The special road to freedom by Bartek Mazur

Every Polish liberator had his own story about the route that brought them to the Netherlands. In ‘Five Prisons to Arnhem’ we are introduced to the story of Bartek Mazur. The book was published in the US in 2022, but is now also available in the Netherlands through Polen in Beeld and the Driel Polen Foundation*.

Common routes

There are roughly three common routes how our Polish liberators came west to join the parachute brigade or the armored division. First, after the autumn campaign of 1939, many soldiers emigrated to Romania and Hungary to travel to France to join the Polish armed forces. A second route followed Poles who were deported by the Soviet to labor and punishment camps deep in the Soviet Union. They were released after the Soviets also entered the Allied camp and then traveled via the Caucasus, Persia and Africa to the UK. The third route were the Poles who were unlucky enough to come to the west via German conscription or forced labor. They defected to the Allies as soon as they had the chance.

This story by Bartek Mazur takes a different route.

Past five prisons

Bartek Mazur grew up with a talent for languages ​​and the piano. His plans at the end of the lyceum were disrupted by the German invasion in 1939. In 1940 he heard that his father had been murdered as a political prisoner in Mauthausen. That makes him determined to get revenge. Together with two friends, he decides to travel through Germany to Switzerland to report to the Polish consulate there. Everything seems to be going well until they are arrested in Switzerland. Then his journey through the five prisons of the title begins. His journey takes him to France and Spain before the final confinement in the UK.

Bartek as a Lyceum student

As can be deduced from the title, that is not the end point. He joins the paratroop brigade and is deployed to Driel as part of Operation Market Garden.

The writer and his book

The book was written by Bartek Mazur himself who wanted to record his memories for his children. His daughter Edina showed the texts to a publisher who said: “You have a book!”. As we understood from the daughter, it still required some effort to convert the handwritten memoirs into a publishable text supported with images, but then there was the book.

And that effort pays off. It is a book that is pleasant to read with an attractive style. The writer, who became a psychiatrist and visual artist after the war, and his daugther as editor, find a good mix of memories and reflections on his experiences.

The handwritten memoirs and photos of Bartek in his uniform

The daughter’s foreword and afterword also strengthen the story with good additions. It is bizarre, as described in the foreword, that the Mazur family is sitting at the table when they think they hear their arrested father knocking on the door with his walking cane. Unfortunately he is not there and later this event turns out to correspond to the moment of death in Mauthausen.

Driel

Bartek and his best friend Sławek were part of the paratroopers who crossed the Rhine from Driel on the second attempt. When Bartek wanted to get in, the boat was full and his friend left for the fighting in Oosterbeek. Bartek stayed in Driel. When the battle in Oosterbeek was ended and troopswithdrew accros the Rhine, Sławek did not return from Oosterbeek. They only see each other again after the war.

The friends after the war in Scotland

Reflections

From the perspective of the writer himself, who as an aging man looks back on his young self, it could be called a ‘bildungsroman’ in literature, in addition to the ‘road trip’ that it also is. It is interesting to read how the psychiatrist analyzes an incident in Driel and how his feelings of revenge against the Germans developed.

Bartek wrote his last words after the 50th commemin 1994, where he saw his best friend Sławek from the war in Driel, whom he had lost sight of after 1953.

Friend meet again after some 40 years in 1994
Sławek (l) and Bartek in Poland

Want to read this story yourself?

Would you like to read Bartek Mazur’s experiences yourself? The English-language book is in the US available via Ebay (but comes with almost double the amount of shippingcosts.

In the Netherlands it is available for €25 at lectures that we give together with the Driel Polen Foundation. Can’t wait for that? Send an email via our contactform.

Please include your name and address in the Netherlands. For sending by post, we do charge an additional €5 to cover shipping costs. We will of course first send you an email explaining how you can pay for the book.

Photos courtesy of Edina Mazur
This article was first published in Dutch on Polen in Beeld.

Members of the Brigade from the Eastern Borderlands: The Ukrainian Connection

In 1944, the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade (1 SBSpad) landed near Oosterbeek and Driel as part of Operation Market Garden. The brigade’s men came from all over Poland or, to be precise, from the territory of the Second Polish Republic (image 1).

Shifting boundaries

After the invasion of Germany on September 1, 1939 and the Soviet Union on September 17, 1939, areas in the west and the east were annexed to Germany and the Soviet Union respectively. Naturally, the areas of the Soviet Union were occupied by the Germans in 1941 during the German attack on the Soviet Union. When Germany is defeated at the end of the war, the Soviet Union reclaims the territory conquered in 1939 and the areas are incorporated into the Soviet Socialist Republics of Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania. To compensate, areas of Germany in the west are becoming Polish (image 2). After some ‘corrections’ in the 1950s, the national borders as we know them were created.

