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1. Memories From My Childhood:
Franciszka (Nowicka) Dobrowlanska
(Translated by Valerie Blonski and Rita Clement)
Franciszka was born in 1906 at a time when Poland
did not exist on the map of Europe. This World War Two memoir is a little different in that the recollections begin in 1911,
taking us back to that time, to Franciszka's earliest memories of her life at the age of five, before even World War One had
When I awoke, it was still dark. I heard a commotion
in the kitchen. It was my mother who was already up and preparing breakfast. I wanted to be near her but she was already
occupied with my younger sister, Hela, and my second sister, Mala, who was still an infant, so it was difficult
for my mother to give me much attention. I was five years old then.
The family was sizable. My father had four children from his first marriage
although they were older and attending school. There was plenty of work for my mother. We lived in a small house with quite
a large garden where I liked to play with my girlfriends, who were mainly Russian. My parents had moved to Russia from Wilenszczyzna
(the Wilno region), from the small town of Zahacie, where I was born. I knew this this only because my mother had told me.
We settled in a small city, Kolpino, not too far from St. Petersburg. My father
worked in a church as an organist. Sometimes he took me with him because I liked to hear him play. There were a lot of Poles
in this city, mostly they had come looking for jobs. One of those families had two children, including a girl who was just
one year older than I. We often got together and always celebrated the annual holidays together too.
My oldest stepsister, Irene, finished elementary school and remained at home.
We did not have the financial means to send any of the children to get a higher education. So she gathered a group of
Polish children together and taught them at home. I was very interested so I sat in a corner, observed and listened, and quickly
learned the alphabet. My sister allowed me to join the group of school children and I was very pleased and proud. Time flew
by, I learned a lot and my mother did not have to bother with me.
One day while we were sitting at the kitchen table, my younger sister became
very cranky. Mother wanted to appease and calm her and brought her what she wanted. In front of me sat a cup of tea which
mother accidentally knocked over and the very hot contents spilled on my side and hand. They took me to the doctor who bandaged
the scalded skin. For a long time I was very ill; the burn did not want to heal. It became so infected that the doctor suggested
it might be better to have the hand amputated. My mother burst into tears and said that she would never agree to that. The
neighbours came over and grieved for my arm together with my mother. One of them advised her not to remove the bandages as
the doctor had directed but rather to first soak them in warm water until they fell off themsleves and then to sprinkle them
with potato flour once the wounds had dried. My mother did this every day and it began to feel better. My fever abated and
in two weeks everything was fine although it took a long time for complete recovery and the scar has lasted to this day.
Quite often I went with my girlfriends to the street to watch the people walking
by. One very petite lady, whose age I could not guess, interested me because she always carried water from the river - two
pails over her shoulder on a wooden contraption called a koromysle. This was how she made a living. All day long
she went back and forth to the river for water. Often, during the day, a beautifully dressed little girl kept her company.
This was her daughter and poverty was the life that fate had dealt her. There were no plumbing systems back then so people
used the water from the river which flowed down the centre of the town, dividing it into two halves. We all lived on the south
side - the poor side.
My stepbrothers, Zygmunt (the older one) and Beniek, had
finished school and were looking for work. My mother's brother worked at the railway station and because of his influence,
my brothers obtained jobs in the telegraphic field. The railway authorities were looking for volunteers in their field to
go to Moscow. Zygmunt was quiet and preferred to stay put but Beniu was very ambitious, looking for a career, so he volunteered
and left for Moscow shortly thereafter.
In those times, many people had illnesses - typhus could
spread rapidly. A letter soon came from Moscow from a lady with whom Beniu boarded. She mentioned that he was in the
hospital. We were all shocked but no one knew what had happened and it was decided that someone should go visit
him. Two days later Irena and I left for Moscow.
Along the way, I observed the streets and houses in Moscow. They were
different from the ones in my home town. At one point, we passed by a large, open plaza where I saw a huge bell, a carkolokol,
which hung high above. People were walking under it without fear but I felt quite apprehensive when we passed
The landlady where my brother lived told us that during the epidemic, my brother
fell victim to typhus. She took us to the hospital to see him. He was very weak. Later, my sister went to the railway
authorities because she wanted to take him home but the doctors there said that, in his condition, this would be impossible.
We visited him for a while every day. Quite often, for the rest of the day, the landlady's daughter and I toured a section
of the outskirts of the city known as the Zielonaja Roszcza. During one of these adventures we visited a convent.
At the time, there was an Orthodox wedding ceremony in progress. I looked with amazement at the bride, at her beautiful gown
and the glistening tiara she wore on her head.
After 3 weeks, my brother died and the railway authorities arranged for his
body to be transported back to Kolpino. My sister and I left as well. The funeral was very sad. Everyone was quite depressed
because a young, handsome and able youth, only 21 years old, had been taken from us. My
younger sister, Czesia, arrived from St. Petersburg, where she worked in a sewing school as an apprentice. I was seven years
old at this time and although I felt sad too, I did not fully understand what was going on.
Our family had another baby - this time a boy. My father was delighted and
was enchanted by his little one, although I wondered what he saw in him that was so wonderful.
Father was struggling to find steady and reliable employment. Meanwhile,
people in town were very nervous, as if they could sense that something significant was about to occur. One day we heard
the siren of the ambulance as it drove down the street in front of our house. Shortly, the noise stopped but an hour later,
the same thing happened, then over and over again. My parents awoke early in the morning and I awoke also. I heard someone
entering the house and people speaking quietly to each other. Later, once again, you could hear the wail of the siren in the
distance. In the morning the news circulated around and everyone was shocked. A lot of people got sick instantly
and some didn't even make it to hospital, dying on the way, taken down by high fever and severe pain. By noon the
news had got around that there was a cholera epidemic. People began to die like flies. After a few days, my brother Zygmunt
returned from the night shift at work. He came into the house and dropped on the bed. My mother took him to a separate room,
closed the door and told everyone not to enter. She sent my sister, Irene, to buy a bottle of alcohol (spirits). As soon as
mother had the spirits she took them in to my sick brother, along with a cup of hot tea. We waited for some news and when
mother came out of Zygmunt's room she told us what she did and what the outcome will be. She told us all not to tell anyone
that he is sick at home because if the authorities found out he would be taken to the hospital. After three days my brother
came out of the room, feeling better. Mother had rubbed his body with the spirits and together with drinking hot tea, he began
to sweat and was cured. In the city, many people died, but none of the alcoholics who slept in the park shared their fate.
Available jobs at this time began to disappear. My father's wages became greatly
diminished and it became difficult to pay one's living expenses. The priest at our parish recognized the situation and offered
us a place in his manse (the priest's residence). The house was very large with a huge garden in the center. My father
and mother decided to take advantage of this. While most of our family lived at the presbytery, Zygmunt and Irene, who were
both working, rented a room close by from a Polish family. This family had their own large house but their family was also large
- two adults and seven children.
My girlfriend's (Jadzia Kosteczko) parents subscribed to a Russian-language
magazine. Because she was older than me, she went to school and could read Russian. She showed me the magazine, titled Swietlaczok
(Light). It had illustrated articles and I liked it very much. I would listen as she read it to me. I quickly learned
the Russian alphabet and slowly began to read. Jadzia gave me one book to keep and I always carried with me.
At the priest's house, there was a huge, brown-coloured dog with large floppy
ears. His name was Kado, he was very nice and he always kept me and my sister company. One evening we were in the kitchen.
I was standing in front of the dog while sister was behind. She pulled the dog's tail and he bit me on the face. I had two
teeth marks on my cheek and when they healed, the scars remained visible for a long time.
One month later I started Russian school. The teacher asked me if I understood
anything. I was confused and frightened. She showed me the alphabet and asked me again a few days later. I don't remember
what I said but I was still frightened.
The parish children came to the school for catechism. In a short time, they
would be making their first confession and taking their first communion. I was too young but the priest told my mother that
I had been accepted as had been my sister Hela. I was seven years old. Two months later there was a high mass at the
church. The girls were all dressed in white and walked in rows to the altar - I felt fortunate and happy to be there with
In the spring of 1913, the Russian Czar arrived for a visit. As the time came
near there were crowds of people in the streets, all trying to get close to the road to get a good view. By noon the head
guard led the way followed by a big beautiful coach, pulled by three pairs of horses, in which sat the Czar, Czarina (his
wife) and Czarevitch (his son, the heir apparent). Everyone applauded. This was an important day in the city.
During these times, many Polish people began to return to their home provinces
and counties as there were fewer and fewer jobs available in this district. My parents received a letter from home, from
my father's brother, inviting us to return. My parents decided to return, leaving me with my sister, Irene. I didn't
feel good about this change. Zygmunt and Irene went to work every day while I went to school. The landlord's children teased
me and chased me down the streets. I was so scared but that's how the days went by. School was not so great either as the
teacher never gave me a good word and no matter how hard I tried, my work was never acknowledged.
A few months went by and Christmas was near. The children at school were to
perform in a play. Everybody waited for this day and at last it came. The school was full of people. A lot of parents came
to see their children on stage. After the play, the teachers from the different classes gave speeches, following which the
children were given presents. I wanted to go home but the teacher said "you have to stay to the end." All of the presents
were already handed out before it got to my turn so the teacher called me to her just to say that there was nothing left for
me. I felt like someone had kicked me in the head and I don't remember leaving or returning home.
I became ill and was unconscious. When I finally awoke, I looked around and
was confused as this was not the room where I lived with my sister and brother. I recognized the kitchen though. It was Jadzia's.
I felt very good and lucky that I didn't see the children who had been teasing me. A moment later Mrs. Kosteczko came in and
asked me how I felt. I answered "very good." She told me that I had been there, very ill, for two weeks. I asked if I
was to return to to my sister's but Mrs. Kosteczko said no, for now I would stay with them. Still I was ill, felt bad,
and didn't go to school. I read books, which they had lots of. When Jadzia returned from school she spent a lot of time
with me. I learned a lot during my illness, the time was not wasted.
A month later my mother arrived from Wilno province where my father had
found employment. This was a pleasant time for me and after a week, maybe longer, my mother took me home. I said my farewells
to Jadzia, her parents, her brothers and sisters, and the town of Kolpino. Zygmunt and Irene remained in Kolpino, Czesia was
still apprenticing in St. Petersburg, while the rest of our family had returned home.
After I arrived at my father's, I noticed we were in the small town of Prozoroki.
There was a church and a manse with a huge garden. On the corner of the street was the organist's house. This is where
we lived. The neighbourhood was very pleasant, with a beautiful field and a few small woods. It was now spring; everywhere
was green with lots of flowers in the meadow and in the woods. I met a girl from town. Both Poles and Jews lived
in town but during these times there were no differences. We all played together. Later, we went to the woods for berries.
And in the fall we went for mushrooms. After
my sister and I awoke on those fall mornings, we would go to the nearby woods and bring home a lot of nice prawdziwych
Early in the fall, my sister Czesia arrived from St. Petersburg. We were elated and wanted
her to remain with us. She soon met a young man; he came over often and spent time with her, but after a couple of weeks,
Czesia decide to return to St. Petersburg, and so she left.
People foresaw the coming of war. They said the Germans will come. Winter came and the
children went to school but my mother took me to St. Petersburg. In the suburbs was a small station - Farforowskiy Post
- where my uncle, the train traffic controller, lived. He had a nice government-owned residence. He was single, living with
his mother (my grandmother). I didn't like her and felt that she didn't like me either.
Grandmother loved my cousin, who was a year younger than I, instead. He became her favourite.
Time passed and my mother prepared to leave. I was very happy that we were finally leaving
to go back to father. But this did not happen. One day, my mother told me that I was to remain; my uncle would send me to
school. I would benefit more here than at my father's place in Wilno province where there were only two classes of school.
I worried and I cried. I was afraid to stay with my grandmother but unfortunately my mother left me. All day, I hid in the
corners and cried. My cousin Czesiek (Chester) cheered me up and said that everything will be OK. He had lived with his
grandmother from the time he was small, loved her very much and felt good.
In the evening my uncle returned from work. When he was at home, I felt better. I liked
him. he was good and understanding. A few days after my mother left, we went to St. Petersburg with Czesiek. We came to a
large building; this was the Polish school, St. Katherine. he took care of the formalities and both Czesiek and I were enrolled
Everyday we rode for about 10 minutes on the train. Once in St. Petersburg, it was another
10 minutes on the streetcar before we arrived at the school. At this school I felt very good and progressed in my studies.
The teachers were pleasant and kind and always willing to help us learn. They took care that the students would benefit.
A year passed quickly. I passed into the next grade with good marks. I started another
year, reconciled with the fact that I had to be here and go to school.
Everywhere it was already known that the Germans had occupied Polish soil and may perhaps
go even further, into Russia. German planes flew over St. Petersburg and the surrounding area, dropping bombs. It was ordered
that there be no lights at night, so it was dark. Because the winter was bitter cold and lots of snow had fallen, it made
it difficult for the Germans to calculate. Bombs fell into the snow but did not explode.
All day trains passed our station filled with soldiers. War had begun but here in St.
Petersburg and the surrounding areas it was calm. However people worried with all that was going on. They made a point of
collecting food staples. My uncle, because he was a railway employee, had the opportunity to travel on the trains and
so he left for southern Russia where it was easier to find food. He brought home a good supply.
It was getting crowded in St. Petersburg. I even saw a lot of Chinese people, both
men and women, on my way to school. With so many people around, it was difficult to get to the train and difficult to get
inside the car. People were travelling in all directions. One day on my way home from school, as happened frequently, I could
not get a spot inside the car and had to ride outside (ploszczadce). The weather on this day was extremely cold
and when I returned home I took off my boots, but could not feel my feet. They were frozen and all white. After warming
them up they became red and I suffered greatly as they hurt while defrosting then after that they itched.
Time passed quickly and by the spring of 1917 (a spring to remember), I was twelve
years old. I was riding with my cousin on the train. When we came to Nikolajewskij Wokzal station, we noticed an
unusual commotion. Everywhere people were rushing. The trains overflowed with passengers. You could see panic. We went outside.
