From General de Gaulle’s speech to the UN, the remarkable journey of Cecile Sleszynska
At the age of 19, Cecile Sleszynska joined the Free French Forces in London after the famous General de Gaulle’s speech.
In 1942, thanks to Colonel Renouard of the Military Staff at Carlton Gardens, Ms. Sleszynska was incorporated within the Moncorvo House.
After attending the training camp of Camberley, she returned to the heavily bombed English capital.
Being bilingual, English-French, Cecile Sleszynska was assigned to a post where she would sort mail at the Admiralty in Stafford Mansions, a very sensitive job in which mail from all military branches would come in including reports from vessels, corvettes and frigates or ordinary fishing boats involved in the war effort.
She came across mails describing in details the activities of convoys; there were mainly brought by numerous convoys crossing the North Atlantic from the United States and Saint-Pierre and Miquelon says Ms. Sleszynska.
Often, this duty is entrusted to young Cadet looking who, thanks to the job, could take a few days ’rest’ in London. That is how Cecile Sleszynska met Rene Besnault who would later go on to be an aide-de-camp to General de Gaulle, and would later on become Admiral.
In her remarks, Ms. Sleszynska explains that Mr. Besnault had escaped along with two of his comrades from the Naval School in Brittany under the nose of the Germans before joining the "Patriotic School" used as a "purgatory" for the French and other citizens who wanted to join the Free French Forces under the General de Gaulle’s command.
During her time in London, Cecile Sleszynska recalls an unexpected encounter with the Soviets in the "City".
This was caused by an officer who had taken part in French convoys to the Soviet Union.
Without giving the names of recipients, the Lieutenant asked Ms. Sleszynska to give him some invitations to one of monthly gatherings taking place at the Moncorvo House, a special moment for the French to share and relax.
The officer also explained that he could not pick them up and asked her to be kind enough to hand them directly to the "guests".
Cecile Sleszynska who had in the meantime also invited a young Polish officer of the Polish Embassy in London willing to to learn French was very surprised when the guests arrived. There were three Soviet officers: a military Attaché, a Navy officer and an Air Force officer.
To put this arrival in perspective, Ms. Sleszynska mentions two great turning points of the time: the USSR just won the battle of Stalingrad, a war tale pushing up the popularity of the country, but on the other hand, the diplomatic relations between Poland and the Soviet government had been frozen since the Katyn massacre or the killing of 10,000 Polish officers by the Russian army, had just been unveiled.
Although at that time, the Soviets held the Germans responsible for the massacre, she noted that it was already clear for the Polish that the Soviets were indeed the perpetrators.
The arrival of Russian officers had caused a shock-wave in the room, she remembers, causing the immediate withdrawal of the Polish guests as soon as they showed up.
On Monday morning, her superior, Commander Edouard Bouquet asked her to give him an account of the diplomatic incident heard by Admiral Robert and General De Gaulle as well.
Later, Cecile Sleszynska learned that the Lieutenant in question was arrested precisely because of his ties to the Soviets.
Some social moments were organized but at the same time, the bombing of London continued with the V1 dubbed by Ms. Sleszynska as "small unmanned aircraft that crash landed everywhere in the city", then came the V2, which by 1944 arrived in the city causing even greater damage, she explains.
It was not until Paris was liberated that Ms. Sleszynska went back to France. She remembers her emotional reunion with her family as well as the American Jeeps running in the streets of the French capital.
Equally memorable, she went to visit the Ministry of the Navy on Rue Royale, and she recalls seeing that the German naval officers left badges, medals, and personal belongings scattered all over the place.
In 1945, she was hired temporarily as a translator for a conference held in London for the newly set United Nations.
Her contract was extended and Cecilia Sleszynska went to live in New York in September 1946 with her husband, a young Polish diplomat whom she married in April 1945. It was one of those who walked out of the Moncorvo House in 1943.
After the war, she remembers her life in New-York full of discoveries and her intense work at the UN and she reminds us some of the names of the different United Nations’ General-Secretaries of the time: Trygvie Lie, U Thant or Javier Perez de Cuellar.
She recalls also a very particular event, which is the Hungarian revolution of 1956.
Hungary was occupied in 1945 by the Soviet Union, since then it was under control of a communist regime. In October 1956, the population spontaneously revolted creating a breach in the Eastern bloc.
Western countries were too preoccupied with the Suez crisis and did not support fully the uprising and the Soviet troops reoccupied the country.
Following that insurgency, one of Ms. Sleszynska’s colleagues, Paul Bang Jansen was appointed to the position of Rapporteur and sent to Budapest.
During his stay, he made contacts with many people who agreed to testify on the condition that their identity would not be revealed. Paul Bang Jensen gave his word and thus able to gather information to assess the situation for the Hungarian report for the UN General Assembly.
Despite strong pressure from the General Secretary Dag Hammarskjold and the Assistant-Secretary-General, a Soviet, Paul Bang Jensen did not reveal the names of witnesses which caused him to be expelled from the UN Secretariat for lack of discipline and coincidentally some time later, his body was discovered not far from his home.
In Hungary, 40 years later, a statue honoring him was erected, says Cecile Sleszynska.
After 20 years in the Secretariat in New York, Ms. Sleszynska transferred to Geneva to the department of language affairs before being placed in Vienna.
She retired in 1983, but it does not keep her from being active. Indeed, for many years, she was a Representative of the Christian Democratic Union at the Commission of Human Rights of the UN in Geneva.
Ms. Cécile Sleszynska who received the "Médaille de la Résistance", which recognizes people involved in French underground of WWII, was awarded the Legion of Honor in August 2011 (picture: on the left, Gaël de Maisonneuve, Consul general of France in Miami and Ms. Sleszynska).
Cécile Sleszynska lives in Key Biscayne, Florida.