Introductory Note by J. B. Morton
This pamphlet arrives at an opportune moment. So much has happened, and upon such a gigantic scale, since the invasion
of Poland, that there is a tendency to forget that Soviet Russia is holding down by force half the territory and one-third
of the population of our ally. When M. August Zaleski told the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Polish Council that Poland
considers herself to be at war with Soviet Russia, surprise was expressed, and even disapproval in those quarters where Marxist
aggression is excused or called by another name. But this is an idea to which we must become accustomed. Poland, like the
rest of Europe has two enemies.
We in Britain have been told a great deal about the Germans in Poland, but very little about the Russians. The scarcity
of news has led many to imagine that conditions under Russia are not as bad as they might have been. The information supplied
by the present publication will enable the reader to form his own conclusions on this matter.
The account given in these pages of what is occurring in Poland's Eastern provinces is extremely valuable for two
other reasons. It is authentic, and it is restrained. It is more concerned with facts and figures than with the rhetoric of
indignation. The historical sketch of the Eastern provinces will be particularly useful for English readers, many of whom
have been told (and have believed it) that most of the territory seized by the Russians was really Russian territory, and
that the Red armies were merely taking back what belonged to them, and perhaps a little bit more. The author of this pamphlet
answers that blatant lie very effectively.
It is of the utmost importance for British people to understand something of the past history and present agony
of Poland, not merely because that country is our ally but also because posterity will, to a great extent, judge our contribution
to the reconstruction of Europe by our attitude to Poland. History and geography have made Poland an outpost of Christendom,
and when she once more has been liberated, her task will be what it has ever been: to stand as the warden of the marches.
The Soviet Occupation of Poland
On September 17, 1939, at 2:15 a.m. the Polish Ambassador to the U.S.S.R., M. Waclaw Grzybowski, was summoned to the Soviet
Foreign Office. On arriving at the Kremlin, he was received by M. Potemkin, who read him a Note to the effect that the
Soviets regarded the Polish Government as disintegrated, and the Polish State as having in fact ceased to exist. All agreements
concluded between the U.S.S.R. and Poland were in consequence declared to have ceased to operate. Poland bereft of leadership
had become a suitable field for all manner of hazards and surprises constituting a threat to the U.S.S.R. Furthermore, the
Soviet Government could not view with indifference the fate of the kindred Ukrainian and White Russian people living on Polish
territory, and, in existing circumstances, left defenceless.
Accordingly, the Soviet Government had ordered its troops to cross the Polish border and take under their protection the
life and property of the population of Western Ukraine and Western White Russia. At the same time, the Soviet Government proposed
to extricate the Polish people from the unfortunate war into which they were dragged by their unwise leaders, and enable them
to live a peaceful life. (* This passage has been taken from the Polish White Book, pp. 189-190.)
There existed between Poland and the Soviet Republic a pact of non-aggression dated July 25,1932, which on May
5, 1934, was extended until December 31, 1945.
Notwithstanding the strong misgivings aroused in all quarters by the new pact concluded on August 23, 1939, between
the Soviets and Germany, in the first days of the war between Poland and Germany a general impression prevailed of a certain
good will on the part of the Soviets towards Poland. On August 27 Izvestia published an interview with Marshal Vorosilov
who stated that the new understanding with Germany would not prevent Russia from supplying raw materials and even war materials
to Poland (* Ibid., p 187.)
Along the entire Russian border it had been noticed that the tone of Russian broadcasts was not at all unfriendly
towards Poland, and on certain frontier stations - much to the amazement of those who were informed - special arrangements
were being made in great haste in order to facilitate the transport of goods into Poland. At Molodeczno, it was rumoured,
a large convoy of lorries had been rushed over the frontier by night in early September. The Polish Government certainly had
difficulties in keeping in touch with its local representatives. Since September 5 it was constantly moving owing to German
bombing. But complete tranquillity reigned in the Eastern Provinces of Poland. Mobilisation had taken place under normal conditions
and perfectly smoothly; all public authorities were functioning without interruption.
In the light of events it is unnecessary to stress the evident bad faith of the Soviets. The perfidy of Moscow's
diplomatic language was vividly reminiscent of many similar documents of the 18th century, when Russia, with Berlin as chief
accomplice, undermined the old monarchic Commonwealth of Poland.
In any event, the entrance of the Russian troops was such a surprise, not only to the population but also to the
civil and military authorities, that in many places it was thought that the Bolsheviks had entered Poland as allies against
Nazi Germany. These doubts were, of course, very soon dispelled. In many places communist "fifth columns" made their appearance
with accompanying incidents of violence and plunder. The more determined Polish commanders swerved eastwards, and a new phase
of warfare began between the Carpathians and the Dzwina, which lasted another three weeks.
The northern provinces involved in the invasion knew the Russians well. The provinces of Volhynia (Wolyn), Polesie,
Nowogrodek, and Wilno as well as Bialystok had been subjected to the Russian Empire for more than a century. But Lwow, Stanislawow
and Tarnopol had seen the Russians only once, in 1914, and had never been under Russian rule: they had been annexed by Austria
in the first partition of Poland in 1772.
The territory invaded, and later incorporated by Russia with the so-called Soviet Ukraine and Soviet White Russian
Republics, after a farcical election on October 29, 1939, was the poorer and more backward part of Poland. For this there
are many reasons. The mineral resources of the Eastern Carpathians are smaller than those of the Western district of Silesia.
The immense marshes of the Prypec exclude the possibility of cultivation of large tracts of land, also consist of very poor
To the north of them the climate is very severe, and the soil is in general not very fertile. But, above all things,
the former Eastern Galicia, wedged in between the Carpathians and the Russian border (with an economic outlet only towards
the West at a distance of more than 250 miles of hilly and difficult country), had always been the most neglected and
poverty-stricken of the provinces of the Austrian Empire.
As for the western confines of Russia, until 1914, they were certainly the most abandoned and underdeveloped part
of Europe. After the Polish risings of 1830 and 1863, these lands were deliberately neglected and wasted by the Tsarist Governments,
and the building of a few railways late in the 19th century was quite insufficient to raise the standard of living and economic
activity in such vast regions. Even the much more densely populated "Kingdom of Poland," with its large centres like Warsaw
and Lodz, with its coal mines of Dabrowa with its numerous and enterprising population, had experienced the extreme difficulty
of improving conditions under Russian rule.
After the re-establishment of Poland in 1918, conditions in the Eastern Provinces had improved in many respects.
Artificial frontiers were set aside, and a natural exchange of goods between neighbouring territories developed. The first
roads were built, railway lines improved and transport greatly accelerated. Many towns, now administrative centres (such as
Brzesc, Baranowicze, Pinsk, etc) were developed to a remarkable degree. Many large estates laid waste by the war were
parcelled out, and the intricate system of peasant land tenure was converted into separate holdings. Education was promoted,
about eleven thousand schools were opened (* Of these 4,800 elementary schools were situated in territory formerly under Austrian
rule. The odd 6,000 in the northern voivodships were completely new foundations.): the University of Wilno was reinstated
and recovered some of its former lustre; so did the "Lyceum" of Krzemieniec. Churches were erected or restored, and religious
orders took up their beneficent activities.
Owing to the new outlet on the Baltic, there was a remarkable development of the timber industry, the exploitation
of forests being subjected to strict governmental control. Considerable tracts of marshland and pasture were drained and reconditioned
In the northern regions, the production of flax and the manufacture of yarn and linen were greatly advanced.
Industry, so far as conditions permitted, began to thrive.
The oil-fields of Boryslaw were developed: oil refineries were built and mineral gases rationally exploited. The
large centre of textile industry in Bialystok underwent a considerable revival.
Agriculture in general made visible progress, and the development of dairy produce was remarkable. A wide system
of co-operative organisations, both Polish and Ukrainian, was established, and the standard of living of the population was
rising slowly but steadily.
In short, the Eastern Provinces of Poland, when war broke out on September 1, 1939, represented a vast agricultural
area, dotted here and there with industrial centres, not devoid of a decided elementary prosperity, although awaiting many
necessary developments, and hampered - as was the whole of Poland - by an eveident lack of capital.
The present condition of these provinces cannot be understood or equitably judged without reference to their political
history. It is all the more necessary to keep the historical past in mind when considering the ethnographical aspect as well
as the psychology of the population.
Of the territory at present occupied by the Bolsheviks every square mile had belonged to the Polish Commonwealth
ever since the 14th century. The southern part was conquered from the Hungarians (1340-1352) by Casimir the Great. The northern
part was included in the union of Poland and Lithuania in 1386.
The two countries after a period of purely personal union became a homogenous State in 1569. For centuries the
whole political and cultural life of these countries has theretofore been Polish. It is an anachronism to speak of nationalist
movements when referring to bygone centuries, and Poland always was a country of outstanding tolerance. Whereas the religious
conflicts of the 16th and 17th centuries led to bloody wars in the whole of Western Europe, in Poland they remained entirely
within the spiritual sphere. It is largely to be attributed to this tolerance that in the south-eastern provinces of Poland,
which stretched in those days beyond the Dnieper, the adherents of the Greek Orthodox Church remained very numerous. When
the power of the Polish state declined, this religious minority became a tool in the hands of the rulers of Moscow, who planned
Later violent social upheavals and military revolts of the Cossacks foreshadowed the
appearance of modern Ukrainian aspirations. Nevertheless it must be borne in mind that from the 14th century an uninterrupted
flow of Polish colonists made its way towards the East, very strongly affecting the ethnographical aspect of these regions.
The Polish territory at present under Soviet occupation represents some 74,700 square
miles, with about 12,000,000 inhabitants, that is to say, almost exactly one-half of the area and roughly one-third of the
population of the entire country. According to the census of 1931, of the inhabitants 4.5 million were Poles, over 4 million
Ruthenians (or Ukrainians), over 1 million White Russians, over 1 million Jews, about 150,000 Russians, 90,000 Germans, about
40,000 Czechs and about 40,000 Lithuanians.
The entire Ukrainian or Ruthenian population is grouped in the four provinces of the
South-East, whereas the largest grouping of White Russians is to be found in the province of Polesie - containing the marshes
of the Prypec - in the province of Nowogrodek and the Eastern part of the province of Bialystok. The northern territories
adjoining the district of Wilno, handed over to the Lithuanians, though eccentrically situated, contain a very high percentage
of Polish population, reaching 90% in some parishes.