The streetcar was close to the train station and we got in. Shortly after the streetcar began to move and we were on our way
to school. On the way we began to cross a bridge over a canal and the streetcar slowed down. There were a lot of bars on
this canal and lots of people on both sides of it. At the bottom beside the bars was a young person who wanted to
jump off the bridge. Armed military policemen shot at him. I was very scared. After a while, the streetcat crossed the
bridge and turned to the right alongside the canal. Screaming started on the road and a mob of people stormed our streetcar.
Wood was thrown at the streetcar, shattering the windows. I was covered in broken glass. The mob commanded all of us to empty
the streetcar but I couldn't move. Some man took me by the hand and escorted me outside. I stood with my 8 year old cousin
at the edge of the canal, not knowing what to do. The others who had left the streetcar had quickly disappeared. The
two of us started walking towards school as it wasn't far away. The streets were empty. On the way we passed by a jewellery
store whose windows had been smashed. On the sidewalk a variety of small pieces of jewellery lay strewn about. We crossed
to the other side of the street and didn't look back.
When we arrived at school we found the doors locked. No one answered when we rang the
bell. We could hear screams and gunshots far away so we headed down a side street in the direction of the station. We were
almost there when we heard footsteps - a moment later a cavalry squad, armed with swords, passed by us on the road. We
crouched down on the sidewalk but they didn't pay any attention to us. At last we arrived at the train station. The doors
were closed. A few people milled about. Some clerk asked us what we were doing there. We pleaded with him to let us in so
that we could go home. We gave him our names and mentioned that our cousin was a cashier at this station and that he could
check that out. He left but returned in a few moments and let us in, telling us to go straight to the train and sit quietly.
He pointed out which train car to go to and we obeyed. Once inside the car, we finally felt certain that we would get
home. You could tell by the number of platforms that this was a huge station. We could still hear the noise and gunshots coming
closer. Then came the sound of glass breaking as the windows were shot out by bullets. So again, we hid, this time under a
bench, lying quietly. The shooting continued for a long time and we stayed under the bench. We could hear someone running
away, escaping. It was not until later in the afternoon that the train finally began to move. It left the station into the
open. We then sat back down on the benches in the train car. No one else was there. We wondered whether the train would stop
at our station. It did, we got off and ran quickly home. My uncle, already home from work, had been worrying and wondering
where we were. We told him about our unusual adventure and that was the end of our trips to school.
The situation became worse and the revolution started. We stayed at home with my grandmother
all the time. In her eyes, I couldn't do anything right. It was a relief when my uncle returned from work. He brought
news. People went to the surrounding areas to find food staples as there was a great shortage of these in the large cities
such as St. Petersburg. Some people moved to the outskirts where living was easier. Next, news arrived that the
city was to be called Leningrad. The Czar's followers fought the revolutionaries. The Czar left his residence together with
his family. The revolutionaries took over the Czar's Selo. Times were hard and there was fighting, killing and dying
Later that spring army troops cleared the fields around Leningrad of
unexploded bombs, of which there many. One day, my former landlord from Kolpina came to town. He had lost his job
and wanted to go to Wilno province to see his family and stay there for a while. My uncle arranged with him for me and my
cousin to go with him. His family didn't live far from mine so he agreed and we went. We left in mid-April. My cousin
was sad to leave his beloved grandmother but I was excited. We had sufficient money and food to get to the river Dzwina. This
was the border with the German-occupied lands on the other side of the river and we were detained there. We stayed
in someone's house for the night. The next day we noticed that all of our food was gone - someone had taken it. Our money
was hidden on us and it was all we had left. The landlord led us to the German outpost. When our train came, we went to the
clerk who looked over our documents but turned us back. We had no choice but to return to the house for another
night. My cousin begged me to return to grandmother's place but I would not agree to it, even though we had no other options.
So I stayed and I cried.
The landlord then told us that there is another, illegal, way across the border.
There is a person who takes people across a swampy place to the riverbank. Another person then takes you in a boat to
the other side of the river. But this option will cost you. Our acquaintance asked how much. We managed to come up with the
rather large sum. The next night, before dawn, we went along a rough and swampy road and, after great difficulty, reached
the riverbank. The second person was waiting and ferried us to the far bank. When the morning light came, we saw a city.
Getting closer, we saw that it was Polock, a small city on the river Dzwina.
We walked along the roads. Everywhere the streets were empty because it was still early
morning. We came to a church, entered and met the priest. He wanted to know where we came from so we told him our story. He
took us to his manse where we had a good breakfast. Later, he pointed out the correct road to take and we set off near noon.
My aunt lived about 40 kilometres away in the town of Zahacie. And we walked and walked. I was very tired but kept going.
After it got dark, we kept going. Finally, when we were truly exhausted and could go no further, we noticed a barn near
the road. We went in and headed straight for the pile of hay in the corner. I dropped down but didn't feel a thing -
I fell right asleep.
Our acquaintance's voice woke me up the next morning. He called for us to get up
and get going because it was getting late. But I couldn't get up as every part of me ached. However I knew I had to, otherwise
I would be left behind. We had nothing to eat but went on anyway. At the crossroad, there were arrows to places and the distances.
We noticed that Zahacie was just 17 km. away. I was excited and thought to myself that I must continue and my aunt will take
care of me. I remember arriving at my aunt's house and her greeting us but I felt detached and a bit woozy.
When I awoke I noticed that I was in the kitchen near a huge stove. A moment later my
cousin entered and when she saw that I was up, called my aunt. My aunt came in and asked me how I felt. She said that I was
very ill with the mumps. I still had some swelling but no fever. A few days later I was able to walk around. In the meantime,
Czesiek had left to go to his parents. My aunt said that I would go when I felt better.
The Germans were in town, billeted in private homes. Some lived at my aunt's house and
occupied the largest room. I visited with them because I had learned German in school and sometimes could respond to them.
They liked me and offered me bread. It was very delicious but they put some strong cheese on it so I took it off in such
a way that they wouldn't notice.
Two weeks later, my uncle and I went to my parent's place. On the way, I observed the
surroundings which were turning green everywhere and the first spring flowers glowed in the sun. It wasn't too far from my
aunt's to my father's so we arrived quickly. They greeted us, especially me, after such a long absence. My sisters and brothers
had grown up. It was hard to recognize them. My girlfriends came by too and we celebrated together.
The days passed fairly happily. At home, there were a few books, so I read. Vacation
was nearing. My sisters and brothers would soon have a holiday break from doing homework. I became friends with a Jewish girl
"Chasia." We would meet at either my house or hers. She was my age (thirteen years-old) and had a sister two years older.
She was interested in boys but there were hardly any in town.
Winter was coming to an end but we could still go sledding on the hills, riding the
sleds down and then pulling them back up to the top. One family, the Dabrowskis, had fled Russia and settled in our town.
There were the parents and two children. The oldest boy was maybe 13 or 14 years-old. All the girls kept their eyes on him.
They all liked him, including me, but I had no chance. When we played in the snow I would sometimes throw a snowball at him
but he would not respond. He only had eyes for Renia, one year younger than I.
The spring of 1919 arrived. People had had enough of the Germans and their governing
authorities. People always complained that we had to give the Germans everything we had. Sometimes we suffered shortages of
food, especially during the season before the harvest.
One morning everyone was immensely elated because we awoke to find that the
Germans had disappeared. For the time being, there was no governing authority in the region until the news arrived that the
Bolsheviks were coming. News also arrived the the Czar and his family had been shot and killed in Ekaterinburg. There was
great panic as everyone wondered what would happen next. So the Bolsheviks came and went. They said that they were chasing
the Germans. They left behind a new government which wasn't that good for the people but we had no choice and had to reconcile
ourselves to the reality. Once again, the people were oppressed. Now the Bolsheviks took everything. They carted off to Russia
wood from the forests and furniture from the furthest regions of Poland. Their trains were filled with all kinds
of wares. People could only mutter under their breath and wonder what would become of all this. No one forsaw anything good.
A few Bolshevik party members arrived from Dzisna, the district administrative centre
which was 40 km. from Prozorek. They called the people to a meeting of the community council and appointed a few people to
some posts. They opened an office in the community and now the people were definitely frightened. News arrived from Dzisna
and surrounding areas that arrests had been made. The Bolsheviks carried out the trials themselves and executed a few prisoners.
Our Parish priest left town and the Bolsheviks immediately went looking for him. They asked the church members, including
my father, the organist, to tell them where the priest was hiding. My father said he knew nothing but they did not believe
him and arrested him. In the community administration building was a place similar to a jail. That is where they put my father.
The next day my mother and I, together with the family, went to this office. We asked for permission to see him. They allowed
it and in a few minutes we were with him. We were all stunned because overnight our father had turned completely grey. Three
days later they freed him while the others were taken elsewhere. We now lived in fear.
My father received a letter from my aunt Irene in Kolpina. She informed us that my sister,
Czesia, got married and had a baby a year later but she herself died as a result of the childbirth. Once again we suffered
with the loss of a family member. She had lived such a short life and left behind an infant.
Times were hard. From all over came only unpleasant or sad news. The Soviet army moved
westward - it was said that they were heading towards Warsaw.
One morning a stranger came by - a Soviet soldier. He remained with us for a long time
- told us where he had been and what he had seen. My parents were cautious because they did not know who he was and what he
wanted to find out from us. He didn't insist on getting information but from time to time he threw out a word which might
have an important meaning for us. He said that he would visit us again in a short time, on his way back.
We then heard that Jozef Pilsudski had taken over the Polish government and people whispered
that shortly everything would change for the better. Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks continued to carry away to Russia whatever
of value they could get their hands on.
A few months went by. News arrived that there was fighting near Warsaw. In time, ordinary
wagons full of the injured and wounded came to town and when they stopped, one could hear the moaning. Some pleaded
for water - the scene was horrible. A lot of the healthy ones were also returning from the front on foot and in disarray.
One of the Bolshevik soldiers dropped by our place and approached us to ask for a bite of food. My mother gave him what she
could. He told us that he had been near Warsaw and that everything was fine. They had suddenly attacked the Poles from
the rear and crushed their army - many were killed and wounded while the rest fled back in a panic. During this time
we received no official news but sometimes someone would know something and inform us of what was happening at the front.
The summer of 1920 was nearing and we heard the echo of cannons firing. Despite everyone's
fear of war, we listened, waiting for the sounds of bombs exploding and gunfire to come closer. That time came. One afternoon
we saw a plane circle the city a few times and then fly off. In town a few army units were billeted in private homes.
Three Bolshevik soldiers were living in our house, occupying the largest room. They had a radio and up-to-date news. Of course
they told us nothing but my mother accidentally overheard that the enemy had occupied some place only a few kilometres away.
My mother came to our room and told us about the captured locality. All were greatly frightened. After a short time, one of
the soldiers came to us and said that the place with the same name is quite far from us. He also added that it was not
wise to speak so carelessly about them being already captured. This kind of talk could result in unfortunate circumstances.
My mother and father became scared but nothing came of it. These soldiers were very pleasant people. One of them was
a Latvian medical doctor and his two friends worked in an office. We noticed that they were packing - taking various things
out to their car. Two days later they drove off.
Various small army units passed through town. They were saying that a change has come
and they were allowed to return home. But we knew from the sound of the gunfire that these soldiers were telling us something
different from the reality. We could only wait. Once again, the unknown soldier who had visited us before, came by and reminded
us of what he had said. They are heading towards Warsaw. We were no longer afraid of of him and tried to convince him to stay.
He replied that he would like to, but couldn't. He had to return but would not tell us why. He told us of how he and the Bolshevik
army had been attacked by the Poles near Warsaw. The Bolsheviks thought that they had the upper hand but because they
were attacked from both flanks and the rear, they didn't know in which direction to flee. Then he said that the
Poles would be in town shortly, and he left.
Usually everybody drove their cows onto the road and two shepherds would steer them across
the fields to the forest. But now, because the situation was very unsettled, there were no shepherds. Each farmer fed his
own cows himself, bringing in hay for them from the fields. It was a sunny day, a Sunday in the early afternoon, when my brother
and I took a cow - led by a rope - passed a couple of houses and into the meadow. There was a ditch and a couple of trees.
We let the cow off the rope and she walked off to feed on the grass. I sat under a tree because it was too hot in the sun.
My brother found a small sword and played with it. A plane flew over and started to circle the meadow. I told my brother to
drop the sword because it reflected the sunlight. He dropped the sword but a few minutes later someone started shooting in
our direction. Quickly, we got the cow and fled home. The shooting soon stopped.
It was quiet just before sunset when three horsemen appeared and slowly came nearer.
We couldn't tell who they were and when they came closer, we could see that they were carrying rifles. Then we saw that they
were Poles. Everyone came out of their homes to greet them. They asked if there were any Bolsheviks around. We replied that
as of a few days ago there were none, however they remained cautious. Slowly they continued forward, telling us that
the Polish army would be arriving the next day. We rejoiced!
The next day, the Polish army did arrive. Some of them stayed while others moved on.
Now there was a lot of traffic. They told us their stories and we told them ours. They too were billeted to private homes.
This time two stayed with us in the smallest room at the side of the house. They were not around during the day as they went
to work at the outpost which they'd set up in the priest's manse, yet still there was no priest.
One morning my sister, brother and I went to my aunt Kamila's house. She lived on a small
homestead in Kanury, some 10 km. from Prozoroki. She always greeted us warmly and offered what she could. My cousin Czesiek,
and his sister Wela, were also happy to see us. At this point in the summer the blackberries and raspberries were ripe. By
their fragrance, you could tell where Kanury was. The homestead belonged to my mother's parents and had been in the family
a long time. We visited often.
Because the Polish army went deep into Russia, a lot of people from there, came here.
One of them, a pleasant and happy young girl named Zosia, came to live with us. In the late afternoons, young people would
gather at our place. We spent time together talking and singing. Even though I was younger than her, I kept company with Zosia.
