After our week in Paris, visiting a few galleries and showing Anna the Louvre, I planned that we would all travel on to London together and Anna and I would stay at a small private hotel in Holburn, near Tomasz and Max, for the autumn, rather than returning to Krakow. I came up with this plan only days before we left Vichy for Paris, because the newspapers were full of stories about the German army mobilising, and the failure of our Government to engage in planning the country’s defence. Even in my inexperienced view, Germany might decide at any time to attack us in Krakow. All the talk in Vichy was of war, and I felt it would be better to be close to the children, in the relative safety of London, rather than being divided at this time.
I made this decision alone, but whatever I felt about Otto’s behaviour, he was still my husband and on some level I still felt beholden to him. I felt obliged to check my plans with him first, against my intuitive judgement. Otto had told me he would be in Danzig on business throughout the second half of August, though I assumed it was because Maryla was there. In fact, she was at home, and he really was at the Danzig office. I telegraphed him with my proposal, and was somewhat taken aback by his terse response insisting that Anna and I return to Krakow immediately, leaving Tomasz and Max to travel back to London without us.
“Pack up the apartment and take Ania’s family with you to Naleczow where you will be safe. You must not remain in France. You will be safer at home.”
I was furious at his lack of consideration for my wishes, and his disregard for our safety. Why would it be better to be in Poland, when Germany had been focussed on the East, and not in Britain, with the English Channel between the children and Hitler? I would so much have liked to telephone him and have a sensible discussion about our plan, but it would have been impossible to get through in the circumstances. Besides, I’m sure I couldn’t have presented our case in a cool and calm way.
Looking back, I think his first concern must have been to bring as many of his family together in our home country as possible, but at the time I got his reply, I could only see selfishness in his demands. He wanted the apartment to be taken care of, and he was worried because he was parted from Maryla, though he wouldn’t say that.
When I met Olek, a few days later, it transpired that Otto was unable to return immediately from Danzig due to some problems with his travel papers, which he could have told me. I only found out after Anna and I had committed to our return, and so he was effectively leaving us alone in Poland while remaining in The Free State. At that point, I did really consider ignoring his telegraph, pretending even that it had not been delivered to the Georges Cinq, but I am fundamentally honest, and loyal, and I couldn’t bring myself to go against so firm a demand while staying married to him. I felt obliged to go along with his decision, and it was with reluctance that I booked our train tickets from Paris to Krakow via Berlin, on the Nord Express.
After I had booked the train I received another telegram from Danzig.
“I have decided to join my old regiment if possible and I leave for Rumania in the morning.”
That really added insult to injury! How could he demand my return to Poland only to absent himself with this hair-brained scheme to enlist? Whatever his view of my independence and capability in a crisis, he was responsible for our family and owed nothing to his regiment. We Jews must stick together. We are being assaulted with hatred. The regime in Germany is poisonous and it is shocking to see Hitler’s propaganda gaining momentum and support, even in other countries. Yes, we are Poles and proud of our nationality, but we are a family, and a race under threat, and we have to look after our own.
Besides, Otto was already in his mid-forties, and could not possibly be any use to his regiment. His place was at home, looking after the business in Krakow, not fighting a cause, which he’d shown little interest in before. It is over twenty years since he had anything to do with the Polish army, and from what little I know, they are not a strong defence against the might of Hitler. He’ll be killed as soon as he is on the battlefield! But I know that there is no reasoning with Otto when he has the bit between his teeth. He was clearly unhappy with my freedom while taking advantage of his own, without consultation. And where is Maryla in all this? I find it strange that he would leave her behind. I must approach Olek carefully to find out what he thinks of the plan.
After the second telegram, in my anger, I considered again ignoring Otto and travelling to London with the boys. I would have done so had he been on his way back to Krakow, because I could rely on him then to take care of the family in Poland, but now that he is planning on travelling to Rumania, and is clearly not prepared to take responsibility for his own in Poland, I know that I must return in order to find Ania and Paul at home, if they have not already moved to the country. It is so hard here in Paris to establish just how worried everyone is at home, but from what news I can glean, Hitler’s intentions are to invade Poland, and so are Stalin’s. The expectations of a German invasion, in the articles I read in Le Monde, are very disconcerting, and if they are true, Hitler’s forces will reach Krakow quickly from the eastern border. If Poland is facing two threats, with the Germans invading from the west and the Russians from the East, the Krakow Army is not going to be in a position to defend us against either advance, and the Carpathian Army, which has been defending our Eastern borders for months, is not going to get back quickly to help, if, that is, they dare to leave the border open to the massive Russian armies. I feel that I will be putting my head between the jaws of a fierce lion, like some circus performer.
According to this morning’s papers, the Germans and Russians have signed a pact in Moscow, not to fight one another. It surprised everyone, because we thought the Germans hated the Slavs, and didn’t their last agreement fall apart? And I must say that I understood Stalin was talking about a pact with France, which the newspapers were very positive about when we were in Vichy. It all feels so confusing that I am unable to look far enough ahead to make a decision. I feel that we just have to get on with our lives and leave these posturing madmen to decide what they want.
We seem now to be dependent on our agreement with Britain and France to protect us, but I don’t understand how they could possibly reach Poland quickly without aeroplanes, and especially with Germany in between us and them, to help us defend ourselves from both these powerful enemies? And what would happen to the people living in the middle?
It has not been easy to focus on the children these last few days, and on the beautiful art we have been seeing, when I fear that returning to Krakow will put us in the greatest danger. I have been tempted to discuss it with Tomasz, because he is a sensible young man, despite his mere eighteen years, but I see that he only hopes we will come to London, and doesn’t understand why Otto would demand our return to Poland. In his world, Otto is an unreasonable bully, so it’s not possible to have a rational discussion with him about this.