The whole Polish population is Roman Catholic. Those who claim to be White Russians are
most frequently followers of the Orthodox church, if they do not belong to numerous sects which still continue to develop
in certain parts. The Ukrainian population of Volhynia is on the whole Orthodox, whereas in the former Austrian territories,
it belongs almost exclusively to the Greek Uniate Church. (* In 1594 a Church Union was brought about in Poland. At that time
a considerable part of the Greek Orthodox Church in Poland submitted to Rome, but retained oriental ritual and ancient Slavonic
liturgy. Known as the Uniate Church, it was wide-spread in eastern Poland. Ruthlessly suppressed by the Tsarist Government
and Orthodox Russia, it remained a characteristic feature of "Eastern Galicia" under Austrian rule and was claimed as a national
religion by the Ruthenians, especially since the Ukrainian movement has become conspicuous.) It is, therefore, an outstanding
feature of the situation that no less than 8 million Catholics of the two rites have been subjected to Bolshevik domination,
even if we do not take into account that hundreds of thousands of refugees, who found themselves in the occupied area, profess
the same faith. Jews are fairly uniformly scattered over the whole territory, but mostly grouped in the cities and small towns.
First days of Occupation
The first contacts between the population of Poland and the Bolsheviks - who for twenty years had been kept beyond
a fortified border - aroused profound astonishment on both sides. All witnesses are unanimous in stating that the Bolshevik
troops on entering this part of Poland (which was generally regarded as a poor and backward region) were seized with admiration
for the extraordinary wealth and abundance of the country into which they marched.
On the other hand, even the poorest (Polish) peasants were startled by the appearance of extreme misery of the
invading troops. It is true that they possessed tanks and long columns of lorries, but the soldiers themselves were in rags,
they looked underfed and were generally low-spirited. Shrewd observers soon discovered that demonstrations of motorised forces
often consisted in a circular movement intended to make their number appear more formidable. The machines broke down frequently,
and Bolshevik vehicles towed by Polish cars became a familiar sight.
The Bolshevik troops were generally well disciplined and evidently provided with ample money to buy any goods which
seemed to them specially attractive. The shops in Eastern towns of Poland - three weeks after the mobilisation and diverse
passages of troops and refugees - were certainly not well supplied, but watches, sweets, and various trifling objects of doubtful
value, such as fly-paper, seemed to delight the invaders particularly.
In one case known to the author a Russian non-commissioned officer in Wilno hesitated in exchanging a barrel of
petroleum for a watch, but showed joyful surprise on ascertaining that the watch actually worked and surrendered his barrel
without any further delay. A commissar found such delight in a hat adorned with a red feather that he purchased half a dozen
on the spot. In Wilno two "comrades" of the fair sex created a sensation on appearing in the theatre in dainty nightgowns,
which they had purchased and mistaken for gorgeous evening dresses.
Unfortunatley, these comic incidents were only a prelude to tragic happenings which were to follow. Even so, they
contributed towards the complete exhaustion of the small reserves of many goods which still existed in the occupied areas.
The first impression which the Russian invasion produced seemed to indicate that it might be limited to a military
occupation, leaving country and people more or less in the situation which had previously existed. Business was allowed to
be carried on, and employees in private and public undertakings were ordered to remain at their posts. The practice of religion
was not visibly interfered with. Soon, however, the country, already flooded with immense crowds of refugees from the West
of Poland retreating before the German invasion, witnessed a new tide of emigration from the East. Officers' families, civil
administrators, commissars of different ranks made their appearance and above all the O.G.P.U., the dreaded political police,
undertook its familiar tasks, and it became evident that the new rulers were bent upon reducing the seized provinces
radically and mercilessly to the state and conditions prevailing in Soviet Russia.
Trouble started when accomodations for the newcomers had to be found. For the use of the Muscovite bureaucracy
lodgings were seized in the towns, often crowded and with limited housing, as a result of damage done during the war. At the
same time, the Bolshevik doctrine was applied that every room should accomodate no fewer than two persons.
The inhabitants' belongings were also subjected to strict regulations, inspired by the high principle that one
change of clothes and underwear satisfies all legitimate aspirations of the individual. Everything in excess of this
was liable to be confiscated. Numerous roving gangs, often consisting of the very scum of society, offered their services
and undertook the task of searching apartments by day and night, laying hands on anything of value. Goods assembled in this
way were exported into Russia, notwithstanding the recurrent assurance: "We have everything, and you shall also have everything."
The Soviet officials and their families produced an impression similar to that which accompanied the military invasion.
"The women," writes an eye-witness, " wore rags wrapped round their feet or felt slippers, instead of shoes: they brought
all their family belongings in one battered suitcase, and sometimes even an iron bedstead. Bedding was not known to them and
the luxury of fresh linen was never dreamed of in the Soviet Republic, even by dignitaries and important women commissars.
The pick of the Soviets sent out for display to this bourgeois country were ignorant of the simplest arrangements of everyday
life. Accustomed to being herded together, they did not understand the superfluous habit of enjoying individual lodgings:
bathrooms and kitchens they considered as uncanny inventions, and their way of feeding and housekeeping could - by its extreme
misery and primitivity - only make one think of the simplicity of requirements attributed to cave-dwellers."
But personal belongings were in no way the sole object of measures amounting to seizure and spoliation. Under one
pretext or another, be it reorganisation, nationalisation, or any other formula in which the Bolshevik terminology abounds,
the whole country, as time went on, was subjected to the most ruthless plunder. It must be observed, however, that the invaders
acted step by step and with a great deal of cunning. They did not take extreme measures at once, but availed themselves of
all the possibilities which every phase of their proceedings afforded them.
Most Polish officials and employees had received three months' salary in advance before the withdrawl of the Polish
forces. Here then the Soviets considered themselves as having simply taken the place of the former authorities and institutions
and made these people work without pay for three months, at the expiration of which most of them were dismissed.
Trade was allowed to be carried on as long as the stocks of goods lasted, and Polish currency was maintained as
legal tender. The value of the Polish zloty was fixed as equal to that of the rouble. As the current rate was 12 to 1,
all transactions were carried on in zloty and the merchants came into possession of considerable sums in cash received for
their stocks - which they sold out. The whole life of the population continued to be relatively normal. Then, suddenly, on
December 21, 1939, the zloty was declared as withdrawn from circulation - no equivalent whatever being provided for the unfortunate
possessors, only a few insignificant exceptions were made in favour of certain public institutions.
Simultaneously, all bank deposits above 300 zloty were seized, and the amount thus wantonly suppressed amounted
to 1,500 million zloty, or 60,000,000 British pounds sterling. (* The zloty, still in circulation within the German occupation,
preserved a certain value, but it fell in relation to the rouble to between 25 per cent and 50 per cent of its former rate
of exchange, and became an object of every kind of unscrupulous transaction on the "black bourse," with all the misery
and hardship, which is the lot of the public under such circumstances.)
The sudden abolition of the zloty meant the destruction of such humble remnants of well-being as still existed
in the country.
Prices soared and the markets showed a sudden lack of many commodities, as the country people would not sell their
produce for a currency which they distrusted. It was then that a system of barter began to develop on a large scale, and the
standard of living experienced a violent depression.
"Nationalism" Of Property
More or less simultaneously the process of nationalisation of commerce was put into practice. In reality it amounted
to the seizure of all available stocks of goods, especially in the wholesale stores where some quantities still existed. All
these supplies were carried off to Russia. The value of goods thus seized in the city of Lwow alone is estimated at about
400,000,000 pre-war zloty or 15,000,000 British pounds sterling - and at about 80,000,000 British pounds sterling in the whole
occupied area. Of the 8,500 shops existing in Lwow, 6,500 were in consequence closed, and of the rest, only 500 remained in
the hands of their proprietors; 1,500 were transformed into co-operative societies of different kinds, subject to incessant
inroads by the Soviet authorities, and carrying on in a most precarious way.
At the same time all buildings were declared to be the property of the people, and it is only with the greatest
effort that the proprietors of small houses (used as their personal residence) succeeded in preserving the use of them.
But this was in the larger centres; in the provincial towns the arbitrary decisions of local officials were in no way restrained.
Industrial establishments met with a similar fate, but were subjected to special proceeedings in which the old
nomadic instinct of carrying off loot seemed to be uppermost. Thus in Wilno during the first Bolshevik occupation the workmen
employed in a well-known factory of wireless receivers, Electrit, were induced to carry unanimously a resolution
that the whole establishment be transferred to Smolensk. The same thing happened to the Courland Oil Factory. The plant was
actually removed to Russia, the workmen and a good many others volunteered for work in the new locality. Some 1,000 persons,
families included, decided to move. They, however, soon returned to Wilno, where in the meantime they had lost their livelihood.
They were utterly disgusted with the conditions of life in Russia.
In accordance with a motion passed by the "National Assembly of Western Ukraine and White Russia," a similar fate
was in store for many of the 9,000 factories of different kinds and sizes in the occupied area. Naturally the largest and
best-equipped establishments were first to attract the attention of the ingenious reorganizers. The plant of the up-to-date
and important sugar factories of Chodorow and Horodenka, south-east of Lwow, those of the electric works of Czortkow, Kolomyja
and Stanislawow in the same region, the fine spinning jennies and looms of many firms in Bialystok have disappeared, to supplement
the flourishing industry of Soviet Russia. The railway workshops in Lwow, Stanislawow and Przemysl were emptied, and even
the equipment and furniture of the Agrarian Bank in Lwow and of many other public institutions was not allowed to remain.
Movable goods were taken away, wherever they could be found, such as timber from the Polish State forests, hay and straw from
the big estates, reserves of grain, sugar, tobacco, of spirits owned by the State Monopoly, cement, hides and textiles, iron
ore, coal, wrought iron and pig-iron, also medical supplies, such as cotton wool, bandages, iodine.
In this respect the treatment which the country received at the hands of its invaders, who claimed to have
come to protect it against possible hazards, bears a close resemblance to the Tatar invasions of these parts in former centuries.
