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Monday, 25 September 2017

Polish History - Stories from The Second World War

Dearest sweethearts,

Not all social media is bad and sometimes you can learn wonderful wonderous things by being part of certain Facebook groups. One such group that has grown on me for the past half year is the Polish Culture, Food and Traditions group. It is a group that strives to bring forward the beauty of Poland, even from the people abroad the country. #DidYouKnow that the second biggest Polish city, after Warsaw, is not actually located in Poland? It's in the USA: Chicago. But Polish people are spread throughout the world, and they have amazing stories to tell. A few days ago I bumped into this post done by Barbara Urbanowicz. She told the group the story of her Mama's journal. The story, like many from the Second World War, is heart breaking. I thought that you should read it as well. Read it, think about it and learn so we would not see history repeat itself.

"Today, 17 September 1939, the Russians invaded Poland and so, my Mama's tragic story, and that of many others, begins.

"Should I forget about them, You, God in heaven, forget about me."

A translation of my Mama's witness statement, which has been preserved by the Hoover Institution. She was 15 years old when she wrote it, 75 years ago.

Krystyna Słowik                  
                 30 December 1942
Class VIa
  
PAGES FROM MY JOURNAL

Following a twelve day battle on the outskirts of Lwów, a sinister silence descended. It lasted only one day. On the 22 September, 1939, tidings that the Russian army is entering the town. This was the most tragic moment of my life. They instructed our soldiers to assemble at the D.O.K. from where they would leave unharmed and armed, but the Moskals did not keep their word. Some they arrested and others they shot. This was the beginning of the persecution. Immediately on the next day they began to bring about the changes. In my school they threw out the Nun headteacher and in her place they put in a Moskal who lacked intelligence and knew nothing.
Mama, Krystyna Konecka, and her younger sister Haneczka (the little girl that died in Kazakhstan
My Grandfather, remained in our country estate (folwark - grange) in the Vovoideship of Wołyń. The gang (mob) wanted to murder him. They robbed all the livestock and agricultural machinery. In the main mansion house, the Ukrainian women ripped up the curtains and embroidered throws to make aprons and headscarves. All the crystal was smashed up with a frenzy. A man servant who tried to defend the house was badly beaten up and thrown into a ditch. My Grandfather lay hidden for two days in the cellar beneath a sheaf of hemp. One of the leaders of a gang which arrived later found him in the cellar and took him to the governor who did not wish to see him. During the next ten days Grandfather lived in the home of the stable groom. After ten days a visiting commissar gave him permission to travel to Lwów. Grandfather arrived looking thin, disheveled, his clothes torn.
We were just so happy to have him with us because we thought that we had lost him. Christmas was very sad. On Christmas Eve they nationalised our factory and forced us to move out. We rented accommodation in a convent and continued to live there until our deportation. Around Easter elections were held. Everyone, without exception, was forced to vote. In our district, the election took place in the apartment of the owner of the steam mill (the owner had been thrown out). My Parents also went to vote, but neither my Father nor my Mother placed their votes into the urn. Our governors promised a pleasant surprise after the elections and so it came to pass.
On 13 April, 1940 we were bundled into a cattle wagon. Father was away from home on business. In the morning we were waiting at the station. My Father came and wanted to join us in the cattle truck, but the train supervisor said that Father was the "rabbit" that had run away from them, which was clearly untrue. This was the day on which I saw my Father for the last time. On the 14 April the train set off, taking deportees to Siberia. God only knows why we were subjected to such cruelty.
In the first winter transport (10 February 1940), the little daughter of my Mother's cousin froze to death in the wagon. They had to dispose of her body through the window. No funeral, the poor little mite was left behind in a hostile land. We also were not certain as to our fate. The soldiers guarding the train spoke to us as if we were animals not human beings. They transported us in cattle trucks for 22 days and we were not allowed to alight at any time. In spite of this we were in good spirits. We arrived in an old Cossack hole named Semipalatinsk.
At the station we were greeted by the chief of the NKVD. They loaded us into vehicles and dispersed us into collectives and brickworks. On the third day they forced people to go to work at the brickworks. Payment was very meagre. Every so often, the NKVD chief would threaten us with prison. So amongst hostile people and in harsh working conditions, summer passed. Then came winter and the frosts. Lack of fuel was one of the greatest concerns, but somehow we managed. One of our ladies, mother of three young children, lived in a freezing outbuilding. At night time the bedding froze to the walls and the children were frozen to the bone. The distressed mother, despite knowing that stealing was punishable with imprisonment, filled a bucket with coal. She was seen by an old Cossack who reported her to the authorities. For this crime the woman was sentenced to a year in prison. Her children were each sent to a different Russian orphanage.
Babcia (Grandmother) Zosia Slowik, referred as "The Duchess" by the post owners friends 
This way they tried to wipe out the National identity of Polish children. We did the same as this poor woman. The extreme cold was very debilitating. We knew, of course, that our "carers" had stolen our lands, our wealth, and had cast us out to our fate. In spring, under orders from the town authorities, we were forced to move because of the threat of flooding. After the flood subsided we returned to the hard labour of the brickworks, wheeling around the clay and forming the bricks. Suddenly, there was a horrific accident which affected everyone at the brickworks. On the 24 June my younger sister and a friend, who was older than me, drowned. The Bolsheviks who were in a boat on the river saw how the girls kept coming to the surface. Another girl who was with them but remained on the bank begged them to rescue her friends but they said that they were not allowed. Yes, they were not able to. They were able to loot our country. They wanted less witnesses to their crimes. Their consciences were not clean. They knew that much innocent blood was calling for vengeance from heaven. After the funeral, life continued at its normal pace. In the meantime they arrested four Polish women who attempted to escape. The joyous day came of the signing of the pact between Poland and Russia. Everyone was waiting for their loved ones to be released from the prisons. Conditions at the brickworks improved. The authorities said that either we work or we leave our accommodation. We chose the latter and moved into Semipalatinsk. Many Poles remained at the brickworks. One old man was forced to work to the point where he ripped his insides and died. He lay outside for three days because the authorities would not provide a coffin. Christmas came, and immediately before we were informed that Father was in Turkistan. Days flashed by in an air of expectancy, then a card arrived from a delegate saying that Father had died of typhus. I was beside myself with grief and the desire for retribution gave me no peace, but in the end I was forced to come to terms with fate. Departure. After many hardships, our delegate got us a place in a wagon with an orphanage to Kitab. We remained there a few months and then left for Krasnovodsk and then by ship to Persia. After such harsh experiences, there was a glimmer of hope for our return to our beloved Poland."

P.S. For those asking for rights to publish this, I have asked Barbara Urbanowicz if I may share this with you and she has kindly agreed. Thank you again, from the bottom of my heart, Barbara. May God bless your family!

Yours very much truly,
The Twisted Red Ladybug That Loves Polish History and Fantastic Stories