2010 - 5

Kazik and Kazia: A symbolic gender change in the midst of the fight for independence of Poland


Anna Nowakowska
Translated by Natalia Kloc

SUMMARY: Wanda Gertz was one of thirty Polish women who rushed to the frontlines of WW I in male disguise. The author asks what could have provoked such behavior by analyzing archival sources on Wanda Gertz, as well as facts mistakenly associated with her. This paper aims at showing patriotism as one among many motivations for symbolic gender change and joining the army. It also tackles the question of the perception of female soldiers who pass for men, then and now.



World War I played a vital role in the emancipation of women who, by working in factories, on the railways, and in government offices, replaced the men fighting at the front. In dispensaries and ambulance trains at the front they dressed the wounds of the injured. They performed auxiliary service in special women's troops, stood on sentry duty, and guarded the food supplies. Courageous and composed, they set off on the road as messengers and intelligence agents. There were also those for whom even this was not enough. They cut their hair short, flattened their breasts with bandages; then, wearing men's uniforms and carrying rifles, they set off for the frontlines to fight.

The Archives of New Records (AAN), the Committee of Women's History in the Fight for Independence (KHKwON) and the Polish Underground Movement (SPP) in London contain reports and photographs which prove the participation of women in the frontline combat; among them were two women hiding behind the name "Kazik". One, Wanda Gertz, managed to have a military career. We know nothing about the second "Kazik" apart from the fact that when she disclosed her identity, her comrades-in-arms called her "Kazia", and that she came from Cracow, where she had worked as a nurse for a well-known surgeon. Wanda Gertz-Kazimierz (Kazik) Żuchowicz-recounted her adventures in the first person in a compilation of frontline memoirs[1]. The Story of Kazia, the nurse from Cracow, was told by her commanding officer, Konstanty Aleksandrowicz (Kostek Alexandrowicz).

"Kazik Żuchowicz"

Wanda Gertz was one of about thirty women who set off with the Polish legions to the front of World War I, but she was the only one who had the opportunity to put herself in the midst of direct fight with the enemy. She was born on April 13, 1896 in Warsaw, in a family descending from Saxon settlers. Wanda's father, Jan Gertz, had participated in the January Uprising. His house was the place where the former insurgents met to recall the times of their conspiracy and struggle against the enemy. Little Wanda Gertz listened to these recollections with her older brother, with whom she later played in the yard in the company of his friends. The stories told by the insurgents aroused the children's interest because the main theme of their games was the fight, particularly the noble one-the chivalrous one. It is worth quoting longer passages of Wanda Gertz's previously unpublished childhood memoirs, since they help to explain many decisions she made later in life. "From my early childhood, I don't know why, my greatest interests and dreams were focused on the army. As a five-year-old, I never played with dolls, but only with soldiers, and I used to have so many of them. Having older siblings, I stayed in the company of my brother who was four years older than me. It was with him and with other boys who were his friends that we played army all the time. . . . Being the only girl in the company of boys, I was assigned various mediocre roles in group games. . . . When we played army, I was a recruit, because in those times it was unthinkable that a girl could be a soldier. In return for acceptance in the group of boys I had to do the hardest work, constantly showing obedience to my "authorities", running around and carrying out orders to bring some things or toys left behind, or doing something that boys did not feel like doing. In spite of my tenacity in serving the company of the boys, they considered me to be something inferior because I was a girl, an unavoidable dogsbody. Since I wanted to display my equality, be it wrestling where one had to show physical fitness, or fighting another group of children where one had to demonstrate courage, I tended to fall into such combat enthusiasm that often the opponents had to take flight from the battleground. I would often be left thoroughly bruised when a few boys were fighting with me in order to take me prisoner, and my companions abandoned me to save their own skin. This made my brother and his friends accept me in their company more and more often since they thought that at times not only did I equal them, but even was ahead of many of the playmates, and in the end they got used to it. As the more resourceful and combative children received various kinds of rewards in the form of promotions, some became colonels, captains and officers, and they could give orders to their subordinates. We had special paper caps for the privileged ones, and we watched them with great respect while they proudly strutted among us. My fondest dream was to obtain at least an NCO rank to be allowed to wear a colorful cap."[2]

Wanda Gertz's childhood experience gave rise to a conviction which did not leave her till the end of her life-the conviction that a girl, in order to be noticed, must show that she is smarter and can work harder than the boys, as well as to show a kind of craftiness, because sheer involvement is not enough to be noticed in the men's/boys' world. The above description shows that, in fact, in order to be noticed she had to behave like a "boy". Wanda Gertz's parents were quite permissive and saw nothing wrong in the blithe and carefree children's games. They only intervened when the games left children severely roughed-up.