My girlfriend Chasia joined in with us too. But Chasia's sister Liza was too busy flirting with the boys to spend time with
We worried when the army left town. They told us that they had to move on to another
outpost. People began to whisper that this is something bad. Many people left. Our Zosia also left in the direction of Wilno
- somewhere there she had relatives. My father had an acquaintance who had two boys in the army. They came to visit their
parents and urged them to leave because there could be a change for the worst. So we all agreed to leave together. They had
a huge wagon with two horses and we soon left. Once on the road, we learned that our town had been reoccupied by
the Bolsheviks. We couldn't understand this kind of politics and continued on the road some 500 km. to a place called Molodeczno
where we stopped. They told us that the Bolsheviks would not come here. It was a sad time for all of us. The people in
this town looked upon us disapprovingly. We, the children, were not allowed to stray far from our parents who
were afraid that we might be assaulted. We lived in a camp. During the day it was warm but the nights were often cool. Two
weeks like this went by. Our food staples were diminishing. One of the acquaintance's sons arrived. His place was not far
away. He had a walk all around, had a good look and took stock of the situation. When he returned he said that we would leave
after dark, and so we did. We moved on cautiously, buying some food staples along the way. At one estate the people were fairly
wealthy and took us in willingly. We had there, for certain, good times, room and board and fun. They had a grand piano which
my father played while I sang. They enjoyed this and let us stay for a few more days. As we were leaving they made sure
that we had sufficient food. We were very touched by their caring and generosity.
We turned around to go home and after another two weeks on the road we arrived at
our house in Prozoroki. There were no Bolsheviks. We felt fortunate to be able to return to our home but when we opened the
door we were greeted with a huge mess. You could tell that the house was well used and left dirty on purpose. However, this
did not bother us and we simply sarted to clean up, rejoicing in the fact that the Bolsheviks were gone. Each day brought
more changes. We learned that the border was to be about 20 km. away from us and that the war was over.
A new priest arrived at our parish - he was young and quite pleasant. He came by to visit
and spoke with my father. He appeared to be a man of action and asked my father to advertise and assemble young people for
a choir. Before long, many enrolled. My father did most of the work in preparing them. It was mid summer and every Sunday
he played and the choir sang. A lot of people came to the church. Two weeks later father wanted to practice with me as he
wanted me to sing a part of the Mass, solo. It wasn't too difficult to learn. He taught me the lessons at home. During
this time we had loaned the use of a grand piano. Finally one Sunday father told me that I was going to sing. I was a
bit uncomfortable with the idea but I had to obey my father. I sang pretty well and everyone liked it. Now every Sunday
Mass was accompanied by singing and the parishoners got ready for Mass on time and with enthusiasm. The following week the
priest visited us once again. I was in the other room and father called me in. I noticed that the priest was watching me.
I came closer to him and he handed me his hand. When I went to kiss his hand, he stopped me and pulled his hand away. I was
frightened and confused by his action. My father had always told me how to behave in the presence of a priest. I stood there,
unsure of what was going on. The priest told me to sit. I looked at my father and he smiled so I sat down. The priest told
my father that I sing well and that it would be beneficial for me to receive further training. After a while, he said
that he wanted to ask a favour but added that he would whisper it in my ear. At that moment I felt myself blush and
turn red and he whispered to me that he wanted some honey. I repeated this to my father. I don't remember how I left the room
- I felt very strange. Two days later I met the priest in front of our house and again he didn't let me kiss his hand. He
spoke to make small talk and talked to me about many things, but even more so I felt strange. I didn't know how to reply
and how to address him in a proper manner. He left our parish after a short while, telling us that he had been transferred
to Dzisna where he would be working with high school students.
Before he left, the priest proposed to my parents that he would be most willing to find
an opening for me in the high school and that my parents wouldn't have to pay for my schooling. Of course my father was
delighted and thanked him. I too thanked him but felt that it was better not to go. The priest told me that his sister was
in that high school. She was studying there and that it would be good for me as she could help me out. And so he left. In
his place came an elderly priest, very dignified, but he wasn't much interested in improving things.
A new person came to live with us. This time it was an older lady, Mrs. Korczak-Strus.
She had no family of her own, just a brother and two nephews (her sister's children). The brother and his family were
to arrive later. She fixed up a corner in a large room and spent her time reading. She was not very talkative so no one
bothered her. One day she turned to me asked me what I do all day long. I didn't know what to say because I just spent time
with my family and played with my girlfriends. She asked me if I wanted to take lessons from her. I agreed to that and
started a new adventure in my life. Everyday after breakfast, she sat with me and gave me lessons in current events (about
everything) and French. She said that from this point on we will speak only French. I found this hard as I couldn't understand
anything she was saying to me. She persisted even though she knew that I could not understand. She started using gestures.
I spent three hours at each lesson. As soon as I finished, I fled into the garden to be in the sunshine and with my family.
A couple of months passed by and even though I was dissatisfied with the process, I had benefitted greatly. She also taught
me some manners; how to behave in the company of others. I didn't know why she did all of this for me. Maybe her lonliness
troubled her, so she picked on me. I spent more and more time with her. She said I was grown up and I shouldn't be playing
with little kids. Soon she received a letter and was elated when she read it. Her brother and nephews would soon be arriving.
Spring passed but I always had lessons with mrs. Korczak-Strus. I noticed that it was
becoming easier for me to understand what she was saying in french so I started to respond. She corrected me continuously.
Even throughout the whole day she always spoke French to me. One afternoon, our new guests, the brother and one of the nephews, arrived.
My teacher greeted them with delight.
Her brother was middle-aged, chubby and an invalid, with only one leg. He looked very
distinguished and pleasant. The nephew was 25-30 years old, tall, slim and very handsome. Two days later, Mrs. Korczk-Strus
and the nephew left for Wilno. The nephew was going to drop her off to visit with more family and return.
My father spoke to Mr. Korczak-Strus. He told us how he got across the border with the
help of smugglers, of which there were a lot of near the border. It cost him a lot but he was satisfied with his choice.
He had spent a long time in Kaukaz (the Caucasus), where he had been one of the owners of a mine in Baku, but he
had to leave everything behind in order to flee and save his life. It was at the mine that he lost his leg in an accident.
His wife and two daughters were expected to arrive at our house shortly.
Because my teacher had left for Wilno, I once again had a lot of free time. Although
I promised her that I would practice and read a lot, this didn't go well. I preferred to go to my girlfriend's house and spend
my time outdoors. The weather was splendid and sunny. It was a shame to waste each day studying. I promised myself that I
would catch up in due time.
For now we had peace and quiet. The civil servants returned to their jobs and life began
to return to normal. People breathed a sigh of relief after those hard times. However, smugglers still worked at the broder
to get people across, mainly from Bolshevik Russia into Poland, and at the same time they smuggled various goods to both sides.
One day, Mr. Korczak stopped me and indicated that he wanted to talk. He sat me down
then asked how I had spent the last couple of years. I told him about my experiences. He aksed if I would like to
further my education. I said yes, but this wasn't easy as there was no school here and I could not go anywhere else because
my father could not afford it. Many days I would spend an hour or two chatting with Mr. Korczak.
His nephew Paul, returned with his brother Victor. Victor was in the army and came to see
his uncle and to help Paul with the baggage which had arrived in a few huge crates. They had enough work there for a couple
of days. Their uncle just sat and watched as he could not help. Soon enough, shelves had been erected on the walls and stocked
with inexpensive goods for the people to buy. On the floor sat a few bags of rice, salt and other bulk food staples. For at
least the foreseable future, we would not be running out of staples!
My mother now received a sufficient supply of rice and salt. Of course she cooked for
and took care of our guests. They were thankful but made their own meals on their own small stove and organized themselves
in such a way that they lacked for nothing. Time passed quickly and I continued chatting with Mr. Korczak and Paul, although
Victor had returned to the army.
My mother's cousin also had not long ago crossed the border with his family. They settled
in Wilno and their children were able to continue their schooling. The cousin now came to visit because he had inherited some
fields and a house. We learned from him of my uncle's death (the unlce in St. Petersburg). After Czesia and I had left, he
got married, had a baby daughter and again left on the trains to go south but when he returned he became gravely ill with
typhus and died. His wife and daughter moved to Swiecian, near Wilno. Grandmother stayed for a while with her brother but
she died too.
We received a letter from someone who wrote that we are related to her husband, who died
in Russia, and that she and her daughter had returned to Swiecian - it was the same person that my mother's cousin had told
us about. This lady wrote that she knew from her husband that there is an inheritance and that her daughter has a right to
recieve her share. She further mentioned that she had spoken to a lawyer and could take the matter to court if need be. This
worried all of us because in Kanura lived our aunt Kamila with her husband and two children. There was not much to share.
The whole property consisted of 45 dziesiecin (one dziesiecina - an ancient Russian measure - was equal to about
1.1 hectares) and was already divided into three, sandy and not very fertile, parcels. As a result, it was very
difficult for my aunt to thrive on that homestead. But, her husband knew how to graft fruit trees and every spring he went
to work so that they could eake out a simple life. My parents helped them a lot. Every year my father received a portion of
the donations to the church, which came in the fall (harvest time) in the form of grain and other bounty. When my father visited
aunt Kamila, he would leave a portion of these donations with her.
We replied to the letter and shortly she sent an invitation for me to come visit. I left
a couple of days later. The distance was not far - I had to make only one change of trains.
When I arrived at the small town of Swiecian, I easliy found the place where she lived.
My knock on the door was answered by a middle-aged lady whose best years had past. She was my uncle's wife and had a pretty
3 year-old daughter. She asked me about my family and the inheritance. I told her everything. She said she had nothing. At
one time she had been wealthy but today she lacked the means to keep herself and her child. After almost a week I said
my farewells and returned home. A couple of months later (in the spring of 1921) we received another letter from her informing
us of her daughter's death. Our correspondence ended on this note.
Meanwhile, our tenant, Mr. Korczak, had a good business going, selling a lot, emptying
his shelves and restocking them. People came and bought as there was a shortage of everything and he was able to supply the
One nice afternoon my sister Hela and I decided to go to the meadow. We picked wildflowers,
the sun was warm, birds were chirping and all this made us very happy. When we returned home we noticed that new guests had
arrived. They were Mr. Korczak's wife and two daughters - young, very pretty and shapely. I looked at them with admiration.
Mr. Korczak told his wife that his sister had given me French lessons. She smiled and spoke to me a few words of French. I
don't know if what I answered was correct. From then on both she and her daughters spoke to me in French, and so my lessons
A chilly fall arrived (1921). I spent more time at home reading the books which the Korczak
ladies lent me. I also noticed that I was now a grown-up. I accepted this but with fear. I would hide some of my lingerie
in the attic until my mother found out and asked me about it. I answered that I must be sick. She asked me why I thought this.
I answered because I hid my underwear in the attic. She explained menstruation to me and I calmed down.
Time passed and the spring of 1922 approached. Paul and his uncle decided to go to Wilno
to visit Mr. Korczak's niece. As the day of their departure approached I received an offer to join them. Once there, they would
endeavour to enroll me in school. Mr. Korczak discussed this proposal with my parents who were captivated by the plan. My
mother received a few pieces of material from him and sewed me a few necessary garments. I myself was not enthusiastic with
this idea. I thought that again my parents were pushing me out the door, but I kept mum.
In mid-April of 1922 we left for Wilno. Paul planned to drop us off in Wilno then continue
on to Warsaw to his mother's. We arrived too late at night to go to the niece's home so we stayed in a hotel close to the
train station. Paul left us there to continue his journey, promising that he would return in a couple of days. Mr. Korczak
ordered supper which was delivered to the hotel. Everything was tasty but I had no appetite. There was also strong liquor.
Mr. Korczak drank and talked me into drinking. It tasted good, some kind of liqeuer. He looked at me strangely. I did not
like this. He told me that I was pretty and different from my sisters and brothers. We sat together a long time while he drank
more shots, but I declined any more. Finally, he said it was time to go to sleep. There was one bed and a couch so he took
the bed and I laid on the couch. I was just starting to fall asleep when he called to me and asked me to bring him some water
which was in a carafe on the table by the couch. I came with a glass and he asked me to sit on the bed. I didn't want to but
he pulled me by the hand and I sat down. I don't know if he was tipsy but he started to compliment me. He was still holding
my hand and pulled me closer to him then kissed my face and hands. He held me firmly so that I was half sitting, half laying.
He said if he was ten years younger, he would take me for his own. He kissed me some more but I felt indifferent. The thought
came to me that if this had been Paul, I would have reacted differently! Finally, he said that I was very young and let me
go. I returned to the couch wondering what to do next. Perhaps I should return home, but at last I fell asleep.
I arose early the next morning. Mr. Korczak told me that we would be going to his niece's.
He spoke to her on the phone and arranged for me to stay with them. Again, I thought that everything might turn out fine.
We arrived around noon and his niece, Mrs. Dola, a young and pleasant woman, and her husband, greeted us warmly. Her
husband, a captain in the army reserves who worked in an office, was more formal but also pleasant. They were very kind to
me. They had a five year-old daughter. We got along and soon after we went for a walk. Mr. Korczak returned to the hotel.
Paul returned a couple of days later and visited with his uncle and cousins. I didn't
feel comfortable in his presence, noticing that he wore a strange smile. Meanwhile Mr. Korczak let me know that he was arranging
for me to attend school. While living with Mrs. Dola, it was expected that I would care for their daughter and watch out for
their home in my spare time as well as during the evenings when she and her husband would go visiting friends or attending
Time passed like this and soon a month at Mrs. Dola's had gone by. I was very friendly
with her daughter, little Gracie (Grazyna), with whom I spent a lot of time. One Sunday the entire household went for a walk.
We toured Zamkowa Gora. I liked it there very much as I was able to observe Wilno from a high perch in the church steeple.
Not long after, the family got busy preparing for a small party which was to be held at their home. They had a male domestic
worker who helped a lot. I, on the other hand, looked after Gracie, taking her for walks. She did not attend school yet although
she would be attending kindergarten the following season. The day of the party was full of action as they made final preparations
for the arrival of their guests. It was still daylight when they started arriving. A few army men came with their wives and
Mr. Korczak and Paul came too. Mrs. Dola had me sit at the table with the adults although I felt quite uncomfortable.
However, as everyone sat down, I was able to relax. By watching the others, I knew how to behave so as to not embarass Mrs.
