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All That Was: Chapter Thirty - A Walking Pig

...On one noteworthy occasion, as the Russians were returning to their camp from work in their usual military formation under escort, they managed to smuggle in a pig, dressed in the Soviet army uniform. A Russian prisoner on either side led the animal upright on its hind legs while they held it steady under its front legs. I actually witnessed this uproarious scene....

Lusia Przybyszewicz, now running the canteen in the Volkswagenwerk, sees sights that are gruesome and incidents that are hilarious in the final days of World War Two.

Lusia's book, All That Was, rich in detail, a glorious and shining record of the indomitability of the human spirit, is available from her at PO 404 Vaucluse, NSW 2030, Australia ($25 Australian plus postage).

Even in the final months of the war our masters maintained their iron grip over our destiny. Thanks to the natural inclination of the German psyche towards regimentation and discipline, our daily routines changed very little. We all continued to function as if nothing were the matter. In such an atmosphere of make-believe, if it were not for the air raids that continued unabated all over the country, the uninitiated and the gullible could have well missed the evident signs of an imminent defeat. The expert historians say that there were 42,000 such air raids from 21st March, 1945 onwards.

At the Volkswagenwerk we were all required to remain working at our posts, regardless. In the canteen the muffled drone of the Allied bombers flying on their countless missions above us became a normal occurrence. Neither were we ever evacuated from the barracks at night. Rumours had it that the Allies were aware of the huge numbers of foreign workers at the factory and that they made every attempt to spare us. Eventually, the factory was damaged, but, as far as I can recall, we sustained no casualties amongst the vast foreign contingent.

In the interim I made every effort to grasp the various intricacies of my new job. At a time when most of us were severely undernourished, it was a godsend to find myself suddenly in control of the most precious commodity: namely food.

At first I could not believe my luck. Soon however, with my confidence miraculously restored, my attention turned to the potential my new position offered for exploiting the system.

It did not take me long to perceive that corruption was already rife within the food distribution modus operandi. This corruption arose from the deprivations of the famished yet still intrepid foreign employees. It became my task to align myself with them in a very carefully conceived plan which would result in the delivery of some more exotic varieties of food to both Marcel and myself, as well as to the small circle of our emaciated friends.

In principle only the Nazi elite had access to such fare. Conversely, for me to obtain foods that were in short supply, such as: meat, smallgoods, or decent bread, required some very special skills and an imaginative mind. Securing a few additional helpings of soup, our staple diet, did not present any problem.

We fostered some pretty daring schemes to achieve our goals. Through long practice some fellows, especially those on the butchery team, were already well versed in the art of deception. In order to reduce the risk of our being caught to an absolute minimum, we just had to concentrate fully on synchronizing our every move. Once we ascertained that our proposed operations were foolproof, we began in earnest our systematic plunder of the kitchens' precious meat supplies.

On certain appointed days at a convenient moment during lunch break a trusted French meat worker delivered a tray of cooked meat morsels to me personally. In no way could we have possibly cooked anything for ourselves. By prior arrangement, as soon as the shipment arrived I passed the meat on to a few committed diners. They, in turn, cleverly concealed it in their clothing and smuggled it out to safer quarters. Most of the spoil was gobbled up at the earliest opportunity, but some of it we sold on the black market for cash.

We had no scales, so the German Wurst had to be measured with a ruler and marketed by the meter. Even the elusive German Speck (more or less bacon in large pieces) occasionally fell victim to our voracious scheme. Marcel was indeed a sight to behold the day he walked out of the canteen with a whole bacon in his trousers.

At the end of each week my responsibilities included presenting Herr Twelke with a list of workers eligible to have their Sunday off work. The supremo was bogged down by the volumes of documents and correspondence on his desk. He merely glanced at the page and quickly signed it. On the basis of the signed list the office then issued me with passes for everyone on it.

Paradoxically, even though I was in charge of the canteen, I was myself unfit to enjoy such a privilege; I was a Pole. In my state of chronic exhaustion this 'special treatment' which deprived me of any free Sundays was the last straw. At least once in a while I desperately needed some rest to recuperate from my heavy work load and long hours, not to mention all the strain related to our extracurricular activities.

I suffered patiently for a couple of Sundays before I finally decided to take a punt. On the eve of the third Sunday, I slipped my own name amongst others on the list. With some foreboding I offered it to Herr Twelke for signing. It worked like a charm! At the office I received my pass along with everyone else's. Once again, I had outwitted the system and it felt wonderful. As the canteen supplied no regular meals on Sundays, my absence went unnoticed. Valia cooperated fully, and I enjoyed a break.

As we were approaching the end of March 1945, the German defeats multiplied. On the 26th March, my Birthday, Frankfurt fell, followed by Manheim on the 29th. The days were getting longer again, and the cold grew slightly less intense. On my daily tramping expeditions across the sodden wasteland to and from work a new spectacle arose before my eyes.

Under the supervision of armed guards about forty males were engaged in digging a long deep trench. Their bald scalps enhanced that familiar gaunt look I learned to associate with a prolonged starvation regime. To make them even more conspicuous, they wore striped pajama-like outfits. These outfits, I learned only after the end of the war, constituted the essential part of the standard concentration camp garb.

With their bodies so wasted, they were barely able to handle the heavy shovels.No one was allowed anywhere near them, nor to make any eye contact with them. I heard a rumour that they were German inmates of Camp 21 (Ein und Zwanzig Lager). The name of the camp implied that the dissidents had twenty-one days in which to reform, from whatever offence they were supposed to have committed, if they wished to stay alive. The sight haunted us all.

Another sight nearby that was less gruesome on the scale of things was the Dutch camp, in which a large contingent of university students remained incarcerated. They must have been deported to the Reich around March 1944 after the official closure of universities throughout Holland. Their deportation might have been a reprisal for their refusal to sign a declaration of loyalty to their occupiers, headed by Reichskomissar Arthur Seyss-Inquart. The stern looking students could be seen pacing up and down their compound, deeply engrossed in their books.

The fact that food rations were shrinking, played havoc with most foreign workers. Even in the prisoner of war camps,things were not much better. The Russians in particular created several skirmishes by raiding neighbouring farms in search of food. Their stunts drew admiration from the more coy Western captives.

On one noteworthy occasion, as the Russians were returning to their camp from work in their usual military formation under escort, they managed to smuggle in a pig, dressed in the Soviet army uniform. A Russian prisoner on either side led the animal upright on its hind legs while they held it steady under its front legs. I actually witnessed this uproarious scene.

In my Stube the atmosphere remained also fairly tense. Hard work and little nourishment were taking their toll. Women grew short-tempered, quarrelsome or suspicious. Although I made every effort to keep out of trouble, on two occasions the unmentionable happened. In the middle of the night I fell down from my bunk, mattress and all, right on top of the concierge. Her deafening counterattack erupted into the most remarkable choice of expletives I have ever heard. No wonder the Poles claim the ability to swear for three hours without once repeating themselves.


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