With her patriotic roots and the fondness for the uniform, as a teenager she joined a secret girl gude group, and then the Polish Confederation (Konfederacja Polska), an organization focused on boosting pro-independence spirits. As scouts and in the Polish Confederation, which was a paramilitary organization, the girls performed organizational and auxiliary functions. This role did not live up to the expectations of the robust teenage girl, seasoned in back-yard battles. While her friends were shedding tears after their beloved ones left them, Gertz worked out a plan which made it possible for her to have adventures and to experience the happiest period of her life[3]. She was eighteen when she first impersonated Kazik Żuchowicz and set off to the front. Her secret scouting acquaintances supported her-her leader and friends "provided men's clothes, and eagerly helped me. First, they cut my hair. At that instance I felt that there was no way back."[4] The next day she went to the assembly point, where "after fixing some formalities, that is, after showing previously obtained passport with Kazik Żuchowicz's name, I received the order to change into a uniform"[5]. Disguised as a man, she marched off together with her troop to get on a train to Lublin. The first serious obstacle emerged in the Lublin barracks, where medical examinations were performed. "I was struck dumb, not knowing what to do, whether I should go or stay. To my comfort, it was not only me who wanted a superficial examination since the boys were also afraid of doctors' sentence. . . . One after another, we approached the desks and gave our last names; in the end, however, we were told that all those assembled were to move to another room to proceed with medical examination. . . . I approached the desk and asked who could exempt me from the examination. Lieutenant D. was pointed out to me; slightly surprised, he asked me about the reason. I was silent. A writer who was a witness of this conversation expressed an assumption that I was a girl in disguise... It was hard for me to deny this. The only thing I could do was to ask them not to send me back home. The lieutenant promised me he would try to find a 'cool officer' who would agree to take me to the front. In the meantime, however, he told me to move to another staging post in order to avoid meeting the boys who were starting to see through everything."[6] This way, thanks to kind officers, dodges, and detours Kazik Żuchowicz was on his/her way to the front. As major Otokar Brzoza's[7] ordynansa[8] she got to Kowel, where she became acquainted with the staff and the people around the artillery magazine and waited for her assignment. She worked in the commissariat for two or three weeks where she was busy recording registers and giving out artillery equipment. She befriended one of her comrades from the quarter, M. Doręgowski, who loyally accompanied her in later battles and wartime adventures. Both of them were assigned to Lieut.
Mazurkiewicz's[9] 2nd howitzer battery stationing in Ugły (Volhynian voivodeship). The appalling conditions, lack of basic equipment, and the accommodation in dugouts did not match the image of the war in the girl's mind. War was not about singing battle songs while seated around the fire in a glade, or while marching; it was about hard physical work while building dugouts and crossties. "First, one had to break the frozen ground with a pickaxe and sweep it aside with a spade. After pounding the so-called iron cramp into a beam, and, after putting on a bar, one had to pull upward both of its ends at the same time to tear out a pole stuck into the ground. We would work like this in pairs. I had to summon up my strength to, instantly after hearing 'heave-ho!', pull up the end of a bar simultaneously with my "workmate" standing next to me. For I did not want to hear comments that I didn't pull hard enough."[10]

Some people (including the commanders) knew that there were girls among the soldiers. They tried to protect them as best as they could from combat and enemy attacks, but also from the obtrusiveness of their own troops. A study concerning the participation of women in the struggle for independence carried out by an instructor from the Polish Scouting and Guiding Association (Związek Harcerstwa Polskiego), contains a shocking description of the death of a female soldier named Mroczkówna. The woman was wounded in the battle near Kaczanówka, and in March 1918 in Uładówka, Ukraine, her tongue was cut and her eyes were gouged out. Then, the woman soldier, still alive, was grabbed by her legs and her head was smashed against a telegraph pole.[11] The cruelty of the Russian soldiers is disturbing; what were they driven by? Was it just hatred towards the Poles? Was a woman disguised as a man a disturbing misfit in the eyes of Russians, just like Joan of Arc, boldly dressed as a man, shook the peaceful existence of the simple Christian folk?

Fortunately Gertz escaped such misfortunes. After the first heavy period of adaptation, the war started to resemble an adventure. For a start, she was assigned a horse, which she did not know how to groom or break in. The duty, unpleasant in the beginning, hardened her character and taught her to face adversities; it also instilled in her a fondness for horses. Then, as a reservist, she was assigned to field cannon exercises. "We were taught how to climb on and off wagons and cannons."[12] Soon she was also assigned to a communications platoon, where she learned how to handle the equipment as well as to install lines and fix broken wires.[13] When front-line activities intensified at the end of June, major Brzoza ordered her to run the regimental library. From this moment on she was permanently close to the regiment's command. "Russian airplanes would fly above us every day, examining the location of our battle forces. At that moment, the cannon and machinegun cannonade would start. . . . I would spend my leisure hours sitting in a tree, curiously watching the explosions of bursting grenades with my fellow soldiers."[14] During one of such observations a grenade explosion made the horses scamper off. Two of them ran straight into a bog, from which they could not get out. None of the soldiers dared to save them under enemy fire. Wanda Gertz, a budding horse lover, could not watch the animals suffer, and her "manly" courage made her ignore her comrades-in-arms and the whistling shells, and pull both of the horses out from the mud. The animals were quickly taken by legionnaires from another battery, who announced that the horse foundlings belonged to them.

