The Wartime Memories of Leon Block

I can’t remember my early days of school from the age of 6 or 7, but the days just prior to the war, we were being warned at school just before our holidays started that you are now going on your holidays, summer 1939, August, and beware if you are a member of the scout movement, don’t go
throwing around your daggers you have in your socks, with the Polish scouts.

There was a sort of warning and we didn’t realize why, what was happening, but they did tell us the Hitler Youth would be hunting us down.

When the Germans were actually there with their battleships, we knew the movement of the sailors marching through the town openly, and it was a thrilling sight to see, to see 400/500 sailors marching through it was exciting, because there was no war at the time, but they were sailors, they were military men.

There were these nights, called kristallnicht, crystal nights, the breaking of the windows of any Jewish shop, and really looking at it I couldn’t understand what the hell they were doing, they were robbing these shops. I cant remember the name of these shops, but they were all Jewish.

And then I used to go home and tell my dad that and he said, “we will keep away from the city centre”. He said there were German soldiers walking around, and Poland has protested to the German government, they shouldn’t be here, unless they have Polish troops here, who march with them or in front of them.

Just before 1st September came along, we were all in bed and I didn’t live far from the river itself, and during the night we heard these explosions, and prior to that we knew the German battleship, a big, big battleship, the Schleswig-Holstein, it was parked between Nowyport and Gdansk, and the first bombardment started from him, from that ship onto the half island of Westerplatte, the place I was born.

It must have been in the middle of the night the first bombardment started, it sounded wicked, the bombs flying across the house around 4 or 5 o’clock. knocks came on the door and they came and took my dad away, and they were the Gestapo, the SS, many gestapo, and they were beating him up quite badly, and I told my mum, and I said whats going on? I said where are they taking my dad?

They are probably going to interrogate him, and I went out to say, when is he coming back? My dad?

Well we don’t know that, depends how he behaves, and then we found out he was taken to a concentration camp, and my mother had a sort of heart attack, and they took her to hospital.

But then in the week to come we just didnt know what was going on, they had invaded that half island which was classed as Polish property and they came to the house and they were people that I knew and they sort of said “Could you do us an inventory of your house?”. Well I said ‘Its not our house it belongs to the Polish Railway’. They said ‘Yes I know that but I don’t want to know about the building itself, can you give us an inventory of everything you have got”. I said, ‘What do you mean? Such as what?

“The beds, how many beds have you got?”

I said, ‘We have 3 of us sleep in 1 bed, my sister, my brother and me’.

“Where are your mum and dads?”

‘They are in the other bedroom.’

‘So you’ve got 2 beds? Do you have any wardrobes? Have you got a sewing machine?

‘Oh yes!’ I was quite proud, ‘and we’ve got new cutlery and stuff like that that we bought, so they said, ‘If you put that all down it will be fine’.

A week later they came back and they said have you got your list ready?, and I said yes, they said what we are going to do now is that everything on the list, we’ve got a couple of lorries outside, and we will be loading yours and Mrs Zeifer, your neighbour Petroskvi upstairs, because we’ve got German people coming in right now, its not a Polish railway, it’s a German railway.

They said, have you got any relatives? I said yes of course we’ve got relatives, well you’d better go see them today, but, I said,my mums still away in hospital and shes not feeling too good, so he said, how old are you? I said Im 14, you’re the eldest, so you are in charge, take your brother and sister.

Anyway the only one who would take us is our grandmother, and she took us in and until my mum came out, and eventually we did get a couple of rooms not far from where she lived.

When I came out of the worker battalion, they more or less said straight away, at 17, you will be drafted into the forces, and we don’t know yet what type, and I said I don’t know what Im joining, where are we going?

He said you will be going with a detachment of more boys, but you are going to become a sailor, oh, I said,that’s great, I want to be a sailor. He said you are being sent to Gronig in Holland.

We had our military training for about 3 months, I was a machine gunner, and they put us on a ship, a tug, then I was on an MTB motor torpedo boat.

There were 20 of us and we were put to guard the Eiffel tower, and I done the guard service for about a month, then I did a months service guarding the Plas de la Concorde, then the Arc de
Triumphe. We had to be wary on the metro, we sort of had to have our back against the wall, we learnt that, I wasn’t going near the railway for someone to push me over. It was so awful, we didn’t know how to feel, you are a German soldier, a German sailor, even though you didn’t want to be. I wanted to be a sailor, but not a German one, but what can you do? Whose going to push me?

The Eiffel tower bit I liked, but they didn’t even trust us to go to the top, the first one with the balconies, when you see them, we were allowed as far as that, but at the top they had all the radios,
all the signalling, we always see the German signallers going up, but as far as we were concerned, we were just put there with our rifle and bayonet, sometimes bayonets fixed, and just stood there, as the guards today do so.

End of interview

Thankyou to Michael Oliver and the Lewis School Pengam  for sharing this interview.


Author: shane

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