20. In the Clutches of the Gestapo
I had been to Warsaw on January 17, 1940, and on my return home my wife told me with a tone of despair that Gestapo men had come in two cars asking for me, they had searched the whole house, and finally said that I was to report at the Gestapo in Warsaw, Al. Szucha 25, the next day. When I appeared at the Gestapo, I had to wait for several hours, and I noticed that officers of different ranks had been coming out to the waiting room and looking at me closely. Finally some kind of officer appeared and told me to follow him through a barred door to a cellar. In a long hall I saw a long row of people facing the wall. The officer turned me over to a sentry who took me to the end of the hall, made me face the wall in a corner and warned that I must not turn around, if I wanted something I should raise my hand. This was 12 noon, January 18th. I had a wrist watch which was not taken from me, and no search of my person was made. I stood that way until 9:00 P.M. after which I fainted and woke up in a cold cell lying on the floor, there was not even a stool there. It was 4:00 A.M. At eight in the morning I heard a voice in the hall: "Colonel Shandruk, only cold coffee twice a day and 200 grammes of bread, no hot food." In the morning on January 21, I was transported in a prison van surrounded by armed Gestapo men to the Mokotow Prison and placed in a solitary cell on the fourth floor where my first warm soup was served to me. We were fed three times a day in the prison: in the morning a cup of unsweetened lukewarm grain coffee and 200 grammes of bread, which was bread only by name, the same cup of coffee at night, and at noon a pint of soup made of peas or some kind of grits or peas mixed with dirt. Within a few days I felt terrible pains in my stomach and was ready for another constriction of intestines, but this did not happen, probably because I was lying for hours with my stomach on a hot radiator which burned my skin. This went on until February 21, with death staring at me every day. On February 21, the same van took me back to the Gestapo at Al. Szucha. When I was being led upstairs to the second floor I heard someone cry out in the waiting room below, I turned around and saw my wife. As she told me later, she did not recognize me at first, and then she cried out horrified at my appearance. Because I had turned around the guard hit me over the head with the butt of his revolver. But I felt happy at seeing my wife because I feared that she had been arrested, too. I learned from my wife later that she had been called for an interrogation in my case. I was interrogated very closely until 5:00 P.M., with the subject of the inquiry being my relations with Polish military circles, with special emphasis on the allegation that I had been ordered by the Polish General Staff to organize sabotage on Polish territory occupied by the Germans. I was told to relate always to the hour all my assignments and places of sojourn since September 1st. I told them everything I could remember, particularly about my work in the Staff of the Minister of Military Affairs, its purposes and the reasons why I wanted to study at the Staff and Command College. To the charge that I was ordered to organize sabotage, I replied quite ironically in spite of my tragic position that for that kind of work the Poles have plenty of their own young officers, and do not have to engage an elderly foreigner. I added that even if someone on the Polish General Staff had wanted to make such a ridiculous proposition to me, I would not have consented. Then I was asked about my relations with some of our officers. After the interrogation I was taken back to prison, but this time by car and without guards. After that I was interrogated at different times at least six times more.
Even after the first interrogation a Polish prison guard came into my cell; and gave me the sign to be quiet and offered to take a letter to my wife if she lives in Warsaw. I did not give him any letter out of caution, but I told him the address of our Colonel S. Ivanovych. The very next day he brought me some sugar and butter from Col. Ivanovych and the news that my wife was in touch with the colonel about my case, and that she would soon come to Warsaw again. Several days later the guard gave me a letter from my wife in which she stated very briefly that she was using all means to get an explanation of the cause of my arrest, that she had been interrogated by the Gestapo about me several times, especially about my work in the Polish Army and my relations with the above mentioned officers. So, she was asked the same questions as I. It became clear to me that the change in my treatment came because our testimony did not differ and this must have impressed the investigator.
After another interrogation in the endless row to which I was now being brought without guards, the investigator told me that my wife had also been interrogated several times and that everything in my case was now clear, but that the person who informed on me was supplied ever new petty accusations which must be cleared up because the Ukrainian informer "has pull in Berlin" and they don't want to have to reopen my case once it's closed. Incidentally, they offered to transfer me to a larger cell so that I would not feel lonely, but I refused. Now I could read books from the prison library, the food got better, and my wife was permitted to send me food parcels. On my part, I asked my wife not to send me food because I could not eat much after my terrible stomach trouble. I was kept this way until the end of April, when I was called to the prison office, my watch was returned to me, and I was declared released. I was taken to the Gestapo from prison and the interrogator had a long talk with me which he called "of a confidential nature." He told me that the informer had been an officer of my acquaintance, who cited as witnesses two other officers, who were alleged to have heard me boast in public on the night of September 7-8 at the Ukrainian Committee headquarters that "the Poles had picked me to perform sabotage behind German lines." But the Gestapo had investigated everything, and through my case they lost all confidence in the informer. Leibrandt was directly responsible for my release. Later, when I reported to President Livytsky, he told me that on the eve of my release he was visited by a high official of the German Foreign Office Herr Leibrandt whom he had known as a landowner in Ukraine. The President told Herr Leibrandt that he would not talk to him because the Gestapo was holding me in prison without cause. At this, Herr Leibrandt went to the Gestapo, studied my case and ordered my immediate release, advising the President.
Incidentally, during my last talk with the investigator he asked me for my opinion on how the war would end. I was completely taken aback with this question coming from a Gestapo man, but I replied without hesitation that I did not know what was now going on in the world, but that the Germans' attitude toward the Poles, about which I knew from reports of the guards, carried the seeds of protracted war in which the United States might take part as in World War I, and that only the Communists would profit from such world turmoil in the final analysis. He answered: "This is all very interesting, but I don't advise you to tell it to anyone because the Bolsheviks are our allies and you might be reported."
On my way to the station to go back to Skierniewice I stopped at a photographic studio and had my picture taken - I had not shaved once during the entire time of my imprisonment.