I was a witness


Lawyer Zbigniew Kaczmarek

Former dean of the Bydgoszcz Bar

I was a witness

Until recently I have assumed naively that the events which took place in Bydgoszcz on September 3 – 5, 1939 are obvious to us – Poles – both as regards the reasons of the bloody settlement of accounts and the results of the Nazi provocation. So, when I read the Bydgoszcz supplement to the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza in August 2003, I got a shock because the famous Bydgoszcz historian, professor Włodzimierz Jastrzębski, announced urbi et orbi that on neither September 3 nor 4, 1939 there was no Nazi sabotage in our city, and all the information on this subject disseminated for tens of years is a figment of imagination of the panicked and frustrated to endurance limits Polish residents of the city on the Brda River.

If that’s the case, I can boldly admit it publicly that I am one of many of those panicked people, who experienced a collective hallucination and suddenly saw in the city streets the demonic Nazi saboteurs – products of a twisted mind.

I was a witness to those events. I was 17 at that time, and lived in the Szwederowo District on the second floor of a tenement house in 24 Orla Street. The three-person Reszkowski family of German Catholics lived directly above us, on the third floor. They were respectable, placid people, regularly going to masses to the post-Jesuit Church of St Ignatius in the Old Town Market Square. They were friends with all the neighbours from the tenement house. Mr. Reszkowski was a locksmith and worked at the municipal gasworks. His daughter Hedwig, a pretty and likeable girl, was two years older than me.

On September 4, 1939, in the early afternoon, I saw with my own eyes that somebody from the third floor of my tenement house fired at a Polish soldier. He dropped dead on the spot and his body lay right in front of the Municipal Baths. Instantly, I ran out into the street, where several people gathered. Two armed soldiers were among them. I told them that a German family lived on the third floor of my tenement house, from where the shots were fired. Next, I took them there.

Mr. Reszkowski, pale and scared, opened the door personally. With a trembling voice he informed us that two armed German civilians, unknown to him, were in his small metal workshop, directly adjoining his flat.

The saboteurs were surprised, disarmed and taken by the soldiers to the prison in Wały Jagiellońskie Street. I do not know what happened to them. Whereas the Reszkowski family explained that they had to admit these armed civilians into the workshop because it was an order. We did not ask whose order it was, still, the Reszkowski family did not suffer any consequences. Later it turned out that also other German families in Szwederowo had to admit the saboteurs into their flats. This case was generally known already during the Nazi occupation and even the Germans did not make a secret of this. The Reszkowski family confirmed several times this information in talks with my mother.

With my own eyes I also saw how the shots were fired from the tower of the Protestant church in Leszczyńskiego Street. Later, the church burnt down. Shots were fired, which I saw as well, from the roofs of tenement houses in Nowodworska Street. From direct accounts of eye witnesses, I know that guns were fired also in the city centre and in other districts of the city. At that time, no one had the slightest doubt that it was an organised Nazi sabotage.

Sabotage actions, conducted based on the local German minority, were to us surprising because in the inter-war period the relations between Poles and Germans were friendly. Poles treated Germans very politely. As a rule, they talked to them in German. Until the end of the 1930’s, most Bydgoszcz Germans did not know the Polish language at all. In shops, and even in offices, they were served in German. It is noteworthy that in those days, all older residents of the former Prussian section of partitioned Poland spoke German fluently since they attended German schools when they were young. I personally knew older Poles, who could not write and sometimes even count in Polish. Additionally, there were a lot of mixed marriages.

The German minority in Bydgoszcz had its own organisations, sports clubs, schools, banks, churches, theatre, and daily newspaper ”Deutsche Rundschau”. In 1936, the construction of a new grand German grammar school in Chodkiewicza Street was finished. Thus, generally one can say that the local Germans enjoyed full freedom and tolerance, and very often they were liked, for example, due to sentimental reasons by many Poles. I have to add that German friends were liked also by representatives of the younger generation, born and raised in independent Poland. I remember that my Nicolaus Copernicus Municipal Grammar School was attended by several boys from German families, e.g. Dindinger, Bauer and Wolschleger. The parents of these boys were employees of municipal institutions. The father of one of these boys was the main veterinarian at the municipal slaughter house.

The facts presented above are a fragment of the true history of Bydgoszcz, especially the history of the tragic days of September 3-5, 1939. I want my children and grandchildren to know the truth about the so-called bloody Sunday in Bydgoszcz. I am convinced that if there was no organised Nazi sabotage in Bydgoszcz on September 3 and 4, 1939, there would be no retaliatory actions in relation to the local Germans, and consequently probably there would be no murdering of a dozen or so thousand of the city’s Polish residents by the Nazis.

Fragment of the book by Zbigniew Kaczmarek, ”Wspomnienia bydgoskiego adwokata” (Memories of a layer from Bydgoszcz), published in Bydgoszcz in 2007 by the District Council of Lawyers.