The fate of owners of industrial establishments as well as of the directing staffs was that meted out to all persons
tarnished with the sin of possessing property. In the country most of the mansions were plundered or burnt down in the first
days of the invasions, valuable collections were destroyed, libraries were scattered and dumped into rivers. The landowners
fled, frequently taking with them only the clothes in which they stood. Much less seemed to threaten the independant craftsmen
of different trades who possessed 67,000 workshops in the occupied provinces, with an annual output estimated at 1,200 million
zloty. But the men of this class also were ruined, for they sold out in the first months of the occupation such stocks of
ready articles as they possessed. The money they held was suddenly abolished, and they ended by being thrown out of work because
of the total lack of raw materials, which had completely disappeared from the markets. In exchange for all the goods
carried away, the much-vaunted national stores introduced by the Bolsheviks contrived, after four months' intense efforts,
to offer the public some very inferior matches, dirty salt, and soap and herrings, the latter remarkable for their reek of
cod-liver oil. Stationary stores in some places only contain portraits of Lenin and Stalin beside gramophone records of the
The Position of the Workers
The 120,000 workmen employed in the few industrial centres of the occupied provinces may have expected that they
would be a favoured group of society, since a "Government of peasants and workmen" had taken over control. But even this minority
met with nothing but bitter disappointment. The Bolsheviks boasted that they were going to suppress unemployment and raise
output. As a rule workmen were not dismissed unless they happened to displease their new masters. On the contrary, the hours
of labour were reduced to six or seven and considerable numbers of new hands were taken on. To have been imprisoned on the
charge of Communist propaganda was a first-class qualification, regardless of technical ability. Soon it became evident that
the much-advertised achievements of "shock workers," "order-wearers," and other "heroes of labour" in Soviet Russia were considerably
inferior to the normal output obtained by less pretentious workmen in other countries.
In any case the general collapse of trade could scarcely result in any benefit to the working class. What happened
in reality was a precipitate decline in the standard of living to a level which people in Western Europe can scarcely imagine.
As a result of the substitution of the rouble for the zloty, the monthly earnings of workmen in Eastern Poland amount
to 100-150 roubles, whereas prices have reached an unprecedentedly high level.
In February, 1940, the free market price in Lwow of one kilogram of potatoes was 5-6 roubles, that of bread 5 roubles,
of meat 30-50 roubles, of butter and lard 70 roubles. In Bialystok fifty kilograms of Rye cost 700 roubles; one kilogram of
sugar, 50-75 roubles; one kilogram of tea, 700 roubles. In Luck the price of butter was 30 roubles, in Bialystok 75 roubles.
A pair of shoes in Lwow could easily be sold for 500 roubles. Of course, the official prices in the "national" stores are
considerably lower, but there the supplies are so insufficient hat they never satisfy the demand. Nothing can be purchased
without the drudgery of standing endlessly in queues and obtaining ration cards - which are refused to many people. The life
of a working-man's family can be easily imagined, seeing that he is obliged to live on 150 roubles a month. Women have to
secure jobs at all costs - an additional hardship which the Soviet regime brings with it.
The Position of the Peasants
According to current ideas, after the workmen, the peasants should have drawn some benefit from the Soviet occupation.
In the opinion of an important London periodical the peasants are for the time being pleased with the change, having at last
received the land for which they longed. (* The Economist of May 25, 1940, p. 931. The Economist has since
repeated the same assertions concerning the Soviet "agrarian reform' in Eastern Poland. The issue of October 5 contains a
survey of conditions in that part of the country which, on the whole, bears out the picture drawn in this pamphlet. We feel
bound, however, to question the allegation that the "Soviets won the political support of the peasantry." We maintain that
even the material conditions for this did not exist. What great acheivements can have been attained considering that eight
years before the Bolshevik invasion, large estates represented the following percentage of the total area under cultivation:
13.5 in the voivodship of Lwow, 15.5 in Stanislawow, 19.3 in Tarnopol, 11.1 in Volhynia, 16.5 in Nowogrodek, 19.1 in Wilno,
9.7 in Bialystok and 22 in Polesie.; these figures have very considerably declined since. In speaking of the "obsolete semi-fuedal
structure with its overgrown and backward landlord class" as being characteristic of agriculture in Eastern Poland, The
Economist's contributor is merely repeating the hackneyed slogans of Soviet propaganda. Furthermore he states that 400
collective farms were established in Western Ukraine and 650 in Western White Russia. This only confirms our information,
according to which a considerable proportion of estates were not distributed to the peasants, but maintained as large enterprises,
working under Soviet control instead of being managed by their owners.) It is a great mistake to over-estimate the area of
agricultural land existing as large estates in Poland. In reality, in 1939 it averaged at about 16 per cent of the entire
cultivable area, including meadows and pastureland, and was still being parcelled out rapidly. Even the complete distribution
of this land could not have had a decisive influence on the state of the peasant community as a whole, which in Poland represented
well over three million holdings, one-half of which is under Bolshevik occupation. The sudden destruction of large agricultural
enterprises was an additional blow to the welfare of the countryside. Not only did many lanourers lose their work, but tremendous
waste occurred - as is always the case in situations of this kind. Horses are scarce where armies have passed, the harvest
was destroyed or removed by Bolshevik requisitions - if by no other means - livestock was actually distributed among the peasants,
but was killed by them before winter set in, partly owing to lack of fodder, and partly to forestall Bolshevik regulations
- which were very soon enforced. All livestock was registered and the sale of it prohibited without the consent of the local
committee, which was in turn subjected to the control of many other authorities. It was also soon clear that the distribution
of land was in fact illusory, as the greatest pressure was being exercised on the peasants to pool their allotments and
to go in for collective farming on kolkhoz lines. All reports also agree that many estates have remained
in the hands of the authorities and become State enterprises.
But the actual condition of the country people was influenced for the worse by the ruin of the natural and necessary
exchange between town and country, even more than by the effect of these chaotic measures. The country folk have little enough
to sell, and now there is nothing to buy. Clothes, shoes, underwear have become an unattainable luxury, ironware a precious
and uncommon thing. Sheepskin coats - a necessity in that climate and the cherished belongings of every family - have frequently
been requisitioned. In Lida, soon after the occupation, the sight of a wagon-load of primitive moccasins - the footgear of
the poor - produced a painful sensation. It was, no doubt, intended to be an imposing contribution towards the well-being
of the newly aquired province.
Apart from purely material wants and deficiencies, the life of the Polish country population under Soviet rule
has been profoundly troubled and depressed by many other causes. Lavish words and fine promises have not prevented the Soviets
from imposing enormous taxes exceeding the boldest estimate of the taxpayers' possibilities, taxes which sometimes amount
to 230 roubles per hectare (about 2 acres). Also, from the first, Muscovite policy, running true to type, has not been satisfied
with the ruin of the landlords and the intellectual classes, and has made the extermination of the richer peasants, or kulaks,
one of its aims - in the prosecution of which it does not recoil from the most drastic methods.
These men, wantonly accused of sabotaging the Government plans for the formation of large collective farms, were
seized and deported to distant districts in Russia. The practice is well known from extensive application in the U.S.S.R.
The area under Soviet occupation is too vast to have anything like a homogenous distribution of property. In the
south, in better conditions of climate and soil, small and very small holdings are the rule. In the north, larger peasant
farms are very frequent. They were regarded in Poland, as in other countries, as a particularly valuable class of property
both economically and socially. New holdings were not allowed to be formed below a certain size. In the east, the owners were
often new settlers from the western provinces, sometimes ex-servicemen who had obtained land under a special law. The soulless
mechanism of Bolshevik "reform" has struck these men with customary cruelty. And here we come to another and more tragic subject.
Forced Labour and Political Persecution
It was generally remarked that on first entering Poland the Bolsheviks proceeded with relative gentleness and moderation.
The army was not used for measures of political repression. It was only when they had a strong grip on everything, when the
entire personnel of their administrative offices had arrived, when local elements, well adapted to the job they were to carry
out, were sufficiently organized and above all, when the dreaded political police was well in control, that the full blessings
of the new order began to be showered on the population. The first step was the arrest of many persons active in public life.
In Lwow the mayor, the deputy mayor (a Jew), two other members of the municipality, three members of the Polish Diet (one
Jew and two Ukrainians), and two old professors who had been leaders of the Polish National Party were among the first to
be arrested - and in some cases have died in prison since. In Wilno the proceedings were similar. A former rector of the university,
a director of the Agrarian Bank, the president of the Court of Appeal, a well-known member of agricultural organisations,
a barrister of repute and the director of a large fishery concern were among the first victims. It was also a striking feature of the Bolshevik methods that they turned with special malice against persons who
had been known for their Communist sympathies. It appears that the divergence between the creed of Stalin and Trotsky was
the underlying cause.
After that in many places (as for instance in Wilno, during its first occupation) strong pressure equivalent to
constraint was brought to bear on specialists of all kinds, doctors and nurses, engineers and fitters, university professors
and assistants, to prevail upon them to offer their services to the Soviet Government. At the same time certain categories
of people were singled out for special reprisals. In this way the remnants of the Polish police were exterminated, while the
whole personnel of the administration of justice - judges, public prosecutors and prison inspectors - were carried off to
unknown places. The same fate overtook the entire forestry service, whether private or State-owned, although at first these
men had been encouraged to remain at their posts. Soon it was known in all quarters remaining in contact with the occupied
provinces through the refugees that any person suspected by the Bolsheviks would disappear in this way. To be suspected it
was sufficient to be prominent in any sphere. To understand the frequency of these cases, it must be borne in mind that under
Soviet rule the whole population is spied upon through an elaborate system of organizations, "cells," committees, etc., so
that even those in the humblest position are apt to fall victim of denunciation. And this appears to be a method which Bolsheviks
and Nazis have in common - to paralyse the community they wish to enslave by striking at the nerve centres even of a local
and subordinate type.
Immediately after the abolition of the zloty, which deliberately deprived great numbers of people of their means
of subsistence, special delegates made their appearance in Poland to engage workers for various enterprises in Russia. In
fact, in Lwow, several thousand people registered for the coal mines of the Don, eight thousand for the forests of Samara
and Kazan, but in other places the results were much more meagre. Consequently, compulsory registration was ordered, the pressure
became direct and the ways of securing the necessary labour more and more brutal. That the inexhaustible reserve of man-power
in Russia should be unable to supply workmen to the relatively modest industry it possesses may well be an object of
wonder. It would appear that the conditions of work are such as to be exceedingly unattractive to men able to live otherwise.
However that may be, the barbarous practice of deportation, a revival of the darkest ages of mankind, increased rapidly within
a few weeks, and whole villages were carried off.
