In August 1941, on the press market in Nowy Targ appeared a weekly for Wehrmacht soldiers, Germans and Volksdeutsche. It was the Poles whot published the weekly – to provoke ferment in enemy ranks.
This story has three non-obvious heroes. The first one was a volksdeutsch, a Kriminalpolizei (Kripo) officer – an officer of a district German Criminal Police Department in occupied Poland. The second one, although he was Polish, also worked for Kripo. The third one had graduated from German schools and spoke German like a native, and for that reason – as he admitted years later – he was regularly being urged to sign the Deutsch Volksliste (DVL) by ones, by the others – suspected of actually having done that. Against all appearances, all three of them were the members of the Polish Underground, and worked for the good of independent Poland. We should be telling their story, because their life experiences show how much the fates of the Poles were winding during World War II.
It stems from the documents that survived that the first of the three, Bernard Mróz, from the beginning of the 1920s worked in the Political Police Department in Pszczyna. The tasks of this formation dealt with state security: prevent espionage, collect information about anti-national structures and counter them, which at the time meant first of all elimination of communism-oriented groups. Political police officers were carefully selected former investigating officers. Mróz must surely have been a person to be trusted, who had proved in service. In 1931, Bernard Mróz was awarded the Medal of Independence, and in 1936 – the Bronze Cross of Merit in recognition for his service to public security.
When occupation started, Mróz was forced – as all policemen were, under death threat – to come to work. The postwar research studies on the subject reveal that he had signed the DVL, but it’s not clear how exactly that happened. His life shows that he was a Polish patriot, and his potential signing the Volksliste probably was the attempt to conceal his activity for underground resistance. Pszczyna was part of the territory incorporated to the Reich, so Mróz – as well as other policemen – was delegated to the territory of General Government to work in Kripo department in Nowy Targ.
The second hero of this story, Tadeusz Popek, a son of a railroad man from Chodenice near Bochnia in Little Poland region, was 24 when the war broke. To Podhale, he came in the fall of 1939 with his mother Aniela and brother Edward. The reason why the Popek family had moved out from Chodenice is not exactly known. Some sources say that Tadeusz had been engaged in some sabotage operation on Bochnia railway and the Popek family had to move out to stay safe. On the other hand, Jadwiga Apostoł, who had met Tadeusz Popek in Nowy Targ, recalled that he was believed to be a deportee. Anyway, his war activity was related to the territory under the Tatra Mountains. The boy had a talent in organizing and management, which he used well during his intense conspiratorial activity.
The third important person in this story was Aleksander Stromenger, born in the Great Poland region. He took his education in German schools in Bydgoszcz, Berlin and Toruń, so he was perfectly fluent in German. Contrary to his older brother Stefan, who was an officer of the Polish Army, he never decided to pursue a military career – he became a dairy specialist. In February of 1940, similarly to many people in the region of Great Poland, he was deported. His house and workplace was occupied by German settlers, and he was ordered by authorities in occupation to move to Nowy Targ. He managed the dairy for the Germans, but he would sabotage the production and illegally distribute the products from the dairy magazine to the people in need.
Sylwester “Mohort” Leczykiewicz later said that Stromenger generously “distributed two wagons of sugar and over half a million of eggs,” which in other case would go to German canteens. Quite soon he entered the society of conspirators in Podhale. Due to his profession, he would often have meetings with German authorities in the region. The provisioning manager, whose name was Edel, noticed that Stromenger is fluent in the language of Goethe, and perfectly manages the dairy plant, so he was trying to persuade him to become a volksdeutsch. Many a times, Stromenger would be asked to do that, but would always answer that he was Polish.
At the beginning of 1941, in the Podhale region, an underground organization, called the Tatra Confederation, was formed. Its members were, i.e. Augustyn Suski (Chief), Tadeusz Popek (propaganda specialist), Maj Edward Gött-Getyński (military activity), Jadwiga Apostoł (administration), and Eugeniusz Iwanicki (intelligence). The aim was to fight against the occupier and get ready for anti-German uprising. One very important task of the Tatra Confederation was to prevent Polish highlanders from being germanized. The Germans were implementing germanization action with the help of a collaborative organization led by Wacław Krzeptowski (born in Kościelisko), in the attempt to single out a brand new nation, the so-called Goralenvolk.
The main Gestapo headquarters in the region was Zakopane with an infamous commissariat in the former Palace Hotel, called “Death’s Head Resort” of Podhale. In Nowy Targ, there was the Criminal Police Department. It was there where Bernard Mróz found his job. Later, recommended by Mróz, Tadeusz Popek was also employed. Popek, in turn, recruited him to the Tatra Confederation.