This means that several members of the brigade come from areas that are now part of countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania or the Russian enclave around Kaliningrad to the north of Poland.

Victims from the Eastern Borderlands

In February 2023, Graham Francis published a list of the fallen Polish paratroopers who came from these areas in the newsletter of the Arnhem 1944 Fellowship. He entitled the article “The Ukrainian Connection.”

The list of 45* fallen soldiers includes the abbreviation KIA for ‘Killed in Action’, DoW for Died of Wounds, and AOWC for Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery, also known as ‘Airborne cemetery in Oosterbeek. View the list (in PDF).

Naturally, we received permission to reuse this list.

Total share in the brigade

At the end, Graham Francis makes the following observation: Of the 97 paratroopers killed, 45* are listed as coming from areas in the east that were no longer Polish after the war. 32 of them come from what is now Ukraine. He extrapolates this and concludes that of the total brigade, about 800 men come from these areas, of which about 560 come from areas in present-day Ukraine.

What remains unmentioned is that this also applies to General Sosabowski. He is originally from Stanisławów (nowadays Ivano-Frankivsk in Ukraine). An area that was part of the Austria-Hungary Empire when he was born in 1892.

Footnote

It is good to make a comment on all these analyses. The regions we are talking about were ethnically very diverse in the years before the Second World War. Only after the war, with the shifting of borders, did population movements follow, creating more homogeneous nation states. Of course, this also plays a role in the fact that the Jewish population group, which formed a substantial share of the population before the war, was largely wiped out in the Holocaust.

Illustrative of this is the map (image 3) with the various dominant ethnic groups on the territory of the Second Polish Republic. Also interesting is the article by journalist Pieter van Os who describes how people in the region when asked about their (ethnic) origin during a census in that period indicated that they did not identify with a nation state but with the region.

From the Eastern Borderlands to Arnhem

When Germany and the Soviet Union occupied Poland in October 1939, some of these paratroopers fled to Romania and Hungary. From there, many found their way to France and Great Britain to join the Polish army.

Another important part was deported by the Soviets to labourcamps deep in the Soviet Union. Those who were not killed or survived the hardships of the camps could only join the Polish army from 1941 when the Soviet Union entered the Allied camp after Germany’s attack. Some traveled a distance of 40,000 kilometers on their way to their deployment at Oosterbeek and Driel.

Image 1: Poland and its districts in 1930
Wikipedia: By XrysD – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0  

Image 2: The shifting borders after WW2
Wikipedia: By radek.s – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0    

Image 3: Etnic diversity in Poland in 1921:
https://www.edmaps.com/html/poland_1921_c.html

Oberdak, the Polish victim of Woeste Hoeve, remained forgotten for a long time

His name was unknown for a long time, Czesław Oberdak. After the mass execution at Woeste Hoeve in 1945 he was not identified. As an anonymous victim, he was buried first in Uchelen and then in Loenen until the journalist Richard Schuurman started looking after a letter from Czesław’s sister, Ludmilla Oberdak. Thanks to that search, this Polish airman was identified, his name is on the monument at Woeste Hoeve and his remains were buried in the family grave in Kraków in 2009. All this can be read in the book that Schuurman wrote ‘Spoor naar Woeste Hoeve’.

Oberdaks childhood dream ends at the Woeste Hoeve

Czesław Oberdak was born on July 20, 1921 in Kraków, Poland. There he grows up with his older sister, Ludmila, and a younger brother, Roman. His childhood dream is to become a pilot. In 1939 he started that dream at the Air Force School in Poznań. When the Germans invaded Poland in September 1939, he, like so many other Polish soldiers, fled Poland. He follows the route via Romania, Yugoslavia and Italy. In France he joins the Polish Air Force formed there in Lyon. His stay there is temporary. Most Poles were evacuated to the United Kingdom when France fell in June 1940, including Czesław.

How he becomes a fighter pilot and how he ends up as an anonymous victim of the mass execution at Woeste Hoeve for a long time can be read on his page.

One night, two Lancasters shot down over the Netherlands

On the night of June 12 to 13, 1944, eight Lancasters from the Polish 300 Squadron departed from Faldingworth airbase on a mission to Gelsenkirchen. A total of 286 bombers departed for this mission. Seventeen did not return that night, including three from 300 Squadron. Two of the Lancasters were shot down over the Netherlands. Of the 14 crew members, only one survives the crash.

Bomb aimer Morski from the Lancaster BH – C is captured. Flight engineer Bladowski washed ashore at Wijdenes and is buried there and later transferred to Breda. The other crew members were recovered during the salvage of the aircraft in May 2003 and were buried in a shared grave in Breda.