First applied to provide forced labour, it was practised more and more as a wholesale reprisal. In the province
of Polesie it was used against villages in arrear with tax payment and grain deliveries, but it occurred in the East Carpathians
no less than in the neighbourhood of Bialystok, where the village of Zacisze was doomed to destruction in the same way. Another
excuse for the atrocious proceedings appeared when train-loads of Poles were dumped into the German occupation, as caravans
of Jews were being dumped on the Bolshevik border. To be carried on in a humane way, such operations would have demanded thorough
and elaborate preparation. In reality they were put into effect under the most appalling conditions, the exceptionally heavy
winter adding to the unutterable sufferings of the victims. Unheated cattle trains were the general mode of conveyance and
a very high mortality resulted, especially among the children. Not the slightest regard was ever paid to the most elementary
human feelings or necessities. Illness, childbirth, the absence of the nearest members of the family were no hindrance to
the relentless execution of cruel orders. As a rule raids of the doomed houses or villages were made suddenly and at night,
much in the style of slave hunting of former times. It was useless to ask for reasons, and any mode of appeal was unknown.
In general, the dealings of the Bolsheviks are not marked by consistency and clear principles of action. The chaos produced
by contradictory measures and arbitrary orders is one of the additional plagues attendant on their rule, and the unhappy population
is always the sufferer.
The night of February 8 to 9, 1940, was a memorable date in the development of this hideous system. Hundreds of
villages were surrounded by the O.G.P.U. and militia, and whole families were seized. Neither were old people, women in childbed
or new-born children spared. But worse was to come. Between the 4th and 6th of March, ten trains passed into Russia through
the station of Baranowicze, each carrying separate loads of men, women and children, which showed that here unfortunate families
had been torn asunder.
And then this wholesale transfer of vast groups of the population became an outstanding feature in Bolshevik policy in
Poland. Certainly it serves some large scheme. And in this character it is not new. It was first put into practice in Russia
in 1929 and continued in 1936 and 1937. In the Polish frontier regions, on the river Zbrucz and further north, it was well
known that the population of the adjoining Soviet territories had completely changed twice in the period of eight years. There
was the question of establishing a defensive belt 50 kilometres wide, and also of removing Polish and Ukrainian elements suspected
of disloyal tendencies. This appeared to be the chief aim. Now the same plan was to be realised along the new border on the
Carpathians, which afforded the Poles certain facilities for reaching neutral countries. Something similar, on a smaller scale,
was carried out on the new Lithuanian frontier.
Under this plan 5,000 persons were deported from the districts of Kuty (on the Rumanian frontier) and Kolomyja,
1,000 families from Podhajce, 1,400 persons from Drohobycz.
These figures show that a complete evacuation of these densely populated areas was not acheived. But the sudden
shifting of whole communities into the depths of Asia has taken the place of the old Tsarist practice of sending individual
convicts to Siberia - a practice which was so justly stigmatised in the 19th century.
It has not been abandoned by the successors of the Tsarist regime. Bolshevik justice, like Nazi justice, is not
over-scrupulous. Regular sentences are reserved for a small minority. Suspects are deported to concentration camps or places
of hard labour. The choice in Polish territory is wide.
At one time the prisons in Lwow held 20,000 people. On January 29 and 31, 1940, 850 arrests were made in that city.
Two thousand persons were in gaol in the small town of Czortkow. So in one form or another, these ghastly practices continue
under various pretexts. First it is the removal of refractory peasants, then it is the forcing of labour, the transportation
of refugees, the relief of unemployment, or simply the exile of political prisoners. The Soviet government is shifting the
population of the country it has seized in accordance with its own motives and plans, and in a matter that has not been practised
since the days of the Assyrian despots. The aim is clear: all people capable of independant judgement, the educated classes,
and all those accustomed to a certain measure of independence, such as the peasant farmers - if they cannot be starved out
rapidly enough - must be removed lest they should hinder the introduction of Communist institutions. Poles and Ukrainians
must disappear in order to make room for the Russian element. Russians are favoured everywhere because they are already cowed
into submission, and are therefore more reliable. The Russian language is encouraged everywhere.
Revolution in Russia to-day seems to be advancing hand in hand with imperialism, to which the Poles have fallen
victims. In February it was estimated that 100,000 people had been removed from their native country in one week, as about
100 trains with deportees are known to have passed through the station of Podwoloczyska during that time. Between the 12th
and the 15th of April about 25,000 people were arrested in the city of Lwow alone, and taken to some unknown destination.
The figures, as given here, do not seem to be exaggerated, if we recall Russian practices in the past years. The victims
of these measures are chiefly the Polish educated class, officers' families being picked out for specially brutal treatment.
Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, and members of pre-military organisations are nearly always
separated from their parents.
In Western "White Russia" wholesale arrests and deportations were made on the 25th and 26th of April. The first
to be rounded up were the families of military men, policemen, foresters, railway employees and political prisoners, then
also people prominent in any sphere. Thus in Lida some 700 families were affected. The prisoners were herded in railway trucks,
which remained at the station for several days, waiting for new contingents from other districts to join the transport.
On the 28th, permission having been granted for the relatives to visit those in the train, practically the whole
population of the town, without distinction of language and religion, flocked to the railway station carrying parcels with
food. This invasion of the station alarmed the military guard. Quickly a locomotive was put before the train and the signal
for departure given. At that moment some 200 persons advanced and threw themselves down across the rails to prevent the
train from passing. Strong detachments of infantry were sent for to clear the line and another 100 arrests were made. As the
train moved out of the station the deportees and the crowd on the platform joined in singing the national anthem. Cases are known of women having lost their reason when they were separated from their children.
The atmosphere attending these proceedings is not merely one of revolutionary commotion, but also one of national
oppression. At the outset the Ukrainians were played off against the Poles. Old grievances were encouraged and led to many
cruel outrages against Polish neighbours. The wholesale release of convicts often gave the first impulse. Later, however,
the common suffering at the hands of the invader made them forget old injuries and brought them together. "An incredible
force," wrote a correspondent recently, "has been developed: both sides have striven to forget the past , to understand
each other and to form a joint Polish and Ukrainian 'peasant' front."
Similar feelings have been roused in other parts of the country. Men speaking the White Russian dialect were heard
saying "For twenty years the Polish Government failed to teach us who we are. But now we know." There are on record numerous
instances of Ukrainian families protecting Polish families against assaults.
Propaganda, Education and Religion
This widespread revulsion of feeling has produced results which were quite contrary to those sought by the Bosheviks.
It was a reaction not only against material wrong, but also against moral pressure and debasement which human beings who have
known better things could not bear. Moral torture is one of the features of Bolshevik rule; it is not unknown to men familiar
with conditions in the U.S.S.R., and at present frequently witnessed by innumerable involuntary observers in Poland. Ostensibly
the whole administration of the Soviets is based on local and professional autonomy, on the initiative of groups and "cells"
of different rank and order. In reality all the subordinate bodies are simply instruments in the hands of those in power.
In a recent letter from Soviet occupied Poland we read: "In the initial stage, local factory committees were formed
in the occupied area to win the workers over and the workers themselves assumed control. But very soon, after a short period
of demonstrations, they were assigned to their real task of keeping the zeal and the state of mind of their comrades under
observation. Actual control was taken over by Party commissars sent from distant parts, men who never work themselves and
form a sort of privileged upper class in the Soviets. Lavish of attractive sounding catchwords, they were in unrestrained
control of the toil and way of thinking of the workers and could even interfere with their outward appearance. It was highly
characteristic that in one of the factories in Lwow, the first order of the commissar was that all men had to shave their
In a short time people came to see that although under the Soviets the working classes are declared to occupy a
privileged position, their privileges in reality are limited to forming delegations to various unions and councils, where
they are called upon noisily to approve the decisions of the governing group and to give them wide publicity as truly revolutionary
measures. Labour meetings have no other choice than to express opinions in strict keeping with the course steered by
those in power, and to carry motions for raising the output of work for the benefit of "socialist construction." Any
attempt at true independence of judgement and genuine criticism is soon stifled. In reality, therefore, the ordinary
workman is less important than in any country governed by the"middle classes."
The peasant is even worse off and is given every opportnity to feel it in occupied Poland. There is no question
of any peasant self-government. The collective farms are made to work for the delivery of assigned quotas, and the country
committees take orders from the bureaucrats without having the slightest chance of discussing them beforehand.
As the intellectual worker does not belong to a privileged group, his lot is, if possible, even harder and the
claims on the complete surrender of his critical faculties more absolute. Flattery and servility are prevalent everywhere,
and anybody wishing to succeed and secure any position has to resort to them. "Our life is happy and joyful," "Our army is
heroic and invincible," "Comrade Stalin is the leader of the international proletariat, the sun of humanity," "Nothing
can be happier than to live under the Stalin constitution, the most democratic in the world" - these phrases have to be repeated
on every occasion. Otherwise one is immediately suspected of being a "Trotskyist dog," or "an agent of the criminal West European
capitalists." To secure or retain a job, one must submit to the ordeal of being schooled in Communist doctrines, generally
in the form of special evening classes. These are mainly concerned with the defilement of everything Polish, everything
connected with democratic culture or the Christian faith, as well as blasphemy and atheism.
In a general way it must be stated that there is no education under the Soviets which is not reduced to propaganda.
A person who recently managed to send a letter abroad says: "The Red circles and clubs, the news posters, the debating societies
for promoting education, the workmen's universities, the different ways of raising and developing the masses intellectually
lead in reality to nothing more than the obliteration of truth and a distorted picture of reality by putting it into the frame
of officially organised opinion. As a result of this kind of education the Bolsheviks strike one as being like big children,
monkeys or parrots, who have aquired mechanically the art of reading and certain strangely contorted pieces of knowledge.
They give the impression of being absolutely incapable of reasoning in the simplest way, of criticising intelligently, of
drawing a logical conclusion or of associating ideas in a way familiar to any brain which functions normally."
A prodigious proficiency in expounding the Communist dogma is combined with the most shocking ignorance and the
complete absence of rudimentary education in every other department of knowledge. It is well known that industry in Russia,
highly developed in certain directions, is greatly hampered by its incapacity to overcome elementary difficulties which demand
independent judgement and rapid application. It can also easily be imagined to what level medical science has sunk, considering
that the term of study has been reduced to three years, and may be taken on the strength of an elementary school certificate.
