To carry on as Scouts in Britain, a country at war and at bay, but whose frontiers were intact and unviolated, was a simple, if hard, task. How different was the situation in Europe. There, before 1941 was out, a ruthless tyrant wielding power ruthlessly h ad enslaved men from the North Cape to the Pyrenees, from Ushant to the dreary woods a few miles west of Moscow. Treading in its footsteps, a rickety page following a bad King Wenceslas, another tyrant sought to do likewise in Greece and Albania. Throughout that vast area all forms of Scouting were first forbidden, then fiercely suppressed. That the movement was maintained at all was remarkable enough, that it achieved what it did is a shining tribute to the soul of man. For Scouts all over Europe and, when Japan entered the struggle, over much of China, Malaya and the Far East generally, the motto "Be Prepared" had a peculiar and tragic significance. They had not only to be ready to meet the ordinary ups and downs of life, and to add to these the assaults o f the enemy in the form of bombs, as was the lot of the Scouts in Britain, they had also to be prepared for something far worse, far more subtle and more sinister, the attack, unflagging, insidious, deadly, of the Gestapo and the Kempetai. Therein lies the essential difference between the life of a Scout as lived in Britain or her Dominions during the war, and that endured in Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, Belgium, Holland, Greece, China, Malaya or any of the other countries occupied by Germany, Italy and Japan. All outward signs of association had to be most carefully concealed. The Scout salute, if made at all, had to be made furtively, quickly, with a careful look round beforehand to make sure that "they" were not watching. A "hike" had to be made alone, in ordinary clothes, and the secret rendezvous had to be reached alone. There was no cheerful chatter with friends upon the way, no songs, no arguments. The boy slipped along alone , fear, throttled by resolution, in his heart. "They" might be watching, "they" might stop him. He must not tell even his father and mother whither he was going.
That Scouting, essentially a way of life for boys in times of peace, could have achieved so much during a long and dreadful war is a tribute at once to its soundness and its resilience, and it is with feelings of wonder and thanksgiving that it can be recorded that in 1945 there was a far larger number of Scouts, active in Europe than 1940. During those five bitter years, Scouting in the nations beneath Germany’s heel became almost a religion. It was helped and encouraged by all good men and true-and there were many in every country-not only because of the strength and beauty of its principles, but also because it was in itself a strong and healthy antidote to the he insidious assaults of the various Nazi Youth Movements. These were, as it were, the reverse of the medal, the face of the demon peering between the pure, leaping flames. Many of the parents refused to encourage their boys to become "underground" Scouts, for the dangers were many and their love for them very great ; but if, despite them, their so n became such a Scout, they were careful to shut their eyes and to make no effort to stand in his way. Boy Scouts were therefore left free to follow their own conscience and to adopt the attitude dictated by them towards the power occupying their country. In practice this meant that since the Scout law and the Scout faith were, and are, almost identical with the ideals for which the Allies went to war-individual freedom, the right to live according to one’s own beliefs-there were very few Scouts who did not in fact belong to one resistance movement or another.
Of their work in these movements, the perils they ran, the triumphs they achieved, many records exist and on one point all reports, written and verbal, agree. The work done by Scouts in the underground movement could never have been carried out with the same dispatch and efficiency had it not been for their Scout training. This was invaluable. They were able, for example, to read maps with a speed and facility denied to other members of the movement who had not received such training. They were able to camp in the open, in all seasons of the year, in every kind of good or bad conditions of weather, without equipment or any of the usual aids to camping, and to thrive. Their indifference to hardship, or their toleration of it, can only be described as phenomenal. Above all, their training taught them to rely on their own brains and not to wait for orders which might never come. Self-reliance, development of the individual, that was what as Scouts they possessed to a marked degree. It is small wonder that Scouting was so frowned upon in countries governed by dictators.
But all the disguises the Scouts had to assume, all the steps they took to deceive their enemies, were for them part of the "great game," the game they had learned as Scouts and which they now played for stakes higher than those dreamed of by their founder . Many of them played it to the bitter end, all with skill and unselfishness. Here, then, country by country, are their stories.
Let us begin with Czechoslovakia, the first of the European countries to feel the lash of Hitler’s oppression. Germany seized a part of it in September,1938, and completed theft in March,1939. The Munich Agreement gave her Sudetenland, a country of wooded hills and valleys, in which camps for Scouts were almost too numerous. The whole countryside was ideal for Scouting and had long been used for that purpose by the large and well organized Scout movement in Czechoslovakia. During the six uneasy months which elapsed between September,1938, and March,1939, the Czech Scouts beheld with mounting indignation the overrunning of their favorite haunts by German youth, who had succeeded in extracting the technique of Scouting and in using it to found their own training for the battlefield. Then with the early spring came the total eclipse of Czechoslovakia. The shallow which had fallen upon the Sudetenland spread across the whole of the country and deepened into a black night which was to endure for six terrible years.
