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THE CROOKED CROSS - A Memoir of a Survivor in Hell

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This work of non-fiction is a powerful and compelling read that shows the strength of the human spirit and endurance of the body against indescribable suffering. The author was only a young 13-year-old boy when the Germans invaded Poland and the plight of a nightmare struggle against occupation began. 

Andy took care of his mother, sisters and housekeeper while separated from his father and later was informed of his father’s murder by The Gestapo. 

He spent many years in concentration camps, witnessing and enduring the most barbaric and horrendous torture and inhumane events perpetrated by The Gestapo. 

Finally he was set free by the Americans and made his way back home to his loving mother. 

As with so many survivors of this era he preferred to keep these horrific memories to himself until the decision was made to write his memoirs some years later. 

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ISBN:   978-1-921919-83-1
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 470
Genre: Non Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

Author: Andy Bay
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2013
Language: English

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  

Andrew Jedrzej Bay (Andy), was born in Poland, 1926.  

On 1st September 1939, German soldiers marched across the border into neighbouring Poland. Germany’s occupation of Poland is one of the darkest chapters of World War II. Some six million people, almost 18% of the Polish population, were killed or imprisoned.  

Andy’s father was one of these, so the responsibility of looking after the family fell on Andy’s shoulders. 

This story tells of Andy’s own experiences when he was eventually taken to one of the concentration camps. 

At the time of liberation in 1945, and after visiting his mother, Andy began the next phase of his life eventually settling in the UK. He, his wife Dora and their children immigrated to Australia in 1967.

INTRODUCTION

 

WW I 1914-1918

 

In the early part of the 20th Century during a royal tour of the Balkans, a Serb patriot assassinated the successor to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In retaliation, the Emperor of Austria sent troops to the Balkans to punish the Serbs. This incident sparked a chain of events that led to World War I.

In support of Serbia, Russia declared war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the same time, Germany, an ally of Austria, chose to take advantage of the situation by declaring war on France and Great Britain. The events that followed engulfed most of the world in armed conflict.

The war between Germany and the Allies started in 1914. After four years of fierce fighting, Germany and Austria were defeated.

To prevent Germany from future aggression, the treaty for unconditional surrender, signed by Germany, contained a clause that imposed restrictions on German military and industrial development.

Through Germany’s surrender and the subsequent collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, several European countries were able to restore independence. Poland was one of those countries. Prior to World War I, Poland was a country divided and occupied by Germany, Austria, and Russia for more than a hundred years.

 

WW II 1939-1945

 

History shows that, following World War I, the Germans once more chose a path of military aggression that, in 1939, led to a new conflict that became known as World War II.

For those with a slim knowledge of the period, a brief explanation will bring into focus events which influenced the new outbreak.

A few years after the end of World War I, an individual named Adolf Hitler, of Austrian descent, emerged from obscurity.

Adolf was born in Austria. After an unsuccessful academic career in his own country, he volunteered to serve as a German soldier in the 1914-1918 War. Discharged from the army with the military rank of lance corporal, Adolf was unable to find employment in his adopted country. An embittered man, he could not come to terms with the humiliating defeat Germany suffered at the hands of the Allies. He vowed to take revenge for Germany’s defeat, and promised he would destroy and enslave Europe.

With the support of the Nazi party, Adolf was thrust into political prominence, and subsequently, in 1933, was elected by the German people as their leader.

Hitler’s aim was to define and establish superiority of the German race, not only in Europe, but also far beyond the borders of Europe.

At the same time in Russia, a change of politics was taking place. Shortly before the end of World War I, in November of 1917, the Communist revolution deposed the monarchy. The expansion of Communism under Joseph Stalin’s leadership began to emerge as a potential threat to Western Societies. The Allies envisaged Germany as a likely buffer between Russia and Western Europe. Germany, by denouncing Communism, was allowed to re-arm.

 

As elected leader and Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler, employing a skilful propaganda campaign, convinced the Germans the world’s Jews had conspired against Germany. He proclaimed that Jews were responsible for the downfall and misfortunes of the German nation. The German people, impoverished by World War I, enthusiastically embraced the hatred of Jews concept. This symbolic representation of hate united Germans behind Hitler, and persecution of Jews flourished. Atrocities perpetrated against Jews and other minorities gained express approval.

The Nazi regime proclaimed it was every German citizen’s patriotic duty to eliminate Jews from German society.

 

Austria, once an ally of Germany, in 1938, willingly joined in, and became part of Germany. By this action, Hitler was able to take control of the Austrian army and air force, including Austrian industry, placing all the booty gained under German control.

The same year, by military threat but without conflict, Hitler took part of Czechoslovakia. From the Czechs, the Nazi party gained substantial military equipment, including tanks, artillery and aircraft, along with a large industry engaged in manufacturing weapons.

To further strengthen Germany’s position, Hitler secured a treaty with many world countries by forming the ‘Axis Alliance.’ Countries that joined the Axis Alliance were: Italy, Japan, Spain, Rumania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia and Finland. Several South American countries agreed to provide Germany with logistic and military support. At that time a number participants in the Axis Alliance endeavoured to keep their membership a secret.

By 1939, Germany was the most powerful military force in Europe.