In that way, an innovative Krippo department became a center of a strenuous work of the Polish underground. With the help of Mróz and Popek from the Police, several people from Polish conspiracy were liberated, e.g. Józef Kuraś, later known as “Ogień,” in December 1941. Taking the opportunity of some construction work being done in the police building, Popek and Mróz had a courage to do a daring thing: cut the whole out in the wall, placed the radio receiver there, and covered it with a rug. During occupation, those who owned a radio receiver were severely punished, e.g. with deportation to a concentration camp or even death. That well-hidden radio let the Polish conspirators listen to Western radio stations. In this way, they acquired information free from German propaganda – about the real situation in the country or on distant war fronts. This knowledge had to be popularized, so the members of the Tatra Confederation, as of Spring 1941, would publish underground papers: “Wiadomości polskie” (“Polish News”) or later “Na placówce” (“At the Post”). For publishing, they used typewriters, copying machine and paper belonging to the German police. Reportedly, they would organize conspiratorial meetings even in the Kripo place.
Ferment in Enemy Ranks
According to the charter of the Tatra Confederation, a “diversionary and ideological action among the Germans themselves” was planned. The most work in the weekly, which was to misinform the Germans, was for Aleksander Stromengar and Bernard Mróz, as they were both fluent in German. Popek would deliver articles in Polish, and they were translated into German. The newspaper was named “Der freie Deutsche” (“A Free German”). The weekly’s vignette featured the sun, coming from behind the clouds and shining on the swastika that was falling into pieces. Underneath the illustration, there was the title of the paper, its issue number, date and a sentence: “Wochenblatt für Deutsche im Distrikt Krakau” (“A weekly for the Germans in Kraków District”; however, Stromenger’s recollections indicated that the newspaper was in fact issued every two or three weeks). The first issue was printed on August 1, 1941, and was numbered 53 to mislead the Police. Ultimately, until the Tatra Confederation was broken up at the end of January 1942, five or six issues were published.
Articles were very critical about Hitler’s authorities. Stromenger noted: “We’ve decided that each issue must contain one propaganda and political article, radio news, a commentary on debauchery of politicians in the rear of the war fronts, who were fattening up at the expense of Wehrmacht’s efforts.” In their articles, conspirators highlighted the fact that entire effort of the German state went to procure new weapons, and not to improve the fate of its citizens. They warned that the prolonging war would surely end with Germany’s defeat, which would mean the collapse of the Third Reich. For the reason, the best option would be if the Germans themselves overthrew Hitler. About the content of the first issue, Stromenger also said: “With Mróz, we wrote one more article about the shady dealings of propaganda, we even prepared four jokes about Hitler and Göring, and several tips for soldiers, e.g. how to injure yourself with your own rifle to go to the hospital for several weeks.”
Stromenger signed his articles as “Schleicher.” It was to “remind the Germans about the murder of the general and his wife when Hitler took power” [General Kurt von Schleicher, the Chancellor of the Weimar Republic, who was murdered during the Night of the Long Knives in 1934]. On top of that, “the name, translated into Polish, means »lurking« or »hidden in wait for,« which perfectly matched the intentions of our editorial staff.”
The newspaper was targeted at the Germans, Volksdeutsche, and Wehrmacht soldiers deployed in southern Poland. Therefore, the authors put a careful attention to the fact that the articles were written exclusively in German and were well edited. The aim was to evoke the feeling that among the Germans themselves, there is ferment, unrest and discord to the policy of Hitler’s authorities. For security reasons, the packages with printed papers were mailed for distribution, sticking to the rule that all packages must be sent from outside Nowy Targ. The papers were left out in various public places where the Germans were likely to be, such as waiting rooms at railway stations, administration offices, postal offices or eating places.
The weekly found its way to German soldiers, but also to the offices of the most important occupational officers, including to the Commandant of the Police Department in Nowy Targ, whom at that time was untersturmführer Josef Kandzia. The commandant, as Stromenger recalled, “while standing next to the copying machine, on which this paper was printed, roared on the editors, promising them bloody revenge.” On his command, the secret police operatives went out to take the samples of fonts from all the typewriters in all companies and offices. The goal was to found the place where the paper was being copied. Kandzia never checked the typewriters in his own office.
About the existence of the weekly, also the Wehrmacht and Gestapo command finally found out. At this point, the police machine started off. At the end of January 1942, as a result of provocation, the Tatra Confederation was broken up, and some of their members (including Tadeusz Popek, but also Chief Augustyn Suski and Major Edward Gött-Getyński) were caught and either shot dead or deported to concentration camps. Aleksander Stromenger and Bernard Mróz escaped to Warsaw at the last moment. They later participated in Warsaw Uprising.
autor zdjęć: NAC