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All That Was: Chapter Twenty-Six - Nearing The End

...I vividly recall hearing the special broadcast from London of Churchill's victory speech in French on his visit to free Paris. I was in tears amidst my rags and dusters.

Back in the kitchen the three of us celebrated the liberation of Paris after four years of Nazi occupation by smashing the largest china meat platter in the place; we had reserved it just for this occasion. For good measure S. threw a cooked potato at the ceiling. We apologized profusely to the enraged Cheffin for the 'accident.' We said that we had just bumped into each other while one of us was carrying the irreplaceable plate...

Lusia Przybyszewicz and her two Polish friends continue to "slave'' in a German hotel - with growing optimism as the tide of war turns decisively against the Nazis.

Lusia's memorable book All That Was can be obtained from her at PO 404 Vaucluse, NSW 2030, Australia ($25 Australian plus postage).

On 20th July, 1944, a bombshell shook the nation; an attempt had been made on Hitler's life. Though the attempt had been carefully planned, it went wrong. The Führer was singed by the blast, but only slightly hurt. The chief conspirators, the trusted Count von Stauffenberg, together with his aids, were soon captured and punished in the classic Nazi style.

That same day, together with everybody else in the hotel kitchen, I heard the news of the unsuccessful plot on the German radio. Without doubt this extraordinary special announcement stunned those around us. They were all visibly shaken. The staff as well as the guests all spoke in whispers.

The three of us were very conscious of possible consequences this event could have on foreigners. We tried to keep out of their way as much as possible. Our only real concern was frustration and a sense of bitter disappointment that the plot had failed to rid the world of this scourge. To reassure his Deutsches Volk, Hitler addressed the nation at 1:00 a.m. that night. It was not surprising that this time round his customary bravado failed to fully restore public confidence.

From then on his credibility was largely undermined. The failed coup gave the first clear signal to the German people that all was not as it seemed in their Reich. I detected a certain unease in our relatively restricted neighbourhood. The housewives went about their daily tasks, but they looked more despondent than ever. The hotel guests came down to breakfast tight-lipped. Even the late afternoon beer drinkers found very little to say in public.

Aware of the prevailing mood, we kept a very low profile during our working hours, giving vent to our elation only strictly within our trusted circle of friends. Together with them at least we could let our hair down and bubble over with glee.

We lived then through exceptionally turbulent times.

From the beginning of August 1944 rumours began to spread about the approaching liberation of France and Belgium. The Russians were making important inroads on the Eastern Front. By the middle of August their Summer Offensive led them to the border of East Prussia, into Finland, and on to the banks of the Vistula River, opposite Warsaw, then to oil-rich Rumania, and Bulgaria.

On top of that, in the same month Frau Hagemann received the news of her husband's imminent arrival on sick leave. He was granted a spell with his loved ones before leaving on his next assignment in the East. He had apparently been wounded somewhere in Poland, a fact which was not lost on us, of course. We redoubled our efforts of teaching little Winfried all the Polish national songs we could think of to help him welcome his daddy home.

Hans reappeared in the kitchen one day. In place of the familiar aloofness, we could detect nothing but strain in his pale face. A thick bandage wrapped around his skull completed the transformation. This new look of the dreaded SS-man made our day.

All the same, we were well aware of his foul mood. We remained impassive to the Germans around us. The situation called for extreme caution. One sure way of avoiding Hans's intimidating glare altogether was to make ourselves as scarce as possible.

Thankfully his intrusions into the kitchen were infrequent. During one of his inspections, as was his custom, he reminded us of our duties and responsibilities. He also directed us to keep away from his son. This utterance of suppressed rage was proof that the Polish tunes we had taught the child had produced their desired effect. We were delighted.

Nevertheless, for much of the time his menacing presence intensified our vulnerability. S., stooped over her bathtub of potatoes, asked me one day in Polish: 'Krysia, he is staring at me. Krysia, why is he staring so at me?' She was really terrified. Even though I was a bit scared myself, I tried to cheer her up. I replied: 'He probably fancies you.'

Looking back now at the period of Hans's 'second coming,' I believe that he must have been instrumental in his wife's decision to hire two more German girls to join our team. Thea, about 17 years old, was a simple, healthy-looking country girl, blessed with a blank, open face, light brown curly hair and an ungainly gait. She seemed amiable enough.
The second newcomer was another Agnes. Of German descent, she had been born in either Russia or the Ukraine. She qualified for the title of 'Volksdeutsch.' The Nazis took it upon themselves to 'rescue' all such German minorities from their eastern conquests and bring them home to work for the Fatherland. Agnes was tall, hefty, blond, and blue-eyed; she truly belonged on a poster celebrating the pure Aryan race. Accustomed to living in rather primitive conditions, she appeared ecstatic about her new job at the hotel.

It fell to the deep-voiced Maria to tutor the new Agnes in the art of waitressing. I was fascinated with the lengthy shoe-polishing demonstration at which Maria excelled. The resulting shine resembled a mirror. After the apprentice had absorbed all the instructions, she donned a black dress and the triangular starched white apron. The new waitress did the whole establishment proud.