In the meantime, the military operations increased. "Some nights, repeatedly interrupted by cannonade of artillery pieces and rattling of machine guns, resembled hell. The Russians were running and shouting 'Hurrah! Hurrah!' It sent shivers down my spine, like an electric current."[15] As the Austrians were fleeing, the Russians approached closer and closer. The legions' 7th infantry regiment stationing in the vicinity awakened in Wanda Gertz a desire for new adventures. "Since I had not directly taken part in any battle, I decided to split to the infantry. I was talked into this by a comrade-in-arms, so the two of us decided to stay in some village and join the first infantry troop we encountered. We stopped in Stobychów, where we were supposed to withdraw from the artillery."[16] Suddenly struck night blindness, the exhausted Wanda Gertz was forced to change her plans. Blindly holding on to a wagon, she moved along with her company, which was ordered to retreat as far as Stochód.

At this time rumors started circling among the soldiers about the possibility of the legions' retreat and Piłsudski's resignation as part of a protest against Austria's policy. "Since I had already served for six months in the artillery, and my uniform was completely worn out, I was offered a leave. In the meantime, the issue of withdrawing the brigade from the front was to be decided. Depending on the decision, I was to return or to stay at home, because I did not want to roam around staging posts and live a barrack life."[17]

This was how Kazik Żuchowicz's front career ended. And this was how Wanda Gertz-the latter-day Emilia Plater[18] -started her long military service for her homeland. Gertz was lucky in terms of the poetry written about her. The first poem, entitled "Kazik", was written by her friend Zofia Zawiszanka:

"Oh patient memory, please keep faithfully
The image of that girl-Knight my dreams brought to me:
Of a sage or a saint was the look in her eyes
Quietly focused, courageous, so sad and so wise...

The delicate half-smile, so childishly sweet,
And the way she salutes her command in the street;
Two gestures into one motion merging,
A manly soldier's honor and the pride of a virgin.

Oh, dreams of old! I could've been the same,
But my paths were tangled, and love was to blame.
Whether I'm myself - who knows? I can't tell

When my tears blur the image of the Knight-girl."[19]

For Zawiszanka, Wanda Gertz was a true heroine; she became the spokeswoman and a defender of Gertz who often evoked extreme reactions. In Zawiszanka's recollections, her admiration for Wanda's manly behavior and appearance is apparent.

An anonymous report on Wanda Gertz's return from the front to Warsaw has survived. Young girls from Women Troops of the Polish Military Organization (Oddziały Żeńskie Polskiej Organizacji Wojskowej) rebelled against performing solely auxiliary functions in comparison to men troops, and dreamt about real war adventures. "These roles, undoubtedly necessary yet so mundane, as our young eyes saw them, did not satisfy us at all. Therefore, the arrival of Kazik and Zofka Plewińska from the front hastened our mutiny. We presented a list of desiderata; we demanded military training and preparation for direct combat for independence. Kazik's incredible adventures as well as her conviction that the withdrawal of girls from front was only momentary, imbued us with optimism. With our eyes on Kazik, whose boyish figure reminded of Grottger's paintings, we eagerly worked on our memorandum. Zofka was fully supportive of our plans, though she was more restrained when recounting her adventures. Fortunately, I was one of the initiated."[20]

Unfortunately, Wanda Gertz doest not describe how she was treated by her comrades-in-arms. She was certainly protected by her command since few people knew her real identity. She also did her best not to reveal her gender. Her boyish looks, handsome figure, and upbringing among boys turned out to be helpful. She wrote nothing about her feelings towards those, who surrounded her-the men and the few women who, just like her, chose to wear men's clothing. It appears that legionary service was something natural for her. But was it natural for her alone? Did she see other women at the front? Serving as a commandant of the Second Voluntary Legion of Women in Vilnius, she evoked mixed feelings among her commanding officers. They considered her treatment of subordinates excessively harsh, particularly the hard drill and severe conditions of life she imposed upon them. Her subordinates were punished for having a conversation with a man in the street. Several girls failed to handle the regime and committed suicide. Wanda Gertz explained to her superiors that her actions were the result of her concern for the girls' morals, since some of them represented the so-called underclass. She did not want her girls to be treated like ordinary camp followers-and this was how the girls starting their service in the uniform were treated in the beginning.