The prevailing atmosphere is obvious from one striking event which took place in the University of Lwow. Here a
statue of the Blessed Virgin was removed and replaced by a kind of altar in honour of Stalin, in front of which the red lamp
continues to burn. Threatening as these symptoms of triumphant obscurantism are for the future, they are not the most painful
point of Poland's contact with Bolshevik educational methods.
Seeing their incapacity of making headway in their endeavour to win over the population, the Bolsheviks at present
direct all their efforts towards inculcating their principles in the young generation. As they have absolute power and no
scruples, their methods can easily be imagined. After having done away with most of the former teachers, they replace them
by their own men, without the slightest regard to qualification. Besides, four or five commissars are attached to every school
in order to supervise the methods of teaching, and to spy on the teachers. Religion, Polish History and Literature, Latin
and Greek, were immediately removed from the curriculum, but the doctrines of Marx and the principles of the Stalin constitution - "the
most magnificent in the world" - are driven home to the unfortunate children, even in the elementary classes. All librairies
and bookshops have, of course, been methodically purged, and the schools submerged with worthless propagandist literature.
Then the children are forced to take part in meetings, lectures and debates in which the Soviet officers and specialised propagandists
direct their criticism against the bourgeois regime, and against Poland as a country controlled by "landlords." This teaching
is intended to destroy their hearers' faith in everything they had hitherto been taught to love and respect. Immediate impressions
and recent experiences did not appeal very strongly to the children's minds in favour of Bolshevism as the shortest cut to
happiness, and they often gave spirited answers or put embarrasing questions to their teachers. But fair play is something
which is not to be expected under a totalitarian government. Courageous boys and girls
were very often arrested. Boys of eight are known to have been flogged in prison to induce them to give away their
school-fellows who inspired them in their opposition. It is not uncommon for schoolchildren to disappear like
any adult suspected of political heterodoxy. Not only is every imaginable method of spying and trapping applied to the children
themselves, but the greatest efforts are made to induce them to spy and denounce each other or members of their families.
Apart from more drastic methods employed , this is represented to the children as "heroism in the service of the working class."
Atheism is of great importance in the Bolshevik system of education. Even children in nurseries are subjected to
special training in this branch of wisdom. Everything that we heard about the U.S.S.R. in this respect has been verified
in Poland. Even the crude experiment of a prayer to God remaining vain and the invocation of Stalin ending in the distribution
of rolls to the hungry children, has been applied. But practices no less despicable and even more loathsome are in use. A
sort of maniacal stress is laid on the dissolution of morals. Soviet officers have been called upon to make disclosures concerning
sexual life in classrooms attended by little girls, and to explain that chastity was a prejudice of the decayed bougeoisie.
The helpless indignation of parents forced to put up with these shameless inroads on everything they hold sacred can be imagined.
Their helplessness and misery are callously discounted by those in power. Many a starving mother has consented to send her
child to a Bolshevik boarding school simply to save it from starvation. Children without parents are of course subjected
to Communist education. Religious orders concerning themselves with the care of destitute children have been evicted and replaced
by Bolshevik educationists, trained in all the devices of propaganda.
It is in keeping with this that every effort is made to undermine all feelings of respect and trust of child towards
their parents. Religious practices are not directly forbidden, but are hindered and hampered by every possible means. Sunday
mornings or Feast days are picked out for meetings, demonstrations or additional occupation in the schools. The same method
of unrelenting, though somewhat disguised, destruction is put into practice against the religious communities throughout the
country. Their property is not confiscated, but burdened with enormous taxes and seized under the pretext of their being in
arrears. In this way the important educational establishment for poor boys directed by the Salesians in Bialystok was suppressed,
as was the convent of the Capuchines in Lwow and the well known Jesuit college in Chyrow. The Soviet Atheist League was also
let loose on the country and its president Jaroslawski recently boasted of having had 4,000 Polish priests sent to Siberia.
Whether some of them were of the Greek Rite, we do not know, but it is a notorious fact that every effort is made to
starve the Ukrainian clergy, even their children being excluded from receiving any employment. (* In the Greek Catholic or
"Uniate" Church celibacy is not obligatory for priests, and until quite recently the vast majority of them were married.)
That all Ukrainian organisations, which were very numerous, such as educational societies, private schools, reading circles,
sport clubs, co-operative societies - have been suppressed need scarcely be mentioned.
The state of utter destitution to which all people dependent on the Polish State have been reduced is also evident.
The whole population of the country is now beggared. And still it is a fact that of those who - with their consent or without
- have found themselves in Russia, great numbers have used every possible device to return, preferring a shattered existence
at home to life in a country laid waste by twenty years of Bolshevik sway. A letter recently received throws light on the
conditions and moral atmosphere in which people in Eastern Poland are compelled to live. A journalist writes from Wilno
to a friend who had left the country earlier:
"Despite all my great efforts, and as I was several times arrested, I have not succeeded in getting across to Hungary
or to Rumania. Lithuania remained as a last resort, and that is the way I chose. A man accustomed to a certain measure
of liberty cannot endure existence in a totalitarian country. You have passed too short a time on Soviet territory to be able
to judge how burdensome life is there. And I do not speak of the most primitive comforts of life such as lodging and food.
You most likely know from the Press how things stand; one has to queue up from 8 to 10 hours to secure a piece of bread; a kilogram
of butter costs 50 roubles, a dinner 15, boots are unobtainable. In Warsaw we had no adequate idea of the horror of life in
a totalitarian State. We wrote about it, we talked about it, but we were far from understanding the real state of things.
We did not know how totalitarianism can debase a human being.
"Spies at every corner, arrests, the everlasting threat of being sent into the depths of Russia, being searched
in the streets, endlessley standing in queues to get bread, sugar, bootlaces - that was a normal working day of our 'happy
and joyous life.' And what is worse, the everlasting declarations, the applause, the greetings, the carrying of motions. When
certain words were pronounced one had to rise and applaud. And then the Press wrote of frantic applause. Under these conditions,
there is not a sound instinct in human nature which is not made to suffer, not a nerve which is not put to special agony."
The plight of Poland, as all available information shows, is pathetic beyond expression. Not only has she again
been torn in two by hostile and aggressive neighbours. But she exemplifies before the world the effect of the gigantic but
soulless machinery contrived by totalitarian states, when directed against the body and the soul of a living people. On the
German side there is the monstrous conception of national interest which has turned the German nation into a savage horde,
coveting the spoils of an enslaved world. On the Russian side a relentless system built up on ruins and blood for the alleged
happiness of mankind is blindly crushing all human happiness, and waging a fierce war on those very things which heretofore
have been looked upon as the honour and nobility of man.
There is something fatal - or providential - in the history of nations. Long ago, the great poets of Poland announced
that she would have to suffer cruelly for a better future of the world. Generations of Poles have striven to convince Western
statesmen that her cause and the cause of European freedom were one. This point at least seems to be clearly established by
Teresa Oszurko, Buffalo, New York.
(The continuation of a story begun on the home page at http://felsztyn.tripod.com/germaninvasion)
The Russians closed the border (to German occupied Poland) and a few months later deported us to Siberia
with other war "criminals" like intellectuals, land owners and officers of the Polish Armed Forces, of whom thousands were
murdered at Katyn and other yet to be discovered places. In many cases, when the man of the family was in hiding, the women
and children were arrested. One woman in our group was seized from a hospital bed with her newborn baby.
The arrests always took place in the dark of night. At the time of our arrest, I was almost twelve and quite cognizant
of the Siberian climate, so my first conscious act, after being awakened in the middle of the night, was to run to the cellar,
followed by an armed guard, for our winter shoes.
Subconsciously, I must have expected our arrest. My parents told me that a few nights before, I woke up and told
them that we should run because we were going to be deported to Russia, after which I went promptly back to sleep, with no
memory of the incident next morning.
Father did go into hiding, but as soon as he heard that we were arrested, he gave himself up and joined us.
The amount of luggage we were allowed to take with us was very limited, so each of us put on as many items of clothing
as was possible to lessen the bulk of our baggage. At the last moment, mother grabbed our photo album and her hat. Grandma,
who refused to wear scarves in normal circumstances, tied one on her head instead of a hat, which was her normal headgear.
At the railroad station we were loaded on a cattle train. The cars were equipped with makeshift bunks for bigger capacity.
The toilet was a hole in the floor. Even with a screen made of a blanket, it was very embarrassing. No wonder everybody suffered
from an upset stomach. It wasn't until we passed the border that the doors were unlocked and we were allowed to go out to
use the very primitive toilet facilities.
When the train started to move again, we noticed that an elderly Jewish woman was missing. Her much older husband jumped
off the moving train and grabbed the bumper trying to stop it, and all the time he was yelling, Ho Maydaly! Ho Maydaly! But
Maydaly didn't show up. Much later we learned that she returned to Poland. Her poor husband climbed back onto the train resigned
to his fate. At that time the whole incident seemed hilariously funny to us kids, but for the poor man it was a tragedy.
After we passed Kharkov, a guard brought a pail of some concoction that was supposed to pass for food. Before anyone
dared to taste it, the train moved and a small boy sitting on a potty fell off the upper bunk right into the pail of food.
We didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Talk about mixed emotions! Thank God we still had some provisions smuggled to us before
the train left the station in Poland.
We traveled on and on. At one of the small stations, my sister was almost left behind. She left the train to get some
bread from a store near the station. She had to wait in a line and prevent others from pushing in front of her, so she didn't
notice when the train started to move, without warning as usual. Mother ran after her, and both of them were pulled in while
the train was gathering speed. We knew that if she was left behind, we would never see her again.
In Kuybishev, we were loaded on trucks. Before we left on the next leg of the journey, we received a small portion of
bread. It looked like clay, and our parents worried that it may have an adverse effect on our already upset stomachs, but
the drivers - mostly women - declared that it was delicious. So it is true that hunger is the best cook.
The open trucks were powered by steam generated by a wood fire. (It was one of our jobs in the winter to supply the fuel
for them). The drivers maneuvered these trucks with unbelievable ease along narrow twisting roads cutting through the forest.
After some trepidation while crossing a small river on a man-powered ferry and pushing through miles and miles of woods, we
reached our destination - Altaysky Kray - or the province of Altay.
