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All That Was: Chapter Twenty - Commerce And Boyfriends

…When the Flieger Alarm (air raids) siren sounded, the entire German staff descended to the hotel bunker (air shelter). It did not seem to matter that R. and I were responsible for maintaining it in perfect order at all times. The three Polish slaves were forbidden from sharing the bunker with the Germans, but the poor devils had no idea how severely they were being punished for this blunder! S. made it a habit to have a pee in the fresh water tank…

Lusia Przybyszewicz and two other Polish girls, slaves employed in a German hotel, fight back in subtle and unsubtle ways.

Lusia’s wonderfully readable book All That Was is available from her at PO 404 Vaucluse, NSW 2030, Australia ($25 Australian, plus postage).

By far the largest contingent of foreign workers at K.D. F. Stadt came from France. In the main they were recruited by Marechal Petain. He was a treacherous old fox. At that time, due to his distinguished career in the First World War, he still commanded the respect and the trust of many. After the capitulation of France on 22nd June, 1940, Petain became the leader of a puppet French Government. Its headquarters were located in the town of Vichy, in the south of the country not far from Lyon.

For the greater glory of France (as well as for his own no doubt) Petain felt morally compelled to collaborate with the Third Reich.

The early German conquests, the so-called 'Blitz Krieg', stalled by the end of 1942. To compensate for the gradual loss of Hitler's manpower Le Marechal organized the dispatch of thousands of young Frenchmen to work throughout the Reich. These Frenchmen were either collaborating with the enemy or unsuspecting and politically naïve, misguided as they enlisted in la J.O.F.T.A. (meaning more or less ‘Organisation des Jeunes Francais pour Travail en Allemagne’).

For the journey they were all issued with smart navy blue uniforms as well as with several portraits of their false idol. On their arrival in Germany they were earmarked for labour camps. There they were free to hang the likeness of their hero on the walls of their barracks.

After a while, however disillusioned they might have become with their lot, they lost their right to return home. They were trapped! Unwittingly they became part of the K.D.F. Stadt labour force.

Their humiliation was compounded by the presence of many former French soldiers of the now defunct French Army confined to the adjacent French prisoner-of-war camps.
It did not take long for the members of la J.O.F.T.A. to feel homesick, underfed and overworked at the Volkswagenwerk factory. The general resentment and mounting anger were fuelled still further by their unfamiliarity with the German language, a shortcoming which hampered their ability to communicate with their alleged 'allies'. Frustrated and demoralized, they often opted for passive resistance.
They dodged work by hiding in the woods, claiming sick leave after deliberately infecting their self-inflicted wounds (routinely by rubbing their skin with sand paper), stealing at work, engaging in black market operations, and so on.

By the time the four of us began to make commercial contact with the French, we had developed some projects of our own. I believe it began with Henia's idea of flogging some of the pharmacy sugar supplies in exchange for foodstuffs or clothing that she wanted. Her initiative gave me instant inspiration.
Spurred on by the recollection of some wild schemes and deceiving games played out in Warsaw, I decided to seek a plan, applicable in another context. What could be better than somehow making use of all the tobacco wasted in the myriads of cigarette butts which accumulated in the restaurant ashtrays? Up till now they ended up in the garbage bins every morning.

The logistics of the operation were very easy to grasp. With S.'s enthusiasm and moral support, the three of us swung into action almost immediately. Our supplies of raw material were inexhaustible. In the evenings, in our room, we cut off the black ends of each cigarette butt, tore off the remaining cigarette paper, mixed all of the tobacco thoroughly in a basin, sprinkled it with a little water to freshen it up, aired it well, then packed it into discarded cigar boxes.

When the large boxes were tied with a ribbon, they looked very presentable indeed. During my cleaning assignments I slowly introduced them to some carefully selected hotel guests as tobacco from Poland.

Cigarettes were severely rationed, and our merchandise became an instant hit with the Germans. We could barely keep up with the demand. After a while our malevolent trio had a home industry going, and we loved it! To so outwit our masters gave us immense pleasure, worth much more than the Reichmarks we earned.

In the interim the news of the sudden death of Fascism in Italy in late July ’43 resulted in the return to the Constitutional Monarchy. The Allied air raids on Kiel, Dortmund and especially Hamburg increased considerably. A Reversal of Fortune was in the air!

We secretly welcomed the familiar hum overhead of the impressive Anglo-American bomber formations on their way north. Their flights past grew ever more frequent and, therefore, more disruptive to daily life. At the early stage their targets were in the main the residential districts.
When the Flieger Alarm (air raids) siren sounded, the entire German staff descended to the hotel bunker (air shelter). It did not seem to matter that R. and I were responsible for maintaining it in perfect order at all times. The three Polish slaves were forbidden from sharing the bunker with the Germans, but the poor devils had no idea how severely they were being punished for this blunder! S. made it a habit to have a pee in the fresh water tank.

