Historical story

Pole in the face of war. How did our grandparents prepare for the September campaign?

The hot summer of 1939 was not a time of carefree idyll for everyone. Many Polish families spent the last months of freedom contemplating the war. But was it possible to prepare for the Nazi invasion and the many years of occupation at all?

The New Year's Eve of 1938 was celebrated by the Wardells with real pomp, just like any previous one in free Poland. Halina, a wealthy Warsaw woman, wife and mother, and at the same time one of the few Polish pre-war lawyers, had been preparing a suitable toilet for several weeks. Together with her husband, they spent the first half of the evening in a homely atmosphere, in the company of their parents and little daughter Ewa.

The man who drank too much

It was only after midnight that they set off to play with their friends in a luxurious villa in Saska Kępa. It was not an ordinary party, but a banquet intended solely for the people of the candlestick. There were politicians, aristocrats, the best-off entrepreneurs and those who had just climbed the candlestick. The hostess watched over the glitz envelope.

On New Year's Eve 1938, probably many people were wondering exactly the same questions as Halina Wardell (source:public domain).

In the midst of the clink of glass, the buzz of conversation and delicious dishes, Halina Wardell still did not feel well. She loved such games, but this time a persistent rumor prevented her from focusing her attention on the celebration. Her neighbor at the table was a steel tycoon. The woman finally couldn't stand it and asked him directly:

- Sir, will there be a war this year?

- Of course, I've never been in a boom like this!

When asked about the same successful lawyer, a man with broad connections and fabulous income, he also nodded without hesitation. He was absolutely sure that the conflict would break out, and it was right after the harvest season. In addition, he claimed that it was best to start stocking up on absolutely anything now. When the war breaks out, it will be much too late for that, he warned.

Halina Wardell did not even think about dances and delicacies anymore. People laughing around each other wished each other that the next year would be even better and even more profitable than the previous one. Meanwhile, her thoughts revolved around only one topic:how to protect yourself in the event of war? How ?!

On the first occasion, she confided her fears to her husband. This, however, with an indulgent smile downplayed the whole thing. "You've spoken to people who have drunk one glass too much," he said.

The client knows better

Whoever wanted to look good and classy, ​​directed their steps to the studio of Adolf Zaremba, the most famous tailor of pre-war Warsaw. It was he who dressed aristocrats, politicians, financiers and diplomats. Professors, lawyers and film stars also joined its thresholds. In short, crème de la crème of the then Polish elite.

Unfortunately, the editors of Światowid were not mistaken when announcing the "Year of Mars" in January 1939. However, it was supposed to last almost six years (source:public domain).

With each successive month of 1939, the international situation grew increasingly tense. In the streets of Polish cities, it was first whispered:"There will be a war with Germany." Now people are talking about it aloud. However, Zaremba's movement is as it always is. Every day high-ranking personalities appear in the elegant living room. The minister has to measure himself for a new tailcoat, and the ambassador for the initial coat.

Forty-one-year-old Adolf, husband, father and serious businessman prefers to make sure how things really stand. Is the war a tabloid rumor or a real fear? If Hitler really sharpens his teeth against Poland, then you have to prepare yourself, your family and business for the uproar.

What could a man do in this situation about his position and connections? It is best to consult the sources, i.e. ask your own high-profile clients. After many years, Hanna Zaremba, the daughter of a famous tailor, recalled those events:

My father wore a lot of clothes people from the government, from the Seym, they said:"Mr. Zaremba, there will be no war". Even when the war broke out, we didn't have anything to eat, because dad said:"We don't make any supplies - people make supplies for war - unnecessarily."

Gas and sanitation exercises of the Women's Military Training in August 1939 (source:public domain).

It's better to be oversensitive than hungry

Is war coming? Contradictory answers have been given to this question until the last few days. Also, the attitudes of Poles in the face of the increasingly tense international situation were not the same. Some joined paramilitary organizations, donated their last valuables as part of a general collection to help the military. Air and gas defense exercises and drills were held in the country.

