Rough Diplomacy

Edward Harty

It was the 1950s,  young architects were imagining a new, post-War Britain.

Edward Hartry though had more reason than most to believe that life could no longer rely upon old blueprints.

He was Polish by birth, making a future as naturalised British citizen after a war that had made a graveyard of his  country.

Edward Herzbaum/Hartry with his mother

Edward, known always as Edek, spoke perfect English. He didn’t talk much about the past, but that was not remarkable in that time and place.

He was busy with life, his children, his job, his sports cars.

Edek’s suitcase

Edward died in 1967.

It was not until decades later that his daughter Krystyna found a small suitcase full of papers that revealed her father, his story and art.

Edward Hartry was born Edward Henrik Herzbaum in 1920, son of a Polish Jewish family then living in Vienna.

The Herzbaums moved back to Poland in the 1930s and settled in Lodz, where Edward enrolled as an architecture student.

He was 19 when Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union launched almost simultaneous invasions and tore up Poland between them, in 1939.

Soviet Labour Camp, 1941

Edward’s mother feared for her only child and sent him eastwards to hide in the city of Lvov.

Agents from the NKVD – the Soviet secret police – caught Edward in June 1940.

He was one of more than a million Polish men, women and children forced into cattle trains and deported in order to obliterate the Polish state.

Donkey and Driver, Kyrgyzstan, 1942

Quickly and secretly, the NKVD murdered 20,000 Polish officers, scholars and other figures of standing – burying them in the forests of Katyn.

But most people were despatched to labour camps and prisons – mainly in the most remote parts of the Soviet Union.

Edward was sent to the Volga River, where he laboured as a logger and also worked at a hydro-electric plant.

Edek’s long journey

His diary reveals grotesque brutality, starvation and torture as routine.

Rider and Three Camels, Kyrgyzstan, 1942

It was impossible for him to draw at the time. Edward’s pen and ink studies of this desperate period come from memory.

Hilltop in Italy, 1944

When Germany stormed into the Soviet Union in June 1941, Stalin released the surviving Poles – who were now allies.

Advancing toward Monte Cassino, 1944

Edward made his way thousands of kilometres south into Central Asia to join a mass of weak and starved men, women and teenagers.

They became a Polish army in exile, led by Gen Wladyslaw Anders.

“I’ve managed to buy a sketch book and some paints and I am making some sketches of the mountains,” Edward wrote, bowled over by the colours, the heat and the landscape.

Corpse of a German soldier near Monte Cassino, June 1944

“The paints are not very good, the sketch book is made from terrible paper, so the sketches are even worse, but maybe someday I will be able to do some work based on them.”

The Anders army sailed across the Caspian Sea out of the USSR to Iran, and from there served in Palestine, Iraq and Egypt alongside British forces through 1942 and 1943.

Iraq dazzled Edward.

Mortar shelling at Portella, 1944

“Here I would probably not use paints but would switch to ink. Such bright contrasts are better rendered by graphics.

“I have never before seen red, orange or purple mountains and I have seen so many green, yellow and brown skies,” wrote Edward in Palestine.

Air crew in Italy, 1944

In 1944, the Anders army was deployed to Italy, where it would fight the battle of its life, at Monte Cassino, the hill-top monastery that guarded the way to Rome.

Allied armies of many lands had already mounted three bloody assaults on Cassino and dropped thousands of tonnes of bombs.

On 12 May 1944, the Poles and other Allied armies finally drove the Germans out.

Soldiers at leisure, deck of the SS Marine Raven, 1946

The road to Rome was open. The Polish flag flew from the monastery. The hillside was littered with the dead.

Springtime in Castrocaro, 1945

“Crushed stone, stumps of trees, shattered ammunition cases, helmets shot through, bloody bandages,” Edward wrote.

“Bomb craters into which a two-storey building would fit, burnt-out tanks and pieces of artillery with barrels twisted like pasta.”

“All these things create an image which is more theatrical and concentrated than in any movie or painting.”

Soldiers sailing past Gibraltar, 1946

Edward’s sketchbooks became filled with intimate drawings of his comrades as the War drew to a close.

These would be the last few months the soldiers of the Anders army would spend together.

The Poland they knew was destroyed, many families were dead or missing.

It was in Italy that Edward heard of the death of his mother in the Lodz ghetto, sometime in 1940-41.

Edward stayed on in Rome studying architecture until he moved on to the UK in 1946, along with tens of thousands of demobbed servicemen and women.

Leaving Naples, 1946

He took his degree and worked rebuilding bomb-damaged London for the Greater London Council and elsewhere.

Herzbaum became Hartry, and a bundle of drawings disappeared into a brown suitcase.

His modern light-filled new home in the London commuter belt was a fresh start – a new design for living.

Edward Herzbaum/Hartry was one of a generation of Polish-British emigres who cheated death not once but many times.

All of those who survive are now in, or approaching, their 90s.

Architects and engineers, musicians and teachers, many were instrumental in building modern Britain.

All carried deep personal losses and appalling stories of endurance, often kept secret for decades.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: