The Evaders, by Roman Turski

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Sep 17, 2004
Moorpark, CA
This is one of the amazing but true stories of WWII
The Evaders
By 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 his face was white with fear. Panting heavily, he tried to wrench himself from my grip and said, "Gestapo—Gestapo!" I know only a little German but understood he was running from the dreaded German secret police.
I rushed him into the lobby and upstairs to my room, pointed to the foot of my bed and motioned him to lie down. I covered his slender, jackknifed 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 it," a phrase I knew by heart. They left without searching the room.
As soon as they had gone I 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 would get off. He nodded with satisfaction, and his narrow face and dark 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 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 into 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 morale.
As we started for home I rammed an Me-109 and was hit by a piece of it's 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 later learned 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 a trace of a German accent.
His words ended my confusion. I recalled a 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 a 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."
That's a brilliant story, almost unbelieveable but a lot of strange things happen in war.
It really is amazing. Someone handed me a photocopy of that story from a book years ago and I typed into word so that I would always have it. I had almost forgotten about until recently. I figured it would be a story that everyone here could appreciate.
Nice feel good story, but there's a snag -- the name Roman Turski is not listed anywhere I can find for the Honour Roll of fighter pilots who flew during the Battle of Britain on the British side including the Free French and Poles. I first read this story and pretty much accepted as true back in the late '70s but on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, there were several books published on the subject and one of them actually had the names of every pilot who flew on the English side. Just for kicks I looked up the name Turski and did not find it on the list. I looked up the web site for the Battle of Britain where they maintain an honour roll and again it is not listed. Maybe I'm just having really bad luck, but I have not been able to locate the man's name on any official roll.

After doing some back tracing on this story, the earliest appearance of this story I could find was from a story from Reader's Digest in Jan. '53. It most like was based on earlier source which I've not able to find. But what is most telling is that there are several versions of this story which differs in details. Sorry guys, but this maybe one of those Urban Legends.
Re: your post (Feb-2006) Re: Evaders by Roman Turski

The story* is true. Yes, it did appear in the January, 1953 issue of Reader's Digest. I know this because I remember reading the article at the time it was published. Many years ago I went to a university library in Florida in an attempt to find and copy the original article, which I did.

Its publication in Reader's Digest was its first date of
publication. I know this because it was the magazine's policy to accept only original stories which could be verified.

When you looked into the authenticity of the article, you mentioned that you searched Royal Air Force records and you were unable to find a pilot named Roman Turski. The reason for this is simple.

The original article, as published, is followed by a brief annotation indicating that, to protect the identity of the pilot (which apparently was necessary in 1953), "Roman Turski" was not his real name.

Any subsequent versions of the story with different facts would most likely have been unauthorized versions of the original Reader's Digest article and
were obviously not properly credited to the publication.

If you doubt any of this, you are free to contact the publisher of Reader's Digest. Incidentally, I am not affiliated with them in any way. The URL for the story as published on this site is:

Re: The Evaders by Roman Turski

There is one more thing I should have mentioned. The title of the article, as originally published in Reader's Digest, was not "The Evaders." Its title was "Turnabout."
Re: The Evaders by Roman Turski

There is one more thing I should have mentioned. The title of the article, as originally published in Reader's Digest, was not "The Evaders." Its title was "Turnabout."

Turnabout. Precisely. Fact or fiction, it's feel good story with a relevant moral.
ooooh I love stories within a story! This is as good as it gets and it does seem very plausable. Many Polish pilots had similar experiences with fighting for France then England, etc. And its possible that these two met. Does anyone have the name of the Dr. who was saved and then saved his savior?

Great story just the same.
Hey, guys!

I would like to inform you that i've read this story way back 1992 in a Reader's Digest special edition book published circa late 1950's to early 1960's. It's not a magazine but a small book about 4"x2.5" in size and 3/4"thick.

It is one of two stories about WW2 air combats (Samurai by caidin about Saburo Sakai) that opened my interest in aerial warfare.

Hope this shared information encourages us all to peruse old books and magazines before disposing.

Happy day, guys!:)

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