There were also people who, after all, did not believe that a conflict could break out. They didn't bother building shelters, buying gas masks, and stockpiling. It was not until the fateful September 1 that it was revealed who was right.

Memory of another war

A few months earlier, the mother and grandmother of Bogumił Żórawski, a young boy who would survive the war and the uprising in Warsaw, started collecting iron rations.

The bread was cut into slices and dried in the oven. Then they put the rusks in bags and hid them out of the reach of children's hands. In addition, the family began stocking up on any non-perishable items. The pantry was full of flour, sugar and even dried vegetables.

Many families, like the Żórawski family, perfectly remembered the hardships of World War I. The very thought of going back to the years of hunger and uncertainty was enough to start our preparations - even if the neighbors accepted it with smiles and teasing.

The Mark of the Paniker

A nervous mood was felt everywhere. People, called on to panic, bought matches, kerosene and salt. The mother of Tadeusz Brzeziński, who in 1939 was a teenage boy, a student of the Powstańców 1863 in Warsaw, gathered especially the last product of necessity. In the previous world conflict, you could get anything for salt. The woman hoped that in the event of the outbreak of war, the scenario would repeat itself and that whatever she did not manage to buy, she would get salt currency.

Halina Wardell also knew hers. She had money and opportunities, and to stockpile the products that were in abundance on store shelves did not hurt anyone. Already in January, she decided not to let the war catch her by surprise. But she also knew that she had to act in the strictest secrecy.

The more cautious ones were gathering supplies long before the war broke out. Others waited until the last minute, standing in long lines to the shops. Photo from Aleksandra Zaprutko-Janicka's book "Occupation from the kitchen".

It was not difficult to imagine how the environment or even her own family would react. The mere mention of stocking would be ridiculous.

A pantry for hard times

Only two people initiated the preparations - the maid Ania and Mr. Przyborowski, who did various housework for the family. It was to him that Halina Wardell entrusted everything. An honest and systematic man was tasked with preparing supplies "as for a hard, long war".

He knew the household well, he knew how many people lived there permanently and what their needs were. He collected money from his employer for specific purchases and constantly traveled with them in horse-drawn carriages.

The pantry was filling up very quickly. Eventually it began to resemble a pretty well-stocked colonial store. A maid from the village looked at it with her mouth wide open, and Przyborowski explained:

We set flour here, groats and sugar here, coffee and tea in this house goes a lot, bacon [...] , dried fruit for a child, honey and mushrooms must be brought from Maciej from the village , and melted butter and lard buried in the cellar, because it's cold there. We will definitely fry blueberries, tomatoes and marinate mushrooms.

Preparing for the upcoming war, Halina Wardell took care of a sufficiently large supply of coal (source:public domain).

Black gold in the basement

It didn't end with eating. Halina Wardell also took care of no less important raw material - fuel. Instead of the usual two tons of coal, she decided to order five this time. If the news of this got through to her husband, he would have laughed at him. - even though he was a serious government official who knew nothing about jokes.

It is his attitude that should be considered the standard. The press and radio were constantly reminded of the strength of the army and the tenacity of the heirs of Marshal Piłsudski who ruled the country. Ordinary Poles preferred dreams of power to everyday fear. Instead of worrying about imaginary invasions on the borders of the Commonwealth, they enjoyed the hot summer and enjoyed their lives. It was with them that summer resorts were filled in July and August.

The crowds came to Truskavets, Zakopane, to the Polish seaside. Józef Beck, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Władysław Raczkiewicz, the Pomeranian Voivode, as well as state officers and officials, were on the beach. The idyll lasted until August 25. The new orders were like a bolt from the blue. All military leaves were canceled, and vacationers were ordered to immediately leave the Hel Peninsula. On August 30, general mobilization was announced.


"Okupacja od Kuchni" is a moving story about the times when illegal pig slaughtering could lead to Auschwitz, vegetables were grown in the courtyards of tenement houses, and used coffee grounds were traded on the black market. It is also an amazing cookbook:full of original recipes and practical tips from 1939-1945. We recommend!