Dola. Everything went well. Mr. Korczak aksed me how I felt, if I had gotten used to being here. He mentioned that he would
soon be getting a reply regarding my application to school. I thanked him for his efforts.
A week later a big change came in my life. Paul took me to Mr. Korczak's hotel where
I met his wife and daughters. We all went to the restaurant for a meal. Mrs. Korczak asked me if I was homesick and explained
what my family was up to and that they were waiting for my return. A few days later, Paul arrived with his uncle to let me
know that the school would be accepting applications in two months. They recommended that I return home and later re-apply
to the school with father or mother. Shortly, I left for home.
When I returned home I found that more changes had come to our town. Once again
there were a lot of soldiers and once again they were billeted in private homes. A young and pleasant married couple was staying
with us. At the manse, there were commanders in the chancellery (church office). These were the border guards. There
was traffic and action everywhere as there were a lot of young people.
I waited out the two months so that I could go to school. My mother and I left one morning
for Wilno which we reached by noon. The school was a large building, a convent, and we signed in under our address.
We sat quite a long time in the waiting room until finally a sister came in and escorted us to the chancellery. Another sister
was waiting for us and sat us down, asking us why we had come. When we told her that I wished to attend the school, the
sister replied that, of course, I could be accepted, either by paying a large fee or by entering the convent as a novice,
to become a nun. My mother was troubled by this answer and we departed, explaining that we would discuss the matter with
our family. We returned home where it was decided that I stay home as we did not have the means to pay the fee, nor did my
parents want to send me to a convent.
After a couple of weeks I got a job at the commune, assisting in the office, gathering
the necessary information for the registers (peoples' names and addresses). The office secretary was young but ill, always
coughing. He had a sister who lived with him and cared for him. After work, I mostly stayed home and read books which I borrowed
from friends. My girlfriend Chasia brought me a lot of books. My sister Hela, now 14 years old, had grown up and was quite
pretty. She was always happy but I, on the hand, was always serious.
Military personnel often visited our tenants. One day I met one of them, a handsome man,
and I was attracted to him. He started visiting me and we would talk. Soon he wanted to speak to my mother in my presence,
stating that he wanted to marry me. I began to see more and more of him and he began to open up, becoming more talkative and smiling
more. A couple of months passed like this and he got frustrated with the slow pace of our relationship. One day he lost his
temper. While talking with some of his friends at our house, he grabbed my hand and pushed me into the middle of the room
and yelled "get out of here." His friends watched with amazement, not understanding what was happening. I left the room and
even though he ran after me apologizing, I did not return. The next day I told him that there is nothing between us and not
to come see me any more. He attempted to smooth things over and spoke to my mother. He pleaded with her to convince me that
this was only a tactless gesture. But even though I liked him, and cried at night, I somehow knew that there would be no reconciliation.
Again I was alone. So I read and visited Chasia. Four soldiers, all young and handsome, lived
at her house. One of them was interested in me. In the mornings he would go to the chancellery where he worked. Often he would
wear his coat collar up. He had curly, dark blonde hair and large, light blue eyes. Whenever he passed by our house, he always
Upon returning home after a walk with my girlfriend, I noticed that our tenants had some
guests over. One could hear that their conversation was cheerful and after they left I learned that the young man I was
interested in had been there too and more so, he visited every couple of days. One Sunday afternoon when I returned home I
found him speaking to my father in the living room. He noticed that I had a lot of books and asked if I enjoyed reading. I
replied that I like to read very much but that I did not always have books. He said that the chancellery in which
he worked had a large library. He would bring me some books. From this time onward I had lots of books to read as
he brought me new ones every couple of days. I read the 3 volumes of Sienkiewicz's famous work, poems by Mickiewicz and
many others. Soon he was visiting me every Sunday. His name was Henryk, was very dignified and kind, and we spent a couple
of hours talking. I soon forgot my previous attraction - I liked this one better and I was pleased about that.
In the meantime, I left my job at the commune. The secretary was gravely ill and went
to stay with his family. A couple of weeks passed by and I was always waiting for my new attraction to stop by. I liked talking
with him. He continued to bring me books. Unexpectedly, I received a job at the post office. The supervisor lived in the Post
Office building with his wife and two children. I earned very little but then I did not know much about the job. He taught
me how to do my job and explained that after a couple of weeks, I'd be making a lot more.
One day when we were returning from church, I saw Henryk with a young girl named Benia,
a teacher in the primary school. I didn't like this but acted as though it did not bother me. My girlfriend asked me how I
could tolerate seeing him with another girl. I replied that he should be able to do what he wants. He continued to bring me
books but didn't stay as long anymore, explaining that he had a lot of work to do. This hurt me because I saw and felt that
he had changed, but he acted as if though nothing was different.
A few days later my girlfriend ran up to me and said that she wanted to discuss something
very important. We went into the garden for privacy and she told me that she had found out why Henryk had changed. My former
boyfriend had been overheard by Chasia saying that he and I were still close and dating and he couldn't understand why
Henryk was trying to take away his girlfriend. The message got passed on to Henryk and this was of course the reason why he
had backed off and started seeing Benia. He didn't say anything to me and acted as if nothing had happened. He had met another
girl but didn't want to tell me about it so he just continued to bring me books. I too, never brought up the subject. We always
remained friends but I hurt a lot. Chasia and Hela urged me to confront him and to tell him to stop visiting but I could not
My job at the post office was going much better. I collected letters and handed out the
mail. Henryk would come by to pick up the mail for the local Border Guard Headquarters where he worked, so I saw him every
morning, although he did not come to our house very often.
Not much changed over the following months as the spring of 1923 arrived. People
were busy working in the fields and seemed content. May was very warm, there were lots of wildflowers and the days were sunny.
Whenever I had free time from work I would often go to a forest nearby to pick fresh flowers. There were a lot of lily-in-the-valley.
In the evenings I went with my sisters for May worship ceremonies (evening devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrated
each May). The church was close by and everything was fine but I was getting restless. In any case, time continued to move
forward. Summer was warm with occasional hot spells. Work went well as I had learned a lot and could manage just fine. I was
also receiving better wages.
One Sunday afternoon when I was alone in the living room reading a book, I became curious
when I heard a gentle knock on the door. I said "come in" and Henryk entered. This time he had no books with him but asked
what I was reading. I asked him to sit down and he began to talk about books. Time passed and I was surprised and happy that
he was staying so long. It was hot, so we moved into the garden in front of the house and continued to chat. Finally, our
conversation ended. We both could sense that something else was bothering us but we couldn't get it started. Henryk kept getting
up to leave, but didn't. Then he asked if it was alright to ask me something. I felt awkward but replied that he should go
ahead and I would answer if I could. He said that he had heard from his friends that I had a boyfriend, that we were close,
that my boyfriend was always thinking of me, and so Henryk shouldn't interfere. Henryk wanted to know right now what the truth
was and what was keeping us together. This was an unpleasant topic for me but I wanted to explain everything so that
Henryk would begin visiting me as before. It was as if I was giving him my confession. Everything got cleared up. I was
very attracted to him. He was happy and open and I willingly spent time with him. My mother was often with us and he said
to her that he wanted to marry me and was wondering if mother had anything against that. He had charm and that is
why my mother liked him.
After a few months, Henryk changed. Sometimes he was blunt. During one visit, he
ordered me not to spend time with anyone else and naturally he wanted to be as close as possible to me. I liked him and willingly
kissed him but something held me back from crossing the line. Hence, we were very close but I did not belong to him. When
I realized that he wanted me to be completely his, I broke it off. This was quite an upsetting thing to do but I had to, because
I knew that things could get worse. Then it became dark but Henryk did not leave. We did not know what to talk about and so
there was only silence. After a while, he came closer, kissed me and we sat closely together. Finally, he excused himself
due to the lateness of the hour as he had to get home to sleep. We said goodbye to each other and he left. I was still sitting
on the bench thinking about him and was once more happy that he was close to me. I went inside and tried to sleep but
I couldn't. I thought about him and relived our kisses. I felt lucky.
After that, he would come everday and stay a long time. On Sundays, he didn't
meet Benia anymore. Just the two of us would return from church, together. Sometimes we met Benia on the way but he was with
me and I noticed her unfriendly glances towards me. She was much older than me, and prettier, but I had won.
It was August, hot sweltering days but comfortable evenings, so we spent most of the
time in the garden. We sat there late into the nights. One evening, later than usual, we kissed and Henryk took me by the
hand into the garden. After we passed the back of the house where the bedrooms were, I could hear my father's voice. He called
me but I pretended not to hear and we went further into the bush where it was dark. We sat and kissed passionately. I wanted
to say it was late and time to go home but my lips were covered by Henryk's mouth. He leaned me backward and we lay on the
grass kissing. After a while, our bodies were joined in sweet shivers. When we finally got up, he kissed me and told me he
loved me. I answered him with a kiss and cuddled up to him. Finally, he left for home and it was very late when I returned
home. My father said to me that I shouldn't stay out so late. I kept silent and shortly fell asleep.
Two days later Henryk came over and once again we sat out in the garden. He gave me a
kiss and asked me to go for a walk. He wasn't talking but I knew what he was thinking. After a while I told him that I wasn't
feeling well. He asked what was wrong and I replied that it was just "that time of the month." He calmed down. A
few more weeks went by. We continued to meet but always alone, so that we could privacy. One month later, suddenly one day, I
really felt sick. For two days my head ached and I was nauseated. I learned that my stomach upset could be caused by pregnancy.
I was shocked and did not know what to do. I couldn't tell anyone but Henryk and of course, I could see that the news upset
Meanwhile, at the post office, I had an unpleasant encounter with the supervisor. One
evening when I was working late, and his wife and children had gone to visit friends, he outwardly told me that he liked me
and wanted to get to know me better. He came closer, kissed me and tried to pull me towards him. I pulled away and fled. Henryk
was already home and waiting for me when I arrived. He wanted to know what had happened to make me so upset. I told him the
truth and he became disheartened. After a while he told me that I would no longer be working. And so, I never returned to
work at the post office, told no one about the incident, and when questioned by my mother, simply stated that Henryk does
not wish for me to work anymore.
One or two weeks later, news arrived that the troops guarding the border would be returning
to their regiment and would be replaced. Many people were not pleased with this news. I was frightened for me and Henryk.
Henryk went to Warsaw to take care of some formalities and promised to return to take me with him. At home there were many
discussions about various topics, including me. I was upset because people were whispering in my ear that Henryk wouldn't
return. I didn't want to believe this and felt very sad, but Henryk did return within a week or two. He took care of
all the details and was granted leave from his unit as well. I was so dazed by all that was going on that I couldn't
even feel happy.
During this time our aunt visited us. She and mother rejoiced in the fact that I was
getting married. Before she left, auntie told my mother that I didn't look well and might be pregnant. My mother did not ask
me any questions and I said nothing.
On November 29, 1923, our wedding took place in the parish church. The Wedding March was
special because it was played by my father on the organ. Henryk's leave was coming to an end so we travelled to Wloclawek
in Kujawy, where Henryk's regiment was stationed. The day we left and said our farewells to the family did not bring out any
emotions in me. I wanted to leave as soon as possible. I watched my mother cry - she was very sad to see me go. My sisters
and brothers stood and watched with wonderment however this all did not make an impression on my seven year-old brother. My
father was calm and composed. Henryk spoke to my parents and assured them that he would take care of me. All would be fine.
I promised to write as soon as we arrived at our destination and we left in a horse and wagon, reserved for the occasion,
to the train station, 12 km. away.
Few people were were travelling at this time of year so the train ride was quite comfortable
and we were easily able to fit our scant luggage onto the shelf. The bench was a bit hard but this didn't bother us. We cuddled
together and fell sleep. When we awoke, we saw that a young woman was sitting on the bench opposite us. She looked at us,
smiled and asked if we were brother and sister. Henryk replied that I was his wife. She looked at me strangely and commented
that I didn't look like a grown-up much less married. We talked a while until her stop came. She wished us good luck and a
pleasant trip, then got off the train. The next evening we arrived at Wroclawek. We were unfamiliar with this town and knew
no one, so we rented a room at the hotel. The next day Henryk reported to his regiment. On his way back he bought a newspaper
so that he could find us a place to live. He quickly found a room for rent and we moved in that evening. The landlords were
an older couple with a grown-up daughter.
Because Henry worked at the regimental headquarters and had a long way to go to work
every day, he looked for a better room. After a month of looking we moved into the suburbs, closer to headquarters, at a widow's
place. She had two daughters - one my age, the other twelve years old. I was not happy with this arrangement because as it
turned out, we slept in the same room as the landlady and her daughters. We were very uncomfortable and I insisted that
we go elsewhere. Two months later Henryk had found a place near his regiment's headquarters. Here we had a room and a
kitchen to ourselves. Obviously, we didn't have any furniture so Henryk got his hands on an army bed and table and somehow
we managed. The sergeant's wife, who lived not far away, came to visit. A couple of days later she brought us a lot of old linens
which she felt might come in handy for the baby's diapers.
Soon the time came and on May 22, 1924, a son was born. Our friend came again and looked
after me and the baby. A few weeks later he was christened. We named him Antoni, after our friend whose name was Antonina. For
his middle name we chose Siloslaw. Antonina and Henryk's friend Wladek, whom I had known from when I was still living at home,
were the godparents.
It was difficult for me with the baby. I didn't know where to start or what to do but
as time went on I learned from my mistakes. Cooking meals wasn't easy either. I always tried for perfection but often the
result was just the opposite. Our son's godmother stopped visiting and told everyone about my incompetence as a housewife
and mother. Wladek visited though and we spent many pleasant evenings together.
Summer came and little Silek grew and developed well. He had a good ear. There was always
music playing on the radio or on the record player. He would hum along and really surprised us.
In the fall, Henryk left for Wilno province on leave, to see my family. The family, especially
my mother, was happy to see him and receive news. He returned two weeks later with my sister Hela. She was now a pretty 16
years-old, all grown up. My sister helped a lot to lighten my load. Since I didn't feel too well, quite haggard and weak, she
looked after Silek. Hela liked him very much and he liked her too, even more than me it seemed. When she went
with Silek for a walk, many thought that she was his mother.
