Story of a Secret State, by Jan Karski – 1944 [Unknown Artist]

story-of-a-secret-state-jan-karski-1944We were in a part of Poland neither of us knew well.
We were in uniform, possessed no documents of any kind,
and had no idea of conditions about us.
We were hungry; weakened by the ordeals of the last few weeks;
and in the now heavy downpour had no protection but our threadbare garments.
In the circumstances, there was nothing to do but trust to luck.
Determining to knock at the door of the first dwelling we came upon,
we got up and walked through the wood
until we came to a narrow strip of grassless soil
that was obviously either a path or a road.

After about three hours of trudging through the rain,
we perceived the outlines of a village, and slackened our pace,
approaching it cautiously.  
Tiptoeing quietly up to the first cottage,
we found ourselves at a small, typical peasants’ dwelling.  
Hesitantly we stood before the door from under which a dim light issued.  
As I raised my hand to knock, I felt a tremor of nervousness and apprehension.  
I rapped on the door with brusque over-emphasis to allay my dread.

‘Who is it?’ The trembling voice of a peasant reassured me slightly.

‘Come out, please,’ I replied,
attempting to make my voice sound polite but authoritative,
‘it is very important.’
The door opened slowly,
disclosing a gray-headed old peasant with a grizzled beard.  
He stood there in his underwear, obviously frightened and cold.  
A wave of warm air from the interior made me feel almost faint
with the urge to enter and bask in it.

‘What do you want?’ he asked in a tone of mingled indignation and fear.

I ignored the question.  
I decided to try to play boldly on his feelings.
‘Are you or are you not a Pole?’  
I demanded sternly. ‘Answer me.’

‘I am a Polish patriot,’
he replied with greater composure and celerity than I had anticipated.

‘Do you love your country?’ I continued undismayed.

‘I do.’

‘Do you believe in God?’

‘Yes, I do.’

The old man evinced considerable impatience at my questions
but no longer seemed terrified – merely curious.
I proceeded to satisfy his curiosity.

‘We are Polish soldiers who have just escaped from the Germans.  
We are going to join the army and help them save Poland.  
We are not defeated yet.  You must help us and give us civilian clothes.
If you refuse and try to turn us over to the Germans, God will punish you.’

He gazed at me quizzically from under his thick eyebrows.  
I could not tell if he was amused, impressed, or alarmed.

‘Come inside,’ he said dryly, ‘out of this miserable rain.  
I will not turn you over to the Germans.’

 

Arrival and Departure, by Arthur Koestler – 1943 [Wood]

What, after all, was courage?
A matter of glands, nerves; patterns of reaction conditioned by
heredity and early experiences. 
A drop of iodine less in the thyroid,
a sadistic governess or over-affectionate aunt,
a slight variation in the electrical resistance
of the medullary ganglions,
and the hero became a coward;
a patriot a traitor.
Touched with the magic rod of cause and effect,
the reactions of men were emptied of their so-called moral contents
as a Leyden jar is discharged by the touch of a conductor.

arrival-and-departure-arthur-koestler-1943-woods-4_edited-7‘Why do they look at me that way?’

‘They don’t look.  It’s only your imagination.’
‘They ask themselves:  What is he doing here?
Why does he not go where he belongs?’
‘But you belong nowhere, you fool.’

‘How can one live, belonging nowhere?’

‘You belong to yourself.  That is the gift I made you.’

‘I don’t want it.  Your gift is out of season.’

‘Then what do you want?’

‘Not to be ashamed of myself.’

‘What are you ashamed of?’

‘Of walking through the parks while others
get drowned or burned alive;
of belonging to myself while everybody belongs to something else.’

‘Do you still believe in their big words and little flags?’

‘No, I don’t.’

‘Are you not glad that I opened your eyes?’

‘Yes, I am.’

‘What were your beliefs?’

‘Illusions.’

‘Your search of fraternity?’

‘A wild goose chase.’

‘Your courage?’

‘Vanity.’

‘Your loyalty?’

‘Atonment.’

‘Why then do you want to start again?’

‘Why, indeed?  That should be your job to explain.’

But that precisely was the point which Sonia could not explain,
for apparently it was placed on a plane beyond her reasoning,
and perhaps beyond reason altogether.

arrival-and-departure-arthur-koestler-1943-woods-3_edited-4Don’t be a fool, said Sonia’s voice.

This is the ark and behind you is the flood.

That land is doomed and it will rain on it

forty nights and forty days.

Who has ever heard of an inmate of the ark

jumping overboard to walk back into the rising flood?

But why not, Sonia?  There is something missing in that story.

There should have been at least one

who ran back into the rain,

to perish with those who had no planks under their feet…

Go on, said Sonia’s voice.

Go on, what happened to that fool after he went back?

The Lord who saw into that man’s heart became ashamed of himself;

and he reached out with his hand to keep that man dry in the rain…

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Do you mean,” Peter stuttered,
“that you have done what you did – just as a sport?”

The other shrugged. 
His attention was focused on the task of drinking from the glass
without spilling any of its contents.
“Don’t you think,” he said at last,
“that it is rather a boring game,
trying to find out one’s reasons for doing something?”