How I secretly studied during the German occupation
I began my clandestine classes in 1942 in Nowy Sącz, where I spent the entire period of the occupation. The direct cause of my attending underground classes was the fact that I was not accepted at an economic school on account of my age. I then made several trips to the school inspectorate – on my own and accompanied by parents – in order to enrol at the school, but I was refused by the head inspector, a German by the name of Rudolf. He advised me to study German, mathematics, correspondence, stenography and other similar subjects privately. My parents decided that I would study middle school material during private lessons with an acquaintance – a professor who had a permit to teach mathematics, physics and Latin. I was to cover the rest of the subjects at underground classes.
I was a proud middle school pupil, even if my classes were clandestine. A few days later I gained two friends – a girl and a boy. The boy, however, soon left Nowy Sącz. My friend Marysia and I were very eager to learn. The classes took place three times a week.
We covered the material rather quickly, so after Christmas we sat exams in mathematics and, shortly afterwards, in history. The secret exams took place in the convent of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, who also organized underground classes. We came to the exams equipped with only a pencil and a sheet of paper, as bringing textbooks was forbidden because the Germans had suspicions that clandestine classes were being held there. We agreed with the sisters on what to say about the reason behind our visits, so that the made up answers from the suspects on both sides would be identical.
More than half a year passed without major incidents. Every now and then we took exams, so at the beginning of spring we already began learning the material for the second class of middle school.
At some point we noticed a man appearing by the gate or in front of the house where we had classes, and watching people go in and come out. I remember that we were often scared on the way to class, and even more so on our way back.
I will never forget one day which could have brought about some grave consequences. It happened during history lesson – our second class that day. We were about to finish studying the material for the second grade of middle school, when a maid burst in to tell us that the German inspector Rudolf was coming. We quickly replaced history books with mathematics notebooks. The door opened suddenly to reveal the inspector, whom we all hated. He just glanced at us and then left with our professor.
We both froze in fear under the German’s stare and before we managed to collect ourselves, he walked in again and ordered us to hand over our school bags. My friend was so frightened that she started flinging the forbidden history and Polish books down onto the bed, while I hid my school bag behind the armchair and said that I came without it. However, the inspector must have seen me hiding it, because he pulled my school bag out, grabbed my friends’ books and left. He also took away our professor’s permit for private teaching.
Only then did we realize what consequences might follow. We were afraid that our parents would be arrested for letting us attend illegal classes. We ran fast to a nearby wayside shrine and prayed very hard so that this incident would not result in something unpleasant, and it appears that God heard our prayers.
Next, we told our parents what had happened and removed all compromising books from our houses, fearing an inspection. During the hard and scary period of waiting, which lasted for days, we heard nothing. In the meantime we worked out what answers to give.
Several days later our professor was summoned to the Gestapo headquarters. Later on she was summoned two more times. She was cross-examined and asked all kinds of questions to which she answered just like we had discussed it – that she didn’t know what books and for what purpose the pupils had them in their possession, and that she taught only those subjects which were allowed.
One day, when I came home after seeing my friends, I learned that the Gestapo had summoned me to their headquarters. I was to report there at 8.00 a.m. on the next day.
At 8.00 a.m. on the following day I was already in front of the building. Mommy was supposed to wait for me in the street. I reported to the front office first, then they let me in. When the barred gate closed behind me, I got very scared and felt simply cut off from the rest of the world. I was so frightened that I couldn’t find my way to the second floor.
Finally, I found room 13 and knocked on the door. Upon hearing: “Come in,” I went into the room. A Gestapo man was sitting there with an interpreter. I felt weak in the knees from fear when I entered the room. Fortunately, they ordered me to sit down. They soon started interrogating me. Naturally, I was giving the answers we had agreed upon. They interrogated me for about 15 minutes, and even though they were cunning and kept asking the same questions over and over again, they did not manage to get anything out of me. Then they forbade me to speak of what they had asked me about, and I was free to go.
I felt relieved to leave that hostile building. Mommy was waiting in the front, very nervous. She asked what they wanted to know. Initially, I didn’t want to say because they had threatened me, but later I told her everything. Then we went to Dad and to the professor.
Several days later I was summoned again, but this time they just gave me back the school bags and some of the books. The history, Polish and geography books had been taken away. Other than that, everything was in its place. My friend did not have the “pleasure” of visiting that “nice” building. This is how our dangerous adventure came to a happy end.
Fearing an interrogation, we couldn’t go to classes for several months. Then we both enrolled at a tailoring middle school, and apart from that we attended clandestine classes. These classes took place at my house, behind closed doors. Everything was prearranged and prepared, just in case.
I continued my pursuit of education until the summer holidays of 1944, when it was suspended because I had to do obligatory work digging trenches. For 10 weeks I worked from dawn to dusk, so I had no time for studying. I managed to get myself discharged from this duty in November, and immediately started studying.
My friend and I were on our way to finish the curriculum for the second grade of middle school. We were taught by several professors we knew. The military campaigns caused the classes to cease again in 1945. I eventually graduated from second grade of middle school when Poland became a free country.
When the middle schools opened, I went to the third grade at the school run by the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, where I began studying in a regular, overt and systematic way. I don’t regret my experiences, because now I know how to appreciate being able to study openly, without the fear of searches and inspections.