Stuck in Poland between the Germans and the Russians
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kazimierz Kozak was 10 years old when World War II came to the Polish countryside where he lived. It was near the end of the war and the retreating Germans were battling the advancing Russians. Kozak and his family were caught in the middle. They fled their home and survived in the trenches and foxholes left by the soldiers.
Kozak: One morning a soldier came to our door and said, “You have to go away. There is going to be a big fight here.” When he left we got busy making breakfast, milk from the cow and some bread. But before we could do anything there was a WHOOOSH and fire. The women and kids ran for the root cellar under the house. My father and my two brothers and I ran for the barn where our cows and our horse were kept.
Oh, I tell you there was smoke and shrapnel everywhere. I felt like any moment it would all be over. There was smoke and shrapnel everywhere. There was no thought of survival, we were just praying. When the shrapnel is hitting 10 feet from you, then four feet from you, you just raise your voice and pray.
Gallacher: You felt like you were going to die.
Kozak: Oh yes. I just buried my head in the manure and never imagined I would survive. There was only smoke and fire. There was a cannon shooting here and cannons shooting there and planes coming in low. Four or five planes shooting and dropping bombs. You can’t imagine that you might survive in that spot.
Gallacher: And you were 10 years old.
Kozak: Yes, and finally the shrapnel exploded right by the barn door and the impact blew the door open and our little pony ran outside. We knew that we could do nothing to save it. We couldn’t even go near the door. After a while the pony came running back in the barn, untouched.
Suddenly, my father said, “Look, look, look!” He was looking out a little window. What we saw was a German soldier running and behind him came a Russian soldier shooting and shooting very close like only 20 feet away and finally he had no more bullets and ran as close as he could to the German and threw his rifle with the bayonet.
The bayonet stuck in the ground right by the German’s leg and he was able to escape.
Later when the fighting stopped we began walking away from the front. The Russians told us to go east toward the river. We walked down through this valley along a trail. There were so many bodies that you could not step without stepping on someone. There were so many dead, but you could hear that some were still alive.
When we got to the river there were lots of country people like us who were gathered there, but before long we saw a German plane coming low down the river shooting at us. We were lucky he had no bombs or we would all have been killed.
We walked through the night and we found some abandoned German bunkers. So the women and kids slept in the bunkers, and the men and boys slept outside in whatever places they could find.
My oldest brother found a trench that a soldier had dug and it had a little straw. He said, “Come on we can sleep here through the night.” So we bedded down. It looked like a soldier had stayed a long time in this trench because the straw was all smashed down. We were asleep about a half hour when we both began to scratch. We were itching all over. We were covered in lice. We couldn’t sleep the rest of the night.
We didn’t have food so we had to walk the trenches looking for something to eat. We found some German bread. They left behind these little loaves. They were dry like a stone, but it was so tasty to us.
Gallacher: How long did it take you to recover from that experience?
Kozak: Ah, I still haven’t really recovered. But right now I feel like I saw a movie or read a book. It has been a long time.
When the fighting first started I was so scared, but after a while I didn’t care. I was numb to it.
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