The brandy, the heat of the room, the intense, emotional speech of the lieutenant had fatigued me. I felt drowsy and slightly drunk. I cut into his speech rather rudely.

"I've heard most of that before," I said. "What do you want of me?"

If my tone was insolent, he didn't detect it, so wrapped up was he in his glowing visions of the future. He pulled himself together and assumed an air of firmness --- the air of the determined realist and administrator in a position of responsibility.

"We wish to be fair to you," he said. "We know who and what you are. You are carrying information from the Underground to your leaders in France. But I am not going to ask you to betray your nation, your leaders, or your friends. We do not want to punish them. We want to collaborate with them. We want to be able to contact them to persuade them of the benefits of a thoroughgoing Polish-German collaboration. We will guarantee their safety, on our German word of honor. You yourself shall be the intermediary in making such contacts. If you love your country, you will not reject this proposition. It is your duty to give your leaders an opportunity to discuss the present situation with us. Look at the other occupied countries. In each of them there are men of realistic understanding who have entered into collaboration to the great advantage of themselves and their country. You Poles are a strange exception --- unhappily for yourselves. What I am proposing to you is not dishonorable or unworthy."

He looked at me encouragingly, his face contorted with excitement and supplication, and added solemnly:

"Do you accept my proposal?"

I replied softly, surprised at my own firmness.

"I cannot accept. For two reasons. I don't believe that the results of force can achieve anything but evil. Collaboration can be based only on mutual respect, freedom, and understanding. Besides, even if I found your principles acceptable, there is nothing I could do. You have overestimated my impor- tance. I know nothing of the Underground or its leaders. Believe me when I tell you that."

He looked at me with such fanatical savagery and contempt that I felt I had been utterly foolhardy in my response. I could have wavered, temporized with his offers, but the atmosphere of frankness and subtlety influenced me with artless boldness.

"You persist in that stupid comedy?" The lieutenant's voice became controlled, each word was measured and struck home like the lash of a whip. He rang a buzzer alongside his chair. The crippled soldier hobbled in, glanced at me curiously and then turned to the officer, who said:

"Heinrich, bring me the film and send the Gestapo guards in."

As the soldier hobbled out the lieutenant walked about the room. muttering to himself and flashing looks of hatred at me that had an actual personal quality. I could see that he despised me, not solely as an intransigent enemy of his country, but as one who showed himself unworthy of collaboration and who had deceived him.

The soldier came into the room, followed by the two Gestapo men. He handed some prints to the lieutenant, who in turn handed them over to me.

"These are enlarged prints of the films you threw into the water. We saved a small portion of them --- a small but important portion. Look at them."

I took the films with trembling hands. For a moment I thought I would go mad with rage and impotence. I recognized the prints as the last three pieces of my Leica film. I understood. The water had not soaked through the entire roll. I looked at the prints. Nothing had been set in code except for the names and places. Everything had been plainly written out, but fortunately, the three pieces they were able to save contained nothing important or dangerous. I must have failed to control my emotions. The man who had given the films to me had had no time or was too careless to put the text into ciphers. My dominant reaction was not fear but rage that I could not denounce him for his carelessness. The officer regarded me searchingly.

"Do you recognize this text?" he asked. "I am still frank with you. Thirty-five pieces were destroyed. The gendarmes who allowed you to throw this film in the water were sent to the front. I hope they will behave better there than in our services. Now I expect you to tell me what was in the rest of the film."

I answered in a choked, desperate voice. "No, I can't. There must be some mistake.. . I must have been misled."

He became livid with rage.

"You'll never stop that idiotic drivel about your innocence, will you?"

He walked to the corner of the room, reached into the chest, from which he had not long before taken the brandy, and extracted a riding whip.

'A short time ago," he shouted furiously, "I spoke to you man to man, as a Pole whom I could respect. Now you are nothing but a dirty, whining coward, a hypocrite, and a fool."

He slashed the whip across my cheek. The Gestapo men flung themselves on me and drove their fists into me. The world crumbled about me as I received their orgiastic blows.

In my cell it was without any sense of triumph that I realized I had again survived a Gestapo beating. Lying on the pallet, everything that my body touched contributed to the throbbing pain that spread from head to foot. Running my tongue across my bleeding gums, I felt, without any emotion, that four of my teeth had been knocked out. My face felt inhuman, an ugly, bloody, distorted mask. I realized that another beating would probably kill me and I burned with humiliation and impotent rage.

I knew that I had arrived at the end. That I should never be free again, that I should not survive another beating, and that in order to escape the degradation of betraying my friends while I was half-conscious, the only thing for me to do was to use the razor blade and to take my own life.

I had often wondered what people had in mind when they died for an ideal. I was certain that they were absorbed by great, soaring thoughts about the cause for which they were about to die. I was frankly surprised when I discovered it was not so. I felt only overwhelming hatred and disgust that surpassed even my physical pain.

And I thought of my mother. My childhood, my career, my hopes. I felt a bottomless sorrow that I had to die a wretched, inglorious death, like a crushed insect, miserable and anonymous. Neither my family nor my friends would ever learn what had happened to me and where my body would lie. I had assumed so many aliases that even if the Nazis wished to inform anyone of my death they probably could not track down my real identity.

I lay down on the pallet, awaiting the hour when the Slovak would com- plete his rounds. Till then my purpose seemed to have formed itself I had hardly reasoned or reflected, merely acted on the promptings of pain and the desire to escape, to die. I thought of my religious convictions and the undeniable guilt that would be mine. But the memory of the last beating was too vivid. One phrase dominated my mind. I am disgusted, I am disgusted.

The guard had finished his rounds. I look out the razor and cut into my right wrist The pain was not great. Obviously, I hadn't hurt the vein. I tried again, this time lower, this time cutting back and forth as hard as I could. Suddenly the blood streamed like a fountain. I knew I had got it this time. Then, clutching the razor in my bleeding right hand, I cut the vein on the left wrist. This time it was easier. I lay on my bed with my arms outstretched at my sides. The blood spurted out evenly forming pools beside my legs. In a few minutes I felt I was getting weaker. In a haze I realized that the blood had stopped flowing and that I was still alive. In fear of being unsuccessful, I flung my arms about to make them bleed again. The blood flowed in thick streams. I felt as though I were suffocating and tried to draw breath through my mouth. I became nauseous, retched, and vomited. Then I lost consciousness.

--- From Story of a Secret State
Jan Karski
©2013 Georgetown University Press
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