The 12th Podolski Lancers Regt. being presented with a new regimental banner in Cingoli, Italy 1945.
Romuald with his parents in Bei-Chibab, Lebanon 1945.
When I finished school, my regiment was stationed in Cingoli, a small town on the Adriatic coast.
Our platoon was transformed into a regimental battery and we were given 88mm. guns on half-tracks. We knew of the political situation in Poland, that a puppet government sent from Moscow was in power, that the Home Army, ie the underground army that was fighting Germans, after identification was disarmed and its members arrested and, in some cases, their officers shot. We knew that going back to Poland would be almost suicidal. Yet, we knew of the friction brewing between the United States and Russia and there was a hope that the United States, being the only country to have the atomic bomb, would impose some conditions on Russia that would be more favorable to Eastern Europe in general and to Poland in particular. The Iron Curtain was falling on Europe and we were hoping that we would be the ones to tear it down. For this reason, there was intensive training in every part of the 2nd Polish Corps. Our regiment was going to get tanks.
Meanwhile, we had a life of more or less regular army life in time of peace. We, officers and cadet-officers, were billeted in private homes. We had our daily training duties but, outside of that, it was a carefree life for young men who are happy that they escaped from the war with their lives. I remember the joy I felt when I was given a real bed, perhaps for the first time since I had left Poland, with clean, white sheets.
There were five of us, occupying two rooms. Three of us were from the 12th Podolski Lancers, one came from a partisan group, and one from the artillery regiment. Once in a while we did go to the beach at nearby Gallipoli. There was not much excitement in our life there and, before we knew it, it was October 1945 and I was awarded a "Matura Diploma" which is a certificate of completion of the lyceum.
On 11 November 1945, our regiment received a new regimental banner funded by the Polish Air Force. This was a big celebration, with the participation of most of the high-ranking officers both Polish and English, a parade and, after the ceremony of the receiving of the banner, there was a gala dinner at the officers' club. We, the officer-cadets, were also invited.
At just about the same time, we got the news that there were technical courses being organized to teach practical skills, such as drafting. I went to the Educational Command and asked if I could be enrolled on one of these courses. They told me that these courses were primarily for people who did not finish high school and that, since I was a high school graduate, I should try to go to a university.
Quite soon, two weeks after my visit to the Education Command, orders came that we could apply to Italian universities for various types of study, and so I applied for chemical engineering.
My struggle for education in Italy
A couple of weeks after filing my application, I received an order to go to Turin. The Academic Center was located in a very nice brick building, out of town, in one of the nicest residential districts, overlooking the River Po, and about 20-minutes' walking distance from the Polytechnic. We were in large rooms, about ten students to a room, but there were desks and study areas provided, so that conditions for study were excellent.
Turin is a big town, with over one million inhabitants and, of course, it is famous for Fiat automobiles. It is the capital of the province of Piemonte which is the seat of the Savoya dynasty.
The Polytechnic was located in the middle of Park Valentino, in a building that looked like an old palace, adjacent to the River Po. It was an old school where at one time the famous Avogadro was lecturing. The curriculum was very extensive; it took five years to get a degree in engineering, but the degree automatically was that of Doctor of Engineering. The curriculum was highly theoretical. I remember the derivation of various mathematical theorems, such as the Theory of L'Hopital. It was so complicated and did not have any practical value except as an exercise in mathematical thinking. Our professor of mathematics was Professor Einaudi, a famous mathematician. As it was generally accepted, he seldom lectured himself. Our professor of physics was Professor Perucca. He was also famous in academic circles as being someone who worked with Enrico Fermi on splitting the atom. Fermi then emigrated to the United States and Perucca remained in Italy. I attended his lectures but, because of my poor background in the basics of physics, I did not understand a lot.
Our beautiful life in Turin was shattered by the Polish representative from Warsaw. At that time, Italy, along with other countries, such as England and the United States, recognized the puppet regime in Warsaw. Our Polish Government-in-Exile in London that had issued our high school diplomas was no longer recognized as representing Poland. We, the Polish citizens who were abroad, were the voice of opposition to the present Polish government from Warsaw. Obviously, they did everything to make our lives miserable and to force us to go back to Poland.
My parents were in Lebanon throughout the war. Most Polish families, women and children, were sent to the refugee camps in various parts of the world. The Polish people in Lebanon had a very comfortable life. Lebanon recognized the Polish Government-in-Exile in London and there was a Polish consulate in Beirut.
My parents wanted to see me. They kept writing tearful letters urging me to do something to come and visit them. I realized that my stay in Turin was temporary. I knew that, sooner or later, our troops would be withdrawn from Italy, and then it would be very doubtful that there would be any organization that would subsidize our stay at the universities. Being aware of the uncertainty in Italy, I applied for a furlough to go to Lebanon.
At the end of the academic year, on 30 July 1946, we celebrated in Italian style, in an elegant night club rented by the Students Union, near the Polytechnic.
The day after the celebration, I went to the Academic Center mainly to get my pay, and to find out what was going on there. On the way, I met another student going in the opposite direction who told me that they were looking for me at the Center, they had some important and urgent news for me, and word was out let me know that I should report to the Center as soon as possible. Alarmed by the news, I rushed to the Center and at the office they told me that my request for a furlough had been approved and, in order to use it and make the departing ship for Alexandria, Egypt, where a cabin was assigned for me, I had to be in Naples on the next day at or before 14.00. I was told that, if I wanted to get on the ship, I had to take the 20.00 train from Turin. The furlough meant a lot to me. I knew that my parents went through a lot during the Italian campaign wondering whether I was alive, dead or wounded and I wanted to somehow reward them for those days of anxiety.
