Monday, July 30, 2012

Roman Turski in "Secrets and Spies"

Otto Gross came across the excerpt, below, in the 1964 Reader's Digest book "Secrets and Spies: Behind the Scenes Stories of World War II."

Does anyone know anything more about this story, or the man, Roman Turski, telling it?

Thank you very much to Otto for bringing this otherwise obscure story to our attention. Otto's previous blog posts are here and here.

"The Evaders"

Roman Turski

I was born in Poland, where before the last war religious intolerance was not uncommon. In spite of my father's objection to my participation in anti-Semitic demonstrations in Warsaw, I often heaved stones at windows of stores owned by Jews. I had no qualms about my actions, and later it took months of hardship and persecution – and a Jew – to show me how to abide by the Biblical injunction: "Love thy neighbor as thyself."

When Hitler annexed Austria and war seemed imminent, I quit my job as instructor of a flying club in Lyons, France, and started for home. My plane developed engine trouble and I had to land at Vienna and stay there overnight to have it repaired.

The following morning, just as I stepped out of my hotel to buy a few souvenirs before checking out, a man who came running past the door bumped into me and sent me reeling. Outraged, I grabbed him and was about to give him a piece of my mind when I saw that his face was white with fear. Panting heavily, he tried to wrench himself from my grip and said, "Gestapo – Gestapo!" I knew only a little German but understood he was running from the dreaded German secret police.

I rushed him into the lobby and upstairs into my room, pointed to the foot of my bed and motioned him to lie down. I covered his slender, jack-knifed body with artfully draped blankets so that the tousled bed looked empty. Then I pulled off my jacket, tie, and collar so I could pretend I'd just got up if the Gestapo men came. In a few minutes they did. They examined my passport, returned it and shouted questions, to which I replied: "Ich verstehe es nicht – I don't understand," a phrase I knew by heart. They left without searching the room.

As soon as they had gone, I locked the door and lifted the blankets. The poor man let out a stream of rapid German. It was not necessary to understand a word to comprehend his gratitude.

I got out my flight chart and, by gesturing, and drawing pictures on the margin of the map, explained that I had a plane and could take him out of Austria. He pointed to Warsaw, and his expressive hands asked: "Would you take me there?" I shook my head and made him understand that I had to land for fuel in Cracow. I drew pictures of police and prison bars to illustrate that he would be arrested upon arrival at any airport, and made it clear that we would land in some meadow just over the Polish border and he could get off. He nodded with satisfaction, and his narrow face and dark-brown eyes again conveyed deep thanks.

The customs and immigration men at the airport waved us through when I told them my friend wanted to see me off. My plane was warmed up and ready for flight. We quickly climbed into it and took off. We crossed Czechoslovakia and soon saw the thin ribbon of the Vistula River and the City of Cracow. Landing in a large field by a wood near a country railroad station, I showed my companion where we were on the map, gave him most of my money and wished him luck. He took my hand and looked at me wordlessly, then walked rapidly into the woods.

When I arrived at the Cracow airport there was a detachment of police waiting beside the immigration inspector. One of the police said, "We have a warrant to search your plane – you have helped a man escape from Vienna."

"Go ahead and search it. Incidentally, what was the man wanted for?"

"He was a Jew!"

They searched my plane, and of course had to let me go for lack of evidence.

The war came, and after Poland's short and bloody struggle against the Germans, in which I served as a fighter pilot in the Polish Air Force, I joined the thousands of my countrymen who wanted to carry on the fight for freedom. We crossed the border in Rumania and were promptly caught and sent to concentration camps. I finally managed to escape and joined the French Air Force. After France collapsed I went to England and fought in the Battle of Britain. The following June I was wounded while on a fighter sweep across the English Channel, when the Luftwaffe hit us over Boulogne.

In those early offensive missions we were always outnumbered and outperformed by the Luftwaffe, and our only superiority was our morale.

As we started home I rammed a ME-109 and was hit by a piece of its sheared-off tail. I was half blinded with blood. My squadron covered my withdrawal across the Channel, but I was unconscious when my spitfire crash-landed in England. (I learned later that my skull had been fractured, and that I was so near death that the head surgeon of the hospital to which I was taken believed it would be almost useless to operate on me.)

When I returned to consciousness, I gradually realized that a narrow face with large brown eyes was looking down at me.

"Remember me?" their owner said. "You saved my life in Vienna." He spoke with only a trace of a German accent.

His words ended my confusion. I recalled this sensitive face and managed to say, "How did you find me?" I noticed his white smock. "Do you work here?"

"It's a long story," he replied. "After you dropped me off I made my way to Warsaw, where an old friend aided me. Just before the war I escaped and reached safety in Scotland. When one of your Polish squadrons distinguished itself in the Battle of Britain, I thought you might be in it, so I wrote to the Air Ministry and found you were."

"How did you know my name?"

"It was written on the margin of your map. I remembered it."

His long fingers felt cool on my wrist. "Yesterday I read the story in the newspapers about a Polish hero shooting down five enemy planes in one day and then crash-landing near this hospital. It said your condition was considered hopeless. I immediately asked the Royal Air Force at Edinburgh to fly me here. "


"I thought that at last I could do something to show my gratitude. You see, I am a brain surgeon – I operated on you this morning."