Thea helped to serve at the bar or occasionally shared some odd jobs with R.
In no way did the latest arrivals contribute to reducing our own work load; rather they took us down a peg or two in status.

In hindsight it seems obvious to me that the hiring of the two 'blood' Germans was a contingency plan, devised by the Hagemanns out of concern for their own future safety. In the likelihood of a final Allied victory it would have been inconceivable to retain the services of the treacherous foreigners.

At the time we completely misread the early signs of an about-turn in our relations with our employers. We were in high spirits. We rejoiced in the enemy's defeats on all sides, and we were therefore less receptive to the overall subtle change in mood. After Hans was healed in body if not in spirit, he left us to return to his unit. We then grew increasingly cockier.

We would frequently extend our sacred half-hour break after lunch by altering the time on our alarm clock. Should the Cheffin admonished us, we would file down the stairs to the kitchen several minutes late, with S. in front brandishing the offending clock by way of defence.

When I cleaned the Gaststatte in the early morning, I took to wearing my unpolished black boots laced with different coloured strings. I moved around as noisily as I could, to cause the maximum disturbance to the early coffee drinkers. Banging my bucket against the chairs and tables, I would soak the wooden floors under the tables with my dripping mop, only just missing the guests' shoes. I found great enjoyment in playing so realistically the role of a dumb Polish maid. At times I even dared to turn up in the restaurant with rollers still in my hair. This charade probably more than fulfilled our guests' expectations.

Eventually the Cheffin told me to improve my general appearance.

One morning, I played a trick on R. I left my black boots outside of a guest room in alignment with all the others. Starting her shift at 5:00 a.m., she was still half asleep and did not recognize my boots. She polished them beautifully, together with all the others. When I came to thank her for a job well done, she nearly killed me.

In the meantime on the Western Front the Americans under General Patton's command, had landed on 30th July at Avranches (on the English Channel). He chased the Germans through Normandy to Orleans on the Loire and finally reached the river Seine, south of Paris.

By 23rd August the Americans had the 'Ville Lumiere' surrounded on all sides. On the 25th August, 1944, together with Gen. Jacques Leclerc's Free French Armoured Division, they captured the capital, which by then was already largely in the hands of the Resistance.

I vividly recall hearing the special broadcast from London of Churchill's victory speech in French on his visit to free Paris. I was in tears amidst my rags and dusters.

Back in the kitchen the three of us celebrated the liberation of Paris after four years of Nazi occupation by smashing the largest china meat platter in the place; we had reserved it just for this occasion. For good measure S. threw a cooked potato at the ceiling. We apologized profusely to the enraged Cheffin for the 'accident.' We said that we had just bumped into each other while one of us was carrying the irreplaceable plate.

The news from Paris created a state of frenzy in the French camp. Many boys had already been hiding in the neighbouring woods for some weeks in order to refrain from working for the Germans. Now their resistance stiffened further. Some of the daredevils amongst them were spoiling for a fight. The situation was explosive. Skirmishes broke out at the workplace and in the camps. The inadequate number of German security personnel could barely cope.

One Sunday afternoon I was waiting for Marcel in the grounds of the French camp with my 'P' exposed. I was unaware of a German officer patrolling the area. It was the perfect case of finding oneself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Without ceremony, he slapped me in the face with his gloved hand. It hurt, but I suffered the indignity in silence, retreating at a great pace, thanking God that I had gotten off so lightly.

By the end of August 1944, Montgomery's armies had liberated much of Belgium before capturing Verdun, surrounding Metz, and reaching the Moselle river. There they met up with the Franco-American forces which had landed on the French Riviera, and came up the Rhone Valley. The German losses were colossal.

On hearing the good news we could barely contain our excitement. We were ready to burst. With Hans gone any remnants of prudence were thrown to the winds. Our urge to defy authority reached its peak. We had to do something really mad to give expression to the general state of euphoria that gripped us all. The time was ripe for a gala victory celebration.

After many deliberations, we hit on the idea of smuggling our three Frenchmen into our private quarters at the hotel under the cloak of darkness. This had to be our most daring undertaking. Nothing less spectacular seemed to befit the occasion.

I must confess that now, as I attempt to describe this event at the age of 73, I find it impossible to rekindle the old spirit; however, I still remember the cloak-and-dagger operation with shivers down my spine.

At about 9:00 p.m. the three boys started off from a toilet window at the ground level and climbed the outside wall of the hotel. At that hour the German staff were all at the restaurant.

The Frenchmen reached the first floor where the guest rooms were located. They then used the stairs to come up to our room on the second floor. By then we occupied a considerably larger room than the original one which S. had tried to sanctify with the crucifix. The surreptitious nature of this whole setup constituted its main attraction. Moreover, the fact that it happened to be the one and only time in a whole year when we all managed to meet inside a proper house added a special aura to our rejoicing.

Though we were compelled to speak in whispers throughout the night, we were over the moon. We honoured the Allies' successes and our own unique togetherness with a small feast.

At about 5:00 a.m. the following morning the boys left undetected the same way they had come in.


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