From Lancaster BH – K, wireless operator Pacula is MIA. The other crew members were found during 1944. Flight engineer Szeliga is buried in Elburg. Three crew members, tail gunner Bardzo, pilot Różański and turret gunner Wróblewski, first found a grave in Urk but were later reburied in Amersfoort, where bomb aimer Bakun and navigator Hahn are also buried. The photo accompanying this post shows Różański’s crew in June 1944, shortly before they were killed.

About the 300 Squadron: “Ziemi Mazowieckiej”

On June 28, 1940, the British Air Ministry sent an order to the 6th Bomb Group to form the first Polish bomber squadron No. 300. This started with the single-engine Fairey Battle. Later in the war they switched first to the twin-engine Wellington and finally to the four-engine Lancaster.

300 Squadron flew 3,891 missions, including 684 combat missions, dropping 10,712 tons of bombs. 15 German aircraft were destroyed or damaged during the fighting, with 79 own losses. 371 pilots were killed and 87 were captured. The squadron was disbanded on January 2, 1947. Of the 371 victims, 44 are buried in the Netherlands.

Crest 300 Squadron
Crest 300 Squadron

An extensive history of the squadron can be found on the Bomber Command Museum of Canada website. It also contains a passage about both of these bombers:

“LL807 was brought down by flak at the Dutch coast, probably from Texel, while outbound, and crashed into the Ijsselmeer with no survivors from the crew of F/L Rozanski. DV286 was on its way home when it was intercepted by a night fighter, and also crashed into the Ijsselmeer, killing F/S Rembecki and all but one of his crew. The bomb-aimer, P/O Morski, managed to drop through the escape hatch underneath him, and parachute to safety, and he was rescued by two Dutch fishermen, before being handed over to the Germans.” (pag 180).

Photos of the aircraft and crew can be found on pages 178 and 179.

More information about both aircraft

The site tudiegroep Luchtoorlog 1939-1945 writes the following about the crash of DV286:

“Lancaster DV286 took off from RAF Faldingworth at 11:20 PM for a bombing raid on the Nordstern synthetic oil plant at Gelsenkirchen, Germany. On its way home, while crossing the Dutch coast, it crashed in fire after being intercepted by night fighter pilot Leutnant Gottfried Hanneck of 6./NJG 1, who had taken off from Deelen airfield in a Bf 110G-4. Pilot P/O. B.F. Morski was rescued by two Dutch fishermen and later transferred to a German naval ship. Flight Engineer Sgt. F.S. Bladowski washed up at Wijdenes. The aircraft was recovered in May 2003 and the crew members were subsequently buried in Breda on October 25, 2003.”

Bladowski was buried on June 17, 1944, in Wijdenes and was later transferred from Wijdenes to Breda, where he rests in an individual grave. The five crew members recovered in 2003 are laid to rest in a communal grave.

Upon further research on the internet, it appears that the Aircraft Recovery Group Foundation has been involved in the recovery of the victims. On their website, there is an account of the search and photos of the recovery.

Since 2007, there has been a monument at Zuiderdijk 41 in Wijdenes in memory of the crew of this Lancaster.

Sources

The PDF of Bomber Command Museum of Canada can also be consulted on our site if the above link no longer works (in the long term).

Several photos of the squadron and crews can be found on the IWM website. The photos in this article are from this source.

Below is a Wellington from the squadron that did return to base.

After 78 years a name on a headstone: PLT. E Morchonowicz

Lance Sergeant (Plutonowy in Polish) Edward Morchonowicz from 8th Company 3rd Battalion of Polish 1st Independent Parachute brigade Group. In a pre war Poland he was since 1935 an NCO in 24th Uhlans (cavalry) Regiment in a city of Kraśnik.

Pre war and the September campaign of 1939

In 1938 he took part in seizing Zaolzie, from Czechs, which was occupied since 1920. In 1939 with his regiment he took part in battles against the Sovjets in [HK1] Jordanów-Kasina Wielka, Zegartowice, Leszczyna, Pcim, Głogów-Rzeszów-Łańcut, Radymno, Jaworów, Grzybowice and defence of Lwów. On 20th of September 1939 he crossed the border and was interned in Hungary.

On new years eve of 1940 he arrived in France and became a soldier of 1st Squadron of 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade. His unit didn’t take part in the French Campaign of April/may 1940. On 26th of June he arrived in England, becoming a soldier of 24th Uhlans Regiment (armoured).

Entering the brigade

In the beginning of 1942 he applied to the Parachute Brigade. As he was a very good instructor and soldier, his superiors refused him. He applied once again. They refuse him again. So he start to drink and behave like the worst one. For that he was demoted to the rank of Corporal and moved to 10th Dragons Battalion. Finally at the end of 1942 his superiors allow him to move to the parachute brigade.