  1. That's a great story. Thank You, dr Goska. And thank You too, Mr. Otto. But I don't think that Roman Turski was a real name of that pilot. Can't find him on any list. Most likely it's a fake name to protect identity of the pilot. This story is propably true. It was published for the first time in January issue of Reader's Digest (1953).
    By the way, the only Polish pilot who shot down 5 Luftwaffe airplanes in one day was Antoni Głowacki. He was from Warsaw. And he was shot down and badly wounded just few days after that. Maybe it's coincidence.
    I have another story for You, dr Goska. I hope You will like it. Link is below.

    1. Roman Turski is not his real name, it is a name used to protect the safety of his family

  2. Thank you.

    I have been trying to find a way of responding to a posting "May the Poles Burn" made a few weeks back.
    I think this is part of the response. I think of my family's past and all the things that have happened and I kept shaking my head at that posting. A lot of pain and anger in the post I didn't quite understand but it raised the following in my mind.
    But the premise is that Poles equals Nazi and should burn in Hell.

    My favorite motto is, "In God we trust, all others provide data!" - the economist, Demming.
    I had this on the white board of my office because I'm a computer professional and people make the strangest leaps of logic I have to address.

    So the premise was:
    1) If Poles were doing the things suggested and are Nazi-esk, doing horrible things just like their Nazi partners.
    2) Nazi hunters find and prosecute Nazi's and Nazi collaborators who kill, maime, etc. under the Nazi banner.
    3) I follow the stories of ex-Nazi's who are caught and prosecuted and I can not recall the last time I heard a Pole was accused and prosecuted.

    My thought here was if Poles are a disproportionate percentage of the non-German Nazi pool shouldn't the amount they are accused and prosecuted reflect that?

    If there were more hard core Nazi types in Poland wouldn't the numbers skew that way?

    I'm not seeing it. I don't recall hearing about the hoards of Poles on trial for war crimes and helping the Nazi war machine.

    I have a strong connection to the Nazi era ( Freudian slip: I first wrote 'error' ). I study and write about WW2 and I am constantly in primary and secondary sources of information dealing with technology and it's use in WW2. I read about spies in WW2 and their influence on actions in WW2. I have yet to see anything suggesting that the Poles = Nazi's.

    I read a number of stories like the one I found in the Readers Digest book because after reading that blog posting I was left thinking I had missed something or I had my head in the sand.
    So I spent some time going through my library of WW2 books and collection as a way of checking myself. In God we trust...

    Not seeing the Poles in any other light than the tragedy of what they endured. I will continue to present evidence.

    I felt sorry for the gentlemen who posted that because I know that type of pain, but I got through it, not propagating it, but letting it go and understanding the facts.

    I wish him well. It's a small planet and we need to look out for each other. I can't undo what happened to his family, but he needs to let it go, and see the good that exists (existed).


    1. For some people lack of evidence is no problem. Polish Nazis were invented like Bigfoot. And like in case of that ape there is no proof of their existence. No bodies, no DNA samples, simply nothing. Polish SS guards from the camps live in uneducated minds. It's hard to kill those Polish Nazis.
      On one forum some American claimed that John Demjanjuk was a Pole. Others didin't mentioned any names, but still they were so confident of their claims. Like they have just spoke with burning bush. It would be funny. If it wasn't so sad.
      I must confess something. I have once hated Germans. My late grandma was telling me scary stories about them when I was a child. They were like bogeyman from the closet. I could imagine uniforms, guns. Never faces. Just shadows cast by the helmets. Years later I've met real Germans. No uniforms, no guns. I could see their faces. Their feelings. Friendly, older people, a little shy. They spoke slowly. Like they were afraid of some words. And my reaction. After that I couldn't hate them anymore. I'm not afraid of them now. I will now quote someone wise: "When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me".

  3. I lived in a house owned by Mr. Turski and his wife when I lived in Tokyo in the late 1980's. While he never mentioned this story to me, he did say that he had served in the Polish military. In the 1980's, he was a world traveller and adventurer. I just found a story written by his wife in which she mentions that he passed away in 1999.

  4. Seems to match the story of this chap:

    - Polish air force
    - Rumanian internment and escape
    - French Air Force
    - RAF, Polish squadron
    - In June 1941, shoots down 5 (three confirmed, two probable) on one day and then crashes - fractured skull

    1. I still think that it was Antoni Głowacki.

      -native of Warsaw
      -Polish Air Force
      -Romanian iternment camp
      -made his way to France
      -RAF, fighter squadron
      -five confirmed airplanes shot down in one day (24 August 1940)
      -crash-landed, severly wounded (31 August 1940)

      Bolesław Gładych was accepted into Polish Air Force Academy in 1938. Started flying in May 1939. Antoni Głowacki was already an accomplished pilot by that time (made flying instructor in 1938).

  5. Regarding Roman Turski/Antoni Glowacki - Anyone found a Jewish Doctor from Poland who could have operated on the RAF pilot? How many brain surgeons could have been available on the date of the miraculous coincidence reported in the Reader's Digest story?


Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
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