For Freedom Yours and Ours


By the end of September 1939 Polish authorities, military personnel and numerous civilians were evacuating from Poland following the orders of Marshal Rydz-Śmigły. Around 30,000 Polish soldiers and airmen were in Romania; 40,000 in Hungary; 13,800 in Lithuania; and 1,300 in Latvia.267 The Romanian and Hungarian governments actively assisted the Poles in their escape. Although the Romanian government had declared neutrality to spare their nation the destruction that Poland had endured it allowed the passage of the evacuating Polish troops to France, assisting also in the transport and protection of 80 tonnes of Polish gold reserves. 4 tonnes of gold were left in Romania and the reminder was shipped to Istanbul and then to French-controlled Beirut in Lebanon and from there to France as the authorities in Paris agreed to deposit it in one of the branches of the Banque de France. In Budapest, the Polish military attaché, Colonel Jan Emisarski-Pindelli, organized the evacuation office and worked in close collaboration with an official in the Hungarian Interior Ministry, Józef Antall, providing clothes, lodgings and money to facilitate the escape of the Poles to France. There were three main escape routes. First route led from Hungary and Rumania, from the Black Sea ports of Constanta and Balcik and then through the Dardanelles to Syria or Marseilles. Second route led through Yugoslavia or Greece and thence by sea to France. Third route led overland via Yugoslavia and Italy.268 Majority of Polish soldiers continued their journey to France, whilst some officers were transported to French-held Syria, were they formed the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade.

Many Poles and Polish Jews who had crossed into Lithuania and Latvia were seeking to obtain transit visas. The first consul to assist them was a former businessman turned-Dutch diplomat in Kaunas (Kovno), in Lithuania, Jan Zwartendijk, who issued permits for them to enter Curaçao, a Dutch colonial possession in the West Indies.269 The permits declared that "an entrance visa is not required for the admission of aliens to Surinam, Curaçao, and other Dutch possessions in America," failing to mention that admission was the prerogative of the colonial governors. Many refugees subsequently approached Japanese Consul in Kaunas, a converted Christian, Chiune Sugihara, who, ignoring Japanese visa requirements and orders from Japanese authorities, worked day and night to issue over 2000 transit visas to the Poles and Polish Jews.270 Chiune Sugihara was assisted by the agents of Polish intelligence, lieutenant Leszek Daszkiewicz, captain Alfons Jakubianiec and major Michał Rybikowski. After obtaining transit visas, the refugees travelled via Siberia to Vladivostok and then by ferry to Japan where Polish ambassador Tadeusz Romer helped them to obtain immigration visas to Palestine, the United States, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, South America and Japanese-occupied Shanghai.271 The Japanese, who were furious at Hitler's pact with Stalin made in breach of the Anti-Comintern Pact, trusted neither the Germans nor the Russians and thus continued their cooperation with the Polish intelligence officers throughout the Second World War.272

Meanwhile, the Polish authorities also needed to regroup. The Supreme Commander Rydz Śmigły and President Ignacy Mościcki, who crossed the Polish border into Romania on September 17, 1939, were immediately interned by the Romanian authorities, who were under pressure from Nazi-Germany and Soviet Russia. In these circumstances the captured Polish heads of state needed to appoint successors, who were outside the remit of Germans and the Soviets. On September 25, 1939 President Ignacy Mościcki appointed as his successor the Polish Ambassador in Italy, Bolesław Wieniawa-Długoszowski. This appointment had not however been approved by the French and British government as he was a member of the pre-war Sanacja regime in Poland. Under the pressure from Britain and France, President Mościcki appointed instead Władysław Raczkiewicz, chairman of the World Union of Poles from Abroad and Marshal of the Senate. He in turn chose member of opposition to Sanacja regime, Władyław Sikorski, as Prime Minister of the Polish government-in-exile. After Supreme Commander Rydz-Śmigły stepped down, Władyław Sikorski was made additionally Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces. General Sikorski was held in high esteem in Poland and abroad. He fought with distinction in the Polish-Soviet war of 1920, and later served briefly as Prime Minister of Poland. Following Marshal Piłsudski's coup in May of 1926 and the installation of the Sanacja government, he fell out of favour with the colonel's régime and organised political opposition in Switzerland called Front Morges. It included famous pianist, patriot and former prime minister Ignacy Paderewski; general of the Polish Army in France Józef Haller; and historian and politician Professor Stanislaw Kot. Because of his previous activity in France, Sikorski was acquainted with French military command. Thus, by early October 1939, the new Polish government was recognized by the French and the British authorities. Soon thereafter, a special envoy from the City of London, Dr. Józef Retinger, arrived to Paris to speak to General Sikorski. Dr Retinger knew members of political opposition to Sanacja regime, including General Sikorski, from interwar years. Fluent in British state affairs of which General Sikorski knew very little, Dr Retinger henceforth accompanied him in nearly every diplomatic mission. Dr Retinger's vast contacts in the world of British politics caused both admiration and suspicion to General Sikorski. New Polish Prime Minister was also very suspicious of the old members of the Sanacja regime who dominated the military and government bureaucracies. These tensions increased after General Sikorski established a commission to inquire into the reason's for Poland's defeat in the 1939 September campaign which was seen as a witch hunt against people who supported the government of Marshal Piłsudski and his successors. Sensing conspiracy and intrigue, General Sikorski eventually ordered some of the members of former Sanacja regime to be interned in Cerizay, near Anger, France.