Today, Wanda Gertz is an object of interest for gender studies and queer theory scholars. For them, she constitutes evidence that it is socialization and not biological sex that determines one's predispositions and choices. Gertz grew up among her brothers and their friends. Her inborn and instilled predispositions made her choose a military career once reserved for men; first, in the Voluntary Legion of Women (Ochotnicza Legia Kobiet), later, during the interwar period in the Female Military Training (Przysposobienie Wojskowe Kobiet), and then as Piłsudski's secretary in the General Inspectorate of the Armed Forces. During World War II, while serving in the Home Army Women's Troop of Subversion and Sabotage, she personally carried out death sentences on women informers. She never started a family, and, even in private, she kept men at arm's length, and was guided by officers' principles. For contemporary culture critics, her life is an example of socialization, which imbued certain features, dreams and yearnings into a young girl; but they were of the kind that was "naturally" ascribed to the opposite sex. People with no gender awareness ask themselves: to what degree was Wanda Gertz a woman? What was her sexual orientation? They ask these questions, as if they were to depict a clear picture of the choices she made in her life. An average reader today would identify Wanda Gertz as a butch lesbian, rather unfeminine and unattractive, for whom pursuing a masculine career was the only choice. Maria Dąbrowska met Wanda Gertz in Lublin in 1916, while she was working in the editorial office of the Polska Ludowa newspaper. "Polska Ludowa was skillfully and efficiently managed by the so-called 'citizen Kazik,' who had served under the same name for quite some time as a soldier of the First Brigade at the front. She was a nice girl with a swashbuckling flaxen mane which she would brush aside off her eyes with a shake of her head to reveal a cheeky young shaver's face. She had a fiancé, or a suitor, who looked like a girl in comparison to her. So, Miss Kazik even organized expeditions to distant places in order to win supporters or sell subscriptions, and she would often get back with empty hands."[21] Today, it would be difficult to define if that feminine boy was really a delicate man, or maybe he was another woman soldier who had not been "outed". He might equally well have been the soldiering companion, Doręgowski, whom Wanda Gertz mentioned in her memoirs. The companion's identity is irrelevant at this stage, yet the fact that it is unknown shows how Wanda Gertz evades any attempt of tagging. Once she starts to sound like a lesbian, a fiancé appears in her life...

Writing a biography requires delving into the private life of the person in question. In the case of Wanda Gertz, it was exceptionally hard to ascertain what she liked, what kind of music she listened to, what she read, who she spent her time with outside her military environment. Her entire life was associated with the army. Even her outside-service affiliation with the Masonic lodge and the Theosophical Society was connected to the legionary environment until Marshall Piłsudski officially banned all of his confidant officers from serving causes other than Poland, and ordered them to categorically withdraw from the Masonic lodges.

The surviving accounts of Gertz written by her subordinate show that she felt the best in the barracks, where she was able to live in a group and hold a position of power and responsibility. This is what it was like in Vilnius in the years 1919-1921, where she was a commanding officer of the Second Voluntary Legion of Women (II Ochotniczej Legii Kobiet); also, when she lived in the Belweder presidential palace while working at the Belweder Museum, or later, in the POW camps in Germany. Regardless of the camps being fenced with barbed wire; regardless of the Nazis' aggression towards the prisoners, Wanda Gertz, the commanding officer of all women officers, once again felt responsible for her subordinates. She fought for their existence and organized their time. Once again, she was called "Kazik", and March 4, the Catholic saint's day of Kazimierz and Kazimiera occasioned a celebration in the camp. On this day, Wanda Gertz was personally given little poems, matchbox houses, and cigarettes, since she was an ardent smoker.[22]

"Citizen Kazia"

The other "Kazik's" lot is described in a completely different way. In this case there are no personal accounts from the front or impressions of life in the barracks; instead, we have observations concerning the behavior and the reception of women cross-dressers in the ranks of men, written by a commanding officer, Konstanty Aleksandrowicz of the First Brigade of the Polish Legions. These recollections were published in 1934, together with a picture of the heroine, in the ninth volume of Niepodległość[23] (Independence). The Archives of New Records contain an original manuscript written in pencil on March 18, 1916 in Cracow.[24] The title, "Kazik. (Kobieta-żołnierz)" ("Kazik (A Woman Soldier)"), might erroneously suggest that the text is about Gertz.[25] The same nickname was assumed by a nurse from Cracow named Kazia, who started her front adventure in the sanitary service and eventually became a private.[26] Aleksandrowicz's text is valuable because it shows the reactions that cross-dressed women evoked among the male soldiers, and gives us a sense of what military service within a coeducational unit looked like. It also reflects his personal views on the changing behavior of women in what he called "those strange times." The following situation took place in Kielce, in August 1914. "Everyone. . . . remembers the petite boyish figure armed with an enormous Caucasian dagger. A fresh round face with a dangerous frown, the body movements clearly unaccustomed to men's clothing, and the aforementioned dagger-all this brought a smile to a soldier's face, but a smile verging on distaste."[27] Citizen Kazia, trying to look bold and valiant, exaggerated typically masculine behavior, acting almost like a drag king. She herself failed to see anything amusing; to the contrary, she "assumed that she looked very militant, as befitted the solemnity of the situation" [28].