Our housing consisted of a couple of barracks, on a few acres of clearing, in the middle of nowhere. Before another barrack
was built and we moved to a room of our own, two families - ten people - occupied one room with two beds taking up most of
Early next morning everyone was sent to work in the woods. While the men cut grooves in the trees with special tools
to make the sap flow into small pots, the women scooped it into buckets and carried the sap to big vats placed centrally in
specific work stations.
The pay was laughable, but there was nothing to buy, except a small ration of bread that varied from dark and heavy to
darker and heavier. To add insult to injury, the Russian government deducted part of our earnings to pay for our transportation
Most of the children worked to get extra rations of bread, which otherwise were very small. At the end of the day's work,
it was hard to open the hand which had been holding the sap scoop.
Summers were not so bad, for we could supplement the lack of food with berries and other edible forest growth. Otherwise,
we exchanged clothes for potatoes and other vegetables in a nearby village. Most in demand were silk nightgowns, which the
wives of the local dignitaries sported as evening wear.
Shortly before winter, as an incentive to increase production, the fastest workers were offered permits to buy a cow
from the government on an easy payment plan. My father wasn't one of the fastest, but our foreman, who was a very decent guy,
convinced the officials that we deserved to be included in the lucky group. I can safely say that our cow kept us and others
less fortunate alive. We shared milk with the most needy. Among these was an old rabbi with a very frail daughter and a very
young son who were unable to fend for themselves.
Before the snow fell our Piastra - the cow - found her own fodder in the woods, while we tried to gather as much hay
for the winter as possible. But in spite of our efforts, the hay didn't last through the long winter months, so we were forced
to supply the need by stealing hay from sleds of visiting dignitaries. That was my first act of pilfering, but it kept Piastra
alive and the officials didn't miss it. We never stole anything from other people no matter how hungry we were, only from
the government that placed us in this desperate position.
Before Easter, a couple of Russian women came over the frozen river to exchange two chickens (probably stolen from a
collective farm) for bread, something of which they hadn't had any since the fall. They did not have any footwear either.
Their feet were wrapped in old rags. Mother, who always thought ahead, swapped our day's ration of bread for a chicken that
proved to be a very good layer. An egg almost every day meant a lot.
Every ten days we had a day off. That was the time we went to the village to get food in exchange for clothes. The nearest
one was several miles away. Walking there was nothing, but coming back with a heavy load of potatoes on one's back was no
picnic. Nevertheless, we were glad to have something to carry, for it meant a few days less of nagging hunger.
Otherwise, we spent our free time de-bugging our living quarters, which was really an exercise in futility, but one had
It may seem unbelievable that we were allowed to move so freely in the district, but actually there was no fear of anyone
trying to escape. There was no where to run to.
One day, Mrs. R., a widow with two young sons, went to the village on a working day and was unlucky enough to meet our
commandant, a member of the NKVD. The man grabbed the potatoes she carried on her back, threw them to the ground and stomped
on them as hard as he could. Well, Hanna wasn't going to let him get away with ruining her hard earned food supply. She grabbed
a heavy branch and clobbered him several times over the head. He was a bully, but unable to defend himself against Hanna's
fury. He would have liked to kill her, but his gun holster was just for show.
A few days after that incident, Hanna was charged with absence from work. (He wouldn't dare admit to the bite he
suffered at her hands). The case was tried in a small laundry room. After a few questions and some deliberation, she was fined
ten percent of her earnings. Before the court adjourned, Hanna dug out a tick, full of blood, from the front of her body and
dropping it on the judge's papers proclaimed loudly: "This is your livestock!" Everybody burst out laughing and Hanna's penalty
was doubled, but being a shrewd woman, she put most of her production on her son's worksheet, so twenty percent of almost
nothing wasn't much. And our foreman wasn't about to keep a check on her.
Our living conditions were below the poverty level. As finicky about food as I had been before the war, in Russia I learned
to eat everything edible and not so edible. Food parcels from Poland, though not numerous, were an enormous help. Alas, not
all of them reached the adressees. Such was the case of a parcel sent by the Red Cross to a Jewish family. Mr. M. walked several
miles to the post office only to find that the food had been substituted by bricks. Devastated, he swore to tell the world
about the thieves in Russia. He was arrested the same night and never heard from again.
So when we received notice from Inya's post office to pick up a parcel, my mother and sister set out without delay, on
a cold day, through deep snow, with the hope that our parcel wasn't tampered with. In those days, hope was the only emotion
that kept us going under the most trying conditions.
After several miles of trudging through the snow, a sled pulled by an old nag, stopped and offered my sister a lift.
With two people already occupying the sled, there was no room for two more. Mother was in a dilemma whether to keep my sister
with her and risk the cold weather, or let her travel with complete strangers. Mother noted that one of them was a woman,
and the second option won.
As it happened the driver was a young man of honorable intentions, or should I say that it was his aunt who had the intention
of marrying my sister to the young man. Playing the matchmaker, she listed her nephew's assets, which comprised a sled and
a horse and two sacks of potatoes, which made him a relatively rich man. On top of that, he happened to be very generous,
as he presented every member of the family they had just visited with a carrot. As hard as it is to believe, the gifts were
My sister declined the kind offer of marriage, which I thought was very selfish of her. After all, two sacks of potatoes
for the winter constituted a cornucopia. Anyway, she got safely to the post office, where she met mother and they rushed home
with the parcel.
Right away, grandma used some of the lard from the parcel as a base for an ointment we could use for the open sores caused
by the lack of vitamins. Before that, the only remedy was one's urine, which, while beneficial to some extent, was rather
It fell to mother to take care of our meager rations and divide them among us. Today, as an adult and a mother, I realize
what mother must have gone through, watching us tired and hungry all the time, unable to do anything about it. Father tried
to keep our minds off food by inventing droll stories at bedtime. It was very hard to fall asleep on an empty stomach. In
the evenings, whenever possible, father tried to continue our education. His knowledge was extensive, and his presentation
of different subjects, especially music which he truly loved, was never boring.
One day a welfare committee - they had committees for everything though never effective - came to inquire about our living
conditions. Mother, regardless of the possible adverse consequences of her action, didn't mince words and told them exactly
what she thought of our living conditions. Naturally, they had no answer to her furious tirade, so to change the subject they
urged us to buy some cologne to improve our hygiene. Ha! They were just trying to get rid of a misdirected transport of inferior
product. In answer to that, someone brought in a kerosene lamp without the glass chimney ( a non-existent commodity) with
the wick turned so high that it produced a ribbon of filthy smoke, to show them what we thought of their hygiene. Somebody
else asked whether they would like to meet the bugs infesting our living quarters. That brought the meeting to a fast conclusion
and the commissars departed in a hurry.
In June of 1941 Hitler invaded Russia, which was to be expected. Father kept telling them that it would happen sooner
or later. Apparently this statement was reported to the NKVD, for they came to search our quarters in the belief that father
must have had a secret source of information. The only thing they found was the plan of our property in Poland, so it
Russia was rife with informers. Brother would betray brother and children their parents. This deplorable state of mistrust
was cultivated by the government to prevent any organized rebellion.
In late October, a group of government officials arrived and announced that since we had become their allies we
were free to leave, but to do so within twenty-four hours, or our traveling passes would be rescinded forever. We had no resources
for traveling, just a desperate determination to leave. So, mother invited our Russian friends to come and choose whatever
they liked from what was left of our belongings, and pay what they could afford.
Early next morning, we hired a sled, which we shared with our adopted aunt and her small son, and set on a long journey
to the southern part of Russia where according to our information, the Polish army was in the process of mobilization.
Our future was uncertain to say the least, and hope was the only stimulus that pushed us forward over the snow covered,
unknown expanse of that God-forsaken country.
It was too cold to ride in an open sled, even if there was enough space for our luggage and the rest of us. So, except
for grandma and the youngest children wrapped up as warmly as possible, we walked or ran all the way, till we reached the
river Ob. We crossed the river on a man-powered ferry and then waited all night in a small building by the jetty for a riverboat to
take us to Barnaul - the nearest railroad station. The building was packed with people. There was no place to rest one's
head, and I was so tired and sleepy at the time, that I was willing to give up ten years of my life for a few hours of
Next morning, October 20th, 1941, which happened to be mother's name day, we traveled to Barnaul, joining other families
with the same destination. We chartered a cattle car on the train, the only transportation available to carry us to the point
of army mobilization. We were forced to wait several days by the railway tracks.
The first night, a good soul locked our grandma and us children in the station's waiting room, albeit against the rules.
Our parents spent the night outside huddling together to keep from freezing. Next night, we were lucky to meet a sympathetic
Russian family who put us up in their small apartment. Our parents took turns every few hours to keep watch over our depleted
belongings. On the third day, we finally boarded the train and travelled past Semipalatinsk and stopped at Alma-Alta, where
we picked up one lost and starving Pole who was also trying to get to the mobilization point. He was half starved, for
the men released from lagers - war prisons - walked out with just the shirts on their backs. So, we shared a little of the
dry bread we had, as the Russian soldiers going to the front shared their bread with us, as they asked for our prayers. At
the end of our journey, we lived on sugar beets that we managed to sneak from a passing freight train.
On entering Tashkent, someone noticed a small market. So as soon as the train stopped, father ran to buy whatever was
available. He was coming back with his cap full of tomatoes, but before he reached our train it had left the station. We went
to Samarkand, our destination point, but it was already so crowded with Polish exiles that the railroad officials forbade
anyone to leave the train. We couldn't travel on or father would never find us. So, we jumped the train on the wrong
side of the tracks and hoped to sneak into the city unnoticed. I must say that luck was with us. Grandma said it was a reward
for sharing our food with a stranger.
As it happened, a young Pole who had resided in Samarkand for some time came to look for his friends. He noticed our
dilemma, and not only helped us to get into the city, but brought a pitcher of hot soup from the kitchen he worked in.
Father found us the very same night, among hundreds of people sleeping on the street. There we stayed for a few days.
Before we left for the collective farm, mother managed to sell her rings to the government agency for packaged tea. Money
had no value, but tea was a very valuable commodity to the native Uzbeks. When we reached the collective farm, again we were
forced to live in one room with another family until we found a one-room adobe that was slowly crumbling. But it was our own,
and father's ears didn't have to suffer listening to our co-tenant's unceasing off-key singing. The first thing on the agenda
was to get rid of the lice that we had acquired on the train. They were in our hair, underwear, clothes and blankets - in
other words - everywhere. As soon as we got more detailed information about the Polish army, father left to enlist while the
rest of us stayed behind.