That day, the 15th March, there were many camp-fires burning in the hills and woods. Round them patrols of Czech Scouts had gathered, and with bitterness but no fear in their hearts they renewed their oaths. The only audience, the dark firs and pines round about them, heard the clear boy voices.
"On my honour and my conscience
I will Do my duty to my country, the Czechoslovak Republic,
I shall love her and I shall work for the Liberation of my Nation:
I shall obey the orders of my Scoutmaster and fulfil each of them without hesitation:
I shall love my brother Scouts whom I shall never betray, and I am ready to make the sacrifice of my life."
These were solemn words, more solemn on the lips of children faced suddenly with the problems of a man. They knew what was in store, for in their veins flowed the blood of the men of Bohemia who had fought so often for their freedom. Once more it was in jeopardy; already, indeed, it had been torn from them by the German invader. The oath they took that night, therefore, was in some respects almost a matter of routine. Their forefathers had taken many such and fulfilled them to the death. Now it was their turn.
Though the Germans did not immediately disband the Boy Scouts Association, they forbade the wearing of Scout uniforms and ordered that the national flags, flown at all Scout camps, should be hauled down and the Swastika substituted. At once the issue was joined, for the Czech Scouts had no intention of filling these demands. Outwardly they did so. Their uniforms were discarded and hidden when they were in the towns or villages, but once in the woods, out of pockets enlarged for the purpose by their mothers, and of rucksacks, came the scarves and badges of their calling. Where the buckle of the Scout belt had been wont to meet round their waists, a patch was sewn on so that they could slip the buckle of the belt beneath it should they encounter a German. Every camp had its national flag but it did not fly from a pole, nor did the Swastika. "How could they fly flags ?" said the Czech Scouts. "Had not the Germans forbidden the felling of trees? How, then, could they obtain the necessary poles?" Their oppressors muttered and grumbled but took no action, and in the meantime the flag of their country lay honoured upon the ground, to be instantly concealed when danger threatened.
In July,1940, it became acute. Without warning Scout camps all over Czechoslovakia were raided and disbanded by the German police. They were full of boys wearing the forbidden uniform, which since the raid had been cunningly planned and carefully executed, they had no time to conceal. The Germans were delighted. They ordered them to take of their uniforms. So it came about that one summer evening boys were seen going home in their hundreds clad in nothing but there underwear. The equipment this seized was handed over to the Hitler Jugend.
A pause ensued, and then in November the Boy Scout Association was made illegal and disbanded. Its headquarters, an old three-storied house in the centre of Prague, was taken over and bestowed on the same hated organisation. The Scouts went underground an d intensified the work they had begun in 1939. They held ever before them the precepts of the Scout Law, to which they gave the widest interpretation. The Fifth Law, for example, "A Scout is Courteous," they regarded as imposing a duty to guide strangers and show them the way if they were lost in an unknown place. Mindful of this, they applied it in their dealing with the numerous political refugees. These were being ruthlessly rounded up and thrown into concentration camps. The Scouts conveyed messages to many who were in danger and helped many more to escape. The only road to safety, and that was dubious, ran across the frontier to Poland or to Hungary. Scout Troops, manned by boys from villages near the border who knew the countryside intimately, organised a service of guides to take these fugitives across the mountains or beneath the earth through the workings of derelict coal-mines. These frontier Scouts became very expert. They knew every dog belonging to the frontier guards and how they were used, and, in taking avoiding action, they profited from the size and shape of the military boots which left so distinct a pattern on the ground.
Not only had political fugitives to be helped, there were many forced to stay behind, the families, for example, of the men who had been put in concentration camps. These, too, had to be succoured, and the task was dangerous. The Scouts went about collecting food and finding persons ready to look after the derelict children. They went further and provided food for the inmates of the camps. Among these, one situated in Moravia was populated mainly by hostages and the relatives of those known to have enlisted in the armies of countries fighting against Germany. A local Scout Troop organised a regular supply of smuggled food passed through or over the barbed wire during the night, and inaugurated a most efficient postal service.