We arrived in Port Said in Egypt and, shortly after that, we were transported to a large camp in Quassassin. From there, I went to Jerusalem to the Lebanese consulate to get a visa. I found that the consulate was closed but I don't remember the reason. From Jerusalem, I hitchhiked directly to Tel-Aviv, where there was another Lebanese consulate. There I caught the consul literally on the stairs; he was leaving town for several days and that would mean another delay. He was a kind man, went back to his office and gave me the visa. Then I returned to the camp. Considering the fact that all my travels in Palestine were done by hitchhiking and all in one day, I was satisfied with myself. Next day we were provided with military transportation to Haifa, which is a town in the northern part of Palestine and, from there, we took a taxi to Beirut.
We arrived in Beirut after several hours of travel at some ungodly hour. It was late at night. The driver brought us to the main square in town, Place De Cannons, took his fee and said goodbye. We tried in vain to find somebody who spoke English. I remembered some of my French from Poland. I asked somebody where the Polish Red Cross was. To our surprise, we found that French was commonly spoken in Lebanon. We were shown the way immediately. We did not realize that Lebanon until recently was under French domination and French was the main language at that time. In all the offices the administration was in French. Arabic was just being introduced as the second language.
We spent the rest of the night at the Polish Red Cross and next day, after breakfast, I went to look for a bus that would take me to Bei Chibab, a small village, about 15 kilometers from Beirut where my parents were.
There were six of us children and all were in different parts of the world, and all of us had been somehow involved in the war. Piotrek was in Siberia, and my parents knew that there was a Polish Army formed from those Poles who were left in Russia and that they were fighting on the Russian front, so Piotrek was probably in combat. It turned out, that he was indeed in the Polish Army and participated in the big battle at Lenino, where Polish troops under General Berling got a bloody nose from the Germans, but survived the war. Wladek was in Polish Parachute Brigade, I was in Italy and there was no news from Tadek, Andzia and Janka, who were in Poland. So, they had a lot to worry about.
After a few days of my stay with my parents, we realized that in two weeks' time I would have to go back to Italy. I knew that our stay in Italy was temporary and that my studies there would not last long after the withdrawal of Polish forces. I realized that I needed a place, a country, where I could start to seriously study, uninterrupted by the constant moving from place to place. Lebanon did not qualify as such either. Meanwhile, we established contact with Wladek and Tadek. Wladek had had a terrible accident while jumping from a plane during some exercises. He had married a Scottish woman who was a nurse at the hospital where he was brought in after the accident. Tadek was with my regiment and was taken care of by my friends there. The news from Poland about Janka and Andzia was sketchy and rare. Also, there was disturbing news about the fate of those soldiers who went back to Poland after the war.
Meanwhile, the date of my departure from Lebanon was quickly approaching. Mother's tearful eyes were following me with anxiety, and I knew what she was thinking. Finally, somebody came up with the idea of trying to get a student's status in Lebanon and stay here for a longer time. There were many Polish students in Beirut studying at the American or French university.
I received several letters from my friends who wrote that their days in Italy were numbered and that they were preparing for departure to England. The British, influenced by the Polish government from Warsaw, exerted some pressure on us to go back to Poland.
Inspired by the prospect of staying in Beirut, I went to the Polish consulate and asked if I could study in Lebanon. They told me that, if I brought proof of my enrollment to a university, I would be entitled to stay as a student. There were two universities in Beirut: one American and one French. I don't know what motivated me to go to the French university. I went to the dean and asked to be enrolled at the university. After a few sentences in my broken French, he asked me directly if I, coming from Italy, spoke Italian. I answered in quite good Italian, he spoke in French, and we understood each other very well. Apparently my knowledge of Italian, helped by some Latin that I had to take in Polish high school, was enough to understand French. The dean took me to the registration office and declared that I could be accepted as a student of chemistry. That established me as a student in Beirut. I moved from Bei Chibab to Beirut and started to attend the lectures. The Academic Center was in the Metropolitan Hotel for men and there was another building for girls. There were roughly about 250 Polish students in Beirut: about 50 of them were men; the rest were women.
Life in Beirut was quite pleasant but, unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end. Sometime in Summer 1947, I was called to the military command in Beirut and told that my regiment was leaving Italy for England and that I had to report to a military camp in England.
I did not want to interrupt my studies but I did not have any choice. I had to go. So, in July 1947, I boarded a bus to take us to Egypt and, after almost a full year in Lebanon, I went on my way. We spent a couple of weeks in Quassassin and boarded a ship that took us to England.
My stay in Turin will certainly be considered as one of the happiest periods of my life. For the first time since the end of the war, I had complete freedom of movement, reasonably good financial support and was in a nice town; life was good.
I had written to my parents about my coming but, of course, I could not tell them the exact date or hour of my arrival. But they were waiting for each bus hoping that I would be on one of them. They saw me descending from the bus and both of them ran to welcome me. There was a lot of embracing, tears of joy, short, scattered words, as usual when people want to share their experiences of several years in a short time. They told me about their agony of waiting for letters, their joy when they got one and anxiety when they did not.
Turin Italy 1945. On the way to the polytechnic. Romuald Lipinski on left.
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