Working on the collective farm in springtime wasn't too bad, for we spread manure in the fields with pitchforks. Cotton
picking in the summer was a different story. Our fingers were a bloody mass, cut to the raw by the extremely sharp points
of the dry pods, until our foreman, a young Uzbek slightly more civilized than most of them, took pity on us and showed us
the ropes. But there was no remedy for our aching backs at the end of each day.
It was from our foreman, or rather his mother, that my sister received her second marriage proposal. The bride price
this time was to be a goat and a sewing machine. It was the type you had to crank, but still a sewing machine was a very rare
commodity in that part of the world. My mother refused the offer politely, for it was important not to offend the natives,
and explained that European women don't marry at the tender age of thirteen.
We thought that Siberia was bad, but it was paradise in comparison with our situation in Uzbekistan. At least in
Siberia we had water from a well. Here, the only supply of water was a dirty ditch full of living creatures. It had to
be strained through a cloth and boiled to be drinkable. The food rations were negligible and erratic. So, in the beginning
we first used the tea as a premium of exchange for food, and then the rest of our clothes. Surprisingly, mother's Japanese
dressing gown fetched more on the black market than father's woolen army cape that we used for a blanket. We were left with
just the clothes on our backs, which we had to adapt to the native style. Under one's dress, one wore pyjama pants with leggings
tied at the ankles to keep the cold and gnats out, and the village girls from lifting our dresses to see what we had underneath,
We would have had a few more items of clothing, if some of them weren't stolen on one of the stops when we spent the
night sleeping on the street. One of the items was my first pair of strapless, made to order pigskin shoes. I really missed
them, although they were too small for me at the time, but I guess they had the same sentimental value as mother's hat.
Another way to supplement our food was by wailing at funerals. Respect for the deceased was measured by the number of
mourners, so the families hired wailers to upgrade the importance of the dead.
As time went by, the lack of food increased. Even dogs became the victims of starving men, who dared to catch them. The
poor animals were trained to kill, and their owners would not hesitate to let them if they caught the culprits. In that land
of abject misery, I learned that a starving person will eat anything, including tidbits found in garbage.
The sharp, cold weather and malnutrition caused a strange disorder in our system. A feather touch to the skin generated
a knife-like pain. On top of that, our rations were stopped for three days, so we lived on a diet of wild, bitter sorrel and
potato peels - and not a pinch of salt to blunt the bitter taste. When we finally received a few pounds of wild millet, we
had to stand in line for hours to have it ground. The mill was very primitive, like everything else in that country. While
my sister and I waited our turn, getting hungrier by the hour, an old Uzbek invited us to his house for a meal, using sign
language, for we didn't speak Uzbeki and he didn't know Russian. Two Poles waiting in line with us didn't trust that guy's
hospitality, and insisted on going with us. Our host brought a bowl of watery soup for the three of us and a smaller one for
our sister which seemed strange. But we were too hungry to question it. And all the time, as he talked pointing to my sister
and the soup we would say yakshy - good - as it was one of the few words we knew. We thought that he was asking whether
we liked the soup, but we were wrong! When it came time to leave, our host grabbed my sister and made us understand that he
had bought her for a bowl of soup. Luckily, our countrymen, in spite of near starvation, proved stronger than the old guy,
and we managed to escape. After that incident, we were afraid to go out for some time.
The deplorable conditions brought typhoid fever, and grandma was the first to succumb. In her delirium, she kept asking
for bread, which we didn't have. But we learned that a temporary Polish outpost had food supplied by the Red Cross to help
out people in our situation. So, I decided to walk the seven miles to Krasnodieysk, with the hope of obtaining some bread
for grandma. I got there hungry and tired, and all I got for my efforts was an end piece that wouldn't make two slices.
A Polish woman from a nearby farm, who went with me, left empty-handed. On the way back, she begged me for a bite of
my bread, and while I had no heart to refuse her the first time, I prayed that she wouldn't ask me again so I could carry
that piece of bread to my grandmother.
It was hard to believe that things could get any worse, but they did. So, my mother decided to move us to the outpost,
from which it would be easier to contact father. The deciding moment came when an old Uzbek tried to pull our only
glass window out of its frame. Mother went after him with an ax and he ran away, but we knew that he would return with reinforcements.
So, with the help of our neighbour who loaned us an arba - a two wheeled cart - to transport our grandma, we
left as fast as we could.
When we reached the outpost, the representative refused us accomodation, but mother, fraught with desperation, threatened
to throw us under a train and jump herself. After that acrimony, a place was found for grandma in the infirmary. My sister
was put on the hospital staff such as it was, and mother in the management. Of course, they expected mother to be grateful
and overlook their corruption and stealing of the funds and food that were intended for the starving civilians whose men were
in the army, but mother refused to co-operate. It is sad but true, that it's always the worst element of any society that
manages to obtain positions of trust.
After being bombarded by frantic letters from us, father managed to get a few days leave and came to take us to the army
base. At the time, grandma was unconscious but holding tenaciously to life. We could neither take her with us nor leave her
behind. The situation was heartbreaking. Mother refused to leave as long as grandma was alive, but insisted that we go with
father. It was the first and only time that I prayed for someone's death. Grandma did die a few days later, and we buried
her in the cold, unfriendly earth.
At the railroad station we were refused tickets without a government pass, which we had no hope of obtaining. At the
time, a train with a few cars carrying armed forces personnel stopped at the station. So, father gave his ticket to mother
and joined the troops, while my sister, brother and I hid behind the luggage. Somehow, we managed to reach our destination
- Kermine - without major disaster. Father's leave was ending so he had to rush back to his base. He begged a ride on an army
lorry, and took with him my brother, who was youngest and running a temperature, and placed him in the local hospital. The
rest of us stayed behind awaiting some kind of transportation. In the meantime, the army base in Kermine fed us and hundreds
of others in the same situation. The food, like all the equipment, was supplied by the British, but most of it was stolen
by the Russian government before it reached the Polish army and with more and more civilians gathering around the army posts,
the soup became more watery with every passing day.
After days of futile waiting for transportation, we decided to walk to Kenimech, where father was stationed. By the time
we reached the "Valley of Death," which is what Kenimech means, mother was in a high fever and joined my brother in hospital.
It is surprising how they survived the typhoid fever in the deplorable conditions of that hospital.
I was next to succumb, but father managed to place me in the army hospital where I was assured of proper care and the
right diet. I had a high fever and was unconscious for days. My head was shaved to prevent my hair from falling out. When
I finally left that hospital I looked like a very skinny boy. But, at least I was alive, while thousands around us were dying
because they didn't have any physical strength left to fight the sickness. And the heat, you could see the hot air shimmering
before your eyes. Also, the place was full of scorpions, and every morning we had to check our clothes and shoes
before we put them on. However, we did have a roof over our heads, and food that the army shared with us.
Our days were spent in a provisional school, and our evenings filled with singing by a campfire, or enjoying amateur
entertainment. We were happy for the first time since the war started, but we still couldn't wait to get out of Russia. Finally,
thanks to General Anders' unwavering endeavors, the happy day came.
It wasn't all smooth sailing by any means. Our train to Krasnovodsk was delayed long enough to miss the boat father's
company boarded, and we were left behind. We were unable to board the next one because it was loaded to capacity with the
Since the Russian government supplied passage for the armed forces only, families had to be added to every consignment
of men, or stay behind. We waited for days in unbearably hot weather and short of drinking water, which you could only
obtain for food rations alloted us from army supplies. Finally, very angry and desperate women got together and demanded space
on the next boat. The only possibility was to divide our group into smaller sections and squeeze us in with the other transports.
We were lucky to be in the first group, and believe me, it was a tight squeeze. Everyone sat on the deck with their knees
under their chins, and if you went to the toilet and had no one watch your tiny space, it would promptly disappear.
As soon as we had disembarked in Persia (Iran) at the port of Pahlevi, all our clothes were confiscated and burned to
prevent any obscure disease that we might be carrying from spreading. In compensation, we received a headscarf, a cotton slip
or a flannel nightgown and a blanket. Not what you could call a sufficient wardrobe, but Polish women proved to be quite enterprising
and naturally handy with a needle. Soon, four scarves turned into a dress, as did the slip, adorned with ribbons purchased
from the natives who came to the camp with their wares.
The living accomodations were roofs set on wooden poles. We slept on blankets spread on the ground, with no protection
from the elements, but nobody complained. The sand was hot enough to boil an egg in it. We had to learn to walk by digging
our toes into the sand to reach a cooler layer. It required a long time to get from one point to another. We had plenty of
time on our hands, but the trouble started with the change of diet which caused diarrhea. One had to run to the public toilets
to save one's honor, and underwear, which was a scarce commodity.
In spite of the discomforts, we enjoyed our short stay on the shores of the Caspian Sea, with all that beautiful, cool
water to swim in.
From Pahlevi, we traveled to Teheran. The truck drivers were inebriated most of the time to boost their courage when
traveling the mountain road. It was narrow and lacked any safety measures, and one of the Russian lorries ahead of us fell
into the ravine. We almost followed it, but our guardian angel must have been watching over us. We skimmed the edge of the
road with one wheel hanging in the air, but our driver pulled sharply into the middle, and went ahead without looking back.
For us youngsters, it seemed like an adventure, but for the adults who had a better comprehension of danger, the trip was
nerve wracking. They didn't relax until we reached the refugee camp that was situated on the outskirts of Teheran. Huge tents
were set up in a beautiful, green orchard. The food was indifferent, but we hadn't learned to be finicky yet. Whenever possible,
we supplemented our diet with the figs and pomegranates that grew there in abundance.
We were on the transport list to Ahvaz, but mother's eyes became infected and our trip was delayed. There is something
to be said for communal living. Mother didn't have to worry about us while she was in the hospital, for there were plenty
of people to take care of us.
Mother's illness happened to be a blessing in disguise, for it brought us a letter from father, which otherwise would
have missed us. That was the first contact with him since Kenimeth.
From the greenery of Teheran, we went to the dusty plains near Ahvaz. At least we were lucky enough to be quartered in
a building, even though there were about twenty people in one room. The vast majority of refugees were housed in disused stables
with wooden berths as the only comfort.
