Excerpt from “Borderlands Biography: Z. Anthony Kruszewski in Wartime Europe and Postwar America”
Although Kruszewski had convinced four other young Polish soldiers to escape from the camp, he had not planned on joining the Polish Armed Forces in the West.
Aware that the war was coming to an end and having been brought up with the conviction that the most important goal of young man is to study and gain a good education, he decided to head for a place where he could find help regarding his future life as a civilian.
Not yet seventeen years of age, he still felt more of a scout who had fought in the Warsaw Rising than a soldier.
The treatment he had received from the general and all the high-ranking officers in the officers' camp was effective in discouraging him from further military service. Being barely aware of his general whereabouts, he believed, above all, that he had to find his way out of north-western Germany.
He associated neighbouring Holland with the World Organisation of the Scout Movement to which, from the moment of its foundation in 1920, the Polish Scouting Association had belonged.
He erroneously thought that headquarters of this international organization was in Amsterdam.
In any case, that is where he decided to go, counting on people's kindliness and readiness to help a Polish scout.
From the Stalag at Sandbostel to Amsterdam, the young Poles had 350 km to conquer. Realizing that it would be easier to make the journey by bicycle rather than on foot, they did not hesitate to use the opportunities which presented themselves once they had left the camp.
On the road they met a group of German cyclists. Pretending that they had pistols under their coats and jackets, they stopped them and demanded they hand over their bicycles.
“We took these bicycles
and they were ready to hand them over,
despite the fact that it was they who had guns, not us.
They spoke to us civilly explaining that they had to get to Dortmund.
I knew German so I translated:
'We are civilians, allow us to take these bicycles,
we have to see our families.'
I don't know how it would have ended
but, luckily, at that moment,
a Canadian patrol appeared and arrested them.
And it turned out that they were fleeing SS men.
When they uncovered their arms,
they had tattooed numbers, and weapons in their breast pockets.”
The journey westwards, however, was not that easy. The terrain was marshy, full of rivers and drainage channels. Most of the bridges and part of the road network had been destroyed due to military action, as well as by the retreating Wehrmacht.
Many times, with their bicycles on their backs, they had to cross a variety of water courses, flooded roads and through mud. However, they did not throw away their newly gotten bicycles, hoping that once they had crossed the Dutch border, the road situation would significantly improve.
Author Beata Halicka, past professor of contemporary history at the University of Adam Mickiewicz in Poland, is an expert in 19th- and 20th-century East Central Europe, Polish diasporas, German-Polish relations, forced migrations and issues of border regions. She met Z. Anthony Kruszewski – a World War II Polish scout, prisoner of war and UTEP professor emeritus – at a Polish academic conference. She presented a lecture at UTEP in 2013, then returned as a visiting professor in 2016. Last fall, she released “Borderlands Biography: Z. Anthony Kruszewski in Wartime Europe and Postwar America.”
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