From a Boy to a Man, In a War

Paul (Pawel) Cieslar Jr., is a Seventh Day Adventist pastor who is now retired and living in Australia with his wife Halina. What Paul endured, as a boy during World War II was amazing. It is a story of a family of love and faith, and how it carried them through one of history’s darkest hours. I would like to spend some time and tell you about Paul and his family, I hope that you enjoy it.

September 1, 1939

Most people in the world know what this date means. This is the date that Hitler’s Nazi Germany invaded its neighbor, Poland. Poland is a country that has been overtaken more times than can be counted. If their street signs had every language of every occupier it would be a book. However, on this day, it became part of the German Reich and ten-year-old Paul Cieslar was in the fields of Wisla, Poland, with his family’s cattle. The morning was beautiful. They lived up in the mountains and enjoyed the lovely countryside that surrounded them.

As Paul was enjoying the morning, three German aircraft flew overhead. He began running for the nearby tree line, and the cattle followed as a hail of bullets rained down upon them, shattering tree trunks and branches of the forest. After the German fighters left, it was eerily quiet with no sign of the violence that had just shattered the morning, except the ground covered in branches and leaves from shot up trees. Paul ran home to find his family standing outside the family farmhouse. Everyone was scared and worried about what was to come next. The family retreated into the house and his father read aloud Psalm 50:15: “And call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee and thou shalt glorify me”.

Wisla, Poland (Photo by Max Bashyrov, Flickr)

Family History

Paul’s father is Paul Cieslar as well. He was raised by an alcoholic father and physically and mentally abused mother on the same farm that he raised his own children on. The farm was located in Wisla, just below the Barania Mountain. It was full of rolling hills and crystal-clear streams. Water came from a well, and it was cool and sweet. But Paul Sr.’s father was often drunk and would not work the farm as needed. It was a subsistence life style, a hard life but a rewarding one. To pay for his drinking Paul Sr.’s father would sell off parcels of the family’s forest for lumber. Luckily for the family, it was illegal for him to sell the land on which the forest resided and belonged to the family.

Paul Sr. was a devout Lutheran. In 1912 the first Seventh Day Adventists arrived in Wisla. Within a year, the church was becoming well established. Paul Sr. who was now a teenager, was recruited by the local nominal church to plan and execute an act of aggression on the Seventh Day Adventists. He gathered a group of friends to help him. The plan was to go to the house where they gathered, scare them out of the house and beat them as they ran for their lives. Once there the boys chopped down a tree in front of the house and shoved the trunk through the window. The boys were armed with clubs with which they were to use to beat the parishioners. The boys yelled “filthy Jewish scum!” and “take that you scum! Kill the Jews! Kill the Jews!” When the tree trunk was shoved through the window, the shocked Adventists just stared at it in disbelief, and quickly fell to their knees to pray for their aggressors.

Paul Sr. was so moved by what he saw, he fled the scene. He was followed by rants of “coward” and “traitor” by his co-conspirators. They then gave chase to him and beat him when they caught him. He was soon called up to military service for the Austro-Hungarian Army and was sent to the Balkans and Italian front lines of World War I. It was here that he would further discover Adventism. In the trenches he met another Paul, Paul Nieboda. Nieboda was always reading a little book he carried with him, and for being on the front lines, he was always rather at peace with his surroundings. Soon, Paul Sr. asked him about the book. Nieboda explained that it was a book that always gave him peace and comfort, and he hoped that if he was killed, someone would find the book, read it and find the peace he had found. The book was Steps to Christ by Ellen G. White. It was here, in the horrid blood-filled trenches of World War I, that Paul Sr. would come to the faith that would carry his family through World War II.

The Next Generation and Nazi Invasion

September 2, 1939 the 14th German Army under the command of General Wilhelm List arrived in Wisla. With him Hitler sent: 1.5 million men, 1,500 tanks, 1,200 planes and 200,000 horses. The peaceful life of Wisla was now on hold for the next six years.