To the inhabitants of Great Britain or America, who have had the good fortune not to experience occupation, the mentality of less fortunate human beings who have had to endure it may be hard to imagine. To live in a country where at any moment you or your relatives or your friends may be seized, flung into prison or behind barbed wire, or taken hundreds of miles away to forced labour, imposes a strain which at times is beyond endurance. So it was in Czechoslovakia, and it was in helping to relieve the strain that the Scouts, mindful of the Eighth Law (A Scout smiles and whistles under all difficulties) proved especially useful. They devised various methods of keeping up the spirits of the dejected, sullen, but stout-hearted inhabitants. Of these none was more effective or caused greater satisfaction than the perambulating orchestra formed by Boy Scouts in one small town. They moved about its streets playing upon various musical instruments. Every one in the place knew them for Scouts though they wore no uniforms or badge of any kind, and they lend a passionate ear to the melodies played, for they were of a special kind, old Czech tunes chosen for their patriotic meaning which, when heard, set a lump in the throat and a tear in the eye. To the clodhopping German infantry they were just tunes not very well played by a number of ragged small boys. To the Czechs they were the music of the spheres.
As the war went on and the Czech Underground Resistance became yet more active, the perils faced by the Scouts became greater and greater, as did the needs of the Partisans scattered throughout the country. To them the Scouts proved of the highest value. T hey collected food for them, delivered messages, gave them warnings. Sometimes they met with disaster. For example, a group of fifteen Scouts, of whom the youngest was only twelve years old, tried to get into touch with a number of Partisans, most of them, former Scouts, hiding in the Beskydy mountains. They needed food and means of communication. The Scouts were determined to supply them and were on the point of success when they were betrayed by a German evacuee who, because she spoke perfect Czech, had not been suspected by them. She gave away their hiding-place to the Gestapo. All fifteen were arrested and taken to the barracks at Tesin. There they joined eighty Poles and with them were marched to the cemetery. Here Poles and Scouts were handed spades an d ordered to dig a common grave. When it was completed the boys were taken apart, their hands bound brutally with barbed wire, and one by one they went over the edge of the pit, each receiving as he did so a bullet in the back of the head.
These Scouts were less fortunate than those who assisted Scouter S. after he had shot an SS trooper dead in the streets of Kladno. To kill a German was bad enough, but if he was a member of the SS, the crime was aggravated. Moreover, such a deed had put every German in uniform on his mettle. The police combed Kladno seeking S., and presently surrounded his house. S. fought his way out and succeeded in escaping to the mountains, where he lay hiding. Boy Scouts brought him food, and two Wolf Cubs, only ten years old, went each day into the woods ostensibly to pick wild strawberries but also to leave messages for S., warning him of the movements of the police. Every night he changed his lie-up for another found for him by the Scouts. Despite these precautions, after a few weeks the forest became too hot to hold him, for by then hundreds of German police, in a determined effort to avenge their dead colleague, were beginning to comb it from end to end. S. walked right through the cordon in the uniform of a German soldier, reached Prague and was about to lie low when he learned that the Germans knew that he was in the city and were about to search it from end to end. They did so, and most prominent among their ranks was S., who sought for himself high and low. Eventually, it being impossible for him to remain any longer in his own country, he made his way into that of the enemy and, posing as an enforced labour, reached Bavaria. Waiting his opportunity, he crossed the frontier into Switzerland, gained England, and joined a Czech squadron of the Royal Air Force with which he served until the end of the war. Then he went back to Kladno and met the to Wolf Cubs without whose help he would never have escaped. "They laughed sincerely as they talked about their adventures."
Scoutmaster M. was arrested with twenty-three boys of his Troop and questioned by the Gestapo. Unable to obtain any information, some of the boys were sent to a concentration camp, while M. was taken to Prague. On the way to Gestapo headquarters the car in which he was driving slowed down, and he leapt out of it at a point where the old town began. Through its narrow streets sped M., into one passage, out of another, through one old court over which the houses brooded, into a second. Putting on a spurt, he outdistanced the pursuers, and turning a corner ran full tilt into a young boy whom he called upon to help him. The boy was a Scout, hit him in a cellar while the Gestapo pack howled past, and eventually took him to the Scouts’ Troop room, situated in an old tower overlooking the river. There M. spent several weeks, and when the search came too close, took a small boat and sculled up and down the river while the Gestapo combed every house upon its banks. He remained in the Troop room long enough to grow a bear d, and thus disguised was able to make his way to Yugoslavia and then by devious routes to Russia, where he joined a Czechoslovak contingent and in due course returned triumphant to Prague.
