Friday, September 18, 2009

70 Years Ago Russian Communist Forces Invade Poland, Then Came Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J.

J. Stalin's Red Army was at last unleashed at 4 a.m., Sunday, September 17. Led by its air pilots and big tanks, it rattled into Poland along all main east-west highways on a 500-mile front, from the Dzwina River (above Polotsk) on the north to the Dniester (Rumanian border) on the south. From past reports of the Russian mobilization, some observers guessed that 2,000,000 men were on the move. At nightfall, the first war communique from Moscow listed a long line of towns swiftly taken, mostly rail junctions, after "throwing back weak advance units and reserves of the Polish Army. . . ."
Baranowicze, Rowne, Tarnopol, Zaleszczyki were all invaded at once. Out of the raving wilderness that was Poland came word that Marshal Smigly-Rydz diverted a whole Army corps from Wilno to confront the Russians in the northeast, that a hot fight ensued at Molodeczno, rail junction between Wilno and Minsk.
Elsewhere opposition was nominal or minus. Refugees over the Rumanian border described the new invaders as traveling peaceably along the same Ukrainian roads as the fugitive Poles. It was a mass movement of occupation rather than of conquest, although performed the same way as the crashing German onslaught—mechanized forces piercing far ahead, infantry on slower trucks bringing up the rear. Conjunction of the west-moving Russian horde with the east-flowing Germans was awaited tensely. Would they embrace each other? Or would they quarrel over their prey? The answer soon came: the Nazi Air Force cooperated heartily with the Soviet spearheads to bomb and flatten even the slightest resistance. As a workout for the giant Red Army, the invasion of Poland was only a brief sprint. For its significance—the partitioning of collapsed Poland—observers read the political dispatches from Moscow and Berlin

Link (here) to the Time Magazine account of the destruction of Poland

Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J.

The 1929 establishment of the Russian Center [Russicum] in Rome was the initial training ground for those Jesuits who volunteered to respond to the Pope's call. Walter J. Ciszek, a Polish-American, born in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania in 1904, was one of those early volunteers. His mother and father were of Polish peasant stock and had gone to America in the 1890s and settled in the coal region of Shenandoah......In eighth grade Walter made up his mind to be a priest. His father, of course, refused to believe it. But he fooled them all and entered the Polish minor seminary.

"And I had to be tough. I'd get up at four-thirty in the morning to run five miles around the lake on the seminary grounds, or go swimming in November when the lake was little better than frozen. I still couldn't stand to think that anyone could do something I couldn't do, so one year during Lent I ate nothing but bread and water for the forty days --another year I ate no meat at all for the whole year --just to see if I could do it. "
[With God in Russia]

Then Ciszek read the life of St. Stanislaus Kostka, another tough Pole who fought his family and at fourteen walked from Warsaw to Rome to join the Jesuits. Ciszek was three years from ordination. He hated the idea of "perfect obedience". But at age twenty-four without asking anyone's advice he presented himself to the provincial at 501 East Fordham Road in the Bronx and said,
"I'm going to be a Jesuit."
On September 7, 1928 he reported to the novitiate in Poughkeepsie, New York. Early in his first year he volunteered to go to Russia and, surprisingly, he was accepted. Only one condition, he had to finish the course of studies first.At the end of his second year of philosophy, however, he was informed that he was to sail to Rome to begin his theological studies at the Russian College. On June 24, 1937 he was ordained and said his first Mass in the Russian rite.

Since no priest could travel directly into Russia, Ciszek was sent to Albertyn, Poland to work for two years teaching ethics to Jesuit seminarians and to be "a horse-and-buggy priest". But on September 1, 1939 Hitler invaded Poland. The novices were sent home. And then the Russians invaded from the east. Ironically, Russia came to him.

The Russians took over the college, threw the books from the library into a dump truck, and left the Jesuits with nothing but the chapel.
Then one day Ciszek went into the church to say Mass and found the tabernacle open, the altar cloths strewn about, and the Blessed Sacrament gone. It was the end of the Jesuit mission in Albertyn

Father Ciszek and his inventive friend, Father Makar, managed to con their way onto one of the jammed trains going south to Lvov, the Jesuit theologate. For awhile Ciszek got a job driving a truck, but the one idea that plagued him was that this was the perfect time for his "invasion" of Russia. The roads were aswarm with refugees. A man could easily lose himself among them. The Russians were hiring large crowds of people to work the factories in the Urals. Finally, his superior said yes.and he obtained the permission of the Ukrainian Archbishop of Lvov, Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytzky, with special powers.

For the tricky Makar false identity papers were no problem. So Ciszek presented himself at the office of a big lumber combine as Vladimir Lypinski, a widower whose family had died in a German air raid. On March 15, 1940 he boarded boxcar 089725 with twenty-five other people, an oil-drum stove, a slop bucket for a toilet, and not much else for the fifteen hundred-mile trip to Chusovoy in the Ural Mountains. The trip took two grinding, tedious weeks.

Through the summer of 1940 Walter worked as an unskilled laborer hauling logs from the river and stacking them in long rows on the bank. He was paid by the number of logs stacked, but with old-timers juggling the tallies and lodging deducted from his pay, he was broke within two weeks and had to begin pawning his few possessions to buy food.
He had to sneak out into the woods to say Mass. In his spare time he memorized the prayers of the Mass against the time when his Mass kit might be discovered and confiscated. But for the time being his apostolate was loading logs and keeping his ears open.
Then one night early in June at 3 a. m. the barracks were surrounded by secret police. They searched everything. In Ciszek's suitcase they found two bottles of white wine, a can of tooth powder, and some sheets of paper he had used to teach a little boy how to write. The agent claimed they were "bottles of nitrogylcerine, a tin of gunpowder, and a secret code. Vladimir Lypinski was arrested as a German spy.

For two months he was kept in a cell thirty by thirty feet with about a hundred other prisoners, never the same men, since as new prisoners were shoved in, others were taken out, never to be seen again. Those who did return were battered black and blue.

Finally one day he was called to the interrogation room. 'Who are you?" He began the sad story of the widower Lypinski. The interrogator interrupted him: "No, no, no. You are not Lypinski, you are not Russian, and you are not a Pole. You are a priest and your name is Ciszek and you are a spy for the Germans. Now why don't you tell us about it?"

He was stunned. He had no way of knowing how they had found him out. He admitted the story but for an hour uselessly denied that he was a spy for anyone. It was the first of many interrogations. Some were accompanied with rubber clubs, pressure devices on his head, starvation of his body, rubber tubes around his mid section, interrogation at all hours of the night, drugs in his blood stream, and these first three months of solitary confinement and punishment were increased to six and a cell mate was added in order to obtain a confession.
During the six-month period, Father Walter maintained his by religious thought and in fact accomplished priestly work in the religious interrogation of his interrogators. Finally, after severe, brutal mind manipulation by the Lubianka interrogator and drugging by a medical doctor, Father did signed a paper of rigged confession. He describes this as one of the darkest moments in his life and yet out of the darkness came a deep conversion, a conversion to do always the will of God.
[He Leadeth Me, p. 73] Several weeks later on July 26, 1942 he was summoned before a commissar at two o'clock in the morning. He had "confessed" and had been found guilty of espionage. The sentence was fifteen years at hard labor in Siberia. He did not know then that it would be four more years before he left Lubianka.

Read the rest of his incredible story (here)


Mike said...

As Poland remembers the Soviet invasion 70 years ago today, a poll by CBOS shows that 19 percent of Poles believe that the Soviet Union invaded from a defensive motive, with Stalin believing that Hitler was about to attack Russia.

See Polish Radio Article.

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