Morchonowicz qualified as a paratrooper, para badge no 2669. Within one and a half year he regained his rank of Lance Sergeant, receiving very good opinions from his new superiors. His friends from the Para Brigade remembered him as a very cheerful and open person. His only disadvantage was that he stuttered while speaking. This disadvantage disappears when he sings and he sings often and plays the accordion.

Once, he disliked a newcomer in his platoon. Other soldiers ask him „Why do you scold him?” He replied, „Because he mocked me”. They told him „He didn’t mock you, he also stutter”. From this on they became friends.

The proud Wachmistrz

He was also remembered as a proud cavalry man. He tries to dress like a cavalryman, wearing despatch rider trousers and boots instead of battledress trousers and ammo boots. The soldiers he knew from his cavalry unit in Poland always said, „You’re not a rifleman, you’re parachute uhlan.” About himself „I’m not Sergeant, I’m parachute Wachmistrz (Sergeant in Polish cavalry, from German Wachtmeister)”.

In Driel and Oosterbeek

He was dropped in Driel on 21st of September from Dakota chalk number 75. On the night of 22nd/23rd of September with his 8th Company he crossed the Rhine in three dinghies, two 2-persons and one 4-persons, „borrowed” at the airfield from Americans. 36 of them crossed  the river that night.

On the morning of the 23rd they took positions by the pond on a crossroad of Benedendorpsweg and Kneppelhoutweg. After morning shelling he was found dead, receiving splinter wounds. He was the first victim from soldiers who crossed the Rhine. He was buried by his comrades 70 meters behind positions, as was stated in his battle burial report. Although he was identified by British authorities in 1945, until 2022 he had no known grave.

Rededication

According to research based on Polish and British military and CWGC documents he was buried as an unknown Polish soldier in the grave 18.A.1 in Oosterbeek War Cemetery. Posthumously he was awarded the Cross of Valor.

The tombstone on grave 18.A.1 was changed from ‘unknown Polish soldier’ in de summer of 2022 to the one with his name and details.

PLT.
E MORCHONOWICZ
3 BAON SPAD
23RD SEPTEMBER 1944 AGE 28

On Friday September the 15th 2023 a rededication ceremony was held.

Text, portret and photo fieldgrave via Mateusz Mroz. His research resulted in the rededication of the grave at the ‘Airborne cemetery’ in Oosterbeek. Pictures rededication via Stichting Driel-Polen.

All Saints’ Day: Candles at Polish Wargrave

On November 1st – All Saints’ Day – Poles visit cemeteries to place a candle at graves of their loved ones. In the Netherlands, this often means that on this day, lights are also lit at the graves of Poles who fought for our freedom.

With this message pictures taken at the war cemetery in Oosterbeek where all Polish graves had one or more lights. It remains an impressive sight.

Access Polish Graves in Oosterbeek improved

The Poles who died in September 1944 have been buried on the Oosterbeek War Cemetery. The Poles who were first buried in Driel near the church or in their field graves were also buried here in 1947. They lie at the back in a row left and right of the entrance. They are somewhat in the back and are often missed the moment you walk onto the cemetery.

The manager of the cemetery has now adjusted this. It is now possible to turn left and right immediately after the entrance and the space behind the two small buildings there is now more open. This makes the graves stand out more. Also, the grass field there now has a hard surface. This is because this spot under the trees was often wet, as can be seen from the green deposits on the graves themselves.

Below are two more photos and a short film impression that we made on this sunny day.

Video impression of the graves. More Poles are buried among the other graves, mostly on the south side of the field.

We are ‘live’ – September 16, Poles in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen

Our site ‘Polish War Graves’ is a fact. On the date that in 1944 the first Polish liberators of the Polish Armoured Division of general Maczek died in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, we publish our spin off from Polen in Beeld. We are still working hard ‘behind the scenes’ to make the site even better.

On September the 16th in 1944 the Polish troops crossed the Dutch border. One of the first to get killed was Jan Gąsiorowski. He died at Fort Ferdinand and was buried in the Kuwait Civil Cemetery. His grave can still be found there today.

© Polish Wargraves

The same day the division lost Bronisław Bucholz, two days short of his 20th birthday. His grave is found in Zuiddorpe.

© Polish Wargraves

Of the more than 500 Poles who found their last resting place in the Netherlands, the names of more than 150 have been included on this website and this number will grow. Currently you can those of the
1st Polish Armoured Division who died in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen and of the parachutebrigade who died during operation Market Garden.

Blogs on this website

This website centers around the victims and their graves so most stories will be published on their own, individual page.

We use this blog for other stories related to the Polish contribution in and above the Netherlands to the defeat against Nazi Germany and the liberate of the Netherlands.

On Polen in Beeld you can find many stories (in Dutch) that we published before this site saw the light of day. Those blogs are tagged with #Bevrijding, Tweede Wereldoorlog, #Driel44 and #Breda44.