The story of the three brothers, Eugen, Vladimir and John, ends more tragically. Eugen, prominent in the Czech Underground Movement, was arrested and executed in November,1942. Vladimir, who had fled the country at the outbreak of war and reached the Czech forces in England, learned of Eugen execution on the 14th December, 1939. "It was a terrible shock," he records in broken English in his diary. "There is a long row of boys who have been killed, all of them of my native town, my school-fellows and brother Scouts…. I walk like in dreams… But I cannot help…. Eugen, I will avenge you, I will." He did. He, too, eventually reached Russia and put himself in the forefront of the battle. Several times wounded and decorated, he eventually reached a spot close to his native town in the mountains and there he received his last and mortal wound. Carried to a hut, his dying gaze rested upon his native valley, and so he passed, content and at peace, four days before the unconditional surrender of his enemies. Of this family John alone is left. He escaped from a concentration camp and is now in charge of a Troop of Scouts.
In addition to helping fugitives from the Germans, persons in concentration camps and leaders of the Czech Underground, the Scouts did what they could to alleviate the sufferings of Czech workmen forcibly deported to factories in Germany, far from their homes and families. They maintained a constant service of letters to them which was so effective that, though these unhappy men were cut off from all that they held dear and subjected to constant bombing from the Royal Air Force, for they were working in factories sited in target areas, they never succumbed to German propaganda.
When, a few weeks before the end of the war the Germans carried out a mass migration of prisoners-of-war from east to west Czechoslovakia, Scouts near the German boundary kidnapped some sixty American prisoners-of-war who had arrived in an exhausted and starving condition, hid them in the woods and fed them till their compatriots arrived to find them alive and well, and conversing with their hosts by means of the American Indian sign language.
Mention has been made of the dogs which accompanied the German frontier guards. The Germans made great use of such dogs, not only to guard prisoners but also to carry messages under fire, and collected every dog they could find for training. The method use d was simple. A shot was fired over their heads. Any dog who, though it might be frightened, did not run away, was immediately pressed into service. Those who fled were left alone. It did not take the Czech Scouts long to discover this method of training ; they put every dog they could lay their hands on through a "re-schooling" course and succeeded very quickly in making cowards of them all.
Thus by divers means, some comical, some grim, but all effective, did the Scouts of Czechoslovakia maintain resistance to the enemy, and in so doing upheld the glorious tradition of their country and of their calling. They did so at no little cost, 397 losing their lives in concentration camps, in street fighting, in torture chambers, and 137 in the air or upon the field of battle. When the end came at last how full were those who survived of joy and hope. "I was lucky enough," writes one of them in June, 1947, "to get as far as Prague last week for a couple of nights and to have a look at Scouting there. Everywhere I went, in the American Zone and the Russian Zone, I saw plenty of Scouts in uniform and boys and girls at work. Scouts were very active in the days of the fighting in Prague, the leaders of the Underground were mainly Scouts and former Scouters. The boys built barricades in the streets of the city (there were such on each crossway), the girls worked in hospitals and nurseries…. The main activity of the Scouts after the fighting ceased in the streets (where many of them, and all grown-ups, took part) was mostly dispatch service because the telephone service was partly disorganised and the lines destroyed…. Scouts into the occupied Czechoslovakia went through fire. They had to use all means to keep their living underground, they had to learn lying, dissimulation, to play different tricks…. But in spite of all this, when the irons were broken and new freedom came to rule over the country, thousands of Troops emerged out of the Underground. The hearts were clean and full of enthusiasm…."
That joyful day inaugurated a new era of happiness. It lasted not quite three years. Then, on the 24th February, 1948, without any consultation with the Scout Leaders of Czechoslovakia, her newly-formed Communist Government announced that the Boy Scout Association was to be affiliated to one of the Communist Action Committees. On the next day, led by a traitor, a number of men, very few of them ex-Scouts, marched to Scout headquarters in Prague at the head of police armed with tommy-guns, occupied the buildings and thrust out the Chief Scout and his staff. Similar steps were taken in the Provinces. The curtain of the dark fell once more.
The keynote to the character of a Pole is patriotism. There is a saying in that country that a child sucks in love of Poland with its mother milk. The reason is not far to seek. Poland has been partitioned by her neighbors four times. Safe for a short period after the First World War, during which she was rent this internal dissensions, she has never been allowed to govern herself for more than two centuries. It is not, therefore, altogether surprising that the Poles are strongly nationalists, and when Hitler armies overran their country in the autumn of 1939, that they should have formed the fiercest of all Underground movements. It was joined as one man by the Scouts. Scoutmasters in other countries might have tried, and did try, to restrain the boys committed to their charge and prevent them from exposing themselves to the same risks as those run by the older members of the community. No such attempted restraint was made in Poland, nor would the Polish boys have understood it had it been made. Each and all worked this a selfless devotion for the cause of their country.