Kazia set off with a battalion as one of the nurses in the First Regiment of the Cadre Company (Kompania Kadrowa). However, the hard marching and nights spent in the rain and mud put the other women off further service. By contrast, Kazia not only demonstrated that she had the constitution of a horse, but she also showed a strong willpower, with which she "was capable of handling her body". Aleksandrowicz assesses that she possessed a mad courage, considerable physical strength and the absolute dedication to the Cause. Together with her regiment she survived the first Kielce offensive, the two-week-long fighting on the Vistula, while Piłsudski's regiment was covering Danckl's army's retreat. Later she reached Warsaw with her battalion.

Sanitary service was not enough for Kazia. "She dreamt about line formations, charging with bayonets; she watched with jealousy those who were entitled to carry rifles... In the Krzywopłoty battle I already see her as a regular private. She fights in the battle of Łowczówek, and in the trenches near Nida."[29] Roughly at the time of the battle of Nida a symbolic metamorphosis of the nurse Kazia into soldier Kazik takes place. Everyone knows her real identity, but no one protests, no one sends her home, back to her husband or her duties. They let her continue fighting for the freedom of her homeland.

Kazik's commanding officer, Konstanty Aleksandrowicz, greatly appreciated this dutiful and self-sacrificing soldier. The war experience erased the theatrical exaggeration; she no longer provoked condescending smiles. The awareness of being a cross-dressed woman among men taught her to behave like a woman carrying out "typically male" tasks. She was one of the most diligent soldiers in the company; it was apparent from the eagerness with which she would get down to performing her duties that "these were the happiest days of his life". Interestingly, writing about the transformation from Kazia into Kazik, Aleksandrowicz also makes a grammatical gender shift. Having switched from writing about a woman to writing about a man, he starts using masculine pronouns and verb endings. This is indeed a unique front account using a literary form. One needs to bear in mind that the text was written in 1916, and its author was an ordinary soldier. Kazik's exaggerated masculinity discomfited her commanding officer; next to her, he felt like a "woman-civilian".

Similarly to Wanda Gertz, Kazia-Kazik did not want to show physical weakness. She refused to be dismissed from regular service or sentry duty. She would carry a 25-30 kilograms of gear, and only put her rucksack on the wagon when forced by a commanding officer's distinct order. Other soldiers would notably improve their language and manners in the presence of the quiet and calm Kazik. They surrounded her with respect, and never spoke ill of her. They tried to support their masked friend and assist her with the heavier chores, but Kazia would not hear about help.

Citizen Kazia filled her commanding officer with a genuine awe. "I adore this amazing, unattainable, elusive tact of a woman who is constantly, day and night, surrounded by men. I cannot imagine a reversed combination at all, that is, a man who is forced to stay permanently among women. This also testifies to the morals of the company in which she came to serve."[30] For Aleksandrowicz, her attitude was something more than patriotism, which he does not mention once in the text. "She is of a strange and uncommon type, which was shaped by our strange times,"[31] he states. He does not try to analyze her behavior, leaving this task to psychologists, himself attempting to note down everything concerning Kazik-this incredible, heroic girl-as accurately as possible. He only notes that, apart from men's clothes, there was nothing "theatrical or artificial" about Kazia: "There was no pseudo-manliness, which one can so often notice in female students"[32].

Kazia experienced more than thirty battles and skirmishes. In Konary she was promoted to lance corporal, and for fighting in Wołyń she was awarded the great silver medal for bravery. Unfortunately, we know nothing about her subsequent life. She may have died at the front or remained in the army. Her commanding officer Aleksandrowicz wrote down his impressions of her day by day during the struggle for independence, up until March 18, 1916 in Cracow.

