ZENON WACLAW KRZEPTOWSKI (Kaye)
303 Squadron /decal
Zenon Waclaw Krzeptowski was born on the 28th January 1922 in the family inn at Nowy Targ, situated just off the south east corner of the town's main square. The eldest child of Bronislawa and Jan Krzeptowski, Zenon left Poland as a young man never to return. Like thousands of other young men and women who fled the country, their war experiences were a heady mixture of exciting adventures contrasting sharply with often cruel and devastating personal tragedies.
This story traces Zenon's escape from Zakopane in Southern Poland and tries to piece together his journey across Europe while Hitler's armies were close on his heels.
Zakopane was designated a "Sperrgebiet" due to the nature of the terrain and activities in the surrounding mountains by the various resistance units like the ZWZ/ AK. A Gestapo unit was based in the Palace Sanatorium and the town had an air of isolation and oppression. The surrounding forests provided timber for the hangars, barracks and labour camps like the notorious Auswitz or the lesser-known labour camp at Plaszow just outside Krakow.
To the inhabitants of Zakopane, war brought its own problems and change that for many would leave its own physical and mental wounds. The Germans efficiently carried out reprisal shootings of towns-folk when the underground had been active almost with relish. The mountain guides or Gorale became couriers. The mountains with their extensive network of trails and caverns became an ideal place for the Home Army to operate. Hence, the need for the town to become a Sperrgebiet to allow German units to suppress any activity in an area difficult to manage in war-time conditions.
The SOE had secret trails through the mountains (Arct, 1972). Joseph Krzeptowski, a relative (1904-1971), was one of the most famous of the couriers. The best known trail was through the Morskie Oko, Tamanowa Pass and Kopa Kondracka. This was used to smuggle war secrets like the Flying Bomb and escapees to the safety of the allies to the West or South. (Arct, 1972).
In 1937 Zenon was part of the Army Auxiliary Service. Here, he was taught basic infantry drill including use of weapons and fieldcraft and more significantly, how to fly gliders. The glider training was at the airfield by Nowy Targ. When school broke up for the summer holidays, most young men were training and learning field-craft skills for survival while European diplomats made platitudes of appeasement towards Hitler.
At the outbreak of the war, Zenon had joined the ZWZ or the Zwiazek Walki Zbrojnej (the Union for Armed Struggle) underground movement. It was initially headed in Poland by Sosnkowski, who liased General Sikorski who had by now escaped to England. (Unfortunately, after the defeat in 1939, a commission was set up to establish who and how the defeat had come about and perhaps too much energy was dissipated into blame which caused rancour and split among the various factions). The new leader of the ZWZ was the incredibly brave and dynamic General Rowecki who tried to hold together a complex and fragmented resistance movement. Their exploits during the war were brave and often required unselfish devotion to duty. Activities ranged from espionage and assassination through to smuggling, dis-information and terrorizing the German occupiers. Their exploits included a fake underground newspaper aimed at dissenting German soldiers heading to and from the Russian Front in an attempt to de-stabilize morale with great success.
Escape to Hungary
Zenon Krzeptowski left Kaspruisie 58 on 15th May 1940 aged 18 years old with a change of clothing and all his mothers jewellery. Zenon and another Pole, Ryszard Kubicki had to leave Zakopane because the Gestapo had arrested a colleague or a member of their unit. Crossing Slovakia both men became separated and Zenon arrived in Hungary with another Pole, Boguslow Opiola (Budzinski, 1984).
Zenon's sisters - Janka was 15 and Danka 12 when he left and this was the last they ever saw of him. As a member of the Army Auxiliary Service / ZWZ, Zenon may have had standing orders to leave Poland should he be called to do so. Zenon and Ryszard's escape was through the snow topped Tatra mountains of the Liliowe Pass and Cicha valley to the village of Podbanskie in Slovakia (Budzinski, 1984) and from there to Budapest where they were directed to the college at Zamardi. The route Zenon took, taking into account spring snow covering the mountains, was initially for speed, not safety. But, he was an expert skier and ski jumper, so he was probably quite at home in these conditions. In many places the route would be exposed and dangerous requiring great strength and stamina. (The Krzeptowski's are Gorale or mountain folk and form one of the largest and oldest families in Zakopane).
The journey across Slovakia would have been the most dangerous part. The Germans had occupied Slovakia in March 1939 and the Slovak border guards used to organise man-hunts with bloodhounds. Escapees would have to dodge the Gestapo or GPU patrols which blocked their escape to Hungary. Pruszynski (1941) estimated the journey to take about four days for those who escaped further east. Based on the terrain lying to the south of Zakopane, Zenon would have been forced to use the vallies and forests intersected by river gorges. From Podbanskiehe he would have followed the Belá river to Lipt Hrádok and then swung south towards Brezno on the other side of the Nizke Tatry mountains. From Brezno the major vallies to the south in the Slovenska Rudohorie mountains lie on a north-south axis, possibly making his crossing point near Hangony where the Polish Army had already been interned by the Hungarian authorities.
During his travels he lost his clothing and any money when a patrol almost caught him trying to get a drink from a stream. He escaped by hiding under brush-wood and as the patrol passed and he could have reached out and touched their boots. His companion, Kubicki, ran off to evaded capture.
During the trek south he sought food and shelter in a farm. The farmer fed him and then had him arrested. It is possibly on this occasion he was put in front of a firing squad with order to shoot which were then subsequently countermanded. Other testimonials indicate this was almost 'routine' practice to torment the escapees to disorientate them
His feet suffered terribly from the long trek and required hospital treatment. His feet were operated on without anaesthetic to correct damage caused by keeping on his boots after the feet have been soaked and walked on for the 90 miles or more across Slovakia.
Back to School
Thousands of young Poles were crossing illegally into Hungary and two special colleges had been set up in Balatonzamardi and Balatonboglar (Budziński, 1984; Sisa, 1983). Both were located on a beautiful lake in southern Hungary. The school at Balatonboglár had been set up in October 1939 by the local parish priest Msgr. Béla Varga and became the centre of the Polish Youth Movement (Sisa, 1983). A Polish high school and Lycée was organized under his tutelage. Msgr. Béla Varga had a distinguished war record. He also protected hundreds of French nationals stranded in Hungary. France later recognized this act by awarded him the Legion d'Honneur. (After the war, he became the Speaker in the Hungarian Parliament).
Zenon's journey from Budapest to the college at Balatonzamardi probably went without incident as he was now travelling on false papers. The school acted as a transfer point for the evacuation of young people to the Polish Army in France. About 1,000 people went through the school in 1939/40 but no registration was made.
Records show he was at the school in the spring of 1940 in the IV grade of High School. Here he may have taken his matriculation exams. There are no dates, so we must assume his journey to the college may have taken days rather than weeks. However, the war was close on his heels. After the suicide of Count Pál Teleki, President Horthy appointed Lásló Bárdossy as premier. Apparently he was regarded as an Anglophile, but German victories "persuaded" him to maintain an independent Hungary and gain the return of territories by declaring war on the Soviet Union on June 26th 1940, not many weeks after Zenon had arrived. For a young man, it must have been a bitter blow since the chances of a successful escape must have looked grim.