The food was worse than in Teheran. While the private kitchen that provided meals for the administration had a choice
of provisions, the rest of us had a choice between noodles and noodles. So, to provide a more nutritional staple for us, mother
went to work as a waitress in the private dining room.
The people in the camp didn't tolerate the unjust division of food supplies for long. They sent letters of complaint
to army headquarters, until the head of the administration was replaced and things got better.
Our stay in Ahvaz lasted almost a year, so we were enrolled in school. Although there was a shortage of teachers, which
limited our curriculum, it was better than nothing. Not that I thought so at the time. For me, no school would have been better.
The only subject I enjoyed was physical education, which included Polish national dancing.
The next stop in our forced travels was Karachi. First, the Country Club and tents, then Malir, a transit camp for those
who were on the list for India. The contingent that stayed in Country Club traveled on to several refugee camps in Africa.
From Karachi, we sailed to Bombay and from there to Valivade by train. The train trip took twenty-four hours. We stopped
at every station to pick up passengers, although the train was already overcrowded. Not that we had anything to worry about,
since our compartments were reserved for white passengers only. We were beseiged by beggars at every stop, most of them small
children. Although we were warned not to give them anything, for they would multiply by the hundreds at the first sign of
any largesse, we could not ignore them. Not only did we remember our time of starvation in Russia, but also we had been taught
to share with the poor. There were so many starving children in India, next to riches beyond imagination enjoyed by the
Valivade with a population close to five thousand, was situated a few miles from Kolhapur. There were mostly
women and children. All capable men were in the army and teenage boys in the cadets. Boys our age were so scarce, that we
used to call them "raisins."
Our living quarters consisted of two rooms and a small kitchen, with primitive cooking utilities. The toilets were public
and placed at a strategic point in the camp, several hundred yards from the living quarters. The lower part of our houses
was a stone wall about three feet high, with the rest of the wall being a plaited mat with openings for doors and windows
made of the same material. It was all nice and breezy but didn't prevent the rains in the monsoon season from coming
Yet the monsoons did little harm to our mud floors. The more important problem that type of wall created was a complete
lack of privacy, unless you kept your voice real low. With several thousand women with a lot of time on their hands,
the camp was a cesspool of gossip, especially at those times that the Polish ship Batory was docked at Bombay and
the crew came to visit the camp. Every little tidbit was bruited about with relish.
Cooking was rather complicated. It was too hot in the small kitchen, but to cook outside presented difficulties. On windy
days, there was the danger of spreading fire and one also had to defend one's food from the vultures that would swoop down
and grab the meat from the pot.
The mosquito nets over our beds didn't make the sleeping quarters any cooler, but one got used to it after a while.
To prevent the floors from crumbling they had to be smeared with cow manure every so often. We didn't perform this "pleasant"
chore ourselves, for there was a big work force among the poor willing to do any heavy domestic jobs. Soon, they learned enough
Polish to advertise their wares. Every morning, you could hear the familiar chant: "Mamusia! Prac! Mazac! Takie swierze
krowie gowno!" (Mother, I'll do the laundry and smear the floors with fresh cows' shit!) It was obvious that their teachers
were our young teenagers.
Tutored by their teachers, they advertised socks in oil, hair accessories for the bald and other similar absurdities.
Although the labor was cheap, the poor working for us made more money than they could have dreamed of, and we treated them
like human beings, while the majority of the English and upper caste Hindus treated them like pariahs.
In no time at all, the camp boasted an open market, a small plaza that included a restaurant cafe and a movie-house run
by electricity produced by a portable generator. Needless to say, the rest of the camp used kerosene lamps, but this time
equipped with glass chimneys.
But, the most popular place was the post office. The postmaster not only spoke Polish as did all the natives around us,
but he had the ability to recognize people by their voices and put the right names to them. There was always a crowd of people
waiting for mail from their loved ones who were in the army. Anxiety grew after the battle of Monte Cassino, where a thousand
Poles died in the name of freedom. The fact that the Polish flag was the first to fly over the ruins of the monastery
didn't recompense those who lost their loved ones in that bloody battle. All we got in return from our allies were a lot of
unfulfilled promises. After Potsdam, we knew the bitter taste of betrayal. That was the day we buried our hopes for a
My sister and I enrolled in high school. Although we didn't wear uniforms like we would have had to in Poland, we
had a very strict dress code and had to observe a curfew, so it was always the early movie if we went to the theater. Our
social life, if not exactly nonexistent, was female oriented.
Since those were our formative years, it wasn't any wonder that our knowledge of sex was too naive for words, even for
those days of sexual reticence. Otherwise, you could say that our life was quite normal, with the natural jealousies and competition
for popularity in school cliques. You could say that I was a liaison for different groups. My extrovert personality made me
popular with almost everyone. Naturally, we looked down on the lower graders, but I had friends among them too.
For lack of boys, girls had to take the place of male partners. Our costumes were made to order and as authentic as it
was possible to acheive with the materials at hand, and the same applied to our high-laced shoes. One of our memorable experiences
was the international show held in Bombay in which we took part. We traveled under the chaperonage of our teacher, but managed
to have a good time in spite of the restrictions they put on our movements. We were entertained at receptions at the Polish
Embassy and the Yacht Club. Dining in elegant restaurants and visiting museums and theaters was an enormous treat in our limited
everyday social life in the camp.
One evening, we gave a performance for American soldiers recuperating from war wounds or battle fatigue. After the well-received
performance, we were allowed to mingle with the men, and that same evening I received my first marriage proposal from a young
officer through an interpreter, since my English at the time was negligible. Later that night, a group of guys came to serenade
us. We considered it the most romantic experience, but our chaperone's views were different and we were grounded for a couple
A few days later I met my future husband at the Polish-Czechoslovakian Club. It was a beautiful place over the sea, surrounded
by oleander trees in full bloom. I was on a swing and he offered to push me. He says that I never stopped swinging. After
each excursion to Bombay we were forced to come down to earth with a vengeance, for we had to make up for the lost time in
By the time my brother entered high school, my sister had changed her studies a couple of times, settling on nursing,
while I went to an English school run by nuns in Panchagani. Never before or since have I met with such idiotic school rules.
While we were allowed to invite boys from B.H.S. to our Saturday dances and other gatherings, we were forbidden to speak to
the same boys outside the convent, and I had known some of them for years.
Needless to say, I wasn't crazy about about that specific boarding school, but I must admit that my English improved
considerably. And I did like a couple of the nuns such as tiny sister Cecilia, who was very understanding and always kept
the side door open for the late comers from visits to friends. We were allowed to visit one Sunday every month. We used those
days to meet boys away from the convent. After all, I was seventeen years old and had never been kissed, or almost never,
for I was kissed once by my future husband when I was sweet sixteen. Mother Superior must have had some suspicions, for
one time she sent a kitchen boy to spy on us, but I gave him more money than he could make in a month and he kept mum about our
Another was sister Ludberga, an Austrian who joined the order after her fiance was killed by the Nazis. She
used to take us on bicycling excursions to various interesting places. I've learned from one of the girls, who kept in touch
with the nuns, that the convent was demolished in an earthquake.
But the most impressive moment of my sojourn in the convent was the day I met Ghandi.
In 1947 after India gained her independence, we sailed to England to join father, who went there with the Polish army
at the end of the war. We sailed on the Empire Brent. Most of the passengers succumbed to sea sickness.
Somehow, our family was immune to it, and with so many sick people aboard, the stewards needed all possible help. So, my mother
and brother did what they could, while my sister offered to work in the infirmary, while I acted as an interpreter to the
ship's doctor. He happened to be a very handsome man, so a lot of man-starved women came to him for unnecessary check-ups.
I didn't blame them for that, but some of the complaints that I had to translate were very embarrasing.
Otherwise, I enjoyed the trip very much. It was fascinating to watch as we passed through the Suez Canal, with the ship
passing so close to the shore. The Bay of Biscay was the most turbulent part of our crossing from Bombay to South Hampton.
From there, we traveled to a transit camp where we lived in corrugated huts. After our travel documents were processed, we
went to the army camp to join father.
I had a couple of weeks to adjust to the new environment, and after that, I was enrolled in a boarding school near Cheltenham,
while my sister went to work in a hospital. My brother made friends with local young people and elected to work on a
farm. It was a very smart move, as it gave him access to extra food to supplement our rations.
I came home for Easter vacations, and on the way back to school, I experienced one of the most embarrassing moments of
my life. At nineteen, I considered myself the epitome of sophistication. Dressed in the latest style - the so-called new look
- elegant hat with a veil to my chin, I traveled in a first class compartment.
As I very nonchalantly put a light to my cigarette, I set my veil on fire. At the time, I wished the earth would part
and swallow me up, but in retrospect, it was more funny than embarrassing.
Shortly before summer vacation, my future husband came to visit me at the school, and a few days later we became
engaged. He had his visa and passage on the Queen Elizabeth to the U.S.A. Before that happy event could take place,
we had to get married within a few weeks in order to give me priority to emigrate on the Polish quota, which was full. Otherwise,
I would have had to wait close to five years. Even so, I didn't join my husband as soon as I expected. I became pregnant right
away, and by the time I received my visa, my pregnancy was too far advanced for me to sail. In a way, it turned out to be
a blessing in disguise. Not only had I free hospital and medical care, but I had my family to help with the baby.
My daughter was born on May 15 in London's Paddington hospital at around 2:00 am. She was the first baby born in my social
circle, so everyone rushed to the hospital with flowers. We even received two bouquets of roses from out of town. We had so
many flowers, that I decided to send a few vases to the dining room so that other patients could enjoy them, especially since
no other ward patients received any flowers.
My daughter was about 2 or 3 months old when we sailed for New York aboard the Queen Mary. I had a letter of
introduction from my landlady to the chief engineer, so we received very good care all through the voyage. Besides that, my
daughter was the youngest passenger, so everyone made a lot of fuss over her. Between the stewardess and the passengers eager
to take care of the baby, I had plenty of free time to enjoy the trip. To tell the truth, I was sorry that it lasted only
five days, five days of complete leisure with evening entertainment thrown in.
In New York, we were met by my husband and his uncle, who carried a huge bunch of flowers. My first look at the skyscrapers
of New York left me with the impression of claustrophobia, and as much as I liked London, I disliked New York. I was happy
to leave it behind, when after two years we moved to Buffalo.