Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Sept. 1, 1939 -- Landscape with Dead Horses

78 years ago on September 1. 1939, the Germans invaded Poland. Their blitzkrieg, their lightning war, came from the air and the sea and the sky. By Sept 28, Warsaw, the capital city of Poland, gave up. By October 7, the last Polish resistance inside Poland ended.  In the six years that followed, more than five million Poles died.

A couple years ago, I received an email from a friend passing on some links to US Army films of the invasion of Poland that were compiled from captured German films. I thought I would share these films of what the Blitzkrieg was like. They are in 3 parts (each about six minutes); and if you click on the part you want to see, you will be taken to the appropriate site.

Invasion of Poland, Part I

Invasion of Poland, Part II

Invasion of Poland, Part III

The world had not seen anything like it, and it was the prelude to a lot of things the world had never seen before: the Final Solution, Total War, the concentration camps, the atomic bomb, the fire bombing of civilian populations, and brutality on a level that most people still don't want to think about almost 70 years later.

When the Germans attacked on that September 1, My dad was 19 and working on his uncle's farm with his brother Roman. Their parents had died when the boys were young, and their uncle and aunt took them in and taught them how to farm, how to prepare the soil in the fall and plant the seeds in the spring. My mom was 17 and living with her parents and her sisters and brothers in a forest west of Lvov in eastern Poland.

The summer had been hot and dry, and both of my parents, like so many other Poles, were looking forward to the fall and the beginning of milder weather.

The war turned my parents' lives upside down. Nothing they planned or anticipated could have prepared them for what happened.

By the end of the war, they were both slave laborers in Nazi Germany, their homes destroyed, their families dead or scattered, their country taken over by the Soviet Union.

I've written a number of poems about the first days of the war and what happened to Poland, but none of those poems ever captured, I felt, the struggle of the Polish people to throw off the Nazi invasion.

A couple of years ago, I tried again to describe what my parents and the Poles of their generation felt. Here's the poem.  It's from my book Echoes of Tattered Tongues:

Landscape with Dead Horses


War comes down like a hammer, heavy and hard
flattening the earth and killing the soft things:
horses and children, flowers and hope, love
and the smell of the farmers’earth, the coolness
of the creek, the look of trees as they uncurl
their leaves in late March and early April.
You smell the horses before you see them.


Horses groan, their heads nailed to the ground
their bodies rocking crazily, groaning
like men trying to lift their heads for one
last breath, to breathe, to force cold air
into their shredded, burning lungs.
For these horses and the men who rode them,
this world will never again be the world
God made; and still they dare to raise their heads,
to force the air into their shredded lungs.


Look at this horse. Its head torn from its body
by a shell. So much blood will teach you more
about the world than all the books in it.
This horse’s head will remake the world for you—
teach even God a lesson about the stones
that wait to rise in our hearts, cold and hard.


In the end Hitler sat in his cold bunker
and asked his generals about his own horses,
“Where are they?” He asked, “Where are my horses?”
And no one dared to tell him, “They are dead
in the fields with the Poles and their horses,
bloated with death and burning with our corpses.”


To read more about my parents, their experiences in the war and after the war, my book Echoes of Tattered Tongues is available at Amazon and most bookstores.

Here is the Amazon link.  Just click here.

The photograph of re-enactors in 1939 uniforms was taken by Mr. Mazowieckie at a re-enactment of the Bzura River Battle.

Friday, August 18, 2017

My Mother and the War

My Mother hated the way men talked about the war.
It was like they were seeing the conflict, its chaos and brutality, from a great distance.  
They talked about divisions and armies, threw around numbers like scientists or university professors:  The 4th Army and the 3rd.  The 8th and the 10th, and the 10th's Army XVI Corps.  And what about the XVIs 14th Infantry Division, and the 11th, the 53rd, and 116th regiments?
It was like some intricate game with codes and rules no one could understand unless he was born to it.
She wanted to be free of the war and all its secrets and structuress.
When men started talking like that, she always left the room, went to a bedroom and sat with her thoughts, her memories.


Here's a poem I wrote about my mom and her war experiences.

What the War Taught Her

My mother learned that sex is bad,
Men are worthless, it is always cold
And there is never enough to eat.

She learned that if you are stupid
With your hands you will not survive
The winter even if you survive the fall.