Time passed by quickly and I started to feel better. Silek turned one and Wladek came
to visit on his 1st birthday, spending the evening with us. Hela often went to the movies and for walks. She met a girl her
age and so they met often. Everything was going just fine, but then there are always changes. Hela frequently went out
at night and returned late more and more often. I told her that she shouldn't do this. The late evening time was not safe
for a pretty, young girl to be out alone, but this had no effect on her behaviour. Each time she came in a little later. Only
when, once in a while, Henryk and I would go to see a movie, would Hela stay home to watch Silek.
The days passed by quickly and winter gave way to spring (1925). We spent a lot of time
with Hela and Silek. We had to watch Silek carefully when he played in the garden because he liked to run away and he wandered
around without any fear.
One day Hela, as usual, returned very late at night. Henryk had a talk with her the following
morning. She became quite irritated and explained that she does not like satying home. She wants to have friends and fun and
since this doesn't please us, she would rather return home to Wilno province, to her parents. Two months later Henryk took
her home and I again, was left alone with Silek. He was now one and one-half years old, a big boy, a rascal and mischievous.
After two weeks, Henryk returned. He went back to work and once again brought news. A
group of NCOs were selected to attend an army course out of town, and Henryk was one of them. A month later he left. He received
double pay and each month he sent me half. I never before had this much money for my own use. As before, I was not too practical
with money but one thing I knew, borrowing and paying interest was not good. So, when Henryk's friend asked for an interest
payment on the 100 zloty which he had lent to Henryk, I not only paid him the 5 zloty interest but also the entire loan amount.
He was surprised and said that I didn't have to pay it all back right away because he could wait. But I was opposed to the
loan and assured him that I had sufficient money. I was very proud that I had liquidated this debt.
A few more months passed by and I was managing on my own. My neighbour and I arranged
to babysit for each other so that we could each get a break and go to the movies once in a while.
In a letter Henryk informed me that he would be getting a few days leave. Two weeks later
he arrived and I was very happy to see him. We both talked about all that had happened. He was surprised that I paid
off the debt. I showed him the things I had bought for Silek and myself and the money that I had saved. Henryk was pleased
that I had learned to budget so well.
On the day of his departure, I arose early in the morning, fed Silek and was just about
to iron Henryk's uniform. There was something in his pocket so I took it out and was stunned: condoms. I confronted Henryk
when he woke up and he said he didn't want me to get pregnant. Of course, we never used them. This was my first great disappointment
in life. And so, he left for another 3 months.
Over the next few months I received letters from Henryk and my family. I informed
Henryk that I was expecting a baby. I don't know what effect this had on him. We hadn't planned to have another child, but
it happened. The three months passed by quickly and Henryk returned. On April 24, 1927, our daughter, Dola, was born.
I was weak for a long time after her birth because Silek was now three and still a rascal and I was always busy with the two children.
Summer arrived and it was nice to be able to get outside to spend time with the children
in the garden. Now that I had an infant, it was hard for me to go anywhere with Henryk, so he would sometimes go out with
his friends without me. Our little Dola grew and looked healthy. We were now thankful that we had her.
In the spring of 1928, Henryk decided to move once again. He volunteered for a transfer to
the army corps at the border. He thought he might get a chance to move back to Wilno province, closer to my parents. Meanwhile,
he was assigned to a base near the city of Rowne in the province of Wolyn. He left alone and we were to follow later.
Two months later he returned for us. It was still cool when we arrived at Zytynia, a
small place near a sugar plant which was inoperative at this time. We rented quarters in a private home - a room and
a kitchen. It was quite cramped but I was pleased that we were all together. Henryk worked as before in the office, leaving
in the morning and returning quite late in the evening, while I spent my days with the children. There was a grocery shop
not too far away so I went there often with the children to shop and we were able to spend some time in the shop's small
garden as well. The shopkeeper's daughter was my age. Her older brother often teased me that the children weren't mine. In
those days there were many cases of couples separating, especially when the husband was in the army. The men were transferred
to new places and started new families.
In the fall, the battalion decide to hold a dance. Henryk was chosen as the organizer
so now he was kept busy making preparations. On the day of the dance, the children were taken care of by one
of the soldiers who worked in Henryk's office. There weren't that many people at the dance. Henryk and I sat down in the hall
but all were strangers to me. Someone came to get Henryk so he left, promising that he would return shortly. I looked around.
A few couples were dancing. A lot of time passed by and I was still alone. Someone asked me to dance but I thanked him
and declined. I was very uncomfortable and wished that I were somewhere else.
I noticed Henryk on the other side of the hall, in the company of a young girl. I got
up and went in their direction. When Henryk noticed me he stepped in front of me but after a while, introduced me
to the girl as his wife. She reacted with surprise and began to lightly cry, saying "I thought you were unmarried." We all
felt awkward and after a moment, Henryk thanked her and we left her standing there. We stayed for a while longer at the hall
then returned home. Henryk explained that the young girl helped with the organization of the dance. She had decorated the
In the spring we moved again, renting a house on the outskirts of town. There was plenty
of space for the children to roam, with two large rooms and a fair sized garden.
In the fall, we decided to visit my family. We invited Mala to come and stay at our house
and mind Dola for us while we took Silek to visit. When we arrived, I discovered that father was ill and the family was in
need. Father was paralyzed and could not walk. It was a very difficult predicament for my mother and she helped him as best
she could. After discussing the matter with Henryk, we agreed that we would ask the army authorities to relocate us to this
area. In the meantime, Silek and I would remain here.
It was hard. The expenses grew but the family did not want for bread. Two months later, Mala
arrived with Dola. I was very happy to see them but Dola had become used to Mala and didn't want to come to me. Luckily, this
did not last long.
After Hela left us in Wroclawek, she met a soldier and had a baby boy. We just learned
of this now. He was three years old, a very nice boy and his grandmother (my mother) loved him very much. It was very crowded
with nine of us in two rooms but there was no other option. The following spring, after the Easter holiday, father began to
feel worse. The illness was taking its toll on him and soon he passed away. Everyone was quite sad.
Henryk arrived a couple of months later, transferred to the Zuzkina Battalion Malaszki
Watch Tower, which was close to the administrative district city of Dzisna, on the river Dzwina. A few days later he reported
to duty and shortly the children, Mala and I went there for a visit with him. We settled in a small village, one-half km.
from the Watch Tower. We remained there until the fall, then moved to the Watch Tower site itself, where half of a large building
had been divided into living quarters for NCOs and their families. We had two rooms, not much space, but we coped.
In the fall, Silek turned seven. We sent him to a school about one-half km. away. He
didn't like going there, possibly because of his blond and curly, pretty long hair. I didn't want to cut it and the children
at school teased him that he looked like a girl.
Mala then met Tadek, a young NCO. Soon they were married and moved into a flat with two
small rooms. Hela also got married and my brother Witek went to live with them as did young Alek. Mother came to live with me and Henryk and our children.
Mala had a baby boy, Jurek, one year later. Following the birth Mala did not
feel well, so mother moved in with her. Now I had to always pick up Silek from school. I later got some help from
a widow who lived near the school with her 16 year-old daughter, Wiera. She was very nice and kind. Often she would bring
Silek from school for me. Eventually I spoke to Henryk and we decided to have Wiera move in with us to help out. She
then took Silek to and from school which made my life much easier.
In the summer we bought a cow. Now we had plenty of milk. Once a week on Sundays, we
gave some to the soldiers at the Watch Tower. In exchange, we received daily food leftovers from the soldiers' kitchen,
which helped us a lot. The cow looked healthy and gave plenty of milk but in the fall, when the weather cooled down, we realized
we had no place to keep her, so we sold her.
Soon Henryk was transferred to the actual Watch Tower in Dzisna, on the River Dzwina,
on the border with Soviet Russia. My mother and Wiera went with us. We also took our cats (one old one and two kittens). We
spent the winter living in a large, old house with lots of room for all of us.
One day mother said to me that we should send Wiera back home because she noticed that
there was something between her and Henryk. I then told Henryk that I could manage by myself but he adamantly insisted
that she was a big help and it would be stupid to let her go. I had no answer for him. I was quite angry but I dropped the
matter as I did not want to get my mother mixed up in this.
A few days later, my brother Witek came by with a friend and talked me into
visiting Hela. I left with them and enjoyed the scenery of the snow covered fields along the way. The winter was
bearable, not too cold. Once there, I told Hela about all of my problems. She urged me to definitely get rid of Wiera. I stayed for
a week and although everything seemed the same at home, I noticed that when the children wanted something, they went to Wiera
to ask permission. This upset me.
Mother added that she had seen Henryk cuddling with Wiera a few times. She agreed that
I should confront Henryk with this. When I did, we had a heated argument. Henryk accused me of not trusting him while I
maintained that it would be best for Wiera to leave our home. Soon after, mother moved back in with Hela, but Wiera was
still with us. There was a lot of tension in the house.
A week or two later, Henryk announced that he was being transferred to the battalion
in Luzki. Wiera left, but although her leaving allowed me to calm down, I still felt disturbed and bitter. One month
later found us in the small town of Luzki. There was a small church, community centre, post office and a couple of shops with
groceries and textiles. The River Muita divided the town into two. We settled in the town's centre, with the batallion across
the river. A lot of soldiers, some officers and NCOs lived there with their families. Mala's husband was likewise transferred
here and we were able to spend more time together as we did not live far apart. Silek and Dola went to school while I stayed
home, cleaning house and making a lot of handcrafts.
One day I had a surprise visitor, Wiera. I was astonished. She told me that she had a
job with the captain who had two children for her to look after. I greeted her as if nothing had happened and she acted as
if she were a good friend.
Mala's son, Jurek, was now three years old and often came to see us. He liked Dola very
much and Dola liked him back. Silek had school friends come to visit him. Hela lived quite far away, about 50 km. Her husband,
Marek, was a watch tower commander at a border post of the Korpus Ochrony (Defence Corps). Still, she came to visit
us quite often. My mother lived with her, while Witek now lived with us. He would often babysit the children when Henryk and
I would go to see a movie. Henryk urged Witek to finish his schooling. In those days, many people did not have the opportunity
to finish high school. Witek agreed and graduated from grade seven, half a year later.
I also joined a drama club. We met at one of the battalion's buildings and rehearsed
for performances which were held two or three times a year in the battalion's club room.
Christmas, 1933, was celebrated at our place with Mala and her family.
Then along came 1934. It was a year to remember. During the first half of the year, everything was great. Henryk and I were
happy, watching the children grow and planning our future. Summer came and we kept busy gardening. The weather was superb.
Henryk took two weeks leave to visit his family in Malopolska. Silek went with him while Dola stayed home with
me. When the two of them returned, they came bearing souvenirs from Gdynia where they had stopped for a few days. They then
related the details of their trip. After that, everything went back to normal.
Dola did not willingly want to learn. Reading was difficult for her. I made a point
to spend more time with her so that school would be easier. School began and already she was asking how much longer she must
learn. Why for so long? She didn't want to go to school anymore. I tried to explain it to her, but it wasn't easy.
One day in August, a dreadful fear fell upon the people of our city. A lot of children
became suddenly ill. The doctor diagnosed diphtheria and scarlet fever. After a couple of days, a few children died. Everybody
isolated their children at home. After a month, twenty children had died. In the fall it became cooler, and there were no
more occurrences of the disease. Everybody breathed a sigh of relief.
The school year started two weeks later. Each day was a bit cooler. It was still early
in the afternoon when I was starting to get dinner ready. There was a knock on the door and Dola entered. She was melancholy
and pale. I asked her why she returned from school so early and she replied that she didn't feel well. I gave her something
to eat but she didn't touch it. She just sat motionless at the table. This puzzled me. I took her temperature and she was
feverish. I put her to bed. She hugged me around the neck and said "Mamusiu, I don't want to die." I nestled her to me and
told her everything would be okay, and I believed this. In the evening, she still had a fever and we called the doctor. He
came by, checked her out, but said nothing about her condition, promising to return the next day. Two days later, the doctor
announced that this was the same illness, diphtheria and scarlet fever. Henryk and I were shocked by the news. From then,
nothing concerned me other than Dola. I sat by her all the time. I didn't want to think the worst. I clung to every hope and
told myself that she would recover. Unfortunately, I did not notice that her condition worsened. She drank a lot but did not
want to eat.
Three weeks later she died, and a part of me died with her. I lost my faith and hope
for a better future. I didn't want anything and I didn't want to see anyone. I forgot that I had an eleven year-old son, a
husband, a mother and a family. For a few days I could not sleep. All I could see when I closed my eyes was Dola. Eventually
I was so tired that I fell asleep but then she appeared in a dream. She sat beside me on the bed and in an ailing,
raspy voice said "Mamo, don't cry." I jumped up from bed not knowing whether it was a dream or reality. It was like this for
quite a while. My spirit was broken.
While Dola was sick, Silek stayed in the room at the far end of the hallway, not venturing
anywhere near his ill sister. His room was pretty drafty and chilly and he caught a cold. He too was unwell for a long time.
The doctor checked him out and diagnosed bronchitis. This scared me and I started to take care of him, making sure that he
ate well. He slowly got better.
Another scare came when Henryk got sick. The doctor said that he just had a cold and
should rest and drink a lot. My family discreetly urged me to be more concerned about my husband and son. I agreed but it
was difficult for me to come to terms with Dola's death and move on.
Two months later Mala gave birth to a baby daughter, Hela. The new parents were delighted.
I gave them my blessings and wished them good health in the upbringing of their child.
Spring was approaching. The days were getting longer and sunny. Henryk and Silek were
feeling well. I became more interested in the house but sometimes, especially when alone, I became reluctant and apathetic. I
discovered that I was pregnant. This time I was indifferent to the prospect of a new baby and did not even want to talk about
Summer brought nice weather. I didn't go anywhere except to Mala's. Little Hela did not
look healthy. She had a stomach problem.
My mind was distracted and I often took off to be alone. Mother was with us and helped
to get meals ready because I couldn't get my act together enough to get interested in anything.
Winter came, bringing once again, the short days and long nights. I would often
sit with my mother next to the stove, the two of us warming our feet. In January, 1936, the time came when I was due.