The Germans then began to Aryanize everything around them. Pawel now became Paul. The city of Gliwice was now Gleilwitz, and so on. Everything became Germanized under control of the German Wehrmacht(army). The Wehrmacht left an impression on the town, the young men were fit, well trained and their uniform was impeccable. To Germanize the citizens, people of non-Jewish heritage could sign the Volkseutsche paper with the German military, this meant that they were now German. When Paul Sr. signed this his family was no longer considered Polish but German People’s.

Paul Jr. was one of nine children, he played the trumpet in the local brass band and helped his family tend to the farm. Their clothes and shoes were all homemade. At this time, it was very rare for people to travel more than 50 miles from their place of birth.

Due to the family’s Adventist faith, they were often thought of a being Jewish. In school the younger children, such as Paul Jr. were taunted and beaten by children and teachers alike, because they did not attend school on Saturday, their Sabbath (the same Sabbath shared by the Jewish faith). When Paul Jr. was 13, the Gestapo came to the house. They took young Paul and the rest of the younger children with them to a school house forty minutes away, the children were questioned and taught the “Heil Hitler”, but Paul and his siblings refused to perform it. After a series of questions by Gestapo officials, Paul played down his German language skills, and was eventually called “idiot” and allowed to return to class. The were warned to return to school next Saturday “or else”.

Paul the Shepherd

After the incident with the Gestapo, it was decided by his mother that Paul Jr. would go into hiding. The Nazi’s had already come and taken his brother Józef for the Hitler Youth, his brother Ruben was conscripted to the Wehrmacht and his father had gone to Berlin as a “volunteer” laborer. (The only difference between the volunteer laborer and the taken laborer was slightly better food, clothes and living quarters.) Paul Jr.’s mother was not going to let him be taken as well, so at 13 he was sent ten miles away to a family friend, surprisingly also named Pawel Cieslar (but not related), who was a wealthy farmer, former mayor and close friend to Paul Jr.’s parents.

For over a year Paul Jr. lived and worked high (3,300 feet above sea level) in the mountains of Wisla. He cared for over 300 sheep daily. He milked them three times a day, made cheese from their milk which was his primary diet along with bread. He kept them healthy and made sure they had good pasture to graze in. Through freezing temperatures, rain and snow, he cared for the sheep. He was alone, except for two dogs: Bury and Boce. After almost a year, partisans arrived at his door. The had him blow his Tromba (a large horn used for communication) for an emergency in hopes of luring a German patrol. The patrol didn’t come, the next morning several farmers arrived to see what had happened and Paul Jr. told them of the partisans, partisans meant trouble for everyone. Shortly after the farmers left, a German patrol arrived and inquired after what had happened, Paul Jr. showed them the way the partisans went and the patrol went looking for them. It was shortly after this that Paul Jr. left the mountains and returned home to his family. He was almost 15 years old.

Hitler Youth training.

The Hitler Youth Beckons

On November 4, 1944 the Nazi’s came for Paul Jr., he was now of age for the Hitler Youth. Participation was mandatory for all youth 13-18 years of age. Paul Jr. was taken to Sternberg, Germany for training. Sternberg is located in southern Germany in the province of Bavaria. One of the first assignments that they had was to assist a hospital train in tending to wounded and moving out the dead. This was a huge challenge for Paul Jr. who got sick at the sight of blood. He was forced to hold it in or received a beating from Oberfeldwebel Weiss, his commander and trainer. Although it would have been hard to notice, as the floor was already covered in blood and vomit.

The next course in their training was how to sneak up to the enemy without being seen. Oberfeldwebel Weiss stood upon a hill and told the boys to attack him, without being caught. The boys found a gully to hide in, but Paul Jr. climbed out of it and thought he was still hidden. Suddenly Oberfeldwebel Weiss was behind him, chastised him for being seen and then kicked him hard in the lower back. Paul Jr. fell to the ground, seeing stars and his legs numb with pain. Oberfeldwebel Weiss commanded him to get up and after realizing that he could not move, had two of Paul Jr.’s fellow Hitler Youth get a stretcher and carry him to his bed. It took two days before he could move again.

