Leokadia Rowinski became a member of the Polish Underground at the age of sixteen, soon after the German occupation of Warsaw on September 29, 1939. While working in a German-run office, she acted as a courier and intelligence gatherer for the Polish Home Army. In her book, That the Nightingale Return, Rowinski writes of her experiences, describing an occupied Poland filled with clandestine schools, secret military training and everyday attempts to maintain a normal life, all under relentless German scrutiny.
Rowinski begins her story with an account of her family’s history and continues with recollections of her early life and Catholic upbringing. She presents an idyllic picture of prewar Poland with a home life spent playing with her younger siblings and celebrating Christmas and Easter with her extended family, but the coming of World War II irrevocably changes this picture. Soon Rowinski, in her newfound role as a courier for the resistance, is ferrying literature, dodging German sentries and struggling against a rigidly enforced curfew.
On August 1, 1944, over a year after the Germans squelched the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Rowinski and her fellow members of the Polish resistance witnessed the beginning of their own Warsaw Uprising, which they had been planning throughout five years of occupation. Rowinski assumed an active role in the resistance, carrying messages for the Home Army through the underground tunnels and rubble-filled streets of a newly besieged Warsaw. Unfortunately, after sixty three days of intense fighting, the remnants of the Polish forces in Warsaw surrendered to the Germans, and Rowinski became a prisoner of war.
She was soon heading east by freight train with a leveled city behind her and the transit camp at Fallingbostel ahead of her. At Fallingbostel, Rowinski, now prisoner number 141681, went through a humiliating communal delousing and endured overcrowded conditions in a predominantly male populated camp. Later, after being transferred to the prisoner of war camp at Oberlangen, she survived the harsh winter under comparatively healthy conditions, thanks to the visits of “Geneva Convention” observers.
Six months after Rowinski’s arrival, the British forces liberated Oberlangen, and in April 1945 she was sent to a nearby displaced persons camp. There she met her future husband, a member of the Polish exile army serving with the British forces. After a stay in Britain that included the birth of their daughter, the couple emigrated to the United States and settled in Massachusetts, where the author and her family live to this day. In a coda to her story, Rowinski describes her return to post-Communist Poland in 1991 and her reunion there with surviving family members.
That the Nightingale Return is generously illustrated with family portraits, reproduced documents, and postwar photographs of Warsaw and Oberlangen.
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|TABLE OF CONTENTS|
|1. Be It Ever So Humble||7|
|2. A Suitcase of Memories||16|
|4. When All This Madness Ends||26|
|5. Remembering Grandfather||33|
|6. Uncle Roman’s Ways||39|
|7. Traditions... Traditions...||44|
|8. War Comes to Warsaw||53|
|9. Living, Loving, and Dying in a Conquered City||62|
|10. Warsaw in Arms - The Fight for Freedom Begins||74|
|11. The Uprising Is Failing, the End Is Near||84|
|12. “Introibo ad Altare Dei”||94|
|13. Behind Barbed Wire||109|
|14. The Christmas That Came Anyway||115|
|15. Oberlangen, the Last Encounters with Captivity||121|
|16. On the Road of No Return||131|
|17. Invitation to a Waltz||139|
|18. Bon Jour, Brussels! Cheerio, England! Hello, America!||147|
|19. A Ride with Ewelinka and the Journey’s End||153|