Zwolen September ’39
From the late autumn 1938 together with the change in Polish-German relations the word „war” was more and more common in public. Even in Zwolen, a small Polish-Jewish town inhabited by a population of app. 9000, this mood became a pivotal feature. Local branches of the main social organisations – scouting, Sea and Colonial Union, Polish Red Cross, Antiaerial and Antichemical Weapon League, “Strzelec” Union – started suitable preparations. In August some of the Zwoleń police garrison were mobilised. On the 17th a Self-defence Committee was founded to watch over the situation, guard streets, telephone lines and wires, and to look for the German spies. The local German minority – so called “colonists” – behaved rather calmly, although two of them (the Gäde brothers) had been deported to Bereza Kartuska camp. When the mobilisation started ( August 30th) about 250-300 men – mostly Poles, but also Jews and even some Germans – left to join the army. Most of them returned home after the fights, but some fell, some became prisoners of war in Germany and the Soviet Union (officers and policemen died in 1940 executions), some via deportation to Siberia went with gen. Anders’ army to fight in Italy, and some even fought in Libya.
The first three days of war passed rather quietly. On the third day some bombs were dropped, by in an inhabited area. Crowds of refugees marched through Zwoleń toward the East, to cross Vistula. They were attacked by the German Luftwaffe.
According to the German orders, all towns west of Vistula were to be bombarded in order to unable or at least hamper the retreat of the Polish army behind Vistula. This is why Zwoleń and Załazy, a village on the road to the bridge in Puławy, were bombarded on the 6th of September (Zwoleń at least twice). The number of casualties was high – there are 39 identified persons, but it should be at least doubled (there are no data concerning the Jewish population). In the memories of the eyewitnesses there are preserved terrible pictures of mutilated, burnt bodies, lying without any care and harmed by animals. On the day all public institutions ceased to exist. Numerous inhabitants left the town and hid in the Osiny wood or in the neighbouring villages. Four Polish PZL P-11c fighters were shot down by German Messerschimdts in the vicinity of Zwoleń.
From the south the German columns advanced. On the 8th of September they clashed with the Polish troops near Ciepielów. The uneven fight lasted for few hours and resulted in destroying the Polish battalion – numerous prisoners of war were killed by the German soldiers. In the nearby town of Lipsko German soldiers burnt alive about 80 of Jews praying in their synagogue and killed a number of Poles, Jews and prisoners of war. Marching to Zwoleń in Sycyna they executed almost 20 persons as “spies”. To ease their advance, a Stuka squadron led by leut. Kurt Hartmann heavily bombarded Zwolen again on the 8th of September. This attack completely destroyed the city. As it was estimated in the winter of 1940, at least 75% of the town buildings disappeared.
But it was not the end. On the late evening that day German artillery shelling (lasting for an hour) hit the ruins again. Next day, the 9th of September, the Germans entered the city. For the next three days isolated fights took place north of Zwoleń.
Already in September German military administration started to rule in Zwoleń. First anti-Jewish laws were passed, there were introduced special courts, numerous forms of coercion (forced labour, requisition). All Jewish schools were closed, rudimentary Polish schools started to work in November.
The first underground activities also began. On the 11th of November flowers and candles suddenly came into view on the Zwoleń Unknown Soldier monument. Secretly the first conspirators collected weapons and sought for a contacts with other organisations. In the late autumn conspiracy in Zwoleń was a fact.
But the future was dark, full of fear, pain, hunger and suffering.