The vitality of Scouting has always been a characteristic of the movement in Poland. Troops, Groups, Patrols, Rover Crews, Lone Scouts, seemed to spring up spontaneously everywhere. In the war they were to be found in prisoner-of-war and concentration camp s, in the forests of Siberia, in the Polish settlements scattered over Africa, India, New Zealand, Mexico, England, Scotland and France, but especially in tortured Poland herself. There the part played by Scouts in the Underground Movement cannot be exaggerated. From its beginning Scouts became members of the Polish Home Army, that secret force which defied the Germans and fought them from the day Poland was overrun until the day of victory. It was one of the grimmest armies the world has ever known. No quarter was asked or given on either side. The battleground was the homes of the men in its ranks, their weapons those snatched from the enemy or manufactured in secret, or, most subtle of all, books and newspapers printed by stealth and distributed with uncanny skill.
Of this army the Polish Scouts were the Scouts, moving everywhere, collecting information, distributing orders, harassing the Germans. Side by side with these activities went on the normal pursuits of Scouting. Somehow, somewhere, despite the police, the routine training was carried on. Through all those years, there were three Polands: the western part forcibly absorbed into Germany, the central part governed by a German governor, and Underground Poland covering the whole territory populated by people working, thinking, fighting, laughing, weeping, living, in fact, a full Polish life. Among these, the Scouts were here, there and everywhere, at one moment teaching a Tenderfoot to tie knots, at another derailing a train or ambushing a German patrol. Let the story of Wojtek and Czarny-these are not their real names-give a picture of this strange, fantastic, perilous existence.
Intimate friends, they belonged to the "Beeches" Patrol, so called because its members were accustomed to make expeditions every year in summer into the beech forests near their homes. They came from different social classes. Wojtek father was a rich industrialist, Czarny was the son of a peasant. In due course Wojtek became the head of a group of boys known as "The Five," who achieved fame among their fellows by the skill with which they climbed the peaks of the Tatras, and their prowess on skis. Czarny was a technician and could build a bridge, or a hut better than any one else.
Later passed these blended summer of 1939 in the woods, but the shadow of war lay heavily upon the land, and in September when it broke out, both boys left for the east, but soon returned to Warsaw. Here, Wojtek father was arrested and six months later shot. From that moment Wojtek determined to fight the Germans by any and every weapon. In this design he was joined by Czarny and The Five. They edited a secret newspaper, The Polish Call, they defaced German posters, they flung vomit bombs into luxury restaurants, patronised by the German troops of occupation, they broke the windows of collaborators. All these activities were but small beer. In carrying them on the young men were putting their Scout training to perverted use, but were at the same time helping their fellow countrymen to bear an oppression which daily grew in stature till it culminated in an orgy of terror.
In November,1942, the era of the Polish partisans opened in earnest and among the first to join them were Wojtek, Czarny and their friends. After a short course of training, Czarny performed his first task, blowing up a German train with mines made by himself in his flat. It soon became a place of refuge for his friend Wojtek, who had suffered arrest but had escaped almost at once by jumping from the lorry taking him to prison. In a few weeks, from high-spirited boys playing a dangerous game in a light- hearted manner, they developed into cunning and resolute secret soldiers. They collected arms, they blew up trains, they waylaid officers and men of the Wermacht. Wojtek was the leader, Czarny the resourceful aide. The pace was too hot to last long. Before three months were out, Czarny whereabouts had been betrayed by a friend who broke down under torture and he was arrested.
For two days the was ruthlessly tortured, sometimes in the presence of the man who had betrayed in and who was himself almost in extremis from the same cause. Never a word did Czarny utter, and finally, losing patience, the Gestapo examiner ordered him to be beaten to death.
In the meantime, Wotjek outside was organising his rescue. The first attempt failed, but the second succeeded, the lorry in which Czarny, still just alive, was being conveyed back to prison from Gestapo headquarters, being ambushed by Wotjek and his men. I n the fight Wotjek was mortally wounded. Two days later he died. His last words were for Czarny, his friend.
Czarny, too, was dying in another part of the city, dying of multiple wounds and exhaustion. He died slowly and in great pain. Yet he was full of happiness and continued to joke and laugh with his friends to the end. His last words, spoken from blue and bloodless lips, where that verse of Slowacki:
"I implore the still living not to lose hope,
But, when the time comes, to go forth to their death
Like stones thrown by God upon a great rampart."
