Escape from Communism

Henry Zguda was able to escape from communism because of friends he made during the war. In Buchenwald, Henry worked in the stone mason commando; he remained friends for life with two of those men: Jost Slagboom and Herbert Lapailles. During the 1944 bombing, Henry saved Lapailles’ life. (See post of February 5, 2014.)

I had a friend going to Vienna, and I asked him to deliver a letter written in German to my good friends Jost Slagboom and Herbert Lapailles.  By now Slagboom was mayor of Maassluis (a town in the Netherlands) and Herbert Lapailles was a senator in Belgium. Sure enough, they came up with a plan, and together they extended a formal invitation to our Polish water polo team to compete in a tournament in Brussels. 

In May 1957 I took 15 guys to Brussels for one week of water polo matches. The night we were to secretly leave, I met with my guys and told them what I had planned. They all wanted to come too. But I knew I could only take one person. I could die or be arrested for escaping, so I couldn’t risk anyone else. Only my good friend Leon Kraska and I went. We were both single, older and ready for something new.

You know, every time you travel for communism, they send the ‘party officials’, who are really the secret police, to make sure you aren’t working against the party, and to spy on you. So this evening, everyone had a political meeting, but I feigned illness and stayed back in the hotel room. As soon as everyone was gone to the meeting, Leon and I checked the hallway to make sure it was clear.  We went out a back stairway, where Lapaille was waiting with a car to whisk us away. They drove us to an interrogation center to be interviewed.

The newspapers in Poland run the headlines calling me a traitor to Poland. My mother was very ashamed; she knows nothing. – Henry Zguda

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