“The war began and we stayed at the train station. The war then broke out. It was a milestone in my life. My opinions changed, and maybe my character has changed as well. In those difficult moments of my life I tried to adapt to the new order, but not to go against my conviction and nationality. I was still underage. I experienced the beginning of the war in Lvov. My father was a railway employee and he received an order to evacuate the train station. He was a stationmaster and he was ordered to send his family away beforehand. We were thinking how far we should go. The city of Tarnów fell, and I wanted to go to Zaleshchiky, because I knew that grapes were just ripening there. We rode there for three days with my brother and mom. My father remained at the train station. On September 1st we arrived to Kolomyia, but the train didn’t go any further. It was supposedly not too far away from Zaleshchiky, but the Rumanians closed the border because of the impeding war. We remained at the train station there. We slept on a bench, and a policeman came there and sent us to a hotel. We spent the night there and as we went for breakfast in the morning, the station loudspeaker was already announcing: ‘Uwaga, uwaga (‘attention’ in Polish, transl.’s note). Be careful, there are air strikes.’ The war thus broke out. Our father was in the Těšín region, and we were far away.”
“The Germans had a sense for poetics, because they used names of operas to name their fortresses, such as Lohnengrin. The place was full of landmines. One day they deployed us in France, and as I watched the sea I thought: ‘Gosh, over there there is freedom.’ I was aware that I was so close to England. Later I learnt that some of my comrades managed to get out of France and cross the English Channel in a small boat. Due to the conditions there, I contracted a serious case of pneumonia. The hospital orderly told me that I was running a high fever of 40°C, but since there was no transport available, he told me to walk to a field hospital which was five kilometres away. I walked and walked. I thought that I would die there, in that beautiful Holland. I didn’t perceive anything. When I already believed that I would drop dead, a German soldier rode past me on a bicycle. I muttered some gibberish because I had fever and also because I couldn’t speak German too much. But what happened was that this man was actually a Pole from Danzig. He lifted me onto the bicycle and brought me half-dead to the field hospital.”
“Our unit then reached Bruges, where we guarded a fortress. Not many people know about it, but we were constructing an artificial forest there. They were bringing us long wooden beams, about six metres long or even longer. We had to anchor them in the ground and erect them so that airplanes would not be able to land there. It was interesting. It was shown in one film, but not many people know about it. It was a hard work. I served there as a soldier at guard towers. Every tower was equipped with four-muzzle machine guns and we were shooting from them. One of my colleagues even fired at an Englishman. I told him that I didn’t understand why he did it. But he replied that he would get a leave for every airplane he shot down. One day we marched from one place to another, but the marching was only for propaganda purposes in order to show that there were many German soldiers. A Spitfire airplane suddenly flew over us. There was an alarm and all of them dived to the ground. I and another friend who was also from Silesia said to each other that this was actually ‘our’ airplane, and we – idiots – thus started waving at the plane. He dropped something. The thing was falling from the plane and we were certain that it was a bomb. But it was actually an empty petrol canister.”
Ing. Arch. Bronislaw Firla was born June 15, 1924 in Horní Suchá. After the outbreak of WWII, his family signed the Volksliste just like many other people in Silesia, thereby registering as German nationals. For Bronislaw it meant that he had to join the German army. Bronislaw’s brother was drafted shortly after as well, and the family was later informed that he had been killed, but they were not able to find out more information regarding his death. Bronislaw served in France, Holland, Belgium and Italy in an artillery unit. In 1944 he managed to defect while he was in Italy. He joined the Polish exile army which fought in Italy at the end of the war under the command of general Wladyslav Anders. After the end of the war he studied at a school for telegraph operators and an officers’ school in Italy as a member of the Allied army. He returned home in 1947. He became a renowned architect, but he had problems with the communist regime throughout his entire life for refusing to join the Communist Party and for having served in the German army and in the Polish exile army. Bronislaw Firla died on 16 December 2019.