So he passed to join his friend, who died at the same hour and upon the same day. They were twenty-two years of age. The Poles, if their own estimate of themselves is to be believed, are not a people much given to humour. They have suffered too much and, inevitably, they take life seriously. From the beginning the basis of Scouting in that country was a moral, a Christian basis, and the Tenth Scout Law-a Scout is clean in thought, word and deed-became an Eleventh Commandment to, all who joined. Paradoxical though it may seem, Scouting was at once a strengthening of family ties and a substitute for them. To be a Scout was to love, honour and respect the family of which he was a unit, but if that family were destroyed-and in Poland the number which suffered this fate must be counted not in tens but in hundreds of thousands-then there was a larger family to which the Scout belonged by virtue of the oaths he had taken, the uniform he had once worn. The great family of Scouts, millions strong, became his family, t heir joys his joys, their sorrows his sorrows, their achievements his achievements. More than in any other country was this aspect of Scouting, foreseen indeed by its founder but applied by him rather to the socially poor and backward than to the youth of an oppressed nation, emphasized in Poland. There the need to maintain some kind of family spirit, in order to oppose in every possible way the assumption by the State of all the functions of family life, was paramount. The difficulties under the brutal and savage heel of Germany were enormous, none greater than in the field of education. The occupation of Poland destroyed in a matter of days the work of years. Before many months were out, all schools for boys over twelve years of age had been closed save for a very small number of technical training colleges. Only Poles who would consent to work with the conqueror, and their number was negligible, could obtain education.
It was at this great moment of crisis that the Polish children rose above the level of their fate. An elaborate, patchy, but astonishingly vigorous system of "underground" education was constructed and its growth and maintenance were insured by the children themselves. "The whining schoolboy with his satchel and shining morning face creeping like a snail unwillingly to school" was not to be found in Poland. Boys and girls went to their secret schools with an eagerness which would have confounded Tom Brown, and astonished the School Certificate examiners. The schools themselves were run by Troop Leaders, the pupils being the Scouts of the Troop. Organised groups met at the houses of professors, and thus through Scouting a network of teachers and learners spread all over the country. Since the Germans would not allow more than three people to meet together in any one place, the greatest care had to be taken. Were one of these clandestine schools to be discovered, even if those attending it were but found in the streets in possession of school books, punishment, swift and immediate, fell upon them all. Schoolmaster and pupil alike were sent to Germany to forced labour. The classes had, therefore, to be divided into two. One-half were at their books while the other half were on sentry-go. "Some of my small boys"-it is a Polish professor speaking-"would stand on guard hiding outside the house in which I was taking my class. When one of them saw a soldier approaching he would cough, or knock against a wall with his feet, or make some other predetermined noise. He would then approach the soldier and try to get into talk with him, while his companion-for those on watch always worked in pairs-ran back to tell the class that danger threatened. This required great courage from the very young, and they showed it." Scenes such as this were enacted daily for years all over Poland. It was surely the hardest schooling the world has ever known. One phenomenon became immediately apparent and remained so. No punishment were necessary, nor was there ever a lack of discipline. Each child knew the risks involved and strove manfully to acquire all the knowledge available. Secret education was only one of many activities which the Polish Scouts tenaciously pursued. There were others which, as the war went on, grew greater and greater. In addition to petty sabotage practiced by boys like Wotjek and Czarny there was, for instance, the huge underground newspaper organization, run very largely by Scouts and former Scouts, responsible for the printing and delivering of clandestine news-sheets and the maintenance of secret wireless communication with the Allies. There were the athletic clubs, founded ostensibly for the organisation of sports, in reality for the promotion of resistance. And then, w hen open revolt broke out in Warsaw in 1944, there were the famous Scouts and Guides of the Home Army, citizens of the fighting city, Zoska, Parasol, Wigry and the rest, who crawled through miles and miles of sewers delivering messages and letters of hope and comfort. These young postmen were known as Messengers of Joy, and they brought hope and comfort to citizens whose children, boy and girl, were manning the barricades. The knowledge that they had died fighting for their country was a certain solace. Bad news, even the worst, was better than no news. Surely Baden-Powell great game has never been played in conditions so grim, so heroic.
As the war went on, the difficulties of recruiting men and women suitable for the training of Scouts increased. Forced labour, massacre, the casualties of battle, had thinned the numbers of those eligible by reason of age and education to carry out this task. So important was it that secret schools for the training of Scoutmasters were established in half-ruined Warsaw, in the forests near Lublin, in the mountains of the Carpathians, in the fields of Mazowsze. Here picked candidates came for instruction and were visited regularly by the Scout Commissioners of the district. The course lasted a few days, sometimes only a weekend, but the Scout training was vigorous and intensive, including the games and sports beloved of peaceful days, and that centre of Scout activity, the Camp-Fire. At these places those who taught and those who learned could forget for a brief moment the domination of a foreign race, and translate haltingly and slowly, but none the less surely, their dreams of freedom into action.
