the county building was a long line-up of peasants. They were receiving their title deeds to land since only a small proportion of the transfers had been made at the formal meeting the day before. There was still a question which nobody seemed to be asking. It might be a delicate question but the answer was needed in America. So I asked it.

"Where are all those former landowners?" I didn't suppose that anyone had kept track of them, but I wanted a general idea.

I got much more than I expected. Potapczyk, quite unembarrassed, replied: "Better ask Jan Zaorski. He's one of them and he'll tell you about the others. He's next door in the land department."

Strictly speaking, it was against the law that Zaorski, formerly owning four hundred acres, should remain in the county at all. Landowners were expected to leave lest they interfere with the land reform. But all laws have exceptions and Zaorski was an honest guy who knew so much about the farms of Radzyn County that the county wouldn't let him go. He was much at home in a room with three other county officials, each receiving a series of callers.

He was having a hot argument with two Polish Army officers as I entered. They bullied each other and shouted and finally clapped each other on the back and shook hands. I gathered that they were fighting over the transport of army grain. It was also clear that Zaorski knew his stuff; he took no back talk from anyone.

"I collect the food levies in this county and deliver the army's quota," he explained. "The peasants don't refuse the grain but transport is difficult. It's hard enough for a peasant to haul the grain to the county warehouse when he comes to market. I've just got them trained to that. Now the army wants the peasants to take it straight to their camp; they say they haven't the trucks. I'm making them take it from the warehouse. I can't check on the food deliveries if they're made all over the place. But I've made a concession to the army; they can draw their month's supply any time it comes handy instead of week by week. I didn't want to do it, for in less than a month I bet they'll be moving west and eating off another county. But after all it's from the same pot."

How did it happen that a former landlord was allowed to remain in an official capacity in this home county? Was he a member of one of the partisan bands or of the influential political parties? Zaorski replied in the negative.

"I'm a hundred per cent non-party but of course I'm known as a progressive democrat or they wouldn't have put me in. I helped the partisans with food and shelter. That was only being a patriotic Pole. I'm known here as an engineer and an agronom and perhaps as a man more interested in administrative problems than in private property. Besides my own former estate I had been receiver for several other estates here that went bankrupt and that had to be put on their feet. I am supposed to know how to make a farm succeed. At first they made me chief county agent. I refused this job because it included handling of the land reform. I told them that as a former landlord it wasn't proper for a man to hang himself. They put somebody else in to confiscate my estate while I took on questions of production and supply."

Zaorski had just finished his accounts with the Red Army. "They are very friendly and liberal in their accounting. They accepted receipts that I would never have taken as a private businessman." He explained that when units of the advancing army took food from the peasants they gave receipts, which were later honored by the Lublin authorities against the food deliveries.

"Some of these receipts are very informal. A peasant will turn in a paper bearing the words in handwriting: 'I, Lt. Ivan S., got a cow from so-and-so.' There is no seal, no address, not even the number of the division. The Red Army accepted these receipts as authentic since they knew that they had units in that area and that advance patrols are in a hurry and aren't giving numbers anyway."

Zaorski knew every farm and every former landowner in Radzyn County. He gave me a full survey. The confiscated land totaled 40,000 acres, of which 10,000 were woodland taken over by the forest reserve, leaving 30,000 to be divided among the peasants. The land had been reckoned in fifty-eight estates, but held under only twenty-eight separate ownerships. Eight of these – including the fourteen largest and best farms – were seized by the Germans during the occupation. Confiscation here was simple, for the Germans moved out as the Red Army moved in.

"There were thus a presumable twenty Polish landowners, but only six were actually in possession when the land reform came in," Zaorski summed up, adding as an afterthought: "That's including me."

The fate of the three largest Polish owned estates indicated what happened to landowners during the occupation. The largest estate in the county, 4300 acres, belonged to Milanow. The Germans threw the owner into a concentration camp where he died. His wife and children went to live with a married daughter across the Vistula. The estate was under an overseer when the new law came in.

The owner of the Rudenecz estate – 4100 acres – lived in Warsaw. "Where he is since the uprising nobody knows."

The third largest estate comprised 2000 acres. "The owner was a young fellow recently married and very much devoted to his bride. He left when he heard the guns of the front approaching. He was afraid for his wife."

Summing up the seventeen remaining Polish landowners, Zaorski stated that six had been jailed by the Germans, five went away "in the last twenty-four hours when our fate was being decided," and six remained on their land until ordered to leave. Two of the latter had been jailed for hindering the land reform.

"Those who were jailed by the Germans – can you tell me why?"

"Because they were Poles," shrugged Zaorski.

"And those who fled with the Germans? Do you also think them pro-German as charged in Lublin?"