She learned that only the young survive
The camps. The old are left in piles
Like worthless paper, and babies
Are scarce like chickens and bread.

She learned that the world is a broken place
Where no birds sing, and even angels
Cannot bear the sorrows God gives them.

She learned that you don't pray
Your enemies will not torment you.
You only pray that they will not kill you.


To read more about my mother:

"All of History's Polacks"


The photo above is of my mom and her sister.  They both were taken to Germany as slave laborers. They were reunited in a refugee camp after the war.

Monday, August 14, 2017

White Supremacists

My parents suffered under German Nazism

White supremacists told my parents they were subhuman, just mules and pigs.

My parents were enslaved for years and saw their family and friends slaughtered.

My family spent 6 years in a refugee camp in Germany waiting for America to allow us in.

We were told that America would be different.  

We were told that in America we wouldn't have to fear Nazism.

I want to believe that again.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Little Schoolboys!

Little Schoolboys!

I finally got my copy of my most recent crime novel, the sequel to Suitcase Charlie.

This one's got everything!

A murdered nun.  A kidnapped high school girl.  Rival street gangs.  Miss Kansas of 1963.  Comic book collectors.

And stoned-out drug dealers galore in the psychedelic 1960s.

Get your copy.  Available as a paperback or a kindle.  Just click:

Paperback: Little Schoolboys.

Kindle: Little Schoolboys. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A Letter to Boy Dylan

Bob, do you remember me?

I saw you about a million years ago in a club on Wells Street in Chicago. Maybe 1962 or 1963. I think it was the Earl of Old Town, but I'm not so sure anymore. My memory stinks. I was like 15, now I'm not.

I remember it was a snowy night, a blizzard wind had stopped all the buses, but I wanted to see you bad. So I walked to the club down North Avenue. About 2 miles through the snow from my house. Sometimes the sidewalks were so jammed up with snow I had to walk in the street.

You sang Don't Think Twice and Blowing in the Wind even though there weren't too many of us in the club that night. Just a handful. A lot of cars weren't getting through either.
I remember you joking about how we would all have to spend the night and cuddle up together because the snow outside was saying, ain't nobody going nowhere. We laughed and said we were ready.

I remember the last song you sang. The Walls of Red Wing. You wanted to sing something about Minnesota, wanted to remember the winters there.
I remember we all joined in on the chorus, all five of us, and then I went out into the snow and began the long walk home humming your songs and thinking about how someday I'd maybe grow up to be a lawyer or such, or maybe I'd end up inside the walls of the prison at Red Wing.

John Guzlowski

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Poems of the Warsaw Uprising

Anna Swir (Świrszczyńska) was a woman who fought with the Polish resistance during World War II.  When the Germans decided to destroy Warsaw in 1944, she became a front-line nurse in a battle that saw the city leveled and 250,000 Poles die.

Thirty years after the war, she published a book of poems about her experiences in that slaughter. It was called Building the Barricade. Gifted poet and translator Piotr Florczyk has produced the present volume, Building the Barricade and Other Poems. It combines the best poems from that earlier book along with Anna Swir's later poems, poems which focus on the human body and her experiences of love and family. This bi-lingual collection, starting with her writing about the war and ending with the last poem she wrote, "Tomorrow They'll Cut Me Open," gives the reader an overall sense of her career and her strengths as a poet.

I could quote from what readers like Czeslaw Milosz, Edward Hirsch, Eva Hoffman, and Sandra Alcosser say about these powerful poems, but I won't. The poems don't need it. They speak clearly and powerfully on their own.


I worked as an orderly at the hospital
without medicine and water.
I carried bedpans
filled with pus, blood and feces.

I loved pus, blood and feces—
they were alive like life,
and there was less and less
life around.

When the world was dying,
I was only two hands, handing
the wounded a bedpan.


If all the bullets in the world
hit me,
then they couldn’t hit anybody else.

And let me die as many times
as there are people in the world,
so that they wouldn’t have to die,
even the Germans.

And let nobody know
that I died for them,
so that they wouldn’t be sad.


In this city
there are no more people. Sometimes a cat
with burnt eyes
crawls out from an alley
to die.

Or a rat
scuttles to the other side of the street.

Or the wind moves
a page in a book on the pavement
and knocks the window
with the glinting shard of glass.