Returning comforted to the hardships of their everyday lives, they put into practice what they had learned in the quiet woods and the high mountain glades. Some worked undetected for months. Others were not so fortunate. Of these, the most revered, perhaps , was Stanizlaus Sedlacek, one of the first Poles to become a Scout, and for many years the National Commissioner of Poland. Returning from a visit to the Scoutmasters schools, this man of sixty, the translator of Baden-Powell’s Aids to Scoutmastership, was seized and thrown into the terrible camp at Oswiciem. Sedlacek made no effort to conceal his identity or the nature of his calling, and the German guards determined to make an example of an and to break his spirit. With a number of others he was ordered t o load heavy iron bars on to lorries, and as soon as the loading had been completed, to off-load them again. This form of torture-for it was nothing else-endured throughout the day, and whenever Sedlacek paused overcome with weariness, he was kicked on the head and in the stomach until he lost consciousness. He was then revived by a bucket of cold water and kicked again. He endured this treatment from dawn to dusk and paraded the next day with the rest, miserably weak and ill. But "his eyes were bright and cheerful," records one who suffered with him and who survived. He was even able to smile as he bent once more to his senseless labours, but before long his legs refused their office and he fell down. "A guard seized one of the iron bars and struck the half -conscious man on the head once, twice and again. He then threw away the piece of iron all red with blood. A big dog from the camp came near and licked the hot blood steaming in the frosty air." This happened at the beginning of December, 1941.
The production and distribution of clandestine newspapers and news bulletins was, as has already been said, work in which the Scouts of Poland played a most important part. The circulation of the copies printed in secret was at once monotonous and dangerous, the first because after a few days the "newsboy," usually a Scout, was apt to forget there was any danger in his calling and ceased, therefore, to be exhilarated by his daily task, carried out in all weathers, of walking miles and miles through unkempt streets, climbing endless stairs, often carrying heavy parcels to the "points" at which they were split into smaller parcels and eventually distributed to individual persons. Punctuality was vital, for the parcels, particularly the large parcels of illegal newspapers, could not be allowed to lie in any one spot, a flat, an office, or a cellar, for more than a few hours lest they be discovered, with the inevitable fatal consequences. Moreover, the newsboys had to deliver each copy of the information bulletin to each client at a particular hour to make certain that there would be someone there to take in the paper. It could not just be thrust beneath the door and left. When it is recalled that fifty thousand copies of the Information Bulletin were eventually printed and distributed all over Poland, the unspectacular day-to-day achievement of the Scouts will be appreciated.
Sometimes the paper was in itself a form of protection. A little boy, Mis, encountered a German patrol when he was carrying ten copies of the bulletin. The three large Germans comprising it searched him on the spot and it did not take them long to find the incriminating news-sheets. Though none of the Germans could read Polish they could easily understand the meaning of those small sheets with their caricatures. Held in the grasp of one of them, Mis stood rigid trying not to tremble. The day before, they ha d arrested Zbyszek, a week before that, Antek. Now it was his turn. Suddenly the grip on his shoulder relaxed. The man examining the bulletins thrust them hurriedly into Mis’s hands and all three Germans took hastily to their heels, breaking into a run as they reached the corner of the street. Amazed, Mis looked round and saw coming towards him six young Poles walking with their hands in their jacket pockets. Seeing his astonishment they stopped and asked him what was the matter. He explained and showed the m the bulletins which the Germans had returned to him. They all began to laugh, for they realised at once why the Germans had fled. Seeing them walking with their hands in their side-pockets, the Germans had mistaken them for members of the Underground army shadowing Mis, whom they doubtless supposed to be one of the army’s messengers. It was the practice to give escort to a messenger carrying important papers, and the Germans had no wish to come to blows with such desperate men.