Near midnight Henryk brought a midwife but time passed and nothing happened. So they brought a doctor who checked me out and
explained that the birth would have to be assisted by forceps. Two hours later, on the 26th of January, 1936, our baby
girl, Wita Miroslaw (Mira), was born. I was exhausted and weak and spent three weeks in bed because I had been hemorrhaging.
The baby though, was big and healthy. When I would wake up, I could hear her crying. I stopped feeling sorry for myself
and started to get interested in the baby. I spent more time with both the baby and Silek, who, following a doctor's
check-up, was pronounced fully fit once again.
Summer came like never before, hot and humid. We lived upstairs and the flat was very
hot during the day. Every afternoon I placed Mira in the carriage in the hallway where it was cooler. After a couple
of months of this weather, the heat ceased and the air became very pleasant. Mala and Hela and I would spend lots of time
together. A cool, windy fall arrived and one day, when she was seven months old, I noticed that Mira wasn't feeling well.
I always breast-fed her but she wasn't hungry. She was feverish, so I called the doctor who diagnosed a cold, nothing serious.
A couple of days went by but she seemed to be getting worse. The doctor said that it doesn't look good because her lungs were
infected. He recommended that I take her to the Wilno children's clinic which was 300 km. away. With no time to lose, we were
on the train and at the clinic in a few hours. Henryk returned home while I remained with Mira in Wilno. The doctors
there were not too concerned until when, a couple of days later, Mira began to cough. They then diagnosed whooping cough and
wanted her out of the hospital as there were many children and whooping cough was very contagious.
During this time, an acquaintance from our town visited me and I decided to return home.
We left on the night train were home by morning. After one or two days Mira stopped coughing. I was not sure if she actually
had whooping cough, or the change of scenery had cured her illness. Mira's health returned quickly.
Soon enough, Mira turned one and Hela turned two. When they played together Mira, even
though she was younger, was the dominant one. Silek finished grade school and in the fall we took him to Dzisna to a boarding
school to attend middle school. It was difficult for me to leave him there but there was no other alternative.
The following year, the political climate in the country had changed. There was discontent.
Young people came from the centre of the country looking for work or for money. Where we were, near the Soviet border, the
situation was calm and you couldn't feel the disturbance in the country, but it was easy to notice a change in attitude towards
the Jews. Some people blamed them for what was happening.
Another year passed by and when Silek came home on vacation, we went for a two-week holiday
to Rohatyn in Malopolska, where Henryk had family. It was my first trip there and thankfully, Mira was two years old
now so it was easier to travel. Henryk's father, sister, stepbrother and a couple of cousins lived in the area.
Eventually the tension in the country became obvious, impossible to ignore. Everywhere
people were dissatisfied and many foresaw the coming of war. The army laughed it off and joked about it, sure that nothing
would happen. Sometimes I would discuss my fears with Henryk but he would calm me down. Silek started his third
year in middle school.
On September 1, 1939, the news shook everyone. The Germans crossed the border from the
west, south and north and were on Polish soil. The army in our area continued to remain calm, saying that nothing would come
of this. I however, was frightened and dreaded what might come.
Some 2 weeks later, Mala dropped by one morning, surprised that we hadn't heard the latest
news. Henryk was still in bed. The Bolsheviks have entered Poland will be here in a few hours. Henryk did not want to
believe this. Because we had no phone, he quickly got dressed and bicycled to headquarters. Soon after he returned but said
nothing. He was pale. He took Mira by the hand and looked at her. I didn't ask any questions because my sister had already told
me that his battalion would be leaving Luzki and heading for the Latvian border, the shortest route out of the country.
Farewells were short and difficult. To the end, Henryk held onto Mira, looking at her in order to remember the image
of her face. Once he left I continued to be frightened and I couldn't get myself together. I sat down and cried. By afternoon,
the Soviet army was in town. They went through town, then continued further on. We stood in front of the house watching. They
did not bother us. The endless stream of troops, tanks and artillery, marched and drove quietly past us.
Before evening, a unit of the Soviet army had settled down in our town for the night.
Our house was taken over by them, except for one room which was left for me and the children. The soldiers slept
on the floor, side by side. The next day they left and moved on, leaving a detachment behind in town. These soldiers also
took over rooms in private homes. Mala and Hela moved in with us, and we shared one bedroom and a kitchen. The other
half of the house was occupied by two members of the State Security Police, the dreaded NKWD.
After a week or two, Silek returned from school. He had walked home, although sometimes
he got a ride part of the way. The school had been closed. We received news from a courier for our army, that our men
had made it across to Latvia.
A month later my sister, Hela, returned from the border region. It was then that we learned
of the death of her husband, Marek. He had been killed a few hours after the invasion, while firing at the Soviets from his
position in the watch tower. We convinced Hela to stay with us. It would be better if we stuck together. She returned
home to get her three children then moved nearby about a week later, into the attic of our landlord's second property. During
this time, our NKWD boarder's wife arrived to join him. We were ordered to leave and our landlord helped us out again. We
moved into the attic with Hela and her children and our mother also joined us. My brother was no longer around as he
had been away in the army for the past year already.
We lived through the winter and spring. We did not know what to do. Our neighbours, in
particular one Jew, who had a drug store in which we shopped for many years, urged us to get at least 50 km. away. This
wasn't easy because in which direction and where would we go?
During the first half of April, the news hit us like a thunderbolt. The Soviet authorities
were taking the families of soldiers and transporting them somewhere. I received a letter from Henryk. He had been working
on a farm, in the fields, and was now in a camp. He thought that we should be able to meet up soon. I had his address. My
sister also received a letter from her husband. The contents were the same. What was there to write? Everyone knew what the
In the early morning of April 13, 1940, our landlord dropped in to us in the attic and
told us that they were already taking Mala, then he left right away. Not even half an hour had passed when we heard footsteps
on the stairs and knocking at the door. When they opened the door they asked for Dobrowlanska. I replied that it was me. Then
they read out Silek and Mira's names. I stood like a statue and could not say a word. Hela asked if she was on the list. The
NKWD officer checked over the list and said, no. She cried and said she wanted to go with us. I was still standing motionless.
A moment later the NKWD officer approached me and told me to get what items we would need together, then he started to
After an hour, we left and climbed into a horse-drawn wagon. The weather was miserable.
Wet snow was falling. I saw a whole team of wagons filled with people. We started to move, not knowing where to. The trip
lasted about two hours. Finally, we stopped at the train station in Podswile. The train was already on the track and soldiers
were loading people into the boxcars. I had a suitcase and a large, woven basket. The officer who was transporting me
asked what was in the basket. I looked at him but could not respond. He turned to the soldiers and told them to take
the basket to the boxcar because these were things for the children. In a moment, we were in the boxcar with fifty other
The train stood at the station all day. It only started to move out in the late afternoon
but again, we did not know where to. Mira had a good bed on the basket but she started to cry and pleaded to be taken home
to her cot. The passengers, mostly women with children, seeing her, also started to cry. Everyone was downcast and wondered
what tomorrow would bring.
The conditions in the boxcar were terrible. On both sides, in tiers, were plank beds.
Those who couldn't fit on them, laid on the floor. On one side where the doors were, they had hung three blankets, and this
was the toilet. The train stopped only at night and then the soldiers would throw open the doors and call out for two people
to fetch hot water. This is how we travelled. It was hard to come to terms with our situation. In order to count how many
days we had been travelling, those who went out at night to fetch hot water, figured out that we were heading northeast. Someone
said that we had already past Witebsk and Minsk. Three days had passed. No one told us where they were taking us.
It was night when the train stopped at a station. The soldiers opened the boxcar doors
and again took two people to get hot water. They also gave us some dry provisions, salty, dried fish. After eating this everyone
was very thirsty but we had to be careful with the water so as to not use too much. The train sat at the station longer than
usual. The windows in the boxcar were locked and we could only see what was happening outside through small slits. A train,
similar to ours, also stood on the tracks next to us for a long while. There were Poles on that train and they started to
talk to us. They figured that we were being taken to Siberia and that we were not far from the Ural mountains.
The next day, the doors of the boxcar were opened wide and several NKWD officers entered
the car and confirmed that the air inside was unbearable. The train started to move shortly after but this time, they lifted
the door and raised the windows a bit. Many of us came to look out into the world. It was well after midnight and dawn
was already making it's daily appearance. We saw the outline of the horizon climbing. Two hours later, we were in
the mountains. Even though everyone was miserable and unsure of the future, we were awed by nature's beauty. The train travelled
slowly so that everyone, as much as possible, approached the doors or windows to gaze upon the scenery. The next stop was
early in the morning. When the train stopped, we noticed that the security was not as strict.
The next week, our more difficult journey began. In the middle of the week, the train
stopped. All the doors in all the boxcars were thrown wide open. The soldiers went to each car and shouted "dawaj wygruzajsia."
We were to get off. Each of us gathered our meagre belongings, holding on to whatever we had and our families. This time they
took us to the River Iztysz and loaded us onto three, huge, open barges. We found out that this city was Pawlodar and
we were in southern Kazachstan. While sitting on the gangway, we noticed something moving on the dock as if it were a live
rope. We took a closer look and realized that they were lice. Everyone was careful not to get to close. To get rid of them
we used whatever we had - salt, pepper. Someone had coal oil, which worked the best.
It took three days for the barge to to arrive at the shore of some settlement. We learned
that it was Siemijarsk, a regional town. All the huts were identical - without roofs. This gave an unappealing impression.
There were many buses being loaded with people and driven somewhere farther on. My sister and I agreed that we would go together.
By the time we got on a bus, it was already well into the afternoon. This time we were told where we were being sent, to the
Baszkul kolkhoz (a Russian - Soviet - collective farm). There were fourteen army families in our group, consisting
of mothers and their children. There was only one couple among us. Before evening we were in Baszkul - a small kolkhoz with
several roofless huts. At the far end of the village there was one house, a normal house of the kind you see everywhere else,
with a foundation and a roof. They told us to get off. We asked where should we go next as we were standing on the road in
front of a large building. A soldier called over an NKWD officer who explained that this is where we were going to live and
manage by ourselves, then he left. The villagers came to have a look at us. Some of them knew a little Russian but the rest
of the Kazakhs spoke only their own tongue. One of them urged us to find living quarters with the villagers, explaining that
we could probably occupy a part of someone's home. Slowly, we all calmed down and went in the direction of the homes, asking
at each one if there was any room for us. My sister and I were lucky. We got a large room in the hut of a widow, who
had but one child. We gave her one bedsheet as payment for one month's rent.
A couple of days later, we were summoned to the kolkhoz administration office. The Kazakh
NKWD officers had slanted eyes. They wrote down our names and our interviewer asked each family, privately, how
we were feeling and if we were satisfied.
Because two of us Poles knew the Russian language, we became translators. I did most
of the work because the other woman was very nervous and preferred to stay quiet. The NKWD read us a set of rules. We were
not allowed to go more than three kilometers away from the kolkhoz and we were to report to the office once every three days.
Our landlady was very friendly towards us and related how it had been on this kolkhoz
before the war and what fate the settlers had met. In this village, there were a few Russians, a veterinarian with his
wife, a single doctor, and in the dairy where the kolkhozi brought milk, a Russian with his wife and young daughter. We dropped by the dairy frequently to chat and to try to find out any kind of useful information.
They told us that we should buy wheat and keep it hidden because in the following year, if the harvest was poor, no one would
sell us even a single grain - so we did this. The summer passed and we regularly reported to the office.
In spite of our travel restriction, news still managed to reach us. We learned that in
the neighbouring kolkhoz, a woman complained to the NKWD that she had nothing to feed her two children and was lacking everything.
Two days later, she and her children were taken from the kolkhoz, and no one knew where to. We suspected that the children
were taken to a "dzietdomu" (orpahanage), and the mother was taken elsewhere to work (more difficult work,
for sure). This taught us a valuable lesson and any time the NKWD asked us if we were satisfied, we answered yes.
An inspector came to the dairy. He was the director from Pawlodar, a butter specialist.
The Russian who worked at the dairy had asked for help as his wife and daughter went to stay with relatives. The inspector
was a Tatar, and asked me how I was doing and how I was managing. I said that everything was good. He looked at me, smiled
and asked if I would like to work in the dairy. Willingly, I accepted and thanked him. From that day forward I was was at
the dairy every day. The dairyman taught me how to test the fat percentage of the milk. After the milk was emptied, I cleaned
the equipment. I was allowed to take home a pail of milk from the separator. This helped us a great deal.
When we first arrived at the kolkhoz, Mala and I wrote letters to our husbands advising
them of our address at this settlement. Two months at the kolkhoz passed by. Each of us muddled through this difficult situation
as best we could. One day we all went to report to the office, as usual. Once everyone had spoken with the NKWD, we were allowed
to leave, but first, the kolkhoz predsiedatiel came out of another room and handed us some mail. It was a pleasant
surprise. Mala and I received letters from our husbands and also from our sister Hela. Back at the hut, we sat down and read
the letters. Henryk wrote that he misses us very much and expects to be able to come see us soon. That's what they told him.
This worried me because I knew that they would never allow us to reunite. I was surprised that he would even think like this.
The next day, I sent him a reply, pleading with him and trying to make him understand that he should go further west. I don't
know if he understood this. I never found out. Two weeks later, I received a letter from Henryk and he wrote the same things.
Two months later, we all went through a bad experience when one of us, who had two children,
was robbed at night. The thieves took everything except the bedding on which they were sleeping and the clothes they had on.
Everyone got together, and even though we had very little, we wanted to help. Because my sister and I, you could say, had
it better than most, we took them in. Now there were nine people in one room. Luckily, it was a large room with its own entrance,
in one of the old pre-war house.
In the fall the Kolkhozi went into the forest to collect firewood. I, Mala, Silek, and
our boarder joined them. The trip was very difficult. We rode in sleighs, pulled by oxen, because snow had already fallen.
With difficulty, we returned with the wood, now having a sufficient supply for the coming winter. It was stacked in a cellar
under the floor where we were sure no one would steal it.