Anna Swir's book Building the Barricades and Other Poems can be purchased from Calypso Editions (free shipping included).

Translator Piotr Florczyk previously translated Julian Kornhauser's Been and Gone. I posted a blog about it recently.

"The Rats Remain" and "Thoughts of a Fourteen-Year Old Nurse" were originally published in the online journal Little Star.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Photo of Me from 1969

I'm 21 in the picture here, and it was taken in Chicago’s Grant Park.  We're all standing around waiting for an anti-war demonstration to begin and the Vietnam War to end.  While we wait for the soldiers to stop killing the Vietcong and for the Vietcong to stop killing the soldiers and for Jane Fonda to get back from Hanoi, we are trying to look cool. 

Do you see the button on my lapel?  If you could get close to it, you'd see that it says, "Share Water With Me."  It's a quote from a SF novel by Robert Heinlein called Stranger in a Strange Land, and it means I want to have a real, authentic relationship with you and every other person on the planet.  I took that kind of stuff seriously back then, and I guess I still do now, give or take a few people I know it wouldn't be a good idea to share water with.

There were a lot of these anti-war demonstrations back then.  There were so many that they now seem to blend into each other.  When I sit down and try to figure out when I started to demonstrate and when I finished, I can’t come up with any solid answers.  From about 1966 to 1975, I always seemed to be going to some demonstration on the northside or the southside of Chicago with my friend Bill Anderson.  A lot of these demonstrations seem small now, a couple hundred students, maybe a thousand, (especially after the big demonstrations that followed the Kent State Massacre when the National Guard killed four students), but they seemed big at the time and important too.  There weren't many people trying to stop the war before that.

File:Kent State massacre.jpg
Kent State University, May 4th, 1970
I know my dad wasn't one of them.  He and I would get into arguments about the war.  They were the only serious arguments that we ever had.  For the most part, my dad was pretty easy going and so was I, but we fought over the Vietnam War.  He was a Pole, a Polish patriot, who couldn't go back to Poland after the war because his homeland had been taken over by the Communists.  He was afraid that they would kill him if he went back.  So he couldn't see why I would be supporting the Communist Vietcong against the Americans.  I gave him some kind of explanation about the Vietcong being the democratically chosen representatives of the Vietnamese people.  I was doing a lot of reading about the history of the struggle and thought I had the answers.  He didn’t buy it, and it almost broke his heart to see me, his son, siding with the guys who had enslaved Poland.  It was a rocky few years for us until the war ended.

But that’s all politics and for most people politics is just old news.  Looking back at the picture now, I’m really interested in what I’m wearing.  

It may not seem like it if you’ve gotten your ideas about what people were wearing back then from Time Magazine, but I’m appropriately dressed as a hip/Vietcong 60's beat student.  Please notice that I’m wearing a Vietcong peasant hat, and that I don’t have long hair and that I’m not wearing love beads or flowers.  All that hippie stuff (hair, beads, etc.) was probably just a media concoction.  I didn’t know people who dressed that way, at least not in Chicago.   

Speaking of the way I’m dressed, the jacket I’m wearing in the picture has a history. It belonged to a dead man, a friend of my dad's who left him all his clothes.  Nice stuff, jackets, shoes, white shirts, and wool overcoats.  I wore them out over the course of the next ten years.  My wife Linda was happy to see the last of them go. Although she didn’t have to worry about the sport coat I’m wearing in the picture above.  A couple months after the picture was taken, I threw it away because somebody threw up on it.  Really.  I tried to clean it up (took it to North Avenue beach and washed it in the surf) and even doused it with perfume, but nothing helped.

I like the picture a lot because for me it does capture a moment.  Can you see the black fellow in the photo with his rooty-kazooty hat!  And the kid (Billy Martin, comic book fan) in front of me.  Cleancut as April.  Really, this is the way everybody looked in the 60's--even at an Anti-War Demonstration.  

Nobody was hip.  Everybody was hip.


You can read more about me in the 60s in a piece I posted at Flash Fiction Online called "1968: A True Confession."  Just click here.

By the way, Bill Anderson took the photo.  He was the official photographer for the Chicago/Guzlowski/Anderson antiwar movement.  He died of cancer about 10 years ago.  I miss him a lot.  May he rest in peace.