Saturday, December 11, 2021

November 11, 1942: Arthur watches for Nazi Troop movements

Context: My grandfather did some work for the Polish Intelligence service during WWII, in November of 1942.  His assignment was to sit in a French café, and watch for German military vehicles traveling through southern France, and write down their tag numbers, which told the intelligence analysts which Nazi divisions were on the move (more specifically, toward the Mediterranean to fight off the Allied invasion of north Africa, AKA "Operation Torch"). 

Note: Mr. Z. was a known Gestapo collaborator and police informant.


On November 11th, Arthur was sitting in a café reading as usual, when something blocked his light. He looked up and standing less than a meter away from Arthur, just on the other side of the window glass, was Mr. Z.  This close, Arthur could see broken capillaries in the man’s nose and cheeks, and the bags under his eyes.

“Helping the Gestapo again, are we?” Arthur muttered under his breath.  

Suddenly Mr. Z started beckoning to someone out of view, and Arthur leaned forward to see who the man was communicating with. 

Mr. Z was gesturing to several uniformed gendarmes, signaling for them to come join him in Arthur’s café.

Arthur’s heart started pounding. They are going to pick me up.  

Okay.

He tried to read, to look as natural as if he were just enjoying a book in a restaurant, but he couldn’t concentrate. He felt the blood rushing from his face, and then sweat broke out all over his body.  He could barely breathe. 

He stared down at a page in his book, not recognizing the letters and words printed there. Arthur couldn’t move or think, and just sat there, frozen. Unable to do anything but wait for arrest. 

He waited and waited and waited.

One minute passed, or perhaps it was five and nothing happened. He finally lifted one shaking hand, and wiped the sweat from his face on his sleeve.  

He slowly looked up, and saw Mr. Z shaking hands with the police officers who had joined him in front of the window.  They followed him into the café.  The three gendarmes sat down at a table on the other side of the room from Arthur. Mr. Z bought them drinks and then sat down with them at their table, talking jovially the whole time. 

It has nothing to do with me. Arthur took a deep, slow breath, and very slowly and silently let it out. After a suitable length of time, he got up and forced himself to saunter out of the café on still-weak legs.  Brown-nosing toady informant traitor.




Here is how my grandfather told me the story (what follows is a slightly edited excerpt from the transcript of recordings I made of him in May of 1988):


And one time, I knew of a French traitor, who was working for the Germans, for the Gestapo, and I saw him suddenly, in front of my window. And he was, what you say? becking? Beckoning, he was beckoning to city police, policeman. 

I thought, ‘They are going in to pick me up.’

Okay.

I start already reading my book, but I couldn’t concentrate. I heard--I felt all my blood, draining from my face, from my head; I was perspiring, all over the body. I was waiting for the moment when they will arrest me, and I wait, and wait, and wait. I couldn’t realize how much time passed, I couldn’t, I don’t know if it was a minute, or five minutes. Nothing happened. I lifted my eyes, and I saw that the French traitor was paying policeman drinks to get them friendly I guess, and it had nothing to do with me, and I--[sigh of relief]--relief came.

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