Poland - The Patriotic Poles - Part 1
Travel Tale No. 11 - Vol. 3
In Memory of
Sergeant Edward Zyrmont
A "Black Devil" of the 1st Polish Armoured Division
1939 - 1945
Recipient of the following medals:
1) Polish Krzyz Walecznych (Cross of Valour) Posthumously
2) Polish Krzyz Zaslugi z Mieczami (Silver Cross with Swords) (P)
3) Medal Wojska - Army Service Medal (P)
4) Polish Resistance in France Medal (P)
5) Medal Commemorative Francaise De La Guerre 1939 - 1945 Avec Barratte 'France' (P)
6) France and Germany Star (P)
7) September 1939 Cross (P)
8) 1st Armoured Division Cross (P)
9) WWII Veterans Freedom Cross (P)
10) September 1939 Medal (P)
11) British 1939 Star (P)
12) British War Medal 1939 - 1945 (P)
13) British Defense Medal 1939 - 1945 (P)
14) British 1939 - 1945 Star (P)
15) WWII Victory Medal (P)
16) Wounded Bar of Honor (P)
Poland is a very ancient nation that flourished in the middle of the 10th century, reaching its golden age around the 16th century when the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was the biggest country in Europe. Its strengthening of the gentry and internal disorders weakened the nation, and in a series of agreements between 1772 and 1795, Russia, Prussia and Austria, partitioned it.
To comprehend the Polish character, one must take several courses in Polish history to understand that their survival as a nation depended entirely upon their patriotism. This is a country forged by continuous fighting to preserve its borders and national identity. Thanks to religious tolerance, it accepted many Jews during the Holy Inquisition. It was the first country in Europe, and the second in the world after the United States, to pass a constitution.
It regained its independence in 1918, with the end of WWI. The newly-rebourn country was forced to fight to defend its border from a Communist Soviet Invasion of Warsaw; which it defeated in 1920. It is remembered as "Cud nad Wisla" (Miracle at the Vistula.)
Just 19 years later, it was again forced to defend itself from the invasion of Germany in 1939. Poles do not like to be reminded that the Nazis erected concentration camps on their German-occupied soil. Millions of Poles were killed, including my father, the recipient of the above medals, or forced into slave labor like my uncle, or were left without any family like my aunt, who are the age of nine had to fend for herself. My father, a tank commander, was killed in the Battle of the Falaise Gap in France.
I grew up learning about Poland in a community of ex-combatants, officers and nobility in Buenos Aires. In those days, men chivalrayously kissed the hands of women and adhered to a dignified protocol of the upper classes, including speaking French. They danced to Viennese waltzes, listened to Chopin records, and spoke Polish at Dom Polski. As a child, I sneaked downstairs past bedtime and eavesdropped on their conversations about the war stories they told each other. Some were paratroopers, my step dad was in the R.A.F., and my next door neighbor a radio operator. They discussed the war for hours playing Bridge and Poker.
I can still hear the echo of the cheers in my ears when our ship, The Empire Trooper, sailed past the sunken mast of the elusive Graf Spee in the brown waters of the River Plate. I recall my step dad saying he had been terribly hurt by the betrayal of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, when the Polish Forces had been denied the privilege of marching in the victory parade through the Arc de Triomphe, so as not to offend Stalin!
I also remember how he and most other Poles had decided to emigrate to Argentina after another betrayal by these men at the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences, when they turned Poland over to the Communists, making it a Soviet satellite during the Stalinist era of 1945 - 1956. Those Poles who fought the Nazis in the British Royal Air Force, and in the army, like the "Black Devils" of the 1st Polish Armoured Division, had no interest in returning to live in atheist Communist Poland. They would return when it was a free Poland. But they would have to wait a lifetime to do it. The Polish war heroes who did return, were put in prison for many years by the Soviets, who were always jealous of them.
After the proud and brave Poles, who fought so valiantly in the Battle of Britain with the R.A.F., and in France, Belgium and Holland, with the brilliant commander General Stanislaw Macek, were betrayed by the Western Allies, many chose to make a new life in Canada, USA, Argentina, Australia and other countries rather than return to their own run by the Soviets, whom they despised. Especially after the massacre of 16,000 Polish officers by the Russians at the Katyn Forest. The Soviets lied and blamed the murders on the Nazis, but history proved otherwise.
Hitler derisively called these brave men fighting for their country, "General Sikorski's Tourists," but they showed him and kicked him in the rear at the battle of the Falaise Gap, on a "Polish Battlefield," where on August 19, 20, 21 and 22, in one of the bloodiest battles of WWII, they encircled the 7th German Army and defeated it as it sneaked back to Germany escaping the Americans' advance. The Poles never got sufficient credit and I would like to remind everyone of their sacrifice.
I would also like to thank the people of Scotland for the monuments they erected in Duns, Dundee, and other cities, with the names of the soldiers they came to know (and marry) and who opened their homes and hearts to them. Years later, I was able to take photos of these monuments and was surprised to see my father's name on them. Although, because of the spelling of his name, his was always last, he is first in my heart and mind. I wish I had known him! But the Nazis robbed me of that right and pleasure. And for those who state the Holocaust never happened, I suggest they look at the photos from my father's camera. This was the legacy he left me, and these photos have never been published or seen before.