Class 4

How I studied during the occupation

When the slavery of the German occupation surrounded Poland, the Polish nation did not collapse even for a moment and began to function in secret from the first months of captivity. Under the guise of a grueling and physical numbness that was apparently universal, the heart of the nation beat full of life and hope. It was a campaign both on a political field and on an educational one. Polish cities like Kraków and Warsaw, as well as the larger provinces, became the main centers of underground learning, raising the young people to fulfill their future roles and awakening hope and patriotism.

Sorts of regional educational bodies were created, that is to say, teams of some dozen professors created so-called underground classes which were spread across nearly every district in the city. They worked conjointly and according to an agreed and accepted curriculum.

I started my studies in Kraków in October 1944. I was part of district X, which included four professors. Our group was small, there were only three pupils. We worked through the first class from October to January 1945. The lessons were taught according to the old pre- war curriculum. We studied all the subjects including religion. We learned history from the textbooks of Moszczeńska and Mrozowska, geography from Pawłowski, Polish from Quo vadis? and Sir Thaddeus, but that was mostly in fragments and committed to memory. We often wrote essays on historical and topical subjects or based on the reading we had done. For foreign languages, we learned English from the books of Paweł Kalina. Besides that, there were mathematics, biology, religion (Liturgika [Liturgics]) and Latin (Elementa latina).

We were able to study in peace, usually at the home of one of my friends, as our group was small and the district (Salwator) was calm and inhabited predominantly by Poles. Our classes took place every day and lasted five to six hours. We usually went in the afternoons because our professors had to work in the mornings. They held the most various positions in public life and often appeared under pseudonyms.

As for learning aids, we had a globe, maps, biological tables, and further reading; these items were scrupulously looked after. Reading material and illustrated educational magazines were brought to us by friends and university professors who looked very favorably on us by putting their private libraries at the disposal of younger people. The pre-war notebooks of other pupils also helped us greatly; they had been filled in very conscientiously and were also given to us by friends.

The mood in the classroom was very casual, calm and full of eagerness to learn. My memories of those underground lessons make up some of the fondest recollections of my time at school. The relationship between the professors and the pupils and vice versa was, for want of a better word, amicable. We recognized their sacrifice and the willingness with which they gave themselves to their work. There were even organizations such as the Scouts and various literary circles in the older groups.

Our schooling, although generally peaceful, also had its moments full of emotion and peril. I personally didn’t have any shocking experiences from that time, but the stories we heard made a great impression on us.

One of these was e.g. the arrest of a 17-year-old high school student from our district, whom the Gestapo discovered with a briefcase filled with books and newsletters. She was detained at Montelupich prison. Our whole group, and especially the professors who were being arrested en masse, was gripped by fear. But Krystyna seemed to be unmoved during her interrogation and she didn’t betray district X or her own organization. After her death, which came several weeks later, a rosary made of bread balls was found among her possessions that were sent from prison. It had probably been her talisman in her heroic spiritual battle.

Except for that, it was not uncommon to see roundups in the street which usually claimed many young victims.

A great unity and understanding of the moment and of duty among the youth existed during the period of our underground schooling. It was likewise a testimony of the historical tradition that a youth seized with enthusiasm was always capable of great endeavors, and that in critical moments it formed a kindred Polish nation. Besides that, the underground classes educated and prepared a mass of young people for the rest of their lives.