Family stories
Zdzisław Cabaj
Interview recorded: by Sylwia Cabaj Gręboszów, Poland 22.11.2020

Zdzisław Cabaj

I interviewed my father who was born in 1959. In the conversation, dad recalls stories related to World War II that he heard from his parents. From an exciting conversation lasting over an hour, I allowed myself to choose the most interesting fragments in which my father, among other things, tells how German soldiers lived in his parents’ house, and about the German gendarme Engelbert Guzdek who terrorized our region (Powiśle Dąbrowskie). This interview is an example of the second generation memories.

[S] Sylwia Cabaj, [Z] Zdzisław Cabaj


S: Could you tell me something about your parents?  How old were they when World War II started?


Z: My father was born in 1926 and my mother was born in 1936. So at the time of the outbreak of World War II my father was a teenager and my mother was a little girl. Both of them came from big families.


S: Have your parents ever told you about those difficult times? Was it your initiative to start those conversations? Do you remember any of their stories?


Z: Parents did not bring up these topics often. Time gradually blurs these stories and details, but a few remain in my memory. As I have mentioned, my mother was only a few years old when the war broke out, so she couldn’t remember much about that period. She mentioned that German soldiers lived in one of the rooms in our house for some time. Surprisingly, they were quite nice, or even likable. They drank, ate, played cards, and generally partied. They allegedly paid for all the food they got in the village. Mom said that one evening, in this general frenzy of good fun and alcohol, so to speak, one of these German soldiers gave her a bar of chocolate.


My father, recalling those moments, told me about his difficult experiences and life in the occupied Poland. Due to his young age, he was targeted by German gendarmes. He was to be sent to work in Germany. At any moment, the unit could come and take him away. Therefore, it was not possible for him to sleep at home. Dad said he slept in a specially prepared hiding place in the barn. In summer, we might say, it was even pleasant, but in winter, he was “buried” somewhere in a hiding place covered with hay and straw. Now, I can’t even think about that without tears in my eyes. Horrible. He mentioned that it was very, very hard to get food. Everything had to be given away, even the quern stones had to be brought to the police station; also, it was mandatory for each citizen to contribute the “contingent” in the form of cattle, pigs, or grain. Many people may think that it was easier to survive at the countryside. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.


S: What did Gręboszów look like during the occupation? Was the local population repressed? How?


Z: My father mentioned one name several times: Engelbert Guzdek. It was the man they called the Executioner of Powiśle Dąbrowskie. He was a terrible man. Apparently, during his office he ruthlessly killed almost 2,000 people. First and foremost, that Guzdek constantly hunted down the Jewish population. He was particularly sensitive to Poles who were hiding Jews. He carried out terrible murders on the defenseless Polish population, also, as I have mentioned, the Jewish people, and he was persecuting the Roma people a lot. He liked shooting people who were running away. Driving through the villages, usually by a borrowed cart, accompanied by officers of the Polish Blue Police, he always had a rifle ready to fire. The villages looked almost empty in those moments, as if everyone had died. And when he saw any young men, who even remotely resembled those who could be guerrillas, he would fire without any questions. Needless to say, such behavior caused great terror, which, apparently, was very satisfying to him.

Apparently, he was much afraid of the possible attacks against him, so he chose to live in clergy houses, because they were the safest, guarded by the Blue Police both inside and outside. Also, to encourage himself, the man would start each day with drinking a quarter-liter of vodka on an empty stomach. In order to intimidate the population and avoid an attack on himself, he put up posters announcing that a hundred Poles would die for him. If so many hostages were to be shot, the whole terror was even greater.

It was said that first thing he did in the town of Radgoszcz, where he was the commander of the German military police, by ordering to install a gallows. It took a long time to install it, because the workers were always trying to avoid this work in one way or another. However, Guzdek forced them to work, threatening with a weapon. As it turned out later, the gallows was never used. But it was supposed to be a warning to the population.


In Gręboszów itself, Guzdek also instilled terror. The aforementioned posters about the penalty for an attempted assassination appeared in the village. It was said that Guzdek… I forgot that name…. It was said that Guzdek shot… yes… a certain Franciszek Grabiec from Gręboszów, for supporting, helping the resistance movement and possessing weapons, which he did not find. My father remembered a terrible story: Guzdek supposedly brought a boy to the cemetery in Gręboszów, ordered the boy to choose himself a grave, and then shot him in the back of his head over the grave. Horrible.


Guzdek finally died on the day of the harvest festival in Otfinów, most probably in 1943. It was then that he was supposed to execute, as the legend goes, three young Ukrainians who escaped from a labor camp, most likely in Katowice. Apparently, the execution was supposed to take place behind the embankment of the Dunajec River, where he was to shoot these unfortunate fugitives. The execution was also attended by the officers from the Blue Police station in Otfinów, who supposedly unintentionally inflicted a deadly injury on Guzdek. This may sound inappropriate, but his death saved a hundred Poles who were held hostage for the head of Engelbert Guzdek.

The interviews are given in the original language or a transliteration of it with preservation of national, regional and individual speech peculiarities.

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