Before the end of the year, I received two letters from Henryk in which he always wrote
that we will meet soon. In the dairy, there was no work because in winter there was less milk, but the dairyman told me that
if I came twice a week, I will always get something. The evenings were long and so the dairyman and I would sit and he
told me what became of the settlers here before the war. They were very wealthy people, with herds of horses and cows
and they grew oats. When the Russians (Soviets) came into power, they started to level out the wealth. Here, there
was no way to accomplish this so they took over. The men were carted out into the forests, given axes and told to manage on
their own. Naturally, almost all of them died but a couple survived and from them came the story. The women were sent to the
kolkhozes and the children to orphanages. The families were destroyed.
The doctor often came by in the evening to chat. He also knew the circumstances of our
boarder and gave her a job as a medical receptionist. There were no supplies in his clinic save for some Aspirin, castor
oil and iodine, but since the climate was splendid, no one was seriously ill.
Because we had bought a lot of wheat, we felt no shortages, being able to bake our own
bread. But, we didn't have everything we wanted. A piece of bread and soup was our daily meal. Besides this, we had the milk
which I brought from the dairy twice weekly. We did not go hungry. I spent long hours at the dairy in the evenings.
Sometimes, the dairyman turned the lights off so no one would come by and this is how I became closer to him. He was very
good to me.
No one could make any plans for the future. We just lived one day at a time. Spring was
nearing and in the kolkhoz, the people started cleaning up everywhere in anticipation of the approaching season.
Our landlords gave us notice to move. We had to look for another place. The doctor let
one room to our former boarder and she moved in with her two children. This made it easier on us because our supplies were
dwindling. We were able to move in to a house very close to the dairy. By April, 1941, our supplies were running short. We
also lacked salt. We got a piece of rock salt, used as a salt lick for cattle, but this helped us out.
One day Silek came to me and said that the dairyman wanted to see me right away. I went
and met the director of the dairy, from Oblasci. He asked me if I wanted to continue working here. If so, I would have to
go to the regional centre to take a preparatory course for the coming season. Because we had many sheep, they wanted to make
ewes' cheese, (bryndza). I consented and two days later I was on the road. There were two others with me from the
same kolkhoz. The course lasted two weeks and I returned to the kolkhoz with good marks and a certificate. The trip back was
difficult as the snow had melted very quickly and we were worried about flodding. We rushed and made it back safely. From
this time forward, I was an employee of the dairy. A couple of weeks later, the ewes' milk began to come in and this
became my job. I was a bit worried that Imight not be able to manage it but the dairyman had confidence in
me and this lifted my spirits. Everyday, I was able to bring home a pail of skim milk with a big piece of cheese
at the bottom. My family now felt better, stronger, healthier. Often, I brought home some cream in a canteen, also hidden
at the bottom of the pail. A few times, I had given the pail of milk to another mother with two chldren. This helped her a
One day, as usual, one of my countrywomen came and got a pail of milk with a big piece
of cheese at the bottom. She left by the side doors and when she was close to her home, noticed that the veterinarians's wife,
who had an animosity towards Poles, was watching her and slowly started to follow her. The girl was clever and quickly
turned the other way, in the direction of my home. In the afternoon, she came to see us and told us that she had been summoned
to the Sielsowietu and asked what she had taken from the dairy. She anwered that I was very busy and took my
milk home for me. The next day, the director form the butter plant arrived at our home. I was alone. He sat down and asked
how things were going at work. I offered him cream and cheese. He looked at me, smiled and ate. After a while, he told me
that it was reported to the Sielsowietu that I was taking too much from the dairy and what did I have to say about
it. I repeated the countrywoman's story. He stayed a bit longer then said he would take care of the matter with the predsiedatielem
and not to worry. From this time on, I was very careful, making sure that I treated the officials when they came by.
Summer came and I ran into a problem with the ewes' cheese. When I calculated the amount
of cheese that we produced, it was more than the dairy butter plant calculated that I should get from the milk production.
This too was not good, so we kept the excess and ate it ourselves.
One morning when my sister and I returned from work, we heard singing coming from inside
the house. It was Silek singing to himself. He had a good voice and we stood listening and crying on the corner near the house. When
he finished, we went inside and asked him to sing some more, but he no longer wanted to.
Finally the dairy season ended and there was no more work. The director came and offered
me an office job in the neighbouring kolkhoz. Mala however chose a different kolkhoz. She took Silek with her, while
Mira followed me. It was a small village and the residents were Russians. One day we were summoned to the office where it
was announced that all deportees are free to leave. This was the amnesty granted to the Poles shortly after the German invasion
of the Soviet Union. I started to work in the office at the butter plant. This was where all the cream from the surrounding
kolkhozes came to be made into butter. This product was then shipped to the main butter plant in Pawlodar. My job was easy
because I helped the bookkeeper who taught me what I needed to know. He was middle-aged and had been an officer
in the Czar's army. Because his lungs were afflicted, he had an easy job. He calculated perfectly on the abacus. He was so
fast that it was hard to see his fingers hit the keys. He showed me how to do it but whenever I tried to add up some
figures he would leave the office. I did get better at it after a while, nevertheless he still had to leave the office as
he couldn't stand to watch me count so slowly.
In the fall, Silek returned to me. He said that my sister preferred that he be with me.
Two weeks later my sister confided in me that she was not happy in the other village, so we talked and concluded that she
would join us. We lived in an old, pre-war house and the six of us occupied a room on the side. The first room you entered
in the house was occupied by a woman, her mother and three children. They were very poor. I don't know why they were
brought here from their homeland. Mala and the woman went to work in the butter plant. They washed the equipment in which
the butter was made. The cauldrons were huge. Before washing, we would scrape and collect the butter that remained inside
and take this home at the end of the day. This ensured that we had sufficient fat in our diets.
Firewood was easier to get here. There were forests all around and they were larger.
Because it was alreay winter (1941-42), we decided not to leave but just to change our kolkhoz. The bookkeeper helped us out
in this respect. He was transferred to another kolkhoz and indicated that he would need a helper. As a result we followed
him to the large Ramodan kolkhoz. Again, all the residents were Russian. We lived in a large room at a woman's residence.
I went to work at the office, but here the job had nothing to do with a butter plant. Mala exchanged various articles
of clothing, mostly lingerie, linens and towels, for food staples and we continued to struggle on.
It was mid-winter when we made the decision to head south to seek the Polish army
as soon as conditions for travel improved. During this time, Mala received a letter from Tadek. He informed us that Henryk
had died in a hospital near Moscow. He had an operation but grew weaker and could not hang on. The authorities
refused permission for Tadek to see him.
Mala suggested that we go to our original kolkhoz to tell the Poles there that they were
free to leave. There wasn't a lot of snow and it it wasn't too cold, so we set out on foot. The trip went well and we arrived
in Bigelniu after a day of travel. We told our fellow Poles the news of the amnesty but they reacted apathetically. We reminded
them that they needed clothes and money, to no avail. The next day, we left to return to our kolkhoz.
The first half of the trip went well but a snowstorm, with strong winds, overtook us
suddenly. You couldn't see two steps in front of you. We kept to the road and trudged through the snow. I became very tired.
At first I froze but then strangely became warm and a desire to sleep came upon me. I stopped and told Mala that we should
rest but she cried that we have to keep going and started to push me and even slapped me in the face. I became very angry.
I didn't feel like sleeping anymore and we continued onward. She was continuously pushing me forward. Our return trip was
brutal. Finally, we saw the lights of a village. We made it to the first hut and asked if we could rest. They let us
in and I sat down, not feeling a thing. Mala cried and nestled up to me saying that she had been afraid that I could have
fallen on the road and disappeared. She had heard wolves. Early the next morning, we continued on to our kolkhoz. After we
arrived, Mala kissed me and apologized for being so mean to me. She had been extremely scared because she could tell that
I was weakening and if I had sat down on the road to rest or sleep, she would not have been able to pick me up and that would
have been the end of me.
The end of winter was near so we decided that it was time to head south. On March 19,
1942, we left the kolkhoz for good. Mira, Hela and Jurek rode in the sleigh while Mala, Silek and I walked behind. The wagoner
(a woman, who was also our guide) walked with the horse up front. The road was very rough. There was lots of snow and
it was still very cold. We travelled in the direction of Siemipolatynsk where we were to meet up with Mala's husband. It was
already getting dark when we reached the forest. Our wagoner said that just up ahead, there was a forest ranger's cabin
where we could stay overnight. As we headed into the forest it became completely dark. Our wagoner knew the area and
led the horse by the bridle in the direction of the cabin. Mira started calling for me and so then did Jurek. We heard
strange sounds in the distance but we did not know what they were. Fifteen minutes later, we heard the sounds again.
The horse began to snort and did not want to go any further. The wagoner told us that there was great danger as those were
wolves howling. A few minutes later, we saw a light. The wolves were all around us and were getting closer. We expected
to perish but the forest ranger's cabin came into view. She pulled the horse by its bridle while we pushed the sleigh from
behind. We came to the gate, which was locked. A dog was barking. The wolves had stopped their advance but waited nearby.
A man came out of the house and aksed "Who's there? What kind of people are you?" Our wagoner answered but the man wasn't
satisfied and asked who was with her, then said we should leave. She pleaded for him to let us in for the night, but
he refused. Because I knew the Russian language and understood what they were saying, I spoke up and pleaded with the man,
that if he has any compassion towards children, he should let us in until morning. Then a woman came out and started yelling
"What do you want here? Go away!" I became very angry and in my despair I started to scream and cried that the wolves will
destroy us and our children and "If you don't help us I wish the same fate to befall you and your children!" Then there was
silence. After a few moments, the man opened the gates and let us in. We were rescued. Quickly, Mala and I laid out bedding
on the floor and we all fell asleep. The following morning the owners of the cabin watched us get ready to leave. I told them
that we were very grateful for their help and asked how much we owed them for the night. The man said nothing and brought
us hot water for tea. He felt ashamed. An hour later we left for the next kolkhoz, 50 kilometers away.
The day was beautiful, the sun shone and we were once again on our way through the forest.
We all felt good. The early spring flowers were peeking through the snow. Our wagoner said that we would have to hire a different
wagon at the next kolkhoz as she would not take us further. She wanted to return home before nightfall because in a day or
two, the spring thaw will be starting and the roads will turn to mud. The kolkhoz we arrived at was huge. The residents were
Russian and there was an orderliness around there houses thanks to the vegetable gardens and fruit trees. Our wagoner helped
us find a wagon driver to take us to Siempalatynsk. From there we would go by train. We said goodbye to our guide and left
with our new wagoner within the hour, reaching the city before evening. We found a room to rent and finally, could properly
rest after our tiring trip.
The next day, Mala and I went to the Polish outpost to register for departure from the
Soviet Union. We waited in a queue and when it was our turn, we were summoned into an office. The workers called the man,
Mr Lieutenant, and he wanted to know where we came from and where wanted to go. Mala said her husband was with the army in
Dzalalabad. He was satisfied with that and she left the room. I said that my husband died while in the army and the lieutenant
replied that I should not go to the army camp as I have no one there. I pointed out that I have a seventeen year-old son and
an eight year-old daughter. He thought about this for a while then declared that my son could join the army as a volunteer,
but it would be better for me and my daughter to remain in a kolkhoz. I left the office. I must not have looked particularly
well because Mala immediately asked what had happened. I told her and started to cry. I added that I did not want to return
to the office. It would be best if I returned to the kolkhoz. This day was very sad for us but Mala insisted that I cannot
return to the kolkhoz. The next day, she urged me to return to the outpost and plead my case. Silek went with us this time.
The result of the conversation with the lieutenant was similar to that of the previous day except that they enrolled
Silek into the army. Two days later Tadek arrived and, when he learned of my difficulties in trying to leave, went directly
to the outpost and made the necessary arrangements. I had a ticket to Dzalalabad! We spent our remaining week preparing
for the next leg of our journey. We had to leave a lot of things behind, including all the books. It pained me to do this
but we had to, in order to make the trip easier.
Finally, we left on the train. There was a fair amount of room even though there were
Russian troops on board. Two days later, we were detained in Tashkent, spending the night there outdoors. It was warm, so
no one complained.
After arriving in Dzalalabad, we again spent two days outside before finding a place
to stay. It was a small, detached house with only two rooms in the middle of a garden. There was a large house in front where
the owner lived. The girls here had long, black hair with many small braids. The town was set up wth a network of small canals.
Soon we learned the purpose of these canals. Rainwater would collect in the them as it fell and once it stopped raining,
the area would immediately dry up.
There was a small pond in the garden. There was also an assortment of tortoises, large
and small. The children sat and rode on them. One morning, I heard a shriek outside and ran out to investigate. Mira had fallen
into the pond and was choking. I pulled her out and from that day forward, did not allow her to go near the water.
After a couple of days, I went to visit Silek at his army camp. A number of boys
gathered around and I noticed that some called him Siwek (grey-haired) or Sitek (a small sieve). This did not please
me at all, so from that time forward I began to call him Slawek, a more common name, and this got rid of the confusion.
Next, Mala and I left for the battalion headquarters to look for Tadek. When we arrived,
I saw a lot of army people which I had known from Luzki, but I was disappointed as they pretended not to know me. I didn't
bother to make a fuss but I did feel bitter and disgusted.
We were on the list for departure. In August (1942) Mala left first. A few days later,
Mira and I got on the train to leave. Army officials confirmed the names of the passengers aboard and we were off. Another
army official singled me out and gave me a job. I was to hand out provisions to the 50 passengers in our car.
The train arrived at the Caspian Sea and we got off right by the shore, which was very sandy
and the water was polluted. We were reunited with Mala. The Soviets asked us to place all of our possesions on the ground
then their inspectors searched each family separately. When they came to us, they asked what we had. Mala and I told him then
handed him cash, in rubles, so they would leave us alone. A lot of people lost their linens, comforters and lots of clothes,
which were burned. Following the inspection, we were loaded onto a freighter. Many people became sick to their stomachs on
the trip across the sea. There were no proper toilets, just a makeshift one at the end of the deck - some boards temporarily
nailed together with large gaps between. It was difficult to get to this toilet because there was a line-up across the entire
deck. People laid on deck, suffering terribly. Before nightfall, the ship raised anchor and we sailed away, travelling
all night. In the morning we reached the shores of Persia (Iran) at the port of Pahlevi.