"I hate to think that any Pole is really pro-German," said Zaorski, after a moment's thought. "That's too simple a way of putting a very complicated set of facts. Five years of German occupation winnowed out all conspicuous Poles. Those who openly opposed the Nazis landed in concentration camps. Those who compromised with the Nazis even a little became suspect in the eyes of Polish patriots. At the last moment when the front approached with inevitable casualties and chaos – well, it is hard in such a moment to decide what to do. Many perhaps fled in a moment of panic."

Thus he explained his fellow landowners. The fact remained that in that moment of panic some people stayed on their farms and others fled. The choice was made not perhaps in that moment but by actions during five years. In any event the land reform in Radzyn, as elsewhere in Poland, had been greatly simplified by the absence of most of the landowners.

Chill and exhaustion were setting in as I finished my talk with Zaorski. I had been too long in cold rooms. The ersatz morning coffee lacked my accustomed stimulus. After a skimpy lunch in an unheated restaurant I went back to Potapczyk's apartment; I was frozen to the bone. In overcoat and knitted cap I crawled into the feather bed.

Half waking some time later I was aware of someone in the room. Turning my head drowsily – I had no strength to raise it from the pillow – I saw through the mists of sleep a man in a sheepskin jacket and peasant cap, standing in the middle of the room with feet firmly planted, motionless, looking at me. He was of medium height, solidly built, with hair just beginning to turn gray and a dark, bristly chin. His face was that of a peasant, but also the face of a man who has known and survived everything that can be endured.

I wanted to talk with him, but only half succeeded. I was still drugged with sleep. He said something that sounded at the time like "I am the Rada Narodowa." This did not surprise me at all, for I was too dazed to remember that the Rada Narodowa was a council of fifty people and that probably he said he was its president. At the moment I thought he was really the Rada Narodowa incarnate in that room.

He said something about the different ways men had of looking at life and the world. Something about Americans having many illusions. "Here In Poland after five years of war we see things as they are." Or perhaps I should put it: "Here we see reality." It was the impact of his thought I got rather than exact words; then he was gone. I was still too exhausted to rise. Half an hour later I really awoke and wanted to find him or to know whether it had been a dream. At the county building I learned that the new president of the Rada – the one that Potapczyk said was "a good man, a peasant" – had come to town on some official business, dropped in at Potapczyk's to meet the American guest and, finding me sleeping, had gone back to his farm some fourteen miles away. He would not be returning, they thought, for several days.

Not in all my sojourn in Poland have I so wished to continue conversation with any man. Yet I did not choose to stay longer or to go to his farm to see him again. I had stayed over to talk with Colonel Szaniawski, for I wanted from him a story full of facts, in which time and the length of the interview counted. But with this man it was not length of time or number of facts that counted. It did not matter whether he had really said certain words or whether I had dreamed them. It was as if, in that half trance between sleep and wakefulness, I had met and known the essence of a man and of a county.

I understood now why Marian Potapczyk could be only vice-president of the Rada. Potapczyk was from Lodz. He had fought well for Radzyn; he would probably die for Radzyn. But this man was Radzyn itself. He was peasant Poland; not the dark, isolated peasant of the past but the peasant of today and tomorrow, acting and understanding.

Potapczyk came in a little later and his wife set out supper in the kitchen. I managed to consume the huge portion of cabbage-and-potato soup and some of the boiled potatoes – butterless, for that precious morning portion was gone. I balked at the raw chunks of fat-back that she pressed upon me as a delicacy. She saw through my pretense of eating and kept insisting that I was not taking enough.

Watching our friendly conflict, Potapczyk's eyes dwelt lovingly on his wife. "She wants that Americans should think Poles are nice people," he said with the ghost of a smile.

"And aren't they?" I smiled back.

To my surprise his face clouded. When he spoke it was slowly and with a deep sigh. "I also could wish you to think so." His eyes probed the ruins outside the window as he put the question: "Is that a nice town?"

Taken aback I sought for words. I said something about "heroic." He shook his head.

"It is a broken town." he said heavily. "It will take long to rebuild. But the breaking of the buildings is nothing to the breaking they did to the people."

In the silence that followed I recalled the afternoon visitor who had said: "We see things as they are." I was only writing about people in a land reform and a national reconstruction; I could indulge in fine words. Potapczyk had to fight in that reconstruction.

"We are people who hid in cellars. We are people who were slaves for five years. How do slaves live? Some by bribing or cheating their masters, some by selling the loot from murdered Jews, by selling their neighbors. Some escaped to the woods and fought. Many – and these were the best ones – died.

"Those men who took away my health, who were they? Peasants with big families, selling me perhaps to save their children, or ignorantly deceived. Some day we shall have time to weigh and judge them. Not now. They are not our chief danger. They are people with whom we have to build."

"What is your chief danger?" I asked, appalled. I thought of enemy spies, of graft in high places, of stark hunger and cold.

Potapczyk spoke slowly, considering: "I think it is those who believe we have won the victory already; that we can stop."

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