Once he could move again, the group moved to the next phase of training, how to fire a Panzerfaust. Not yet realizing what they were being trained for, the boys enjoyed the flames and explosions produced by the weapon. On April 5, 1945 an SS Obersturmfurher arrived at the training camp and stood on a table, he proceeded to tell the boys that Hitler was not dead, that they were mounting a large assault on the Russian Army and that Germany was actually winning the war, even though the boys could hear the guns of the approaching Allied forces. Paul Jr. felt that God was telling him “get out or you will die”. It was then he decided to escape, along with a friend.

Their plan was simple, get a pass to go swimming and wear their Hitler Youth uniforms out the gate while hiding food in their wrapped-up swim clothes. Luckily, they did obtain the pass from Oberfeldwebel Weiss. They made it through the gate, and kept on walking. They knew that they would have at least a five-mile head start before they were missed.

They kept to the countryside, and would ask for food from farmers. They would scope out the farm and look for men, if none were found they would approach the house and ask the farmers wife for food. They knew that women were less likely to turn them in, as they most likely had sons out there fighting. After travelling for three days, the boys were caught by a farmer. He asked them where they came from, and that he knew they were deserters. However, this farmer fed them and gave them the address of one of his relatives in Ostrava who would help them.

The boys thought it could be a trap, however when they got to the address they found it was a restaurant. They waited outside and didn’t see German soldiers entering it. When it closed they went to the owner who, fed them, gave them clothes and warm drinks, then told them how to catch the train to Poland. The boys were so thankful to have met these kind people who did not believe in Nazi ideology.

The stayed the night with the restaurant owner and in the morning boarded the train to Cieszyn, Poland that sits on Poland/Czech border. The boys worried that they would be caught as they tried to get through customs, however, as the train pulled into the station and air raid alarm sounded! People ran for cover as American bombers flew overhead. The boys took this opportunity to run through the station and out onto the bridge over the Olza river that separates the two countries and into Poland. When the raid was over, the boys were home in Poland.

Home Again and Closing

Paul Jr. returned home to a family who never expected to see him again. His group of Hitler Youth were to be sent to Berlin to protect it from the Russian Army. Of the 58,000 Hitler Youth that were called to protect Berlin, 55,000 died. Many of these young men, young women, boys and girls are buried with markers that read “unknown”. Most will never have their story told.

By the time Paul Jr. arrived home, his father had returned along with his brother Jozef (who had escaped the Hitler Youth). His brother Ruben was missing. The Russian Army was closing in on Wisla and Germany.

May 8, 1945 Adolph Hitler is dead. The war is over. Throughout the ordeal, Paul’s family continued to practice their faith. Even though the faith had been banned, they carried on services in secret. When the SS would invade their home, they would hide their Bible and any religious items, remain calm and let the SS search the house, ready to pay the price for their faith. Thankfully, the SS never found anything.

After the war ended, the family received a letter from the Red Cross, Ruben was alive and well. He had been taken prisoner in Italy by the British. He remained in Yorkshire, England, married and built a new life.

Paul and his family were still in Poland when the communist took over. It was a difficult time to be a Adventist again. The communists were not happy with those who practiced any kind of faith. Paul Jr. went to seminary school and became a Seventh Day Adventist Pastor. Shortly afterward he met and married Halina. A few years later the General Conference of Seventh Day Adventist asked him to work for them in England at the Northern European-West African Headquarters. The communists were more than happy to be rid of him and granted him and his wife their visas.

They lived in England for fourteen years and built a family. In 1984 they moved to Australia where Paul Cieslar Jr. retired in 2002.

It is amazing how faith can sustain us through the most difficult situations. I have only touched lightly on Paul’s story. If you would like to read more about him, I encourage you to read his book No Heil Hitler, available on Amazon and through Adventist Book Centers.

If you enjoyed this story, please click on the follow by email link to the left and follow me. You’ll get email updates on each new posting. Thank you and see you next week.

Cover of Paul’s book.

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