 

As Hitler’s arrogance increased, his attention turned to the east. From Poland, he demanded a corridor to East Prussia. To preserve their independence, Poland refused.

Subsequently, Hitler formed a secret alliance with Russia, and in September of 1939 Germany and Russia simultaneously invaded Poland from opposite sides. After several weeks of military conflict, the German and Russian forces defeated and occupied Poland.

A few days after German forces invaded Poland, England declared war on Germany, and World War II began.


CHAPTER 1 - part sample

 

I awoke with a fright, startled and listening.

What was that?

It wasn’t a dream. What I heard was an explosion. Its echo resounded through the national forest surrounding the big lake close to our house.

Outside, dawn was breaking.

Springing from my bed, I rushed to the window, pushed it open and leaned out, looking to the right, from where I could hear a commotion. At the end of the drive, I could see the bridge spanning the canal. The early morning light made it difficult for me to see clearly, but I distinguished several Polish soldiers scurrying up and down the embankment. Figures disappeared and re-emerged from under the bridge. The underside was in deep shadow, too dark to see what the soldiers were doing. I could see lights in the factory buildings, but there was no one about. The small village sprawling on the slopes of the gently undulating landscape looked peaceful; no one seemed perturbed by the mighty explosion. I began thinking I must have imagined it. No, I was positive I heard an explosion, and there was the echo. Wasn’t the sight of the military nearby disturbing? Was it they who caused the big bang?

I became aware of voices elsewhere in the house. It didn’t surprise me other members of the household were up; it was a very loud explosion, like thunder.

The sound bothered me, leaving me feeling creepy all over, and confused. I had to find out what was happening. Slipping on shorts and shirt, I decided to take a look from the windows on the other side of the house.

Our house was large, twenty-four rooms in all. It was located on an island formed by a river on one side and a canal on the other. At the head of the river was a large lake. Access to the island was via two bridges spanning the waterways. I ran through several rooms to get to my brother’s bedroom from where I should be able to see the other bridge across the river. On reaching the window with a good view, my fears were confirmed. Where only yesterday the bridge spanned the river, now there was a void, and all that remained were timbers askew, pointing in all directions. The scene looked as if some gigantic fist had smashed the wooden bridge in anger, rendering it into a pile of rubble.

Looking across the well-maintained grounds surrounding the house I could see bits and pieces of wood littering the lawns. It was the first time in my life I had witnessed the aftermath of a violent explosion. I shivered; goose bumps were all over my arms and legs and an overwhelming desire to be with my parents swept over me.

I ran downstairs, jumping several steps at a time. Bursting into the summer dining room, I saw my parents engaged in discussion. On realising my presence they turned to face me. There was a tense atmosphere.

Facing my father I asked, ‘Is it the War?’

‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘the Germans have invaded Poland this morning.’ To reassure me, he added, ‘We live away from any major links. In this part of the country we should be quite safe from any major conflict.’

I heard what my father said, but the shocking word now occupying my thoughts was ‘War!’

I felt bewildered and frightened. For months the possibility of Germany invading Poland had been anticipated, it was something we feared. Conflict appeared inevitable. When I thought about it, I imagined armed conflict to be terrifying. Before going to sleep I prayed war would never come. Over time, the constant reference to war lost its impact, and we became used to the prospect of a German invasion. Now that it was actually happening, I was having difficulty absorbing the reality of it.

The village where we lived is located in the south-western corner of Silesia, thirty-eight kilometres due south of Katowice, capital of Silesia. Twenty-nine kilometres to the west is the border with Germany, thirty-five kilometres to the south a range of the Carpathian Mountains, forming a natural border between Czechoslovakia and Poland.

I turned to my mother, hugging her tight, feeling apprehensive, seeking comfort in her embrace. It felt good and safe being close to Mum.

 

I was thirteen years old, big for my age. Mum was shorter than me, not so much fat but chubby. She was a very jolly mum. I always remember her beautiful face. I turned to my father, and he almost squeezed the breath out of me. He was tall and distinguished looking, with a large frame, physically extremely strong. Father was a good-natured man, strict but very fair. He was a well-known personality in our district, and highly respected as a prominent lawyer and industrialist.

Now he was advising me to have breakfast, before preparing for a journey into the country.

That particular morning everything seemed different; in a way, unnatural, a bad feeling hanging in the air. I was hoping I would soon wake up, and the nightmare would vanish.

In the dining room, my sister-in-law Zosia sat at the table, gazing tearfully into her lap. She greeted me. I tried to say something, but couldn’t think of the right thing to say. I just nodded my head and remained silent. Mechanically, I ate some ham in a buttered roll, poured myself a glass of milk. My feelings of confusion and apprehension were still with me. Many thoughts and questions crowded my mind. What did it mean, the Germans invading Poland? When would they arrive, and what would happen to us, were we all going to be killed? I forced myself to be brave, not to panic. As I finished my milk, I noticed my hand was trembling.

To reassure myself, I rushed upstairs and started packing. I kept repeating to myself to do something, anything, other than think about the war, but to no avail. Stuffing a few things in a backpack was simple. I’d been camping before and loaded the backpack with everything that might be useful. Shortly, I was back downstairs.

 

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