In the summer of 1943, in an effort to tighten their slipping control of the situation, the Germans developed the practice of surrounding a number of streets in each city and then searching every house, cellar and attic in the area thus cut off. On occasion they achieved considerable success, particularly at the beginning when their raids were unexpected, and by this means they acquired considerable stocks of black-market food, used mostly as rations for the Underground Movement, and also of compromising material of which the main haul was the Information Bulletin. One warm morning in July, 1943, Scouter Wojtek [not to be confused with that other Wojtek who had laid down his life for his country three months before] was on his way to collect the latest issue for dispatch to all the main towns of Poland, when a passing newsboy whispered in his ear the single word "Lapanka." This was Polish Underground army slang, and meant that the Germans were out, raiding. Moving forward cautiously, Wojtek soon discovered that the area cut off for search included Kowelska Street, where the flat containing the edition of the bulletin was situated. He went at once to the street and found the liaison officer, a girl named Gena, awaiting him. She was very nervous and told him that the Gestapo, who had already removed three lorry-loads of people from other houses, would reach the flat in half an hour at the most. Wojtek summoned a fourteen-year-old Scout, one Edek, ordered him to buy a large bunch of flowers and a pound of apples, and then to take a cab and go at once to the flat. The boy made off to the shops, Wojtek with Gena to the flat. They had no difficulty in entering, for the Germans cared not who went into the cordoned area; they were concerned only with those who emerged from it. Wojtek and Gena hastily packed the edition of the bulletin into two large suitcases always kept handy for the purpose, and had just finished their task when the cab, carrying young Edek with his bunch of flowers and his apples, arrived. Down the stairs went Wojtek and Gena, a heavy suitcase in one hand, an apple in the other. They were laughing, for, said Wojtek as they reached the door of the street, "You must remember, Gena, that we have just been married and are now going on our honeymoon. How heavy our luggage is." Hoisting the suitcases on to the cab, they climbed on board amid the cheers of the neighbours, Gena clutching the bridal bouquet bought by Edek. Five German soldiers appeared at that moment from a nearby house and stopped the cab. Wojtek explained the situation. "These suitcases," he said, "have already been searched. I am off on my honeymoon. Surely you have not the heart-"The Germans waved them forward. That evening the edition was safely dispatched to its many destinations. It is pleasant to record that Wojtek and Gena were married in fact as well as in make-believe. A child, Chris, was subsequently born to them, but it was not until after Wojtek, captured in the Warsaw rising, had been released from a German prisoner-of-war camp when war was over, that he first saw his son.
It was during the fierce and terrible siege of Warsaw in 1944 that the Scouts and Guides in the city sent a secret emissary with a message to their brothers and sisters in England. In its most significant passage it recalled that the Scouts in Poland were brought up on the same unaltered principles of Scouting as those which were followed by British Scouts. "All Scout movements," it ran, "share the responsibility for international Scouting as well as for each separate movement in every country. They should not limit themselves to their mother country alone," and it went on to say that the Polish Scout Movement was based on the Law and the Promise as enunciated by Baden-Powell and that they had always stood firmly by these principles in spite of nearly five y ears of underground fighting. It was their intention to remain true to them to the end.
After sixty-three days of bitter fighting, the insurrection was crushed, and on the 3rd October, 1944, Warsaw fell for the second time. It was a cold, grey day, and in a house in Wilcza Street more than a hundred Scouts and Guides had gathered together. They knew it well, for some of them had helped in the hospital which had once been set up there. Now all that remained was a skeleton of scarred brick and mortar. A few were Scoutmasters who had commanded Scout units in the Home Army, but the great majority of that silent band was made up of boys and girls from the age of twelve upwards, all of whom had been heavily engaged in the fighting. They had carried messages, manned first-aid posts and fire parties, looked after homeless children, operated the Scout post office, printed and delivered newspapers, sung songs to divert terrified civilians hidden in the cellars during a bombardment, cooked for the army. There they stood in a semi-circle in the ruins of their city, and of their number forty that morning were decorated with the Cross of Merit and the Cross of Gallantry by the Chief Commissioner. He made no speech, nor was there any farewell. All who were met there in "the terrible silence of the ruins" knew that in all human probability they would never see each other again, but they were not dismayed. "Slowly and majestically they recited the Scout Promise which meant so much to them. They all understood that service to God, to Poland and to their fellow-men would show them the right way to follow, whatever might befall them." So they remained a moment amid the broken houses, breathing for the last time the smoke-laden air of the burning city. Then they sang the Polish National Anthem and with a desperate act of faith told each other that Poland still lived, would always live. "Czuwaj," Be Prepared, they said. For them this was no parrot phrase. They had learned its meaning through bitter days that, as they now saw, had been but a promise of worse to come. The Chief Commissioner called them to attention and gave the command "Dismiss" and away they went, those who belonged to the army to prisoner-of-war camps somewhere in Germany, the civilians to slave labour. Overhead the sky was still grey and no sun shone.
|Hilary St George Saunders, The Left Handshake, 1948
Chapter IV: Resolution. Scouting in Occupied Countries
|Return to the Pine Tree Web Home Page|
Your feedback, comments and suggestions are appreciated.
Please write to:
Lewis P. Orans
Ralf Bell (Ralf.Bell@uni.duesseldorf.de)
Copyright © Lewis P. Orans & Ralf
Last Modified: 12:17 PM on August 3, 1997