The partition period saw many women participating in resistance underground work of the Polish Socialist Party (The PPS) and the Riflemen's Association. They contributed immensely as couriers, intelligence agents, as well as organizers of the double life of their comrades-in-arms. They attacked trains, lobbed grenades, and planted bombs. It appears that for many legions' commanding officers, who had themselves been member of the patriotic Sokół association and the Riflemen's Association, women's participation was a kind of a continuation of previous independence-oriented activities. After all, they themselves were soldiers of a country-to-be. Józef Piłsudski, in a relationship with a POM combatant, and bearing in mind his friends who were women, firmly ordered women to be banned from the front. As Ferdynand Pawłowski wrote, "During the marching on Kielce various organizational orders were given. Women, many of whom had sneaked in during the march out of Cracow, had to leave the troops in Miechów. The only two women who were allowed to stay were rigorizer Wisłocka and Ludka Modzelewska, due to their previous achievements in the Rifleman."[33] Women activists were constantly reminded that women's rights can only be achieved in a free country, and that the fight for independence is the most important. Thus they fought for independence and a free country as well as for women's rights, together with men. No clause of international law accounted for women as soldiers. It was only after the fall of the Warsaw Uprising that Polish Women from the Home Army were acknowledged as prisoners of war, and POW camps were establisher for them: Oflags for women officers, and Stalags for women soldiers of lower ranks.

Patriots, women's rights activists, or...?

In the beginning, citizen Kazia evoked laughter and distaste, marching with big soldier's steps and carrying a dagger which, in her opinion looked "threatening enough for the solemnity of the moment."[34] It seems to have been much easier for the contemporary society to accept those uncommon women, who wanted to serve bearing arms in the heat of battle. Their cross-dressing was more easily accepted and explained than it would have been if the same transgression had taken place in everyday life. Historian Alicja Kusiak-Browstein, a pioneer in women's wartime experience research, also writes about this. In her opinion, "we have here the model of a woman acting within a clearly defined framework and charged with special commissions, for the times of women-warriors are strictly limited to moments of political crisis."[35] The life of Maria Komornicka is a case in point: for assuming a masculine identity she was pacified by being sent to a psychiatric hospital, when all she had done was to protest against the fact that women were excluded from the public sphere and educational institutions, and denied the right to pursue professional careers and shape their own lives.

Many of the women who chose to serve at the front disguised as men were artists-painters and sculptors like Maria Dulębianka, Zofia Plewińska, or Zofia Trzcińska-Kamińska. Was their journey to the front motivated only by a sense of patriotic duty? The analysis of individual women's lives suggests that it was not. They were often remarkable individuals; their profession, interests, or appearance made them stand out. They expected something more from life than just performing the role of a wife, a mother, or housewife. Many chose not to marry or have children; however, this did not necessarily mean they were lesbians and that they assumed a male identity in their everyday life as well. Wanda Gertz was distinguished by her masculine appearance and posture, which became more masculine with age. The way she dressed was not particularly feminine, and she mainly socialized with men. Her charge Anna Borkiewicz-Celińska, who was also the daughter of her friend Adam Borkiewicz, recalled that in her eyes Wanda had been the embodiment of her girlish dreams about not relinquishing anything to the boys and doing everything the opposite sex does.[36] As she admitted, this dream sprung from a sense of injustice: why was I not born a boy? Women legionnaires were often badly treated by their female comrades-in-arms. Aleksandra Zagórska, the founder of the Women's Voluntary Legion (Ochotnicza Legia Kobiet) and the Association of Polish Women Legionnaires (Związek Legionistek Polskich) disliked women who served at the front in men's clothing. Also the first Polish woman general, Maria Wittek, [37] liked neither Wanda Gertz nor Elżbieta "Zo" Zawacka. [38]

In the case of Wittek this unfriendliness towards her colleagues might have been streaked with deep religiousness and conservatism, which led her to spurn Gertz and Zawacka on account of their alleged sexual difference. In fact, Zawacka did not fight at the front disguised as a man, but she was the only woman who joined the "cichociemni," an elite group of 300 people who parachuted with secret dispatches during World War II. Janice Raymond suggests that women impersonating men are disloyal towards their own sex; they betray it and succumb to the male hegemony.[39] Not only do they fail to make the world a better place for women, but, on the contrary, they accept the conditions imposed by men and identify with their world. Since today we do not even know the names of some of the women-soldiers, it is difficult to determine the level of their "feminist" consciousness. In any case, there is no trace in the materials left by Wanda Gertz of her sympathizing with the organized women's movement or fighting for women's rights. She simply wanted to live like a man. Some scholars today would identify her as a butch lesbian, transcending the boundaries of gender role stereotypes. For a long time, feminism treated butches with reluctance, seeing them as reproducers of patriarchy responsible for intensifying prejudices against the lesbian minority.[40] Yet Joanna Mizielinska refers to Rita Laporte's claim that femininity and masculinity can manifest themselves in thousands of ways, and that the diversity of human behavior is considerably richer than it would appear to be in a heterosexual society.[41]

As historian Alicja Kusiak Browestein writes, national discourse homogenizes the woman as a social category, omitting class, ethnic, generational, and gender diversity. Conservative academics in the humanities still pay homage to the essentialist 'Polish woman'[42]. According to Tomasz Nałęcz, women with military experience were treated in times of peace as "an element of folk lore, not as a social phenomenon worth studying and describing"[43]. This is apparent in the problems faced by women legionnaires, the POM women fighters, who wanted to serve the newly-regained homeland. They spent the whole interwar period fighting administrators, ministers, and parliament in an attempt to organize state-funded military training for women. Eventually, they organized such training based on volunteer work, so that Polish women were able to show their courage and sacrifice when fighting in the next world war.

