Many books have been written about the Second World War, the suffering of innocent people throughout occupied lands and at home, the exploits of soldiers in campaigns and battles and the effect it leaves on everyone involved in war. There are still stories which involved thousands of people which have not been told for one reason or another.
In this book Czesław gives his account as to why he wore a German army uniform. He describes everyday life under Nazi occupation in his home town Tczew, the disappearance of family and friends, his exploits driving a tank on the eastern front, surrendering to the Americans as a prisoner of war, enlisting in the Polish Armed Forces, finding himself in Monte Cassino as part of the Honorary Guard and how he eventually made England his home.
This book is all the more valuable because there are few books about forced conscription and memories are fading fast. To this day people shy away from discussing this topic publicly.
Czesław felt that it was important for this part of history to be known, discussed openly, understood and remembered. He was encouraged by the Polish author Roman Landowski to write his story. Despite failing eyesight he learnt how to use a computer and began to write his memoirs, which he finally completed in 2007 when already in his 80’s.
Czesław’s memoirs serve as an important eyewitness account of the fate of hundreds of thousands of Poles who fought and lost their lives in tragic circumstances.
Recognised as a rare insight to forced conscription of Poles, his book was awarded a commendation in a Competition of Pomeranian Publishers in 2012.
This edition for sale is in Polish and can be purchased through this website or through the publishers website, Maszoperia.
When Poland’s Golden Age under the Jagellons came to an end in 1572 there came the period of elected kings. Gradually there was a decline in royal power and eventually internal anarchy set in. Profiting by the existing situation the Russian, Austria-Hungarian and Prussian Empires invaded Poland in 1772 and seized large tracts of the country. A second partition followed in 1793. In 1795 Poland ceased to exist as an independent state.
After World War 1 Poland re-emerged. The Treaty of Versailles (Articles 87 - 108) gave Poland independence and returned large areas of land, the Province of Posen, West Prussia and Upper Silesia which had been populated by Germans for generations. Poland now had access to the Baltic Sea through the ‘Polish Corridor’, created from the lands of West Prussia, separating East Prussia from Germany. The port of Danzig on the Baltic Sea became Gdansk - a free city under the protection of the League of Nations and the capital of the Pomeranian Voivodeship. The German government signed the treaty under protest and resentment grew.
On the 1st September 1939, an army of almost 2 million German troops invaded Poland. Hitler had secretly signed a non aggression pact with the Soviet Union, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, on 23 August 1939 to partition the land between them after the war. This enabled Hitler to invade Poland without fear of attack by the Soviet Union. On 17th September the Red Army crossed the Polish border in the east.
Hitler, however, broke this pact two years later by attacking Soviet Union.
Germany sought to regain lost lands and gain 'Lebensraum' , empty territories that could be colonised by Germans. It was Nazis policy to kill, deport, Germanize or enslave the Polish and to repopulate the land with ‘pure’ Germanic peoples.
Nazi racial policy stated that persons who could trace their ancestry back at least four generations to German background were considered Aryan. Large numbers of Polish civilians living in Western Poland and regions the Germans considered historically theirs were perceived as descendants of Germanic settlers and were conscripted into the German army. Those who resisted military service were treated as enemies of the German Nation and were sent to the Concentration Camp or shot. Many had no option to enlist in order to protect their families.
This historical background is important to understanding the situation many people found themselves in and the effect it had.
In 1947 Poland became a Communist People's Republic after Soviet-run elections. The Soviet Union regarded Poles who were forcibly conscripted into the Wehrmacht as traitors and collaborators. Thousands were shot, imprisoned or simply disappeared. A difficult choice for millions of displaced Poles, many of whom decided not to return to their homeland.
Czesław Knopp was born on 11th December 1922 in the small Polish border town of Tczew, in the northern Province of Pomerania. Their flat was a few hundred metres from the River Vistula (Wisla). He was the eldest of 4 children.
The town, due to its border position, had a very important railway junction. Czesław’s father worked as a manager on goods trains and it was later discovered that his father risked his life in the Polish Resistance – 'Gryf Pomorski'.
Czesław started school at the age of 7, as was the norm. In the middle of June 1939 he finished his basic grammar school education and passed the entry exam to the local Lyceum. However after the invasion Poles were not permitted to continue with their studies so he found work as a labourer, including repairing the damaged bridges of Tczew.
In March 1942 he was forced to sign the Volksliste and was included in the Third Group, people of German origin or partly German (Eingedeutsch). Two months later he was called up for German military service. At first he refused, but when his family was threatened with the notorious Stutthof concentration camp he felt he had no choice and was conscripted into the Wehrmacht.
After military tuition in France he was attached to the 7th Panzer Division under General Rommel as a tank driver and was sent to Stalingrad. He stayed on the eastern front until the January offensive during which time he became injured. After treatment he was sent to Italy where he found an opportunity to give himself up as prisoner of war to the Americans and at the earliest opportunity enlisted into the Polish Army– Second Corps 4th Armoured Regiment “Skorpion” under the command of General Wladyslaw Anders.
In April 1946 Polish forces were demobilised and he was evacuated to Great Britain. He signed up for Polish University College and then London University. He continued studies at evening classes due to financial and family reasons. Eventually became a draftsman.
After the war came tales of reprisals, murder, imprisonment and disappearances of those who fought in the Wehrmacht making it impossible for him to go back to Communist Poland. It was only in 1974 that he felt safe enough to return to visit his family in Tczew.
He married in 1949 and settled in London. They had eight children, all of whom speak Polish. Suffering from Glaucoma, his eyesight gradually failed and he became blind towards the end of his life.
Czesław Knopp died peacefully at home on 7th December 2013.
"I work for the German war graves commission and in a mass grave in Poland whilst exhuming German soldiers I discovered on many of them Polish prayer books, medals and rosaries.Thank you for writing this book, the whole world should read it. it is easy for people today to criticize those who fought for the Wermach without knowing the truth."
"Interesting and rich illustrations, one of the few books on the fate of deserting soldiers from the Wehrmacht."
"One of the most interesting releases in recent years."
"The memory of the author is phenomenal, allowing the reader to almost taste and smell war."
“Exceptional! He broke a taboo and wrote a beautiful biography of his exploits"
"Award winning at the Pomeranian book fair."
"A beautiful publication by an amazing man."
"For some people, the Second World War is just something from a history book. Knopp’s testimony makes it relavent, not only in our understanding , but our feelings and therefore it is of paramount importance."