As soon as we reached shore, we were taken to a wash house and given fresh clothing.
Our old clothing was taken away from us. They kept us in a tent camp separate from the local population. The tents were huge,
one accomodated 100 people. I was chosen as the commander of our tent. This was a lot of work because I had to prepare dry
provisions and meals for everyone in the tent. I had a lot of help but it was still tiring. I learned that Mala had already
left for another camp in Teheran.
Three weeks later, Mira and I left with a transport going to Teheran. We travelled in
a huge automobile, going through the mountains, up and down. Along the way, we stopped and got out to stretch our legs. The
locals had a booth by the side of the road and were selling fruit. I bought some grapes from them and Mira ate and ate and
couldn't get enough of them. This is when her stomach trouble started. Later on, I let her out of the car and ran with her.
This helped to settle down her stomach. Further on, she asked for more grapes but I wouldn't give her any. We arrived in Teheran
before nightfall. Here there was another large tent camp. When everyone had found a spot and settled in, a small commission
went through camp, checking the list of people present. They asked to see the commander of our tent but no one answered.
They asked for a volunteer but again no one answered. So the chief said "then no one will get provisions" and left.
As soon as we arrived in Teheran, I began to feel poorly. I drank, but I could not eat.
I noticed that I was entirely yellow. The woman beside me said it was jaundice. The next day brought no improvement.
I went with some of the women to the camp office. A number of the women had
received money and I wanted some too. I gave my name to the army clerk, who then asked me my husband's name. He looked at
me and left. After a while, I was called to a table. The same clerk handed me a verification certificate and a bit of
cash. He told me that I would be receiving a payment each month for myself and my daughter.
I had received no news from Slawek. This worried me very much. My health did not improve
either. I though about Mira. What would happen to her if I were no longer around? By this time, they were getting a transport
ready for the next port. Mira was very quick and went with the women to get provisions and clothing. She was small and
the line-up was long but she wanted to exchange her sandals for a smaller pair as the ones she was wearing were too big for
her, so she crawled to the front of the line. Those who were handing out the clothing and footwear noticed her and called
out to her. She went to them and declared that her sandals were too big. They gave her the proper size and let her keep the
larger ones too. She felt quite pleased that she was so independent.
Our tent did get provisions after all. Included in everyone's share was one raw
egg. Mira took her egg and went soemwhere to cook it but there was a long queue to use the stove. So she buried
the egg in the sand in a sunny place and went off to play with the other children. Just a few minutes later, because it was
so hot in the sun, the egg had cooked in the sand and was just right for eating.
Army representatives came by the tent to register people for departure. A few of the women
in our tent registered me and Mira. I told them that I was quite ill and didn't know if I could go. They urged me
to leave and said they would help. I could lie down but once the medical commission came along, I was to sit up and act healthy.
When we were finally being loaded onto the train, they kept me in the middle among them so I wouldn't be spotted. This helped
for sure. Once on the train, they gave me a place to rest. They went to keep watch outside and a few moments later they entered
the car quickly and told me to sit up because the medical commission was on its way. I did this and the female doctor walked
through the train with her assistants, watching out for anyone who might be ill. She didn't look too closely and soon left
the car. I lay down again.
We left Teheran and were on our way to the port of Achwar. We travelled overnight and
the next day we looked out at the countryside, which appeared very poor. Whenever the train stopped, the locals ran up
to the train, begging for a piece of bread. Two days later, I felt better and asked my protectors for a piece of bread. They
were very happy to oblige and I ate it hungrily. By the third day, I felt almost normal and we arrived at Achwar that
afternoon. We met Mala once again. Mala's daughter, Hela, had an eye infection and was very weak, but her son Jurek looked
well as did Mira.
Mala was on the list for the next departure and we decided this time not to be separated.
We went to the army office to add me to the list but they told us that the transport
list had already been finalized and we could meet up again at the next port. Mala decided to skip this transport
so that we could leave together later and so, we returned to camp. A couple of hours later we were summoned to the office
again. Two spots had become available on this transport, so we were able to leave together after all. The next day,
we were on the deck of our ship. Our two families found a nook together, below deck, and we were very comfortable. We
did not know where we were headed though but it did not matter. The next day we came up on deck. It was a pleasant, sunny
day. I felt very good but I was still jaundiced. In the evening, we were asked to go below. The doors to each section
were locked, all lights extinguished, and there was total silence on the ship. In the morning, everything returned to
normal. We learned that our ship was part of a convoy, surrounded by other ships, and that we had been navigating through
a dangerous area, laden with mines.
Two days later the ship docked in an Indian port near Bombay. Buses were already waiting
for us and in an hour we were on the road to a new location. The trip was short. We were now in a transient tent camp near
Karachi. Again, the tents were huge and many people were continually being transported in and out.
Mira and Jurek got sick and had swollen throats (the mumps). They weren't able to
swallow anything so they were taken to a hospital in Karachi. This delayed the next leg of our journey. Two weeks later,
the children returned to health but they were stiil kept in the hospital. Mala and I started to sew for extra cash. Quite
a few people needed clothing repairs or alterations so we kept busy. We met a couple for whom we did some work and we got
along. When the children returned from hospital a few weeks later, our new acquaintances suggested that we all leave on the
One day, Mala and I took some sewing to our clients. When we returned, Mira ran out to
greet us with some good news. She had received a large present from an army man. She had gone to the store and looked all
around at the goods that were available to buy. The army man picked out some of the best fruit and gave it to her. Because
it was heavy, he even carried it for her to the tent. We were surprised by his generosity but also very happy as the fruit
Food was not allowed in the tents. Later, we learned why. In the night, hyenas came into
camp and if there was any food, they would find it, not hesitating to go into the tents to get it.
It was time to depart once again and we registered for the same transport as our new
friends. We waited for about a week, then were given some clothing and footwear. We waited another week and eventually
the time came. We boarded the ship and set sail. We were quite comfortable on this ship and the children were glad for
One day was set aside for rest and laundry. We dried our clothes nearby then later folded
each article individually, placing them under the bed sheets until the next day. In this way, everything looked
as if it had been ironed. Up on deck, there were many children so our young ones were easily able to make friends.
One afternoon Mira, who was now six years old, came and told me that a British army
man had taken her to a room full of people. They said something to her but she did not understand. After a while, she realized
that they wanted her to sing. At the camp, she had learned a few short songs, so now she sang them for her new audience.
They were very pleased and from that point on, she would sing for them now and then. They were delighted when Mira was able
to say a few words in English.
Mala and I went up on deck every day. We met a few Polish people and spent time
with them. It was difficult to communicate with the English people on board, including the crew. We could only smile
at them and they would smile back. We even lacked the words to say thank you for the meal in the dining room. We bought
an English-Polish dictionary and taught ourselves. Soon one day, we were on deck, dictionaries in hand, and we put together
a few sentences which we could use every day. An older officer approached us and said something, repeatedly pointing a finger
at his ear. We understood this much, that listening is the best teacher. He spent a long time teaching us, but it didn't help
Soon we arrived at the coast of Africa, the port of Mombasa, Kenya. We were transferred
to a train that was waiting for us. While waiting for departure, we looked out the window of the car and noticed that some
people from the ship were walking down the length of our train, looking in each window. They approached our car and one of
them noticed Mira and smiled at her. She approached the window, he took her hand and said something. He appeared very
concerned. Then he took some money out of his pocket and handed it to her. Mira looked back to me and asked if she could take
it. The man bowed to me and spoke. I understood a bit, he asked if he could give her some money. I nodded. He stood at the
window for a long time, talking to Mira. Finally, the train whistle blew, signalling our departure.
The train passed by large villas which looked like they were drowning in greenery,
trees and flowers. We soon left the port city, travelling very slowly. The weather was incredible. On both sides of the rails
you could see animals of all kinds. Giraffes stood not far away from the train tracks, but did not appear frightened. We were
all at the windows, awed by the animals and the wilderness. You could see far into the blossoming expanse. Sometimes, we saw
black people. They didn't appeal to us because when they saw us they started yelling and jumping all around.
After three days of travelling like this, the train stopped and we got off. Large
trucks came and started taking some of the people away. I stayed with Mala until our turn came. We rode through the plains
and forests until we arrived at a settlement. We saw huts covered with sugar cane which stood in rows, creating streets. We
were directed to one of these huts. Mira and I and Mala with her two children, occupied one half. The centre was designated
as a dining room while the other half was occupied by another family (a husband and wife with three children).
Mala and I started to prepare our living area. The hut already contained a stove and
beds with netting, because the mosquitos bit terribly. We put our suitcases in the corner and that was everything. A shed
had been built behind the house, the roof and the upper walls were covered with cane. There were no doors. There was a brick stove
and a bit further away was a very primitive toilet with a roof and walls. In the middle of this "outhouse" was a board,
raised above the floor over an opening in the ground. For water, each section of buildings had a tap and a walled shower stall.
We received weekly provisions, dried milk powder and some meat which we prepared immediately so that it wouldn't spoil.
Shortly after we arrived, I got a letter from Slawek, who found us through the Red Cross.
I wrote back to him right away as he was very worried, not having received any news from us for a very long time.
He had heard that a ship had been sunk so he dreaded that this might have been our fate.
We started to tour our settlement. It was called Koja, on the shores of Lake Victoria
in Uganda. We went for a walk to the lake. The weather was splendid, the water warm. We walked along the lakeshore admiring
the rocks in the water, grey-coloured in the sunlight. I stood on one rock then hopped to another. It seemed to me that the
rock moved. A man approached and told me to get back to shore. He touched the rock and assured us that it wasn't a rock
at all but a young crocodile, sunning itself. He explained that it was dangerous to go in the water and certainly we couldn't
swim in the lake. As he left us, he mentioned that he was the camp commander, and he would be very happy if we could be more
careful in the future.
Mala and I got jobs. She was a sewing supervisor and I was to administer the paperwork.
I recorded what work we received and how much income came in. There were dozens of workers and we made everything needed by
the people in the camp. A couple of months later, an embroidery section was established. A few people worked in this
unit and produced beautiful handiwork - lace sets and doilies. We were busy and time flew by.
For Christmas, we had a small tree with various decorations, created by us from paper.
Naturally, it was an odd tree as there were no evergreens here. Friends would frequently come by to visit in the evenings
after work or on Sundays.
All the people in the settlement were given employment of various kinds. There were looms
for weaving, an iron works, and so on. The children went to school. Because it was too hot during the day, people only worked
until noon in the morning, and after 4:00 pm in the afternoon. The temperature at midday was unbearable. The evenings were
warm but the mosquitos bothered us so much that you couldn't sit outdoors. We all had denim clothes, long pants and shirts
with long sleeves. In this way we could go for a walk or visit friends. During the day, everyone wore a cork helmet covered
with material, to protect us from the sun.
Several people would often register at the office for bus trips to the city of Kampala
for shopping. They often took us for sightseeing trips. We went with one group to a place called Jinga, where the Nile River
begins. On the way, we saw black people, some working, some relaxing. Near the gates to our settlement there was a large open
area where, once a week, black people came to sell vegetables and fruit, such as bananas, oranges and papaya. Papaya was a
very tasty fruit which grew on trees in our settlement. Even though it hung on the tree in the hot sun, it was always cold
when picked and eaten. We always had plenty of fruit.
Two years passed by since our arrival at the settlement in Koja. Everyone was keeping
well and healthy, but then people started getting sick with malaria. There were even some deaths. I also caught malaria and
in spite of the fact that I took Aspirin and Atebryne, the disease tormented me so much that I was taken to the settlement
hospital. Two weeks later I returned home but continued to take medicine.
The supervisor of the plant where I worked came by everyday to see how we were doing
and to check on supplies. He was a very pleasant man, handsome and always a gentleman. He was very polite to everyone and
as a result, the work didn't seem difficult and was always appreciated. Everyone was willing to do their job as best they
could and in this way, time passed quickly.
One morning we were informed to gather at noon in front of the speakers, of which there
were a few installed around the settlement. Important news was announced - the war had ended. Now all the peoples who had
been scattered around the world could return to their homelands or elsewhere. Of course, they informed us that in Poland,
the government was Soviet and they were inviting Polish refugees to return. Our people were not pleased. Everywhere you heard
whispering, that after so many years of wandering and after so many of our men had been killed in action, where
and to what were we to return to to? People were very depressed.
A few days later, we were informed that we had to make plans to leave as our refugee settlement
was to be liquidated. The plant supervisor, K.G., often came to visit it us and we discussed the topics that concerned us
all. There was a slight attraction between us. Mala noticed this and watched grudgingly, becoming a bit unfriendly towards
him. So, he started coming less often to visit. We only saw each other at work, and he started coming by there more often
than necessary. Finally, one evening when he passed by our house, I noticed him and came out to see him. We went for a walk
and from then, began to meet more often, in various places. I don't know how it happened, but we became very close and a romance
began. I was happy.
Now time passed by very quickly. I was able to communicate with my family in Poland.
Everyone was alive but were having a very hard time. My mother was sick and mostly lay in bed.
In our settlement, they started to register refugees for departure. Many chose to return
to Poland, mostly because they wanted to reunite with their families. Because Mala's husband was already in England, he didn't
register to go to Poland and neither did my brother, Slawek. So, Mala and I registered to go to England. Mala left first as
she had a husband sponsoring her. I left later. Many chose to go to Australia, New Zealand or Canada.
Because Slawek (Tony) was in the army during the war, we were allowed to go to England.
He had joined the Polish Army when he was 17 years old, following our escape from Siberia. He participated in the Italian
Campaign, including the Battle of Monte Cassino. He was a radio/telegraph operator, sending and receiving messages in
We left Africa in 1948 and arrived in Cornwall, England. A year later we moved to Essex
where there was a Polish refugee camp, and we lived there in an army style barracks. This camp was next to an abandoned airport,
close to London where Slawek lived and worked.
On July 29, 1956, we immigrated to Toronto, Canada. My mother, Franciszka Dobrowlanska
died in 1991 and is buried in a Catholic cemetery in Alliston, Ontario. She was 83 years old.
November, 9, 2007