To sum up, I want to quote the words of Jadwiga Karłowiczowa, one of the fighters of the right-wing Polish women's movement in the United States. In 1938 she wrote: "A world war demonstrates that a woman capable of struggle in any walk of life, even capable of carrying a rifle if necessary, is a Citizen entitled to voice her opinions on public issues. . . . She is a testimony to the fact that all things great are created amidst the rumble of shooting and the dread of lightning. . . . War! World War! It caused so much sorrow, pain, and misery, yet it was marked with great causes: it gave Poland independence, which for us, Polish people, is the greatest victory; it gave the whole world no less wonderful things-the elevation of the social role of the peasant, the worker, and the woman.[44]


[1] Wierna Służba, Wspomnienia uczestniczek walk o nieodległość 1915-1918, ed. M. Rychterówna, Warszawa 1929. Compare W. Gertz, "W I pułku artylerii," Dla Przyszłości 3 (June 1931), p. 3.
[2] Studium Polski Podziemnej w Londynie, (further SPP) TP. 1/35, Wanda Gertz, "Wanda- marzenia dziecięce" (copy from manuscript), not paginated.
[3] Being an émigré, she requested in a letter to her charges from the "Dysk" troop to send her a photograph of Kazik Żuchowicz from Poland. She also returned to using this name while in a POW camp on the German territory.
[4] SPP, TP.1/35 - Wanda Gertz, Wanda Gertzówna /Kazik Żuchowicz/ - recollections, typescript, p. 2.
[5] Ibid., p. 2.
[6] Ibid., p. 3.
[7] Otokar Brzoza-Brzezina, 1883-1969, colonel of the Polish Army (WP), Austrian artillery officer, organizer and commanding officer of the First Brigade's artillery. Posthumously appointed Brigadier-General.
[8] Ordynansa or ordynanska-a term denoting a woman who performs the role of orderly.
[9] Jan Mazurkiewicz, aka Jan, Sęp, Socha, Zagłoba, Radosław (1896-1988), member of the Riflemen's Association (Związek Strzelecki) and of the 1st Brigade of the Polish Legions (Brygada Legionów), colonel in the Home Army (AK), retired Brigadier-General of the People's Army of Poland (LWP). During the Warsaw Uprising, commanding officer of the "Radosław" Concentration, where Wanda Gertz "Lena", commandant of "Dysk" Women's Troop of Subversion and Sabotage, served under his orders once again.
[10] SPP, TP.1/35 - Wanda Gertz, Wanda Gertzówna..., op. cit., p. 2.
[11] Archiwum Akt Nowych w Warszawie (Archives of New Records in Warsaw) (subsequently referred to as AAN), Archiwum Związku Harcerstwa Polskiego (Archives of Polish Scouting and Guiding Association), cat. no. 203, Udział Kobiet w walkach o wolność Polski (w latach 1914-1920) (Women's Participation in the Fight for Freedom of Poland (1914-1920)) - study, p. 43.
[12] SPP, Wanda Gertz, Wanda Gertzówna... op. cit., p. 8.
[13] The experience gained in his period had an influence on giving her command of the Women's Troop of Subversion and Sabotage of KG AK's "Kedyw" (Polish Directorate of Sabotage and Subversion).
[14] SPP, Wanda Gertz, Wanda Gertzówna... op. cit., p. 9.
[15] Ibid., p. 10.
[16] Ibid., p. 11.
[17] Ibid., p. 12.
[18] Emilia Plater (1806-1831), a revolutionary of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth; fought in the November Uprising (1830-1831) against the Russians and is considered a national hero in Poland.
[19] KHK, Personal files cat. No. II/G/3/f, Personal file of Wanda Gertz, not paginated.
[20] Ibid.
[21] M. Dąbrowska, Dzienniki 1914-1965 1 (1914-1925), Warszawa 2009. I thank Iwona Dadej for finding his information.
[22] The text does not contain all the stages of the Wanda Gertz's multifaceted life. For further information see my book Wanda Gertz. Opowieść o kobiecie żołnierzu, Kraków 2009.
[23] Niepodległość 9 (January-June 1934). The text was published after Aleksandrowicz's death as a result of injuries sustained in the battle of S. He died before independence was regained, on November 6, 1918.
[24] AAN, Zbiór zespołów szczątkowych, Akta Konstantego Aleksandrowicza (Kostka Alexandrowicza) (AAN, Set of fragmentary units, Konstanty Aleksandrowicz's (Kostek Alexandrowicz) files) cat. no. 188 (no pagination). There is no doubt that some of the editors of Niepodległość used the same manuscript. They also failed to read the fragment which, written in pencil, got worn away on the fold mark.