We frequently had to run for shelter to the nearby woods. S. suffered from agoraphobia. For this reason on each occasion R. and I had to drag her screaming across the large open clearing that terrified her so. We sought the safety of the forests. After a few very hectic minutes we found ourselves in a thick pine and fir tree grove. Most often we were in the company of other foreign workers. The weather was warm, and we all welcomed such distractions even though throughout 1943 our sorties were generally of short duration.

At the sound of the second siren we had to return immediately to our tasks, so rudely interrupted by a thoughtless enemy.
Throughout that summer I established contact with my father's former employees, Adolf Brauner and Mr Leszcynski. They were both still in Lodz. I also received letters from Halina N. from Warsaw. Moreover, she made me a winter coat out of a blanket.

Hania B. sent me a pair of homemade sandals. In turn I rummaged through the drawers of some of the bachelor guest rooms at the hotel in search of old socks and other items of clothing that I could pinch and send to Stasiek in his forsaken labour camp.

In July 1943 a new German offensive against the Soviets near the city of Kursk was going from bad to worse. By November of that year, after the fall of Kiev, the Russians were on their way to the Polish border. Hitler also lost the Battle of the Atlantic.

The German propaganda machine had great difficulty in hiding the awful truth from the duped population. The reports dished out by Goebbels deviated considerably from the London broadcasts I received daily.

Still K.D.F. Stadt itself remained unscathed and so battled on regardless. Our working routine did not change one iota. With the onset of the German autumn the weather grew chilly and the rains set in. Frau Hagemann was forever determined to impress the outsiders with her concerns for our appearance and well being. To our delight she decided to purchase raincoats for her 'drei Polinen'. They were made of excellent quality rubber, and displayed a uniformly checkered pattern in a variety of shades. She chose a red one for S., a yellow one for R., and a green one for me.

For years we had been deprived of any right or means to acquire new garments, and we were very suitably impressed with our Cheffin's generosity.

I have no doubt that the sight of the three of us together in our new raincoats with the added mauve and yellow 'P' adorning the right side of our bosoms must have offered the onlookers the liveliest splash of colour against the grey monotony of our surroundings. From a practical point of view, the new raincoat gave me a welcome protection from the elements whenever I had to trudge through mud and puddles, pulling along my cart of green produce.

In about September 1943, well before our first winter in Germany set in, I remember one day returning from an errand to find three young Frenchmen in front of the hotel. In very broken German they asked me about the sugar that Henia had for sale. They had heard the news on the grapevine. They told me they were ready to either pay for the
sugar or to exchange it for other goods. They seemed to have many articles for barter.

Very excited, I grabbed this very first opportunity to try out my schoolgirl French on the native speakers. They were obviously pleased, and this encouraged me even more. We made rapid arrangements for the exchange of merchandise at a particular time and at a location remote from German scrutiny. Thereupon they left.

In the long run this humble beginning added a new dimension to our lives. We could at last reach out beyond the realm of 'Am Hochenstein' and all it entailed and literally make money and friends elsewhere amongst our allies in spirit.
Before long, even on weekdays, the number of boys from la J.O.F.T.A. arriving in the vicinity of the hotel increased markedly. They turned up with offers of the most astonishing goods, some of which had been sent to them from France, and others which they had nicked at work. The trade was fast and furious. I bought a French tie to wear with my Sunday top, S. acquired some cosmetics, and Henia, stockings and more.
There were no German guards to be seen in town. The rest of the population was either working or indoors. Hence the risks of getting caught were not great, but we always took care and never produced our ware in public places.

We soon learned that the French missed their cigarettes more than almost anything else. The Gauloises were generally unobtainable, and we did not have the heart to sell them the ‘Polish’ tobacco. After all, they were on our side! We began to look for new solutions. The Frenchmen were also very eager to date us. Uncommonly, at K.D.F. Stadt their choice was very much more restricted than ours.

By the time we made up our minds as to who would be our boyfriends, in the true sense of the word, the icy winter was upon us. A thick blanket of snow covered everything. The absence of parks eliminated any chance of finding a secluded spot; there were no cafes, and no eating places were on offer other than our Gaststatte. Walking was impossible because of the extreme cold. And while we were wearing our 'P' we were forbidden to enter the town's only cinema.

To engage in a romantic encounter under those conditions was a real challenge. From a more practical angle the winter season inflicted some additional drudgery upon us. At 5:00 a.m. sharp R. had to light a fire in the coke stove in the cellar for the purpose of keeping up the hot steam in the central heating system. I was given an extra task of sweeping away mountains of snow, accumulated overnight on the steps and along the footpath in front of the Hotel. This was heavy work indeed.


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