The Polish army in France began to be organized soon after the fall of Poland. General Sikorski told his cabinet in 1939: “The creation of the Polish Army in its greatest size is the most important and essential goal of the Government'. The basic Polish premise was: 'We do not beg for freedom, we fight for freedom.”273 The first unit to take part in combat was Independent Podhale Rifle Brigade under the command of General Szyszko-Bohusz. It consisted of 5,000 soldiers, mostly recruited from the Poles living in France, who were trained in mountain warfare. Initially, the Brigade was meant to serve in Finland which in November 1939 was attacked by the Red Army after the Finns rejected Soviet territorial demands. The Finish army was superior in spirit, training and leadership but inferior in number of men and modern equipment. Using terrain to their advantage they fought gallantly repelling the Soviets for months, but the defenders were eventually worn down and decided to sue for peace in March 1940, before facing total defeat. Since the Red Army also invaded northern Finland, near the frontiers of Norway and Sweden, Scandinavia's valuable iron and nickel deposits were now under threat. The vital supplies of iron ore came to German north-coast ports from Sweden and ran from Narvik, the ice-free port on Ofot fjord. The supply of iron ore was very important to all sides in the war, so the British and the French decided to prepare an expeditionary force and use the Polish Rifle brigade trained in France and Polish navy, which escaped to the British ports, to assist them. But the Germans stroke fast. On April 9, 1940, they overran Denmark and attacked all of Norway’s 6 ports, Narvik being the port in the northernmost position. During the invasion’s preliminary phase, the forces of Vidkun Quisling, former pro-Nazi minister of defence, acted as a so-called fifth column for the German invaders, seizing Norway’s nerve centers. The British and French began landing on Norwegian soil within a week of the German invasion, but the situation turned complicated when on May 10, the Germans opened up another front by invading the Low Countries and France. Yet in late May 1940, the Allies attempted to retake Narvik. Allied naval vessels, including Polish destroyers ORP Grom and ORP Blyskawica, harassed the Germans holding Narvik, as the Allied ground forces prepared to resume attack. On May 28, the combined French, Norwegian and Polish forces supported by British artillery attacked Narvik and the surrounding area. The Polish Rifle Brigade attacked and overthrew German Gebirgsjäger positions on the hills near the town of Arkenes forcing withdrawal of the Germans while French and Norwegian troops took Narvik. The Germans, suffering high losses, resorted to propaganda tactics sending various messages on boards to the furious Polish fighters. One of them read: “The Jews and English are your enemies. The Fuhrer has conquered Holland and is marching on Paris. Your Allies are betraying you. You are fighting for the Jews and the English.”274 However, by the time Narvik had been taken, most of Norway was falling under the pressure of German offensive and the Allies ordered the withdrawal of all their forces from Norway. The Polish Rifle Brigade covered the retreat of the Allied forces suffering many losses including the sinking of destroyer, ORP Grom, in the battle.

For further reading please purchase an eBook

267 Kochanski, The Eagle Unbowed, p. 204 »

268 Fai-Podlipnik, 'Hungary's Relationship with Poland and Its Refugees'; T. Frank, 'Treaty Revision and Doublespeak: Hungarian Neutrality, 1939-1941', in Wylie, European Neutrals and Non-Belligerents, pp. 150-73. quoted in Kochanski, The Eagle Ubowed, p. 205 »

269 David Kranzler, “The Story of Jan Zwartendijk and his legacy to Judaism” »

270 Further reading: Yukiko Sugihara, Visas for Life (San Francisco: Edu-Comm Plus, 1995) »

271 Further reading: Ewa Pałasz-Rutkowska, Andrzej Tadeusz Romer, Historia stosunków polsko-japońskich 1904-1945 (Trio, 2009) »

272 Further reading: Kuromiya Hiroaki, Pepłoński Andrzej, Miedzy Warszawa a Tokio. Polsko-Japońska współpraca wywiadowcza (Adam Marszałek, 2017) »

273 Kochanski, The Eagle unbowed, p. 204 »

274 Ibid. »