[25] This mistake was made in the past by an archivist who gave the following title to the file: "Kazik (Woman Soldier) Kostek Alexandrowicz's Momoirs of Kazimiera Gertzówna".
[26] Finding data on legionnaire "Kazia" requires further archival research which may, however, turn out to be unproductive.
[27] AAN, Akta Konstantego Aleksandrowicza, op. cit.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Ibid.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Ibid.
[33] F. Pawłowski, Wspomnienia legionowe, Kraków 1994, p. 18.
[34] AAN, Akta Konstantego Aleksandrowicza, op. cit.
[35] A. Kusiak-Browstein, Płeć kulturowa, "doświadczenie" i wojna - kilka metodologicznych uwag o wykorzystaniu relacji wspomnieniowych, w: Kobiety i rewolucja obyczajowa, eds. A. Żarnowskiej, A. Szwarca, Warszawa 2006, p. 417.
[36] A. Borkiewicz-Celińska, "Kobiety w dywersji," Więź 10 (October 1976), p. 110.
[37] Maria Stanisława Wittek (1899-1997); in 1918, after passing her final high-school examinations, started studying mathematics at the Kiev University. At this time she engaged in the scouting and guiding and the POW, where she completed an intelligence course and non-commissioned officer training. From 1920, she was a woman soldier in the Polish Army, and in 1921 she joined the Women's Voluntary Legion. During the interwar period, she initiated the women's military training movement (Organizacja Przysposobienia Kobiet do Obrony Kraju, OPKdOK, and Przysposobienie Wojskowe Kobiet, PWK). During Word War II, she was promoted to colonel, and became commandant in the Women's Military Service (Wojskowa Służba Kobiet, WSK). After the fall of the Warsaw Uprising, she left the capital city with the civilian population and continued her work in the Home Army, and from February 1945 she was active in 'Nie'. From March 1946 she supervised the PWK section in the State Office of Physical Education and Military Defense; from February 1948 worked for Service for Poland (Powszechna Organizacja "Służba Polsce"). She was arrested in April 1949 and held in jail without trial for six months. She did not return to Poland. She was honored twice with the Virtuti Militari Order, the Home Army Cross, and the Cross of Independence with the Sword and the Cross of the Brave.
[38] Elżbieta "Zo" Zawacka (1909-2009), instructor and commandant of PWK in Silesia; participated in the defense of Lviv during the September Campaign. As a courier of SZP-ZWZ-AK she crossed the border over one hundred times, and returned to Poland by parachuting in September 1943. During the Uprising, she served in the Women's Military Service KG AK. After the fall of the uprising, she managed the western communication routes leading to the headquarters in Switzerland. After the war, she was active in Freedom and Independence (Wolność i Niezawisłość). In 1951, she was arrested and sentenced to ten years. She was released in 1955 and worked at the University of Gdańsk and Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, where she focused on andragogy. She retired in 1978. In 1965 she received a PhD, and in 1973 the "habilitacja" degree. All her life she collected materials on the Home Army; a co-founder of ŚZŻAK. In 1990 she initiated the Foundation of the Pomerania Archive and the Museum of the Home Army and Polish Women's Military Service in Toruń. Honored twice with the Virtuti Militari Order V cl., and five times with the Cross of Valor, the Officer's Cross, and the Commander's Cross with the Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta and the Order of the White Eagle. Custodian of National Memory and an Honorary citizen of Toruń. Appointed general in 2005.
[39] U. Nowak, Czy dyskurs transseksualistyczny ma jednoznacznie wyzwalający czy ambiwalentny charakter? Interalia, 2009-4.
[40] Ibid., p. 148.
[41] J. Mizielińska, (De)konstrukcje kobiecości, Gdańsk 2004, p. 148.
[42] A. Kusiak-Browstein, op. cit., p. 410.
[43] T. Nałęcz, Kobiety w walce o niepodległość w czasie I wojny światowej, w: Kobieta i świat polityki, eds. A. Żarnowskiej, A. Szwarca, Warszawa 1994, p. 77.
[44] J. Karłowiczowa, Historia Związku Polek w Ameryce, Chicago 1938, p. 181.

Anna Nowakowska



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